Some of you out there must know what burning man is, was, may always be, very simply its an "art" event with deliberate pagan overtones that takes place every year in the middle of the nevada desert,
we entered at the start of the desert evening and after camping were soon walking through a mystery world of lots of glow tubes, people on strange vehicles and the shadows of weird alien structures looming in the darkness... come the morning and a clearer view of the spectacle... my absolute main feeling was like id stepped into a camp right out of the road warrior series... everywhere this army of strange people is rousing itself, shaking off sleep, "I just woke up..."says Bluegirl very casually as we wait on line for the port-o-san... (here let me say that this year there is so much stuff on the net about burning man, that im not going to put up links, just search and anyone whos interested will find tons of pics, vid clips, and reports, the 'official' site is great, literally thousands of pics...
Now as some of you might recall, i spent the summers of 1967 and '68 in san francisco and Berkeley, respectively... more long stories, but while i was there i saw the seeds of burning man... as one crossed the bay bridge from Berkeley to sf, there was a little strip of beach there that was almost always strewn with strange driftwood and rusted metal sculptures
apparently there is a direct lineage that goes from these things down to the present day madness...
We walk around... the place
itself is magic, the central 'playa' area is where all the art stuff is, everyone keeps using the phrase 'charged ' to describe the atmosphere and

for sure it is that
, it feels like stonehenge, ayers rock and so forth, the weather changes almost every hour, the most dramatic aspect being dust storms that arise suddenly bringing amazing lighting effects and sun filtering, but at the same time these conditions hamper the on site construction of some of the more ambitious projects, for example, one of the most dramatic pieces was a huge trio of faces... one made of living grass, sod, that was meant to cry water and sing opera, one of driftwood that would cry sand and sing blues and finally a copper one that cried fire and sang "heavy metal"...
it was indeed a beautiful thing, sitting on the vast plain of cracked earth it looked right out of "satyricon"... unfortunately by the time we left on saturday night (after the "burn") however, only the metal face did any crying, though all three sang their respective forms, ... as ive indicated anyone who doesnt know what burning man is can easily find out about it, and ive a feeling that most of my 'followers', fans, friends,whatever you guys choose to call yourselves all probably have heard something, somewhere about it... i must say all in all that though it reminded me of a big rock festival there was a distinct lack of commerciality that was really refreshing, but on the down side, though in structure it more closely resembled the 'love-ins', or 'be-ins' i so fondly recall from the days of my teenage years in the sixties, the spirit of those things was also lacking... yes , i had a great time, but...
a lot went on that i never foresaw... there was a great sense of contradiction out in the open, and below the surface degrees of angst, competition and meanness dragged in from the "real world"... yes times have changed and one universal i find everywhere is someone (me included certainly) saying things were better 6 months, 6 years ago... so the first thing that got me was the competition that was rampant among those who had been to more of these events, this was the 12th or 15th burning man, im really not sure, and i felt like i only spoke to a very few people who didnt work how many times theyd been into the conversation, (last night we went to the first game of the world series, got bored and split in the fifth inning,went home and watched the end on tv...competition is one of the evils of america, where is the honor in showing someone youre better, stronger than they are if theres no respect for them, weve taken all the sportsmanship out of so called sports, the japanese know about the nobility of failure, in america being a 'good loser' is just a meaningless phrase, i saw a tv show about kids growing up in the amazon rain forest, whats left of it, the older kid was showing the younger one how to shoot monkeys with a blow-gun, he was of course more skilled,better at it, but he didnt make the younger kid feel inferior, competition just isnt in their sensibility, the older kid just had affection for the younger, he just felt good about helping him learn something he had down)...
(currently im involved with all the problems of creating this second blondie album of the second blondie era so this writing is being done in pieces, though it all will appear at once..
as a result, linear time goes by and some of the immediate impact of the man event fades into the mist of memory...
there were several main topics of debate going on amongst the population of "Black Rock City"; could a place like this sustain itself on a permanent basis, a 'free zone', a city outside the rules and constraints of american society, would that make it less special, it going on not just once a year, there was much talk of woodstock, comparisons, conjectures... now in Black Rock City there are two "newspapers": the Black Rock Gazette, and Piss Clear (the title of the latter refers to the fact that in the desert one should drink enough water to keep their urine clear, this being a way of judging their level of dehydration) after a few days of reading these periodicals i was amused to find that piss clear began a series of editorials attacking the gazette, accusing it of taking the 'party line', downplaying important events etc. apparently last year a bomb was set off and the question was if it was a misdirected innocent use of pyrotechnics, or a malicious actual act of violence... a long tirade in piss clear accused the gazette of not delving deeply enough into this event... what i found particularly ironic was the sept.1 issue of piss's cover which contained the large headline "ARE DOT.COM YUPPIES KILLING BURNING MAN?" this over an obviously faked picture of two men
talking on cell phones, flanking a girl who writes on a palm device, the three superimposed over an image of people raving around a fire, now here is the contradiction that i found examples of everywhere: in the upper right corner in small letters is the edition number of the issue which reads "1 september 2000. issue eleven. version 6.2" this same issue contains a faked GAP jeans and ALTOIDS breath mint advertisement both with images of "the man", the gap ad particularly obnoxious, models dancing around him,
now, efforts by the man establishment on the whole to keep the event pure are indeed noble, mtv, not allowed. playboy wanting to take photos of the nudity, not allowed. but together with this there is an elitist quality that was reinforced when one day i came upon the local hispanic virtually slave labor class emptying the port-o-toiletes of their tons of human leavings, these guys were not having a cool time, they

