Local Legend Law

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.


From BrokeAssStuart.com

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:


The work of Jack Napier aka John Law and the Billboard Liberation Front 1977


 Ode to a tired message! 1980 


BLF drops LSD in 1995


Apple still makes, like, the BEST ads

Using humor on ‘the man’ 2008

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.

Then came the San Francisco Cacophony Society which inspired chapters to spring up in other cities (the writer of Fight Club Chuck Palahniuk was a member of the Portland Cacophony for example)…

Read more at http://brokeassstuart.com/blog/2014/08/18/local-legend-of-the-week-burning-man-founder-billboard-liberator-john-law

Plug-n-Play Goes All the Way…to the Top of the Pyramid [Update]

“self reliance is the greatest art” – my teabag message as I’m finishing off this post.

Earlier this year, Burning Man CEO and Founder Marian Goodell gave a talk at TEDx Tokyo, while social alchemist Bear Kittay, part of the “Burning Man 2.0” team, debuted his new song celebrating transhumanism and the Singularity (you know, that great idea where we’re all going to become one with robots and Google).

Marian released a couple of factoids in the speech that raised our eyebrows. One was that group revenues are now $30 million. The other was that the Burning Man Project board has 19 directors.

To me, that seems extraordinarily high, and Bain Capital agrees:

According to the BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2010, the average board size is 19 and the median is 17. BoardSource reports that nonprofits with budgets of $10 million or more have an average of 18 members and those with less than $1 million typically have 14 members.

A 2011 study by Bain Capital reported in The Nonprofit Times asserts that the optimal board size for effective decision making is seven people. According to Bain, “every person added after that decreases decision-making ability by 10 percent.” So for boards with the median of 17 people, Bain would put their decision-making ability at zero.

So it’s big, and likely to be ineffective, but that’s kind of the way it goes in the non-profit world.

How many directors are there? When Marian gave her talk, and as recently as August 6, there were still 17. Could she really have been out by 2 directors? We speculated about who the other 2 might be. In a talk at Columbia University last year, John Perry Barlow and Peter Hirshberg were presented as “Founders”. Barlow’s links to the psychedelic and tech worlds go deep, and it has since come out that Hirshberg is writing yet another book about Burning Man. However, neither have been formally announced as a director yet.

Right before the burn, they added Jim Tananbaum of $650 million fund Foresite Capital, and Matt Goldberg of QVC. Chris Weitz stepped down, but his wife Mercedes Martinez remains there. We now have 18 official BMP directors.

It seems unusual for a $30 million organization – that’s ostensibly  all about our community – to have three Director changes on their Board without making an announcement. The reason may well have something to do with who these guys are, and what at least one of them is up to at our event.

Jim Tananbaum is founder and CEO of Foresite Capital, a leading healthcare investment fund. For the last 20 years, Jim has been a change agent in healthcare.  He started Geltex (acquired by Genzyme/Sanofi) and Theravance/Theravance Bio, which produce leading drugs for renal failure, asthma and emphysema. Over the last 15 years he has also lead financing for numerous transformative healthcare companies which range from Amerigroup (HMO for the poor) to Jazz Pharmaceuticals (drugs for central nervous system) to Intarcia (drugs for type II diabetes). Jim is currently passionate about accelerating revolutionary treatment, diagnostics and delivery systems in healthcare.

Jim has been a 6 year burner, lover of music and art. Jim  graduated from Yale University with a BS/BSEE in 1985 and a Harvard MD in 1989 and MBA in 1991. During this time he also received an MA from MIT in 1989

How the BMOrg Directors Camp photo: Facebook, Jim Tananbaum

How BMOrg Directors Camp photo: Facebook, Jim Tananbaum

Yale, double Harvard, and MIT. He’s not the only graduate of fancy colleges on the Project’s Board; also represented are Stanford, Berkeley, Cornell, Virginia, Columbia, NYU, Goucher, and Humboldt.

Any connection between the world of Drugs and Burning Man is up to the reader to interpret. It’s difficult to see what relevance diabetes and renal failure have to spreading Burner culture around the world. Perhaps BMOrg really want to “go viral”.

Conspiracy theorists might wonder about the coincidence that right after a healthcare VC secretly joins the board, we get post-event hype about the possibility of a virus outbreak. There was word that the CDC showed up at Burning Man this year, on the Monday. I thought it was just another Playa rumor, until the West Nile news came out. In the world of software, it is widely believed that anti-virus companies create viruses. In biotech, official stories about viruses and vaccination are usually not the whole story. There is no conspiracy theory in saying that viruses can be artificially designed, that’s medical science.

Dr Tananbaum’s companies may have nothing to do with mosquitos in Gerlach, but monetizing the Playa does appear to be part of his plan. He has spent much of his career in medical science, with a particular penchant for financing pharmaceutical pioneers.

What about Burner culture? Can that be artificially designed like a virus? Is it something spontaneous, that flourishes in Black Rock City from 70,000 individual contributions of Burners – all adding up to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts? Or is it something socially engineered to be spoon-fed to us, distributed worldwide on the Home Shopping Channel?

With the “Plug-n-Play” turnkey Burning Man experience, it seems that our culture is being treated as something that can be packaged and sold to the highest bidder. Pay your $25k per couple and show up in your private plane. A sherpa helps you dress in your costume and escorts you to your camp’s wristband-only art car. Gifting is taken care of with a small contribution on your camp’s behalf to Burning Man Arts. Everyone gets a scarf.

How are all of these VIPs and their workforce of sherpas getting tickets, when it is becoming increasingly hard for regular Burners to attend? Well, we already answered that for you in Burnileaks: The New Scalpers. There’s no problem getting tickets, if you can pay $650 and you’re in a VIP camp. This is the direction that BMOrg is taking Black Rock City in. More vendors, more LLCs, more PnP, more gentrification, more class war douchebags, higher ticket prices.

Why have an RV, when you can have a Mobile Fortress?

Why have an RV, when you can have a Mobile Fortress?

Caravansary was an attempt to avoid “walled off RV fortress compounds”, and instead have “oases of the desert, where weary travellers could drop by and exchange gifts”. Did that work? From the stories and comments of Burners this year, it appears that message went over the heads of these dreaded nouveau riche Burners. They just wanted to ride their Segways and party.

Many Burners feel that the influx of elitist super-richcelebrities and politicians is a real threat to our culture, one more serious even than the shark-jumping of the directors.

It seems those directors, though, may have different ideas.

Love money? Got a million dollar plug-n-play camp? Want to rip off Burners? Then it’s straight to the top of the pyramid for you!

Welcome to the world of Caravancicle on K Street. Theme:

$$$, I ♥ $

2014 caravansicle

See this pic?  Zoom in.  It says “I heart $”

Thanks to Anonymous Burner for doing some sleuthing into this.

15-time Burner, first year was 1996. So I’ve seen the ebbs and flows, and feel a bit… conflicted by the recent evolutions, that’s all.

my only real “connection” to this story is the fact that Stefano Novelli is a friend of mine and he (along with at least 3 other artists) discovered today their names and professional reputations were exploited on Caravancicle’s site for their uber expensive plug and play camp, without their prior consent, authorization or approval:
They have nothing at all to do with this camp and they’re angry for the representation that they’re associated with it.  I’m sincerely curious to know the chain of events that led to such falsehoods being advertised on this for-profit enterprise’s website.

That prompted me to dig around and when I discovered the person behind Caravansicle happens to be a rich dude who’s also on a board member on The Burning Man Project (ie: an insider) and it all started to feel like a bigger story to me.  Especially after hearing so many stories of douchey behavior from this crew.  Feels like an insider like James Tananbaum should be setting a better example instead of indulging in such smarmy commodification and radical dependency.

Anonymous Burner points out that he has not yet uncovered any direct evidence linking BMOrg itself to this camp; just the new BMOrg director, who appears to have underwritten the million dollar camp as well as the prototype hotel room cube technology they used.
The controversy (and conflict-of-interest) surrounding these camps isn’t necessarily a new story.  What seems provocative to me was this:
1) at least 4 established artists/burners  — Stefano Novelli, Adam Mostow, Erica Halpern, MsesyDoesit — were shamelessly exploited (without their knowledge or permission) by Caravancicle’s “sales brochure.”  It stands to reason that their professional and personal reputations could be harmed by this false association.  And a $1 million+ camp that charges at least $13k per customer has profited off their good names.
2) That this business venture is led by (at least) one member on the board of The Burning Man Project 
3) The free placement of this (and other) camps, and their location (which negatively impacts campers around them) certainly implies cooperation and acknowledgement from BMorg. 
It’s important though to note that I don’t see any concrete evidence (even in Caravancicle’s participant agreement: ) that proves BMorg is behind this enterprise.  Contained therein in the list of people to whom ire should be directed:

“…the organizers of the Caravancicle Camp and/or the Burning Man Event, including, but not limited to, Back to Earth Inc., dba ‘dovetail events’, Ari Derfel, Jim Tananbaum, Space Cubes LLC, Brad Peik/Peik Construction Inc./Peik Invstments LLC, Black Rock City, LLC and any and all owners, officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, volunteers, contractors or affiliates of these individuals and entities…”

It’s kinda gross that behind the veiled curtain, deep inside The Burning Man Project itself, on the board —  is at least one opportunist making a for-profit Plug and Play camp (and financially associated with The Lost Hotel too)  and LYING about what artists are affiliated with them, in order to ride on their good reputations and exploit them.

Now I need a shower…

cropped-1001_nights_illustrations_by_ruda_maruda-d54rsvw1The Plug and Play camps associated with Caravancicle, which gave out bicycles equipped with popsicles for its elite residents to gift, were the Lost Hotel and Sinbads Oasis.


The Lost Hotel helped build Caravancicle with an investment of over $1 million. Anonymous Burner says:

Spots in The Lost Hotel and Sinbad’s Oasis cost $13k:

“Sinbad’s Oasis is partnering with The Lost Hotel  to host a unique and compelling experience.   Our experienced event production team will augment the superb infrastructure developed by the designers and builders of the 2013 Temple.”

Ethics of commodification aside, folks got pissed when they realized that Caravancicle is lying on their site, exploiting the names of established Burners/artists… who ACTUALLY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEIR CAMP.

I found this part most Infuriating and intriguing (to some degree) – and so I put on my investigative hat.  Out of respect for the good name of my friend Stefano, and the integrity of our community.

That said, what I have discovered so far is some freaky, interesting shit.  Strap in tight:


Caravancicle.com is 1 month old . The site doesn’t have big presence on the social networks. With around 0 facebook likes, it is most successful on facebook, while doing equally well on other social networking sites, for example it has 0 tweets, and 0 google plus ones The website was registered by () and has its servers in United States

Sinbads Oasis looks nice. They have a day spa:

The Crystal Experience will include key essentials plus additional luxuries to a provide an unforgettable Burning Man Experience.

The Ruby and Emerald Upgrades are available based on community will and interest. The amount of additional funding will further extend the level of luxury in the camp.

