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A Tribute to Burning Man’s Founder — RIP Larry Harvey Jan. 11, 1948 – April 28, 2018

April 28, 2018

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey and I share a birthday — we were both born January 11.

And we shared a passion for similar things: Art. Philosophy. Absinthe. Making stuff happen. Ideas. Language.

early Larry Harvey: the man in the hat

I met Larry Harvey in 1992 in the Black Rock Desert at my first Burning Man, the event he started in 1986 at Baker Beach in San Francisco and moved to Nevada a few years later. I was a grad student in English at the University of Nevada Reno and Santa Cruz friends were heading my way to attend. “Join us!” they said and so I did: it sounded like my kind of fun.

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey at the annual art festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, NV. (Ron Lewis/San Mateo County Times) — later Larry Harvey…

And it was. With only 600 people there, it was easy to meet people including Larry and Crimson Rose and other key figures as we made art, raised the Man, and danced together.

I skipped 1993 and 1994 — I had moved back to Southern California and didn’t know anyone who had heard of Burning Man or who wanted to go — but I returned to Black Rock City in 1995 to find that it had grown in size from only 600 people to about 6,000 people in 1995. The vibe was the same though — and I loved it.

Larry Harvey and Absinthia — Abs started attending around 1995 and I think we met in 96 but didn’t get to know each other until 2003 when we both had kids; this image is from a Media Mecca Party from 1998. Larry was a HUGE fan of her Absinthe which is now legal and available and ORGANIC.

In 1995, I was back out there in the remote Black Rock Desert camping with the LA Cacophony Society (yes I had found my tribe thanks to Marialyce Pedersen!). I was in my 79 VW van, with my poetry and body paintings, ready to participate by sharing both, but the guy on the espresso machine in center camp said I had to ask Larry first. When a friend needed a ride into Gerlach to make a phone call, I obliged. Three men in town needed rides back, so again I obliged. One of my hitchhikers was Larry Harvey (plus Danger Ranger aka Michael Mikel and another one of the Michaels) so I asked him if I could do a reading of desert inspired poetry.

His answer? Something along the lines of “This is expletive Burning Man — you don’t have to ask anyone to do anything.” So I can? I asked. “Expletive yeah but who wants to listen to expletive poetry when there’s naked people all over?”

doing spoken word in center camp in the late 90s

While Larry Harvey did so much that was right, in this case fortunately, Larry was wrong: since 1995, spoken word and poetry have had a lively presence in center camp at Burning Man, and I hosted for a few years too. I was also the first artist to show my art in center camp: I brought a number of my body paintings and hung them.

Larry with Killbuck and nila Northsun; I met nila in 2000 at the Taos Poetry Circus and convinced her to join me at Burning Man… she’s attended many times since,

As most people know, Burning Man as an event has grown and grown and grown — and it has not been without growing pains. In response, in 2004, Larry Harvey responded to this growing shadow by developing the 10 Principles. In 2017, he and Stuart Magnum created the 10 Principles coloring book which you can find as a free pdf here.

It’s been a long strange trip since 1986 when Larry Harvey founded Burning Man on Baker Beach in San Francisco. As the Burning Man website points out,

“Nearly three decades later, this manifestation of a creative impulse, and the annual event that it has become, has made its mark on history: Burning Man is now a global force for creative culture on six continents, and in more than 50 countries, and growing.”

photograph by Leori Gill who I met through the Burning Moms, an online support group for moms who are Burners and might just be a little (or a LOT) outside the box

Learn more about Larry in the official announcement from long time friend, Burner, and Board member Marian Goodell. It includes this quote:

“This may be the essential genius of Burning Man:
Out of nothing, we created everything.”
— Larry Harvey

His friend Stuart Mangrum wrote a moving tribute here.

The front page of the Burning Man website quotes Larry as saying:

“If you bring a little soul to the encounter,
maybe you’ll see something you didn’t look for;
maybe you’ll open your heart a little,
and see things you didn’t imagine.”

Learn more about Larry Harvey from his brother Stewart Harvey’s photo essay.