hated what they were doing, people should get paid a lot to clean shit out of stinking toilets, not a little... mostly this "work" was done at night when everyone, mostly was asleep, like 5 a.m. but this one day the "schedule" ran behind and here were these poor suckers doing this in broad daylight in front of everyone, and because there was this sensitivity, a psychic field built around all the things that happened there which gave people that little extra consciousness, it was embarrassing, and everyone felt it, the workers were embarrassed, and i dont think it was just my imagination that some of the onlookers found it hard to watch these guys carrying out armfuls of piss soaked beer bottles which people werent supposed to leave around but did anyway, and that people actually looked away, and that i didnt see any other of all the cameras around peoples necks recording these images
So here is a factor... i vividly recall what it was like being in a group of say three thousand people, all of whom were under the influence of some powerful psychedelic, not E, which is like a stroll down a manicured country lane... but things which are like struggling through the dense under brush of a tropical rainforest, where every turn finds a confrontation with some powerful force of nature, animal, rushing river, poisoned twisting vine... but even without the chemical intrusion, events like burning man are as ancient as humanity, gatherings without fixed centers, without a reason for it to take place other than the need for people to engage in subtle unspoken community. Ritual, now a forced return to something which has always been with us, though for years, no, centuries, millennia, these events have been disguised and misused, always with a fixed center, from gladiatorial arena to the superdome to the vatican, the need for what is now popularly known as paganism has been been buried alive and condemned in the west. Point here being that in these events ones senses are heightened, emotions are more raw close to the surface, the closeness to our animal bodies more apparent, the result being anoverall heightened sensitivity of all aspects of the human condition, and the bitchy reaction of the cranky guy serving coffee as he is insulting and mean to those on line is felt all the more deeply than in the city where its easy to shake off a confrontation with a person like this, a daily event... out here its rare and amazingly hurtful...
So in 'center camp' is the only functioning aspect of capitalism; the coffee shop/tent/cafe/lounge, here the atmosphere is (aside from the above mentioned single encounter) just fantastic, this is what a city
should be like, its what a restaurant should be like its what life might eventually be like if the dark side loses, things are moving in this direction, in Wm. Gibsons, Bruce Sterlings writings as well as in the reality of current urban centers we indeed see coffee shops and the occasional night club/restaurant emerging as communal affairs fitted with stuffed armchairs and lounges
in 60's nyc we had restaurants like 'the paradox' which was positively mediaeval in style,a viking beer hall though the paradox place didnt serve alcohol the atmosphere was quite rowdy...
amusingly the burning crowd ourselves included was willing to spend an hour on line in order to get the proper amount of caffene in their system, the center of the center camp coffee shop was a geodesic dome that could only be entered by a womb like tunnel door, inside the dome was fitted out with cushions and low lighting, it could hold maybe ten-fifteen people comfortably and at all hours one could find somebody asleep, crashing or in any number of conditions that required they be laying down... but in the contradictory spirit that was always floating around this place was also the palette for someones 'fractal sound' recordings, so inside one could only rest if they were willing to be barraged by whirling psychedelic sounds pumped in 24-7, from maybe six or eight hanging speakers in spinning vortexes of tones and noises, not real loud but present, certainly not loud enough to prevent the place from always having inhabitants... at four in the morning the whole of the center camp was absolutely like being in the space station lounge off some derelict mercenary planetoid replete with cyber-charecters slumped over in dreams or trance, and as one would imagine there was of course no time limit on activities, many of those i talked to just staying up for days and days
(NOW its cold and snowy in new york and the episodes of the summer are that much more distant...(of course i never intended for this to take so long, but.........)
   i really liked the personal aspect of the event whereby people kind of displayed their lives and set up small versions of what they thought reality should be... late at night one could walk into what was a combination of someones house/camp, bar, cafe and rest area and act as if this person, who then would take on the role of gracious host, was an old friend or at very least a kindly inn keeper who was used to transient nocturnal visitors, there might be a bar set up and this person would stop what they were doing to receive the guests, offer a drink food etc... this made for a really timeless quality, for me a great sense of relief that if this can go on briefly then there is a chance it could become more

