April 25, 2007 – Coachella Artists’ Parking Lot
Johnny Amerika and Tirzah are working artists living in Los Angeles. That happens a lot down there, apparently — unlike San Francisco, where a way higher percentage of clowns like us do it for the love alone.
Something about SF makes it currently the world capital of creative leisure and Dadaist whimsy, whereas Hollywood likes special effects and people that can build strange objects and work long hours on inconceivable projects.
Johnny inherited the six-joystick control box for his latest contraption after creating it on the job for an … well, an animatronic animal for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Amerika and crew will hand off this joystick box to audience members here at Coachella to let them play with the fire and make it sing.
One of Tirzah and Johnny’s most impressive projects has been the Trebuchet, built originally in 2006 for a car commercial.
For those who don’t know, the difference between a trebuchet and a catapult is that with a catapult, the object is flung with undertension action, the way you think it would be, while a trebuchet flings objects by counterweight. With a trebuchet, weights on the opposite side of the truss (the long straight part) sit on the high side, suspended in the air, and when it’s released, the weights fly downward and under the pivot point and to the back side, flipping the truss and tossing the object (attached by cables or whatever) in an “overhand” style.
There. Now you know.
In the commercial, the trebuchet flung a car. And then on the playa it flung a flaming piano. Now it sits at the Burning Man ranch sculpture garden until the next dirt-rave there Labor Day weekend, where it will be placed at the farthest point behind the Man out in the open playa. Where it will throw an array of crazy shit and hopefully a couple pantsless hippies. (cough)
Doyle of Black Label Bike Club is on Johnny’s crew here. The two of them often conceive of big fire-and-engine projects and then call on each other for help. Most recently, Doyle (along with Heather, Big Daddy, and Black Label Ben) created the REGURGITATOR, a simple yet complicated G-force machine that Big Daddy says looks like a big tube with a tire in one end and a pulse jet in the other. The rider leans on a lightly-padded pole and spins around super fast in a circle until their face-skin threatens to pull away from their teeth and off their head completely.
In Zagreb last year, where Doyle and crew participated in a show called “Device Art” (run by a Croatian group called Kontejner), Big Daddy rode the ride for a just few seconds too long. His ears began to bleed, and the whites of his eyes turned red with blood too — we mean really red — and he stayed scary-looking like that for over two weeks.
Small-town folks in Croatia cut him a wide berth on the street. Many thought he was the Devil. Linda chewed Doyle’s ear off about it, saying if Doyle accidentally almost killed Big Daddy again there’d be hell to pay.
For last year’s festival, Doyle and Heather and Johnny Amerika and Cyclecide’s Paul the Plumber built the SPIDER RIDE, an insane “carnival ride” named after Spider, the Cyclecider who got mowed down on his bicycle by a hit-and-run SUV full of shit-talking meatheads last year. (He still needs a new tooth, by the way, so please kick down on Paypal if you’re a kind soul with deep pockets.)
The Spider Ride is built from a 1965 1600cc Volkswagen air-cooled engine that spins a 52-inch, 28-pitch, wooden handcrafted propeller. This propeller creates enough air to move the one rider on the other side of a 16-foot oil-derrick-looking tower, who’s strapped mid-air into an elementary school chair equipped with a small Chinese valve-less style pulse jet. (The pulse jet, incidentally, also has been re-engineered to double as a bong.) A three-minute ride can accelerate to a force of over 6gs, causing temporary unconsciousness.
Unfortunately, the Spider Ride broke early on last year — the first time they let a ticketholder ride it instead of one of the crew — when the propeller hub casued the propeller itself to detach from the engine and hurl itself into the ground. Redneck engineering, as always.
Know this: Despite all the fun-times-having mayhem, danger and bodily harm are ever-present realities within our extended circle of friends. RIDER ASSUMES ALL RISK. Don’t say you didn’t know, and don’t sue us later.
This year, all we can gather about Johnny Amerika’s fire-plumbing thing so far — called “Movement” — is that Doyle and Tirzah and Matt Williams and Conrad Dirtyfinger (also from BLBC) helped him build it in a month and a half. But that it was conceived of a year ago. And that it will burn 75 gallons of propane each night.
No wonder the rest of the world hates us / loves us.
BUT! Most parts Johnny and Doyle and Tirzah use are crafted almost exclusively from recycled industrial salvage diverted from the waste stream. So put that in your pulse jet and smoke it.
In Cyclecide news, we were the first here on the grounds last night. Big Daddy and Paul Dingledine arrived at 2:30am and made us drink a beer with them even though we were asleep. Have to do what Dad says. They showed us a picture on Dad’s camera phone of the NASCAR brand tomatoes they saw in Wal-Mart.
Tomatoes. NASCAR brand tomatoes. That’s totally what’s going to happen to Burning Man, if John Law lets the name go into the public domain. The jury is still out for most everyone as to whether that will be heartbreaking or hilarious.
It’s 9:30am, and the advance-crew Cyclecide bus just (finally) got here — they left SF at at 4:20pm yesterday, making it a 15-hour trip — and we’ve got to unload everything onto the midway before the heat of the day really starts. Apparently there was a small “fire issue” — the exhaust manifold burned a little bit of the fiberglass insulation in the back of the bus. No big deal really.
Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.