Burning Man's Temple of Remembrance

Ian Alexander Norman contributed his long-exposure pic of this year's Temple of Remembrance at Burning Man to the Boing Boing Flickr pool. The Temple is a huge, ornate structure that burners fill up with their regrets, grief, memorials and testaments to their dead, their lost, and their sorrows. Last Sunday night, we burned the Temple in near silence (one jackass in an art car broke up the silence by repeatedly blasting Freebird), and watched the sorrows go up in flame. I wrote a remembrance there for my good friend Possum Man, and it was cathartic to see it all burn, surrounded by tens of thousands of other people watching their own fires.

Update: Xeno Evil sez, "I just wanted to say that the rendition of Freebird that you heard was not a jackass. It was a tribute to a dear friend and solid DPW member who used to always play the song before he was killed a couple months ago in Austin. His name was Joey Jello and he was an exemplary human being, he actually made most of DPW take stock and try to be better people. He had 'Never Betray' tattooed on his neck backwards so that whenever he looked in the mirror, he'd be reminded of his commitment to live by his moral standards. When we play freebird (and I, personally, HATE the song) it's not to bother other people, it's to remind us to be better people because Joey was better than all of us, he was amazing, weird and great. His absence has left a void of awesome that all of us in DPW feel needs to be filled. Working DPW is weird and hard and it takes a certain punk rock lifestyle... it takes its toll and we all die a little too soon. Joey's not the first of us to die, but I'd like you to know why Freebird was playing,

The Temple


  1. Many thousands of years ago, the equivalent of one jackass in an art car blasting “Freebird” during the ritual burning of the Temple of Remembrance eventually led to the development of enforced authority structures and the nation-state.

  2. Maybe next year you can plan for the interruption in advance . . . kind of a “Freebird in the Temple” moment, if you will. ;)

  3. The Temple is an amazing place. It becomes filled with so many, many thoughts as the week wears on. I’m not a spiritual person, but I can feel all those thoughts in there.

  4.  Freebird was courtesy of the DPW. Who are glorious assholes, reminding people to never be too serious, even in the heaviest, most serious parts of Burning Man.

    It was a powerful year, and the temple is one of the few places where the emotions are so thick as to be felt at the end of the week.

      1. as this was my 16th burn, i feel i have earned the place to say that while i totally respect the DPW for what they do for everyone, but that shouldn’t give them a carte blance to piss on the temple ceremony. they have the rest of the week to remind people to never be too serious. it wouldn’t kill them to let people grieve in peace for one night at the end of the event.

        1. Franko, I hear you….AND….the reason the city gets built, torn down AND cleaned up every year is very taxing on the soul.  Have you ever tried screaming out your emotions?  We do that in DPW.  We feel them with every bit of emotion.  Wear them out.  And then properly release them.  DPW is all about some 50K people coming into this little space created by a chosen few.  Literally hand chosen.  If we wanna scream so we no longer hang on to the anguish of this amazing man that was committed to personal honesty, so be it.  Trust me.  Have you ever met David Best personally?  Simply by the fact that he was heading this space this year, allowed for pure clean release.  

          Last year the Temple burn was very noisy.  No quiet anywhere.  The fact that you could determine exactly where and who was making it happen, might be a clue that this was no accident.  Seriously, get in your car.  Put on your favorite music.  Get on a road you can drive fast an loud.  Now sing.  Amazing what happens when that release comes.  This is what the raw refinement of DPW has mastered.    Cheers and thanks for your input.  

          1. i do agree that last year was MUCH noisier. this year we ended up on the north side of the temple during the burn, and it was gloriously silent. i know i cannot imagine what the DPW goes through in building and removing our city, which is why i respect them and thank them and give things to them and educate new people about them. i just wish that they didn’t feel that they are entitled to special treatment at all times, as if they were above the rest of us who also do things that help make our city. we are all citizens.