The Crystal Experience Includes:

From Caravancicle’s About page:

BM Camp Invitation - 2014 updated 6.21.14_Page_2

page 5-1

Burning Man’s theme this year was miraculously well-suited to promoting the opulent aesthetic of this luxury oasis.

The Caravancicle camp was designed by Ari Derfel, a restaurateur, and Zak Brazen. Zak is a Creative Director at George P Johnson, “the #1 ranked experience marketing agency creating live experiences globally that motivate audiences and activate brands”. Camp Architect was Scott Mahoney, and “the architecture of Burning Man” was promoted to the Caravancicleers.

BM Camp Invitation - 2014 updated 6.21.14_Page_6

caravncilce feather war bonnettribal nightTo create the Caravancicle experience, the team created Pinterest groups with fashion suggestions for their theme nights.

Tribal Thursday

White Friday

Neon Saturday

Rather than being Playa-appropriate, it’s cultural appropriation: every one features feathers and war bonnets.

Suggested Playawear for Neon Night

Suggested Playawear for Neon Night

Caravancicle’s page lists a number of established Burning Man artists who are presented as being part of the camp. The problem? No-one told the artists.

Today I contacted the artists listed, and so far have received a response from three of them. None of the artists who got back to me had been consulted about being listed in the camp’s marketing materials, and none of them camped there. Two don’t mind the association because they are friends with the organizers, but Stefano Novelli was emphatically against his good name being associated with plug-n-play camps.

Stefano Novelli:

i dont want to be affiliated with anything that has to do with a plug and play camp period.

i had no involvement and would never have any involvement with a plug and play camp. the fact that they used my name to promote their camp is very disappointing to me. i am in the process of talking to my lawyer about this matter.

Erica Halpern:

It’s ok… I think this may be Scott Mahoney‘s promotional site for the high-end Lost Hotel that they created before the burn..
But they have an led tree next to my face that is not my art. And the description isn’t anything that I heard of.. It’s says I will showcase my unique VJ Skills!! Ha ha.. I think they were just trying to throw together a site quickly for promotional uses… But in that case, I should have gotten a CUBE!!

Well I can see how lots of people think there is controversy with this website. The Lost Hotel Cubes project is run by Scott Mahoney, using Gregg Fleishman’s patented nodes. I’m very close to Scott and know Gregg as well. I started working on this project with them as the Industrial Designer to the cubes. I then was diagnosed with cancer and had to drop out of the project and focus on my health. Adam Mostow and Stefano who were also featured on the website are also close friends with Scott and others that were part of the design build team for this project including Toby Smith and Elliot Shuffle who worked on the Cubes, design, fabrication, prototyping, and build. I can’t remember specifically if they ran the website by me, but honestly i am flattered that they would post me on the website. Any publicity is good publicity… Even tho They used the incorrect photo of my art and the description about me was incorrect as well. But they were just using the website as a promotional hype to rent out the cubes. They could say almost anything about me on there and I wouldn’t care, because they are like brothers to me. And they helped me unconditionally with many things in the past. I don’t think Adam or Stefano care as well but I guess that is not my job to say. Someone did some research and found that The website is registered to a James Tananbaum which I believe is one of the investors to the Cubes project. They also found that he is part of the Burning Man Project on the Board of Directors. This has angered people it seems. Scott, Toby and Elliot’s dream was to build Stackable Collapsable Module Camping Cubes, which they succeeded well at I believe, and they rented them out for BM 2014 to help with the funding for this project. This project was horribly expensive and they needed investors to fund the design, fabrication, prototyping and production and build. I don’t think they are walking away with loads of profit. I believe that any money made, went back into the project. They used the “plug and play” camp as a way to promote the cubes, which they want to eventually sell. They haven’t had a chance to respond to any of the criticism because I believe they have barely left the playa, breaking down the hotel and cubes. I am very sorry to those that feel that they have been hurt or affected negatively by this project, but I honestly can’t see how this hurts anybody. Everything changes, including Burning Man.

We wish Erica all the best for a speedy recovery of her health. These Cubes seem like an interesting technology, and there is no rule against Plug-N-Play camps. They are part of Burning Man, and I doubt they’re going anywhere. Erica is right about change, get used to it, Burners. Change is a constant.

Tini Courtney had nothing to do with the camp this year either. At first she didn’t mind being mentioned, and was happy to answer our questions. Later in the day after giving some further details, she asked to be “excluded from further mentions – this is not correct”. Make of that what you will, I am respecting her request.

The Lost Hotel’s services agreement shows them charging $13,000 per person to camp there. A number of individuals and companies are named in their indemnity, including Jim Tananbaum and Black Rock City, LLC – aka BMOrg.
These risks include, but are not limited to, those caused by: (a) the actions, inactions or negligence of the organizers of the Caravancicle Camp and/or the Burning Man Event, including, but not limited to, Back to Earth Inc., dba “dovetail events”, Ari Derfel, Jim Tananbaum, Space Cubes LLC, Brad Peik/Peik Construction Inc./Peik Invstments LLC, Black Rock City, LLC and any and all owners, officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, volunteers, contractors or affiliates of these individuals and entities, (collectively, “Event Related Companies and Individuals”),
If you’re interested, it’s one hell of a waiver. Check out the indemnification clause. I definitely wouldn’t sign it.
The Caravancicleers were encouraged to arrive via private plane. $1400 per person, return from San Carlos.
Campers also signed a Services Agreement:
Charles Mui, Megas CEO

Charles Mui, CEO of Megas – $13,000 per head. The lady on the far left says: “I’m in this picture but had absolutely no idea who that douche was! No plug and play for me… I was at Beats Boutique where you actually work for your stay and absolutely no RVs. Completely agree with this article”

The Megas team is led by Charles Mui (CEO of Megas, Inc.), Adam Businger (VP Field Logistics) and consists of expert branders, internet marketers, project management teams, event producers and entrepreneurs. A dedicated project manager will be assigned to the Camp Sponsors and is always available to ensure that you are informed and satisfied with the work performed. It is the goal of the Megas team to expertly serve the Camp Members with the services and resources listed in this agreement.

As a full-service event production and entertainment company, Megas will support the Camp and Camp Members with the infrastructure needed to have an unforgettable experience at the Event. Leading up to the Event there is a tremendous amount of planning and organizing that must take place to insure a fun week. The expert logistic team at Megas will handle the registrations and communications with the Camp Members. Client agrees that the Megas team will engage in the tasks needed to gather and purchase the supplies needs for the adventure as the necessary funds become available, Travel arrangements to the event are the responsibility of the Camp Member. A direct line of communication will be available for all Camp Members, 7 days a week leading up to the Event. Megas will be available to answer questions and give direction to the Camp Members. Megas looks forward to providing an unparalleled experience to our camp members.

According to an SEC filing, the company, Megas Inc, has burned through $17.5 million of investor money, without yet booking any revenues. They spent almost $6 million in an all stock transaction to acquire 2 modelling agencies, “Sexy Population” and “XS Modelling”:

On February 5, 2013 the Company entered into an acquisition agreement with Sexy Population, LLC and XS Modeling, LLC. The Company acquired an 80% interest in Sexy Population, LLC and XS Modeling, LLC. The Company issued 5,600,000 shares of Series A preferred stock with a value of $1.00 per share.

They also bought afterpartylive.com for $300,000 – a domain that has not even been activated. Charles Mui, the CEO, has a Multi-Level Marketing background. It seems this crew has a strong focus on branding and creating live experiences.

It looks to me that this camp were name dropping artists they’re friends with, rather than listing the art that was actually created for the camp and shared with the rest of the city in the spirit of Burning Man. There doesn’t seem to be any real effort on the part of Caravancicle to direct fundraising towards these artists. Showing up to a basket of gifts ready for you to distribute, is pretty far down the other end of the spectrum from Radical Self Reliance.

Other Burners shared their feelings:


starstar was open to everyone, NOT a plug n play, caravancical, on the other hand was taking fruit away from people, closed bar, no principles displayed AT ALL
I stopped by Caravanicle – – a friend from the East Bay was on ‘staff’ there. Aesthetically, the place was beautiful (so were the people – – they looked as if they sauntered off of a high-gloss magazine spread). Everyone was super nice to us, I spoke with one guy who invited me back to jam with him. I don’t have issues with people with funds to come to BM. Once exposed to the love and positive ethos herein, I can only expect that it will ripple out for the greater good.
Carvanicle on 9:00 & L was pretty ridiculous. Every camper had their own private “cube” tent with a hammock and mattress. Absolutely everything was white and pristine. Their camp dome/bar was stuffed to the gills with top shelf liquor and they had staff and a private music ensemble serving them nightly. They let us hang out there but did not share alcohol. (No bigs, I always carry my own.) They also had 20+ each of segways and fat tire bikes lined up inside. The campers looked like a mix of boorish white collar stiffs and models flown in from a catwalk. It was quite the people watching spot.
…Just because I visit Paris, order a crepe, go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and say “Bonjour” to a French guy doesn’t mean I can call myself a Parisienne.

Similarly one can’t go to Burning Man, ride a pre-fab art car, get some dust on their clothes and call it burning.

It’s tourism versus being a local. Neither are really bad or wrong, per se, but they are also not the same or equal.

Similarly, Parisiennes couldn’t give two whole fucks among themselves about tourists. They know why and how Paris is awesome and aren’t going to bother sharing that with guys taking photos wearing fanny packs who try desperately to play at being “French” so they can feel like they belong somewhere. So it is in Black Rock City. The locals know what’s up.

The PnPers are white noise on the playa. Forgettable and easy to ignore. Ten minutes gawking at Caravancicle and I got a nosebleed from all the fun I was having.

Fortunately, PnPers all have the ability and the means to change, should they so desire. No one has to be a tourist forever. All one has to do is immigrate, learn the language and make new friends.

And every year someone does and they come back the next year different, more willing to engage. The rest move on to the next spot. That’s why this crazy town keeps getting bigger – immigration!

