January 5, 2018
Last year, 2017, I went to burning man, for my fourth time. Four weeks that now all blend together into a full month of dusty memories. A month of insanity out in the desert, in Black Rock City.
For those of you who haven’t been, there aren’t words to truly describe it. But I’ll try. Imagine you and 70,000 really close friends decided to go build a city in the middle of nowhere in the desert for a whole week. That’s how it feels. Practically everything, everywhere, is communal and shared, and everyone you meet is your friend. And for that week, money doesn’t exist. It’s a purely gifting economy.
Every camp brings something to give or share, be it a sunrise yoga class, or grilled cheese and mimosas, or an awe-inspiring 30-foot-tall sculpture, or mock wedding officiations, or an all-night dance party (complete with booze, DJs, and incredible sound systems and visuals). FYI, my gift has been homemade necklaces sealed with playa dust from the Black Rock desert.
There are no curfews and no rules about when you should sleep. You simply have about 200 continuous hours of play time, and you can do with it whatever you like. Plus, everyone is an artist. Even you. Especially you. Self-expression feels so natural there. For a man, a colorful dress would be a semi-conservative outfit. There are no fashion rules whatsoever (except for taboos against shirt-cocking, for some reason). You can be fully nude at all times if you want, or, in my case, wear a giraffe onesie every single night.
All of these beautiful people, and all of this mind-blowing art, in one of the harshest lifeless environments, the Black Rock desert. Highs can be in the upper 90s (F), lows in the 30s or 40s, and dust storms can come out of nowhere and can last for hours.
Anyway, there were 5 moments at burning man this year that stood out from the others. In a way, these experiences encapsulate the beauty and randomness of the temporary city. I’ll try to describe them here, but I also hope to write a song that better captures each of these very emotional and inspiring moments.
I was lying on an inflatable couch in a tent towards the end of the night, maybe 5am. My brother Paul was lying next to me. My eyes were closed and I was flirting with the edge of consciousness. I was super tired. And yet I managed to stay awake, and explore the dreamy no-mans-land that exists halfway between being awake and being asleep. I had this thought, “I’m at Burning Man,” that kept reverberating through my head, almost in disbelief. It alternated with thoughts of “Where the fuck am I?”, as is typical out there. It’s a pretty unbelievable place. It’s like another planet.
These thoughts mixed with the all of the noises coming from Black Rock City, mostly just that never-ending deep house that is the heartbeat of burning man. But also sounds of people laughing, fire, art cars driving by blasting music, super squeaky bikes riding by (the dust is brutal on bike chains), and terrible karaoke from down the street. Just to name a few. So I had these few moments, lying in my tent, where I felt like I could hear all of the noise of the city so clearly. It was a beautiful moment, where I felt truly at peace. My body had been stretched and fatigued and burned and scraped and sleep-deprived for so many days by this point, it practically felt euphoric every time I lied down. And this moment was the peak of that sensation. Feeling like my body had melted into the inflatable couch and my spirit was then free to explore the sounds of burning man. What beautiful sounds they were. Sounds of pure joy, of people laughing and dancing and loving, of people living their truest lives. And here I was, right next to my brother, my best friend. And within 20 feet were another 15 beautiful campmates, including my amazing partner Becky. So much love in this place. How am I so lucky to be able experience this place? What a perfect time to be alive.
One night, my brother and I were biking through the vast expanse of the playa when we crossed paths with a single unfamiliar man. He approached us and enthusiastically said, “Would either of you care for a slightly drunken hug?”
Now, if you were in the default world (i.e. not at burning man) and a random stranger said this to you, you would probably be creeped out. Or maybe you’d think he was going to try to mug you, or worse. But in this context, it seemed perfectly appropriate. He seemed like he genuinely wanted to give us a hug. Plus, the way he said it was just hilarious. So I said, “Yes!” and immediately got off my bike and gave him a good long hug. And it wasn’t awkward at all; it was a beautiful gift. Afterwards, he cheerily said “Fuck yer burn!” and went on his merry way. This one moment perfectly encapsulates one aspect of burning man that is truly magical. Human beings, when their walls are down, have so much love to give and receive.
Another of my favorite moments was while lounging on the couches at our camp in the middle of the night, maybe 2am. I’d been out for a few hours, and, exhausted, came back to camp to chill.
I sat on the couch with my brother and my wife, and giggled for what felt like hours. This was Thursday night, and we’d reached a point of exhaustion where, again, lying down felt euphoric. Any sense of urgency to go explore the city had mostly disappeared, replaced by a feeling of contentment and pure joy doing absolutely nothing.
Friday night, I went out exploring into deep playa with some campmates. By first light (maybe 5:30am) we found ourselves at Robot Heart. I was exhausted, as usual, but somehow found a second wind as the sun started to come out. And the music, it was beautiful. It was a type of melodic house that was just so so uplifting and melodic and euphoric. After the sun was fully risen, I experienced a moment of pure bliss. With my eyes closed, I faced the sun, reached my arms into the air, and simply danced. I opened my eyes occasionally, and I would see some of my closest friends, and my beautiful partner Becky, smiling back at me.
Even people I didn’t know would smile back at me. It’s one of the magical things about burning man. Everyone, including strangers, behaves as if they’re your friend. In such a place, everyone lifts everyone else up. Everybody wins. So much love and joy, spreading like a fire. As I danced, friends passed around snacks and drinks. I had a few sips of hot coffee, and it was absolutely perfect. Such a warming energizing liquid. Nothing quite like it when you’re out in the desert at sunrise, exhausted from a week of living life to the fullest. It’s all about the simple things in life. Hot coffee and good company.
The final Sunday, after sunrise, I found myself standing outside Bubbles ‘n’ Bass, looking out at the playa. FYI, Bubbles ‘n’ Bass is a camp that hosts a dance party and gives out champagne every morning at sunrise.
I saw so much joy, so much love, so much generosity, and I was suddenly overcome by an overwhelming sadness that this magical place was coming to an end. I wanted to cry. I teared up, though never quite managed to fully cry. I realized that burning man is a lot like life, or rather that burning man IS ALIVE. For one week of the year, 70,000 humans work hard to give life to something magical, something bigger than us all. And then at the end of the week, that life fizzles out and dies. All good things, anything alive, must come to an end. And sometimes that end feels heartbreaking, but death is inevitable. It’s all about making the most of the time you have. And remembering that love is all you need.
Thanks for reading. I love you.
Anthony / Trazer / Slutty G
p.s. Oh, by the way, my playa name is Slutty G. It’s short for Slutty Giraffe. It’s a long story.
p.p.s. One more pic. Or maybe three.