The Burning Man blog has a lengthy eulogy about Tom LaPorte aka “Lost Tom”, a captain of the media team who passed away last week. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends, vale Lost Tom from Burners. We will pour one out for another fallen comrade.
There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe Tom and the effect he had on everyone who had the privilege to know him: Loving, kind, passionate, selfless, inspirational, collaborator, confidant, innovator, gentleman, mentor, the real deal, a class act, community organizer extraordinaire, an embracer of the chaos, “a grown-up amongst us kids,” and, to everyone, a dear friend. He truly loved people, individually and collectively. He found the best in everyone — and touched everyone.
…Tom’s first year at the Burn was 2005 as a member of Bop Camp, a fun-loving crew of Chicago Burners that had somehow achieved Esplanade frontage offering an ungainly jousting experience utilizing motorcycle helmets and stuffed animals duct taped to PVC pipes. He dove in with gusto, cheering the burning of the Man dressed as the ace of spades, his first and only costume of choice.
According to Tom’s friends on Facebook, his first year at Burning Man was actually 2004.
He came up with the idea of broadcasting the BMIR radio station live from the Man base in 2009, the year he and his Chicago Crew took over Burners Without Borders camp and turned it into what it is today.
The playa was never big enough for what Tom had to offer. When participants left the event in 2005 to help communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Tom followed. He immediately grasped how Burners could do work that matters not just in the desert but in the hearts of communities everywhere. In fact it was what he had been doing himself for years, bringing creativity to the streets of Chicago and creating unlikely connections.
Tom came back from Katrina and started promoting Burners Without Borders in Chicago, and suddenly all his projects became BWB projects. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of BWB. He initiated the Chicago takeover of BWB Camp in 2009 and turned the camp into what it is today.
He also started the Music Box Project, his attempt at explaining “Cultural First Response” to the world. Musicians could become first responders themselves and give the art of healing through music in the hardest of times.
It doesn’t seem like anyone responded to the Cultural First Responder idea. I always thought Burners Without Borders was more about “send in DPW Heavy Machinery” than sending actual Burners in to, well, hang out and play guitar and stuff. Whatever it is we Burners do when in a group setting such as Burning Man, or the Standing Rock protests.
Coincidentally [ding], when Hurricane Katrina struck – being watched live via military satellite from the Playa – and Burners Without Borders was formed in response, Tom had gone to Burning Man to spend 2 weeks setting up an emergency broadcast system.
first second year at the Playa, he shows up with pre-recorded Public Service Announcements to hand out as part of a test of a pop-up emergency broadcast system in a place with no cell service. Because if it’s one thing everyone brings to Burning Man, it’s CD-ROM drives. This was an “art” project that several many people thought was worth spending 2+ weeks on. They tested it on Tuesday, Katrina hit on Thursday – and by Monday Tom was off to Katrina, large sum of money having been raised. Then he headed straight back to Chicago to found Burners Without Borders.
Where is that Emergency Public Service Announcement system today? Would’ve come in handy during last year’s false Amber Alert.
“Temporary art serves its purpose, it goes away and mankind goes onto the next step. It’s like a shooting star, it’s really beautiful, then it goes away, but the poetry doesn’t stop. We’ve found a way to achieve collective poetry, to achieve creativity in a group. It’s no longer the age of the lone genius working in isolation, waiting for the great discovery. It’s people working together, discovering stuff together, realizing what they have, taking time to celebrate it, but wondering what’s around the next bend.”
-Tom LaPorte (1953-2017)
Lost Tom died of heart failure, aged 63. He previously had a heart attack on the Playa.
Colleagues and friends are mourning the passing of Tom LaPorte, a versatile and innovative communicator over four decades throughout Chicago media. LaPorte, who was 63, died Wednesday of heart failure, according to multiple reports. He most recently served as Chicago’s assistant water commissioner and spokesman for the department. Before that he was webmaster for CBS Radio all-news WBBM AM 780, webmaster, editor and managing editor of former all-news WMAQ, and producer and news editor for news/talk WIND AM 560. LaPorte also headed media relations for Burning Man Project, a nonprofit arts and performance festival, and taught broadcasting and production at Columbia College Chicago. A graduate of Southern Illinois University and six-time Peter Lisagor Award winner, he began his radio career as public affairs director and news anchor at WCIL in Carbondale, Illinois.
