I wanted to be sure that all of my readers were aware that Larry Harvey had passed away following a massive stroke. Some of you may already have received the letter I’ve reproduced below from Marian Goodell, the chief executive officer of Burning Man and a founding board member of the organization. It was distributed on Saturday. I’ll let Marian’s letter speak for itself.
We have four trunks filled mainly with clothes that we wear on the Playa, but we don’t actually need any of it. For my first couple of years at Burning Man I wore jeans and jeans shorts every day. I brought a variety of tee shirts, assorted underwear, and a couple of hats to protect me from the sun. I owned zero “costumes” until year three. Now we shop year-round at thrift stores and second-hand shops for Burning Man outfits, customizing them for Playa use with lights, colorful fur trim, beads and other paraphernalia.
I recall at my first Burn my amazement at seeing a woman who looked like the character Leelu from The Fifth Element. Because Lashes and I had always loved that movie, I was excited to tell her about the striking appearance of someone who looked exactly like the film character on a dusty road in Black Rock City. Leelu’s appearance during my first Burning Man inspired me creatively, but it lit a much bigger fire under Lashes, who started to learn more about the costumes typical of Burning Man. She eventually gained expertise in areas such as EL Wire for lighting up clothing, bikes, etc; she also began exploring different kinds of material that could be turned into costumes appropriate for the Playa.
She started shopping in second-hand stores for retro-style clothing and ostentatious hats, all of which she modified for Burning Man. At one of our early burns, she noticed the large number of colorful flags waving from tents, RVs, and art installations; so, she began designing and sewing flags based on each year’s theme (some of which were quite challenging, such as Rites of Passage, Cargo Cult, and Caravansary). We’d often brainstorm ideas for both flags and costumes together, agree on an idea, and then move forward. It was a year-round effort – especially on Lashes’ part.
But the reality is that you don’t really need costumes, flags, and other home-made paraphernalia to be prepared for the Playa. However, there are some necessities: first, you ’ll need clothing that is light enough to wear in the hot desert sun, as well as clothing that can keep you warm in the cool (and sometimes cold) desert nights. Lights to make yourself and your bike visible at night, and headlamps or other wearable flashlights that help you see your way around the variable surface of the Playa are also necessities. Without appropriate lighting, you stand a chance of being invisible to oncoming bikes, or of tripping over something laying on the Playa (such as a sleeping Burner).
You don’t need costumes for the Burn, although you may want some in order to have more fun and make a splash in BRC. You can always obtain a free outfit from one of the costume shops (such as Kostume Kult) after you’ve reached Burning Man. There are plentiful choices – especially if you shop early in the week. Also, you can shop at one of the Prepare for the Playa events held by regional Burner groups around the world. There you’ll find everything from playa wear to lighting to dust protection gear.
So, there’s no need to stress over shopping for Burning Man finery. Even if you “come as you are,” you’ll quickly find yourself outfitted for the Burn in the basic attire that everyone wears on a daily basis: a layer of dust.
A few days ago, I made a Craigslist purchase just outside a Starbuck’s in Sacramento. It happened that the item was for our Burning Man camp and that fact sparked a typical exchange.
“I’ve always wanted to go, but my wife is dead set against it. I’m not so sure either. We don’t want to take our clothes off in front of other people,” he told me.
I sprung into Defender of Burning Man action.
“You don’t have to go naked; you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” I told him. “It’s the most chilled out place you’ve ever been.”
“But I’ve just had my 71st birthday. I’m too old to go,” he said.
“You’re perfect for Burning Man,” I told him. “I’m 73, and this year will be my 11th Burn. In fact, I write a blog about Burning Man for people 50 and older on why they should go.”
After showing him the site on my smartphone, I made him promise that he’d read some of the posts and give it serious consideration. So just in case my Craigslist friend finds his way to this site, I thought I’d reprint a piece I did in October 2011. It is about my initial trepidations about attending, and why I came back over and over again. Here it is:
Posted on October 18, 2011
I felt great trepidation once I had agreed to attend my first Burning Man Festival. My fears focused on the many levels of misery I would experience during what seemed like an endless seven days in the desert.
Would I have to get naked? Would I have to take drugs? Would I suffer sunburn and dehydration? Would I get lost in a dust storm?
I was hoping to survive the event, and I certainly never expected to enjoy myself. What a surprise then to realize that Burning Man turned out to be not only fun but also the most pressure-free environment I had ever experienced in my life. Nothing was expected of me. Others may have gone naked (a small percentage, I might add), but no one expected it of me. Others might have done drugs (I definitely saw some marijuana being imbibed, but there was no demand that I do drugs). Others might have partied day and night, but I rested whenever I was tired. It was easy to take care of myself in the desert heat, and one of the prime directives of our camp was to “take care of each other.”
Best of all, from the moment I entered the gates, I felt a freeing spirit descend on me, and the weight of troubles and concerns lift off of my shoulders. It’s no wonder that I came back home noticeably younger looking and feeling.
Rather than my week in the desert being a miserable experience marked by sunstroke, sunburn and deep bodily embarrassment, it was the experience of a lifetime between myself and my son –remarkable since he was 40 years my junior and had little reason to stick around with his old man in this clearly youthful environment.
But stick with me he did. He watched me like a hawk, making certain his old man was not only okay, but having a great time and getting adequate rest and nutrition. In fact, the one time I had a bit too much to drink, he looked askance at me and said, “Dad, you’re drunk” in an accusing voice. I turned to him and slurred out the words, “Yes, I am,” and began laughing.
It was the greatest bonding experience ever between the two of us, and one we have never forgotten. Although we attended several more Burns together, we never went again without his mom’s presence, and it was never the same special “guy’s” event.
