From Publishers Weekly
It's tough to categorize Burning Man. Is it an excuse for thousands of anarchic, sexually uninhibited people to do drugs and destroy things? A massive, do-it-yourself arts festival for the punk avant-garde? Or is it the "spontaneous flowering" of a new, subversive culture? Reason
magazine editor Doherty explores these definitions and others in this gushing yet well-researched mix of journalism and memoir. Burning Man began in the mid-1980s, when some friends burned a wooden effigy on a California beach. The event soon relocated to the Nevada desert, where, apparently, the civilized world's rules no longer applied. People could play golf with burning toilet paper rolls or whip each other at the Temple of Atonement. One year, someone piled 10 tons of half-burned pianos on top of each other, creating a huge "metapercussion instrument." Another year, a man calling himself "Dr. Megavolt" donned a metal suit and danced with electricity generated by a towering Tesla coil. By 2003, more than 30,000 pilgrims were participating, and Burning Man had become a $6-million "culture business" that many saw as a sellout of its humble origins. Doherty is an enthusiastic devotee, and he adds his own memories to this account. This insider's look at a cornerstone of American subculture is informative, though nearly as chaotic as Burning Man itself. Photos.
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True-believer Doherty loves Burning Man, the annual festival for aging Aquarians and seekers of all New Agey^B stripes that involves the erection in the Nevada desert of a giant statue alongside a temporary city of alternative lifestyle enthusiasts practicing, to varying degrees, alternative models of commerce, artistic pursuit, and other social and recreational gambits for about a week. Then the giant statue gets torched, and everybody returns to presumably more humdrum everyday pursuits. The fest encourages a "no spectators" attitude to the effect that celebrants' doings aren't to be reported, and Doherty attended four times before he "dreamed of writing about it for public consumption." Now he presents a combination of what he witnessed and experienced and "journalistic re-creations" of the stories and reminiscences of some 100 interviewees, including people he "just lived moments with." How sixties can you get? This magical approach, while it makes the book questionable as verifiable social reportage, serves the BM ethos well. A lovingly, if not crisply, written tribute. Mike TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved