I had read about Burning Man. Back in the Eighties, Armistead Maupin’s gay icons lay under the stars there. Part carnival, part rave, part gigantic art gallery and part just a place for a week where the world is left behind and creatives of all descriptions gather at Black Rock in the Nevada desert for a time of – let’s say – alternative living.
No electricity, no food and water. If you want it, you bring your own and you take it with you when you go. Every cigarette butt is cleared from the sand. We leave as we find. Pristine. Mad Max meets Mark Zuckerberg – yes, even the very rich turn up to hang out, network and get ideas. Clothes are optional, costumes a virtual necessity. Weird forms of transportation career wildly over the desert sand. Gigantic sculptures adorn the landscape. Fire shows and music till whenever. Watches and ordinariness are simply left behind. It is said that The Burn relies on how much you give to the inescapably anarchic creativity as a participant, not how much you absorb as a spectator. It began as a summer solstice bonfire ritual in the summer of 1986, years after the film ‘The Wicker Man’ became a cult horror classic. A wicker man was a large human shaped wicker statue allegedly used in Celtic pagan rituals for human sacrifice by burning it in effigy. Over sixty-eight thousand people are expected this year – the theme being John Frum and Cargo Cult. No, I’d never heard of them either.
Why all this? I have the rare, secondhand cachet of knowing someone who is going. I don’t know why he is going – perhaps because he’s young, successful, idealistic and clever. I am none of the above. I can’t quite figure out whether the persistent sense of unease I experience when reading about it is because the event is too radical, too hedonistic or too much fun. Perhaps I’m just too old.