As wonderful as my experience with Eric had been, my fears would have been allayed if I had come alone. Nothing I have ever done, and no place I have ever gone, puts less pressure on you than Burning Man. Of course, that was my experience. And I would always caution you to carefully check out the group with whom you’re camping. Some rare camps do not observe the Burning Man spirit of “taking care of each other” and may haze newbies. It should be easy to find that out in advance. If you are camping in a theme camp, do some advance research to determine the history and reputation of the group. If you don’t like what you learn, find another group.
More about theme camps vs. camping on your own shortly.
Love is in the air at Burning Man, and it’s a great feeling. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be inundated by hugs – beginning at the greeter station and continuing throughout the Burn. There are hug camps and kissing booths, compliment camps, and smile camps. Hugs are the greeting du jour of Burning Man. If you have an aversion to being touched by other humans, be prepared to jettison that phobia and embrace another self – your Burner self.
Your first visit to Burning Man can cause some cultural shock waves in your life – and that’s especially true if you’re settled into belief systems and habits. At my first Burn, I was startled one morning when I stepped out of my tent and saw a group of naked men and women running behind a truck that was spraying the road with water (done regularly to keep the dust in check). After a couple of days of exposure to … well … exposure, I became accustomed to nudity. It had quickly lost its shock or titillation power.
However, the nudity, partial nudity and provocative dress combined with the many erotic activities (such as couple’s nude photos by a professional photographer, camps devoted to pleasuring one sex or the other, orgy domes, etc.) made for an immersive sexual atmosphere. The hugs were fun, but the eroticism was fabulous.
I’ve always believed that sexuality is a life force, and that embracing your eroticism makes you feel young. What I’m talking about is different from random sexual hook-ups on the Playa; instead, this is a ubiquitous and energizing state that infuses the entirety of Burning Man. For my wife and I, it has changed our life together for the better, prevented the dulling down of our romance (even after 51 years), and made us act more like a young couple than a couple of old fogies. We embrace the physical aspect of our marriage far more today than we did prior to the year we fell in love with The Man.
I believe the life-affirming erotic power of Burning Man has its greatest impact on people a few years beyond the “hooking up” stage. It puts us back in the game of living life to the fullest.
My first Burn was 2005, the theme was Psyche, and the atmosphere was even more erotic than it is now. Each day was named for a sex act (e.g., Oral Sex Tuesday); nudity was more commonplace than it seems to be today; and it felt like every other camp had some sexual purpose.
I realized after my first Burn that I felt a lot younger, but it took me a few years to make the connection between feeling younger and feeling sexual. I’m convinced that the connection is real, and that my life is made better by feeling sexy for a week in the desert every year.
Many of the people who have heard of Burning Man have some deep-seated misunderstandings of the Festivals. Among these misconceptions are:
1. Burning Man is music festival, like Coachella
2. Burning Man is a hippie rave, where everyone is on drugs
3. Burning Man is a one-week orgy, where everyone goes naked and has sex with each other constantly
4. Burning Man is liberal; conservatives are not welcomed
5. Burning Man is for the young – there’s nothing there for older people
6. Burning Man’s art isn’t serious – it’s just part of the entertainment
There’s a touch of truth in all of these statements, but for the most part, they are all inaccurate. I’d like to examine both the realities and the origins of the misperceptions:
First, while there’s plenty of music at Burning Man, it is not a music festival. In fact, the vast majority of music you’ll hear on the Playa is recorded and the biggest “stars” are the DJ’s. While there are a few live bands, there’s rarely anyone famous who performs there. For live music, Burning Man is far more noted for its rag-tag marching bands, drum circles, and volunteer performers at Center Camp (who range from excellent to ludicrous). Music constantly wafts out of art cars as they roam the Playa, but it’s rarely live.
Second, while there may be rave-like parties here and there in Black Rock City, they are neither universal nor part of the scheduled events. They just happen at times among Burners who enjoy raucous parties. The desert is big, and one party can’t influence the whole of Burning Man, so you may never encounter such parties. By the way, few Burners consider themselves hippies, and most of those are in their 70s or older. Many of the attendees don’t even know what a hippie is. And while some people do drugs while in Black Rock City, this activity is not ubiquitous and there’s absolutely no pressure to partake if you’re disinclined.
Third, orgies are neither universal nor “required” activities. Some people enjoy sexual activity with individuals they have just met on the Playa; others remain monogamous or even chaste. There’s no question about the erotic atmosphere that pervades Burning Man, but how you act on it (or don’t) is entirely up to you. Nudity or partial nudity is common, but not universal.
Fourth, Burning Man attendees probably lean liberal, but there are plenty of committed conservatives who come annually. In fact, the Playa is a haven where you can escape the constant drum of political talk or any form of news. Some of the art may reflect a political point of view, but subjects such as concern for the planet and human rights are far more typical of Burning Man art themes than politics.
Fifth, if Burning Man were strictly for the young, why would I write this blog? There are families with toddlers, young adults, mid-career men and women, and people as old as their 80s. Walking or biking across the Playa, you’d be hard-pressed to identify an “average” age group. Activities are open to all ages, and accessible alternatives with those with disabilities (age-related or not) are plentiful.
Finally, the creative value in the art created for Burning Man is subjective, especially given the frequent whimsical or provocative content. But one measure of the artistic integrity of what you’ll see at a typical Burn is a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery entitled No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. The show began on March 30 and will run through January 21, 2019. Click this link for more information. We’ve always considered the art our favorite aspect of Burning Man, and feel this new exhibit validates our sense of its importance.