Burning the Man With Hunter S. Thompson

Paul Addis a.k.a. B. Duke
Image courtesy of Scott Beale.

Twelve weeks ago we recorded an interview with Paul Addis — the man who burned the Man and was promptly arrested for arson. And even back then, he was constantly flicking his lighter.

"He never asked for permission to smoke in my house," remembers Jeff Diehl, co-host of the The RU Sirius Show. "And he chain smoked the whole time, even though he doesn't inhale."

This was at least partly because he was in character — Addis was performing as Hunter S. Thompson in a one-man show (a local newsweekly said it "feels like a reckless, all-out verbal assault") called "Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis," and was discussing his idol. Before the show was over, he'd identified the "heir apparent" to the Gonzo journalist.
Matt Taibbi. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the heir apparent to Hunter Thompson.

He is on the mission... I first noticed him about two years ago when he went to Burning Man and proclaimed it for what it is — toothless and wallowing in its own muck and irrelevant to anyone or anything...

Eight weeks later, we interviewed Larry Harvey, the festival's founder. While there's no indication of what motivated Addis, Burning Man was already under criticism for a new policy.

On our podcast, Harvey addressed a simmering controversy over the presence of environmental exhibits at the base of the man which some participants thought were too commercial.

"We...informed everyone that they wouldn't be allowed to advertise," Harvey said. "They wouldn't be allowed to pass out their cards; they wouldn't be allowed to brand anybody; they wouldn't be allowed to talk about their product." He attributed the backlash to a Business 2.0 article which he said used business terminology to describe the event. (For example, calling the festival's attendees "customers.")

I don't see that commerce and community are allergic to one another. That's absolutely absurd... For instance, when participants are producing something that others might need in the desert, we let people know about it. So you can take those two value systems and make them overlap in such a way that they reinforce one another... To be against commerce is to be against your shoes, your shorts...

Addis's anger at the festival pre-dates the controversy. Laughing Squid's Scott Beale discovered that five years earlier, Addis praised a reporter at San Francisco's alternative newspaper, SF Weekly — for another negative article about the Nevada festival, saying it showed that the festival was over-controlled.
One by one the rules have risen since 1997, and not just to protect the participants from themselves. Those rules and judgments, such as what art is permitted in Black Rock City and radical free expression's outer limits, are determined in line with what will make the most money for Burning Man and generate the fewest potential controversies in the media. As such, Burning Man's overall relevance is kept safely within the realm of harmless diversion, quietly under the feet of the same elements that tame all other aspects of society.

In the letter he also laid into Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. "No amount of diffusion filters can give Harvey what he doesn't have: vision or loyalty," Addis wrote. "Don't fear the Hat, ladies and gentlemen. He's just trying to realize what it's like to be the Bill Graham of the 21st century."

Addis' Mug Shot
This morning on a dark playa, at 2:58 a.m., some festival goers gathered to watch the lunar eclipse, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. A festival organizer told the Associated Press that Addis was then spotted by many festival-goers — deliberately lighting the Man on fire. A blogger at C|Net reported the frantic conversation he overheard on the Burning Man communications channel:

...the most poignant moment of all, however, was when Crimson Rose, one of the six people on the Burning Man board that runs the event and the person in charge of the Man, said...

I want that asshole arrested...And I want the first shot.

Larry Harvey had earlier been hit by a lawsuit from John Law, an early organizer of the Burning Man festival. One of Law's supporters — Chris Radcliffe — has been advocating the communal ownership of the Burning Man trademark (rather than its current ownership by Burning Man, LLC.)

"I just spoke with Chris Radcliffe, who is currently in Portland" Scott Beale at Laughing Squid wrote, "and he said that he has paid the $3200 bail for Paul’s release, but they have not let Paul out yet because he is refusing to give his name to authorities."

A 56-year-old lawyer from Napa who was at the festival gave a disgusted quote to the Reno Gazette-Journal. "Nowadays people seem to want to use terrorist acts for political reasons rather than by debating, talking or reasoning." And a Burning Man ranger — Ranger Sasquatch — saw the attack as something even more pitiful.

"Someone went to a great extent to interfere with everyone else's burn. I think, frankly, an attention whore has made a plea for attention."

There may be more behind the act's motivation than that, and it probably would be instructive to think, "What Would Hunter Do?"

RU Sirius Show co-host and life-long admirer of HST, Steve Robles, thinks he knows: "Hunter would have stopped attending when they banned firearms and started organizing camps so you wouldn't get run over by a wayward car in the middle of the night while sleeping off the tequila."

Then again, it is also true that Addis' one-man show is poised for a West Coast tour.

See Also:
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Interview with Paul Addis, a.k.a., B. Duke
Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Has 'The Man' Infiltrated Burning Man?
Anarchy For the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
California Cults 2006

33 thoughts to “Burning the Man With Hunter S. Thompson”

  1. It should be noted that Paul has not gone to Burning Man for 5 or more years.
    Possibly as far back as when the fence was put in.

