A 2016 take on the perennial Hero’s Journey story of a transformational experience.
A 2016 take on the perennial Hero’s Journey story of a transformational experience.
A guest post from Terbo Ted, the first DJ at Burning Man (1992) and first Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.
TERBO TED TERBOLIZARD·FRIDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER 2016
“Make America Mexico Again” – overheard in Black Rock City
Whether they were contributing by financing, creating, designing, building, staffing or populating Black Rock City, 2016 was a year noteworthy for outstanding input from Mexican nationals.
Mexico City’s Mayan Warrior art car returned to the playa with millions of dollars worth of mind blowing improvements. Their blend of music, form, sound and light was unprecedented and sets a global standard for art cars. Whenever it would slowly enter the playa playing solemn processional music, dozens of bicycles would dutifully follow along in anticipation of the festivities to come. The night Mayan Warrior linked systems with playa veterans Robot Heart set an unbelievable benchmark for sound in the desert and attracted an enormous crowd of thousands that danced well past sunrise. Equally impressive was watching the Mayan Warrior return to their large, well organized camp to go through the vehicle’s round the clock daily servicing; it was like watching a pit crew at the 24 hours of Le Mans automobile endurance event.
photo from Burning Man Festival at https://www.instagram.com/p/BKDwqYDgxeS/
Burning Man has become an international jet set destination and along with some very impressive camps from Mexico lining Billionaire’s Alley- such as Humano The Tribe-, there were other high end luxury Spanish language camps in that area as well, including Ibiza camp from Spain. All day long at the end of Lorenzo one could witness beautiful young people talking in Spanish strolling or riding by while modeling designer swimwear, tall boots and disco ball bedazzled military officer caps, which were very much in fashion this year. I’m glad I speak Spanish; I found myself having several conversations a day en Español on the playa.
Many of the Mexicans had elaborate feather costumes or wardrobe items, which was quite interesting in the wake of all of the strong social media dialog before the event regarding respect for Native American and First Nation traditions, especially the donning of Plains Indian style war bonnet headdresses. Mexicans, of course, may be descended from- or not- a range of indigenous civilizations that have long made use of feathers in ceremonial costumes and headgear, which might be influenced by Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, Toltec or other American cultures. To directly address the war bonnet controversy, while I never saw an authentic, actual Plains Indian Eagle Feather Headdress on the playa this year, I certainly did see one wasted, sunburned and pale beer-bellied white bro with his shirt off, wearing unfortunate Spring Break styled swim trunks and a low-cost child-sized neon green faux feather war bonnet headdress that looked like it came from the Spirit Halloween store. This poor fella looked like the only guy on the playa who couldn’t actually get laid, and I don’t think we should take his costume choices too seriously, he obviously doesn’t.
Black Rock City has all of the cultural sensitivity of an owl vomiting up a frog carcass it has recently devoured. Countless booths and kiosks line the city offering ‘Bad Advice.’ Ironically, these are usually unstaffed. While traveling around BRC, it is inevitable that some drunken clown, prankster or provocateur will yell at you through a bullhorn or distorted microphone with a message as succinct as ‘Fuck You!’ or ‘Fuck Your Burn!’ Which is usually followed with a sturdy hug and an offering of a drink. This is how a society built on ritualized destruction of a male effigy conducts itself on a normal day to day basis. If you are new to BRC, the culture is very likely to rudely invade your personal comfort zone and via ‘transformation’ help you redefine your own boundaries.
It seems that well over half of the population of Black Rock City are virgins now. What is remarkable is how all of the shared cultural history, knowledge and information has been of great use in preparing these people for their first visit. Sometimes virgins might even be over indoctrinated before they arrive these days. We should be reminded that in the early years of Burning Man on the playa, people were NOT good at it. Over 20 years ago people would routinely show up in the desert with no goggles, no mask, no sunscreen, no hat, no shade, no water. Back in those days, you’d find someone passed out on the ground, intoxicated, with a blistering sunburn and desperately in need of help. Now virgins show up in designer outfits tailored to the desert lifestyle. In conversation with virgins this year, I’d inevitably ask them how does being at BRC differ from all of the impressions they had beforehand, from all of the wealth of pictures, videos and stories they had experienced prior the event. Most people answer that they are surprised at how friendly everyone is in Black Rock City, and by how indescribable the desert environment is, including scale and conditions. You have to be there on the playa to truly understand.
Bicycles are an integral part of Black Rock City, but that has not always been the case. In the early 90s, BRC was small enough to easily traverse on foot, and you could drive your car in any direction you chose at any speed. Times have changed. A great deal of difficulties face bicyclists on the playa. LOCK YOUR BICYCLE or it will be ‘gifted’ from you and become a ‘playa bike.’ While literal bike theft seems to be down in BRC- in previous years people would actually throw bikes en masse into trucks to steal them- ‘borrowing’ or ‘appropriating’ of bikes is rampant in BRC. This is especially common around turn key camps that provide a fleet of bicycles to their guests. A turn key guest probably doesn’t have much attachment to their provided playa bike, and it is understandable that they would not lock it up, but once their allocated bike disappears, the consternation of this situation is generally inspiring enough to motivate their borrowing of someone else’s bike, which has an impressive cascading effect. LOCK YOUR BIKE OR YOU WILL LOSE IT. The amount of discarded bicycles strewn about after the city begins to fade away is heart breaking. If you do not want to take your bike home, please take it off the playa and donate it to any one of the local groups along Highway 447 who specialize in restoring and renting playa bikes to future guests.