          2. Yep – see my comment at the bottom.  Just because you’re DPW does not give you the right to make a ruckus at the temple burn.  Joey’s death was tragic, but it does not give you the right to co-opt everyone else’s experience.  

            DPWs entitlement stopped being cute years ago.

            And having worked closely with David many times, I can say that you guys stepped WAY over the line with this one.

      2. It was disrespectful to the rest of us who were there remembering our own dead friends.  We lost a long-time burner who was personally responsible for introducing scores, if not hundreds, of people to Burning Man and changing their lives for the better.  We didn’t want to hear that godawful song while remembering Greg.  There’s no reason everyone shouldn’t be able to shut the hell up for 30 minutes to watch the temple burn in respectful silence.

  5. OK, I was there and I had a seat that allowed me to hear both “Freebird” AND the programmed soloist/choir/piano coming from the art car on the 6:00 axis.   Which is more annoying? –  “Freebird,” or the choir vamping forever on this one piece of music and the conductor looking over his shoulder at The Temple to see if the burn is on schedule and he can wrap it up?  “Freebird” has a beginning that is a bit sad and mournful and quiet(er) and it’s about leaving loved ones behind.   It’s part of our culture just like the choir piece.  It was just not programmed by the Borg. 

    There is no answer to this question, but I like that it is posed and discussed.  And, by the way, the soloist was absolutely awesome!

    1. The choir finished before the burn started.  Freebird was even more annoying than the too-high woman to my left who kept loudly proclaiming random ‘deep’ thoughts and yelling at us that it was our problem if we just couldn’t handle what she had to say.  I don’t CARE what you have to say at that moment or how important your particular dead friend was, silence during the temple burn is about showing that you respect those around you and accept that they are people as much as you are.

      Yes, the DPW parties loud.  In a community where tens of thousands of people are used to seeing themselves as the ones who party loud, who flout the rules and show everyone else how radically individual they are.  That’s what the rest of the week is for.  During the temple burn, *everyone* can shut the hell up for half an hour and prove that they’re not yahoos and deserve to be there.  That *especially* includes the DPW, who are supposed to exemplify a certain set of burner characteristics.

      Personally, I hope that crew never receives an art car license again.  Let it go, and every year some group who sees themselves as the more worthy, superior burners will do it because they think their loss entitles them to it.

  6. Temple burn is the real burn. It’s hard to ignore the jackasses and obnoxiously loud art cars, but by ignition most of that is easy to shed or lost in the sound of the conflagration itself. It’s an amazing ritual that derives its power (like many things at Burning Man, including the burning of the Man itself) from what you decide it means rather than what someone else has told you it means. I’ve rarely felt more connected to a crowd than the Temple burn at my first Burning Man.

  7. I was there and very much appreciated the burn – I too left remembrances of friends and family who had left us this year.  I will little note nor long remember “Freebird,” but I won’t forget how beautiful and compelling the burn was, nor the traditional playing of “Amazing Grace”.

  8. I understand someone wanting to remember their friend. But do it without interrupting others remembering their friends or loved ones. My mom passed a year ago, so the temple burn had a special place for me. Unfortunately, I was forced to focus on the memorial for someone named Joey Jello, instead of focusing on one more important to me. 

    You had the right to play freebird, just as that church has the right to protest at military funerals, either way….it was a dick move. Please tell me when your next memorial for your friend is and I’ll be sure to come play the theme song from “All my Children” because that was my mom’s favorite song. I’m sure you guys will understand.

    1. I wish that you would have played the theme song from “All my Children”.  I’m serious.  Getting it OUT is so HELPFUL. How do you think we keep getting the same crazy fuckers to absorb all your energy after you have gone each year?  Tis not cheap, nor easy.  Each person out there working DPW makes HUGE sacrifices every year to be there.  Just like the gift economy is unique to the burn and what makes it truly special, DPW builds your city.  Tears it down. Then painstakingly picks up all that you thought you picked up and somehow missed.  It really takes a toll on the spirit.  Yelling.  Singing.  Dancing.  Merriment.   And yes, a wee bit of alcohol is required to process the 2 1/2 month gig.  YES, it is a privilege.  YES.  It REQUIRES the soul to release.  Else we might eat one another.  LIFE HAS INTERRUPTIONS.  Deal.  Just saying.  No One gets a free pass.  Digest and appreciate and pull up your boot straps and move on. Trust me, I can has knowledge on this topic.  Pain happens.  Allow digestion to happen in the healthiest manner which varies for many.  