somewhere in here we ran into a guy who was showing films at his camp site: "reefer madness", "matrix","night of the living dead" etc. he reminded me of an obvious connection that i hadnt made, and that was to the KUMBH MELA... is a site i dug up quickly, theres a lot of stuff out there about this as well so check it out, the reason i know about the mela is because of my friend IRA COHEN talking about his trips there over the years, his video of time spent there: "KINGS WITH STRAW MATS' is available thru (cool site) (check out ira at ) the 'mela' is going on right now in mid january, as i write, in Allahabad -"An ancient city of India, here there is a confluence (Sangam) of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna & Saraswati. Bathing in the rivers here is considered auspicious at the annual Magh Mela and the Kumbh Mela-the world's largest gathering of pilgrims - held every 12 years when millions come here for a holy dip." basically what goes on there is a gathering of all the holy men sadhus (check the spelling) fakirs, guru types who are able to walk fly crawl or materialize there, apparently the event is registered in guiness as:
"...the largest number of human beings to ever assemble with a common purpose..."
and that was last year!... i really recommend Iras video to everyone, ira of course being a mystic himself is 'in' with these dudes, some of these guys will hold their arm up for years, until the arm shrivels and takes on the appearance of a tree branch, the nails of the clenched fist slowly growing thru the palm of the hand, others just never sit or recline, spending their entire life including sleep time standing up, some wear twenty or thirty or more pounds of iron bracelets at all times, while of course all varieties of piercings, pulling heavy weights with their genitals, being hung upside down for the weekend etc. etc.
so heres the funny thing, when i was adversly affected by some of the attitude and goings on of the burning man event, i found myself saying ' well shit why not go to the kumba (western spelling) mela this year which will certainly be the real version of this thing...' well now that the mela is up and running over there (i really would have loved to have gone, i talked it over with ira but alas...) reports are coming back that there are so many europeans and westerners with expensive catered tents, airconditioning etc. that some of the sadhus are bitching about the "good old days" the same as the burning man old timers, what a fucking hoot, so instead
of "shit man too many techno-ravers"... its like "you see i was buried for a week and when i pulled myself out of the ground some dutch hippie had parked his RV over my grave"... so i can only sigh and laugh at my own naiveté...
Time passed at the festival and we met an assortment of freaks and even regular people who drifted by...

