(This week, I’m truly honored to have spoken to two East Coast Burners that are truly larger than life. If you’ve partied in NYC in any significant fashion you’ve probably seen them out, dressed to the nines. They’re four time Burners with a unique perspective that we’d all do well to learn from. Diva PsychicStar (Patricia) repurposes furs & The Geniuz (Jeremiah) commands broadcasts. This is a deep dive folks, so turn on one of their favorite sets from playa, from White Ocean, Robot Heart, Pink Mammoth & Distrikt, while you read!)1. How was Burning Man 2015?! How did this all start for you two? Burning Man 2015 was challenging! It was our fourth Burn with each one being different and each one offering a new experience and takeaway. It takes a lot of money/effort to trek across the continent from New York to join the tens of thousands of Burners for an event culminating months of regional festivals and camp fundraisers. Our style is to mitigate as much of the dry, dusty Playa harshness as possible by bringing as many creature comforts and tried and true costumes as we can. We have always been RV campers, which gives us a leg up when it comes to daytime sleeping and shelter from the dust storms.
Our first year (2007) we camped with Deep End (now called Distrikt), the dust swirled around our RV for days at a time. We arrived at 2am on Sunday morning and barely found our campsite. We kept looking at each other as if to say, “What the hell are we doing here?” We parked the RV, popped open our favorite libations (she likes Champagne, I like cognac) and began to talk about all the things we hoped to do and see while going through the BM 2007 guide. There were hundreds of things to do every day and we were really excited. Monday morning, the sun came up, the dust continued to swirl! We ventured out a bit, met some campmates, visited art sites and the dust kicked up again. We were certainly not used to being covered by a cake-like grey film head to toe so we headed back to the RV to shower. An hour later we were covered again. The hell with this we said, and we went back inside and decided to just have drinks and enjoy some intimate time together. And then the magic of the Playa began.
Originally, we were not sold on going into the desert where the days reached over 100, the nights plunged to 40 and the dust hampered visibility. We were introduced to Burning Man by a friend from Northern California who insisted that we were “natural Burners,” whatever that meant! Prior to 2007, we chose vacation venues based on their high “party quotient,” Ibiza was our first choice, but we would fly to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Brazil for great party events with DJ friends. The Miami Winter Music Conference with all of its revelry was a mainstay. The Groove Cruise still resonates as a venue where we have made lifelong friends. So when we were pitched a great party in the desert that was also a unique social experiment with incredible art, mutant vehicles and lights to make Times Square look pale in comparison, we just had to go! We were also told about the mystical properties of the Black Rock City playa and all the spiritualism the desert had to offer. So after years of hearing that pitch, we decided, why not?
We got married after knowing each other for only three months. So at the time we visited Burning Man, we were together as husband and wife for 27 years. Our focus that entire time was parenthood, and being together as great parents to our daughter. But our daughter was grown up and out of the house. As we sat in our RV, with all that blinding dust and challenging heat outside, we asked ourselves again, why were we here?
We talked about what type of people we were like before we got married. We learned that we were almost totally different before we tied the knot. We became guarded and protective of what each of us thought about each other, and acknowledged that we sacrificed and modified our behavior for the sake of parenthood and honoring our virtues. Within the context of what could only be described as mystical, for the first time in 27 years we were able to articulate and define the habits we modified to stay together peacefully and with sustainability. We acknowledged that our actions took some of the edge off of our romanticism and sexuality. So we began to explore each other as though we had never met. We romanced each other as though love was fresh and new because in a way it was. And we would have never found that passion for renewal had we not been sequestered in an RV in the middle of the Black Rock desert looking at each other with a new sense of purpose. We were falling in love with each other all over again! It was a Playa miracle!
Before we knew it, Monday night passed, all day Tuesday and by Wednesday, we thought, let’s go out and see what all the Burning Man excitement was all about. But to our chagrin, a vandal had set the man ablaze prematurely. It was vandalized in a protest over commercialism, and we felt that we got what we came for, left and checked into a luxury suite at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco. It would be five years before we would ever consider returning to Burning Man again.
In those years before our return, we learned a lot more about ourselves, about the Burning Man community and what it actually means to be a Burner. In the years that followed our first trip to the Playa, we followed the New York Burning Man community. We embraced the art, the camaraderie, the music creation and most of all, the love and respect that we had for each other. We decided that if we ever returned to the Playa, we would choose a camp to be connected to. We chose Kostume Kult, with its elegant expression of style and taste. In 2012, we enjoyed working at the Kostume Dome on the Playa, handing out free costumes to Burners and helping them put style and pizzazz in their swagger as they paraded up the “Catwalk” showing off their newly found look provided gratis by KK. In 2014, we chose to camp with DiSORIENT, the Pornj neon clad mega camp, known for its high energy and being everywhere not only on the Playa but on the east and west coasts.
