Posts Tagged ‘burning man’

THE ROAD TO BURNING MAN (Black Rock, 1996)

November 3, 2008

“For my next act, I will set myself a-fire,”Craig Breedlove, moments after nearly drowning in a brine pond in Bonneville while becoming the first man to travel 500 mph.

Picture this: a transmigration towards the center of being, the Pauite Spirit Land where, according to Injun’ tradition, white and red brothers had been separated at creation, Black Rock, Nevada.

Picture this: a Blind Hippie and three compatriots on the road to the Burning Man festival there, a sort of free-form techno-pagan celebration with colors and music and a giant, sky-scraping wooden effigy of a stick man set on fire as a sort of act of atonement for the sins of post-industrial America.

If the culture is to seek penance, the Black Rock desert is as good a place as any. Injun’ Conflict and conflagration, war games, amateur rocket launches and sundry manifestations of tweaked machismo have been perpetrated on this very chunk of longitude and latitude. Atonement is a nice gesture, but it’s really to ease the soul of those still breathing, as those who have vanished and vanquished have been incorporated into a landscape whose scale and magnitude renders such gestures superfluous and futile.

Still they come: in vans, cars and caravans.

Roving bands of naked percussionists – Marching Drug and Bong Corps, if you will – jammin’ on high and so blissfully oblivious to their own arrhythmia that it eventually becomes a rhythm, snake through various camps of pierced performance artists and tattooed torture artists, Fuller-ites with portable Geodesic domes (!), etc., etc.

The Burning Man. It resembles a star-shaped power line stand that supports the high tension lines cutting across the Mojave between LA and Vegas. The resurrection of a skeletal Trojan Human with nothing hidden, its structure as blank as the desert that houses it, its message empty excepting whatever meaning any one of the gatherers wants to foist upon it. And with that done, the whole thing will be set on fire, of course. These projections, like the edifice itself, which will be consumed by fire at the culmination of the festival. Woodstock meets the World’s Fair, whose finale is Jimi Hendrix electronically vomiting out the “Star Spangled Banner” while the Hindenburg immolates. Or something.

The festival is held on the Black Rock dry lake bed, a location with serious overtones of ancient civilizations of Pauite Indians and genocide, and WW II war games.

This dry lake bed is a flat ball of string with the triumphs and transgressions of Western Man and the Noble Savage he supplanted all intertwined. The spiritual, the cosmic and Western Man’s “fucked male energy” are all there… it is the only logical place to set the Man on fire and attempt to purge the sins of Modern Life and some how get right with nature.

Beyond its status as a pagan festival, Burning Man is a gesture. It is a metaphor. A reactionary statement about life at the ass end of the 20th century, whereupon technology has taken a strange turn.

The whole gag was form over function. A bio-mechanoidal convergence. The least functioning the sculpture the better. Technology is inextricably intertwined with our lives, nay, our very central nervous system(s). Thematically, Burning Man is a commentary on technology gone awry, a re-enactment of 2001, when the mainframe computer on the space station in 2001 went haywire and makes a cognitive decision to lock the pod bay doors in an attempt to deprive the astronauts of their oxygen. The astronauts were in a battle of wits with the computer and the computer was kickin’ some serious Homo Sapien ass. So anyway, Burning Man is/was a contrived attempt to dis-empower technology, to relegate it to its proper status as a tool and not the command center.

Technology is an extension of humanity, and takes the Venn Diagram one step further, it is an extension of nature. Burning Man was a contrived and somewhat precious attempt to detune technology to the basics: punch cards, strobe lights and pulse jet go-karts…

All of which is sheer spectacle and an exercise in entropy and pointlessness.

The festival ends with thousands of post-modern hippies, punk rockers and other bohemian-types wiped out on the dry lake bed. They were drugged out, drunked out, fucked out. The Man is cinders, caught in the ethereal, basso profundo winds that blow across a desert bed that one sci-fi writer referred to as “the afterlife.”

There was nothing left to burn.

The only thing left was to “pack it out.” Dutifully, the Blind Hippie begins to help clean up the trash. The next year he returns. And stays.



