(Youth is wasted on the young, but is the playa wasted on the seasoned? Not according to Jungle. One of the most visible, Falstaffian leaders of Kostume Kult, I was honored to speak to him about Kamp Konstruction, Leadership at Kostume Kult, and how the playa has changed since his first Burn in 2007. Interview by Terry Gotham and music by David Kiss)
1. Favorite Burning Man Memory?
There are lots of them. I’ve spent the better part of my time at Burning Man MC’ing where Kostume Kult gifts the gazillions of costumes to the fine citizenry of Black Rock City. That gifting (and helping build the KK community) is the primary driving force for me attending. I get to live out all of the 10 principles, I get to see people transform into themselves v2.0, I get to see smiles a lot and get to interact with lots of folks. I see lots of folks who are friends from NY, from elsewhere & folks I’ve met while MC’ing in prior years. Out of all of the experiences there, the one that is burned into my conscience is as follows:
I pester folks (tourists) to get them to participate, not just watch. One year, there was this guy on a bike. I guess he forgot what he was doing, because he wasn’t wearing any clothing. so I started ‘pestering’. I suggested that he get a costume, perhaps even merely get something to ‘accessorize’ his dick. After a little bit of time with no movement on his part, I began to deal with others. A short time later, however, I noticed him walking down the runway with a smile, wearing a necklace and a top hat. When he got off the runway, I thanked him for participating; he said that he wanted to thank me for ‘encouraging’ him to participate, as he had Parkinson’s and was very self conscious about his shaking; hence, he never gets off his bike. He said that my pestering motivated him to do it, and that he didn’t shake at all walking down the runway. I really don’t recall anything else about Burning Man that year. There are lots of snapshots like that at our runway.
2. How has your role at Kostume Kult evolved over the years? Have you always camped with KK?
My first year (2007), a friend was supposed to make all the living arrangements for Burning Man, including our participation in a camp (Kostume Kult) who we knew from NYC. When we arrived, late (late) at night, we learned, well, things hadn’t quite been firmed things up. They were very nice to us (and we helped out). In 2008, MC Christopher (The World’s Best MC), handed me a bullhorn and said
“You’re a lawyer, you’re now an MC.”
And he left. So from 2008, until I guess about five years ago, I was basically the only MC. Now we have other wonderful MCs and it is so much fun to play with them: Link, Assmaster, Fitz, Christopher, Stefan, etc. As well as all the others who help frontage. A bunch of years ago I was asked to help ‘run’ the camp. They called me mayor. And my job is to provide support to whoever the camp lead is.
I’ve always camped with Kostume Kult. I do, however, love lots and lots of camps. They are all great.
KK is an always evolving structure, our “Leadership” team gets bigger each year; we build on lessons from the past. We don’t always get it right (we have high standards); we get closer each year and then raise the bar.
3. Are you a full time burner? If not, are you able to speak about how you balance your day job with your responsibilities with Kostume Kult?
I was a full time burner before I went to burning man. Sort of since the dawn of time (I rode my bicycle from NYC to SF when I was almost 15, in the summer of ’66). but I do wear other hats- I’m a Daddy. I’m a Pop-Pop Jungle to a 2 ½ year old grand-daughter. I’m a lawyer at a relatively large law firm handling intense matters. I play the drums. I’m basically a human being. Kind of.
As to the question of balance, it’s tough. Basically, you just invent more time and I sort of try to blur some of the lines.
4. While some may believe Burning Man is geared towards young people, the 45+ age bracket is very well represented ever year. How would you say your BM experience is different than the experience of the younglings you’re surrounded by?
I need to nap more.
I probably pack more.
I have a nicer rv (i’ve slept on the side of the road more times than i care to remember; so i like a bed and a place to chill and a place to keep champagne cold and music playing and good things to eat).
I try not to take myself all that seriously.
My music tastes are often more diverse.
5. Since you’re a lawyer, do you have any tips for camps or burners who want to stay on the right side of the BLM & Nevada Law Enforcement?
- Don’t provoke; Don’t give law enforcement a ‘reason’ that they could articulate to do something (e.g., drive too fast on a road, have a broken light, smoke a joint in their face).
- Recognize that most of them are just like you, doing a job and not wanting to hassle.
- Recognize that they can be helpful (we’ve had a couple of ugly situations a few years ago where they had to intervene and help; crazy folks breaking art and getting into fights).
- Understand your rights, don”t try to talk yourself out of a situation unless you are a trained professional. Generally you will make matters worse.
- Never consent to a search.
6. Do you work on the physical side of Kamp Konstruction? Or have you found ways to help create the Burning Man experience that don’t require you to hang off of a geodesic dome?
I have no eye hand coordination, never did (I’ve always been a bit cross eyed), and the only power tools that I have any expertise with are not used for building things and I’m kind of accident prone. So there is a firm view that I should not be involved in build. I do at times carry the heaviest things in camp or reach the highest places (at 5’ 8’’ I tower over most people). So I cook. I cajole. I problem solve. I organize. I get folks to giggle. One of my main jobs is to deal with shit. I deal with United Site Services (people shit); disagreements (chicken shit); problems (oh shit); MC (bullshit), etc.
7. Are there any parts of Burning Man that have disappeared in recent years that you’d wish would come back?
I forget Her name…
I forget Her name also…
8. Do you think Burning Man has a problem with decommodification, or is what’s going on with plug & play camps to be expected given BM’s explosion of popularity?
There are limits. I think a situation where somebody is making money off of a camp does not belong at Burning Man. But we also have to respect diversity (in fact, we need to encourage diversity) off all shapes and sizes. color, Race, national origin, current place of residence, sexual identity/preferences, drug/alcohol, music, job, economic status, education, etc. etc. I have friends who come in with their stuff on their back and sleep someplace; I have friends with rockstar rv’s. It’s all fine.
9. How does leadership at Kostume Kult, one of the biggest camps at BM work? Does it differ from other models of leadership on playa or in the detault world?
The culture of ‘leadership’ at KK has evolved, just like the camp has. We started small with Costume Jim’s vision/leadership; we then moved to a small group of very dedicated leaders working with Jim, and now it has evolved to Kostume Kult 2.0. The camp itself has grown exponentially, with a kitchen which fed close to 250 folks each dinner last year, showers, 19 RV’s, a power system, and more. Most importantly is frontage which grew from a simple runway with some art, a small dome, a 20 person line at its peak, and an MC with a megaphone, to an elaborate frontage (this year with a NYC skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge and subway car, a line well in excess of 100 folks entering a giant circus tent, DJ’s spinning music from noon until 2-3 AM with an elaborate sound system (and 3 MC’s and a host of others). To manage it, we now have a great camp lead- Isa; a group of rock star leaders: Kimmy, Marianna, Marz, Mark, Chad, Wrangler, Pat, Assmaster, Stacey, Brandon, David Kiss and of course, Jim. Then there are scores of awesome sub-leads and folks working on various projects. Actually, I don’t like word leads, I like the word facilitators. We attract folks who want to do; we attract folks who want to collaborate. We all get paid- in seeing what we accomplish, and seeing the smiles we generate. Can we do better? Sure. Does shit happen? Sure. But its how you deal with it. We’re already thinking about how we can do things better next year 😀
10. What is one thing about Burning Man you wish non-Burners knew?
There is far more variety of experiences than you think.