Burning the Man - Page 2

Paul Addis, fresh from a prison stint for attacking Burning Man's icon, returns to a San Francisco stage
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Among this growing group of Burning Man haters and malcontents, which included self-imposed exiles like Law and provocateur attendees like Chicken John (see "State of the Art," 12/20/04), there was always talk about burning the Man early as the ultimate strike against how ordered the event had become.

"Everyone knew it needed to be done for lots of reasons," Addis said of his arson attack. So he returned to Burning Man in 2007 with the sole purpose of torching the Man in order to "bring back that level of unpredictable excitement, that verve, that 'what's going to happen next?' feeling, because it had gotten orchestrated and scripted."

 

TORCHING THE ICON

Addis can be very grandiose and self-important, prone to presenting himself in heroic terms or as the innocent victim of other people's conspiracies, such as the police in Seattle and San Francisco who arrested him for possession of weapons and fireworks in separate instances within weeks of his arrest at Burning Man. But when it came to burning the Man, Addis was purposeful.

"Obviously a gesture like burning down Burning Man is very dangerous and very provocative. From my perspective, the No. 1 concern was safety. No one could get hurt unless it was me," Addis said. Critics of the arson attack often note how dangerous it was, pointing out that there were a dozen or so people under the Man when it caught fire. But Addis said that he was on site for at least 30 minutes beforehand, encouraging people to move back with mixed results, shirtless and wearing the red, black, and white face paint that would later make for such an iconic mug shot.

As a full lunar eclipse overhead darkened the playa and set the stage for his act, Addis waited for his cue: someone, whom Addis won't identify, was going to cut the lights that illuminated the Burning Man and give him at least 15 minutes to do his deed in darkness.

"I didn't do this alone," Addis said. "The lights were cut by someone else... The lights were cut to camouflage my ascent."

Unfortunately for Addis, the operation didn't go as smoothly as he hoped. He miscalcuated the tension in a guide-wire he planned to climb and the difficulty in using the zip-ties that attached a tent flap to it as steps, slowly pulling himself up the wire "hand over hand."

Once he reached the platform at the bottom of one leg, "I reached for this bottle of homemade napalm that I made for an igniter and it's gone," dropped during his ascent. And his backup plan of using burlap and lighter fluid took a long time when he couldn't get his Bic lighter to work under the 15 mph wind.

Then the lights came back on. "And now I know I'm exposed. Because the whole thing was not to get famous for doing this. It was to get away and have it be a mystery. That was the goal," Addis said.

But then Addis got the fire going and it quickly spread up the Man's leg, and Addis used nylon safety cables to slide down the guide-wire like a zip-line. "I landed perfectly right in front of two Black Rock Rangers who watched me come down," Addis said. "And I turned to them and said, 'Your man is on fire.'<0x2009>"

Addis said he was "furious" to see about nine people still under the burning structure, blaming the rangers and yelling at the people to clear the area before declaring, "This is radical free speech at Burning Man" and taking off running. Addis said he stopped at the Steam Punk Treehouse art exhibit, hoping to get lost in the crowd, but headlights converged on his location. He ran again, with a ranger close behind, and was finally caught, arrested, and taken to Pershing County Jail.

 

AFTERMATH

The arson attack made international news, and there were enough Addis' supporters out there to convey the message that this was a political statement against the leadership of event founder Larry Harvey and Black Rock City LLC.