The super rich own politicians, the government, corporations, our fiscal system, the Fed. Reserve, and our vote to change any of it. Sorry for being an exclusionary person on this, but they don’t get to have Burning Man. Fuck them…I think that it should be considered whether the financial contribution you bring to an art project justifies the social degradation of the burning man experience.
We thought Caravancicle was the fucking Scientologists. Wide Awake (Insomniac’s camp) on the other hand was cool as hell and very friendly. 
A couple of us stopped in the one with the mirrored entry tunnel and Michael Christian’s piece, “Home”, in the courtyard. Did they lease or buy that piece? Anyway, the notable thing for us was that in the crowded bar of dustless beauties, no one would talk or make eye contact with us “outsiders”. That’s when I thought, “It’s like we’ve stepped OFF the playa.”
I was denied an alcoholic beverage at Caravancicle because I was not a member. I was served down the street however at the stacked cubes at the place that was on 9:00. They served raw juice with Vodka. Internally, Caravancicle was a mess and they had a lot of their paid employees quit.
Stefano had nothing to do with this camp- he runs the space wench art car (which is pictured on their site and his bio) but he had a small camp with only 12-14 people….. And Scott Mahoney organized the lost hotel and raw bar- Adam Mostow brings the jabba barge and also was camped in his own small camp near the hotel- additionally Ericka Halpren who is listed brought her art but is not part of a large high priced camp- I don’t know what this faux site is talking about but these are my friends and are listed falsely on this site!! …These are all hard working artists who wouldn’t ever be part of a big money grubbing camp like mentioned above- so this website listing them is only the true organizers hiding behind GOOD people-…the “about us” is who I am referring to- almost all the people listed are my friends and my campmates and I do not camp at this horrible place spoken about!! The people listed on the about us: have given to the community at large for years and years…this community sticks together and I KNEW none of my amazing friends who work blood, sweat, tears, and time to bring amazing things for you all to enjoy would had anything to do with this and to be listed as such on a fake website- without permission is absolutely disgusting….. Let it be known our community is tight and this is not sitting right by any of our good people- we will not support this type of slander in the name of big plug and play camps getting rich- 
we are now discussing the legal actions and possible outcomes: I knew whole heartily that my people wouldn’t sell out like this- no way- Erica, stef, Scott, Adam- none of them believe this is what the burn is about-
One friend worked at Caravancicle and another at one of those “fortress RV camps.” The RV camp was friends and big contributers to the BMorg art programs. Caravancicle was super douchey.
The Sinbad Oasis URL is linked to Adam Krim who co-founded the Confluence Group. They are a company that specializes in commoditizing and marketing to the festival community.http://theconfluencegroup.com/
Confluence’s clients include GE and Intel. Intel built a “Burning Man-like” figure, not The Man but SiMan, for a recent conference.
Jason shared some deeper wisdom within these divides:
For me it boils down to what is said in one of my favorite TED talks of all time:

Bigger income gaps lead to deteriorations in Social Relations:
Child Conflict
Social Capital
Drug abuse
Infant mortality
Mental Illness
Human Capital:
Child Well-being
High School dropouts
Math & Literacy scores
Social Mobility
Teenage Births

More Inequality =
More superiority or inferiority
More status competition and consumerism
More status insecurity
More worry about how we are seen and judged
More “social evaluation anxiety” (threats to self-esteem & social status, fear of negative judgements)

So, Burners…what does all this mean? Let me break it down for you in a sentence:

Burning Man’s latest director is behind a $1 million+ plug-n-play camp that promotes wearing feathers and native headdresses, and associates itself with artists who camp elsewhere and have no desire to have their reputations linked to commercialization of our culture.

Jim Tananbaum is by no means the only big money BMOrg Director associated with turnkey camping. First Camp, of course, has meals served and trash cleared. Leo Villareal is the founder of Disorient, who certainly share a great deal with Burners. They also have one of the most impressive turnkey operations I’ve seen on the Playa. They are turnkey in the sense that there are meals and regular RV services available, and members pay camp dues. It’s harder to argue that they are the ghastly “plug and play”, where sparkle ponies show up but don’t participate adequately. Everyone who camps there has to do volunteer shifts, such as being a Greeter. It ain’t cheap, but it ain’t in the stratosphere either. From what I hear, their budget is pretty reasonable for such a large camp with so many amenities.

Chris Weitz was the concierge of Ashram Galactica, which at one point had joked about building a multi-room hotel on the Playa. Anonymous Burner says:

The whole “performance art” and gift of the Grand Hotel at Ashram Galactica is that it is “the only 4.5 star hotel on the playa” — there is lots of silly pomp and overwrought decoration in the Moroccan tent that is shared with everyone to enjoy — neatly decorated rooms are awarded nightly, to the public. Weddings are officiated there, it’s a lovely and inviting spot. The campers put on a show for the whole playa. The Gilded Lily bar is an open bar and everything is gifted with a smile. 

Although the “joke” may have been amusing at first due to its irony, it is now no longer a joke: hotels at Burning Man have become a reality. There are multiple camps following in the footsteps of a “quirky luxe boutique on the Playa” – and charging five figures per head for rooms. Since August 6, Weitz has stepped down from the Board, and been replaced with Matt Goldberg – a Melbourne boy who is SVP of Global Market Development at $9 billion home shopping behemoth QVC. Once you jump the shark, it’s time for the infomercials.

Chip Conley is the founder of Joie de Vivre, an operator of boutique hotels all around the world. He is a director of AirBnB, who were selling spots at Burning Man camps this year – another example of something that gets presented initially as an ironic farce, but paves the way for less ironic imitators in the near future. Conley called his theme camp “Maslowtopia“, suggesting that all the needs of his residents are met so they can self-actualize. He also created Costanoa, the original plug-n-play “glampground” for hispter techies, located on the coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz…

For those who want to have a “camping experience” without actually getting their hands dirty – the folks at Costanoa will set up a fancy tent for you, start a nice campfire for you, cook your (non-camping) food for you, and presumably sing campfire songs and make s’mores for you! All for a price. Of course you can upgrade to fancier accommodations…

There is nothing illegal about any of this. However you choose to interpret the Ten Principles, Plug and Play is completely acceptable on the Playa according to the rules – as long as the BLM get their 3% cut. Headdresses are legal, sherpas are legal. Self-reliance can now be outsourced, for those who find it an inconvenient obstruction to their partying.

Plug and play, ain’t going away. Gentrification is here to stay.

Readers whose thoughts have been provoked by this article may also enjoy Emily Witt’s insightful piece:

Sexual Experimentation, Psychedelic Drugs and Futurism“.

In other news, based on their success in 2014, sherpas are being recruited from the San Fernando Valley and Lower Pacific Heights:

Hurray! Our clients want us back on the playa next year, and we have begun accepting bookings. We’re thrilled to be hosting our fine guests, and we have begun accepting applications for 2015 sherpas.

All applicants must have prior experience in waiting tables, pole dancing, or catering. Pay is generous, and Burning Man tickets will be provided. You won’t have to work the entire time, but you will be asked to work extended hours.

Serious applicants only

That’s one way to get a ticket. Maybe instead of “low income tickets”, BMOrg should issue “sherpa tickets”.

Radical sherpa reliance.

[Update 9/6/14 7:55pm]

Wanted…more sherpas. We have cash.

Nice way to bypass the cost and hassle of finding a ticket and camping space for each sherpa – recruit from the pool of talent already inside the Gate.

Burner Gina:

I met someone from Carvansicle a short while later at Playa Surfers party, and asked him about it.. he said that they were short staffed because some of the “hired help” had left, so the camp was looking to replace them with new paid workers….you know.. like it was a resort at Cabo short dishwashers

2014 caravancicle ad

2014 caravancicle ad map

Brainwashing: The New Billionaire Obsession

Vox has just published a piece on Burning Man by Gregory Ferenstein: “Why Silicon Valley Billionaires are obsessed by Burning Man“.

Perhaps a more appropriate title might be “why the media are obsessed with rich people at Burning Man”. They’ve always been there people. Why don’t you see them? Because they’re riding around on the same bikes as you, going to the same free parties as you, watching the same sunrise as you, reflecting and remembering at the same Temple as you, and waiting in line next to you for ice, a coffee, or a dump.  Vox’s story is a good read:

Burning Man is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation. The goal is to be expressive and experimental — scientifically, artistically, sexually, or spiritually. For techies, it’s a chance to try out untested gadgets and go nuts with the oddest social experiences imaginable.

…For example, Harvey pointed to Google’s famous “20 percent time” management strategy, where employees are allowed 20 percent of their time to do anything they want: build a new product, learn a new skill, or try out a new experience.

“They’ve tried to institutionalize the kind of behavior that brought their business into being — a certain amount of risk-taking, a frontier mentality, a willingness to try things to see if they work, regardless of whether they fit institutional norms. Well, that’s the kind of can-do attitude that Burning Man is famous for.”

…Perhaps the goal was best summed by Harvey when he told me, “Burning Man is a place where you wash your own brain.”

…Google Co-founder Larry Page once floated the idea of Burning Man-like zones where entrepreneurs could be free to try out new products in a regulation-free area. During Google’s annual developers meeting in 2013, he noted:

“We don’t want our world to change too fast. But maybe we could set apart a piece of the world .… I like going to Burning Man, for example. An environment where people can try new things. I think as technologists, we should have some safe places where we can try out new things and figure out the effect on society. What’s the effect on people, without having to deploy it to the whole world.”

…Burning Man was reportedly the testbed for both an early version of Google Maps and the first Tesla cars.

burning man tesla

rumored to be a mockup of the first Tesla car. (Tesla Motors Club user TEG)

According to Stanford Professor Fred Turner [PDF], Google sent a plane to take aerial photos of the campground in an early pilot of what eventually became Maps.

Engineer Michael Favor, who worked with Google on the project in 2006, explained that “the power of Google is that they don’t do all the work. People posting content do. The same is true here at Burning Man. Citizens create the vast majority of things.”

More recently, Harvey points out, experiments with drones have become increasingly popular.

So is Burning Man an elaborate libertarian utopia (or dystopia)?

One of the biggest myths about Burning Man, and, perhaps, Silicon Valley, is that it’s founded on libertarian ideals. While Burning Man embraces the free-wheeling spirit of libertarianism, it is also fiercely collectivist. Indeed, a fight between libertarians and the more community-oriented founder was the organization’s first big culture war.

In the early days of Burning Man, Black Rock City was a liberty haven.

“Those early years in the desert were free-wheeling. Anything went. Guns were common. Shooting at stuff from moving cars was a big thing,” wrote technologist Peter Hirsberg, in his upcoming history of Burning Man.

Full story here.

jbieber-karmaThat Tesla looks like a working car to me, not a mockup. It’s more likely their first showroom. Minimal viable product, put the thing in a tent on a corner at Burning Man. 50,000 people will stop and look. Fisker should’ve done that, instead of chroming out Bieber’s Karma in Hollywood.

The word experiment is used a lot in this story. Is Burning Man really that much of an experiment these days for the participants? Or is the experiment being done on us, by corporations?

It is possible to jump the shark and also become a huge commercial success, a hit with the VCs and billionaires and tourists and the 360 official journalists attending this year. Disneyland is a great hit too, but I don’t recall it ever beginning as an underground dance party in the desert. Or having 200 drones hovering overhead while you cavort naked through it.

We haven’t heard anything about Peter Hirshberg’s upcoming history of Burning Man before, but he was featured in The Founders Speak lecture with Larry Harvey and John Perry Barlow at Columbia University this year. It seemed pretty random at the time, making us wonder “these guys are founders now?” Perhaps the video footage of that lecture that’s been “coming soon” all year is being held up waiting for the release of this book.

This Vox story seems to continue the theme first espoused in Larry and Barlow’s interview with TechCrunch at Bildeberg Le Web last year. There is a deep link between Burning Man, the tech industry, and the psychedelic counter-culture which emerged from the Bay Area in the Sixties and has been pouring out of here to catch the whole world in its Net ever since.

Home Is Where The Man Burns


Last year, Burning Man Founder Larry Harvey and “founder” John Perry Barlow teamed up in London for an interview with Tech Crunch. We covered it here: Sauce for Goose and Gander. At the time, they made plans to get together again at Cargo Cult Center Camp for further public discussion. Luckily Burner Nicole from Brooklyn was there to record it and later transcribe it. Perhaps Barlow’s Virgin guest SACEUR General Wesley Clark was also in the audience.

