Thoughts on my first Burning Man

If you spend any amount of time talking to a serious Dead Head about The Grateful Dead you will likely hear about the shows they attended, their favorite song, the times where they heard their favorite song, and some amount of band history. Dead Heads I have known were often fervent in their discussions about the band, wanting to share their particular insight into the Dead Head experience. One of the things that I felt when following the Dead was a sense of being connected to a community, and connected to the past. The Grateful Dead were one of the longest lived bands ever, and their accomplishments were incredible. If you heard a song played live that was played at the Pyramids in Egypt, you felt connected to that event even though you were not there. When they would play a rarely heard song the audience went wild; they knew how long since it was last performed, and felt connected in being there to hear it played after so long. The more you knew about the band, the more shows you had been to, the more you had experienced the more you belonged to something bigger than yourself. It didn’t take drugs to feel that sense of connection, but they certainly enhanced the group consciousness.

The Rainbow Gatherings established a similar feeling in me. It was a sense of community paired with a connection to a happier and simpler time. People would gather at the drum circle, volunteer at the communal kitchens, etc; and in doing so cement the feeling of community. The sense of group consciousness was stronger here, but so is the sense of interdependence. My first rainbow gathering was filled with so many happy coincidences that I found myself walking in a Shadow that defied statistical improbability. I felt home.

Burning Man shares many of these characteristics, but on steroids. The sense of community is incredibly strong, but not because you are dependant on each other like the communal kitchens at a rainbow gathering. Rather, it is because you stand alone against the harshness of the desert.; just like the person standing next to you. In a shared hardship you have kindred spirits. Unlike a Grateful Dead concert where everyone’s focus is the same, everyone at Burning Man comes to focus on something different. The group consciousness is more of a tapestry than a single thread. I also started off my first evening at Burning Man by walking right up to someone I had hoped to see there but who had assured me that it was too big of a place for us to ever see each other. That was the first of many happy coincidences there.

There is also a high level of embracing technology at Burning Man; not only to survive, but to create acts of high art and pure whim. Where Rainbow Gatherings and Grateful Dead shows feel like they were connecting me to the past, Burning Man was a brightly lit road to the future. I saw more electroluminescent wire at Burning Man than I had seen at all up until then, as well as Road Warrior style art cars, and even a giant robot with flamethrowers for arms (that worked!). Perhaps embracing is not the right word; how about ‘reveling in’? 🙂

Most people need community. They find it in their family, religion, clubs, jobs, etc; they find it in common interests, beliefs, tasks. It’s wired into our hindbrains. Man is a communal creature. Those same people who won’t look you in the eye while walking down the street, and who look away rather than return a smile, go home to their families or their clubs or their churches and feel safe in their controlled community.

Burning man gives you community, but challenges you in its diversity; as opposed to comfort in commonality. It is techno-geek paradise, even if you choose to live it simply. It is freedom like you have never felt before, and it is responsibility like you have never felt before. You take your life in your own hands going there, but you’ll be too inspired to create to notice how much effort you are putting into staying alive.

I have come back feeling more inspired than I have in several years. I have ideas for a multi-level geodesic dome for Haus Boheme BRC, a techno-mage staff made with EL wire, and even some ideas for an art car or two. Dusty and Danger have a lead on a bus for me, and the idea of tricking one out again really has me stoked. I have a lot to learn, and now I feel a reason to do so. I’ve already signed up for one class at The Crucible, and I wish Dan were here to teach me welding.

A friend of mine asked me what Burning Man was like. When I couldn’t find the words she got a little pissy, and told me that I didn’t need to treat her like she didn’t get it. She said that even though she had never been, it had been explained to her and she ‘got it’. I applaud her. I have only gone once. I have scratched only the surface. I can’t say that I ‘get it’ yet. But I will; even if it takes me a few decades, theme camps and art cars!

Ghostwheel of Black Rock City

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