Sorry BMOrg, the Money Changers Are Already in the Temple.

By Terry Gotham

In 2006, out in the Deep Playa, about as far away from the Man as the man was from 10 & 2, there was this piece of art called Uchronia that we affectionately dubbed the “Belgian Waffle.” A massive installation by Belgian artists that we were quite sad never served breakfast. At night, it turned into de facto megaclub on playa cranking out some of the stompiest techno, trance and glitter house I’d ever heard. I found it to be a very interesting alternative to some of the American, non-fully electronicized camps that still played a mix of jazz, house, disco, alternative & live sounds. It was at times a dirty, intoxicated mess of fur coats and tekno music.

I had no idea that installation would be relevant as a metaphor 11 years later, after a Global Leadership Conference & insightful Burn.Life article on how the powers that be see the problems that plague Black Rock City.  People are finally realizing that the utopia they took such pride in building has become an unaffordable, elitist, mainstreamed event. The ticketing system, while a noble attempt at solving the “Burning Man is Full” problem that simply didn’t exist a decade ago, continues to frustrate long-time Burners & small/mid-size camps, the true bread and butter of Burning Man.

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Aesthetics vs. Community: The Trouble With Parties

Source: worst party ever.

By Terry Gotham

Over the last couple of months, complaints about parties from various “scenes” around the country have grown louder. The combination of ever escalating rents, the resurgence of Brolectro, and a layer of malaise & fear associated with 45’s administration has left a lot of people frustrated, demanding & generally pissed the fuck off. The days of wine, roses & $10 bar events featuring quality music on Thurs/Fri/Sat night are over, at least in major markets that attract high-value talent. On the East Coast there will always be exceptions to this rule (See: Vitamin B in NYC, PEX in Philly, some dope people in Baltimore & DC holding it down), but those places are few & far between. In NYC, the primo underground venues end up being farther and farther away from the urban core, lasting sometimes less than a year before they’re shut down by Co-Op boards, annoyed gentrifiers and world-weary poseurs. In 2003, we partied on the Lower East Side & the first stop on the L train. When you hear people joking about partying at Canarsie (last stop on the L), Cross Bay Boulevard and JFK, you know it’s getting tense in Brooklyn. So, as a public service to producers cutting checks out there, I’d like to describe why certain parties don’t succeed, burner or otherwise. But first, some terms.

For this article, I’ll be using the term “party cell” to describe the unit or photon of partying, as it were. A party cell is group of 1-10 attendees that make up the bread & butter of parties. They pre-game together, they arrive together they buy drinks together, they leave together, and head to after parties or home together. These groups have a history, collective memory & sometimes strong opinions about certain events. They also vote with their dollars. We all know that group that just disappeared from a scene after a member was slighted, or have even been part of a group that had serious infighting about attending a big party after a night where some of the group had a bad time. People are fickle, and only tolerate so much in cities where there are 4 dozen parties from Thursday to Sunday.

Community, can best be seen as an ecosystem of these cells. Lots of party cells come together, some as hosts, some as friends of hosts, and others as guests. While some party cells only attend events where they know everyone, others seek out specific acts or certain parties that cater to their sense of style, preferred dance floor density, or even make them think they’ll get laid. When it comes down to it, people go to parties for two reasons, the community or the aesthetics.

Aesthetics can be thought of as the various aspects a party is judged on outwardly. Lighting, sound, deco, talent, costuming, bartending/drink choice, even promo, congestion management & security can all be folded into “aesthetics.” The choice producers/promoters make in these areas largely determine whether retail/non-community based events succeed. Have you ever gone to a party and felt like the sound design, lighting, deco, and community seemed out of sync? That would be a great example of mismatched aesthetics. This kind of jarring dysfunction between deco and DJs, lighting and costumes, or sound design and bar placement can kill a party. Just think back to the last time you went to an event where the speakers were positioned directly at the bar. Didn’t go back did you? Oh, and don’t forget, intoxicant choice is also rolled into aesthetics. Who you do drugs with can be seen as community, what drugs you do, and whether they jive with the party is most definitely aesthetics. If you want to feel this dissonance viscerally, take mushrooms and go to a doom metal show, or smoke crystal meth before going to a psy-chill after hours. One of my favorite pastimes is watching hilariously drunk people argue with people tripping face. As a producer, remember that while you can welcome both ends of that scale, you can only cater to one, and your attendees will know pretty quickly what drugs go best with what you’re serving up.