Their subsequent get together, The Founders Speak at Columbia University, hosted by professor David Kittay, was supposed to be published on the Internet “after the first of the year” but is still strangely missing from the public record. Add it to the “Coming soon” list.

It’s an interesting and enlightening discussion, thanks for your efforts transcribing, Nicole – I’ve fixed a couple of typos. Anyone know who the moderator was?

From https://brooklyntheborough.com/2014/02/even-if-temporarily-home-is-where-the-man-burns/

unicorn space orgy‘Tis the season to start planning for Burning Man as registration opens to prance on the desert playa this August. It’s the only beach I’ve ever been to where you have to bring your own water and don’t really need a towel.

Making the trip out west from Brooklyn is definitely a big hassle, but there are plenty of local theme camps to team up with should you decide to go. Or avoid the pilgrimage as many people do and simply enjoy art parties closer to home in the industrial desert of Bushwick.

There are a lot of politics and discussion about whether or not Burning Man is what it once was, or is what it should be. There’s even a current New York Burner email list discussion on the authenticity of “going home” as a term to universally describe one’s trip to Black Rock City, Nevada where it kicks off every year. Everything else is just the default world.

For those reasons and many more, presented below is the transcript of a fascinating hour from Burning Man 2013: a recorded Center Camp conversation between Electronic Frontier Foundation founder John Perry Barlow and Burning Man founder Larry Harvey on the past, present and future of making Black Rock City their home.


John Perry Barlow: I thought I’d ask [Larry] some questions and see how he thought it was going. We did this for a few years and then fell out of practice. Then he and I ran across ourselves in London earlier this year; and found wandering around Westminster that it was a great place to have a peripatetic discourse, and we thought we might want to come back here and re-engage this process and re-engage you and have some thoughts about how we deal with what Burning Man is in its rather mature manifestation. And, uh, how do you think Burning Man is going Larry?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALarry Harvey: I think it’s going wonderfully. This year in particular – the mood here, the spirit here is better than I’ve ever seen it.


JPB: Maybe we should start talking about this seemingly paradoxical notion of organized anarchy.

Crowd: Yeah organized anarchy

JPB: Exactly. You know anarchy is a political philosophy – it gets kind of a bad rap by the WTO, but anarchy as a political philosophy was created by social philosophers like [Mikhail] Bakunin and more recently Hakim Bey, and certainly very much by Larry Harvey; and it’s the principle that human beings are basically good and that they want order in their lives and they’re actually quite good at interactively self evolving order around circumstances that may arise collectively, and that they don’t necessarily need some kind of imposed government for them to behave well. We don’t – it’s sort of based on the principle you don’t run over people with your car because it’s against the law, you don’t run over people with your car because it’s the wrong thing to do. And Burning Man from the very beginning was based on the idea that even though there were damn few rules – I mean very few rules – that people would come out here and exercise the golden rule to some extent and not shoot one and other, despite the fact that there was plenty of gun play. And that was actually working pretty well. And I think Larry has done a fantastic job in not imposing all the laws, regulations, codicils, subchapters and everything else that goes along with government. On the other hand, he’s had to have this continuing dance with a very big G form of government. I had an experience the other night upon arrival I arrived at 12:30 at night – on Friday morning, 12:30 Friday morning and I had my ticket and I was told I had to go over to a zone over here some place and wait, wait for what?

LH: You’re referring to D Lot, rhymes with Doom.

barlow larryJPB: Purgatory! I said, ‘wait for what?’ They said, ‘wait for the others to come out.’ Which sounded almost biblical. What others? It turned out that BLM – that the permit was for 68,000 and it was not for 68,005 it was not for 68,010. And so not many people leave Burning Man at one on a Friday morning – that’s not when you get one of those major rushes for the gate. So you can sit there for eight hours as I did, waiting for enough people to come out so I could go in, and that was, there we were, we were trying to have a conversation about it, and there we were at the very naked interface of anarchy and government. I think there’s probably a back-story on that; I don’t know how much Larry wanted to tell.

LH: There’s always a backstory, and a backstory behind the backstory. But I won’t talk about that except to say, of course we did have a permit for 68,000 and a public agency that BLM is governed by regulations. However I will point out when we first came out here – there’s a lot of talk about the good old days when it was free and now there’s all these rules. In fact Hakim Bey, who wrote TAZ –

JPB: Temporary Autonomous Zone

LH: A little booklet about radical anarchy – I corresponded with him in the early 90s, no before that, early on, and he had one recommendation, which was in line with his doctrine of Poetic Terrorism and real acts of creativity, which we kind of came out of in the bohemian milieu of San Francisco. We very much bear the stamp of that, but ironically he recommended to me well just avoid any TAZs… Little chinks in the armor of the system, you get in and you get out like theViet Cong. After two years – the authorities overlooked us for 2 years because we were so small, and this is so big, we were a mote in the middle of this in some sense, you were lucky if you came out here if you even found us, which was actually part of the point, lot of people didn’t find us and ended up stranded on the verge of the playa, mired in one of the artisanal water sources here and then that risked your life. They might easily have died. We invited them. We were responsible for their welfare. Holy smokes we were the government! And um, and when he wrote me with his advice, we had already filed a permit with the government, and we had a history of cooperating with the government at Baker Beach when we had to abort a burn and the people from the Golden Gate National Recreation area, another federal agency, intervened, and we actually made an agreement to raise the man and not burn it. Chiefly because the official came out and looked at this assembled man on the beach, (unclear) it just ached with craft and everybody gathered around, who were very invested in it, they were yelling, ‘Shame! Shame! We worked so hard!’

He saw it was manifest with, it was saturated with intention and did something that on a level required bravery on behalf of a field officer in such an agency, he said, ‘Well you can raise it but you can’t burn it’ and we shook his hand and he ran away. Then my colleagues, some of them said, ‘No, we, this is our chance, let’s burn it.’ And that was in line with the guerilla sensibility of the day, but I was brought up to believe that my word was very important, it was a moral issue at that point, and also in the back of my mind it was a political issue because if we burn it here, then where do we burn it next, and will our rap sheet follow us? Probably.

JPB: Were you raised in Nebraska by the way?

LH: Well, my mother came from Nebraska and my father from North Dakota, they were people of the plains, for anybody who comes from the Great Plains you know what that culture is like.

JPB: I am from Wyoming.

LH: Exactly, we have that in common. So we took it down and it caused a riot because by that time so many people who had no attachment to it had heard of it in San Francisco over 5, 4 years of burning it at Baker Beach, that half the drunks in town rolled down, following the path of least resistance to the beach, and they were all roaring, ‘Burn the fucker!’ And I thought, ‘I’m – we’re not going to burn it for you – you have nothing invested in it, it doesn’t mean enough to you.’ And that was our first instance of cooperating with the authorities, and that gave license to our eventual intention out here to form a civil society.

JPB: When you moved out here, what was the process, the decision to come to this particular place? And did you, whose permission, if any, did you ask?

LH: No we didn’t ask anybody’s permission.

JPB: It didn’t seem like the sort of thing that was asking anybody’s permission.

LH: We went looking for beaches in California at first and couldn’t find one that would work and some artists had come out and done things in the Black Rock Desert, because it was then and it is now a blank canvas that just summons up visions and we thought well, ok, it’s naked plain, there’s nothing that can catch fire, then let’s take it there! Only in San Francisco – can you imagine saying that to anybody in LA? They’d say, who’s the producer? In New York they’d say, you want us to go out of town? Laughs So we came back here, didn’t ask anybody’s permission, we were innocent, we didn’t really know.

JPB: When did we lose our virginity in that department? When did we – where did we first find ourselves standing with somebody from the Bureau of Land Management and a clipboard?

LH: It was the second or third year, and that was the time when I corresponded with Peter Lamborn Wilson

JPB: Also Hakim Bey

LH: And they let us know that we’d be expected to fill out a permit, and we did. It became drawings, I did a wonderful inspired fantasy of a site plan, it looked good, architectural drawing looked great. Appearances count a lot. Of course, over time, as more and more people came, it’s one thing to say, and it’s true, the golden rule can work, but it only works if people can identify with one and other.

JPB: Right.

LH: What we had seen on the beach, is that this group of people who had nothing invested in it, and for which it reflected nothing back, turned into a mob, and also love, a guy tried to light it three times. Someone had thrown gas on this thing we had decided not to burn, and uh, GAS! He tried to light it three times with a BIC lighter and the third time I lost a little patience was just slightly less diplomatic and took his arm to talk to him and he planted his thumbs in my windpipe and my friends had to peel him off of me. It was a riot! I went home that night and dreamt of the Hindenburg, dreamt of the Dukakis campaign, it was a disaster! I was shaken.

LH: So the question is what to do? What we did was we came out here, that required effort from all of you to get here- a commitment to even get to the dam gig.

JPB: Right find that place!

LH: So it was no longer a place of casual resort, that helped create intention and the conditions here required everybody here had to think existentially about survival and work out their relation to something with something larger and more powerful than them, that’s nature. So that conditioned things right there. In tribal peoples can exist without elaborate government – don’t kid yourself, they are governed by custom, in every detail of what they do has evolved somehow.

JPB: When I was first starting EFF and looking at the internet, I said to my partner one day, this is wonderful, this is a working practical anarchy this internet, and he said, well that may be but it’s been my observation inside every working anarchy there’s an old boy network somewhere and they are the keepers of the actual rule base even if they claim not to be.

LH: The original anarchist philosophers held that you don’t need a lot of government but useful conventions help.

JPB: Yeah, ethics.

LH: Yeah, they were not looking at it as an adolescent.

JPB: Customs.

JPB: Anarchy in a completely heterogeneous society won’t work at all.

LH: No, not really, no it won’t.

Rules develop because common sense isn’t a) as common as you like and b) it’s very hard to understand other people’s circumstances and well it may not be apparent why you can’t speed on the playa, but of course, we all know now, we brought it down to 5 mph, because we thought, well, we can cover, the playa will be covered with art, moving art, but it will only work if people don’t.. well learned the hard way. I had to be awakened early one morning in 1996 to learn a car had plowed through a tent and run over someone’s head. That will get your attention. Then, you know, it reminds me you know, the anarchists scattered, the pseudo anarchists scattered because nobody wants responsibility. It was like when I was a kid growing up on a farm in the country and the big recreation was dirt clot fights, in the early days we weren’t far more evolved than dirt clot fights, tow it around on a tarp behind a pick up truck and those good old days, where –

JPB: Very pure form of anarchy.

LH: The implicit rule of that game was that you just heave, go to two sides of a field and heave dirt clots at one and other as kids, and it would break up when a kid would get a dirt clot in the eye and started crying and everybody would go home.


JPB: We developed the catapult out of car springs that shut it down pretty early, we had to have arms control talks.


