The 1990 Baker Beach burn went poorly. The Man’s support beams were not thick enough for his weight, and he cracked and fell to his knees. With head hanging limply, the Man was burned in a sitting-kneeling posture. Despite the mishap, the TV coverage continued on cheerily as if thing had gone was wrong. This media coverage encouraged Larry, to the point of obsession, to continue the tradition.
In 1989, the Cacophony Society first promoted the Baker Beach burn and by 1990 it was involved in the building of the man (Louis Brill’s account can be found here). After assembling the Man, the giving him a test raising in a parking lot in the Soma district in San Francisco, he was driven down to Baker Beach in pieces and re-assembled there.
By 1990 the crowd was so large that many attendees took to crawling along the bluff overlooking the shore to see the show. The crowd was between five and eight hundred strong; estimates by those there vary. The park police arrived and wanted everyone to leave. Dan Miller, who had become one of the Man’s builders, decided to negotiate a deal with the police: to raise the Man but not burn him. This was the first time Larry remembers really becoming acquainted with John Law.
Law became the spokesperson for a group of Cacophony Society members, which included P Segal, Kevin Evans, and others, who advocated burning the Man anyway. This group had met Jerry James at a wind sailing event at Black Rock Desert earlier in the year, and Jerry had invited them to watch the Burn.
Law was confident that the police were just making the required show of authority and wouldn’t be back. “That would have been a real underground move… Burn it and get away with it". Larry later recalled. But Larry insists he gave his word, and his father’s ghost would smite him if he went back on it. In other re-tellings, Larry has also noted that those advocating for the burn had no skin in the game… no consequence if things went poorly.
Law then advocated to Harvey a fall back idea, which the Cacophonists had discussed among themselves moments earlier. Bring the Man to Zone Trip #4 and burn him in the desert. Larry was interested and agreed to meet to discuss the idea.
The Man was dismantled and hauled back up to the lot on Eleventh Street, near Folsom, whose owner had been allowing them to store the Man’s bigger pieces.
By a strange confluence of events, several people in the social circle had become familiar with Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. John Law had been taken out there in 1987 and 1988 by a monster truck enthusiast. Jerry James had seen a videotape of a giant croquet event held on the playa in 1988 and he had headed to the playa the prior Labor Day for a gathering of windsailing sculptures coordinated by Mel Lyons (also known as Mel Function) in collaboration with a pottery maker named John Bogard who lived in nearby Gerlach. The Cacophonists included P. Segal and Kevin Evans. Lyons and Bogard had already been using Black Rock for weird art events, including a giant croquet game using trucks as mallets that had made the pages of Sports Illustrated.
Law and Kevin Evans had already been planning a Cacophony excursion to Black Rock Desert, where they hoped to “live out some desert fantasies, to build things and destroy them at will.” When the Man burn at Baker Beach failed it made sense to them to drag the Man to the desert to destroy it there. But, as Jerry remembers, during this period the Man was “murdered”; The lot he was stored at was converted to a pay parking lot, blacktopped and the Man’s body disappeared.
John Law reports a slightly different story: August 1990, right before the “Bad Day at Block Rock” event, the Man was stored at 350 11th Street (across the street from Slim’s night club) in a paid parking lot – and the parking lot owner cut up the legs with a chainsaw one night when nobody else was around, essentially destroying the Man. Jerry James had secured a parking spot, but the legs were sticking out, into the next rentable space. “Ya gotta understand,” John Law says, “we were so fuckin’ broke it was retarded. So getting just one parking space to put the Man in was kind of typical.”
At this point Larry and Jerry no longer wanted to work together and Jerry at that point did not plan to having anything further to do with Burning Man. Law then supervised the rebuilding of the Man after hours in the sign shop he worked in, the American Neon Sign Company. When discovered by his boss, Law showed him the first news clip, to convince him there was a sensible, media-approved reason for what he is doing.
The first official announcement was contained in the September 1990 edition of Rough Draft, the “Official Organ of the SF Cacophony Society”:
“An established Cacophony tradition, the Zone Trip is an extended event that takes place outside of our local area of time and place. On this particular expedition, we shall travel to a vast, desolate white expanse stretching onward to the horizon in all directions. . . . A place where you could gain nothing or lose everything and no one would ever know. A place well beyond that which you think you understand. We will be accompanied by the Burning Man, a 40- foot- tall wooden icon which will travel with us into the Zone and there meet with destiny. This excursion is an opportunity to leave your old self and be reborn through the cleansing fires of the trackless, pure desert.”
