Watch the Tribes characters come to life

My journalistic engagement with Burning Man, which resulted in my new book, began in the fall of 2004 when hundreds of the culture’s artists staged what became known as the Borg2 revolt. As I worked on an article about it for the Guardian, I had the magical experience of watching the colorful characters in the book I was reading suddenly come to life.

I want to give that same experience to the readers of my bookThe Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture – and that’s how I’m structuring my Feb. 17 launch party. You’ll hear me talk about the book and read excepts from it, interspersed by meeting and hearing from characters in the book.

This is Burning Man by Brian Doherty is an excellent account of the event’s early years until around 2001, my first year, that I was reading when many of the book’s main characters launched their rebellion with an ad in the Guardian. Showman Chicken John and artist Jim Mason were the top signatories, their main foe was event leader Larry Harvey, and they had allies in co-founders Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger) and John Law and lots of Bay Area artists who were characters in Doherty’s book.

And suddenly, I was talking with these people, all recognizable from the book but so much more in real life, all fascinating, inspiring, multi-dimensional souls. It made the book so much more rich and gave a detailed backstory to the current controversy and those to come.

Some of those same characters and many more have said they’ll be at my event and will say a few words. Larry is returning from South America two days before the event, but he told me that he plans to attend and will say a few words, as will Michael and perhaps a third Borg member, Marian Goodell. Chicken will also be there, in his inimitable style.

Burners Without Borders founders Tom Price and Carmen Mauk plan to be there and speak; Rebecca Anders, a main character from the Flaming Lotus Girls section in the beginning of the book to the Temple of Flux section I conclude with, will be there, along with fellow Flux artists Jess Hobbs and PK Kimelman; Opulent Temple’s Syd Gris, another character who appears throughout the book, will speak and spin at the event; Fou Fou Ha will be there in costume to bring my indie circus chapters to life; artists Michael Christian and Peter Hudson will be there to talk about past projects from the book and their exciting new endeavors; performer Kid Beyond (my cohort in driving from Black Rock City to the Democratic National Convention in 2008) will be in the house and on the mic; Kinky Salon founders Polly Superstar and Barron Scott Levkoff will do a dramatic reading of their chapter on sex; and many more surprise guests.

So this should be a unique night to remember. See you there.

Burners are blazing hot and bright right now

While I’m obviously focused on the imminent release of my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, that is only one of the fast and furious developments within the vibrant Burning Man culture.
Today was the deadline for artists to submit their grant proposals to Black Rock City LLC, and many of the tribes that I’m connected to and include in my book – from the Flux Foundation (builders of last year’s Temple of Flux) to Flaming Lotus Girls to the crews of artists Peter Hudson and Michael Christian – were slamming to get their pitches and renderings done late into last night (I’m even going to meet some recovering fluxxers for a celebratory drink after I post this). I’ll try to profile a few of the projects in the coming weeks.
I’ve also been in communication with the Extra Action folks who built the amazing but ill-fated La Contessa art galleon. They brought a federal civil lawsuit against Nevada landowner Mike Stewart, who intentionally burned La Contessa to the ground in 2006, an episode I chronicled in a Bay Guardian cover story that I reprise in my book.
They sued under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, which makes it illegal to destroy an artwork, a statute that carries a steep punitive fine that was the group’s best hope of recovering a significant financial settlement, as well as under federal conversion statutes that ban destruction of property.
But the judge in federal district count in Nevada ruled Jan. 20 that La Contessa was applied art because it was built on a functional vehicle and didn’t meet the statute’s definition of visual art, granting Stewart’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the VARA claim while leaving the conversion suit intact. The crew is planning its next move – and I’ve been playing phone tag with their lawyer – so I may have a more detailed Guardian story on this soon.
Meanwhile, Black Rock City LLC (the entity that stages Burning Man) has been busily converting into a nonprofit called the Burning Man Project and trying to move into a high-profile new headquarters in San Francisco’s mid-Market area (a quest it’s been on for awhile). The deal on the latter could be finalized at any time (it’s subject to a real estate negotiations now that could go either way) while the nonprofit announcement is probably still a few months away. I’ll post something more detailed as soon as there’s more to say. And tickets continue to sell at a record pace, indicating that Black Rock City might well top last year’s peak population of 51,000.
So 2011 is shaping up to be a huge year in the Burning Man community – not least of which because my book is comprehensively chronicling the modern burner culture for the first time. So, buy the book (which my publisher, distributor, and I will receive on Thursday), plan on coming to my book launch party on Feb. 17 at Project One (with lots of special guests and surprises in store), and check back to this blog for stories and updates on the culture.