      1.  DPW saying the burn is theirs to do with as they like because they did the most work is the WRONG attitude.  If you can’t respect the other participants, then stay away from the temple burn and do something else.   The friend we lost two weeks before the burn was an exemplary human being, a prankster, and a rule-breaker.  Not one of us for a moment thought that gave us the right to disrupt the experience for others.  We had people fly in from out of the country at the last minute solely to be there to honor him.  We built our friend his OWN temple, hand-carried a gazebo-sized structure more than a mile across the playa, and held our memorials in a way we considered fitting to honor his memory.

        I’m very sorry DPW lost one of their own.  I just wish they had chosen to remember him and express their grief in a way that didn’t detract from the experience for others.

  9. Incidentally, the “Freebird” stunt turned out to be DPW’s contribution for their lost people. The plug was pulled by an EG, silencing it for a while.

  10. It’s interesting how post about the Temple often talk about the burning of memories, but often forget to mention the huge team that comes together to build it throughout the year. That team and the history behind the temple is the reason for it to be so special. I encourage anyone interested in Burning Man or not, to watch Dust & Illusions (http://dustandillusions.com).. the documentary covers over 30 years of Burning Man diving back into the origins from the 1970s. A spectacular film that will put all that into perspective. Dearly needed!

  11. ‘Nuff respect for the blasting of Freebird then, sez I. Plus, ‘Jackass in an Art Car’ is a great name for a record.

  12. Anthropologist two cents here: The role of the temple would be to transform individual grief into communal solace. It sounds as if the DPW folks, wanting to create their own ritual, inserted a disruptive element into the activity which, because it’s purpose was not communicated in advance or given context during, disrupted the social solidarity occurring during the burn.  Regardless of the stated intention behind the act (and I am always skeptical of post-hoc attribution of meaning, e.g. excuses) it sounds like it upset quite a few people. The proper response would then be to apologize and not to justify. 

    1. “You are the Sacred Scoffer,” she finished.
      “He-Who-Must-Mock-in-the-Temple–you go shod on holy ground.”

    2. “The proper response would then be to apologize and not to justify.” 
      But we aren’t sorry. Some of us have felt a need to explain (and there might be more, but most of us are out there doing what we do, and will be for the next month+), but that is not asking for forgiveness. Freebird was justified, and your forgiveness is not needed, or asked for. So our grief challenged your preconceptions, and somehow ruined your own? Sounds like a personal problem my friend.

      Trust me when I say if the goal was disruption, far more disruption would have occurred.

      1.  “Freebird was justified.”  I’ll admit I only skimmed over the BM website this year, so I might have missed the rules.  Can you remind me how many man hours my group needs to put in volunteering and how well-liked our lost friend needs to be to qualify for a “blasting music at the temple burn” license?  Did we not submit the paperwork in time to get our contribution and our loss ranked against yours?

        Understand that those of us who stayed silent despite our loss and pain did not do it because we didn’t feel we were entitled to self-expression.  We did it because we respected those around us as human beings.  And in the middle of this we had to be reminded, loudly, that we were indeed in the presence of a handful of jackasses who couldn’t see past their own self-entitlement and respect those around them as equals.  The single greatest moment of unity, empathy, and community of the whole week was interrupted by people telling us that they were better, more entitled, and more important than us lowly participants.