Further bicycle notes: If you spend any time at all in the busy bike repair shops around the city, you will notice that one of the most common repairs is eliminating a derailleur and shortening the chain to transform it into a one speed bike. The playa is completely flat and the roads are rutted. Derailleurs fail regularly from all of the bouncing, dust and falls a bike encounters. If you are putting together or purchasing a new playa bike, one speed beach cruisers work fine. Consider avoiding multi-speed bikes to eliminate yourself some hassle. Also, while people are great at illuminating their bikes to avoid ‘darking’ at night, it seems more people could use bells or horns to notify other pedestrians, vehicles and bikes. It is remarkable how many people ride their bikes while not looking where they are going, there are many distractions in Black Rock City.
“Communities are not produced by sentiment. They grow out of a shared struggle.” – Larry Harvey
It was great to see ecstatic good vibes from the old timers in attendance this year. The recent purchase of Fly Ranch leading up to the burn warmed many hearts. But the path to this year’s joy has not been an easy one. Burning Man has faced much adversity over the decades. The festival almost collapsed after the deadly HellCo chaos of 1996. For every single one of the early years in the desert the festival only lost money, which seemed like a lot in that era, even insurmountable at times. Their have been countless lawsuits over the years against various government agencies. Early stalwarts such as John Law (who designed the man’s neon) quit long ago and vowed never to return. Others have passed away, such as Pepe Ozan, who helped pioneer large-scale ritualized spectacle in the earlier years. But every single time this year I ran across folks such as Larry Harvey, Crimson Rose, Will Roger, Maid Marian, Steven Raspa and more, they seemed to be in the greatest of spirits. Que vaya bien.
About the storyteller:
Terbo Ted Terbolizard first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.
Header image photo by Craig Ellenwood
#burningman #playa #artcar #mayanwarrior #robotheart
Part 1 starts here. There is a lot of information, a lot of ground to cover, a lot of foundations to lay. Burning Man is not just a rave. There is much more to it, and when we look at it in its proper historical and geographical context, an incredible story unfolds.
Audio-only Podcast: Gnostic Media Episode 247
Yesterday I shared some of my personal Burning Man stories. How I first got caught up in this thing. Even though Cargo Cult was not so long ago, a lot has happened in my life since then.
I have tickets for this year, and my plan is to attend…if they’ll have me. Which is the point of this post. Are we really all welcome? Even the critics? Even people who speak truth, and debunk propaganda? How far does Radical Inclusion really stretch?
If you speak out against the Ruling Group, do you get blacklisted (like a cult)? Or is this truly a city of freedom and inclusion?
I started this blog in February 2012 to comment on what is being said about Burner culture on the Internet. Since we began, the global Burning Man hype has been catapulted to unprecedented levels. Now, I’m not claiming sole credit for that. New stories about Burning Man appear in the media at least once per week, giving me a steady stream of content to share opinions about. How do those stories get there? BMOrg’s team of at least half a dozen full time PR staff may have contributed; The Simpsons and Oprah sure didn’t hurt. Having a year-round Burning Man reporter embedded at the Reno Gazette-Journal didn’t hurt either.
In that context, 1500 stories about Burning Man going to an audience of millions is just more momentum to the avalanche…
Bringing truth into an environment constructed upon propaganda and magical thinking has not occurred without ruffling a few feathers. That’s the nature of truth.
I feel that we have been successful in waking some people up. But for every Burner who may have seen the light, there’s at least one who has been brainwashed into thinking we’re the Enemy.
As Bohemian Grover Mark Twain once said, “it’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled”
This year Burning Man celebrates its 30th anniversary. Attendance is higher than ever, ticket prices are higher than ever, demand is higher than ever. Everything seems great, right? Why do I have to complain, when it’s clearly all just swell?
At the same time, we’re told “we’re saving the world”. That’s good, right? Surely we can just talk about how we’re saving the world, rather than complaining?
Well, I would love to. But it’s not up to me: I don’t hold the purse strings of their nearly $40 million annual budget. We have to look at where the money gets spent. Is it really going towards world-saving activities?
The best the Org could come up with at their recent Global Leadership Conference was $3000 of art grants split between 4 projects. And they think this is making the world a better place? IT’S TWO DA VINCI TICKETS AND A VEHICLE PASS. Plus tax, handling fees per item, $22 to post a letter, etc.
That’s what the new 2016 innovation of “Art Tickets” bought. A total of 2 of these VIP tickets were used for doing good in the world. The other *cough* 998? We will probably never know what happened to that money.
Just the increase in vehicle passes from $40 last year to $50 this year brings BMOrg an extra quarter of a million dollars cash. For providing nothing. And we’re supposed to bow and scrape about this $3k?
Nobody could really be that stupid. Which makes me wonder if this is all some sort of giant Kool-Aid test. How much bullshit can we dump on this community and still get away with it?Ticket and art budget shenanigans being two recent cases in point.
They’ve employed Ministers for Propaganda for 23 of their 30 years. Their magickal cauldron is called the Devil. The event takes place inside a pentagon, with satellite images freely available. It is all right there in everyone’s face. No irony required.
Over the last few years, in addition to writing this blog I have also been working on a book about the Shadow History of Silicon Valley. It has been an intriguing, surprising, baffling, and exhausting adventure. There is no “Hero’s Journey” here for me. I am no longer trying to discover myself, or figure out how the world works. I know how the world works – and it scares me. There should be more people trying to spread awareness, to break people out of their trance. Instead, society is being deliberately dumbed down. Propaganda, logical fallacies, and cultural Marxism rule the day. Facts like “vaccine problems get prosecuted in a secret court“ get conflated with propaganda like “anti vaxxers are ignorant and want to kill little kids”. Or “Trump supporters are all racist Nazis”.
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” George Orwell, 1984
Why should you care? Maybe you shouldn’t. Nobody is forcing you to read this blog. I am just writing to share my opinions to whoever is interested. The BJ is doing that too, and if you like their propaganda better than our facts, then please enjoy.
I am researching the history of computers. Burning Man plays a small but important part in this story.