For 2015 we took a totally different tact. It costs a lot of money to “go big” at Burning Man from the east coast. You have to transport all of your gear, costumes, creature comforts, and get on the Playa early to help build the camp. We did not regret the money spent and time focused on camp management in the past, but when we would get home and look at photographs and read accounts of others, we noticed that we were missing a lot of the event itself. So in 2015, we cut our expense budget in half, arrived two days after the start of the festival and drove right in with no wait, left right after the Burn to avoid the unreasonably long lines of the exodus, and stayed at a “turnkey” RV camp so that we could finally focus all of our experience on the Burning Man event itself. This was the year Jeremiah would turn 65 the week after the Burn and we felt, as an elder-statesman, he had earned the right to just enjoy the festival. And enjoy 2015 we did!
2. Do you have default world jobs to help you get to the Playa? Jeremiah is a seasoned broadcast news manager, celebrating a 48 year-long career. He has always been a student of the arts and culture. And given the intense pressure he often experiences during the course of his work, he requires having really quality down time. The quest for total enjoyment and escape fuels Jeremiah’s passion for great party venues, an incredible circle of friends, and his hard work in the communications industry makes this lifestyle affordable.
PsychicStar is an Internet sales entrepreneur. As she scours websites, yard sales, tag sales and closeouts for unique pieces to build her own fashion wardrobe, she looks for items to sell on her site, BurnerFabulous.com. She specializes in rescue furs, furs that have great potential but need updating. She hand sews components and trims extra lengths to update the style of a coats with hoodies and unique collars.
3. Diva Psychic Star, can you tell us a little bit about the costumes you create? It is my goal to be fabulous! I buy pieces that at first glance, might appear to be ordinary or mundane. Some items are quite pricey such as designer pieces from Betsey Johnson, Alexander McQueen or Nicole Miller. Other pieces are incredible finds from yard sales, given up for mere pennies on the dollar by previous owners who could not picture the avant-garde quality of the item. But I have the vision of how to combine pieces with past acquisitions, craft adornments such as medallions, gems, belts and feathers to make something that is one of a kind and truly Burner fab!
The Burner parties I like best are ones that have themes. I really enjoy hitting the thematic mark right on point. The I FEEL parties, produced by Roee and Yael Carmel, for instance, always set a high bar when it comes to challenging themes. The key is to do it with class and style. That is what I believe sets my costuming apart. I don’t want my costumes to look as though they were off the rack from the Halloween Store. They must have a highly polished, well thought out designer quality. For me, a costume is successful if my fellow revelers look at me and say, Wow!”
4. Jeremiah, do you generate your own costumes & personas for the evening, or does Diva drive most of the way? Pat is my “costume muse. I enjoy waking up in the morning, to see Pat sitting on the side of the bed working on my costume for our next party. She collects components for me as well as for herself, and makes me try out her ideas before I leave for work in the morning. By the time I get home, the idea has become a reality, and all I have to do is add my own uniqueness to the pieces. It is so much fun living with such a creative being.
5. As Burning Man veterans, do you think the event has changed over the years (besides getting bigger of course)? From our perspective, Burning Man has not changed as much as we have changed. Our first foray into Black Rock City was filled with expectation that the festival was to come to us. The dust and heat made us reticent to go to it. As it turned out, that was exactly what was needed for us at that time in our relationship. The second time with Kostume Kult, and third with Disorient, we learned what it was to be part of an established camp community. We spent four years being a part of the Kostume Kult and Disorient communities, making true friends, loving our fellow burners and supporting them in every way possible. So 2012 with KK and 2014 with Disorient were years that we became part of the festival, contributors, citizens of Black Rock City, not just party goers.
Burning Man operates on many levels and the more you participate, the more you become aware that YOU are what makes the Burning Man experience real for the people around you. We felt the people we encountered in 2007 were snarky, not necessarily friendly and somewhat uninformative. But then again, back then, we were not really into them either. We were somehow “cultivated” and “seduced” into the true path of Burning Man by immersing ourselves into the culture of the New York Burners in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the years we steadfastly insisted that we would NEVER return to the Playa.
In 2015, even though we did not join a camp, we felt the greatest sense of community ever. The key was that everywhere we turned, we met with people we knew. We felt a sense of history with the people and that we were denizens of Black Rock City. It was a wonder to take in the incredible art pieces and small camps with great bars and receptions that we had missed in the past.