        1. Well next time, if your paperwork is in order…

          Understand that your single greatest moment was subjective, and shared by thousands of others whose subjective experience was not quite the same as yours. If yours was anything like mine, it was interrupted by a variety of things, this one has just been singled out (in exclusion of safety hazards, several other art cars that blasted music, rude people, etc.), and singled out because of the lack of perceived artistic merit and a preconceived prejudice . That it was ‘Freebird’, specifically,  bothers people. They hate the song, its cliched to hell, and an anthem for all that they hate. I agreed, once upon a time. But, once again, my thoughts have been challenged and changed by experiences at or related to the  Burn.

          Personally, the reverent distraction created by the DPW this year is still far overshadowed by the irreverent annoyance of things like the wave a few years ago. But I also realize that it only gets to me, if I let it. The year I needed the temple, I couldn’t even have told you what was going on around me, much less what someone did that might have annoyed me across the ring.

    1. Unfortunately, it is in a location that is highly inhospitable to my form of life, and extremely expensive to reach from my current location.  I have the impression I would enjoy the event, otherwise.

        1.  Hmmm…. there’s one rather close by.   The list of rules is a bit daunting, but seems doable.  Thank you Mr. von Slatt!

  13. As someone who is extremely invested* in the temple project, I find this to be extremely disrespectful.  I know the people involved in the DPW (some for years).  They were given a very special place in the building to place remembrances of their lost ones.  David Best allowed them to put whatever they wanted into the spire at the top of the building. Playing loud music there betrays David’s graciousness in allowing them access to a spot in the building normally reserved for temple builders.  David began the temple tradition and DPW just gave him the finger on what is most likely his last turn at the helm.  

    Not Cool Guys.  Not one bit.  Joey had “Never Betray” tattooed on his chest.  What part of that do you not understand?  Sure, DPW has a hard job.  To say that because you’re the DPW you can do whatever you want is extremely self-centered and not even a little okay.   

     (* Extremely Invested = worked on this year as well as the temples in 2003 and 2004, and designed and lead the 2009 temple.)

    1. who is to say their way of grieving is correct?  everyone must grieve in silence?  people are different, they express their grief in different ways.  sounds like you are being exclusive, what ever happened to tolerance?  where is the line drawn to respect cultural differences?  talking about not cool…    so you yourselves apparently had a choir singing.  what if I dont like that type of music, then are you being disrespectful?  then of course the question is- being disrespectful to whom?  the dead?  maybe they are the only ones who could tell us the answer to this conundrum- but they arent talking.  if you feel its disrespectful to you, then YOU are being extremely self-centered.  think about it for a minute and your reasons for building it in the first place…

      1. So – to clarify – I just worked on this year’s temple, I did not lead the project or design the building this time.  David Best (who started the tradition over a decade ago) was in charge this year, and it was most likely his last.   To be completely honest, I don’t necessarily agree with having music at all, but the people who give up their entire year to bring this project to the playa have every right to call how the burn goes.  Not some people in the crowd. 

          I regret that my initial reaction to this was an angry one.    Anyway, it’s not a question of exclusivity.  It’s a matter of reverence.  The power of 30,000 people sharing a long moment of silence is the most reverent, powerful experience I have ever had.   The 2009 temple burn was the most humbling moment I have ever had in my life, and maybe have any right to expect to have.  Almost no one made a sound the whole time.  

        As for my reasons for building the temple? The short answer is always that we built it for you. I personally find some joy in the fact that there are very few places in our culture to grieve outside religion, and we can provide that. The Temple of Joy burn in 02 was extremely cathartic for me at a time when I needed it – cathartic in a way I had been unable to find/express for almost a year, and the release was unbelievable. Knowing that there is a way to help people that feel like they will never be okay again is worth it every time.

        I have lots more to say, but I don’t think any more division is what’s needed.  I sincerely hope our friends in the DPW got the closure they needed.

      2. I’m a big fan of the “what if everyone did it” moral test. What if everyone expressed their own form of amplified grieving at the temple burn?