I am certainly not trying to harm Burning Man in any way by learning about it and writing about it. I love Burning Man. I think everyone should go at least once in their lives. What drew me to this party in the first place was the idea of experimenting in different ways of civilization. Let’s get back to that.
I have chosen a very specific channel for publishing my research at this time: Gnostic Media. Jan Irvin’s work is founded on the Trivium Method, which I encourage everyone of any age to learn. It is one of the most powerful tools I have in my life, one of the few antidotes to propaganda that I have ever discovered. It is a framework you can use to relate to your reality. This happens to be the claim made by the “Hero’s Journey” framework that Esalen promotes:
The main difference that I see between the two frameworks is that the Trivium Method encourages you to focus on facts and what is known and visible to the five senses. It encourages logic, analysis, and critical thinking. The Monomyth Method, on the other hand, encourages groupthink and magical thinking. It is excellent for consensus decision making, inclusion of minority viewpoints, positive emotions, a sense of teamwork, and a feeling that we are all one. It is woefully inadequate for r/K selection theory K breeding of closely knit clusters of success.
I believe that to survive and thrive in the new digital world we need to rely on the most ancient of skills: Grammar (Who/Where/When/What), Logic (Why), and Rhetoric (How). If you get the grammar right – meaning that you have a clear understanding of Who the players are, Where everything is happening, and the timeline of what is going on – then the What, How, and Why can become self-evident: they unfold automatically.
The Magical Thinking Propaganda method means that you use words and charisma to trigger peoples’ emotions. You want them connecting to the leader and following them; you don’t want them thinking too much about the Why, How, and What. Using this method, you can lead people into doing illogical things that are against their own self interest. Drugs and hypnosis can be used to enhance suggestibility.
The Trivium Method wants us to consider crystal clear facts, and identify speculation and contradictions. As much as possible we use primary source documentation. Whenever we quote someone, we are quoting them verbatim. We provide citations and references supporting our claims. References used by the Magical Thinking method will most often be to prior examples of Magical Thinking, that are presented as authoritative.
Disciples of the Magical Thinking method will say that the Trivium Method is negative and fear based, or they will otherwise try to discredit it. They will say that their positive methods uplift people, while negative approaches only hold people down and create limitations.
The Trivium is thousands of years old, and is the basis for a classical education. If the results of applying it are negative, it is because what is being considered is negative to begin with. Magical Thinking is only ever positive; reality is relative, something to be distorted and manipulated.
Which one should you believe? Magical thinking says trust the charismatic leader. Trust the cult that wants to disconnect you from the outside world. The Trivium Method says learn how to do your own research and make up your own mind. We present facts and evidence; consider them. We don’t say “our method is superior”. We say “prove us wrong!” It is significant that competing philosophies do not share such a focus on the truth.
Think for yourself, question authority.
What would I have to gain from lying to you? Money? What money? This is free. I’m not selling any thousand dollar tickets. Power? What power? Burning Man doesn’t impress people any more. There’s no power in blogging. Friends? I have plenty. If anything I could lose social capital from this course. Ego? I would be better off writing my own memoir than studying the exploits of others.
If you doubt my motivation, perhaps allow your head to entertain for a moment the possibility that I am an honest man with good intentions. If I was, then what would I do? How would it look different from what I’m doing right now? I am putting my good name (already smeared by these people) and perhaps even the health and wellbeing of myself and my family on the line. For what gain?
What if there actually isn’t an expectation of gain? What if it is about Gifting, and Communal Effort? Noblesse oblige. Leaving someone else’s alleged principles aside, what if I really want to Leave A Big Fucking Trace? Something permanent, that might last beyond my years. The same Beasts the Founding Fathers tried to fight – Tyranny, Secret Societies, Central Banking, and Imperialism – are alive and well, and stronger than ever. Now in the 21st century becoming smarter and smaller and less visible, attacking our very minds and even our souls with electronic, chemical, biological, and anthropological weapons.
We, humans, our species, we need to wake up – urgently. Corporations and Artificial Intelligences should not be allowed to become the apex predator species on this planet. They can never be punished, never be jailed. Who do they account to? We have had 2 full Presidential terms since the Wall Street crimes of 2007-8, which have been clearly exposed in movies like The Big Short, Inside Job, Margin Call, Too Big To Fail…not to mention all the mainstream media. And yet, nobody gets in trouble. Why not? Why do we just passively accept corruption, corporate coups, and human rights abuses? Am I supposed to just sit down, shut up, and take it? ARE YOU?
If you’re still wondering WTF I’m talking about, please allow me some time. It’s taken me three years to get to the point where I can publicly share this research. The introduction is more than 2 hours because there is a lot of ground to cover. [I’ll try to make the next part shorter, I promise!] I think you’ll find it interesting, I certainly have putting it all together.
Am I trying to hurt Burning Man or the Org? Absolutely not. I love Burning Man. Everyone should go, at least once. See for yourself. Be inspired at what there is in this world, Disneyland, the Maker Movement, Art Basel, and Spring Break all wrapped up together. That’s still – after 30 years – a pretty unique and special combination, no matter who’s pulling the strings.
I have made an effort to place my research into a broader historical context, which should not in any way impede the Burning Man Project’s ability to raise donations and Black Rock City LLC’s ability to sell tickets. I am not responsible for any organizational turnover or management issues within that group of companies – which recent times have seen a lot of.
I’m just a Burner, checking things out for myself, doing the research, and sharing it with you all, for free. Open your mind, or not, it’s up to you, I’m not preaching anything but truth. After truth comes reconciliation. I hope that then, the creativity and advancement of humans can truly be unleashed.