A party that has a strong community will always outlive a party that has a strong & coherent aesthetic sense. The combination of a strong sense of ownership by dozens, if not hundreds, ensures proper attendance (through promotion & brand evangelism), enthusiastic bar sales (as they’re celebrations/reunions for good friends), specific, if unspoken social mores to follow (not a whole lot of disagreement on whether it’s a pants or no pants party), and security (safety for exploited minorities, sexual/cultural/ethnic).  If an attendee knows 10-50 people that will be at every party, their need for aesthetic purity or excellence in customer service drops significantly. Private loft parties prove this emphatically. The very presence of friends creates a buffer between the individual and the sub-optimal aspects of the event. By sub-optimal, I don’t mean to imply that having home speakers and the capacity for 15 people tops is in any way bad or inferior to Red Rocks Amphitheater, it’s just that private events are just that, private. Smaller events can’t compete on speaker wattage, paid performing talent or a full bar (most of the time) but because you’re in a safe place that doesn’t have bouncers or sticky floors, you don’t mind.

Being part of the in-group also gives you access to specific benefits that people who simply buy a ticket do not have. Knowing a couple of dozen people spread out between the dance floor(s) and chill spaces/smoking areas, helps you pass the time waiting out a DJ set you’re not feeling or until members of your party cell arrive. Without these people, especially if you’re not feeling the music or down to spend $100+ at the bar just to kill time, staying at parties all night gets tough.

If an event can’t develop & maintain a community, catering to their needs & enhancing their experiences, then the production must ensure that their aesthetics are high quality enough to attract new revelers continuously, while retaining regular independent customers & party cells. This is how what I call “big box” parties succeed. I call venues like Output, Webster Hall, Palladium (in LA), Space (in Miami), Ministry of Sound (in London), Amnesia (in Ibiza) “big box” because you’re partying in one huge room, that feels kind of like a hollowed out Best Buy or Target. These venues are by no means mediocre, and the parties that have been thrown at them over the years are the stuff of legend. But I don’t go see Eric Prydz at Terminal 5 because of the community. I go because of the speaker system, the acoustics, and most importantly, the talent. Most people don’t just go to Output or Schmanski or any regular venue in NYC “to see what’s happening.” They go to specific spaces because those spaces are hosting specific acts. Which is the reason why people demand line-ups at aesthetics driven events, but not community driven ones. The main dance floor at mega clubs can be very taxing, from a sweat/standing/cost perspective. So when promoters & DJs continue to say “show up for the whole time, why would you be disrespectful and only show up for a set or two?” they fail to realize how different the experience they’re having than people not in their party cells. If you only experience events on VIP lists, I can’t hear you tell me to absorb the orgy of moist violence that big room dance floors have become.

Additionally, the “what are you doing after 4 AM” question is integral to understanding why community-focused events are better than aesthetic-focused ones. A lot of the popular non-cannabis/alcohol drugs like MDMA, its analogs & many psychedelics, have duration ranging from 6-12 hours. Negotiating those hours safely is the absolute greatest determinant of having a “good night.” What’s the easiest way to ensure you do that? Go to an outlaw or private event that doesn’t close when the bars in your city close. My absolute favorite venue ever, Wonderland (Queens, NYC), stayed open all morning. I’m serious. I left the venue at noon once and people were still raging. In crafting this piece, I spoke to dozens of people who say the same. These days, getting from your 10-4 to your 4-10 has been ameliorated by Uber, Lyft & other ride sharing utilities, so it’s possible to still be fucked up as all hell and make it to your afterparty at Unter in Brooklyn. But, the best afterparties are known only to the community, or to those party cells with the resources to create their own.

