Alex Mak at Broke Ass Stuart has a great interview with Burning Man founder John Law, who fought to keep Burning Man’s intellectual property in the public domain. Instead, it is now owned by the other founders via their Decommodification, LLC licensing subsidiary.
Law was there from the very early days, and helped shape the group as it transitioned from the Druidic solstice ritual on Baker Beach through its Wild West phase. He left in 1996, and re-surfaced again in 2007 to make a defense of the real foundation principles of this community. The response of BMOrg – which won the day – and their subsequent corporate restructuring shows the direction the Project is committed to.
We here at BrokeAssStuart.com like to show love to the people who make cities like San Francisco and New York special. That’s why we’re doing a series called Local Legend of the Week. This is our chance to hip you to some of the strange, brilliant, and unique folks who populate these towns and give them the character that people from around the world have come to love.
John Law showed up late to our interview. He was covered in black soot and carrying a helmet, as though he had just been shot out of a cannon. Now if you’ve heard some of the stories about John that might not surprise you. He said, “Sorry I’m late but my motorcycle caught on fire and blew up on the way over — don’t worry the fire department came and put it out and I’m going to get it all cleaned up”. He then produced a cell-phone video of his motorcycle completely engulfed in flames and in the background you can hear John yelling to pedestrians, “Hey please keep your distance it’s going to blow up any minute.” He then explained to me that he was never worried about the explosion being too large because his gas tank was full and therefore had very little air in it, you see, it’s the oxygen in the tank that allows for a large vehicular explosion, not the amount of fuel per say, and that was just the first fun fact I learned from talking with John Law.
Shortly afterward we took the elevator to the 20-something floor, and began climbing a thin staircase until I realized we were in a clock tower, yes, John Law’s office is above the face of a giant clock that overlooks downtown Oakland. You could see the inner mechanics that made the massive hands move, and remove a sheet of metal in order to stick your head out of the clock face and peer over the city. At any moment I expected Batman to knock on the window and let himself in. Meanwhile, John is perfectly comfortable in the belfries and crawl spaces of the world, he has famously (or infamously) been climbing the Golden Gate bridge for over 30 years beginning with the Suicide Club in the late 70’s and then with the Cacophony Society in the 80’s and 90’s. He and the Billboard liberation front repeatedly made headlines by scaling billboards and artistically ‘improving’ corporate messages:
Ode to a tired message! 1980
BLF drops LSD in 1995
Apple still makes, like, the BEST ads
John Law arrived in San Francisco in 1977, as a 17 year old juvinile delingquent and runaway. He skipped out on his probation and hitch hiked his way to Haight St.“All the hippies hanging in the Haight were toothless drug addicts by then. They all told me the PARTY WAS OVER! ‘go home kid’…..I’ve had a hard time taking hippies seriously since then!” He quickly joined Gary Warne and the Suicide Club which was a group of misfits and adventurers who sought to face their fears and have fun in the process. They would do things like scale the Golden Gate Bridge and hike through the Oakland sewer system.