        That said, my best temple burn memory was when someone (space cowboys I think) played Ave Maria over the silence a few years ago, so who knows.

  14. all of you need to just move on. seriously. someone played some music- big deal. especially coming from people who pump horrible techno music all week so there is not a waking moment without crappy thumping beats. FREEBIRD!!! get over it.

  15. There is no rule that the temple burn has to be quiet.  I still remember my first year (2007) where people started a circular wave prior to the burn.  It was a nice experience that didn’t require everyone to sit quietly the whole time even if it did get quiet when the burn actually started.

    The temple has become an important part of Burning Man, sure, but even the temple should not be taken too seriously.  It used to bother me when some people would start being noisy or do stuff I would consider dumb, but in the end, you can still purge whatever it is you need to purge when the temple goes up in flames.  Some in the DPW decided they needed the music to help.  So be it.

    1. Yes, the official name is the Temple of Juno.  I think Temple of Remembrance is either a generic term used every year, or someone just made it up on their own.

  16. As someone else who is “extremely invested”, why do I have to listen to Amazing Grace every year?  It comes in a near second to crappy techno. 

  17. There is a lot of griping going on here, and it’s giving me the same ick feeling I get when people yell for each other to “sit the fuck down” during the Temple burn. I understand your points, but let’s not fight over sacred ground.

    I have no clear opinion on the Freebird issue. It surprised me and seemed out of place, I admit, but I didn’t give it any real thought (although I am very sorry to hear about the DPWs profound loss). I’d rather focus on the amazing playa gift I received just after Freebird finished. Somewhere behind me, a boy started to sing. His voice was clear and reverent and stunningly beautiful. He soothed everyone around him, the agitated people who couldn’t see, the overwhelmingly drunk girl who thought it was a rave, and the sea of people calling out names and “love never leaves.”

    In that moment, I was grateful to be seated exactly where I was. I took deep breaths, and watched the dust devils, and thanked the powers that be that I didn’t have names to yell this year.

    We’re all on the same side here, although we mourn differently. We’re all just looking for a beautiful place to say goodbye, and hoping that the fire burns just a little longer in hopes that by the time it goes out, we’ll heal.

    (PS. They really should consider putting a designated silent/seated area somewhere around the Temple. That would solve a whole host of problems.)

      1. I do find it interesting that everyone seems to be up in arms over the Freebird issue, but I have not seen mentioned once the fact that there were bikes and larger vehicles right up in the front row, creating both a safety hazard, and taking up room. I like the art cars there (generally off, though), because it creates an obvious wall for people to leave their bikes beyond (which only sorta happens, but at least most people get off and find a place to put them somewhere in that vicinity), and gives the people on those vehicles a beacon to return to … instead of the post-burn (with many few landmarks) turning into a confused mass of people on foot.

        1. yeah, that’s a good point — bikes and larger vehicles up front is a problem. i didn’t see it where we were. like you, i find it nice that the vehicles offer a wall of sorts to park bikes behind.

  18. What I am wondering is “are silent temple burns a thing of the past”? There was a time when you could hear a pin drop. I kind of miss that. That being said, I was not aware of the significance of the playing of Freebird. When I heard it my reaction was that it was kind of a jerky thing to do but that it was pretty funny. Even people next to me crying for lost loved ones, who also didn’t know of the significance, chuckled and smiled.

  19. Last year’s burn was quiet where I was sitting (while the Burn was in progress).  Prior to the start of the burn, there was an impromptu chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody.  

  20. Not being Catholic, I can’t say that Freebird was less appropriate a song for the Temple Burn than Ave Maria.    It’s nice to know that it was played in tribute to someone rather than as a prank to annoy people.   I thought it was funny, because the song was fairly appropriate for the occasion, even if not everyone’s favorite music style.   Plus, the Temple burn has long stopped being all that solemn an event, what with all the people yelling ‘down in front’ and all.   Like everything at Burning Man, it can have its moments of ridiculous along with the sublime.

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