Burning Man Explosion – Live Reporting
Living Green
Meredith Medland Sasseen

Episode 19 - Burning Man Explosion – Live Reporting

Feel the Explosion at Crude Awakening? The Tallest structure ever built at Burning Man produced the tallest fire ever seen at the event as well -- a 1,000-foot column of flame, primed by 900 gallons of jet fuel and fed by 2,000 gallons of liquid propane. Get in the scenes, literally, with live interviews behind the water truck, around the fire and in the midst of the fireworks. The mic goes right in front of Dan Das Mann and 8 other individuals who bring an intense opinions to the burning of this wooden oil derrick and the surrounding eight metal sculptured human figures worshipping and dramatizing the dependence modern man has toward oil. If you haven't been to burning man this is the closest you'll ever get to the intimacy, intensity and fire that fuels this counter-culture event.



Flames, Fireworks, Worship and Oil: Live, On the Scene Reporting

Announcer:  This program is brought to you by personallifemedia.com


Meredith Medland: My name is Meredith Medland and you're listening to “Living Green.” We're live here at “Burning Man”, which is “Green Man” this year and we've got a great exciting “Crude Awakening” happening. So tell us a little bit more about what we're about to see.

Man 1: Well, first of all, let me set the stage for you. For those that are interested in the tonnage of the art, there's 100 tons of artwork out here, and there are 20,000 man-hours of labor, almost all of which has been donated.

What we're going to see tonight, we have a band out here, and we're soon to see an awesome fireworks show. That man Jack from San Francisco really rocks, and he's going to do it well. Then, once we start the burn, you should see a 1000 foot plume of flame come above the tower. The tower has been laden with Molotov cocktails, wax with burlap and everything to really make it burn because the wood itself is hard and dry, so it really needs help to burn.

What we think we're going to do, we hope we do, and to you it's going to be spectacular.

Meredith Medland: Oh, excellent! All right, and can you tell me a little bit about what “Crude Awakening” means to you, and also what fire safety is all about here on the Playa?

Man 1: Well, the fire safety and the rangers are doing a fantastic job, and we couldn't be happier. As far as the aspect of the “Crude Awakening” we have “Green Man” this year, and this is obviously a bit political but I don't want to go into politics, if you will. But the individual statues are different deities and they're worshiping. At this point in time, they're worshiping the crude, and we're all way too dependent upon crude oil. As you know, everyone out here is trying to use alternative energy. So what we have is, we're going to burn down the oil derrick. And it's just a statement that we don't want to be dependent upon oil: we need to look into the future.

Meredith Medland: Can we share a special secret with our audience about what they might see tomorrow morning?

Man 1: Well, tomorrow morning it will be interesting to see how much of this structure is left, because the wooden structure itself is stout. It's very, very firm and it has very, very dry wood. I would be interested to see if anything of that is left: I doubt it. The metal will be there, maybe. We're thinking the metal might burn as well. But the art is still going to be here: the statues will not burn down. They are used for effect and they will be very entertaining, I'm sure.

Meredith Medland: So I have a secret for our audience, because they're not going to hear this until after the event, but I hear there's going to be something really special that's going to be happening in the morning.

Man 1: Well, I think everyone will say that this is the best burn they've ever had at “Burning Man” and I think they're going to go away very happy. I think the event has been wonderful for everyone, and we'll be happy to be back again, but I don't know if we're going to do it this big and at this scale.

Meredith Medland: And this is the world's largest burn. Isn't that what it's set out to be? I've heard that.

Man 1: Dan and Karen are the people that have designed this and they are the artists. That's Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito, who is Dan's wife. And you know, when we joke around and say: “Dan, this is going to be the biggest burn in the Playa,” well, he pretty much wants to say: “This is going to be the biggest burn anywhere.” And he doesn't say that with a large ego. I think he knows what he's got.

Meredith Medland: Right.

Man 2: All the lumber that was used in this tower was bought from sustainable forests. Basically, what we do is our community and our camp here, we've got an extensive recycling program, and we've been trying to live our example. And the expense of a few gallons of propane is kind of a fraction of what it takes to, you know, wake up a few people, I think.

