Black Rock Desert, Nevada
“And when the morning of the warning came, the gassed and flaccid kids were strung across the stars…” Along Comes Mary (The Association)
Tonight, I have a strange question to ask you.
I’ve just experienced a fairly fabulous week, from all angles. I’m juiced with positive energy, feeling good, and bubbling with hope.
… I am also oddly compelled to ask: “What are you afraid of?”
Your thoughts are welcome. And needed.
Here’s my side of the story: I attended two events this week that couldn’t be more different…
… and yet shared so much of the same voodoo that fuels livnig a good life.
First, I drove out to one of Napa’s oldest and most exclusive golf resorts (The Silverado, deep in the lushest part of California’s wine country) to meet with a star-studded group of speakers and authors for a big damn 3-day brainstorm session.
This event is the brainchild of my old pals Stephen Pierce and Chet Holmes and Larry Benet.
In attendance were marketing lumaries Ron LeGrand, Alex Mandosian, Russell Brunson, Brad Smart, Scott Hallman, Joel Comm, JT Snow, and too many others to count.
Plus a few dudes who’d hit the billion-dollar mark in earnings.
It was a super-exclusive group. By invitation only.
The meeting place was about as hoity-toity as you can imagine, with hordes of staff scurrying about and an air of old-world colonial spendor hovering over everything. Though tastefully so.
Parking lot crammed with Lexus’s and Caddies and Porshes.
Cocktails are twelve bucks in the bar.
It was a great place to hang out with the cream of Web marketing for a few days. Safe, nurturing, comfortable.
… I rushed home, unpacked the collared shirts and nice shoes, re-packed with dingy hiking gear…
… and headed out to Burning Man.
I’m not even going to attempt to explain Burning Man in detail. Words fail the effort. Go to www.burningman.com for some history.
… a bunch of artists, neo-hippies and funsters from the coasts hold an in credible outdoor party and art-fest every year on the Playa in the middle of The Black Rock desert in Nevada.
It’s an actual functioning city of 40,000 people from all over the world. Tents, RVs, hammocks, you name it, you’ll see it. (And the port-a-potties are actually clean… not counting the thin coating of Playa dirt) (which you will never get completely out of your clothes.)
For 51 weeks of the year, the Playa is a flat, nearly lifeless plain of dirt. (Looks kinda like the Salt Flats in Utah, where all the land speed records are broken.)
Then, for one amazing week every August, it’s a beehive of action, art and partying.
When the party breaks up, everyone decamps, leaving ZERO trace of human activity. Every scrap of paper, every drop of gray water, every day-glo pasty is hauled out…
… leaving the Playa once again lifeless and naturally gorgeous.
No trace. That’s the rule.
It’s a pretty stunning event. They’re on year 22, I believe.
It’s exclusive, in that you gotta buy into the ideology to survive (and afford the $300 tickets).
Once you become a citizen, no money can buy you anything within the well-laid out streets of Black Rock City — you must trade art, water or something else of immediate value to conduct any business.
The art is often massive, built with industrial savvy (so it moves), and sometimes hydraulic power. (A mechanical hand the size of a Volkswagon moved eerily like a real human hand… and yet could actually crush stuff like a Volkswagon. Which they actually crushed again and again during shows. Impressive. And arty.)
Much of the art burns, or entails fire.
At night, 40,000 people are grooving to ear-shattering techno-pop and dance music, while huge installations burst into flame.
Lots of Mad Max-style costumes, mixed with total nudity. Think “Thunderdome meets Satyricon”.
Okay, I tried to explain it a little bit. Sorry.
But I want you to have these two distinct images in mind: The clean wealth and influence of Napa’s Silverado resort… coupled with the filthy fun of Burning Man’s impromptu Black Rock City.
Got that image?
Here’s my point: Underneath the shallow first glance…
… they are almost identical events.
Here’s how: They both thrive on…
… Freedom From Fear.
See, all the energy of our civilization comes from the edges. I’m not dissing the center… but the great mass of sonambulent middle class folks aren’t really a driving force for action.
No, the heat comes from the extremes. The top business owners and especially the entrepreneurs who take risks and push envelopes keep the financial side humming.
And — just as important, if you truly care about the quality of life — the top artists and especially the semi-deranged free thinkers who take risks and push envelopes keep the fun side humming.
Both sets do their thang by crawling outside the “box” of repression society tries to foist on us all… and creating something new from, essentially, thin air.
And before anyone gets all huffy about responsibility and values and all that hokum…
… you should reflect on the fact that Burning Man attracts lots and lots of Republicans (elected officials, no less) from all over the country… and the Silverado will not deny entry to anyone based on ideology. (Heck, I got in.)
Both sets have dress codes, once you step back and look at things dispassionately.
Both have strict behavior requirements. (Burning Man has an “alternative” list of acceptable behavior, but it’s very unforgiving if you violate it.)
Both, basically, are refuges for people who just need to get the fuck away from the straight-jacket of “normal” life.
And freak out in a way that appeals to you.