Book launching Feb. 17

The official launch date for my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, is set for Feb. 17, with a launch party that evening at Project 1 in Potrero Hill.

Come get a signed copy of the book and hear directly from some of its major characters — both on the microphone and spinning on the decks — and join in a festive celebration of this exciting culture. Details and DJ lineup to be announced soon.

For those who have ordered the book through my website, Amazon, or CCC Publishing, we hope to have the books in the mail a week or two before the official launch, but we’re awaiting final word from the printer. And Kindle users can start reading my book immediately.

Buy the ticket, take the ride

Burning Man 2011 begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow. That’s when tickets go on sale, an annual ritual of queuing up in an electronic line, sometimes for hours, hoping some technical glitch doesn’t boot you off, and eventually paying $210 (or $240 if the first 9,000 tickets are gone, or $320 if you dither for too long) for your ticket.
But that ticket doesn’t really buy you anything, except the privilege of entering Black Rock City and the responsibility of helping to create it. And that central tenet of Burning Man is what baffles outsiders the most, some of whom express amazement that tickets go on sale so early for an event that doesn’t even start until late August.
The reason, as Larry Harvey and others who run the corporation (soon to be turned into a nonprofit) that stages Burning Man have told me, is one of acculturation, which takes time. It’s about getting people to commit early to building this city so that they have the time and inclination to ponder what this is about, how they will go, and what they’ll contribute.
“Buy the ticket, take the ride,” outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it’s a good way of looking at Burning Man, mostly because Hunter meant it metaphorically. Buy the ticket (make the commitment), take the ride (see where that commitment takes you).
When burners buy their tickets tomorrow, it isn’t just a ticket that they’re buying. It’s a commitment they’re making to help build and burn one of the greatest cities on the planet, at least for the week that it exists. Similarly, Burning Man doesn’t really begin on Aug. 29 when the gates open – it begins tomorrow.
Last year, I had already been on the playa for more than a week building the Temple of Flux when the gates opened, and some were there much longer. Your decision about what role you want to play in creating this city determines the conditions of your visit, and the ticket is barely worth the holographic paper it’s printed on.
Even for those who building a simple theme camp with their friends, the ride you take starts now, when you buy the ticket. My camp, Garage Mahal, has its first camp meeting scheduled for Feb. 2 – and we already have a swanky art car in our possession. If you’re starting with less, you have even more to do.
And that isn’t the work you do before the ride – the work is the ride. This is about the process creation, party people. It’s about what you want to see and who you want to be. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
Oh yeah, and if you’re inclined to buy the book, do that too. It’ll give your ride much more depth and meaning.

Buy my E-book, but not my book….yet

I’m proud to announce the release of the electronic version of my new book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, the inside story of the event’s renaissance years of 2004 to present. It’s available in PDF version through my publisher here, and on Kindle and book pre-order through Amazon here.

We’re waiting for final word from the printer about the release date on the printed book, which we hope to announce in the next few days, but it’s looking like it should be around Feb. 1. My personal website is now retooled and ready to directly receive orders – giving you a signed version of the book and me more money than other sales options – but I’d suggest that you hold off until I actually have books on hand to mail you.

We’re currently making arrangements for a book release party in mid-February and hope to announce that by the time Burning Man tickets go on sale Jan. 19. This release has been six years in the making and I’m looking forward to finally getting my book in people’s hands. I’m honored to be part of a remarkable culture filled with truly amazing individuals – and to share their stories with you.

My book is coming soon

With the impending release of my first book – The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture – 2011 promises to be one of the biggest years of my life. In the very near future, I’ll have much more to say about my book and regular posts on the Burning Man culture, so check back soon.

But for now, I just wanted to briefly update this long-dormant blog and to let everyone know that the book should be available in Kindle form this week and in print form by the end of the month. You can order it on Amazon now and on my website,, by the time it is released. Stay tuned for an exact release date and a book release party in early February.