Manifesting the Authentic at Burning Man 2010
Thoughts aloft. I sit here on my flight back to New York and contemplate my first Burn: 50,000 human souls communing on a eight-mile enclosed playa in the middle of the Black Rock Desert about 90 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada. I am certain many before me have waxed poetic about their experiences, probably with even more profound depth and clarity. But looking back, my memory becomes my own mythology.... We were greeted at the entrance by a butt-naked 60-something dude (who reminded me of R. Crumb) and a gorgeous 20-something woman (dressed as a naughty Thunderdome/Mad Max schoolgirl) who commanded us out of our vehicle and ordered us to make "dust" angels on the dusty playa ground, then jump up and bang an enormous cast iron bell with a crowbar while screaming, "I'm no longer a virgin!" at the top of our lungs.
Gliding into the most righteous Red Lightning camp, we find our guide and proceed to set up shop at dusk amongst the other arriving brothers and sisters who would share our plot of the playa for the coming week. Nervous and excited, already having weathered nearly crippling leg cramps about an hour earlier, I tend to my tasks as my tentmate and dear friend Howard AKA Loch-Ness begins building our much too small two-person tent.
That night we roam the huge desert expanse on bicycle, our helmet headlamps our only light, filled with joyous awe, being drawn to the lights of spectacular art projects, tricked-out art vehicles, and disco camps. We realize quickly that we had traveled well beyond the "somewhere" of that proverbial "rainbow."
In the AM, it was off to explore Center Camp for coffee or chai, live acoustic music, tai chi and/or yoga, the random emailers, and shared stories with eager strangers. An 80-something woman with a walker is hugged by a 40-something woman who thanks her for being there. Really being there. In the middle of the driest parched earth in the northern hemisphere.
Daily I ambled around the theme camps like a wide-eye youth in a huge adult candy store, nodding and smiling at everyone and everything and often being swamped by smiles and nods in return. Welcome to a new paradigm of organized community where sharing is the new currency, whether helping them set up camp or offering them a refreshing beverage and food; playing music and songs with both players and non-players alike, or communal showering with strangers who actually will hose you down with their water bag to rinse away the micro playa dust and then apply sun block to those hard-to-reach areas.
How many of my neighbors in my apartment building in New York City would partake in that type of unconditional freedom without raising suspicion or guarded cynicism?
Who amongst us in the real world would trade someone a cup of ice for a bicycle tube for a flat tire? Or find giant metal letters sitting in the middle of a desert with symbolic implications that will resonate both during and after the event? Or traverse the maze of the giant Mant Farm with two fellow art enthusiasts from Los Angeles. (My favorite large art piece on the playa.) Or hurl themselves naked down the largest slip-n-slide in the world? Or share their fear and apprehension in a men's circle in a tepee in the sweltering heat? Or witness the burn of the man with all the pomp and pagan ceremony of Alan Bates in The Wicker Man? What secret might this simple ritual unlock for someone? I ask myself, even now, if this was/is/and will continue to resonate for all participants as a prophetic community experiment for future generations.
At night, when magic rules the air and all is unlocked for all of us to partake, Lock-Ness wonders aloud amidst a blinding sandstorm that given the cacophony of bicycles, art cars and vehicles and costumed pedestrians he has not witnessed a single accident, even when visibility is rendered nearly impossible within the swirling dust. How can that be? Were we guided by some unseen force or simply tapped into our neighbors' vibratory frequency so acutely that we can sense each other's pathways, thus avoiding any fatal collision?
Amidst the venerated nudity, creativity, spirituality, curiosity, hedonism, et al., there exists a grand example of authenticity that most citizens of our planet will never have the opportunity to experience. Many will blast this event, snickering at the faux hippy ethos and weekend granola crunchers of all ages who seemingly appear to be clinging to the last vestiges of freak flag waving, clouded by hearsay or their abject fear in the greatest experiment in a temporary nomadic culture.
What was constructed and shared in our temporary ART city was a glorious Utopian metropolis where people lived gloriously side by side in tents, tepees, RVs, art cars, geodesic domes, sleeping bags, or just blanketed in dust. And more importantly where ART and individual expression was held in such high regard that it was everywhere, albeit in the middle of nowhere, and shared with such unbridled enthusiasm that it was revelatory.
Two things remain certain for this newly deflowered virgin -- 1.) this epic, mind-sprawling event will resonate with me long into future, 2.) and I will return to the Burn. Rites of Passage, indeed...
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent. His Burning Man experience left him indelibly scarred.