This is why the obliteration of underground, outlaw and second/third tier spaces is terrible for Burners & party people alike. Without the spaces to throw community-driven events, people will be forced into commerce-driven/aesthetically focused events. Underground producers, long able to skirt costs by throwing outlaws while keeping events community-focused, have been forced to go legit, and develop big box sized crowds to pay legit bills. There are plenty of events that generate their income from aesthetics (their main draw being the space & talent), but try to wander out into the realm of community building, which is why some of that marketing from parties & venues seems weird as hell.

One caveat to all of this is that impenetrable communities are the worst. If the random kid who is fresh off the bus from Idaho doesn’t feel like he can get into the community, even if he likes the party, he’s not going to stick around. There are a number of community-driven events that don’t cater to newbies or muggles, with some Burner camps falling into this category. Of course, some communities pride themselves on their opacity, so this might not be a thing your favorite party even gives a shit about. However, communities tend to have groups of attendees that age out of hardcore partying, which signals a slow, painful death to any party that doesn’t regularly replenish its graduates with fresh pledges. And before people start yammering about how newbies just need to “make themselves a part of the community,” paths to doing so usually involve newbies providing free labor or ingratiating themselves into a group that gives no fucks about them. I’ve seen more than one person realize after putting in weeks of labor, they don’t share demographics with an in-group (such as race, economic class, religion,  geographic location or music taste) and conclude that it’s kind of futile it is to try to earn a place among that particular flavor of  Party Gods.

If you throw parties, be honest about what and who you’re catering to. Sometimes I want to see sweet lasers and feel bass in my sternum. Sometimes I want to go where everybody knows my name, and they’re always glad I came. Produce accordingly, my peaceful warriors. This is Terry Gotham, see you on the dance floor.

Do No Harm: Initial Prescription Details Influence Chance of Opiate Dependence

By Terry Gotham

One of the biggest problems with writing about the War on Drugs is the almost exclusive focus on problems. There’s this myth that drug use is a combination between a ratchet & Russian roulette. It’s going to keep getting worse, and it gets harder and harder to “not be addicted” the longer you do it. This continued narrative is believed widely (just ask your family at Easter dinner), while being only lightly supported with evidence. Harm reduction & physician/client education is surprisingly effective at mitigating a lot of the factors that contribute to this “it’s probably going to kill you” problem, but outside of needle exchange/safe injection sites & drinking water while partying, complex harm reduction ideas rarely make it into non-academic circles. So, I’m going to start talking about constructive, modern ideas and research that have been either theorized, published or put into practice, about how to fight this deluge.

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RIP Lost Tom

Image: Facebook

The Burning Man blog has a lengthy eulogy about Tom LaPorte aka “Lost Tom”, a captain of the media team who passed away last week. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends, vale Lost Tom from Burners. We will pour one out for another fallen comrade.

There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe Tom and the effect he had on everyone who had the privilege to know him: Loving, kind, passionate, selfless, inspirational, collaborator, confidant, innovator, gentleman, mentor, the real deal, a class act, community organizer extraordinaire, an embracer of the chaos, “a grown-up amongst us kids,” and, to everyone, a dear friend. He truly loved people, individually and collectively. He found the best in everyone — and touched everyone.

…Tom’s first year at the Burn was 2005 as a member of Bop Camp, a fun-loving crew of Chicago Burners that had somehow achieved Esplanade frontage offering an ungainly jousting experience utilizing motorcycle helmets and stuffed animals duct taped to PVC pipes. He dove in with gusto, cheering the burning of the Man dressed as the ace of spades, his first and only costume of choice.

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According to Tom’s friends on Facebook, his first year at Burning Man was actually 2004.

He came up with the idea of broadcasting the BMIR radio station live from the Man base in 2009, the year he and his Chicago Crew took over Burners Without Borders camp and turned it into what it is today.