LH: We’re not particularly rule bound, everybody knows that you’re free to express yourself, and indeed the idea of a gift, if you read that, I believe in close readings, read the, it does mention in the principles, only you can determine the content, or a collaborating group, can determine the content of a gift. That’s true of any art effort or collaboration too, and but then it suggests that you should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient, but you know if you give a gift, a good gift well given, you meditate a great degree on whether the person will find it acceptable, therefore a gift is not standing outside of someone’s tent with a megaphone. Laughs So self-expression is bound by custom in that way. It’s just a form of organized kindness and consideration and sometimes it’s not apparent to people as we’re so you know, disparately situated, many social worlds, what the consequences of their reaction might be.

JPB: You have to be mindful of the fact that the golden rule is do unto others has you would have them do unto yourself; treat ourselves badly, and expect others to do so as well. So it’s not an infallible principle. You don’t want to treat others as you treat yourself, you often don’t treat yourself as you deserve to be treated.

LH: Just because you slap yourself around doesn’t make it okay to slap somebody else around.

JPB: Who needs enemies when you’ve got yourself?

LH: So, you know, it is true there’s more spontaneous expression and more exercised freedom and freedom of worthlessness is exercised – going on here than in any other community in this country. But it happens because there is an environing social context that bring certain kinds of order into being that allow that spontaneous phenomenon we know as culture to generate itself.

JPB: In the beginning the idea that there would be a daunting webpage with you know, page view after page view of very elaborate pieces of advice that are strongly stated – that was just, that would have been laughable. The reality is that in the beginning everybody was on the same trip.

LH: Well yeah, they were, I’ll tell you something what I learned about anarchism on the hook in the early days. Anarchism works in very small – the anarchist, the rule, do what thou wilt – works in very, very small groups. I was the little groups of anarchy people, and who would camp in their little campfires and then gossip about all of the people around all of the other campfires that weren’t as cool as they were.

JPB: Or important, or as pure in their anarchy –


And that didn’t work out – I had an interesting experience early on a very dear friend of mine Ken Miller, who is the man’s man, in charge of raising the man, initially constructing it – he’s a hero in our community, and a very modest man, a gentleman. He was standing by as some friends who were you know, who had guns, were popping off shots, and personally, I heard stories of how some of those bullets tumbled by tents. Then we actually, that led us to get rid of firearms and I’m proud of the fact that you know, that America can’t deal with gun control and we achieved it.


JPB: If you want to have a sense of the culture, right? When I first drove onto the playa I had a Smith and Wesson 327 magnum sitting on the passenger seat and the greeter said nice gun!

LH: The greeters had guns!

JPB: Yeah that wouldn’t happen now!

LH: Somebody asked one of the greeters, Joe Benton, ‘Is that gun loaded?’ He said, ‘Of course it’s loaded, if it wasn’t loaded it would just be a stick!’Laughs And that was fine, except one day they were standing next to they were shooting it was Benton himself who pulled out a gun and fired it on impulse downrange so it looked like..

JPB: All the way to Winnemucca!

LH: Except it was that part from (unclear) and he was deaf for two days. Oh, and then I watched, because I like to watch, I like to watch social interactions, I like to see how they play out, what the actions are, what they really are about. Had it been someone outside of the tribe, they would have strung him up. It would have been ugly, in fact the tribal wrath would have descended on him. But since Dan, the mild mannered gentleman, was not part of the gun group, no one said a goddamn thing about it, in fact nobody apologized, I thought, ‘Ohhh ok, that’s how it works, it’s kind of like, oh, gang rule.’ Laughs And the actually was a significant event for me, it started me on the path of dealing with guns, because what was needed was a higher view of social welfare, that had some sense, that it was super ordinant in some sense that it represented our ideals and concern for the welfare of others in a complicated society, that’s how the west gets won in that regard.

JPB: That’s probably a nice segue into the ten principles. Personally, I confess that anytime that anyone starts stating principles with a capital P, and even has a number for them I usually look for the nearest exits.

LH: Yeah!

JPB: It’s like the twelve warning signs of monotheism. But I think it’s worth having these things written down as general guidelines, as long as we’re very careful in our willingness to say this is not dogma you will not be excommunicated, the church has no authority to remove your insignia.

LH: They’re descriptive not prescriptive. When I wrote them in 2004 I was called and told to write them because people were going out into the world and they were trying to do things and they had been enormously moved by the persuading example of our city even in the scale it had grown to. But back in our daily lives, without that context, whether it’s ceremonial, emotional, moral, or to some degree institutional, it was hard for them to even talk about what they experienced and, so, the call went out so I wrote them. If you notice, if you happen to read them, the imperative voice is notably lacking. It doesn’t say, ‘leave no trace,’ it says, ‘leaving no trace.’ It may seem subtle but it’s different

JPB: There is a refreshing lack of the use of the dictatorial ‘we.’

LH: They described what but that time in 2004 had spontaneously evolved within our culture, our society and in the culture that had fomented, when I wrote them, in an afterthought, I asked were all these present at the beach? Because that’s a good test, where they there at the radical origin? And, by god they were! I was delighted, and including civic responsibility because we cleaned up. We also, because we did the deal with the authorities –

JPB: And kept your word –

LH: We kept our word.

JPB: But now we have the deal with the authorities having become extremely complex with real world politics – what I encountered out there at the gate really was, allegorically was one of the most clearly defined battlegrounds where lines had been drawn between the forces of monotheism and the forces of pantheism, pantheism is, pantheism is operation by the letter – I mean, monotheism is operation by the letter, and pantheism is operation by the spirit, you know, I had been thinking about this quite a lot before I got there because I had been at the White House a few days before and they were struggling with spirit versus letter to a degree that was terrifying as an American. But we are engaged in a very important social experiment here about how to create a relationship with the people of the letter –

LH: Well it is and they have to turn everything into the imperative.

JPB: Yeah, they got the book.

LH: It’s an ongoing dialogue, I came out here, it’s been a crash course out here creating this city all these years. We came out for our otherworldly melody to this other world, and it almost as soon as we got here it’s been a crash course in worldly things: politics, endless politics, If you don’t like politics, cultivate your garden behind a wall! And economics, this actually is a business that takes an income, people say that’s wrong it should be free.

JPB: I can assure you he is not getting rich off of this. But um, but that’s just a continuous thing, in some ways we the government are at opposite ends in terms of moral sensibility and political outlook but we do have one thing in common and that is a genuine concern for public welfare.

LH: Like a lot of relationships, we rub along.

JPB: The problem for Burning Man is it becomes a test case for that early large number of Americans who are still engaged in fighting a war between the 50s and the 60s, I would have thought that 50 years in we would have reached at least as much peace as there was in North Korea, but no, we’re still fighting that war and it’s worse than even and you know, it makes it feel incumbent upon them to come out here and take advantage of the fact they have the absolutely greatest possible case of probable cause ever manifested, I mean, what is probable cause that you are breaking a drug law at Burning Man? You bought a ticket! Laughs Its like shooting fish in a barrel.

LH: But they don’t assert that, of course, they have attorneys.

JPB: I think we should start the Q&A.

LH: Yeah we came here to hear your –

JPB: We feel a vague sense of this being some kind of turning point in how Burning Man needs to go forward and we’re eager to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Moderator: If anyone has any questions please come up and give them to me and I will ask the speakers. I have a couple that I’ve written down listening to your amazing talk – one, what happened to the man that did not burn? What did you do with that?

LH: Oh ok, that’s an interesting story. We took the man who did not burn, stored him in a lot in district in San Francisco that was owned by one of the carpenters, it started with carpenters, carpenters, (unclear) carpenters who did art in their spare time and were in the building trades. And so he was a developer on a small scale and he had this lot, so we just took it in there and we attached it to a cyclone fence at the back and left it there thinking it would go unmolested and then went on with our plans and we were prepared to come to the desert and everything was organized and two weeks before somebody drove by the lot and the guys unbeknownst to him, our friend’s partner had rented it out for parking for the clubs, so they came in with chainsaws and turned the man into curbing. It was gone! No! So we had two weeks to reinvent the construction process that had previously taken a month and a half or two months. And necessity was a good teacher, and we did, we cranked it out and had it down, the famous story of crossing the line, the Cacophonists came out and crossed the line – well I wasn’t there for that, I was back organizing the building, and we had it ready one hour before the truck was due to arrive so we could put it in a truck and take it out here and burn it. I borrowed the money from the guy who owned the lot and paid him back by passing a hat out here, that’s the story of that, so there’s been more than one man, so there’s two extra men, the one from the event out here where it was burned

JPB: A real burner.

LH: I wish after that happened I took it well but inside it was my baby and it got burned so I felt bad and they said the burned man will burn on schedule, but it was too late, they should have said the man will burn at the appointed time, it’s not about you know –

JPB: Radical freedom –

LH: But there have been two men added on to the 27 that have been created, so it’s actually 29 of which, but every family has couple people who have lost their way –

JPB: Certainly in the country they do.

Moderator: You mentioned Hakim Bey quite a bit, I’ve been coming out here since you know mid to late 90s and Temporary Autonomous Zone was damn near a bible for most people out here you couldn’t walk around without someone having it in their pocket. Have you been in any further correspondence recently about the event and what do you think he would think about it?

JPB: Peter Lamborn Wilson.

LH: I have no idea.

JPB: I have a faint idea – I meant to mention this to you, he’s actually interested in us getting together.

LH: Oh really? Oh I’d love that.

JPB: Yeah, I think that’d be a good idea. He lives in upstate New York now. Peter Lamborn Wilson for those who don’t know, was a very serious scholar in comparative religion and wrote a truly remarkable book on all the angels of all the different cultures how various different religions manifested their notion of angels before he got into this idea of practical economy, anarchy, and he wrote his anarchic literature as Hakim Bey and I was spending a lot of time with him in the (unclear, microphone fail) flat on Avenue C and 4th Street –

LH: (unclear, microphone fail)

JPB: Many, many stories up from the street, filled with books, and he actually I think laid these things out very, very well and it bears reading today and I think it actually would be interesting to get him to come out here, he’s kind of old and set in his ways, but it’d be great to get him out.

Moderator: Larry is it true that you were given a ticket for pissing on the playa?

LH: It is not true.

Crowd: Did you piss on the playa?

Moderator: This is an interesting one that I think a lot of people are asking: why do you think the feds, police are here in such force? A) because of the lawsuit or B) because we haven’t been able to deal with other city issues fighting or theft?

LH: No none of that, listen they’ve been out here in force for quite a while in case no one has noticed

JPB: Yeah

LH: And they have more officers out here but it’s not a giant leap.

Crowd: They love Burning Man!

JPB: It’s their Burning Man too!

LH: Practically, I believe in actions and practical analysis. What happens when they’re here early and they’ve got nothing better to do than go out and patrol the roads coming in and stop people for license plates, lights and so on, and then once people are here they lose all interest in that and it’s over –

JPB: What you have to understand about any aspect of the federal government or probably any government is the way in which you establish yourself as being a big kahuna is how much budget you got underneath you. And believe me the district field officer at the Winnemucca district field had far less mojo before Burning Man than he has today; and it’s all a matter of hiring on all these additional budgetary items in the form of law enforcement, which we have to have because of course there are drug laws being broken out here, we have to have enforcement commiserate with the degree of the criminality.