    It could be that the commerce booths under the “shrine” of the Man ( and Paul is very much against shrines) , or shrine to commerce under the Man that is the commercial sponsored booths, was just a bit too much of a tempting target for the ultimate prank on the now very much corporate event.

  2. perfect. brilliant. stupid. just what the good doctor would have ordered. i sit back, comfy at home and laugh. hell, i can even watch it all on TV now.

  3. Hunter S. Thompson was no gem, he molested a friend of mine when she was 11 years old after giving her cocaine. But good move paul, just find a new hero!

  4. Addis might get a lit cigar in the eye while out on his West Coast Tour…. heh man, s%@t happens and when you play with flames.

  5. As long as there is controversy surrounding the event, Burning Man is not dead.

    …and yes this something the ‘good doctor’ would have loved!

  6. It’s easy for Hag to make such gutless remarks now that the Dr is dead. It’s also pathetic and libelous.

    That aside, I find the burning of the man four days early utterly hilarious. People who perpetrate party fouls at parties I’m not at are a riot. Kudos to Mr. Addis.

  7. When you get 38,000 people in one of the most barren places in the world, it can’t be about one person’s ego anymore. We are interdependent whether we like it or not. It has to, one way or another, be about relationships. The Man has evolved. Australopithicene throwbacks like this fellow remind us of how we might want to be different from him.

  8. “Addis’ one-man show is poised for a West Coast tour”

    If he’s able to make that tour happen, I wonder if there might be anyone inclined to set the sets, the theater, or the man himself on fire? I’m certainly not advocating such action. But one has to wonder how many pissed off burners might choose to make their own statement about art, anarchism, and assholes, with arson. Im mean what’s good enough for Addis, should be good enough for Addis, right?

  9. The Burning Man festival was over many years before this. Before the corporate types, frat boys, and cops were the mainstay, Burning Man was a good, dangerous place to be. As a member of the group that took the first amplified music to Burning Man in 1992, I remember numerous people tried to sabotage our generator, speaker, and threatened the DJ with a flamethrower. Sabotage is nothing new at Burning Man, it’s just evolved into the ultimate karmic kick to a group (Cacophony Society) that once celebrated and relished life’s irony. Aloha from Hawaii and to Paul I say as Hunter would have said, “Mahalo.”

  10. Addis is nothing more than a selfish piece of shit poser. He is a pathetic, mentally ill fuckwad that hopefully will have his chickens come home to roost with a vengeance over this stunt. If Addis were on fire, I would toast marshmallows over his carcass. Fuckin’ asshole!

  11. A Miracle…St Patrick lives. the Reverend Hunter Thompon lives. LORD ADDIS LIVES!!

    One of the Druids’ great feasts was the spring festival, celebrated the same night as the Easter Vigil. The day before the feast, people all over the land were ordered to put out their fires. No fire could be lit until the sacred fire blazed up on the Hill of Tara, where all the pagan leaders met to honor their gods.

    Patrick had heard the order, but that evening, as soon as it was dark enough, and before the Druids could light their fires, Patrick and his companions began the great Easter Vigil celebration. They had gathered on the Hill of Slane, directly opposite the Hill of Tara. Patrick knew that the Druids would be angry when they saw the Easter fire. He was right! When the Druids saw the fire, they told their king, “Unless we put out that fire at once, this very night, it will blaze forever in this land.” The pagans rushed toward Patrick’s Easter fire and tried to put it out and to kill Patrick. But nothing they did could extinguish the flame, and Patrick was kept from harm.

  12. During the Neolithic era, the great festivals of Avebury, Stonehenge, and Newgrange were centered round the movements of the stars, planets, and eclipses of the moon. Addis knew the true time to light the Man on fire! May the Goddess bless the Brave Man who understands Gaia’s shadow.

    My story about Burning Man never made it through the intellectual gates the BM web masters into where it belonged: in the section on stories by participants.

    For a real hot tale, read about the parallels of Burning Man and the Nevada Test Site:


  13. They should have made a giant Hunter S. Thompson / Paul Addis sculpture and burned that instead. But alas, creativity doesn’t seem to be in high embrace at Burning Man anymore . . .

  14. Heh.

    Finally, someone with enough balls to put some anarchy back into Burningman, which, lets face it, has become the annual mating season for ravers and alt-yuppies looking for a good drug binge.

    Of course, its a lot of things to a lot of people, and change is inevitable, but I think its pretty awesome that someone finally burned the man early, instead of just talking about it :D

  15. I never cared for Paul; him or his material. Hunter S. Thompson was overrated; a wife-beating bully. Paul once walked up to me out of the blue one night in the Mission & said, “Check this out,” & he beant over to show me his pistol attached to his waist. ANother time, he approached me outside a club in the Tenderloin, he was high on something, then he mumbled a few words to me, flipped me off & walked away, spitting something negative to me as he did so. It was more bizarre & creepy than threatening. I told a mutual friend of our’s & that guy just shook his head sadly. Paul is not a well person. I don’t care what happens to him as long as his guns are taken away.

