Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

Hot Mess

An oral history of Burning Man, which started as an effigy burning in 1986 on San Francisco's Baker Beach, and moved to the Black Rock Desert in 1990 to become one of the largest annual gatherings of inventors, artists and free spirits:

"ALAN “REVEREND AL” RIDENOUR (head of Los Angeles Cacophony): In ’96, Burning Man was at its peak. We did the Damnation of Tinseltown and the flaming Helco tower. Burn Night felt like a scary, transformative ritual. Flash played Satan, and he came through with a gas can and doused Doris Day and John Wayne. I was on acid when I heard Flash’s booming laugh. He was Satan.

"ELIZABETH GILBERT (author of Eat, Pray, Love who wrote about Burning Man ’96 for Spin): Honestly, I was scared of it. I remember the way the camp turned from this playful thing by day—beautiful and fanciful and Narnia-like—to this menacing thing at night. Being around all that fire, people with guns, and a lot of people on drugs, I was like, “They’ll be eating each other soon!” And in some ways they were—more sexually than anything else. I understood that Burning Man was waking something up. That awakening might lead to transcendent creativity—or it might be savage and ungovernable once it’s released."
SOURCE:Outside
PUBLISHED: Aug. 24, 2012
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6209 words)