Communications guru Tom LaPorte reveals the five steps of persuasion artists can use to win attention from collectors, the media, and the public. He also provides a plethora of other practical advice, from how to write a press release to how to incorporate video and live presentations into one’s marketing.
“Artists, by their natures, are often not drawn to aggressive self-promotion…. The ability to communicate through the conventional channels, to get your work known, to get yourself known as an artist and build your communities is something that takes a little bit of practice. Just as your art does.”
Tom LaPorte is a public relations and communications expert based in Chicago. LaPorte was born in Boston in 1953, and his family moved to Chicago in 1960. He earned a Associate of Arts degree in Speech Communication and Rhetoric from the College of DuPage in 1976, and Bachelor of Science in Speech Communications/Radio-TV from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1979. LaPorte held positions in the radio industry for approximately twenty years, including as a writer, producer, and manager of a news room. In 1996 he began working with the Internet, spearheading an effort to audio stream that year’s Democratic National Convention. LaPorte worked as a writer, editor, and webmaster for WBBM-AM for several years before becoming Assistant Commissioner for the City of Chicago in public and media relations. He spent nearly thirteen years in the role before leaving to act as an independent consultant. Since 2004 LaPorte has also coordinated media relations for Burning Man, an annual festival which brings approximately 68,000 artist-attendees to the Nevada desert. Through the festival, LaPorte acts as a pro bono consultant for artists and creatives of all types.
Lost Tom was an Elf to his college roommate Jim Belushi’s Santa-con:
Long before his interest in Burning Man, Tom was already a Chicago legend. As Jim Belushi’s college roommate and partner in mischief, he went around to the Albanian homes in the suburbs dressed as “Frostbite the Elf” to Jim’s blotto Albanian Santa.
Tom encountered Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies (not Albert Hofmann of the Trippies) as a teen with a high school radio show, before rising up to use the infamous Chicago political machine as a force for good:
Tom embodied the best of Burning Man before he ever set foot on the playa. He was first and foremost a storyteller. Inspired by an interview he did with political and social activist Abbie Hoffman for his high school newspaper during the Chicago 7 trial, he pursued a career in journalism, working for some of the top Chicago media outlets, eventually working for the City of Chicago as Assistant Water Commissioner, where he honed his second strength — collaboration — working with residents, local businesses, community and church groups to leverage the infamous Chicago bureaucracy and political machinery for the forces of good. He always looked out for the less fortunate and those in need.
Lost Tom was involved with trippy visuals for the Grateful Dead and something called The Human Avatar Project:
Tom was a founding member of the Burning Man Chicago Steering Committee, which gave rise to the local Burner 501c3 Bold Urban Renaissance Network. He created and led art teams at the Rothbury and Electric Forest music festivals; Second Thoughts, which made videos that opened up for Bob Dylan and the Dead; The Human Avatar Project and Einstein Moments, which created participatory creativity games.
There is only one festival, Electric Forest which is in Rothbury, Michigan.
The Human Avatar Project is a way for billionaires to achieve immortality by merging with the Internet. It has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama. It seems like the same idea as the “Singularity” being promoted by Billionaire Burners Elon Musk and Those Wacky Google Guys.
In Tom’s case I think it’s more likely they were talking about this art project:
Einstein is someone you should have Second Thoughts about for a moment. There are a couple of amazingly coincidental [ding ding] links between Einstein and the Sixties counter culture that spawned the Grateful Dead, as we explored in 50 Years of Flower Power. Wavy Gravy aka Hugh Romney used to take walks around the block with Einstein as a child; Ram Dass aka Richard Alpert’s father George founded the Albert Einstein College of Medicine…but that’s another story.
Lost Tom’s Einstein Moments was an Electric Forest art project, perhaps symbolic:
Sounds like Lost Tom was quite a character to be part of the Burning Man media team, rising in the ranks to Captain, and a pillar of the Chicago Burner community. Rest In Peace, or come back to be born into a new life and a better future. May your flame burn on forever.