  16. Paul Addis is obviously much closer to Mark David Chapman or David Whitman than Hunter S. Thompson. The only thing burning in his future will be his bank account. Thompson would have loathed Addis and his buddies ‘The Dukes”.

  17. Is anyone thinking publicity stunt here? Seems obvious to me, whether or not Paul went off his meds again.

  18. My response to Chris’s “Arse-O-Nist” t-shirt:

    You’re a shallow profiteer, and very much in the spirit of where Burning Man has gone nowadays. Good luck profiting off tragedy for your “beer fund”, capitalist.

    Here’s my resposne to your Cafe Press description where you say “the self-appointed culture police should just go away and create their own damn festival where they can burn whatever they want, shoot whomever they want, and act like general dickheads for as long as they like. “

    Since when are the ones who want less rules called the “Culture Police”? We did have our “own damn festival where we could burn whatever we want, shoot whatever we want, and act like dickheads”. Then the Culture Police (people like you) came and ruined it. Go found your own damn festival where you can be safe and polite and told what to do for as long as you like, and leave Burning Man alone once and for all.

  19. I will never forget my first Burn in 2003…. there was Awe and Wonder. Magic. Surreal Mad Max scenerios in the desert. I kept doubting my…. my sense of dreamstate. Was I really here? I was a child, naked, innocent and free.

    On Saturday night we all stood around the Man as the anticipation built up. Me and 40K other exuberant folks. People from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all philosophies and religions. There were Dragons.

    When the Man fired, that fire raced thru everyone there in a single epiphany. We all began to dance, inspired as one, and march around the bonfire, tornadoes of flame whipping out from the central maelstrom. I felt one with Mankind as I never felt before.

    A small ember landed on my husband’s shoulder. He regarded it as a Kiss from the Man. It was the catalist that changed our lives forever. Before Burning Man we wore all black, the typical rocker/gothic/biker types.

    Now four years later, we wear bright Parrot Head colors. We have built an art car, and we participate actively in whatever we do.

    May the gods curse the small black soul of a 5’3″ hissy little faggot with an axe to grind, who murdered a magical Spirit for so many people. Oh don’t get me wrong. I love Gay People. But you, Paul, have committed rape most foul and you don’t deserve any pudding.

  20. Anyone who thinks they’re Hunter S. Thompson reincarnated is most certainly the exact opposite. Step back and take a good listen to him: Addis sounds like the grandpa who keeps insisting “everything was better back in my day.”

    Move over gramps. You have nothing to offer us now.

  21. Ok, honestly how many fellow burners where there early in the week and really dissapointed that he was burned? I heard several people saying that that wanted to burn the man after seeing the displays set up, even a few comments about it being like disney land. Most of the people I talked with that had been there before were not too concerned and I even heard sympathy for burning him. It seems to me it is mainly the frat-boys and weekenders/newbies who were and are upset about. If you were out there this year there was a lot of those people, ALOT. To me they are whats taking away from the experience, not Addis lighting the man. He will just be one more event/story to remember.

    And yes it is easy to see who has been there and takes what away from the event….some of you talking about burning him, burningman must really mean alot to you. sigh. Get over it and go QQ some more.

  22. When I first went in ’95 I heard grousing from the old ones about how much it had changed. Now I’m an old one grousing. I’ve no particular desire for the roads to be removed, and I understand the vehicle limitations for the most part…I even defended bmorg when they got rid of the guns.

    But, all the vitriol and hate (and violent fantasy) aimed at Paul Addis by participants – and more alarmingly by members of the corporation – is very disheartening. The flavor of Burning Man used to be a perfect fit for the playa on which it is situated: harsh but not hateful, free and WILD like the wind that constantly blows out there but with an abundance of warmth and stillness, ugly and gritty but often stunningly beautiful. In that sense Burning Man is clearly “dead”. You can find some and maybe all of those things still, but now with safe and protective packaging around it. It’s now Burning Man Lite. Sorry truly, to those of you who will never know that earlier flavor (just like I wont ever know the even more concentrated pre-’95 flavor)….I never got to taste the coca cola that actually had coke in it either. In this land of the “free” we are always closing our eyes to the ever increasing limitations shackling us in the name of safety.

    As to Chris ARSE O NIST, Willa Catheter speaks well and truly, but missed one little point: Chris says in his/her piece, “He’s a pathetic loser obsessed with decrying the state of Burning Man today and yet he won’t just go away.”
    This is a terrible statement. I have problems with Burning Man. I have problems with America (where I live). Guess what? Not going anywhere. Live with it all you deluded folks that think dissenters should go away. Have you ever really stopped to consider what you are saying? Even if it’s a losing battle (most probable outcome), I intend to go to Burning Man and continue to stir my particular brand of shit and argue for less rules, more freedom, less reliance, more independence. Now if YOU don’t like that I welcome your input….or you can always just go away.

  23. Didn’t BM start out as a festival run by anarchists that wanted an alternative to commercialism? nuff said..

    I like that, “What Would Hunter Do?” I might adopt that.. ;-)

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