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Merlin Memories

Black Rock City Arial1999 was my first year at Burning Man. Although I knew little of what to expect, many people had told me it was my kind of happening and I just had to go! As a professional stilt-walking entertainer in the Seattle area I had booked a gig at a Nordstrom's Grand Opening in Spokane, Washington, which was sort-of on the way, so I decided to go.

They were right - there was so much to see and do, I probably experienced less than 0.1% of what I would have been interested in! I danced around Black Rock City with thousands of festive folk, masquerading as several giant stilted characters. When we started a processional we were joined by the whole circus! So many fond memories ~ trooping through the encampments with Eros on his form-fitted goat-stilts, Chad and Liad walking confidently on strap-ons for the first time ~ hundreds of beautiful naked women riding on bicycles between my legs! Never had I experienced such an open and friendly spirit of exuberant Celebration.


Dave & ErosA week-long ceremony, of 23,600 people, giving, daring, loving, and triumphing over hardships and fears of forbidden passions, had set the stage for the Saturday evening drama of the Burning Man. By then, we had left our cumbersome shells and were venturing into the light, and the more outrageous we got, the more real we felt! As the shadows lengthened, so did the anticipation of the evening's rites, and I busied myself with preparations at our circus camp, located at 5:30 Mars in Black Rock City, where the streets were planetary orbits and rays from The Neon Man in the center, spokes in the wheel of human time, Black Rock City for an endlessly short week.

We were a colorful lot of talented, daring adventurers. Many in the encampment were fire spinner of the Magma Vox troupe. They invited me to the official gathering of entertainers who wanted to focus the flame energy from the inner circle. We all thought it would be cool to have me stilt-dancing around the inner circle behind the fire spinners, a glowing outline of the Great One in the center of all, striding five feet above the playa on stilts. I was stoked, ready with a tube of glow-necklaces, but the authorities said they had set a quota and I wasn't in it.

As I worked on the glow-stick costume, I pondered the difficulty of allowing spontaneous creativity to rule the day when so many people were involved and so used to top-down authority - and they didn't even know what they were missing, how my giant presence can fill the space with magic! Oh Well, I would just have to play it by ear and find my calling amongst the throng.

Saturday found me in bed with an Israeli chick, after having dropped acid, so when the time came to head out to the processional, I found myself abandoning the glow-stick costume and putting on the character of 13-foot tall Merlin the magician, with long silver hair cascading over 10 yards of black and purple sparkle-cape. I would dispense magic through the rainbow cone on my head and splash it out the 12-pointed star brim to the Lovely Locals of Black Rock City. Fantasy reigned supreme……….how about a bumper-sticker? "FANTASIZE REALITY"

A throng of costumed revelers wended their way toward The Man. I joined them, with long super-human strides on 5-foot .020" 2021 T6 Alloy tube 7 lb. dancing stilts with tennis balls for feet. They're not optimum, but each new pair gets better, and I was ready to boogie on down up to The Man!

Drum circle after drum circle ~ really good drummers ~ I danced with spinning cape and grinning rockers < {8>) > I was bewitched and entranced by each divine creature I greeted, carried aloft by the spirit of celebrating ~ life of lovely graceful giving.

My eyes relaxed and ejected a contact lens, which I quickly caught and put back in, a little fogged for the adventure. Like some natural cleansing ritual, the next time I forgot myself I popped both lenses at once ~ caught them both before they left my lashes, and eased myself down on a friendly family of revelers. They offered me drink and smoke while I rinsed my lenses, tightened my archaic bindings and visited with the hosting party. My new friends propped me back up and I pranced off through the thickening crowd and darkening playa. I switched on my head lamp (which really looked dumb on Merlin) to locate the bicycles, packs and small children scattered amongst the crowd. Soon it's switch went out and I abandoned the light with relief mixed with angst ~ would I be able to safely switch to autopilot? Would I avoid the hidden trips lurking in the darkness below?

I did, but the whole contact-lens episode happened again! This time, I was offered Whiskey by my benefactors, so I took a ritualistic swig, was propped into position, and swaggered off through the crowd again. Oh so many adventures and love affairs before I found a comfortable seat on top of a van with a hospitable bunch perched for the show.

BM-Dr MegavoltWe watched the fire spinners twirl mesmerizing rings of light in the night, and Doctor MegaVolt ride by in his lightning chariot, and a flock of neon birds flap by, followed by a galloping neon horse, etc., etc. We hung out and conjectured why The Man had been laying down so long and when he would rise again and explode into the waiting night. The fire spinner were loosing the focus; the crowd was chanting, "Burn the Man! Burn the Man!

It was time for Merlin to appear! I stood up and headed through the crowd, yelling, "Make way for Merlin!" The crowd picked it up, "Make way for Merlin!" A path opened for me to glide quickly to the front, where an authority figure stood smack dab in front of me and yelled "STOP!"

"It is time for Merlin to dance," I said, looming largely over his boundaries.

"No" he said, with all the authority of the powers that be, "No one is allowed beyond this point!"

