It’s Burning, Man

Dateline 1986: Larry Harvey and Jerry James build a human effigy and burn it on a San Francisco beach.

…it was supremely romantic. And so two years later, having thought of this morning and night for a couple of years I woke up and it was the solstice, and I thought “I’m tired of this.” So I called up a friend and I said “Let’s… let’s burn a man, Jerry.”

And he asked me to repeat that statement.

So we went over and we made this man out of scrap lumber in a basement in Noe Valley, and it looked big to us, it was two feet taller than we were.

And then we hauled it, we called a couple of friends, and there was about twelve of us, and we hauled it down to the beach and we soaked it with gasoline, because we didn’t know any better at that time. And… because gasoline as you know… we use diesel now, gasoline’s very volatile, and when it flamed up, it was like a second sun brought down to this earth, it was just… it transfixed us, but… that’s where the story begins, in fact.

Because at the moment it was lit, everybody on that beach, north and south, came running. That beach was a little like the form of our city now, with its two embracing arms around the void of the playa here. And suddenly, our numbers tripled. And I looked out at this arc of firelit faces, and before I knew it I looked over and there was a hippie with his pants on his head and a guitar standing there, materialized out of the murk. And he started singing a song about fire. Now I’m not exactly a hootenanny kind of guy, but it seemed like the thing to do, and we started singing.

The next thing we knew, a woman, impetuously, ran at the figure, and we had the urge to stop her, but it was too late. The wind was shunting all the flames to one side, and so she ran up to him and she took him by the hand, and stood there. And I think Jerry still has a souvenir photo, and you see the little hand down in the corner of it, holding his hand.

That was the first spontaneous performance, that was the first… that was the first geometric increase of Burning Man. What we had instantly created was a community. And… you know if we had done it as an art event, people would have come, and come to the gallery or something, and said “It’s very interesting, perhaps a little derivative, what are you going to do next?” —Larry Harvey

What they did next was to create an annual event, one so big that it had to be relocated to a desert in the neighboring state of Nevada.

Thousands of “Burners” make the journey to the Playa on the last Monday in August for a week of Art & Awakenings that ends on the following Monday, a.k.a. the Labor Day holiday in the United States.

We have never made the trip, but we know people who do and they enjoy it every time.

God love them.

Four years of living in the high desert was enough sand and heat for us. We much prefer the cool Mediterranean climate here in the Bay Area.

NOTE: Burning Man 2018 takes place August 26 – September 3, 2018 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Participants join in the effort to co-create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to art and community.

Source: Burning Man website

Photo Credit:

  • © 2014, Leo Horthy, The Man sees his last sunset of 2014
  • © 2010, Kyle Harmon from Oakland, CA, USA, (Burning Man Uploaded by P.D. Tillman), [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons


  8 comments for “It’s Burning, Man

  1. September 13, 2018 at 12:21 PM

    Very informative article. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 13, 2018 at 12:46 PM

      You are welcome. A lot of talent and creativity go into this event each year and reach an even wider audience thru social media and YouTube videos.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. August 25, 2018 at 8:22 AM

    Oh burning man! I’ve known people who have gone so many stories, the dust and wind hold me back. I went to a Rainbow Gathering on The Green Tourtist Bus. . It was a real Hippie experience
    No story: Someone made a sweat lodge put down greens for us to sit on we started itch… stinging nettles. ouch.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. alstacer
    August 25, 2018 at 7:26 AM

    The sun shining through the legs of the man effigy in the video reminds me of Stonehenge and Mayan sun rituals, our long time infatuation with the changing seasons and our need for all that the sun provides. Interesting on many levels. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 25, 2018 at 11:43 AM

      You’re welcome, Al. I also love the mythic nature of that photo. Everything old is new again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. August 25, 2018 at 5:22 AM

    I’m just smiling and shaking my head, thinking about how traditions/annual events develop and what people find interesting and why. Reminds me of Guy Fawkes Day in England, although from very different roots.


    Liked by 2 people

    • August 25, 2018 at 7:07 AM

      My wife worked with one of the founders back in the ’90s and it was interesting to be on the fringe of a developing trend.

      On the practical side, the desert floor there is not sand but a fine powder. I’m not that crazy about being in a cloud of it when the winds blow or the people stir it up. I see photos of burners wearing dust masks and that’s not my idea of fun—even when I was paid to wear them in mines and construction jobs.

      Liked by 1 person

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