It’s time to take a slightly different tack here at Burners.Me. Before the new voyage gets fully underway, I want to share with you some of my own journey so far. There are only 3 people who I know were here with me from the very beginning. One of them I met at Burning Man, and two of them I brought to Burning Man as virgins. I want to start today’s tale by telling you about how I lost my own Burginity, and how things developed from there.
The first I ever heard about Burning Man was on a mailing list. WIRED magazine had launched an online sub-brand, HotWIRED. This was back in the days when the entire advertising world was geared around print, TV or radio. Could a magazine exist in cyberspace and in the virtual world at once? Most people on the digital side of the Brave New World would tell you yes; in those days, most of the people from the “dinosaur media” Mad Men side would laugh in your face and then head down to the Gold Club for a 5-martini lunch with a Fortune 500 client and a juicy expense account…but I digress.
Sounds fun, right? It’s interesting that this “buck nekkid” from 1995 was still thriving almost 20 years later in this infamous 2014 Conan Shirt-Cocking incident:
Leslie Bibb would’ve been 20 at Burning Man 1995.
The next I heard of Burning Man was when uber-hip tech writer Bruce Sterling called it “The New American Holiday” on the cover of WIRED in 1996.
The links beyond WIRED and Burning Man went beyond skin deep. BM Founder Danger Ranger hooked up the network in WIRED’s first office. WIRED sort of spun out of Mondo 2000, and early burner John Perry Barlow was on the masthead of both.
In those days in San Francisco there was a social scene in the city around tech, but it was more like what you would see in New York or London. Well dressed people, black turtlenecks rather than hoodies, drinks but not too many, canapes and a house DJ, maybe a brief speech from the CEO. There was an intersection between the Web, advertising agencies, and big clients who had the budget to try something cutting edge.
My friend the Wolf had moved from Melbourne to San Francisco, and had a pretty good job at a place called LinkExchange. They put on a monthly event called DrinkExchange, which was a great way to network with other dot-com entrepreneurs. He had taken me to my first festival in Australia, 10,000 hippies camping in tents next to a river called ConFest. There was one generator at the entire event, a guy selling t-shirts with a single vinyl turntable going. He was causing much hippie hate for his sin of playing electronic music, but I was grateful for it.
We both read the WIRED article and talked about Burning Man. I couldn’t make it to San Francisco in September 97, I was working hundred hour weeks in my business in Melbourne. But he lived in San Francisco, so he and his wife packed up their tent in their SUV and headed in with their Aussie flag flying.
I spoke to him after, eager to know how it was. “Amazing!”, he said. “You have to go. You would love it”. That was enough for me, I was sold.
The next I heard of Burning Man was in the most unlikely of places. I had flown up to Sydney at the request of the Government, to talk about what Australia could do to remain competitive in the Internet age. The guest speaker at the workshop was a guy called Dr John Gage, the Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to meet him, a lovely guy, true gent from the old school. I had met him several times before in various places around the world.
Sun stands for Stanford University Network. Like Google and HP, it spun out of Stanford University to become a multi-billion dollar company, staffed with former students and using technology developed in the labs there. In early 1998, they had a revolutionary technology called Java, which is still widely used today. Java meant developers could write their code for one type of computer, and it could run on any. Today it’s just “Internet”, or even “cloud”, it’s apps in your phone or you go to a web site. But back then, software for a PC didn’t run on a Mac. There were all kinds of competing operating systems and browsers. Sun had a vision to unify the Internet, and we were completely on board. The Wolf had been the President and Founder of the Australian Java Users Group, and my company Sausage Software sold the first Java applet on the Internet. We were monetizing Java before even Sun was, and because of that, we were well known to them and had a good working relationship. So John greeted me cordially. “How’s Adrian? Have you seen him?”, he asked, employing the Wolf’s non-Playa name which he preferred to use for business.
“I just spoke to him, he’s doing great!”, I replied.
“Oh! Were you at Burning Man?”, Dr John Gage asked.
I was stunned, but I tried not to show it. This is a grey-haired, bearded old dude, that flies around the world – probably in a private jet – meeting with Presidents and Prime Ministers and celebrities and thought leaders. And he knew about Burning Man?
“Oh, do you go?”, I asked, trying to be nonchalant.
He laughed. “No, but my son goes,” he replied. “Religiously. You should go. I think you’d like it”
In 1998, I showed up for my first Burn, not really knowing what to expect. It wasn’t like today “oh there’s art cars, people wear costumes, there’s gifting and when you get hungry just go to one of the food camps”. There was very little of that. Food camps? Maybe the neighbors were having a barbecue and would offer you a spare sausage, in exchange for a cold beer. There wasn’t any of this Ten Principles guff. It was Self Reliance – aka Survival – and Leave No Trace. There were a few people in costumes – dressed up freaks. But nothing you wouldn’t see walking down the street in SF. Money was frowned upon, but if a Ranger came around with a bag of mushrooms you probably wanted to have some cash at the ready. Everyone was friendly – we were all in this together. You could walk up to anyone in any camp, and they would gladly start talking to you. It was an amazing feeling of neighborhood, camaraderie, shared adventure and suffering. In terms of entertainment, it was a little light. Only a small handful of rave camps. However, these were spectacular, with gigantic art and aerialists and pyrotechnics. There were people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe.
Now don’t get me wrong – all this is still present at Burning Man today. And much, much more, and many more people. But back then, what I’ve just described was pretty much it. The Man stood on a bunch of hay bales. When it burned, people ran up to the fire and threw their own stuff into it. Trinkets to sacrifice, photos and papers, sometimes even buildings. All got thrown to the fire, we were all burning everything together. Shedding the stuff we didn’t need from the past, burning it in the fire, ready to move on.
I went with a buddy of mine from Australia, an aspiring amateur DJ. We both loved electronic music, and found enough of it there that we liked. We rented a car, the best one we could get from Hertz. A Cadillac. Burning Man only went for the weekend back then, there was no Temple burn. My memory is hazy but I think even the Man may have burned on Sunday. We slept in shifts, 3-4 hours at a time, in the car with the engine running and the A/C on. We didn’t need a lot of sleep!
