Burning Man

David Ethan Kennerly, September, 2000

 

 

 

Prologue

Gray clouds hung in frayed hairs, fine enough to make out the strands.  It was a marvelous veil of rain in the still, clear distance.  Phantom electricity scratched the sky.

 

 

 

Hand

Satyrday night the Man stood some hundred feet away in the center of the circle, illuminated orange in anticipation.  He stood so still, a man knowing He is about to die. 

 

He grew fidgety.  His arms slowly moved away or toward his torso, catching the encircling cloud of humanity He was about to inhale.

 

*

 

We sat under the Army radar/air-surveillance camouflage canopy, erected by a pole, topped by a Grateful Dead Jolly Rogers flag, and the Greek letters of the Stanford co-op, XOX (Chi-Theta-Chi). It was a lull, the afternoon.  The miles-wide, 20,000 people deep party (formally known as Black Rock City) recharged its batteries in the sun.  Bored.

 

*

 

Luminous, monochrome flame-orange men hefted a small cauldron of molten yellow. They carried it to the wood frame of the lying-down obtuse angles of a minimalist icon of the Man.  He was some three men-long, lying down.  A band of shadow-orange onlookers sat and stood behind a thin orange band.  I removed the orange-tinted ski goggles, handed them back to Mike, and thanked him for the monochrome view. 

 

Sparks had flown from the ass of the huge, tall chimney in which iron ore churned. The sparks danced off the Mylar man that bled the orange-hot metal. 

 

We had gathered in anticipation, waiting the chill wind of the dark, dry playa by this outpost of heat.  Finally they tipped the molten java mug into His hand.  It filled less than a twentieth of the Man.  This would be a ceremony deep into the night.  We filled in Him in our imagination and left to finish our Thirstday night in dance, trance, and so on.

 

*

 

Without warning His fifteen-foot right arm erupted. Sparks, flames, white fairies leapt over his lattical biceps.  Surprised shadow dancers below looked up and hurried themselves to catch up to his imminent ejaculation. 

 

 

 

Torso

 

The white-hot leapt from His right arm to His chest.  He breathed a lungful of flame and expired dazzle into the night.  There was no stopping Him now.

 

*

 

Gray beige dust waves swept behind each wheel of the RV ahead as I drove into Black Rock City on Thirstday afternoon.  Flecks of dry, dry playa skin; that's the skin of the Man.

 

Signs marked the edge of the long, long driveway:

"To do something completely"

¡¦

"And leave no trace behind."

 

*

 

Fryday morning I joined the cracked, cracked, cracked pale playa to bake in the sun.  I performed the Diamond Sapphire, radiating light to all sentient beings.  The Man smiled.

 

Walking back, the gray dust blanket snuck in so thick I couldn't see ten feet in front of me; just the cracked skin of the playa below my own two feet.

 

*

 

Thirstday night, a gently yellowed Buddha sat in a meditative posture on the night playa.  Silhouettes of humans blocked only the base of the thrice-human height, yellow wood Buddha.

 

Walking closer, it broken into blocks. Its blocks broke into spines of encyclopedia, classics, and other old volumes.  The Buddha was made of books, and was turning its finger over a huge tome that was a collage of volumes.

 

A scraggly old man hunched in front of the book; "I spent a week designing this."

 

"Looks like work," a clean blonde Spectator on a bike said.  "I thought this was vacation."

 

"Nah," the scraggly beard said in a bad-toothed, white trash grin with a slight slur. "For vacation I'm going down to Monterey." He continued on about how he dumpster dove for the Reading Buddha.

 

*

 

The man with the squeaky rat but no voice whispered into my ear, "I lost my voice."  I nodded.  "I built this," he continued. "I wired this and built it."

 

I was impressed.  The forty-foot iron hemisphere of the Thunderdome held great ropes, speakers, and our singular attention.  It focused our eyes at the center.  Two women collided and brutally swung at each other with thick, padded swords. 

 

The music repeated the name in neon, "¡¦ Thunderdome¡¦" The arena master held a death's head staff, wore black wings, black flowing things, and skated the dry playa on all-terrain wheels of roller skates.  The priest of death's voice boomed in modulation between the heart-racing techno music.  I clung to the dome and watched him as much as the combatants.  He swung his staff to level toward the winner.

 

The estranged engineer combed his remaining hair with a fork.  The MC frowned and looked at his list.  'Cisco, as the MC had shortened his name to, asked, "Hey," and held out two Samuel Adams.  "That's better," the MC said.  'Cisco had insulted him with a bribe of two Coronas, then a scarf, and drunk-hick threat before.

