The Psychedelic Babel

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 5 Sep 2023

"I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh;
and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.  And the bow shall be in the cloud;
and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God
and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth."
Genesis 9:13, 15-16


Another story that would take an eternity to tell in its entirety.  How did I get out there the first time?  Greyhound bus from Reno to SF, on my way back.  I do remember that.  I had a backpacker's canteen full of wine, I used while I was at the event.  I remember it because I collapsed in the aisle of the bus, while walking toward the restroom in the back.  I had been sipping from the canteen, from the little plastic straw, and got wasted while traveling through the Sierra Nevadas.  The bus driver was livid, and had me arrested on the spot.  Interstate 80, somewhere.  Auburn, yes, of course.  They took me to the station, where I played drums on the steel toilet.  I had my dead stepfather's steel ring, which made me even more annoying.  I was behaving in a strange, ridiculous manner.  I licked the "welcome to the police station" sign on arrival.  Which is weird.  But I was wild, stupid, and untamed.  I was copping a pretty strong Jim Morrison emulation vibe, with my loose 90s hair and bloodstream full of poetic intoxicants.  I turned the police station into a drum circle, in the drunk tank all alone.  No one else was there.  A blessing, to be sure.  I had the entire police station to myself.  Not counting the cops, of course.  I jammed to some loud, psychedelic beats on my steel drum of correctional plumbing in the concrete holding cell, before passing out in a well-lit daze.  It was a relatively peaceful come-down.  The cops were very friendly.

They let me out the next day, and asked me if I remembered licking the "welcome to the police station" sign.  I didn't.  The day was glaring like a spotlight of pain in my face, and had to find a ride to the nearest Greyhound station, wherever it was.  The driver from Reno hadn't let me get my rucksack out from underneath the bus.  It was waiting for me in San Francisco.  I got there somehow.  Only a day late.  Found a payphone to call my new Burning Man friend, an Asian guy who lived on Lincoln Way, near Golden Gate Park.  He lived right at the corner of the park, at the very beginning of Lincoln Way.  Only a few blocks from The Haight.  Not a trippy guy at all, which is good.  Trippy people can be rough.  He was an Asian tech guy of some kind, single, lived alone (in SF, imagine that!).  He'd drawn the Burning Man guy on his car in electrical tape, on both doors and probably the hood as well.  A bright yellow Datsun 260 Z, with a stuffed animal attached to the roof.  The shape of the Burning Man was obvious, drawn in black tape on the bright yellow car, and people would wave at us when we drove around.  Up to Twin Peaks once, or the Sunset District for expensive-people's specialty food.  I dunno.  Coffee ground sandwiches and alfalfa tea, sprinkled with LSD.  He paid for everything.  I spent a few days in his spare bedroom, which was full of engine parts.  He had some kind of computer job.  Nice guy.  We hit it off well.


I'd met him on The Playa, in a building made of haybales, somewhere among the postapocalyptic art detritus and Mad Max bandit people wandering around in steampunk beer goggles.  The Roman legionnaires with their space women and mushrooms, hanging steel beams and flowing red streamers from invisible skylines in the desert (image above).  Caterpillar pilots, looking for a trip.  Firebugs with iron teeth.  The night festooned with pythons.  Lords of the Butterflies, holding court in clouds of glowing noise.  Scantilly-clad girls dancing in the blacklight.  Lasers flashing across the sky like giant rafters in the night.  Beams of green light, pulsing to the beat of the music, as The Man stands in the middle of it all, neon arms extended downward, waiting for his final dying moment.  This roof of stars is made of strobe lights, and goes up to the moon.  There is techno music coming from the feathered bicycles.  The girls dressed like ragdolls, Martians, conquering space armies in flared and silver skirts.  Naked neon people, running through the dust.  Aimlessly, and laughing.  Crazy like a tree.  It was something else to see.


I remember dominating a drum circle, under some kind of giant waving parachute, a circus tent of pulsing light under which the conquering army of space aliens danced in silver skirts and Matrix boots.  All the colored people tripping, glued to matrices of ecstasy, Molly in the dust storm.  I was wearing my crushed cowboy hat, which became floppy and psychedelic while riding in my rucksack.  From Amsterdam to Paris, Berlin to Madrid, San Francisco to the moon.  It was a cowboy hat when I bought it.  It wasn't a cowboy hat anymore.  I wailed on the Djembe, the conga drums, the starflies orbiting the molten core at the center of the "room."  The aliens danced, and their leader gave me an approving glance.  She opened the door of her body and her soul, but I was lost in the process of being found, and had no time for earthly pleasures.  I'm not sure I've ever felt so free, or had that kind of fun, at any level, since.  Burning Man was formative for me.  It was a defining act, just being there.  I love that place.  Even if it's bad.