in the center of this trio is the Reverend Colonel Teddy Paris of the SOUP ADVISORY BOARD who was one of a handful who recognised your humble narrator as the bearer of what degree of celebrity it is i hold
in other words he knew who i was, the fact of his being a 'higher up' in the odd local government being very helpful in barbs and myself getting our 'green cards', and he can be seen putting the finishing touches on one of them... now as far as any notables like myself (sic) i didnt see fuck all but this concept did lead up to a funny confrontation with the local radio station 'people'(i hesitate to use the word NERDS some of my best friends are jerks after all, but...) on the night of the burn, saturday night, the culmination of the whole event... id expected things to be at a more heightened pitch but because of the weather and probably because everything was at the level it was going to get to days before, the big bonfire was of course antclimatic, at least for us and id guess many others, word had gone out ( in 'piss clear' and elsewhere that the crowd around the man as he burned might be SO dense as to resrict movement to nudging onesself along though the crowd of twenty thousand or so revelers, the paper even went so far as to suggest bringing a bottle to act as a toilet facility since we all would be packed in like sardines,   of course this concept was just that, to make matters worse there was some confusion as to the actual burning time, a flare was lit an hour before but even this was not warning enough and at the appointed time a large group of stragglers, ourselves included could be seen hastily heading for the distant flames,  we did see first the man ignite, then his arm which was raised over his head fell in an almost salute and finally he bent at the waist and collapsed in a heap, needless to say there werent that many people around, oddly it seemed that a great many opted to 'stay home' and party in their respective camps,  (not having any flash equipment and being low on film id saved only one color roll which got fucked anyway, resulting in the glaring lack of night shots in this thing here) but in the darkness after the mans demise many great epic mystic events ensued... the 'opera' was anticipated by many we'd spoken to... barbs friend Pogo was one of the masters of the thing and earlier we'd disrobed to enter the pyramid, (clothes not allowed) the pyramids interior again was one of those timeless deals that reminded of some sumerian palace, drums, dancing girls, the whole nine yards, pogo asked if we'd like to be a sun snake and moon bull that night at the opera but although an appealing idea, getting painted red and blue and running around naked in the cold desert didnt feel like a real option and i for one felt more comfortable watching though im sure barbs would have made a lovely sun-snake...  fire was a link of all events, and the opera involved a huge cast hauling a giant lingum through an equally vast yoni (look it up) the union of which was summarily burnt amidst much celebration and chanting... later out on the playa MEGA-VOLT pulled up on top of a big truck flanked by two huge tesla coils, id been looking forward to seeing him after hearing about his 'act' which was performed nightly, id never seen a really big coil in action before and mega-volts antics were really satisfying, for one thing this maniac would never be allowed to do this shit in the real world in a million years, but here he was wearing a metal suit, a big helmet that resembeled a horned birdcage basically throwing lightning bolts all over the place, apparently the lack of a ground made his activities relatively safe, his metal suit conducting the charge around but not through his person... arcs of electricity ten-twenty feet long leapt from his hands and from a metal staff he held, we didnt see it but were told that if he held a two by four it would be burnt to a cinder while still in his grasp, eventually though even mega volt succumbed to the murphys law vibe that existed and his main coil fritzed out, we stood around cheering with the crowd for a while but when he took a break while his engeneers worked away we wandered off,   now the whole evening was a bit preoccupied since we had to leave after 'the burn' in order to hitch a ride back to reno where wed catch a five a.m. flight, i had no idea about how long this would take since i hadnt hitched a ride in america for thirty years or so,  eventually we found ourselves back in center camp and noticing that the local fm radio station was active we went in,   during all of burning man a low powered fm radio was set up and manned 24-7, the signal was only strong enough to reach the immediate area and since the whole place was ringed with mountains... well that was it,           we tuned in before the vehicle that we shared with the guys whod been gracious enough to team up with us had its batteries die, and although the music played was limited somewhat, a lot of goth stuff, the weather reports were really accurate, predicting the abrupt changes in conditions down to the minute....
so i thought that this might be an ideal place to flaunt my show biz persona, ha, to make a short story shorter, i bantered with these turkeys for a while trying to get a word in between their self congratulations for having attended five years in a row, whatever, i asked if any of them had any radio experience other than once a year here since im used to radio disseminating information, a condition totally lacking on this evening, well no one had any radio affiliations outside and my question got me the first of several pitying stares that i should be so materialistic as to conider the rest of the world as more than a folly, finally i figured id jump in and asked if i could plug my band... "sure", they were patronising now, "whats the name?"
(you can see where this is going) "Blondie" DEAD SILENCE... one guy kind of stammers "with Deborah Harry?..." before i can answer there is a six foot jock and his seven foot associate leering at me through a drunken beer fog while they wobble unsteadily in the doorway, "getaafuck outta heer!!!" he growls, these two are wearing stained football sweatshirts and sport 50's style crew cuts, they represent part of the collegiate types that are mixed in with the freaks and all the other represented subcultures, i start to protest "its really me"
"getaafuck outta heer!" louder this time,... i leave perhaps a bit hastily, behind me the 'dj' says "what an asshole" presumably referring to yours truly and thats all for my publcity tour at burning man...

now though i realise that there were maybe all of thirty people listening... i mean REALLY , THE NERVE, anyway its pretty fucking funny,but for the rest of the night i wonder why they freaked, was it because they were offended by my being in a succesful materialistic rock band? did they hate blondie? hate rock? i think they just thought i was out of my mind after all i should have been wearing an armani suit and a rolex rather than the way i appeared, that is, covered with dust, hair uncombed for a week, barbs reminds me that by this point i, we, were also wearing slashed sleeping bags over our heads that had been spray painted with the words "body" (bags) in large dayglo dust covered letters, these were discarded later
(see left, feet after just maybe three days, note desert,note dust) 
a bit more staggering about while we debated the most auspicious moment to attempt our departure...
All in, the thing was just fucking great... theres no doubt about it, one can easily disregard all the stupid shit,( i mean i regularly am avoiding fistfights with the absolutly psychotic dog owners in my 'chic' downtown neighborhood, letting our dog wander about without a leash elicits the weirdest overreactive protective responses from theoretically civilized people, ol' flapster grew up in brooklyn, lives with six cats and though he looks tough hes very timid and never starts fights with other dogs, knowing this we let him off the hook... i cant count the amount of times hes cheerfully approached another dog, tail wagging etc.{one would also think that someone who owned a dog could read dog body language even a little bit, but...}only to have the owner start literally howling "GET YOUR DOG!!" while keeping a strangle hold on their own mutt, lately im convinced that some of these miscreants are dissapointed when the dogs dont fight,... so living in the midst of urban madness, yeah well, some things are out of proportion to the balance of nature, harmony of the universe all that ) yesterday we had the superbowl and chinese newyear on the same day here... no one could ever ever convince me that the s-bowl is an important thing,...last night i had some thoughts on the stupid survivor show but today its reverted back to just being a crock, yet theres some kind of association one could make with the man fest, after all b-man is 'advertised' as having some relation to survival, though as anyone attending will attest survival problems are on the level of where to park, how much peanut butter and gatoraid to bring etc.
in retrospect id surly like to go again, and yeah maybe like all good things its gonna get tired and overstay its welcome, but if its really the kind of thing that it is, then it should evolve, its like how people dont want their favorite band to get commercial for fear that they will lose touch with a personal connection that they feel but if the band can keep the faith, if the event can keep its air of madness then maybe its expansion isnt a bad thing, i mean id sure as fuck rather live in black rock city than the plastic shell that new york is becoming,

(above a cross of citizens, another day etc... yeah id like to see these guys daily, going to a 'hip' coffee shop on the lower east side and lo, gap before us, gap above us, all around gappppppp!, lord protect your humble servants etc. etc. but i digress)