November 3, 2008

Four hippies are traveling east out of Grass Valley, CA in a beaten ‘89 Ford Taurus station wagon, brownish yellow as sun-beaten adobe and trimmed with a personalized California license plate that reads “EIEIOM.” Like a perpetual motion machine powered by cough syrup, the Taurus chugs up and over the Donner Summit, gathers downhill momentum and coasts across a state line that gradually smears into the funky, gaudy Babylon of Reno. After exiting the interstate at Fernley, the Ford heads north on a ghostly two lane highway snaking towards a dry lake bed some ninety miles up the road, burning the proverbial midnight oil in a grimy crankcase.

With an eggshell of a summer moon as their beacon and a hissy, unbiased cassette tape of Schoenberg compositions as their soundtrack on a factory stereo with no noise reduction, this ragtag new age entourage journeys past the ramshackle shanties that serve as suburbs of the nearby Indian Reservations. It is a menagerie of adobe shacks, satellite dishes aimed at the heavens, rusted Chevy Vegas and sandblasted pickup trucks with weathered bumper stickers that read “SURE YOU CAN TRUST THE GOVERNMENT JUST ASK AN INDIAN,” and sundry forsaken hardware (washing machines, refrigerators, teevee sets) whose sole practical application is that of lawn sculptures. This scene is supplemented by a lunar-lit landscape of buttes, mesas, the placid veneer of Pyramid Lake, and lava rock that had been spit up 150 million years ago out of the parched and ancient Lake Lahontan. As it climbs into the thin air of the high desert, the dingy Ford is conspicuous as the only object in one hundred square miles to exhibit any motion, a reality punctuated by its dull, low octane ping.

To these travelers, this pinging was another intermittent, syncopated rhythmic element that accompanied the cassette tape of Schoenberg.

Among the four hippies is Danny Jo, a blind visionary riding shotgun and meta-grokking to the sounds of Schoenberg, as his exceptional sense of hearing was piqued by the minor detonations inside the combustion chambers of the engine. (The sound of vehicles in motion always spoke to him, as did twelve tone compositions by German cars with umlauted names.)

Schoenberg used every note in the Western scale – all twelve tones (the black keys and the white keys) that was his modus operandi and his signature as a composer. His critics considered this technique busy and gratuitous. To the blind hippie, however, these compositions were not busy enough (!) and when the low octane pinging subsided, to compensate the blind hippie would begin riffing on the notes within the notes.

The notes within the notes. It is interesting how the mind travels. The notes within the notes reminded Danny Jo of the Ancient Greeks and their conundrum about infinity – and the infinities within the infinity. Between 0 and 1 were an infinite amount of fractions (1/2, 1/10, 1/100, 1/100,000,000, ad infinitum).

The higher the denominator, the lower the value. The higher the denominator, the closer you are to zero. But you can never get to zero. That’s the paradox of Infinity.

The knowledge warms him with glee. He begins to meditate with “In-fin-uhh-tee” as his mantra.

As the Taurus passes by the shells and hulls that dot the Reservation town of Little Nixon, the blind clairvoyant’s meditation is interrupted by a flaming telepathy, as Danny Jo begins to involuntarily decode spiritual overtones of massacred Injuns. Furthermore, he is enveloped by sound patterns of what he considered an extraterrestrial presence. He feels both death and… the presence of spaceships in the desert.

Despite the exotic and transcendental nature of these telepathic interruptions, the blind man considers both signals not only superfluous to his purposes but even ultimately distracting to his mission, and he begins to filter out these pulsations by dialing in the sound of a freight train as it chugga-chugga’d down some lonesome railroad tracks. And from listening to a videotape of Bad Day at Black Rock, that old Spencer Tracy flick, he knew that Gerlach was nothing more than the intersection of railroad tracks, the highway, a gypsum mine and a prehistoric lake bed. This must be the source of the sound of the train.

