Now a few of you just may have noted in the Nick Cave review I posted a few weeks ago that I was rushing off to an event called Burning Man. I have learned over the years that when one mentions this week-long countercultural extravaganza to people there are usually one of two different reactions to it:
-Oh, yeah, that goofy pagan-hippie-punk-(insert one or several subcultural marketing titles here) Thing In The Desert. Don’t they do a lot of drugs out there?
-Burning What? I have not heard of it.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, I recommend you check out the official website, as it would take far longer than I have the inclination at this moment to fully explain. As far as those who dismiss it out of hand without ever having attended are concerned, their blithe prejudgments reveal a lot more about them than about the festival itself.
Suffice it to say that no matter who you are, the festival can provide for you. Burning Man is a home for all sorts of freaks, and that includes literary ones as well. Dave Eggers, for one, wrote the foreword for the BMORG-approved Drama In The Desert which appeared back in ’02, and a host of books have appeared over the past decade to document the festival and its wildly diverse culture, most notably This Is Burning Man by Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty. I’ve been going since ’99 with only one break in between (that being last year’s “American Dream” – hey, I’m not a flagwaver, what can I tell you?), and this year, themed around Evolution in honor of the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin Of Species, was a shift for me. I made it all about (alright, MOSTLY about) exploring the resources for readers on the playa, and found out a few things you should know about a specific slice of countercultural publishing in the 21st century.
First off, anyone who stopped by Center Camp probably ran into a few copies of Burning Man Live: 13 Years Of Piss Clear, Black Rock City’s Alternative Newspaper. For many years, Burning Man hosted an alternative newspaper entitled Piss Clear (the title pertaining to a sure sign one is drinking enough water in the desert.) and published by dreadlocked glamour puss extraordinaire Adrian Roberts, which cast a basilisk’s eye towards all facets of Burning Man culture, from endless duststorms and absurd fashion mistakes to New Age goofballs and fratboy incursions. Adrian’s since moved on to embrace Mash-Ups as a DJ/promoter of the SF club night Bootie, having the early-adopter foresight to embrace the form before it became mainstream nightclub fodder. But 13 years is a lot of content to sit on, so who can blame him for cashing in?
I ran into Adrian out at the Temple, the city’s spiritual/devotional center hundreds of yards away from the Man himself, on Tuesday. He sounded thankful to finally capture his newspaper for posterity, though not so happy about the deal he received from his publisher, RE/Search (publishers of Modern Primitives, which kickstarted the whole piercing/scarification industry back in the day.).
Speaking about it later off-playa, Adrian gave me this official quote: “Although it’s ostensibly published by RE/Search, this book is 100% self-financed.”
[Note: Adrian got freaked out from what was originally here. Some miscommunication in my discussion with him made me feel I could print a lot of what I reported in an earlier version of this post. Feel free to ask him yourself about the details, as he has a lot to say on the issue.]
Adrian requests that anyone who wants to buy the book should do so directly from him through his website, pissclear.org. He also says he’ll throw in a free copy of the original Piss Clear newspaper along with the deal.
So, has RE/Search merely transformed into a hipster vanity press these days? After Vale’s ill-advised endorsement of neo-swing back in the ’90s, not to mention their Guide To Bodily Fluids, I can believe just about anything, save in the transparency of Vale’s own bodily fluids and business practices. So much for evolution…
On the plus side, Roberts still sounds proud enough of his own work to promote it as best as possible, and all those taped and handwritten requests not to steal the sample books from Center Cafe seem to have worked – well enough that there were still unstolen later on in the week. I only wish I could say the same for my bike.
Right, so for my next trick, get set for a description of my home camp, Entheon Village, and a survey of the thinkers and writers who stopped by to share the love…