Burn Daze. 1995 Burn

Burn Daze:

John Whalen becomes a desert couch potato

Namba the Clown and a Local Participant.

Namba the Clown and a Local Participant.

I hate to grouse like the sour fan whose favorite cult rock band has "sold out," but I did leave the Black Rock Desert this week feeling that the big burn had been overrun. As one equally dyspeptic attendee crabbed while staff volunteers attempted to reposition 4,000 surly spectators to a safe remove before the Man went up in smoke, "What is this, Disneyland?"

The difference between this year's throng and last year's group of about 1,500 burn-goers was like the difference between a small club performance and a stadium concert. The weirdest thing about Burning Man has always been the trance like state that a giant ritual bonfire can induce--even among cynical unhippies like me.

Trouble was that this year, you couldn't get close enough to or intimate enough with the action to feel the sense of, well, mob unity that Birkenstocks-wearing folk like to call "tribalism." Instead, you became a spectator in the worst sense of the word--merely watching the spectacle at a safe remove, like you would a big-screen TV event.

But the festival wasn't entirely a wash--the Man burned, and after the planned spontaneity of the combustion (TV crews had to get their requisite pictures of the increasingly irritable crowd), more than few transcendent loons dashed through the smoldering embers like dervishes. And then the hordes of frat boys who made this their first trip to the annual party, jug wine in tow, began to pass out.