We managed to catch a total of 1 gig from the limited program information we had. It was the founder of Burning Man, a guy in a cowboy hat named Larry Harvey, who shared a vision at Center Camp of what this thing meant. It sounded pretty good, and fit the vibe we were feeling, the cats we were grooving with, and whatever it was that someone somewhere along the lines of free shots may have spiked our tea with.
We both had the time of our lives, and vowed to return again. I made a new buddy, Johnny. We were sitting down and passing a joint around towards the end, talking about when we came back. The thought that we would make a huge art car or a complicated theme camp didn’t cross our minds – although there were a few examples of those things there, that wasn’t really The Thing. Burning Man was about getting away from society to a place of freedom, rather than exhibiting our art work and ingenuity to impress our neighbors.
Instead, we thought about comfort. Fuck sleeping in a car. We needed RVs. I wanted one with those mechanical pop-outs – we’ve never seen that type of technology in Australia or New Zealand.
“Next time we come here, we’re gonna have showers and beds and bathrooms”. We cemented our vision with a fist bump.
Since I first heard of Burning Man – before I even attended – I have only ever missed it for work reasons. And a lot of things happened for me between 1998 and the next time I could return to Burning Man, in 2001. When I finally could return, I had retired from the company I founded and sold about half of my shares before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. I was bumming around the world, driving through Europe in sports cars, chartering jets, staying in Presidential suites, renting villas in Ibiza, getting bottle service at nightclubs, mingling with minor celebrities. The usual playboy stuff. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life.
I rented an RV. It had 3 slide outs. Johnny returned. The last time we had seen each other was three years ago, at Burning Man, dreaming over a joint about what our next Burning Man experience would be. I was pretty happy with my RV; how had he done? It turns out Johnny had one-upped me. He had bought a full rockstar bus, with matching trailer, on eBay. It had leather seats and crystal glasses…maybe even a chandelier. He and his wife and their cat Maverick had spent the last year driving around the US in it.
We high fived each other. Both of our dreams came true! The things we thought of at Burning Man, had manifested by the next Burning Man.
What could be next? If we came back for a third time, where would we go from here? Another joint was passed around. Dreaming. Then, it hit me…forget the entire side of the vehicle popping out to make it bigger. What if the roof slid out vertically, and created a second story? I shared my dream with my new friend.
“WHOA, DUDE!”, Johnny said, as he most definitely inhaled. “THAT’S LIKE TOTALLY RAD!”
I could tell he didn’t see my vision the same way. Constraints of practicality were clouding his judgement. I was determined to make it happen.
The next time I showed up at Burning Man was 2004 – coincidentally, the year the
Nine Ten Principles were announced. We were big in SF that year, or at least we thought we were! We launched Majitek at Java One at the Moscone Center that June. We threw a hipster party upstairs at the newly opened W Hotel – next door to the Museum of Modern Art and the not-even-dreamed-of-then St Regis, where I later spent 2.5 amazing years of my life. This time we rented the Presidential Suite at the W, decked out in resplendent purple. I hope it’s still the same today, haven’t been there in a while. These days, if I’m in that part of town you’ll most likely find me at Fang.
Our launch party managed to draw some talent, including Marc Benioff from Salesforce.com who was the kingpin of the town at the time…and still on the A++ list today; and Walt Mossberg, Wall Street Journal tech commentator and founder of Re/Code. Walt was pissed that in running from 10 hours of manning our booth at the show, to opening the doors for our free drinks after party, we kept him waiting 5 minutes. Fair enough, we could understand…Australians desire cocktails promptly also. He is probably used to companies built on other peoples’ money where the assistants have assistants, and the door bitches have door bitches. That’s still the preferred model today for most of these
flash in the pan hotshot tech companies.
Java one was in early June. Burning Man was in late August. What happened in between, to inspire me to return to burn?
Well, I was at home in Australia one day. I used to live on the largest private landholding in Melbourne, almost 300 acres. Mostly environmentally protected wildlife habitat. Sacred forest, but with a lot of subwoofers. The kangaroos loved the doof mate. The louder I turned it up, the closer they’d come to the house. They usually moved in packs of about 7-12. One big male, 2 big females, maybe 1-2 younger males…and the joeys. Little babies jumping in the pouches, legs scrambling in the air and tails flailing as mommy had to help scoop them in. I saw this every day, multiple times. But when the music was on, it was like the tribes gathered. Kangaroos would surround my house in every direction, as many as a hundred. I realized after years of living there, after-parties and pre-parties and actual parties that went for days, that some of these kangaroos had grown up their whole lives with this music. And then their babies were born the same way. Feeling safe with the bass. Connecting with the human in the place where those noises came from.
I should mention that this is probably the smartest home in the world at the time. I had a team of engineers developing custom software for the control of building systems. I have never been to Bill Gates’ famous lakeside mansion, but I have talked to people who have, and techs who work on it. I have never seen the inside of Paul Allen’s yachts, but I have done business with a guy who sailed around the world with him for 2 years as an on-board tech. Mike Markkula, the Apple Founder and Chairman of Echelon, was gracious enough to invite me into his home in Woodside. The home left mine in the dust (he has a 12,000 square foot theater that seats hundreds, taking the “home theater” concept to an extreme)…but he still had light switches. I only had touchscreens – in 2004. iPods were new. A large Asian tech conglomerate sent a team of their best smart home people out to the house to see if they might want to license our technology. We never got a deal, but the next week our slides were up on their web site. Minus our branding, of course.
