(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, you can even travel here with twiddy. 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.
2007 was my final year. I didn’t think it could get any worse.
The 2007 premature burn of the man was a test. The response could have been an amazing ad-hoc creation by the burners. Instead, the Borg gave a full corporate response, down to villification and ultimate death of the artist who did it.
In one alternate universe, the burners created a new man, and the event became a creation of the burners. The Borg’s job was and is to arrange for the pota-potties and pay the fees, which is all they really seem to be qualified to competently do in this universe.
Our Borg are desperately jealous of the artists and their creativity, a direct challenge to their NPD supplies. Rather than enabling artists with negotiating common liability insurnace, the Borg do all they can to make artists grovel before them, down to that pathetic $1,500 grant pool farce.
Those artists and burners that persist in going to the NV burn think they are living in that alternate universe. They are not.
The last straw for me was the ‘art or arson’ poll on Tribe after the 07 burn. 80% of burners called it arson, combined with violent vitriol against Addis. I could handle the Borg being cunts and the arrogance of the volunteers and violence and theft by DPW against the attendees… But it was when I could no longer trust the sincerity of those around me at the event (forget about how few of them actually contributed anything), that I was done.
I don’t know, I’ve had a shitload of fun and an assload of moving experiences post-2007. I guess it’s all perspective.
His perspective: pre-2007, yours: post-2007. He thinks it was going downhill. Your experience has been with a growing EDM expereince, Borg manipulation, and more people.
JV, what do you think? Has it gotten better, worse, or more of the same?
I haven’t been since 2012. My favorite year so far was 2009 because we did an art car. It had fuck all to do with what was going on with the burn in general. Again, the goings-on with the BMORG didn’t even cross my mind.
The main shift I noticed from 2007 – 2012 was definitely the plug and play issue, and just more money being poured into the event in terms of everything getting bigger (art cars, sound camps, the art). Also, the fucking EDM got more and more ubiquitous and louder. But honestly, every year I’ve been has been so much goddamn fun. I don’t know. Things change. I have friends who have been going since the mid-90s, and I know people who went back then who stopped in the early aughts because it was getting too big. If I had started going back then, who knows, I might have given up on it. Maybe not, though.
So to answer your question, yes, to all three. It’s gotten better in some ways, worse in others, and still other things are the same. I can’t wait to get back out there, and I bet I don’t think about all the BMORG crap even once while I’m there. And, as you must know by now, I’m FULLY aware of what I’m contributing to, both monetarily and in blood/sweat/tears. Maybe some people are getting, if not rich, at least comfortable, off of the burn. That’s fine by me as long as they’re facilitating the event. I’m not on board with all the extracurriculars the BMORG is engaged with, but oh well.
It’s funny to think 2007, also my first year, is now considered long enough ago to ask about how things have changed. Time marches on!
2006 for me! Officially ancient history!
My first was 2005, and last was 2009. All before the sellout. It was when everyone who wanted to be there was there. The only decision was to go, and what you were going to bring. When you said, “I’m going to Burning Man,” the reply was “Wow;” not, “How did you get tickets?”
Now, getting tickets can be a badge of perserverence, or subserviance. So far for 2016, all those I have met have been the latter. I am super OK with not being in BRC with them, both by morality and experience.
“or subserviance. So far for 2016, all those I have met have been the latter.”
What does ‘subserviance’ mean to you?
1 : a subservient or subordinate place or function
2 : obsequious servility
where subservient means:
1: useful in an inferior capacity : subordinate
2: serving to promote some end
3: obsequiously submissive : truckling
I was amused at the Bushwick Open Studio last weekend when I would find someone who went to Burnt Man this year, avidly encouraging their friends to go. Asking them how they got their ticket was the beginning of a long story that they were reluctant to finish. It certainly encourage the scenario for their friends where they were one of the few ways to get a ticket. Not my Burning Man.
You know how you got into the BOS event? Just show up! No entry fees. Many studios were giving free drinks. Great burneresque experience.