"I didn't want to write a love letter": Steven T. Jones talks about his new book on Burning Man
SFBG Throughout much of the book, you're struggling with Burning Man's political significance. In 2008 you even took a break in the middle of the festival to attend the Democratic National Convention and Barack Obama's nomination. What was your final conclusion — is Burning Man important, politically speaking?
SJ It's a good question. I wanted it to be. Larry Harvey wanted it to be, given what was going on with the rest of the country at the time. Ultimately, it just is what it is. I think it's at least as relevant as the Tea Party — it's got a better thought-out ethos and value system, but it doesn't get as much press. It is a city, and the example the city offers is very relevant to the rest of the country.
SFBG Let's say I've never gone to Burning Man and I'm never going to go. What does this book have for me?
SJ Burners are my main target audience, but it was important to me to make this book interesting and accessible to those who don't go to Burning Man. I firmly ground this book in an intriguing sociopolitical moment in 2004, when the country really lost its mind. Bush was being reelected president and things were about to turn really ugly with the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina, events that would further divide an already fractured country. I don't think it's an accident that the country hit its nadir just as Burning Man hit its zenith. People were desperate for authenticity, creativity, and a life-affirming way to spend their time. The most innovative and impactful cultural developments often happen on the margins, so to ignore Burning Man is to be incurious about what is animating the counterculture in San Francisco and other cities — people who will help lead this country back from this cultural desert we're in, if that is ever going to happen.
SFBG Are you going to continue to write about burner culture as extensively as you've been doing?
SJ No, I think I'll back off on it. I've got a few ideas for the next project — I'm fascinated by bike culture. I think it'd be fascinating to explore the international bike movement in the fashion of this book.
STEVEN T. JONES READS FROM TRIBES OF BURNING MAN
"Burning Man and the Art of Urbanism"
Tues/8 6 p.m., free for SPUR members, $20 for nonmembers
654 Mission, SF
"Tribes of Burning Man Reading and Powwow"
Fri/11 7:30-10 p.m., $5–$20
1198 Fulton, SF
Facebook: Tribes of Burning Man Reading and Powwow