He was clearly not going to leave his high horse and the crowd was becoming torn between the spirit of the moment and the stern letter of the law, so I turned to them and lamented the tenacity of rigid frigid rules that sap the magic from the creative moment. What a perfect juxtaposition of the old paradigm and the new spirit of Burning Man! Most agreed enthusiastically, and I returned to my perch, having saved face in the face of rejection.

………………………after an interminable wait, The Man began to rise, from some mysterious force ~ perhaps a tug-of-war between gods and mortals. He stood there for a while, arms limp at his side, contemplating Mortality or Millennial Metamorphosis.

BM-Man explodingSuddenly he exploded from below the heart, with spectacular fireworks and flames that soon enveloped his entire body and the pyramid under him. The Man was transforming into light before our very eyes - whatever that meant to the multitudes assembled for the ritual, each offering their own special wish, aspiration, vow to the burning effigy ~ the cremation of death or resurrection of life.

I sprang to my feet and danced with the crowd, working my way closer and closer to the circle of guards surrounding the inferno which had quickly consumed the effigy in forty-foot flames. All of a sudden the guards broke rank, and the crowd surged into the inner circle. I was swept along in the torrent, floating on waves of humanity around the searing heat of Burning Man's pyre, punctuated with deep gut-rattling explosions - culminating in a crazed frenzy of reckless abandon.

But it was wreck-less in the original meaning - totally tuned-in to the wild happening, where magic fulfills every dream we dare to act on. Merlin was care-less-ly dancing with 23,000 souls in the flaming heart of The Man ~ in the calm of the eye of the tornado of passion ~ inaction in action. Each new volcanic eruption sent shock waves of such intensity as to propel me into another octave of attunement. Gushing plumes of sparks and cinders rained down from the heavens and further blanketed me in protective trust. How could I not believe in magic when I was there, dancing everyone's dance, reveling triumphantly in the flames of hell! I hadn't tripped once in the dark, with thousands of camera flashes forcing me to give-up relying on external vision. I felt the heat of meteors whizzing by but never felt the searing sting of impact. I felt the call so strongly there was never a moment of hesitation.

BM-Wizard at burn-2
He who hesitates is lost…….a lost moment filled with timeless magic!

BM-Merlin at Fire-1The heat was so intense and the torrent of bodies swirling past so impenetrable, I was stuck in the no-man's land between the scorching pyre and the pressing crown, swirling and twirling like a marshmallow on two five-foot long sticks, evenly roasting but not catching on fire, when an authority figure ran in front of me and, gesturing emphatically, yelled that I must get further back from the flames or my cape would burst into flames. I replied that it was impossible to cut through that raging river of bodies, but I knew in an instant that was exactly what I would do. I strode with giant steps and determination into the tumult, but was forced to stop in my tracks, with Burners running gleefully between my legs in both directions and streaming around me like the flood-waters of long-dammed desire, while I danced ecstatically with their energy and became a portal of transformation. In that state of suspended animation I lived forever… ………and awoke to find the crowd parting to let me through.

Merlin had finished his ritual.

The crunching of glass under the tires of a truck soon brought me down to earth -- my stilts have delicate tennis balls on the tips - I couldn't risk a puncture. Still, the magic continued. The last special memory I have of that night is meeting a drug-crazed hippy at the parabolic sound projector. We launched lascivious laughs out across the playa together and released the last vestiges of programmed propriety into the ethers. He asked who I was. I replied, "Merlin". His eyes grew super-intense, and he said gravely, as if programmed by the dark master, I saw you at the Burn, Merlin……You are Merlin…..you have always been Merlin…..you will always be Merlin….." and he kept up this litany with such fervor and diabolic intensity in his eyes that I had to ask, "What do you know about Satan worship?" I didn't know if I was ready for yet another intense initiation that morning. He replied in a realistically sober and matter-of-fact tone, "nothing". I was quite relieved, and confessed to him that I also knew nothing about the subject, so the conversation quickly changed directions.

Back at camp stories were told into the wee hours.  I learned that a small band of outlaws from our camp had taken over the erection ceremony and finally raised the man, dangling arms and all, to the great relief of the crowd and I. ~ ending 20th Century Burning Man ~ beginning legends anew.

"The Heat Of The Fire Still Burns In Your Heart Long After The Embers Have Died.”



Larry, You were one of my best memories of the night of the burn. I was sitting on the bow of the big "sailbus" at about 3 am totally enjoying the burn. After the man fell and people started charging his ashes I thought it couldn't get any better ... then you came into view! You towered over everybody and looked as if you were going to float over everyone's head and dive into the flames! It was great! Thanks! STEVEN B. RENZ

Larry, The last time I saw you I thought he's going to make the ultimate sacrifice at Burning Man! From my vantage point by the truck you were very close to the fire. I saw you go behind the bonfire but emerge to the other side. PABLO

Merlin, You were awesome at the burn. My pictures of you didn't come out but you are etched into my mental memory more that the man himself. Watching you move through the crowd towards the front was a sight to behold. Thank you for your efforts and great performance. TOM SHAWK