So there I was, in one of the smartest houses in the world, thinking about ways to capitalize on all the goodwill we created at our bad ass after party and successful Java show. How could I make a bigger splash in Silicon Valley than a hipster party at the W?
And then on the TV running in the background I see something that stops me in my tracks. The Discovery Channel, content from the US. Will Smith’s trailer. A semi-trailer, the sides of it fully pop-out, but then the roof extends to make a second level.
My Burning Man dream came true again! What I envisioned, manifested before me.
I had an amazing travel agent. This was before I had a Black Amex – maybe before there even WERE Black Amexes. It was before the Internet disintermediated what was really a highly skilled profession. My lady Joanne was the bomb. She could get me ANYTHING. So I called her up, and said “get me Will Smith’s trailer for Burning Man”. And she did.
Time to Burn some money…
Thanks very much for the use of your trailer Will and Jada, if you are reading this. Glad to hear that Will is now a Burner. Thanks also to my dear friends at Anderson Mobile Estates who can deliver a home away from home anywhere in the world. I like doing business with good people, that’s what puts a smile on my face; you don’t get better than the Anderson family.
That year, the Who/What/Where guide listed Paris Hilton. This was before she was well known as a million dollar DJ, or a leading light of Freemasonry. Back then she was mostly known for her sex tape One Night in Paris, which highlighted American innovation in night vision technology, combined with skill and enthusiasm.
Anyway, people put two and two together and made 5. Paris had a sex tape, the Burning Man gig guide listed her, and this crazy double story trailer was there. Obviously, Paris must be in the trailer! And so we had literal paparazzi waiting outside for us to open the door. The minute we walked out – and I had 4 girls staying with me, who mostly wanted to be topless – the cameras would be snap snap snap. Fortunately they didn’t even care about me, they were looking for Paris. But still.
Interestingly, the girls I was with that year and some of their friends who I met subsequently, seem to perhaps fit the profile of an Intelligence honey trap. One had a sister in the NSA, and boasted about having blackmailed a Senator in Washington DC. One turned out to be working for the Department of Defense. One’s Dad was a famous (or more fittingly, infamous) CIA fixer, who helped John De Lorean and Michael Jackson, and was well known in the UFO community. Another one’s stepfather was a high level Freemason in Kentucky. And another associate of this girl gang claimed to be descended from a famous civil war general. She also claimed that she had been raped by her former long term boyfriend. Without giving too many details away that might expose the identities of other victims of this spooky crew, it turned out that her ex was on the other side of the country with witnesses on the date of her alleged assault, while photos of her out partying that night in a different city were on her Facebook wall. I’ll leave it there, I’ve probably said too much already.
Suffice to say I was caught in a honey trap by this ring, who were operating at Burning Man and within the SF tech social scene. I wasn’t the only one – so were 4 other successful businessmen I know. Very smart guys. These lithe young sparkle ponies used the power of lies and allegations, combined with “no win/no fee” ambulance chaser lawyers, to prey on people who had only shown them kindness and generosity.
“Oh well, it’s the way of the world”, some might say. “Serves you right for being rich, you must have stolen that money”, say others. By this theory, it’s fine to take someone else’s bike at Burning Man. It’s about gifting, but if someone is rich enough to leave their bike unlocked, they must not care about it, so they must be gifting it to whoever walks by and their RADICAL SELF EXPRESSION and RADICAL SELF RELIANCE in the moment of IMMEDIACY means “gift me that bike!”
2010 was my most epic ever Burning Man, although at the time it was all unfolding it had the usual mixture of extreme highs and lows. I called up Ron Anderson to see about renting Will’s trailer again.
“I was just talking about you!”, his smiling voice said over the phone.
Although we had become good friends, we weren’t in touch that often. So this was a bit of a surprise.
“Your ears must have been burning”, he said, then laughed as he realized his own pun. “I’m here with two lovely young ladies who want to rent one of my trailers for Burning Man! I was just telling them about you”.
That led to me meeting Brenda and KP (hi ladies!), some of the many wonderful Burners who I have become friends with after spending time together in the outside world. They were organizing the Burning Man experience of a lifetime for an ultra-VIP client, a likeable guy who you’ve probably never heard of. I rented Ron’s “rock star bus” which must have had a nuclear-powered air conditioner and nano-technology blackout blinds. That thing was a cocoon.
We camped with Overkill and Villains & Vixens. This was my first experience being at a camp with an Art Car, in this case the Fish Tank. Great vehicle, friendly crew, if you see it on the Playa go and say hi.
The camp also had a chef and a private masseuse. Artist Hans Haveron – now appearing on Skin Wars Season 3, and winner of the Red Bull challenge at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art – was there airbrushing nude models. There was a line of nude models stretching outside his dome waiting for their turn, pouting at not being able to use their looks to skip the line. Artists from the Lucent Dossier Experience were in our camp, and there were theatrical and musical performances every night at dinner.
The chef and his team were cooking for about 80 people. We got a string wristband, this indicated to the chef who had paid in to the meal plan. As it turned out, about 76 wristbands had gone out, but they were feeding 90-100 people at each meal. This caused some big headaches for the kitchen in provisioning and rationing. “Sure, we would love to gift food to your new girlfriend! But that means one of our camp members who paid must starve”. This is the practical reality of Radical Inclusion versus Gifting.
The masseuse was gorgeous, and friendly, but also very busy. I put my name down for a massage, but I was perhaps #30 in the list. The reality of sticking around at Burning Man waiting for hours for something like that to happen is pretty impractical, and probably every person in the camp wants at least one massage. Imagine how tired the poor girl would be after 80 massages – doesn’t sound like a fun Burn to me.
Plug-n-play sounds great in theory, but once everybody hits the Playa, well – it ain’t the Four Seasons no more. It’s the same lines at the same stinking desert porta-potties.
