The Burning Man

By ABC Australia

October 1994


00:56:04- 01:0:07



Wow! … Wait a minute now, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

Let’s go back to the beginning.



01:01:15- 01:27:03

(Larry Harvey)


It began 9 years ago, on the beach in San Francisco. We burned a man who was about 8 feet tall, on an impulse one evening. It happened to be the Solstice. It seemed like a good time to celebrate. He wasn’t much bigger than us, but when we lit him up with gasoline, he incandesced like the Sun brought down to earth.

We were so impressed by it, that without even conferring, we decided that we would come back and do it again.   



01:28:07- 01:38:00



Larry Harvey is an artist and a sort of  ‘Social Engineer’.

You could call him the ‘High Priest of the Burning Man’.


01:42:22- 01:49:23



Each year, the Black Rock desert is transformed by his collaborators, into a massive theatre of the absurd.


02:04:00- 02:16:15

(Larry Harvey)


People live passively now. They’re members of mass, their experience is vicarious. They get it through the media, as they sit in darkened rooms, isolated from one another.


02:17:00- 02:17:14

-          Don't Look at that.


02:20:05- 02:43:06

(Larry Harvey)


We bring everybody together, in a community that’s created by its inhabitants.

It’s good to regard this as a model of the cultural process.

The cultural process is breaking down all around us; culture is disappearing faster than the redwoods and the whales, but no one is sounding the alarm yet.



 02:51:15- 02:56:00



So out here, in the desert, Larry is trying to recreate culture.



03:00:00- 03:16:20



It’s like a religion that you make up as you go along. 

A mock religion without doctrine or dogma.

The one rule here; is that you can’t interfere with anyone’s immediate experience.



03:23:10- 03:30:00



And at the centre, the transcendental man himself, signifying everything and nothing.


03:30:14 – 03:53:15

(Jim Monk)


This is the next thing that San Francisco has given birth to.  This is the postmodern San Francisco, where all the tribes, from all the generations, from all the perspectives and all the times, have come together.


This is like the great eclectic event. This is what it is. It’s: ‘Mad Max’ meets ‘Zabriskie Point’, meets ‘Bill’s and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’. I mean it’s all here…Okay.


03:53:20 – 04:02:00



San Francisco born Jim Monk has spent 8 year on an American odyssey, recording events like this, for his mobile magazine.


04:02:10- 04:18:20

(Jim Monk)


This is the dream come to life; this is the illusion become reality. It’s Stanley Marsh the 3rd, the founder… the guy that created the Cadillac Ranch, in the middle of Amarillo Texas, burying Cadillacs in the soil. He is the true monk; he understands that the purpose of life is to bring illusion to life.


04:42:15- 04:48:10



The camp was divided, logically enough, into heaven … and hell.


04:52:07- 04:56:04



With angels and demons competing for lost souls.


04:57:10- 05:00:00

(Man talking)


This isn't tofu food, this is raw meat here.


05:01:00- 05:04:20



The meat eaters from hell were serious too… about guns.


05:04:22- 05:33:17

(Bill Smithe)



This is a Ruger called ‘Old Army’; which it is, it’s not meant to replicate anything like a normal black powder. But it is a normal 44 magnum, high-power pistol.

I have to grease this up, because when it goes off, there is a lot of flame that goes. And you don’t want it to somehow get round the barrel, setting off all of them, which happens sometimes. It gets very noisy and very surprising.


05:34:06- 05:44:06


Retired pest exterminator Bill Smithe, is known in hell as the father of ‘devil’s spurn’.  He’s whole family are expert with guns and explosives.


05:44:15: 05:59:11

(Bill Smithe)


And what we’re going to do… We’re going to the drive-by range. What we have is a bit of euphemistic … you know we have all these problems in the United States, drive-by shootings. Well, maybe we should learn to adapt the urban environment, by learning how to drive-by shoot.


05:59:20- 06:10:10

(Bill Sankim)


We’re going to stop. Everybody wait, and the people who want to do the drive-by shootings, will then do it. We’ll have somebody on either side watching for cars coming. And if you’re in a car, and you see somebody go like ‘this’, don’t shoot.


06:10:10- 06:15:10



Bill Sankim is famous here for his act as the ‘Incredible Exploding Man’.



06:16:06- 06:19:20

(Bill Sankim)


As funny as it says, it would really suck if somebody got injured.