sooo we say good bye to a few people and head for the last leg of the oddesy, somewhere in here it does dawn on me about not having hitched for such a long time and being aware of the climate of shall we say nervousness brought on over the years by the activities of the whole spectrum of murderers,serial stalkers, bombers,hiway killers and their ilk, im perhaps a tad last confident than i would have been in the days of only charlie and his girlfriends, when the lack of a swatzsticka etched on ones head meant you were ok to take on board... barbara having done almost no hitching is even less confident, but im certain that the spirit of the event will stay with people as they leave... now were walking in a vast blackness, a gritty void, an occasional laser beam pierces the gloom over head, the lights of black rock are as faint as the fading noise of a thousand cd players all banging out some part of contemporary american culture as defined by all the preachers of the technology gospel...
eventually we reach the reverse view of the front gate, just a few days ago the whole thing was a mystery... theres no one around at all but where two roads converge in the midst of real no where is a folding chair like the kind used to bang heads in wrestling, we put down the gear and start flagging down passing vehicles, about five or ten refuse albeit politely, earlier wed stopped and asked two guys who were packing their rv if they could take us to reno, they nervously pointed to the half filled interior of their vehicle and said they didnt have the room, 'see'... they passed by and dissapeared into the black... but! as i suspected almost immediatly after their departure, an rv pulled with two older guys in it and after verbalising the fact of our lack of violent tendencies and insanity they took us on, wed been there barely a half hour!... these dudes were from san fran (an ER doctor) and colombia i think, somewhere in s.a.,(a judge) respectivly... we reminisced about the good old days in s.f. and then passed out, the hiway patrol did stop us but the judge cat who was driving had such an unshakeable cool demenor that the female cop just smiled and waved us on... leaving these guys was the last of the burning man experience in a way, they let us off in a motel parking lot, it was three am or so... the lobby of the place was completly devoid of people, signs of life so i used the desk phone to call a cab to the airport, the driver, ("y'all smell like cowboys") like most of the locals knew all about the event but had never been, was more interested in saving up for a good digital camera, we hoped hed get it, airport also empty we left the sleeping bags in bathrooms...
the flight back was a slice of life, the first part to denver or such was entirely comprised of very conserve white people, but when we changed to the new york plane suddenly we were in the company of such a cross section it was funny, orientals. indian women in saris and various island people, Haitian i think, were all mixed... i dont know what this says but something...
generally i dont like the village voice at all, i mean it used to be so much better in the old days...but like the day after returning, barbara who reads the thing, pointed out the horrorscope by the guy who writes the horrorscopes for all the... well ill avoid any tirades about the village voice and its readership... so mine, id saved it i thought (capricorn) said something to the effect of how i should 'break out of my shell and do something more intense like go to burning man'... something to that effect any way, that was the good news, that perhaps at least the horoscope dude for the voice has a little magic in him... the bad news was even more of a trip: in the last 30 or so pages of the massive 300 page fall issue of italian vogue, there's a spread entitled "ROAD WARRIOR CHIC', i kid you not, (at the event several people had expressed concern over 'big companies' using the thing as a background for various product pitches, believe me this is in the air big time) the only reason this particular fashion horror wasnt titled BURNING MAN CHIC is cause im fairly certain that the editors didnt think enough people would get the reference, (yeah, this too was confronted within three days of returning) So... here are the picturesquely mud stained beautiful models, posed around a monster truck vaguely reminiscent of the movie, in their ranks are beautiful photogenic mud spattered kids lest you miss the point, and... the'rer posing in either the same exact place that we just were, i.e. the playa, surrounded by mountains the whole nine yards, or, some very similar local, and here be the great fucking deal: they are wearing like drop dead expensive to the point of absurdity gear... i immediatly check the credits for prices, and what does one wear to the end of the world?... try a fucking 16 thousand dollar leather trimmed chinchilla coat and matching raggy looking (dont get me wrong the shit looked cool, but...) outfit, total about 25-30K per model... anyone thinks im making this up... think again, nothing could be weirder than whats happening in this dumbass country right now, im sorry, forget about it, like some bunch of kids start cramming cockroaches into tin cans, heating and eating them while riding skateboards... within a week weve got a sit com "DAYS OF OUR ROACH WATCH", an mtv mini series "X-TREME ROCHO", and a line of sports fashions with a website: "CANNY ROACXH BOARDS DOT COM" not to mention breakfast foods and film rights tom hanks as the witty teenage skateroach eater in walt disneys "WHO ATE MY CANNED ROACH DUDE?"
well i could go on but i should get this up already... as usual thanks for your support, letters etc. finally we DID get tickets for next years burn, the theme seems to be "the ages of man" anyone who makes it say hello if im visible to the human eye

here are some more pictures... anyone can use them just put my name on 'em, aqgain the official site at BURNING MAN dot COM has literally thousands of pics as well

psychedelic base camp


playa dust











huddled masses etc.


ok, one more and thats it,
any comments are appreciated
this whole thing took too long. Thanks to barry, louis, james, barbs and
the ever faityhful feline horde
and dog

all text, pics copyright chris stein 2000, 2001