I brought quite a big contingent of Aussies to the camp. About a dozen of us. The Wolf was with me, still burning after all those years. He brought a virgin. I had 4, including 2 of my best friends who had been hearing about Burning Man from me for more than a decade. They both finally caved in and decided to come at the same time, and both were in their element from the get-go.
After everyone arrived and got settled in, we were sitting around at the table. My friend Bree from Melbourne looked at me and said “so tell us about Burning Man Zos. We’re here. What’s so special about this place?”
I didn’t hesitate.
“Magic”, I said.
“Magic? What do you mean”.
“It’s simple”, I replied. “Wish for something, and then it manifests in front of you. This works in the real world too, if you have good karma, you can wish or pray for something and then you receive it. But there’s a latency of manifestation. The time between wishing and receiving could be quite high, although if you have good karma and are detached from the outcome, there seems to be less latency and things manifest much quicker”.
I paused. “Are you with me so far?”
Bree nodded, as did the rest of our group who were listening with keen interest. “Wish for something, and then you get it.”, Bree summed it up nicely.
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Well at Burning Man, that latency of manifestation disappears. Wish for something and it appears right in front of you”
Bree laughed in disbelief. “Well in that case, Zos…I want a pony!”. Everybody laughed. A pony! As if she would get a pony in the desert. Animals are banned at Burning Man, for starters. Let alone all the MOOP a pony could create. Ha ha ha, what a crazy concept.
Well blow me down if not *40 seconds* from when she said that, a huge black guy in a pink tutu bounced up. He was riding one of these:
The last time I was at the Nevada Burn, 2013 Cargo Cult I watched the burn from way up high. This was also the first time I ever convinced one of my family members to come to Burning Man. My sister flew all the way from Bali, direct to the Playa. And we watched the UFO burn from on top of the Balanceville Art Car. My sister shoved fellow first-time Burner Susan Sarandon out of the way so she could take this photo with me:
Burning Man is amazing and inspiring to me. It has inspired me to gift this blog to the community, thousands of hours of effort. Like most gifts at Burning Man, it’s not universally welcomed. Not everybody wants this gift. Fair enough; to each their own. I have not used this platform to promote myself or my businesses, simply to share my opinions and my research. I have invited anyone to come on and contribute, and many have. Thanks to all those Burners who have taken time to write guest posts, including Nomad Traveler, A Balanced Perspective, Toburn, Pantless Santa, Sandstorm, ShiftyFox, Halcyon, Rabbitt, AleXander, Buena Chica, Shift Pods, Jex, Damian, Jillian, Nick Heyming, Nicole Sparklecorn, Kestrel, Shaggy Dog, Jal Lee Mon, Ayahuasca, Joycebird, Dark Arps, Simon Yugler, Jill Marlene, Alex Mak, Beth Lillie. Sorry for anybody I left out! And thanks especially to Terry Gotham and Whatsblem the Pro who both have contributed so many great posts. I count 28 names there, plus my own – so it’s a little unfair to say that we only ever present one side of things. Anyone is welcome to write a guest post or comment.
Thank you to all the BURNILEAKS whistleblowers who have come forward to share information about what is truly going on. Our whole community owes you a great debt. Although we have not won the transparency battle, and in fact are probably losing it…it could have been so much worse. It still could. Burning Man for the Burners is something worth believing in. We do have the power.
Thanks to those amazing photographers who let Burners share their work with other Burners without kicking up a stink about it, particularly those who have personally helped me like Peter Ruprecht, Josh Reiss, Duncan Rawlinson, Eleanor Preger, Gilles Bonugli-Kali…and anyone who has ever shared a photo here or elsewhere on the Interwebz. Love your work, keep helping to share Burner art with the world.
I would like to give a massive thanks to YOU for reading this. Please don’t be shy about participating in the conversation here, we’re all in this together. Burning Man at its best is a shining beacon of hope in a technotronic age – that the basic goodness of the human soul is the natural way for us to be, and that The System of The Man in the Default world is not the apex of our civilization. The best is yet to come, and we have an opportunity and an obligation to create the best future we can possibly imagine for our ancestors to inherit.
Thank you for your participation.
A guest post from Joycebird. You can check out some of her other writing at The Art of Transgression
Burning Man is great for couples; Burning Man is hard on couples.
My fiancé recently posted a picture of the drive home. Our close friend, prone to carsickness, rides shotgun beside him, while I peek out from amidst a ton of crap in the backseat, Waldo-esque. My ego throws its umpteenth tissy fit. I should be beside him. Not her. Me.
We’d gotten off to a strange, unsettling, but ultimately very cathartic start. On Monday night, he stayed by my side while I lost all touch with reality and ran through people’s camps in my fur-kini, celebrating the coming of the First Nirvana. While I had my own personal Mormon-turned-Taoist jubilation, shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” and literally rolling on the ground with joy, he followed me, just as high, navigating the google dream network, picking up my belongings as I shed them, and crossing his fingers that no undercover cops would witness what was clearly a hallucinogenic trip, as he was far from sober himself and had more substances on him.
It was a struggle for him not to leave me behind the way he himself was left behind by his father at a very young age. But he didn’t leave me. For the next several days we were on a close and loving high, mine fueled by humility, gratitude, and a sense of security, his by the realization that I am helping him to become the man his father couldn’t be.
Our friend, away from her lover and feeling shy, spent much of the burn with us. Nights huddled against the cold of the desert, she opened up to us about her insecurities, about her troubled relationship with her partner (who was not at the burn), about how hard it was for her to feel desirable anymore. We kissed her and told her she was beautiful. We opened up our abundant love to her.
The morning after one such night of loving conversation and snuggles, I’d retired to my tent for a nap. I expected him to join me at any moment, and when I woke up to find him still missing, I felt a pang of sadness.