Meredith Medland: We've got an exciting perspective about “Crude Awakening.” I'm here with Juicy and Steve23 and we're celebrating a marriage, a union. You're the only couple that has been married on this fantastic rig, and not to mention the ceremonial beauty of it, but you've also been involved from the beginning. So, Steve, tell us a little bit about what we need to know about what's about to happen.

Steve: Well, we opened up the tower with our wedding ceremony, and we weren't quite sure, but it was safe and everyone was fine. We had about 100 people up there. It was a beautiful ceremony. Michael Michael did a few words. We saw the trebuchet launch just after the wedding; it was really nice, viewed the city. It 's the highest climbable peak in Black Rock so far. The “Temple of Stars” was ... “Temple of Honor” was 115 feet, but you couldn't climb it. And then the ladder near the “Vault of Heaven” was 108 but you could only get one person on there at a time. So this is the highest point on the city, and it took 10 people  -- carpenters -- three weeks to build the tower.

Woman Bystander: True. Wow, yeah.

Meredith Medland: Goodness knows how many more supporting those guys. So it was a labor of love. Those pieces, they're eight figures worshiping?

Woman Bystander: Yeah.

Meredith Medland:  And the history of them is that in 2005, Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito brought “The Passage”. That was a mother and child.

Man Bystander: That was Red One.

Meredith Medland: ... that were passing tradition and honor down through generations. That's now at the Embarcadero through October, and then last year, there were three of these figures at Center Camp, and now five more, all in positions of prayer, worshiping the derrick. And after we've burned the derrick tonight, we will have something beautiful appear when it's gone.

Steve: This is one of the largest collaborations Black Rock has ever seen. We've got Black Rock Effects, Pyro Kinetics, Dan Das Mann and crew, the Crude crew. We've got the carpenters, we've got over 100 ... what's that?

Juicy: Jack Schroll.

Meredith Medland:. Right, Black Rock Effects. So this is a pretty significant piece, not only because we're talking about what it means in our society to be dealing with oil and the worshiping of oil in our culture. But also for you as a couple, now that you're married. What were some of the attitudes and beliefs that have brought you to want to create this experience in your life, and what does it mean to be living green?

Juicy: Good question. To us, it's about the community that we bring here. So much about, not just what we do, but what we're building for a future -- together. So, it's not just about these figures and what we're doing this year, but it's about creating something that's going to be bigger for those who see this piece and see what we're doing. Really take stock.

Meredith Medland: What do you think of what's possible with mainstream coverage of what's about to happen this evening, as well as the gift that comes in the morning? What impact do you think this might have on the United States?

Juicy: The hope is that people will see this beautiful spectacle and recognize what needs to be done, that we are worshiping at something that's a false idol. It's not going to be here for ever, and we're going to burn it.[laughs] That's all there is.

Meredith Medland: What's the significance of your choice to get married on top of the tower?

Steve: Well, I think actually that we live by example. We live by example, and we are trying to show people what is possible. It's completely absurd to get married on top of a 100 foot tall oil derrick. The photo ops were amazing.


Steve: Just like, to have people see that:  “Wow! They're doing something that's never been done before.”

Juicy: And it's our family, that's the most important thing to us, this is our family. This is what we came here for, to build something with this community, with these people. It just happens to be the most amazing project out here.

Woman Bystander: Exactly.

Meredith Medland: Let's talk a little bit about the different deities that are out there.

Juicy: There's no so much deities as...

Steve: Worshipers.

Juicy: They're figures representing eight different cultures and positions of prayer. So it's not so much Buddha as a worshiper in lotus position. And Mumbatu is the African figure drawing in the sand, an ancient form of African prayer. We've got a kneeler in Christian prayer. We've got a couple of pagan worshipers in the front. They're all different forms of worship from around the world, and all different times in our cultures, different cultures.

Steve: I think we've got to get back to work.

Meredith Medland: All right, they've got to get back to work.

Steve: Thank you very much.

Meredith Medland: Thank you very much, Juicy, Steve23. I just want to let my listeners know that something very special happens tomorrow morning, that is: a living green tree. So we change our style of worship, and I hope that we change our economy and really for me, I hope it affects everyone's spirituality.

