By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
When it’s over, the workers resume pulling shots, and the moment vanishes.
During the day, we sleep when it’s not too hot, or sit around under shade-cover listening to Arthur Russell at camp while in the distance the trance pounds. We talk, cuddle, laugh, get freaked out at how fucked up we got last night and wonder maybe whether we’re out of control. By 10 p.m., the throngs roam the city. Some cruise the Mars-like surface in extravagant Victorian steam engines straight out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Dragon boats overtake rolling cupcakes, strobing tricycles whip past gurgling fish cars. It’s like the trippiest state fair you’ll never see, Dalì’s dream fucking Disney’s nightmare, all glitter and glow. The biggest, loudest and most ambitious projects are on the Esplanade, the boulevard closest to the Burning Man.
On a big soundstage with a jumbo screen, contestants try their luck with Dance Dance Immolation — a riff on the classic video dance game Dance Dance Revolution. There’s one catch. Players are outfitted in silver fireproof body suits and head gear, and flame throwers are aimed at their faces. The music starts and the dancers try to keep up with the dance moves dictated by the video screen while ominous burning guns, locked and loaded, look to singe some noggin. It’s a blast to watch, mainly because there are some frighteningly excellent DDR players on the playa — and maybe they’ll get burned. As they perform their expert moves, the flames flicker from the barrel of the guns and the emcee taunts and ridicules the players. During a wicked competition between two rivals moving to the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” a big, Gene Simmons–like fire burst blows and roars. One of the players reflexively steps back and dooms his next couple of moves, spawning more fire. Dance and burn, dance and burn.
The Burning Man, prematurely torched by a crazed playwright days before the scheduled Saturday immolation, is resurrected late Thursday morning. As the new wooden figure — now known as the Spawn of Burning Man — is hoisted into place by a crane, a gaggle of burners gather to watch. The soundtrack to the celebratory moment, provided, as is often the case, by the art car with the most dominant sound system, is not “76 Trombones” or “Revolution,” or even “Space Oddity,” but “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. As the dueling guitar solos wail and cry, workers bolt the Replacement Man’s feet into place. Perhaps a few centuries hence, when Burning Man has evolved into some sort of freakazoid religion, this moment will have transformed into a fable, and in ceremonies during national holidays the image of the Blessed Ronnie Van Zandt will be projected onto a grand Esplanade screen.
Sunday night, 10 p.m. Silence. Shocking silence. It’s so quiet among the thousands that you forget how many of us are here. The man burned last night. Tonight the Temple of Forgiveness gets torched. Throughout the week, the Temple was an oasis of calm and peacefulness. While outside the big parties raged — DJ Dan played on Thursday, Paul Oakenfold on Friday — in the Temple people sat quietly, hugged, sobbed, caressed.
Now as the whole thing comes to an end, I think about the incredible shit I’ve seen here. There was the guy with dreadlocks and an acoustic guitar playing his instrument as hard as he could in the middle of nowhere, screaming his lyrics as though he were center stage Coachella, to a single, rapt woman who was dancing so forcefully to his song that I could feel the electricity a hundred yards away. For all I know he was covering Engelbert Humperdink, but who cares? It was just the two of them, locked together in song.
As I stand staring at the Temple, now engulfed in flames and looking like something from a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, silence reigns. Total silence. Except for this odd, otherworldly hum at the far side of the crowd. It grows louder, from nothing into something, before it reveals itself as voices. But from where? Is it a recording? The moan rises into an Om-like chant, thousands strong, louder and louder, until I realize that it is the roar of Us, voices spontaneously rising into a screaming chorus like some nutty shit you hear about at voodoo ceremonies. The Yowl hits my section like a monsoon and passes over my head as I scream along. The noise gust rolls around the Temple like a thoroughbred around the far turn, farther and farther, then closer, closer, until it hits us again and we scream until we can scream no longer.
Driving back to L.A. on a gentle Monday morning at 4 a.m., half asleep and half electrified, buzzing and totally stoned as a cushion from the hangover of information overload, this magical, deep, glorious house music consumes the RV. It’s a soulful track, with gentle but insistent four-four bumps, a steady high-hat and a transcendent vocal sample of an opera soloist. The soprano voice flows out of the boom box like syrup, seems to guide me along the two-lane highway. The sky is dark, but the reflectors frame the road like I’m in a vintage video game slaloming down a ski slope. Lost in music, lost in the beats, alone while others snooze, my only company that music. Then, a deep voice echoes through the cabin: “This is Armin van Buuren, and this is A State of Trance.”