October 2007

Burning Man: A party not to miss

By Art Goodtimes

BURNING MAN … Omygosh, what a wild extravaganza! Take the Telluride Mushroom Parade, increase its zany costuming 10-fold, add heavy doses of nudity, revelry and dancing, and up the numbers to a population larger than Grand Junction … It was my second year at this double-decade bash that started as a jilted- love seaside party for 40 people at Baker’s Beach in San Francisco back in the Eighties, and has grown to one of the largest techno/art gatherings in the country. My young son, Gorio, who’s only 9, was insistent on coming along this year, and so we turned it into a family reunion, with my brother Doug from San Jose bringing a large mobile home as shelter (essential on the dusty, windwhipped playa) and my eldest daughter (Iris Willow) and her boyfriend from San Francisco joining us at the Goodtimes Drum Camp. A dedicated drummer, Doug brought along a raft of djembes we played when we weren’t biking around the encampment … Imagine a city of 50,000 folks plopped down on a (very) dry lakebed in rural Nevada. A half-circle urban design of 13 named rings, with alphabetical street names like (A)rctic, (B)oreal, etc. — divided by 2/2:30/3/3:30/etcetera cross streets. With that structure, our camp ended up with an address of 4:55 & (K)elp Forest at one of the outer (mostly residential) rings. And there were literally hundreds of theme camps, many offering unbelievable services, including dozens of bars, lecture pavilions, dance halls, a rollerskating rink, light shows, art exhibits, food, workshops, and so much more … You have to understand that once you pay the fee to enter Black Rock City (as the site is called), everything is free. So, the tradition is for a giveaway — people bring things to give others. Including booze. All free. Food. All free. Star Wars light sabers (for a huge playa mock battle we got to join in). Free. I even got a Monopoly-like Get Out of Hell Free card. … But maybe the most amazing thing about this week-long party is the transportation methods. People walk. It’s a small city – a mile or two across. But most people bike – day and night. And although road vehicles are outlawed, art cars are encouraged. And not just cars – buses tricked up as floats (pirate ships, fantasy critters, cupcakes) and traveling parties, replete with loud music, light shows, revelers, generators. It’s a crazy mélange of pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles – all without benefit of stoplights, roundabouts, stop signs, or traffic cops. And yet in the entire week of mobile anarchy I only saw one person crash, and then only a minor fall without an injury. And at night the cacophony of light and sound was overwhelming. It was total sensory overload … I spent a lot of time wandering around with Gorio. But he cashed in early each evening, while I stayed up


A lovefest. Sort of
the Thunderdome
in reverse.
All duded up.
Double entendre
or in drag.
Starry nights.
Neon lights. Fire
& fantasy.
Free booze.
Dancing your knees
to the stumps.
The Critical Tits Parade
drew thousands
of participants.
While the Critical Dicks
were sort of
an afterthought.
And even during
the sandstorms
hiding in RVs
& my bro joking
how it looked like
a sci-fi refugee camp
we were all
blinded by beauty.
Bathed in awe. Sort of.

until dawn several nights, drinking with friends and strangers, dancing my heart out at the numerous dance clubs on the main esplanade … It’s a party not to miss.

VANESSA BOYD … At last year’s Burning Man, I heard a dazzling jazz vocalist. This year, wandering about in the wee hours, I found the Lost Penguin Lounge and rock vocalist Vanessa Boyd in performance. She was dynamite. Her colorations and vocalizations had me in thrall. And at the end I got one of the CDs she gave away, “Hunger” (remember everything’s free). I played it nonstop on the 800-mile trip home, and loved every minute of it … Check out her website, www.vanessaboyd.com. I’m hoping we can bring her to Telluride for Talking Gourds next April.

SCATTERING ASHES … Dolores LaChapelle died back in January, at 80 years of age. A group of her friends took her ashes to her favorite sacred sites around Silverton this past weekend, and gave her back to the elements — not only Heidegger’s fourfold (mortals, divine archetypes, earth & heaven) but also the physical mountains and waterfalls of her home in the caldera of an extinct volcano … Drumming, chanting, telling stories, we honored this great teacher as she honored us with her wisdom and her friendship.

ROB BLAIR … A geomorphologist from Durango, a friend and one of the founders of the Mountain Studies Institute, Rob’s the editor of “The Western San Juan Mountains: The Geology, Ecology and Human History,” (The University Press of Colorado, Boulder, 1996) — essential reading for anyone serious about understanding this sector of the Southern Rockies … We were chatting after our ritual for Dolores about plate tectonics and he advanced some fascinating ideas about the formation of the Rockies – suggesting that the North American continent lifted and expanded, creating rift cracks in the mantle like the Grand Canyon and the Rio Grande Gorge and sloughing off surface land mass that rumpled like a rug into the Siskiyous and the Sierras (a caveat -- don’t blame Rob if I got this part a little jumbled, being as I am more poet than geologist) … Then it was showing us a specimen of copper sulfite he’d found, answering a raft of questions including what “disseminated gold” was. Next he expounded on a host of variables that might be affecting global climate change much more deeply than human carbon production, from a magnetic pole reversal to sun cycles to the precession of the earth’s wobble around the sun. Nevertheless, he concluded, humans ought to become more adaptive to the climate trends and earth cycles reflected in geologic history by mitigating anthropocentric contributions to warming, when the earth warms, and to freezing, when the earth freezes. Ignoring the current warming trend without taking adaptive actions was foolish, he thought … And that’s the kind of fellow Rob Blair is, a deep thinker who puts patterns into play that realign the world for us. A lecturer and teacher not to miss.

I CHING … David LaChapelle had a group of us toss coins to come up with hexagrams for his mother’s ritual. On Saturday the result was “heaven over mountains” – an exact fit for the passing of a woman who founded the Way of the Mountain Center in Silverton. On Sunday, we threw “fire over heaven.” Which David interpreted as a kind of challenge to us to move on and share the fire that was Dolores. Or as the poet George Oppen has written so lucidly – “Ultimately the air is bare sunlight where must be found the lyric valuables.” Another perfect hexagramal fit for the moment … Pure chance? David suggested not. And then he launched into a quantum mechanics explanation of chance operations (carried out with intention) that involved the liquid crystal surrounding each human cell, microtubules, and the actual shaping of nonrational activities of divination by human consciousnesses. I don’t do his elegant thought justice, but it was sufficiently convincing, given our two group throws, and only served to further confirm my own personal experiences with the I Ching’s uncanny relevance whenever I’ve used this ancient Chinese system of wisdom.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.