LH: It had nothing to do with the lawsuit that had to do with us and Pershing county and that’s on the way to being, uh, it’s already mostly resolved and we’ll think we’ll come up with a ten year agreement and I doubt very much if anybody is going to go to court.

JPB: Larry can probably put a more nuanced view on this, but it’s pretty safe to say that public safety or the welfare of the Burning Man community has had a very modest role in the presence of law enforcement in Black Rock City.

LH: I’ll say this, I wouldn’t go without the police – when you want a cop, you want a cop. (Unclear) Suddenly someone burgles your house, you want a cop –

JPB: They’re saying it would be good to have the cop –

LH: And you feel –

JPB: It’s good to have the cop off, in the cop, ready to go, staged, rather than having them –

LH: Well, sometimes I wish the cops here were like the bobbies in London, now, I was at Trafalgar Square and some anarchists demonstrated they had the Guy Fawkes mask on and they had gone over the barricades to get to the base of the pedestal that would give them a platform and then the bobbies of course were there. We were just talking, they would stand around them, and use their batons to sort of –

JPB: Define the conversational zones –

LH: Cordon them in and start talking to them, it was very British, it was very civil, I looked at them it was this tableau – there was a girl who was just ranting, and someone else who was just tragically crestfallen, and another guy in this Guy Fawkes mask who had a little sporty cane who was standing there. And then I noticed, and the talks just went on and on – it wasn’t like what would play out in America, there wasn’t a gun in sight. I noticed the dapper anarchist, he was talking to a cop who was down there and he’d talk but when he really wanted to communicate he’d lean out further and he’d tip his mask up and then he’d put his mask back on.


Moderator: That’s great, ok, I have one more question and we’re gonna wrap this up guys: You said you like to watch social interactions how’s that working out for you?

LH: I grew up in a world that was interesting, heterogeneous, truck farming region, but the Harveys were from the plains and my father was incredibly self reliant – you can thank my father for the self reliance – and eventually fell, and he couldn’t accept help from others and we didn’t neighbor with people, really, so one of my earliest wishes was, couldn’t we just get everybody out in the field and do something you know, really interesting? Laughs And we got everybody out in the field, and we’re interesting.

JPB: Interesting. I grew up in conditions even more austere than Larry’s – I was the only kid in miles on a great big cattle ranch. At one point my mother – I complained to my mother that I was bored and she said anybody who is bored isn’t paying close enough attention. You know, since the thing that was obviously available to pay attention to was the human comedy, that’s what I’ve been interested in every since. I mean I think Larry and I derive – one of the things we have in common is a great appreciation of the human comedy that is now rich and detailed and immensely pleasurable and there’s plenty of that, you can just sit and be still and have a ringside seat.

LH: In a sense, there’s nothing wrong with necessarily be a spectator, you can be a creative spectator.

Crowd: Yeah exactly

JPB: Absolutely.

LH: Think of all the photographers, you know – oh they’re just photographing us – it doesn’t mean you have to be an extrovert you can be an introvert. You can be someone sitting over there scribbling in a journal shyly who is going to represent – who is going to write the book that goes around the world that represents what we really are to people; and of course that’s what we want to do, we’re working now to spread Burning Man around the world and our community is already doing it. I hate that phrase ‘lead from behind,’ but in a sense we do, we see what the culture does and we act innately.

Moderator: Great! That was an amazingly fantastic and excellent talk, let’s give it up for John Perry Barlow everybody! And Larry fucking Harvey everybody! Come on, let’s give it up big for these guys, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, none of this would be here if it wasn’t for them! Everybody go and give them blow jobs after this and make them happy all right? I also need to say that I’ve been moderating this speaker series for a couple years now and that was one of the best talks that I’ve ever had on my stage, I am nothing but honored and proud to be a part of this and I just want to thank these two men right here myself thank you so much! You guys enjoy the rest of your time out here. You guys are all fucking beautiful thank you so much for showing up today and you guys enjoy the rest of your day and don’t die!

[Editor’s note: sorry for the unclear bits, it was the playa, I did my best!]


A Hot Mess – Burning Man in the Nineties

Outside Magazine published a story last October about the early history of Burning Man, with contributions from many of the original participants. The story is written by Brad Wieners, who is an editor for Bloomberg, who like Business Insider seem to be having a real love affair with Burning Man lately.

We’ve covered the earlier history of the burn before, as well as its roots in the Cacophony Society and the Church of Subgenius…this story is a good companion to the accepted history. The broad combination of perspectives, makes it really feel like a true history to me. Is it the whole truth? Unlikely, but so far it seems the closest we’ve got.

Feeling the flame at Burning Ma

(Photos by George Post, Stewart Harvey, Scott London)

“This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words. And indeed in thought.” —T.E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

It took some convincing to get me to Burning Man, even though—or because—friends couldn’t shut up about it. Their pictures were intriguing, sure, but the camp back then resembled nothing so much as the costumey parking lot of a Grateful Dead show.

Not a sell for me. And I like people fine, but when I go camping I generally hope to see fewer of them. Finally, worn down by heartfelt entreaties—and especially the assurances from my great friend John Law, a main mover in the festival’s start-up era—I drove overnight from San Francisco and made the Black Rock Desert shortly after dawn.

What I will never forget about that first trip to northwest Nevada was striking out onto the playa, the vast, vacant deceased lake bed. It was 1994—the ninth Burning Man, the fifth in the desert—a time before cell phones, and the map of the area I was headed to was blank. Directions? Look for the second traffic cone and a line of those small red-flag wire thingies. Leave the road. Drive eight miles, turn right for two more. Really, that was it.

Five minutes out, I found myself in an alkaline whiteout, partly of my own making because of the rooster tail of dirt I was kicking up. When I finally made camp it felt like an achievement, and I had adrenaline to burn. So, despite being sleep deprived, I wrapped a kaffiyeh around my head and took off on a walk.

Immediately, I started to get what I’d been missing: the almost gravitational communal spirit (needed for survival) and the permission, even insistence, to get your freak on. Everyone seemed busy: erecting tepees, hanging wind socks, painting their bodies. It was Montessori for grown-ups, in the most astonishing void.

Eighteen years later, tens of thousands have made the pilgrimage, some a bit too avidly, it’s fair to say. As the event grew, a pop-up metropolis formed—Black Rock City, whose population this year may top 60,000. The outfit that stages the festival, Black Rock City LLC, is now a $23 million-per-year concern with 40 full-time employees, hundreds of volunteers, and a non-profit arts foundation that doles out grants. Demand for tickets is so great, the organizers used a lottery system this spring. That turned out to be a mistake. Big-time artists and veteran volunteers were shut out, while scalpers ran the tickets ($250 face value) up to $1,000 on eBay.

For Burning Man’s principals, the ticket fiasco was merely the latest crisis they’ve had to overcome to keep the dance going. They’ve been faced with such challenges every year, it seems, and somehow they’ve always managed to meet the task—or to finagle someone who could.

In this light, Burning Man is partly the story of a half-dozen eccentrics—an unemployed landscaper (Larry Harvey), an art model (Crimson Rose), a struggling photographer (Will Roger Peterson), a dot-com PR gal (Marian Goodell), an aerobics instructor (Harley Dubois), and a signmaker (Michael Mikel)—who made good. Less charitably, it’s the tale of a group of slackers who grabbed hold of the one thing that brought them notice—and, eventually, a paycheck—and have ruthlessly ridden it for all it’s worth. The truth contains elements of both, of course, but one thing’s for sure: it’s never boring.

Before it drew thousands of determined pilgrims to the Nevada desert, Burning Man consisted of a small group of 
friends torching an effigy on San Francisco’s Baker Beach, just west of the Golden Gate Bridge. Was it a summer solstice party? Guerrilla art? Or, as legend had it, one man’s attempt to exorcise his heartbreak?

LARRY HARVEY (co-creator and executive director of Burning Man): My friend Mary Grauberger had done a celebration down on Baker Beach for years. In 1986, she’d decided not to do it again, and I thought we’d recreate that, but in our own way. I really wasn’t an artist. I was hanging out with these famous latte carpenters, all of whom, in their spare time, were writing novels or painting pictures or playing music. I think Jerry [James] may have asked me to repeat my statement on the phone so he understood what I was telling him: “Let’s burn a man on the beach.”

JERRY JAMES (co-creator): There wasn’t much more to it than that. Larry called me and asked, “Do you want to build a figure and go burn it for the solstice?” OK, sure.

FLASH (born Michael Hopkins, Burning Man jack-of-all-trades): Larry and I met on a double date. I was dating the daughter; he was dating the mother. He was smart and didn’t see the mother after that.[laughs] But I remember thinking: Whatever happens on this date, I like this guy. Later he tells me he’s going to do some ritual on the beach. Everyone had their thing. You helped on their thing, they’d be there for yours.

JAMES: The first one was just a little stick figure. Scrap wood from Flash’s mother-in-law’s garage, I think. I started by crafting a rib cage with dimension to it and trying to figure out how to do a head. So, a pyramid shape.

JOE FENTON (member of the Black Rock Rangers, Burning Man’s security team): I didn’t go to the burns on the beach, but I did a paper about them for a college course on the anthropology of festivals. Larry told me very specifically that the figure was an effigy of his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his son. He told me he wanted to burn her out of his memory. He moved off that soon afterward. I guess he figured it wasn’t very politically correct, and now that idea is actively suppressed.

FLASH: Of course it’s a woman! Look at the hips! It freaks people out when I tell them that, because they’re so serious about it now. They’re on their journey to the sacred. But what does it matter? The Man is what you need him to be.

HARVEY: The idea that it was over a breakup—I actually made that observation once, to a reporter from Outside [“Black Rock Flambé,” September 1993]. That was not a conscious thought in my mind at the time. That was the result of introspection. But people like a simple story; it gets them off the hook. It’s over a love affair. Oh.

JAMES: It was June. A typical dark, foggy, windy night on a San Francisco beach. Besides our little group, there were really only about four other people around, and they came over when we ignited this thing. One of them had a guitar or a tambourine, and that was sweet. But it wasn’t like people just fell upon the Burning Man. I think they wanted to get warm.

HARVEY: To some it represented a guerrilla action, and that was kind of inspiring. But it wasn’t really a criminal thrill. We wanted to do it, and we had to do it sort of undercover, because the authorities would never permit a fire of that magnitude.

JAMES: By the second or third year, the Man had grown to 40 feet, and I needed help getting it set up out there. Larry wasn’t a builder. He had ideas for the design, but I needed bodies. I’d read about the Cacophony Society, so we contacted them.

MICHAEL MIKEL (co-creator, founder of the Black Rock Rangers): Our motto at the Cacophony Society was “We’re a randomly gathered network of free spirits, united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” We got a lot of our philosophy from the Suicide Club, which did things like climb the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of the night. But the Suicide Club was so far underground, I couldn’t find them. I decided Cacophony would be much more open. We started listing events in the newsletter, and it just grew.

STUART MANGRUM (publisher of the Black Rock Gazette, the first Burning Man newspaper):The Cacophonists were like this magic network, turning their imaginary friends into real friends, people who otherwise were too unusual to unite with others. Some of them were really feral. But the critical thing was, Cacophony turned you from a talker into a doer.