So, the secret's out. The press is going to grab it in the morning, but we'll run this show after this, so thank you so much. Thank you very much.

[members of the community express thanks]

Crew Member: If you want to get center, I don't know what your insurance is, but if you stand between these two trucks, you're going to see everything.

[siren wails]

Meredith Medland: Awesome. And do I need to be behind something? Is this true?

Crew Member: This is right here. This is the fireman. Stay behind the fireman and you can walk right up into there.

Meredith Medland: Perfect.

Crew Member: If it gets too hot, you get behind the water truck.

Meredith Medland: Awesome. Thank you.

Meredith Medland: Welcome back from the break and you're listening to “Living Green.” I'm positioned right behind a water truck here. We're expecting the temperature out here on the Playa to be almost 120 degrees when “Crude Awakening” goes off in what could possibly be the largest explosion in the world and we know for sure the largest explosion ever at “Burning Man.”

So what you're about to hear in the upcoming minutes are questions, answers, as well as artists' statements about what “Crude Awakening” means, why we're using this amount of fuel to blow up this oil rig, and the beauty that's coming tomorrow morning as this art piece changes.

So, stay with me, we're going to take a quick break to thank our sponsors, and when we come back after this, we'll have more comments from all the beautiful people on the Playa.


Meredith Medland: Tell us your name and your involvement.

Reggie Ballard: My name is Reggie Ballard. I was hired to do the lighting and I ended up doing construction and rigging and many other things. I had a hard time at first when I heard how much fuel we were going to burn for this thing, but the significance is... I think it's worthwhile to  deliver the message hopefully.

Meredith Medland: What do you think the message is?

Reggie Ballard: I think we need to return to more of a natural way of living, you know, I think. I'm a little distracted right now with this thing about to go off. We've come to be known as the Nine, that's what we've been told.

Meredith Medland: Ah! That's good.

Reggie Ballard: Essentially the nine that have build this thing, and we're all a little bit attached to it.  You know, we don't want to see it burn, it's such a beautiful structure. 

Meredith Medland: It is a beautiful structure. Tell us a little bit about the worshipers that are praying in front of the rig.

Reggie Ballard: You know I think it's just the significance of just that worship. You know, I don't worship. So, it epitomizes the dependence on fuel that we have, you know, and how funny it's going to be when we don't have it any more.

Meredith Medland: All right, so what's the main message that you'd like our listeners to know and integrate when they see photos of what happens here right now?

[siren in background]

Reggie Ballard: The main message is back to Gaea. Get back to Gaea.

Meredith Medland: Get back to Gaea. Thank you so much, Reggie, I really appreciate it. We're going to take a break to thank our sponsors, and when we come back after this, we will tell you what happens.

Very exciting in here, there's sirens in the background and we're about to witness what could possibly be one of the world's largest explosions.

In just a few moments, “Crude Awakening” will be exploding. The artist is hoping to make a statement about our dependency on oil, shifting that into a dependency on Mother Nature and a wakening of Gaea.

The flames have started at the bottom of the exhibit. More to come, right after this.


Meredith Medland: And the miracles of “Crude Awakening” continue as we've got all sorts of music and energy coming on to the Playa. Lots of people creating a new possibility through artwork and exhibits, bringing spirit and ecology into the mainstream.

Man 3: Yes, everything went exactly as planned. We have the most professional crews working together. It's such an honor to be part of such a professional job. Honestly.

Meredith Medland: My name is Meredith Medland and you're listening to “Living Green.” “Crude Awakening” has just gone off. We had an extremely and safe explosion, and I have got two beautiful women in front of me, and I'd like to talk to you a little about what you was and what's the impact of this exhibit and this art piece on you personally.

Woman 1: You know, this particular piece of art has been the most beautiful one this year, I think. It's just been phenomenal. This particular burn, just watching it go up the way it did. I kind of expected it to go way higher. We had heard that it was going to go a thousand feet up into the air, and it didn't, but it was still beautiful. I think the statues up in front are just stunning, and it's remarkable. I'm completely impressed.

