I remember when they let you burn shit
what I miss most about Burning Man of old? Fire. I know, I know, you've heard
all the old-timers pissing and moaning about how Burning Man has changed, and
how it's so different now, and blah blah blah. This is all true, of course.
Burning Man used to be about getting together in the desert, drinking beer, and
blowing shit up. But it caught on so well that we now have this beautiful
community of artists and free-thinkers, numbering in the thousands.
Unfortunately, this large community brought a whole slew of rules and
regulations along with it. Chief amongst these rules in '99 was a ban on fires
in your campsite. And fires used to be a pretty important part of the Burn.
And I'm not
just talking about fire as a source of warmth. Sure, last year's bite-ass
freezing temperatures absolutely sucked without a central fire to huddle
around. Our camp spent the nights in 1999 shivering around a tiny Coleman
stove, for chrissakes. But there was a city-wide ban on campfires, and we
adhered to it, even in the face if near-freezing temperatures. It's amazing how
cold the back of a Ryder truck can get when you are forced to attempt sleep
there. (A Ryder Truck, you ask? Yeah, we had to move into our truck after the
windstorms got so severe that our tent-poles snapped. Twice. Oh, are you a
newbie? Welcome to Black Rock City, the Least Friendly Place on Earth,
really talking about fire as a nexus for that "community" vibe that
Burning Man is supposed to engender. Before we had the DPW and roads and blocks
and streets and all that cool organization, Black Rock City was just sort of
thrown together organically, with people camping wherever the hell they felt
like camping. (This worked pretty well with 5,000 people. But it's really hard
to find your friends' theme camp in a crowd of 28,000, so the roads are a
welcome change.) At night, one used wander from campfire to campfire, with the
warmth of the flames and the warmth of the people drawing you in. You'd amble
up to a fire, and join into conversation with your fellow participants.
Campfires served the very real community-building purpose of helping you meet
your neighbors. I wandered up to Spiral Camp's vast central fire in 1994, and
spent the rest of the evening hanging out with my new friends. It's not the
same feeling to wander up to somebody's strobe-light. In fact, without
campfires, I tend to not wander into strange camps at night at all.
Black Rock City used to look like a Roman encampment, with a fire in the center
of every ring of tents. Now, if one is drawn to a light, it's probably the
laser of a booming trance sound-system, and you're more likely to "get
your groove on" than to talk to people. It's ironic that that which draws
us here, fire, in the form of the burning of the Man, no longer binds us
together on a community level.