P. SEGAL (writer whose apartment at 1907 Golden Gate Ave. served as Cacophony headquarters): Typically, whenever we wanted to make something happen, we had a party. That’s how John Law made his entry into my life: climbing through a third-story window that had no fire escape. I met Carrie [Galbraith] that same evening. She really brought together all these people who became pivotal in making Burning Man happen.

JOHN LAW (co-creator): There were a few philosophical underpinnings to Burning Man, but the one that got us to the desert was the Zone concept Carrie came up with. The idea was that you would cross an imaginary barrier, and after that you’d be in an alien land where anything could happen.

CARRIE GALBRAITH (Cacophonist): The concept for the Zone came from my infatuation with the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, specifically Stalker and the book it was based on. In Cacophony, we took turns leading the others on Zone Trips, where you didn’t know where they were taking you. For the first one, I just put an event write-up in the newsletter. “We’re going to the Zone. Meet at my place at 11 p.m. on Friday night. We’ll be back on Sunday.”

LAW: We did two Zone Trips to L.A., and at least one to Mexico. The idea for a Zone Trip to the Black Rock Desert came from Kevin Evans.

SEGAL: Kevin was young, like 19, but he was such a good artist, so we invited him to live with us at 1907. Another of my roommates was very good friends with this guy Mel Fry, an alias. Mel grew up near the Black Rock Desert, and he would do these events out there. The most famous was the Croquet X Machina game, which my roommate had gone to in 1988. Later we went to something called the Wind Sculpture Festival. Kevin and I and two friends built a canopy bed on wheels and went out there to sail it around and had an absolutely amazing time.

KEVIN EVANS (artist and animator): The Black Rock’s this sea of nothingness, and setting art on the desert reminded me of these sculptures in the mudflats of Emeryville [east of San Francisco] that I admired as a kid. When the Man didn’t burn at the beach in 1990—because the police and fire department shut it down—I suggested taking it to the Black Rock.

HARVEY: I don’t remember the exact words they used to describe the desert, but I imagined something extraordinary. And it turned out to be that.

Burning Man on Baker Beach was a bonfire, but Burning Man in the Nevada desert quickly became something more: an itinerant carnival, bacchanal, and no-walls art showcase.

VANESSA KUEMMERLE (co-creator): When you reach the point where you can see the desert open up, it’s amazing. We’d piled into this station wagon and thrown some potatoes on the manifold to cook, and when we got to the edge of the playa there was nobody there. Nobody anywhere. We got there at dusk, which is my favorite time. You look out, it’s like the goddamn surface of the moon.

WILL ROGER PETERSON (Burning Man board member): The life-changing experience has to do with the place itself. You weather a few dust storms, see a few rainbows, look at the sky at night. It’s like being on a boat on the ocean, except it’s not. You can walk on it.

FLASH: Black Rock City has greeters now, did you know that? Like you just entered Walmart. “Welcome home, Burner!” they say. Are you kidding me? This isn’t home. This is not Shangri-La. Why it was funny in the first place was that we had no business being there.

MIKEL: We survived on granola bars. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner—it was what we had. Now you can get seven-course gourmet meals. You can have sushi on a naked woman.

FENTON: The first thing you learn when you arrive is that you’re not done yet. You have to figure out shelter, you have to figure out shade. You don’t just come, drop your plate of vegetables, and get your party on. There’s work. I really responded to that.

WILLIAM BINZEN (artist): Larry asked me for ideas about the layout of the camp. I said I thought we should have circles within circles, like a target, with four sections: north, south, east, and west. From the beginning, I told Larry that Burning Man should be much more than just a blowout barbecue party—that we should make it about art. Because art is a way that we define who we are in time and place and share an experience we would not otherwise have.

CRIMSON ROSE (Burning Man board member): When Larry first called to ask me if I’d do something for the project, I snobbishly turned him down. But the next year, in ’91, I saw the Man in San Francisco and something clicked. I knew I had to go.

MIKEL: I started the Black Rock Rangers in ’92. That year, Burning Man was way up on the north end of the desert, miles and miles away, and if you missed it by a couple of degrees you could go veering off and get lost. So I got together with a bunch of friends and formed the Rangers. Back before we banned driving cars in camp, we had one guy who had been reckless, so we let the air out of his tires and left a note saying “Air pressure is a privilege.” That was our frontier justice.

FENTON: Our idea for the Rangers was, don’t be such an idiot that the real sheriffs have to get involved. We were going to protect you from yourself.

LAW: Everyone contributed based on what they knew how to do. I did neon at a sign company, so I did neon for the Man. Nothing was set in stone at all. Three Day Stubble, the first band to play out there, was the last band you would ever expect to hear in the desert—this retarded nerd rock. It was like the absolute antithesis of what anyone would imagine to be a spiritual experience.

KUEMMERLE: We pretty much always wanted there not to be drum circles. We never quite got that one to fly.

LAW: Yeah, we made bumper stickers: NO DRUM CIRCLES. It was a joke, mostly. As early as ’93, we were joking about Burning Man becoming a religion.

FENTON: Later there was this idea that those of us with guns didn’t care about safety, but that’s bullshit. We were the first to recognize when firing weapons wasn’t safe anymore. In 1993, I did the Drive-By Shooting Range and the Golf Skeet, and they were both 10 to 15 miles outside camp. For the Golf Skeet, we had one guy with a 12-gauge and one hitting balls with a sand wedge, and you’d get points every time you hit the ball. The Golf Skeet died when this guy showed up with an M1 Garand, which is a .30-06 rifle that can shoot a mile.

CHRIS RADCLIFFE (Cacophonist): As a kid in Yosemite, I’d seen this thing where they lit a cord of firewood and dropped it over Bridalveil Fall, so you had a river of sparks pouring down. I found this rock wall at the top of the playa. Everyone had their semiautomatics, mostly AK-47’s, and on my signal we emptied a clip into the plate rock. As much ammo as you can, and there’d be this shower of sparks cascading down, followed by a freight train of echoes. A waterfall of fire. Beautiful.

KEVIN KELLY (a founding editor of Wired magazine): They’re burning stuff, exploding stuff, there was the primeval draw of flickering flame—but it felt safe to me. In 1994, I took my two daughters, who were six and eight. They were the only children I saw at that time, but there was a feeling that outside the tribe you were vulnerable, but inside you were safe.

“CHICKEN” JOHN RINALDI (director of Circus Redickuless, a 1990s punk talent show): Burning Man wasn’t a church, it was a possibility engine. It wasn’t about who makes great art, it was thateveryone is making art. That’s the greatest thing.

FENTON: My first year, 1991, it’s 100 people. The second year it’s 400, and the third 800. At that point it wasn’t so much that there were a lot of people but that there were a lot of people you couldn’t vouch for. Some came to party, some came looking for an art event, and some were Mad Maxreenactors. Then, in ’94, we called it the Black Rock Arts Festival, and we had real artists doing real art, like Pepe Ozan. That’s the same year the theme-camp idea came about.

HARVEY: Peter [Doty] has been celebrated for Christmas Camp, the first really funny one. It was a spoof of a mall Santa. Peter was Santa, and he played Christmas carols constantly and guilt-tripped everyone: “Santa gives and he gives, and what does he get?” He served eggnog in 95 degrees and then complained bitterly when you wouldn’t drink it.

BINZEN: Some of the most astonishing moments came from Kimric Smythe, one of the early pyrotechnic people. As Exploding Man, he and his wife, Heidi, both had these big spinning armatures strapped
to their backs, with fireworks and sparks shooting off. It was inspiring to see what unexpected things people could do. We’d go to their camps afterward to congratulate them before hunkering down in the quiet of the desert—until the first rave camp came to the desert and cranked it up.

MANGRUM: After ’94, Larry wanted a theme for the entire festival. I made fun of him: What, like Enchantment Under the Sea? Like it’s a prom? But there were getting to be some real tensions. In 1995, there was the first rave, and it went 24/7 and kept people up. So I think Larry thought a theme would help define it.

In a series of pre-festival events in San Francisco, artists and Cacophonists hatched various plays and subplots, all based on Dante’s 
Inferno and all supporting a central story about a hostile takeover of Burning Man by Helco and Papa Satan, its CEO.

MIKEL: The whole theme was a parody about commerce. The idea was that the devil was going to take over Burning Man. He ran a fictitious company called Helco, and it was like the end of the world.

HARLEY DUBOIS (Burning Man board member): We were always looking for the tipping point. When does it not work anymore? In ’96, we found it.

KUEMMERLE: We talked about it many a time. When does a group of people become a mob and lose a sense of responsibility for their actions and the wellbeing of all?

MIKEL: It started during the setup days. Michael Furey, a neon artist, was in the town of Gerlach, drinking at the bar. Toward dusk he got on his motorcycle to go back to camp, and people tried to convince him to put his bike in a truck, but he declined. There was somebody in a van driving back at the same time, and Michael started doing these runs at the van to see how close he could get.

KUEMMERLE: It was that twilight hour. I had gone into town and was at a gas station where there were a whole bunch of people trying to figure out how to get to Burning Man. There was a caravan of maybe 10, 20 cars. Beautiful sunset. At some point I see a flashing light out on the playa. Is it really far away? Close? And then all of a sudden, whoom!—I see that it’s John [Law]’s white van. A guy called SteveCo was driving. I pull over and stop the car. SteveCo stops the van and just looks at me and goes, “Mike Furey’s dead.” Furey had been playing chicken with the van and was basically decapitated by the side mirror. There wasn’t any ambiguity there.

LAW: Furey killed himself, but it was Larry’s response that made me certain I was done after that year.

KUEMMERLE: We’re waiting for a coroner and the sheriff. An SUV comes up, or a minivan, and Larry and a few other people get out. Larry bursts onto the scene and he says—I swear to fucking God—four times in a row: “There’s no blood on our hands!” My jaw was on the playa. It was one of those moments of looking into someone’s mind and not being too excited about what I saw.

FENTON: Larry’s way of dealing with 1996 was to try and control what was getting to the media. When Furey died, the first thing Larry did was look at his watch. He made sure to say it happened at 11:30 the night before the event officially began. So it didn’t happen at the festival but before the festival, as if Furey’s death was somehow not related. It was a stupid, alcoholic, moronic death. But you couldn’t deny that he chose this event to die at.

RADCLIFFE: Burning Man had become Larry’s whole life, so for John to say it’s over—that was a problem. Larry started politicking during the festival, telling me that John was handing out speed to volunteers. I told him if he repeated that, I’d strangle him. And he did. So I did.

HARVEY: That is an invention. Chris never threatened me with violence. He’s a fertile source of ruses. When it came down to it, there was this argument in ’96 that divided myself and others. John was among them. There were members of that crowd who put out a T-shirt that said BURNING MAN: WOODSTOCK OR ALTAMONT? YOU BE THE JUDGE. You could tell they were secretly rooting for Altamont.