Carrie Galbraith had derived the idea of a “zone trip" from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, an art-school film that features a mysterious Zone that looks like the rest of the world but in which bizarre, inexplicable things occur.
A caravan of 89 Cacophonists drove from San Francisco the meeting point in Golden Gate Park around toward Black Rock desert, departing around 11 p.m. at night. John Law drove the Man in a 30' yellow rented Ryder truck. Around 4 a.m. they took a rest break at the Circus Circus parking lot in Reno and around 5:30 a.m. reach Gerlach. They then drove 11.7 miles past town to an accessible turnoff onto the Black Rock Desert, where there was a stack of tires. They took a right turn and left the pavement and headed 5 miles into the desert, before heading due north for 3 miles. At one point, they all got out of their cars. Michael Mikel drew a long line in the plays surface, and the Cacophonist, holding hand, walked over it as one - entering the Zone. In total 100 to 120 people would join the weekend festivities at Black Rock Desert.
Louis Brill described the scene driving into Black Rock:
Just after dawn, we arrived in the town of Gerlach (pop. 250) literally the last town before the desert. Having had breakfast at Bruno’s cafe (the only cafe in the town), the group reformed and caravaned out onto the road leading to the desert. About 6 or 7 miles later, we left the road, driving directly onto the playa and stopped about 100 feet from the road. We all got out of our cars as one member [Michael Mikel] drew a long line on the desert floor creating what we accepted as a ‘Zone gateway. This was one of our Cacophony rituals, for the zone as we defined it took on many forms, it could be a weird house, a particularly strange neighborhood (like Covina, CA), or a desolate, deserted warehouse. Today it was the base of a mountain range in Northern Nevada.
We crossed the line and knew we were definitely not in Kansas anymore. As far the eye could see, it was flat, flat flat. The playa, which is a dried lake bed, is rated as the second largest and flattest (the Bonneville Salt Flats being numero uno) part of the United States at 400 square miles of a flat-as-a-board range area. Some people even claim you can see the curvature of the earth. Whatever. As one looked out into the desert playa, there may have been nothing there, but there are tons of things to see, one merely has to know where to look.
After a few minutes of glad handing and yelping in delight, we all got back in our cars and proceeded on into the desert, to find our place and set up camp, and bring the Man to his rightful new home. We had arrived! Although one part of the desert looks like another, we had selected an area and begun to pitch our tents and settle in. The camp quickly became a community as we all came to terms with the surrounding desert.
The group of 80 spent the weekend camping, driving at high speeds around the desert, some people had guns, but the Drive By Shooting range and similar organized events were yet to occur. Much of the time was spent just talking. At night people slept… there was little noise, with no generators or amplified music.
One generator had been brought to the desert that year. Its intended purpose was to, among other things, power a projector for the group to watch the film “Bad Day at Black Rock”, however, it failed to work from the start. One RV was there as well.
Describes Burning Man 1990
The sounds of the desert in 1990 was a mix of wind, some gunfire, and a low hum of cars on the playa and one battery powered boom box brought by Louise. The music being played was a mix of Fellini soundtracks, classic rock, Captain Beefheart, Devo and other assorted alternative bands. Dean Gustafson remembers playing a tape of Steve Reichs' “Music for 18 Musicians” as they first drove onto the playa.
We were in a slow, hot, surreal day. I dared to walk out on the playa by myself a way. When I got about 40 yards away from camp, I couldn’t hear a single thing other than my own bated breath and heartbeat. And a sense of being *completely* alone happens. ~ Dean Gustafson
Most people at the 1990 gathering were in street clothing - jeans, shorts, skirts were common. A zany hat might have been fashionable and Michael Mikel wore a sheik outfit, while others improvised costumes out of bed sheets. Brian Gustafson looked quite the prospector in his coconut-shell pith helmet. I became yet another “Lawrence of Arabia,” using white sheets.
A crude brick oven was built, and bread, some shaped in as goddess figurines, were baked.
On the final day the man was raised by the camp members. David Warren returned again and ignited the man with a fireball blown from his mouth (the wind blew back and ignited David’s face as well. The Burn went well and spontanously camp members began to walk and dance around the burn in a counter clockwise circle. When the Burn was over, an elated Larry Harvey declared that “We must do this again next year.”
Around 100 people attended Zone Trip #4, including:
Dean mentions the following people:
Smilin’ Joe, Jane, Ann, Lawrence, Mary, Brewster, Valerie, Aiko, Scott, Louise, Sesha.