6. Larry Harvey was recently quoted widely attempting to explain why African Americans don’t attend Burning Man. Did you have any thoughts on his words? Being African American in the Burning Man community was only a factor we obsessed about when we went to our first Burner party. That was The Burning Beach Ball, out in Montauk on Long Island in March of 2007. The event was held over three days at a resort site and it was the first time we ventured to a sleep-away with members of the community. We arrived on a Friday night and talked about being a little apprehensive about how we were going to be received. The event was close to 100% white and we did not know anyone. So we put it in perspective…just about everything we did, the people around us were mostly white. And for us, they embraced us based on our personalities, and spirit. We were confident that it would be the same in this case. That was the start of our affiliation with Kostume Kult and it was a affable Burner who called himself Hannuka Chicken who literally took us by the hand and introduced us to the community.
Black people on the whole might not find it attractive to spend thousands of dollars to go into the desert, endure harsh weather, wear, in their view, “funny clothes,” and dance all hours to House and alternative music. For us, we have an organic love for Dance Music culture. For Jeremiah, it started as a devotee of the legendary Larry Levan. The Paradise Garage, The Tunnel, The Electric Circus, Cheetah and Palladium were important hang outs, even though he sometimes could not get in! New York City in the ‘60s and early 70’s was a magical place for the evolution of House. Many black people found Disco a bit “whack” and loved a brand of soulful, gospel House that gave rise to the stylings of Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles, Todd Terry and the DJs who they brought up through their labels. Singers like Barbara Tucker, Jocelyn Brown, Gramma Funk, Darryl D’Bonneau epitomize the beauty and flow black people contribute to House and though such work is prominent in the Burner community, it is not concentrated enough to attract black people on a mass appeal level.
But what we feel we contribute is style. We bring a soulful sensitivity to our presence. We love and share and give a black experience to many Burners who have never had close black friends. We realize that our acceptance is also part of the social experiment that is Burning Man. In return, we have friendships that approach the level of family with true brotherhood, sisterhood and comraderie.
7. Have you been to any regional Burns? Do you have any favorites or recommendations? In 2013 we decided that the money and effort spent to get to Burning Man in Nevada made it difficult to attend a lot of the regional Burns happening up and down the Eastern seaboard in the run up to Labor Day. So we bought an RV and decided that we were going to hit as many as possible. We started in June with Freeform which at that time was held in New Jersey, July we went to PEX in Maryland, Country Club in the Woodstock, NY area, Transformus in North Carolina and Playa Del Fuego in Delaware. Our all time favorite and “must do” festival (other than Burning Man) is PEX. What makes PEX so special to us is that it captures the loving and friendly atmosphere of BM with all of the art, music and activities, but with water, trees and great weather.
8. As more mature Burners, do you find that you have friends/family that don’t “get” what you’re doing? Or do you have a social circle that largely understands/joins in?
For Jeremiah, he keeps the Burner side of his persona separate from the job and social media. “At my age, I don’t need people judging me,” he says. “I know in my heart most people at 65 could only wish they could have the life I have, the friends I truly know, the beautiful energy that fuels every fiber of my being that I get from the Burning Man community. When I tell people my age they say –No Way!”
For Patricia, she has a rare extraordinary beauty that defies age with warmth and class that is enviable. “Females have an interesting dynamic,” she says. “When I meet many young women, they have the urge to be competitive, but then I tell them my daughter is older than they are. From that moment on, we’re cool!”
Both J and Pat say they don’t give it a second thought that in most instances, everyone in the room is half J’s age. But his youthful spirit and wilingness to share his life experience carry the moment.
9. If there was one misconception about Burning Man you could correct for people, what would that be? Burning Man is not that drug-fueled bacchanal where anything goes! It is a social experiment of free expression, which to some approaches that level but to most is a highly anticipated trip to a place we call “Home.” There are few places on earth where 60-thousand like-minded people can come together in a barren place and in three weeks build a significant creative environment that makes an impact on American culture.
10. Favorite moment of Burning Man 2015? At Burning Man, we start just about every morning at Bubbles and Bass. The Bubbles and Bass camp is a true gathering place for the New York, Philly and Washington area Burners. If you don’t meet up with your friends any where else on the Playa, you will eventually run into them at Bubbles and Bass. This was our first stop upon arrival at BM2015. It was our welcome “Home.”
But our best all-time moment came in 2014 when we met up with our daughter, Golden Child, on the Playa. She had gone for the first time the year before in 2013, the year we did not go. But when we were all on the Playa together, we camped with Disorient and she camped with Nomads of the East. So when we saw her at Center Camp and we embraced each other for the first time as a family at Burning Man, that moment was so special!