ALAN “REVEREND AL” RIDENOUR (head of Los Angeles Cacophony): In ’96, Burning Man was at its peak. We did the Damnation of Tinseltown and the flaming Helco tower. Burn Night felt like a scary, transformative ritual. Flash played Satan, and he came through with a gas can and doused Doris Day and John Wayne. I was on acid when I heard Flash’s booming laugh. He was Satan.

ELIZABETH GILBERT (author of Eat, Pray, Love who wrote about Burning Man ’96 forSpin): Honestly, I was scared of it. I remember the way the camp turned from this playful thing by day—beautiful and fanciful and Narnia-like—to this menacing thing at night. Being around all that fire, people with guns, and a lot of people on drugs, I was like, “They’ll be eating each other soon!” And in some ways they were—more sexually than anything else. I understood that Burning Man was waking something up. That awakening might lead to transcendent creativity—or it might be savage and ungovernable once it’s released.

HARVEY: What finally occurred in ’96 was a question about two different visions of what Burning Man should be. Should it be civilized? Or should it be, essentially, a repudiation of order? If it’s a repudiation of order and authority, and you’re the organizer and it involves thousands of people, what does that mean for you? What kind of a moral position is that to be in?

LAW: Of course it had to change. We knew better than anyone, because we worked hard to keep everyone safe. But there was an opportunity there to say, Don’t make it bigger. Why does it need to be thousands? Keep it to a size where you know who you’re dealing with.

CHICKEN JOHN: We didn’t finish cleaning up that year until October 3, a full month later. When Larry left—I think it was the second morning after the burn—I was actually relieved. But back in the city, he was telling a bunch of artists that they’d see $500, or $300, or $200—and that John Law would give them the money when he got back. Only John spent everything he had left on dumpsters and keeping us alive out there. It got personal. Larry wasn’t doing the work, we were. All while he was setting John up.

BINZEN: Many of the old-timers who no longer participate really liked Larry at first but came to see him as a classic manipulator, a user from behind the Oz curtain.

KUEMMERLE: I remember going to a post-event meeting in October 1996, and there were accusations pointed at John and me that we had stolen money and were doing crazy shit. We’d just killed ourselves cleaning up this mess, only to come back to San Francisco to hear others bitch and moan. That was it for me.

MIKEL: There was a second serious accident in ’96, the morning after the burn. Someone drove over a tent with a couple in it and then crashed into another car, scalding a third woman with radiator fluid. The couple had to be medevaced, and the burned woman had to be driven all the way to Reno.

LAW: No one who goes to Burning Man today is going to care about a bunch of old farts who are mad at each other because the band broke up. But they should know who they’re dealing with. Larry’s no saint. He’s also no visionary.

MIKEL: That was the year John Law decided not to do it again, and the accidents were really traumatic for those of us who’d responded to them. But afterward I looked at everything that had happened and realized that, by and large, people there had an incredibly wonderful time. I decided to keep that perspective. Rather than not do Burning Man anymore, we needed to keep it going.

OUT OF THE ASHES: 1997–1998
After 1996, the Bureau of Land Management wouldn’t allow the event back on Black Rock Desert, so it was moved onto private land 10 
miles northwest of the old site, on the grassy Hualapai Playa. Two women—Marian Goodell, a.k.a. Maid Marian, and Harley Dubois—stepped in to revamp the festival’s logistics.

FENTON: If it hadn’t been for Marian and Harley, it would have fallen apart.

MARIAN GOODELL (Burning Man board member): I came in as Larry’s companion, so I went to the meetings with public officials, and I had a fresh perspective. We’d been like cowboys with our hats tilted sideways, and that wasn’t the best approach.

DUBOIS: There was a new appreciation for organization. Most of the infrastructure that people see when they come to Burning Man today, I created. I created Playa Information Services, which maps out where all the theme camps go. I developed the New Earth Guardians, the environmental arm that teaches people about Leave No Trace.

GOODELL: Even on private property, Nevada has to approve mass gatherings, and since the event was partially held on scrub-brush land, $350,000 had to be designated to Washoe County for fire protection. We didn’t have that. We made an agreement that 25 percent of every ticket would go into an escrow account. When they found that the escrow balance was low, the sheriff started taking the entire gate home every day.

BRIAN DOHERTY (author of This Is Burning Man): While it definitely changed after ’96—it was way more planned—that didn’t keep it from being amazing. Before then, a lot of the art was discards. Stuff cobbled together, old doors or signs, or Steve Heck’s surreal collection of junk pianos. As it went on, the art was commissioned. It may have become more of a theme park, but people were still making the theme park as they went along.

MICHAEL CHRISTIAN (artist): What I found is that whatever you needed, you could get, and the joy of building out there was not knowing where your project was going exactly, but adapting to what’s “provided.” I was always surprised by what you could find. You’d put the word out: we need a physicist who knows these sorts of calculations. Well, there’s so-and-so at camp blah de blah. You’d go down there, and they’d tell you, “The electric polarity of your blah de blah is off….” Really, did that just happen? And that happened a lot.

DOHERTY: It isn’t as if all the danger went away, either. In ’97, Jim Mason did his Temporal Decomposition sculpture, which he all but killed himself making, with 60,000 gallons of cubic ice in a massive sphere. He also had his Veg-o-Matic—this flamethrower on a tractor that shot fire 40 feet. He drove around on Burn Night looking for stuff to torch, burning whole camps, it seemed, and then ended up attacking his ice ball—this epic battle between fire and ice. Ice won: he ran out of fuel.

GOODELL: Everyone agreed private land had sucked. After the ’97 burn, we got more tactical. Flash created the Empire and Gerlach Chamber of Commerce, with a phone number that rang at a bar where he worked. I found an ally at the BLM, and we had a letter-writing campaign. It took all winter, and I remember I was standing in a snowstorm outside the BLM office when we got the news that we’d get the permit. We were going back to the playa.

FLASH: Help wasn’t easy to come by in Gerlach, and I hired this woman on as a cook, and … well, if I’ve learned only one thing in life, it’s this: never tell a chick she can’t cook a chicken. She’s serving it, and it’s still bleeding. So I fired her. Next night, she came after me with a .38. I was walking along, and she yells at me. I turn, see she has the gun, and she shoots at me. I hit the deck, but she’s walking toward me, so I get to my feet and scramble into Bruno’s bar. I get in there, and my leg’s hit. I figure I’ll go out like in a western. I yell, “Boys, some bitch just shot me! Give me some whiskey!” The bartender gives me two shots of Jack Daniel’s. Unfortunately for the woman, she was a bad shot. She got five years. I got famous.

Back on the playa after 1998, the organizers 
established a template that has endured since, even as lawsuits among board members and an act of sabotage tested the event’s integrity.

GEOFF DYER (author of Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do Itamong other books): By the time I went, in 1999, a lot of people were already lamenting that it wasn’t the anarchic free-for-all that it had been. I stopped going myself in 2005, but I feel very sure that the people who started going in 2006 were as absolutely wonderstruck as I was.

JESS HOBBS (artist): The ’90s were known more for the art of these guys who created dangerous machines—on fire. The Flaming Lotus Girls started in 2000 with 12 girls who wanted to make more interesting large sculptures with fire. To say Burning Man changed my life is a cliché, but I didn’t build large-scale art before I went, and now that’s a big part of my life. That happened for a lot of us.

KELLY: It became a venue where technologists and artists introduced new things. Like el-wire—this neon wire. Out of nowhere comes this glowing outline of a galloping horse. It was the most brilliant thing I’d ever seen.

FLASH: El-wire. LEDs. Lasers. There’s so much light, it’s a strange version of Vegas now.

DYER: The second year my wife and I went, in 2001, we were aware that there was this sort of sex dimension at Burning Man. Somebody mentioned this place called the Fornication Station. We found the tent and started queuing up, and there was this incredibly muscular guy in bondage-like wear. In a lovely, soft voice, he explained what the rules were. This really cool woman said, “Oh, I’ll just see if there’s a table for you.” If you went now, it would probably be full of Europeans.

ADRIAN ROBERTS (publisher of Piss Clear, Burning Man’s alternative newspaper): This year will be my 20th, and by far the best burn ever was in 2007, when someone burned the Man a week early. It was at the start of the week, maybe 10,000 people were in camp, and all of a sudden you’re like, Is the Man on fire? It was spontaneous. It was exciting. It was everything that the burn hadn’t been in years.

DUBOIS: I slept through it, and when I woke up in the morning somebody said to me, “Harley, whoever lit the Man has red and black paint on their face.” I said, “Paul Addis.” Because I knew him. I’ve known him since ’94. I totally understand that old-school mentality, but he probably wasn’t on his medication, which he needs to stay on.

ROGER: I was not amused. There’s a difference between doing a prank and arson. It cost us thousands of dollars to build a new Man in just a few days. We took him to court over the damages.

CHICKEN JOHN: But they didn’t have to make it a felony! Addis was not well, and the board knew that. They sent their sick friend to prison, for what? No one got hurt. He burned firewood—wood that was intended to be burned. And it was funny. It was like going back to the beach. And yet [Will] Roger showed up in court with every receipt he could find to make sure it amounted to a felony.

ROBERTS: Part of the reason I’ve been going to Burning Man for 20 years is that I’ve never gotten too close to the source of the flame, so to speak. Practically every person I know who works close to the board gets burned out, because they kind of get used.

DUBOIS: It’s been difficult. All of us have wanted to quit at times. But as an organization, we’ve gotten better at managing the cycle. And we’ve weathered all the interpersonal stuff, too.

MIKEL: After the 1990s, Larry built a political power base, and he chose to keep only yes-people around. I was the only person during the 2000–01 period who was willing to say, “No, Larry, this is not right.” That power struggle came to a head in 2003, when Larry decided to take complete ownership of it all. I called him on it and filed a lawsuit. John Law sued him, too. Eventually, everything got settled, and it got to a point where board members could stand up for themselves.

FLASH: If you want the real story of the founders in a nutshell, it’s this: We’re friends. Here’s the money. Here’s a knife. That’s it.

GOODELL: One time, I think it must have been 2004, I told Michael Mikel that I thought I was going crazy. He told me, “We’re all going crazy.” And I was like, “That isn’t helpful!” I was worried that I was caught up with a bunch of people and that Larry’s vision had manifest as something potentially evil. My dad didn’t like Burning Man—well, he eventually did, but he was very cautious. He looked at the website, and when he saw Larry’s bio he said, “That’s a messianic personality.”

ROSE: It’s still worth it, because it gives artists the chance to realize their vision.

CHRISTIAN: A lot of fun stuff still happens, but it’s not what it used to be. Not that I’m pining for the good old days, but Burning Man itself doesn’t really have any original ideas. They’re just kind of steering the ship, and not exactly in the way most people I know would recommend. It’s become a lot more like Mardi Gras, people coming out to go to a great party. But it is a great party.

GILBERT: I’m too old to be surprised by failed utopias. It’s more amazing that it continues at all. And I’m glad it endures. I’m always happy to hear people say they’re going. They always invite me, for some reason. I always say, “Next year—I’ll go with you guys next year.”

Additional reporting by Meaghen Brown.

Brad Wieners (@BradWieners), a former senior editor at Outside, is executive editor ofBloomberg Businessweek.