Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Burn..... from Playa to Proscenium....

Or thrust, actually......
Where to begin? My last show in the hometown of my heart and hackles (Pittsburgh, PA) occurred on Aug 29. I was blessed to emcee a wonderful night of performance and art to welcome the new art space The Meter Room to our humble burgh. John Ross and his wonderful group of freaks and friends have been undaunted in their struggles to bring more art and music to the West End. I remember when the Meter Room was just a basement in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, literally a basement with meters for the gas man to read for the apartments above, now it is a huge beautiful warehouse with space for art of all kinds, industrial, music, dance, you name it. In Pittsburgh, PA, which is the important part.....

So after that wild and crazy extravaganza, I headed west, to meet Colter Harper and head to the desert. For the Burningman..... My first burn was 1996, and my, the event certainly has changed since then! I went by accident, to my reckoning, that first time. On tour with the Bindlestiff Family Zirkus, Dave Apocalypse and I were informed in San Francisco , after our show at Cell Space that our next show was in Black Rock City , NV. "Great I thought", to myself, "I have never been to Nevada".... at no point did anyone think to inform my little bald nineteen year old self that we were actually going to a desert wasteland and I might wish to procure a water bottle and hat.... or a tent..... or a neckerchief, or sunscreen..... so off we went , when I woke in the van, my first thought was "Where the f*!k is the club?!?" No club, no bathroom, no coffeeshop, nuthin'. Just dust. Dust everywhere and in everything. Aggro alkali dust that liked to eat you and your stuff. Violent looking people with massive artillery. And rigging. Lots of rigging. Metal machines, operas by crazed Argentinians celebrating Dante's Inferno, Chicken John burning Hollywood in effigy, Papa Satan serving up burgers and lighting sculptures on fire whilst madly giggling..... I barely left camp.... except to get a burger from Satan. What can I say? I like the flavor of dead cow and the Bindletwits were all vegetarian......we had number 10 cans of hominy and condiment sandwiches in my camp.... if camp you can truly call it, I had a german army suplus tentish thing, basically an isosoles triangle portion of camo canvas. I was so scared by the opera and the burning of Hollywood and then a man lept from a 40 foot tower which burst into explosive flame (later John Law, who didn't , as I thought at the time, die during that performance, became one of my very good friends who I will adore til the end of time) , I refused to leave center camp for the burning of the man..... I watched it from the interior of Chris DeMontery's pyramid camera obscura.... much more calm. No dust, no debris, no screaming mad men. Well, I watched it go with Dusty Balls, but he didn't truly go mad til much later......

So why, you ask, did I go back after such an awfully traumatizing experience? The circus again.... except in 1997, I was with Chicken John's Circus Rediculous...... and I stayed on the road with Chickie for 7 months in 1997. We ended this grueling tour of America with about 12 starving punk rawk klowns left over from an original cast of 26.....45 miles an hour , across the nation and back, with the Veg O Matic of the Apocalypse and 1000 pounds of bikes of Peet Manuel's Hard Times Bike Club school bus of pain. We smelled like rotten baloney, hard tortillas, stubbed cigarettes, stale beer, dill pickle juice and foot. We looked worse. But we could work. We set up a bike circus camp, we helped Jim Mason build a 12 foot high (very impressive in those days) ice ball sculpture, and then we became the first ever BRC DPW (Black Rock City , Department of Public Works). As a joke. Because the 8 guys trying to build the city were having difficulty. Long story short, there was a massive changeover in leadership and a break in the organization , for details read Brian Doherty's very comprehensive book:

All we could see was pain as far as the eye can see and clowns like to heal..... and we didn't have a car, we were trapped , on a soft playa with violent looking strangers who sometimes had beer. That they mixed with Clamato juice..... but beer nonetheless. So we stayed. And I kept coming back, for years, as a cook to feed the men and women of the DPW, til about 2001, when I decided I was done. I came back as a participant, in 2002 with Tommy Amoeba for our honeymoon, but I didn't work DPW that year, or really ever again. I had to back off, they work hard and the group is over 150 people now, but to see what it was like when I was there you can check Susan Barron's documentary:
Working for the Man: The Building, Burning and Disappearance of Black Rock City 2000 (2001)

So I stopped for years, burnt out, fried fried, fricaseed fried. My husband and I had our honeymoon, our "friends" burned our wedding elephant, for details check it on my website
We sued them on Judge Joe Brown and everything.......