(Yes, on the Meta level… playing lots and lots of golf while guzzling top shelf booze is just as much an orgy… as dancing naked around a Playa bonfire buzzed on pharmeceuticals is…)
It’s all about finding a safety zone, where there is a palpable absence of fear.
Both Black Rock City and the Silverado are situated out in the middle of nowhere. Far from easy to get to.
Both have long approach driveways — several blocks for the Silverado, on a private road… and 8 freakin’ miles of arid desert for BR City.
Both are staffed with an army of folks dedicated to making your stay happy.
You can relax. Be yourself.
And let go of the bullshit that cranks up your blood pressure in the world outside.
You’re among, if not exactly friends, at least like-minded people who share your idea of a good time.
It’s pretty amazing that to get this kind of freedom, you have to go to such extremes.
Because what everyone is afraid of…
… is opportunistic crime…
… The Man.
Anyone who gets deeply involved with life has a libertarian streak, or should. Or quickly develops one.
You just want to be left alone. You don’t want sociopaths preying on you, and you don’t want cops sniffing around just because they can.
At the Silverado, you’re on private grounds… so you’re not gonna get a DUI or get rousted for public drunkeness.
I found it very interesting that Burning Man is held in the middle of the desert, in the hottest week of the hottest month of the year, far, far away from any semblance of a “normal” town…
… and yet every law enforcement branch that CAN hover and cruise the party…
There are BLM rangers, Pershing County sheriffs, FBI and Nevada Highway Patrol officers all over the joint.
It’s like they’re just TERRIFIED that somewhere, someone might be having a good time.
Authorities — meaning uptight politicians looking toward re-election — have tried to close down Burning Man throughout the two-decade history of the event.
Despite the money that floods into Nevada from the international crowd. Despite the way the desert is not harmed. Despite the very obvious fact that 40,000 people (again, including every strata of society — old to young, socialist to capitalist, pagan to papist, straight to not-so-straight) very much WANT to be left alone to their single week of controlled debuachery and artsy engorgement.
I saw more people at the Silverado too drunk to stand up, than I did at Burning Man the day I spent there.
And I’ll bet the actual amount of drugs were about equal, per capita. If, that is, you count prescription pharmaceuticals with Mother Nature’s alternatives.
(Just to cut any rumors off at the knees here… I was at Burning Man as an observer only, not as a participant. I was there as a guest of the City of Reno arts and culture manager, to check out some of the artsy installations the city might want to purchase.)
Not that there’s anything wrong with choosing your own poison for Miller Time.
But that’s where the two worlds collide nicely.
What the HELL is The Man afraid of?
So WHAT if people wanna get naked and burn shit up during a week of weirdness in the desert?
Fear drives us in so many ways.
Fascist-leaning societies want lots of fear cooking in people’s system. Makes control a lot easier.
And certain kinds of power corrupts, by making someone with a badge “more equal” than you… simply because he has the badge. The symbol of nasty, humorless power that WILL be obeyed.
The Man has come to an uneasy truce with the Burning Man participants. Nudity is overlooked. Displays of weirdness are ignored.
And yet, I heard cops were busting Burners for “driving” while under the influence… even though they were driving golf carts reconfigured (with some creative welding) into giant lizards or Mickey Mouse heads. And, of course, not hurting anyone.
The irony is inescapable.
And I ask again: What are you afraid of?
The entrepreneurs and artists I know — and I know vast mobs of each — all share a similar love of freedom…
… and an overriding lack of fear.
Heck — we even taunt Fate with our outrageous plans and way-out ideas.
Most of society asks “Why do you need to challenge the system?”
And we answer “Because it fucking NEEDS challenging.”
Maybe now, more than ever.
Long live Burning Man.
Love to hear what you think in the comments section below.
P.S. Sometimes — in fits of hopeful dreams — I try to imagine a world where The Man just lets go of being so uptight all the time.
Look — I’m all for a level of authority. I’m a home owner. I’m a business owner. I pay taxes, I vote, I get involved with the community.
And I think there is a place for regulation and laws restricting actions that harsh my mellow. (This is why no existing US political party will have me — not even the Libertarians.)
But the greatest assets of our country — whether people realize it or not (clueless zombies) — are freedom of speech and the right to be left alone.
Not bullshit freedom of speech. The real thing. We’re losing it.
And we’ve already lost so much privacy to prying government eyes, it may take a generation or two to re-establish it.
Yes, it’s a dangerous world.
It’s also a beautiful world… and beauty shrivels under the boot of a self-righteous majority.
Something to consider, if you’re ever tired of walking around zombified.
P.P.S. And, on a purely capitalist finishing note…
… I want to congratulate all the folks who grabbed a spot for the upcoming Simple Writing System at-home mentoring course.
If you missed out — cuz the door slammed shut on Wednesday, when all the slots were gobbled up — you should know there’s a waiting list.
Just hop over to www.simplewritingsystem.com, and scroll down to the P.S. on the first page.
You’ll see how to get on the waiting list.
This is gonna be a blast…
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