06:20:15- 06:27:19


So… Ah… and there’s a lot of local people around here, so we kind of maintain, some sort of ‘goodwill thing’. So… everybody have a good time.


06:28:07- 06:30:15



- So, what have you got in there, Can you show us?


06:30:20- 06:42:12

(Man Speaking)


-Oh… right… So, I have my 8 Iron and I have my ‘Spaz 12’, which our president has just banned… but I bought it years ago, so…


06:42:20- 06:43:00



            - So you’re okay?


06:43:09- 06:43:20


-I’m okay.


06:44:00- 06:52:17

(Woman Speaking)


-It’s just a big adventure… Yeah … Yeah… and after you start thinking about it, longer and longer, you start anticipating and getting excited about it, so… I’m…


06:54:00- 06:56:00



-          You’re also shooting, I take it?


06:56:10- 06:58:21


- Yeah… This is my little gun.


07:04:15- 07:09:00



Bill told me, this is just a big ‘slumber party’ for boy scouts from hell.  


07:14:10: 07:17:11



But of course the girl gods are just as crazy.


07:23:15- 07:29:10



As for the godfather of this mad cowl, well… he is just too cool to raise an eyebrow.


07:29:15- 07:43:20

(Larry Harvey)


We play a lot of jokes, a lot of pranks. We burlesque a lot of the creeds, believes and opinions that divide us like walls back home, where we live hurdled together. Out here those kinds of walls fall down.


07:50:18- 07:59:07



Back in the relative calm of heaven, we located the mobile home of the monks.

It’s from here they produce their magazine.


08:00:00- 08:05:04

(Jim Monk)


-          It’s done on the road; it’s done here in the motor home.


-          Do you have a computer in here?


-          Yes, we have two computers in here.



08:05:15- 08:16:15



People were really into it. Everyone thought ‘this is great’, you know… You’re writing about the road. Everyone wants to travel and no one has the time to really get out there and travel America. 


08:16:18- 08: 24:22



The monks, Mike and Jim transformed their latest home into a national magazine, through what they call ‘dashboard’ publishing.


08: 25:05- 09:02:16

(Mike & Jim)


-          Now we print 40.000 of these.  We have 16.000 subscribers.

We sell 20 some thousands on the newsstand.


-          We are extremely wealthy, that is definitely one thing…


-          Not, not, not …


-          No, actually it’s not changed us. To tell you quite earnestly, I was just saying this yesterday… That if we were suddenly billionaires, if we were suddenly the ‘Condé Nast’ empire of dashboard publishing… I still think I’d eat brown rice everyday and I’d live on the road in this fashion.


09:02:25- 09:10:15



Through the computers, they’re now expanding their reach into the global Internet. And here at the ‘Burning Man’, they plan to make history.


09:11:00- 09:34:05



So, what Mike and I are doing is, from the middle of a desert. I mean there is nothing 50 miles in either direction here, okay.  There is no cell phone that you can get here. The only way you can get this; is through the satellite phones, okay.


So, for like $9 a minute we are sending the event on digital video, we are videotaping it, and that is going onto the Internet for people all over the world.


09:55:15- 10:04:02



Night, when it fell, seemed to unleash pyromania and other manias, too numerous to mention.  


10:15:03- 10: 17:03



The drummers would continue until dawn.


10:29:10- 10:36:09



The desert tribes were preparing to burn the man. Clad for his final appearance in a neo-exon skeleton.


10:37:05- 10:52:16

(Larry Harvey)


Functionally, de facto, it has all the elements of a religious experience.  Everyone is united in contemplation of some great and larger thing that looms beyond them, that’s greater than them but to which they feel intimately connected.


10:55:11- 11:03:05

(Larry Harvey)


It’s a recipe for culture. We just don’t live in such a way that, that process can go forward anymore. We need to prove that it’s salvageable, that we have a future.



11:24:12- 11:33:10


If you are an earnest person, into like personal transformation; and you want to burry some of your personal demons, you know. Hey, the ‘Burning Man’! You know. Put your comic trash in there. Give it up to the man.


11:44:18 – 12:17:16



Whether they came for a religious experience, or a personal transformation, for some fiery catharsis, or just for the party. They created here the spontaneous community and the unruliness that another generation found 25 years ago, at Woodstock. But there was no nostalgia here. The ‘Burning Man’ being live on the computers, in the global Internet is totally of   the 90’s. It’s the America where anything can still happen.

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