A train is the perfect construct to drown out the other psychic noise. The blind hippie remembers to back when times were bad, when he lived near the railroad tracks in Olathe, Kansas before he had found himself a good woman with a gold station wagon, and how he had to create a way to tune out the extraneous din that clouded his head and his being. Once, in the midst of a particularly vicious and dark argument with his woman, he had heard a railroad engine off in the distance. As it moved closer, the freight train began to drown all of the infernal hollerin’. And when both the train and the domestic situation had passed, the blind hippie unchained his relationship with that harridan shrew – not unlike a boxcar at the station – and moved out west to find him a peaceful woman with good karma. So from that day forward, in order to create a device that would reject the negative vibrations and that would streamline the metaphysical signal-to-noise ratio to an acceptable level, he had fabricated a sort of post hypnotic suggestion for himself in the guise of an oncoming train steaming its way down the tracks, whose sound suggested to the blind hippie that good tidings were coming. His heart was filled with glee. An oncoming train. A Juggernaut of Positive Vibrations. And by extrapolation, A Glorious Portent for the Millennium.


November 2, 2008


Pick Your Part

Pick Your Part


November 2, 2008

I am waiting to make a phone call to the editor of HOT ROD Magazine. I wait outside the booth as Richard Noble is fumbling for the proper change to dial out, and I notice all he can summon is lint and some British coins.

Here he is, Richard Noble, the fastest man on the planet, desperately trying to make lodging arrangements in the middle of the American Outback, the weight of an entire LSR operation on his shoulders. The SSC’ers got no rooms and their leader can’t even make a fucking phone call.

The Brits are boycotting that turncoat opportunist Bruno. They adjourn to the bar next door, “Bev’s Miners’ Club,” and discuss Plan B. After enjoining Bev the barkeep to “Give us a fag, wouldya’ love?” (Loosely translated, “I’d like to purchase a package of cigarettes”), the affable Brits begin making friends with the locals, particularly Bev.

So picture this: Richard Noble and his lads (twenty-odd clamoring Brits clad in matching RAF-khaki) are hoisting Coors in a dusty, desert Dew-Do-Drop-Inn (this about as bizarre as it gets, in my book) when one of Noble’s crew members shushes the entire bar. The local teevee news is reporting on that morning’s press conference (“Going 700 mph does not interest us. We are here to go Mach 1”) at the casino in Reno. Suddenly the videotape cuts to the chipper studio humanoid broadcaster who closes the report with this coda, “Noble and his team are taking Saturday off in observance of Princess Di’s funeral.”

Simultaneously Richard Noble, OBE does a “say wot??” double take while his overworked and underpaid entourage cheer and Bev pours more drinks and opens more cans of beer.

They didn’t get the day off. Nor did they care, really. All of which underscores this question: What is it about Noble that inspires his troops, his lads to persevere in high-desert heat to erect a portable self-contained military-industrial complex that meets the criteria for the digital era’s standard for data gathering, all on a dry lake bed that time forgot?

(The massive amounts of hardware assembled by the SSC to facilitate the penetration of this phantom waveform amounted to nothing short of a hi-tech paramilitary invasion of a forgotten lake bed that – excepting for the war games and impromptu fighter plane dogfights staged sporadically by the military back in WW II and the alterno-tech paganism of the annual Burning Man Festival – had more or less been bypassed by the techno-industrial revolution of the 20th Century and had never seen electricity, much less microwave satellite uplinks, portable airsheltas, rescue vehicles, hundreds of channels of real time telemetry and supersonic motorcars.)

The answer is not explainable by the notion of “technological enthusiasm,” a phrase that has recently come to explain everything from hot rodding to the Apollo moonshot. The answer is deeper, more atavistic and completely primeval. The answer has roots which extend into the quintessence of matter: The universe is expanding. By extrapolation, consciousness is expanding, constantly encroaching into realms of the unknown. The technological enthusiast must go THERE, the technological enthusiast will devour and outmaneuver whatever is in his or her way: Pauites, the laws of aerodynamics, Newtonian physics, whatever.

Thus you have some of the finest minds of our lifetime sleeping on other people’s couches, on their hands and knees picking up pebbles off the desert floor (to keep them from getting Hoover’d into the jet engines intake), all so they can have their moonshot.