Meredith Medland: What do you think about the political and social statement of the art piece?

Woman 1: Ah! We were kind of just talking about that. Yeah. [laughs]  I mean, I really don't know what the political or the .... I really don't know what the statement is. I've only just seen the statues as they've come through the years at “Burning Man” and been completely impressed by how they're... it's just art, and there so much feeling in each of the pieces of art that come out here, and watching them go from the mother and child  two years ago, and then out to the Center Camp last year. And then out here, to have eight of them here, it's just been remarkable. So I don't know what they were trying to do, but it's moving. It's beautiful.

Meredith Medland: What do you think about the idea that it's called “Crude Awakening,” and then tomorrow morning we get to see a beautiful tree placed where the tower now is?

Woman 2: I didn't realize they were going to place a tree after the tower came down.

Woman Bystander: You've given the secret away.

Woman 2: You did. I don't know. I find it interesting that we're here at the “Green Man” and , of course it's a piece of art, but just the amount of fuel that we just burned.

Meredith Medland: Yeah, what do you think about that? Is the amount of fuel and resources and people's energy worth the social statement that's being made?

Woman 2: You know, I think one of the greatest things about the place that we live is freedom of speech, and this is very much a statement of freedom of speech. And the political stuff that's going on here in America, with us being at war, just for oil. I mean, it's very cool. It definitely seems a little wasteful, but at the same time, it is very cool.

Woman 3: I think it makes us think about the impact that oil and natural gases have on our lives.

Meredith Medland: All right. “Crude Awakening” has just been taken to the ground. No more praying to oil. We have to change where we’re putting out prayers to.

Woman 1: It's powerful stuff, you know. I mean, it really is. We live in this country of huge opportunity. We were talking earlier about how there are other countries, where people go off looking for miles to get firewood to build... to feed themselves, to cook their meals. And here we just waste the resources and how do you reconcile that inside of yourself? It's a difficult thing.

And on the other hand, people come from all over to come and do this thing and it brings the community together, and it brings the level of... to be in that gifting place, and to learn how to live as a community. This gives a gift to people that... I don't know if there's reciprocity in all of that, I just don't know. But it's powerful. It's beautiful.

You know, there's a way to do it, and we know that if we could just get 10 percent of our population to reduce the amount of waste that they have, to recycle as often as possible, even to stop eating foods that are planted and grown and produced more than 100 miles from your house... If you just ate locally and took better care to buy locally, we would change the face of the planet. And hopefully -- certainly this kind of event isn't going to send that message out -- but I'm hoping that the message of the “Green Man” to recycle and reduce and reuse things, is going to be more in the front of people's consciousness. It makes a huge difference to eat locally, and to buy locally and to not drive and to ride your bike.

Woman Bystander: It tastes better too.


Meredith Medland: That's the most important thing that we're coming to realize here on “Living Green.” Every single person that I've interviewed has said that actually ecology is easy, it's effortless, because there's more sensory pleasure available to you when you're taking care of the planet.

Woman 1: Absolutely.

Meredith Medland: Right, we're going to take a short break to thank our sponsors, and when we come back we'll get more comments here live from the Playa. My name's Meredith Medland and I'm the host of “Living Green.” Thanks for listening. Thanks, ladies.


Meredith Medland: Welcome back from the break. My name is Meredith Medland and you're listening to “Living Green.” We've got lots of feedback and ideas and comments from all the different people that have participated in this explosion, which was scheduled to be the largest explosion at “Burning Man.”

We're talking a little bit about the amount of fuel that was used, and the resources and the people to make this political and social statement in “Crude Awakening” and I've got a comment right here from one of the lovely people on the Playa. What do you think about what's happening here and the message?

Woman 4: I think it might be excess, via a lot of excess, but I'm not sure that gets the message across.

Meredith Medland:What was the impact of the explosion on you, and what's the impact of the exhibit?

Woman 4: It's really beautiful, but it was a lot of wasted resource. I'm not sure what to say about that. I am a little embarrassed by it, I suppose.