I asked another camp friend where he was and was informed somewhat cautiously that he was in her tent. My heart began to pound. I crouched under the tent fly. His face emerged wearing a goofy grin. “What’s up, baby?” I asked, failing to sound casual.
“I just ate her out.”
Everything inside of me constricted. “I don’t think her boyfriend is going to be very happy about this.”
There was a pause. “I didn’t think about that.”
“Yeah, well,” I muttered. I backed out and stumbled to my tent, observing the emotions rolling over me. The tears felt small and petty but I let them come.
I cried my fear that his tenderness towards her and their many commonalities of personality and interest would transform into a love stronger than our own. I cried an imaginary future of being the wife of that particular village hero who is good to everyone at the expense of his own family. I cried the loss of my uncomplicated bliss.
I’d said he could have a Burner girlfriend (a fairly common thing among Burner couples). We’d even talked about the possibility of helping this friend to feel sexy in a more hands-on way. But I was in no way prepared for something to happen without my presence or explicit consent.
She came in and put a hand on my back. She spoke my name gently. I didn’t respond or bother to hide from her the fact that I was crying. After a moment she let me be. Then he was beside me, calmly and gently fielding my hurt. Misunderstandings were unpacked. My lover’s concern was genuine. He hadn’t expected me to react this way. I began to calm down. This kind of thing is hard enough, I told him. It’s something I want to be open to in the right circumstances, and it’s also very hard. “Please don’t ever, ever make assumptions or jump to conclusions again. Please make sure to ask me first.”
“Your feelings are the most important thing to me. I would never do anything to jeopardize our relationship. You’re the most magical thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.
“All of the stories that you hear about this kind of thing end in pain and separation.”
“They don’t have to.”
I took some deep breaths. Wiped away my tears. Emerged from the tent into the sun and walked over to our friend. I straddled her, wrapped my arms around her, and hugged her for a long time. She hugged me back. “I love you,” I told her. “I love you,” she said.
Another challenge was put to me on the night of the temple burn, an event we were highly looking forward to. We’d missed it last year, and our experience there together this year had been very poignant. As sad as I was to see the city come down around us, I was feeling particularly close to both my lover and our mutual friend now that I’d mostly taken in stride their unexpected encounter. I was enjoying the afterglow of how rewarding openness and forgiveness can be.
There was another woman in our camp now, someone who’d identified my lover as a kind soul and gravitated toward him and shared her woes. Our friend had bristled at this addition (which I found amusing, considering) and I’d been magnanimous, giving my blessing again for a sexual encounter. He reassured me that his feelings were nurturing and nonsexual. We both celebrated this new development.
One thing led to another and we looked up from our camp to see the smoke of the temple rising. He swore and took off with the new camp mate, accidentally leaving us behind with one bike too few. We searched for him fruitlessly. When we finally made it back to camp, his pack was waiting at the tent, light on, and his headlamp was on the steps of our new friend’s RV. Once again, my heart sank.
We knocked on the door and called out his name. He answered. “Can we come in?”
“…Give me a second.”
Despite having technically given him permission, my feelings this time truly overwhelmed me. I threw my pack on the ground and sank down, shaking and crying. Our close friend told him to hurry; that I needed him.
Our society puts such a lot of weight on sexual indiscretions. We treat physicality as the holy grail of fidelity. Is the sex act ever really the problem? Or is it the violated trust, the lack of consideration? Is it the forced encounter with feelings we hate to experience, with realities of our partner’s otherness we’d prefer not to know?
I asked him repeatedly, shaking him, “How could you? How could you? I don’t understand how this could happen.” It took me a while to listen to his response, but I really did want to know. I didn’t just want to punish him. I didn’t want to wallow in my victimhood.
When he went down on our friend, I knew that it came from a place of wanting to help her heal. I knew it came from a place of affection. I knew he trusted my offer to let such a thing occur. This, it was clear, came from a very different place. He was angry he’d missed the burn, and then upset with himself for leaving us behind. He wondered why we didn’t catch up with him; imagined we had simply wandered off without a care. He felt anxious and self-loathing and maybe a little vengeful.
I could have demonized him for succumbing to these emotions. I could have distanced myself from his weakness. I could have turned away from his pain and focused exclusively on my experience.
But the more I listened to his excuses, the fudged details about who had actually initiated, the attempts to self-exonerate, the closer I felt to him. He sounded exactly like I did when I’d allowed a situation to make a decision for me in order to satisfy some urge or soothe some wound to my ego. As crazy as it may sound to you dedicated monogamists out there, his infidelity made us closer.
The next morning I apologized to the woman involved for letting my negativity affect her experience. I saw that she fully trusted my acceptance of the situation and had no thought of disrupting the sanctity of our relationship, and we became friends. Forging another story of how women interact in such circumstances–not as competitors, but as sisters and friends.
Back at home, I still have some anger to express, I still have fears and doubts, and he meets it all with love, honesty, and patience. I still find myself anxious over our mutual friend, and he reassures me. She and I are closer than ever.
This whole thing has rebooted our too-comfortable sex life. It has offered new perspective. He was surprised and grateful when his new friend asked his consent before giving a blowjob. It had never really occurred to me that men might need and deserve respect for their sexual agency in the same way women do (rather than having their desires taken for granted).
Burning Man offers unique opportunities for exploration, self-growth, and for destroying negative patterns and forging new ones. As scary as new territory can be, safety and comfort are not the same as happiness.
I look at the picture again. Our friend is glowing and transformed. My lover and life partner wears one of his trademark crazy grins. My ego and I sit in the backseat, tired and happy. Soon after the photo was taken he reached his hand over the back of the seat, grasping mine, holding it as he drove, and whispered to me his love and appreciation and admiration.
It’s not for everyone, I understand that. But I wouldn’t trade our Burner love for the status quo version–not in a million burns.