 

"You better party with me," said 'Cisco to me through his beery eyes.  He had expedited the fight.  I didn't like 'Cisco.  I had no plans of playing with him further than our fight.  I waited out the end of the night.  "This is the last fight.  Make it good," the MC shouted above the crowd and techno.

 

Smack. That contact's not going to stay in.  'Cisco swung like it was baseball season.  No art, no style.  He won. 

 

*

 

In the dead of Satyrday night in a recessed white screen, someone killed Kenny.  Kenny floated up toward radiant, breast-bared women on white clouds. 

 

ACCESS DENIED

 

Kenny fell into flaming, White Zombie, hell.

 

*

 

After Thunderdome, I sought the faint horizon of lights.  There, a blue one, the tower Richard had noted earlier.  I shuffled back the mile-long trek, from 8:30 Street and Head Space to 4:30 Street and Avenue of the Heart: home of XOX, water, tent, and olive drab sleeping bag. 

 

I had swung, jumped, whirled, and fought vibrantly, unconscious of my physical limits.  Every step in half a blur, shallow breath, and slight sting of scraped skin reminded me.  Zombies move with more vitality.  I drug myself home.

 

*

 

Flaming "instant replay" of Burning Man covered the screen late Satyrday night.  Burning, on the flat screen, looks like an execution, not a ritual.

 

 

 

Legs

 

The wild, brilliant fire spread from His torso to His legs. Explosions, eruptions, "a shitload of pyrotechnics," the chunky Black Rock Ranger had said.

 

*

 

"Invoke me under my stars!" I had recited Fryday in the Diamond Sapphire chant of Liber Al vel Legis.

 

*

 

I hadn't wanted to sit.  I had sought out the drumming for the purpose of dance.  I danced at the edge of the human cloud encircling the Man on His last stand, Satyrday night.  After the chunky Black Rock ranger made me sit, I still bobbed to the drumming two men down.  The music moved me.  The music moved a dancing Black Rock Ranger.

 

A woman sitting on a man in a wheelchair (both able to walk) insulted the crowd, but accurately, "Look at them.  It's like a rock concert." She motioned to their silly glow-things, stance and otherwise cultural grasp of the situation.

 

The soulful Brother to my left heard this and responded in song.  He sung of angels, he sung of soul, he sung of the roots of rock n' roll.  I was impressed, bemused, and annoyed, altogether, with either the left or right or middle. 

 

But, music.

 

*

 

Illuminaughty's mediatronic eye entranced my dancing bones through the dark of Fryday night.  Matt said the next day, "I think I saw you there at 5 a.m."  That couldn't be right, not that late.  No, the X had no effect. 

 

But dance.  Dance to songs without end or pauses, only slow waves of preparation for the crashing trance tempo, the sea of variety of people. People who knew nothing of raves, people breast-fed on raves, people hungry for people, and people hungry for trance.  "Pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous, I who am all pleasure and purple, and drunkenness of the innermost sense, desire you," Liber Al vel Legis chanted.

 

*

 

"Not only does he take out his opponent," the sidelined old, armchair sensei said, "but he takes out the opponent's pillar."  I smiled and took my pillar again.  "It's all about balance."

 

The large and small fell to their own clumsiness.  The big boy who had felt proud at pounding his pugel to imbalance his smaller friends fell to me, a little, unassuming figure.

 

The padded pugels swung. The pillar dwellers collapsed eventually all.  The padded pugels swung and smacked without harm.

 

*

 

Smack, plink, clink, and clank. Blink.  Metallic percussion somewhere in a wasteland between symphony and cacophony reflected off the dust itself.  The sound came from everywhere.  At a large jalopy of some metal Azathoth, a crowd of scrubbing humans plinked, clinked, clanked.

 

Blink. Reviving ritual.

 

*

 

Wild things sputtered upward, and exploded in white wheel spokes radiating and rotating toward our eyes, far more effective than the tunnel of lights with iridescent glasses on and acid, herb, and/or X in me.  Brilliant, larger than life bacterial suicides of light lived. 

 

Blink.  Reviving ritual.

 

 

 

Ziggurat

At the base of the ziggurat, a naked body streaked into the blaze. Was he there before me?  He descended he steps, his cheeks dancing to life. Do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Rangers surrounded him and took him away. 

 

Fire dancers appeared all about.  Trails of fire followed them.  I recognized a few from Head Space the nights before.  They'd arced and twirled hot light throughout the night, creating smoky clouds of spectators.

 

The soulful Brother to my left sung:

      "We're gonna

      burn this

      mutha down.

      We're gonna

      raze this lattice

      to the top."

 

Huffs of fireball, the size of small houses puffed upward, lightly baking us all in swiftly rising dough of orange-black flame. 