What’s next for Burning Man?

Well the show WILL go on that’s for sure!

In fact, the next step is for Burning Man culture to find residences off playa. Burning Man culture exists in countries around the world with various events being held on every continent including Antartica!  Now it’s time to find permanent residences. Burning Man purchased Fly Ranch near where the event was held in 1997, and a few days ago, the Los Angeles League of Arts, the LA Burning Man regional organization, announced the purchase of a property near California City about two hours northeast of LA just north of Mojave near the intersection of  highways 14 and 58. With 153 acres, the property will become the permanent home for the LA Burning Man community and where future regional burns like Equinox will be held.

LALA says

The purchase of this land opens the door to new possibilities, new cultural experiments, art and innovative projects on a larger scale. We also know that community participation will be essential. This will be a collaborative endeavor requiring a vast array of skills, ideas, and contributions. It is a canvas that we can all paint upon in the years ahead.

And so now to the perennial question: will I be going to Burning Man this year, the year with the theme of “I, Robot”?

Honestly after 18 (?) years (1992, 95-2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013-2017), I wasn’t planning on going this year. But today, after this news, the chorus of voices from my friends insist that I have to go.

Toasting Larry Harvey, drinking absinthe, watching the moon rise, telling Burning Man stories, Surfer’s Point, Ventura, CA April 28, 2018: Maxwell, Marsh, Stacey, Pineapple, Art Predator, Maria

Honestly, last year, I wasn’t planning on going, and then when a ticket suddenly came my way, I thought it was going to be a me year and my last year; my teenage son now requires a full priced ticket and my husband would rather spend his vacation days snowboarding, so I was going to have some me time.

But I found that last year in the City I needed to still be of service — and so I did, helping with dozens of weddings at the Elvis Wedding Chapel all afternoon plus breaking down the infrastructure, and finding myself, as an older experienced woman and Burner and yes, crone, listening and witnessing and guiding others.

While the city is teeming with young life, the city needs members of all ages — which is something that was so clearly important to Larry.

So long, Larry! Sunset April 28, 2018 toast with Helen, Maxwell, Maria, Red Rex, Marsh, Stacey; not pictured — Jason, Grant, Olive, Ava, Deniz, and Krista, central coast Burners who gathered in Ventura at Surfer’s Point to say goodbye to Larry in community…

Tonight as we gathered to toast and celebrate Larry as we watched the sun set and the moon rise — my son told me he really wants to go to Burning Man again this year. And then we talked about the theme of “I, Robot” and he REALLY wants to go.

So we’ll see. If two tickets come our way, we’ll do it.

For Larry.

Bye Larry.

Thank you

… for creating such a magical place for us to grow as individuals and as a community of individuals living on this planet we call Earth, and for teaching us how to live here together more creatively and harmoniously by leading the way.

I’ll see you on the playa.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick Duffy permalink
    April 29, 2018 9:27 am


  2. April 29, 2018 10:45 am

    yes, Patrick I’ve been thinking of you.. and our Burning Man connections and reconnections…

  3. April 29, 2018 12:20 pm

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  4. April 29, 2018 12:25 pm

    Thank you Halcyon. What a journey we’ve all been on thanks to the leadership of Larry! So grateful for how we’ve brought Burning Man from Black Rock City to so many places around the world. I appreciate what you have done on and off playa.

  5. pizza permalink
    April 30, 2018 10:08 am

    Good morning Gwen,

    What a special piece of your history❤️ I hope you are enjoying the memories of your friend Larry. Who knows, maybe some tickets will come your way and you guys can make it out there again this year 🤞

    I wanted to let you know that I am on my way back from Palm Springs and my gps says I will not be in Ventura until about 11:50 or so. Just a heads up🙂


    Sent from my iPhone


  6. April 30, 2018 10:24 am

    Thanks Jessie! See you soon!

  7. hotgrievingmilf permalink
    April 30, 2018 10:44 pm

    Thank you, Gwendolyn, for this lovely tribute! Cheers, Absinthia

    Cheers, Abs

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