The playa was never big enough for what Tom had to offer. When participants left the event in 2005 to help communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Tom followed. He immediately grasped how Burners could do work that matters not just in the desert but in the hearts of communities everywhere. In fact it was what he had been doing himself for years, bringing creativity to the streets of Chicago and creating unlikely connections.

Tom came back from Katrina and started promoting Burners Without Borders in Chicago, and suddenly all his projects became BWB projects. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of BWB. He initiated the Chicago takeover of BWB Camp in 2009 and turned the camp into what it is today.

He also started the Music Box Project, his attempt at explaining “Cultural First Response” to the world. Musicians could become first responders themselves and give the art of healing through music in the hardest of times.

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It doesn’t seem like anyone responded to the Cultural First Responder idea. I always thought Burners Without Borders was more about “send in DPW Heavy Machinery” than sending actual Burners in to, well, hang out and play guitar and stuff. Whatever it is we Burners do when in a group setting such as Burning Man, or the Standing Rock protests.

Coincidentally [ding], when Hurricane Katrina struck – being watched live via military satellite from the Playa – and Burners Without Borders was formed in response, Tom had gone to Burning Man to spend 2 weeks setting up an emergency broadcast system.

Image: Facebook

So his first second year at the Playa, he shows up with pre-recorded Public Service Announcements to hand out as part of a test of a pop-up emergency broadcast system in a place with no cell service. Because if it’s one thing everyone brings to Burning Man, it’s CD-ROM drives. This was an “art” project that several many people thought was worth spending 2+ weeks on. They tested it on Tuesday, Katrina hit on Thursday – and by Monday Tom was off to Katrina, large sum of money having been raised. Then he headed straight back to Chicago to found Burners Without Borders.

Where is that Emergency Public Service Announcement system today? Would’ve come in handy during last year’s false Amber Alert.

“Temporary art serves its purpose, it goes away and mankind goes onto the next step. It’s like a shooting star, it’s really beautiful, then it goes away, but the poetry doesn’t stop. We’ve found a way to achieve collective poetry, to achieve creativity in a group. It’s no longer the age of the lone genius working in isolation, waiting for the great discovery. It’s people working together, discovering stuff together, realizing what they have, taking time to celebrate it, but wondering what’s around the next bend.”
-Tom LaPorte (1953-2017)

 

Lost Tom died of heart failure, aged 63. He previously had a heart attack on the Playa.

Colleagues and friends are mourning the passing of Tom LaPorte, a versatile and innovative communicator over four decades throughout Chicago media. LaPorte, who was 63, died Wednesday of heart failure, according to multiple reports. He most recently served as Chicago’s assistant water commissioner and spokesman for the department. Before that he was webmaster for CBS Radio all-news WBBM AM 780, webmaster, editor and managing editor of former all-news WMAQ, and producer and news editor for news/talk WIND AM 560. LaPorte also headed media relations for Burning Man Project, a nonprofit arts and performance festival, and taught broadcasting and production at Columbia College Chicago. A graduate of Southern Illinois University and six-time Peter Lisagor Award winner, he began his radio career as public affairs director and news anchor at WCIL in Carbondale, Illinois.

[Source]

Communications guru Tom LaPorte reveals the five steps of persuasion artists can use to win attention from collectors, the media, and the public. He also provides a plethora of other practical advice, from how to write a press release to how to incorporate video and live presentations into one’s marketing.

“Artists, by their natures, are often not drawn to aggressive self-promotion…. The ability to communicate through the conventional channels, to get your work known, to get yourself known as an artist and build your communities is something that takes a little bit of practice. Just as your art does.”

Tom LaPorte is a public relations and communications expert based in Chicago. LaPorte was born in Boston in 1953, and his family moved to Chicago in 1960. He earned a Associate of Arts degree in Speech Communication and Rhetoric from the College of DuPage in 1976, and Bachelor of Science in Speech Communications/Radio-TV from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1979. LaPorte held positions in the radio industry for approximately twenty years, including as a writer, producer, and manager of a news room. In 1996 he began working with the Internet, spearheading an effort to audio stream that year’s Democratic National Convention. LaPorte worked as a writer, editor, and webmaster for WBBM-AM for several years before becoming Assistant Commissioner for the City of Chicago in public and media relations. He spent nearly thirteen years in the role before leaving to act as an independent consultant. Since 2004 LaPorte has also coordinated media relations for Burning Man, an annual festival which brings approximately 68,000 artist-attendees to the Nevada desert. Through the festival, LaPorte acts as a pro bono consultant for artists and creatives of all types.

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Lost Tom was an Elf to his college roommate Jim Belushi’s Santa-con:

Long before his interest in Burning Man, Tom was already a Chicago legend. As Jim Belushi’s college roommate and partner in mischief, he went around to the Albanian homes in the suburbs dressed as “Frostbite the Elf” to Jim’s blotto Albanian Santa.

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dartmouth10n-2-web

Tom encountered Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies (not Albert Hofmann of the Trippies) as a teen with a high school radio show, before rising up to use the infamous Chicago political machine as a force for good:

Tom embodied the best of Burning Man before he ever set foot on the playa. He was first and foremost a storyteller. Inspired by an interview he did with political and social activist Abbie Hoffman for his high school newspaper during the Chicago 7 trial, he pursued a career in journalism, working for some of the top Chicago media outlets, eventually working for the City of Chicago as Assistant Water Commissioner, where he honed his second strength — collaboration — working with residents, local businesses, community and church groups to leverage the infamous Chicago bureaucracy and political machinery for the forces of good. He always looked out for the less fortunate and those in need.

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Lost Tom was involved with trippy visuals for the Grateful Dead and something called The Human Avatar Project:

Tom was a founding member of the Burning Man Chicago Steering Committee, which gave rise to the local Burner 501c3 Bold Urban Renaissance Network. He created and led art teams at the Rothbury and Electric Forest music festivals; Second Thoughts, which made videos that opened up for Bob Dylan and the Dead; The Human Avatar Project and Einstein Moments, which created participatory creativity games.

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There is only one festival, Electric Forest which is in Rothbury, Michigan.

The Human Avatar Project is a way for billionaires to achieve immortality by merging with the Internet. It has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama. It seems like the same idea as the “Singularity” being promoted by Billionaire Burners Elon Musk and Those Wacky Google Guys.

Image: Daily Mail

Image: 2045.com

In Tom’s case I think it’s more likely they were talking about this art project:

Image: Facebook

Einstein is someone you should have Second Thoughts about for a moment. There are a couple of amazingly coincidental [ding ding] links between Einstein and the Sixties counter culture that spawned the Grateful Dead, as we explored in 50 Years of Flower Power. Wavy Gravy aka Hugh Romney used to take walks around the block with Einstein as a child; Ram Dass aka Richard Alpert’s father George founded the Albert Einstein College of Medicine…but that’s another story.

Lost Tom’s Einstein Moments was an Electric Forest art project, perhaps symbolic:

Image: Facebook

Sounds like Lost Tom was quite a character to be part of the Burning Man media team, rising in the ranks to Captain, and a pillar of the Chicago Burner community. Rest In Peace, or come back to be born into a new life and a better future. May your flame burn on forever.

 

The Elephant In The Emergency Room: Heroin & “Standard” Treatment

By Terry Gotham

I know that sometimes I can seem all doom & gloom about the state of the drug-consuming universe, but once and a while I happen upon something that justifies my concern. This letter by Dr. Leon Gussow, published in the Emergency Medicine News (March 2017) journal is one of those things.

The filtration of fentanyl & fentanyl analogs into the recreational opiate supply has pushed us into a place where the simple “opiate overdose” prognosis in emergency rooms & EMT visits is no longer simple. Previously, treating an opiate overdose involved a single dose of narcan/naloxone, with a few hours of observation before the patient was back on their feet. The patient was then assessed for discharge and removed from the workload of the emergency room if released. This allowed even severe opiate overdoses to be handled in a timely, almost mundane fashion, if the EMTs were timely and the staff was experienced. But as Dr. Gussow explains, this is no longer the case.

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