 

The Man wobbled. On instant replay, later that night the Black Rock Ranger firefighters would place their feet on the cables, rocking the Man (I presume), toward a gentle grave.

 

*

 

The first eve there, Thirstday, above the faded mountains, rose-bounded gray clouds clutched the sky.  Puffy patches powerfully clung to the last light, squeezing the heart until it was rose.  Holy, beautiful.

 

*

 

Sunday, I would wake with dawn and adored Her.  Golden lipped clouds kissing the cold, faded mountains over the ring-city of nylon tents, aluminum RVs, and weird wanderers.

 

*

 

Fryday, I walked beyond what would be the head of the mile-long "Beaming Man" created by laser and New Age myth.  On the fractally cracked playa I performed the Diamond Sapphire.  Holy.  The Man to my South, the cold desert to my North, and the Sun to the East.  Brilliant light flowing in and to all the ravers, to the dancers whose music was uninterrupted (Did the DJs sleep in shifts?).

 

 

 

Head

The Man's diamondoid head never caught fire, even as it fell backwards.  It nearly crashed into the crowd.  A few remaining fireworks shot obliquely instead of upward.  Did anyone die?  The Black Rock Rangers were amazingly calm and civil.

 

The crowd lumbered forward, zombies toward His brain.  I stayed back, within my own.

 

*

 

Satyrday, Richard Pocklington asked me, "So what is this?" as we walked in the twilight toward the blue and red neon Man in the center of the playa civilization.

 

Flash.  The heat and cracked playa Diamond Sapphire revelation refilled me.  Words spewed unfettered, "Hadit and Nuit. Hadit is the Man, and Nuit is the sky above."

 

"So Hadit dies for Nuit?"

 

"Hadit is transformed.  Hadit is the brink of a new aeon.  It is the spark of change.  Nuit is the all-accepting night. ¡¦" 

 

We went on.

 

*

 

Richard asked a Ranger several questions after she had said, "You'll have to sit down." 

 

She explained, "If you're standing you will have less space."  She didn't overtly explain our death. 

 

"You'll get hurt."

 

"Is this a request or an order?" Richard asked.  I internally echoed Richard's thought, What was the social order of the Ritual of the Man?

 

It went on.  I danced and then sat to the source of music: drummers.

 

*

 

Velvet lightning; Electric sparks on a synapse wider than a man is long.  The lightning danced and swayed to supernatural forces between a shimmering bar and giant metal mushroom.

 

Will Wright designed a household simulation game, The Sims, with the intelligence in the objects and not in the characters.  The refrigerator tells the hungry Sim how to eat.  The TV tells the bored Sim how to lounge.  The shower tells the Sim how to bathe when dirty. 

 

Each Sim uses each object, when that is their state of need, the same.  Some variables of Sim state and the broadcast strength of the item determine. 

 

The lightning generator tells the Spectator how to ogle. The vulgar Canadian Beaver eating contest at Club Seal tells the crowd how to form.  The music, how to dance.

 

"Damn you, Will," I thought while I walked toward the Thunderdome, being drawn toward the Lightning, the Head car, the Reading Buddha, the metal cacophony, and half-dozen other sources of party.

 

Neil Stephenson ritualized the concept as the me in Snowcrash.  The Sumerian term, "me," was a set of instructions.  How and when to plant the crops, and so on.  The priest, the Enki, operated the me.  I lumbered toward the Thunderdome, whereat the Death's headed-staff of the arena host commanded the harnessed brutality of the spectacle. 

 

A siren had played in the distance, like a few decades old US police siren.  I happened to see the head it came from.  A light decorated frame of a head encased a custom steel go-cart.  The bearded driver sent it into tight circle backwards.  The lips, eyes and rest spun round, round.  Dizzy, and altogether designed for acid-licked spectators, I was sure.  Amused, walkers watched. 

 

*

 

"Church of the Electron" read the black-marker across the horizontal beam of the crucifix. Keyboards for horizontal beam; egg timer for a head; poles for skinny arms; burnt and abused circuit board garnish.   TV with outstretched arms and stilt legs screamed worshipfully toward his sacrificial savior. 

 

*

 

The zombies gathered around the fallen Man, and breathed in the flame. The azure-lidded night bent upon them.

 

*

 

"The Manifestation of Nuit is at an end."

 

 

 

Epilogue

I napped at Tahoe's lapping shore, on a gray log, by the glittering blue water below the watercolor blue-wash backdrop speckled chill white.  Clouds basked their bellies in passing over the expanse.  Boats lazily swayed in their dock.  Wild blue and red berries, and persimmon orange weeds adored the back lot slope ending at a stump of a log and my sleeping, faintly dreaming head.

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