Meredith Medland: If you could use the resources that were used on “Crude Awakening” for a different project, what might that project be?

Woman 4: I don't even know. [laughs] Something much more practical, something that wasn't just a pretty moment. I mean it was a beautiful thing to see, but you could have built probably a lot of houses with that derrick, and I don't know what you could have fueled with all that fuel. There was a better purpose to it, I suppose, than what it was used for. I don't know, it's another embarrassing example of American consumerism. [squirming] I don't know.

Meredith Medland: If there was one thing that you could wrap up your experience about living green on the Playa, what would it be?

Woman 4: Think small. Think minimalist. That would be good.

Woman 5: I've never seen a more powerful display of art in my life. So, far beyond just the visceral impact of the enormous mushroom cloud, I just deeply appreciated the symbology of the red, white and blue, of the juxtaposition of the statues, the shadows, the worship, the smoke, the insistence of the flames, of the explosions. As somebody who burns bio-diesel and makes as small an impression as she can on the world, I thought this was, and it reinforces my choices, it makes me sure, it makes me respect and appreciate the artist's statement.

Meredith Medland: What do you think that statement is?

Woman 5: That perhaps it's time to consider stopping worshiping oil.

Meredith Medland: Brendan has his third eye magnified with a fantastic eye, opening his six shocker here. All right, so what do you think about what you've seen here this evening?

Brendan: “Crude Awakening” is mind-blowing. I really think it's about the insanity of the oil industry and how we are so trapped in the system of using oil constantly, whether we're commuting to work. It's just that we're really trapped inside this system with the technology of motoring, so I think that it displays pretty clearly these figures that are sort of both hailing it and suffering it, being burned, singed, and yet insistently being plagued and devoted to getting where they want to be in their car, any time instead of being present to their immediate surroundings.

I mean, I don't know.  I also appreciate that we were able to – I didn't personally, my friend told me that they went up the structure before it burned, and were standing in the position of being that which is being hailed, meaning the oil industry. And I think it's important, because it's the opposite perspective of the man which is usually burned.

It's putting us in the perspective of that which... you know, the man, pre “Green Man” was the man, Big Brother, and we've been trying to burn the man, the ego, whatever, and now it's like we're turning the perspective on burning something that is quite specifically a very, very big problem.

Meredith Medland: So we know that it is a big problem, and we've got lots of research and studies that show that. How  does this evening offer a solution?

Brendan: When you display something so obvious, so majestically, on such a grand scale -- and it's such a political message -- to this many people, I think it will make an impact, and I think I could even say that I'm not so concerned about the amount of resources they used to do this art piece. I think that the message needs to happen and it needed to be on this level of impact and there's a bit of a paradox inherent, in that we needed to use this many resources because it's being done anyway.

It's like being in the fire, being in the horror, being the most disgusting display possible, to live inside the truth of how fucked-up we are, so that we can then turn towards moving with less resources.

Meredith Medland: Thank you so much. And that turning will come tomorrow morning when we see trees planted where the oil rig used to be, and see the true idea of what it means to have a “Green Man.”

We've got more comments coming after the break. Stay tuned. My name is Meredith Medland and you're listening to “Living Green.”


Man 4: [sings to accompaniment of bell] Living green, living green. This is the one we've seen. Living, living, living the dream. Living, living, living, living green. Living, living, living, living the dream. Living, living, living, living green. You got the power, so don't hide it. Bring it to the people, let the people divide it. Say, you got the power, don't hide it. Bring it to the people, let the people divide it.  Living green. Living your dream. Living green. It's living green.

Fantousie loves you, thank you.

Meredith Medland: All right! My name is Meredith Medland and you're listening to “Living Green.” Stay tuned for next week's episode. Thank you so much for joining me with coverage from the Playa here at “Green Man 2007.”

We'll be back next week with more coverage of great green events inspiring you to live a more effortless ecology lifestyle.

Thank you so much for joining me, and again my name is Meredith Medland and you're listening to “Living Green.”

For text and transcripts of this show and other shows on the Personal Life Media network, go to PersonalLifeMedia.com.


Announcer:  Find more great shows like this on PersonalLifeMedia.com


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