Monthly Archives: June 2018

Larry Harvey: The Burner We All Knew

[Editor’s note: The following is the Beacon’s contribution to the Global Celebration and Day of Gratitude for Larry Harvey]

By Mrs. Lucky

A fox knows many things, says the Greek poet, a hedgehog knows one big thing. Larry Harvey was a hedgehog. Alone among the promiscuously creative polymaths who founded Burning Man, Harvey stayed loyal to the big picture. He molded the rituals and tended the principles. He was earnest.

“Most people would have dropped out when Burning Man just seemed like a piddling daydream,” observed artist Mary Grauberger, who knew him at the beginning. “But he was sure of it, and he was right.”

Grauberger, quoted in Brian Doherty’s 2006 book This Is Burning Man, built and burned sculptures of shore-washed junk on Baker Beach in the early 1980s. Though her art was an inspiration for the first Burn, she claims she never looked for fame. “People seem to need Burning Man, and they come from all over the world,” Grauberger continues, “But I know it’s hard on Larry’s health.”

This summer, the festival’s status in the American psyche is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. In late March, at the gala opening for “No Spectators, the Art of Burning Man,” Larry Harvey climbed the red-carpeted stairs of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. He’d left behind his Stetson, and his cap from the Empire Store. He had one hand on the polished brass rail, the other on the arm of a willowy woman in a graceful gown. Tiny horns peaked through the crown of her long, salt and pepper hair. It was a remarkable ascent for a man who described himself as “an outsider in every sense of the word.” At the top of the steps, Larry and his lithe friend paused before entering the Grand Salon, studying the stick figure that started it all.

Harvey was dating the daughter of a former Soviet spy when the first Man was built in the basement garage of her San Francisco row house. About as avant-garde as a garden trellis, with all the artistic sophistication of the guy you draw in hangman, the icon is so simple you can get it across with three pieces of duct tape. This was how he wanted it.

Of the 10 principles of Burning Man the idea of inclusion was nearest to Harvey’s heart. It set him at odds with the other principals, who held a more raw vision. A 2007 article in the Black Rock Beacon details the troubled transition of the original triumvirate into a corporate structure. Between the charismatic Danger Ranger and the elusive John Law, it seems Larry Harvey was chosen to wear the mantle of leadership because he had the least to lose.

As a kid Larry Harvey planned to change the world. He got a slow start. He was 30 before he earned a living. He had a knack for attracting supportive women. He lived with an elementary school teacher. She won the bread. He took the bus to the public library to feed his mind. He worked as a bike messenger, and with a cadre of latte-carpenters, but described himself to Doherty as destined to head Burning Man, “a job for which there was no applying and no standardized curriculum to prepare for.”

A kind of a cosmic juggler, what Larry Harvey made was plans, not for portable potties and ticket sales, but for grand themes and big ideas. None more than the elaborate Burn Night ceremony styled Release the Man: herds of fire spinners, processions of cassocked torch bears, and tens of thousands of voices chanting “burn the Man.”

Interviewing him was like trout fishing. You cast your questions into his stream of consciousness. You’d get bites on Kant and Freud. But ask about the first Burn or the movie Wicker Man and you’d get skunked. He would come by the Black Rock Beacon camp. We’d brush the dust off the least broken chair and put it at the edge of our shade structure, where he’d puff his cigarettes, ashing carefully into the container he’d brought. He was the only one who didn’t get shit for smoking at the Beacon.

Some years he’d give us the scoop on the next year’s theme. We’d make it front page news, because at the Beacon we’re hedgehogs too.

Just days after his Smithsonian triumph, Larry Harvey suffered a stroke. Lucid in the first days of his hospitalization, he was visited by one of his first buddies in San Francisco. “You’ve done what you came to do,” the old friend told him. After several unresponsive weeks, Larry Harvey was released.

Fuck Your Peak Experience

By Ria Greiff

Like all good intentions, this column’s path went straight to hell. As your mensch in the trench, my goal was to offer a monthly column. Blame it on the chocolate, blame it on the green beer, but this item took two months to get here.

So break out your bump stocks, automatic rifles, silencers, Kevlar, and legislature, and throw them all away with abandon, cause ain’t nobody gonna do anything about them anyway and instead let’s talk about peak experiences.

Over the years, people have asked me to describe Burning Man. My response has always been, “The world’s A+ humans, bringing their A game (except you, you pieces of trash, who threw whole rolls of toilet paper into the potties at Tycho’s sunrise set in the Deep Playa).” My response fell short of describing how it felt, however — until now.

Have you heard about Maslow? Have you learned about self-actualization? Most likely you have, if you are reading this right now. But does the phrase “peak experience” roll off your tongue like a keto shake? It should, because that is what your Burn is all about.

A peak experience comprises transcendental moments of pure joy and elation. It involves a heightened sense of wonder, awe, or ecstasy with such an intensity of perception, depth of feeling, and profound significance that you wonder if you are having a psilocybin or MDMA flashback; moreover, the memory of these moments is everlasting, like Sandra’s love (pronounced Sondra).

So take my words for it. If you are questioning whether you should come Home again in about 90 days, think of the GroundScore motto, “Just Say Yes!” (except you, you pieces of shit, who took apart art installations). Now go refresh your profile on the website and get your fine actualized self ready for the Burn!

Forever from the trenches – GroundScore

Editor’s note: for readers who do not speak fluent GroundScore, we offer the following elucidations:

Tycho is a San Francisco-based musician known for his DJ sets at sunrise. In 2017, he took the Dusty Rhino art car out and played a sublime two-hour set for what he called the, “absolute favorite morning of all time.”

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was created Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. His biggest contributions to psychology were to humanistic psychology and the modern positive psychology movement.

Self Actualization is something you have already achieved if you have attended Burning Man, but just in case you are still wondering, it is the the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities.

Keto Shake, the drink of choice for those committed to a ketogenic lifestyle. High in protein and fat but few if any carbohydrates to keep you in the ketosis zone to burn fat and build muscle.

Psilocybin mushrooms, popular recreational psychedlics, have been shown in preliminary studies to be useful in treating depression and anxiety and alcohol dependence and in aiding smoking cessation.

MDMA (methylenedioxy­methamphetamine) can be a pressed pill that is called Ecstasy or Rolls or it can be in a crystalline form called Molly. It is a psychoactive drug used primarily for recreation, The desired effects include increased empathy, euphoria, and heightened sensations.

Sandra Ann Lauer, commonly known by her stage name Sandra (German pronunciation: [ˈzandʁa] was a German pop singer who enjoyed mainstream popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s with a string of European hit singles, produced by her then-husband and musical partner, Michael Cretu, the Romanian–German musician, singer, songwriter, producer and founder and musician behind the German musical project Enigma.