I wasn't going to go back till my friends Kimric and Shannon decided it would be a wonderful idea to build a 3 story Victorian house that drove itself across the desert.... "The Neverwas Haul" I so didn't believe it would happen , that I actually rote a song on my second disc called "Neverwas is Forevermore" in dedication to what I believed would utterly fail..... I went to watch it fail in a magnificent fashion. Which it didn't. Beautifully. And much to delight of tens of thousands, it has made it to 3 burns and I have been to every one with it. It's incredible. Kimric makes accordions and blows stuff up with SRL. Shannon builds sets for Renny fairs and haunted houses.... perfect combination. This year it worked every day, 2 times a day, we took tours all over the playa, with little kids (baby burners are soooooo cute!!!) and everything.

So here we are, 14 years later. I have hair, I know to bring a realish tent to the desert, bring a water bottle, and some food..... sunscreen and every single costume I ever owned.... and be sure to camp with a Victorian house..... not some mangy circus with foot fungus reeking of pickle juice. (Really truly pickle juice, they were just sure it cured the hangover.....) There are even naked pictures of me online by my cousin, Jon Alloway (who btw, I met while doing a circus show at Burningman 1997) with Chicken, Flash (aka Papa Satan of 1996 and of the hit tv show "Doin' DaVinci) and Larry Harvey, head poobah of the Burningman LLC Himself.....

And now, though Pepe Ozan never cast me in one of his desert operas, (so bitter was I over this grand insult that I penned a tune called "Pepe" on my debut album, he didn't really like it, though I always loved him, brilliant self centered son of gun that he is......) I have been blessed with the opportunity to join an incredibly talented cast of wonderful performers of every genre from all over the world. This new rock opera is called "How to Survive the Apocalypse, a Burning Opera" . In this wonderful work, Mark Nichols and Erik Davis have penned something that somehow manages to actually capture the wild spirits of Burningman in a staged indoor production. I don't want to give too much away, but in this blog, over the next couple of weeks, I will be uploading pictures and some video clips from the building of this inspiring work. In fact the director of this new show is a very talented man named Christopher J. Fülling who actually helped write and directed every opera that Pepe designed in the desert during those early, heady, we can do anything or die trying, years of Burningman..... So, of course, I want you should all buy tickets, or help us figure out a way to take this show on the road..... or maybe fund a film..... but in any case, I will share as much of my experience with you as I can. I am having a blast, I feel like I am exactly where I need to be and when and with whom I need to be.

Some initial images:
Me with Mark Nichols, from Seattle, now of Sebastopol, CA, the music director and composer:

Erik Davis our Wordsmith and poet, with costume designers Deborah Sciales and Oliver Lowe:

Me with Dj Jonni Ji and Andrew Stack (we are here trying to figure out my break out song, "Don't See Me" which I got to actually help write, totally exciting!!!!!)

And for now, last but not least, my favorite moment today...... when Michael Michael came in to rehearse with us..... Michael Michael aka Danger Ranger is a beautiful man with whom I have enjoyed many wonderful burns. always an enigmatic figure he and I have shared screaming matches and the serenity of the hot springs.... once he rode me up a mountain in a silver RV named "The BARTH" at breakneck speeds, I was sure we would all die..... he doesn't make me feel safe exactly, but he always made me feel something......

He is here with the brilliant tenor and director Christopher J. Fülling and Erik Davis (wordsmith)

And for now just a little video for your viewing pleasure a clip of me and Mark Nichols actually composing my big break out number: "Don't See Me":

To buy tix visit:

1 comment:

Radiohumper said...

Dear Phat Man Dee, this post gets my nomination for Best Non-Required Reading of '09. I've been sneaking back on here to re-read this, and I finally got myself over to TZ last night for HTSTA, and had the incomparable joy of hearing your beautiful voice.

Thanks for writing this so I could find you.

Much luck with your career and love and everything.