I never was a "burner."  But I went out there twice, in '98 and '99.  I was blissfully unaware of the hardcore demonic Wicker Man spirits, that permeate the entire gathering like an unfortunate disease.  At the time, I wouldn't have cared.  But a mind-blowing experience, it absolutely is.  The night of the burn itself is crazy.  The entire city congregates in the middle of town, and it's like an orgy of fire and noise.  It is huge beyond belief.  The sky is an infinite cathedral of blackness, and the people extend in a circle of infinity around The Man in every direction.  The desert is the infinite, invisible wall of darkness between the earthly world and eternity.  Tiny, ant-like nudists dance and fornicate at the feet of the neon sacrifice.  Techno music is blaring (or was in '98).  The sacrificial arms are extended toward the stars, and eventually somebody climbs to the idol's feet with a giant torch, and sets it alight.  And the fire reaches to the heavens, like a demonic tongue licking the sky.


The flames are an altar unto themselves.  A great and deadly inferno of psychedelic hellfire.  Awesome and horrific.  The people stand around like moths at the mouth of the symbolic volcano, dancing, tripping, drunken, wild.  All those people's names we pinned to the ankles of the demon, earlier this week, now are up in flames.  All those burdens, hopes, and dreams.  Vaporized by fire.  Is this vodka or a tripping honeybee, buzzing through my veins?

Can't tell.  Both, probably.

A brilliant experiment, Burning Man.  The Psychedelic Babel of our time.  An anthill built in honor of every conceivable desire, doomed to everlasting failure.  It would be sad, if it wasn't so idolatrous.  It's sad anyway.  Because it's cool.  However, as hard as it is for those of us who've been there to believe, Heaven is even better than Burning Man.  Everything that's great about Burning Man, the color and the freedom, the strange mix of cooperation and lawlessness, the imagination and the scale, will be amplified in Heaven.  It will be multiplied beyond beyond, and even the most mind-blowing expansion of color, space, and time will only be a tiny fraction of our exponentially-expanding experience of liberated bliss.  There will be no need to "get" high from heights like those that will exist in an eternity with God.  There will be no need to die from asphyxiation on the likes of Everest, or throw ourselves naked into a neon volcano, 100 feet high.  We won't have to dress like moonbats.  There will be no need to dominate the drum circle in the psychedelic circus tent, or the Placer County Jail.  And anyway, kicks won't set us free from the civilized destruction that plagues the daily lives of everyone.  Only God can do that.  Not the false, neon demon Jesus depicted below.  But the real thing.  The God that saves us from the fire.  Who loves us more than the fire loves the moth.  

It won't cost anything, there will be no caste system in the tickets, and best of all, it will last longer than a week.  Heaven will go on forever.  Cuz this guy, apparently, can be shut down. 

As we've seen this week.


He can be shut down.  But check it out.  I mean, for real. 

This is amazing.

God has canceled the annual debauchery that takes place in the Nevada desert every year, but He topped the warning with a promise.  While there's no shortage of worldly attention on the rainstorm that turned Burning Man into an alkaline pigsty this week, much of which is slightly derisive, what does God do?

He puts a rainbow on it.


Like a cherry of multicolored fire perched on top of a muddy, half-eaten sundae of good, if misplaced intentions, God has given Burning Man a sign.  He knows why the "dirty hippies" are there (they're not hippies, it's way beyond that, but whatever).  And he's saying, leave this demonic neon inferno behind, and enter through the true gates, which are infinitely greater, much farther outside of the joyless constraints of law from which you are seeking to be free, and which last a lot longer than this depraved debauch in the colorful, chemical mud.

You're not moths, and you're not pigs either.  FYI.  I luvya.  Remember Genesis 9.  You will not be taken out now, and not like this.  But take the warning seriously.  There's no more time for wallowing.  The end is definitely nigh.  Nevermind this 90s guy, and his stories from the past.  I know why you're there.  You're looking for something better.  I get it, and I got it.  Here's my covenant, my signature to prove it.


Seek, and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7).  Just remember, there's nothing that says you can't throw away what you find, once you find it.  Please don't trade My infinite, everlasting gift for a week in the community mud.  Cuz some of your fellow burners are rats, y'know.  They'll turn on you and eatya, if you don't comply with their demands.  They'll get in your face and deride you, even as I scatter your languages like marbles, your RVs rolling down the anthill upon which you have built your Psychedelic Babel.  The Lord of the Butterflies will ransack your RV for diamond rings and Ramen, if you let him.  The painted faces will come a-scowling, if the demon at the center of the neon volcano has his way.  It only looks good for now.  But I've got something better.  And the time for you to come to Me is at hand.  That's why I'm raining on you now.

The end is near.  It isn't just the sandwich-boarded prophets proclaiming it, from the archetypal dungeon of the streets.

It's your own people.  The futuristic brigands, Mad-Max prophets from the past.  Steampunk poets on a rocketbike.  They're eating lunch and napping, in the styrofoam and stony letters.


The end is truly near.  The engines of the art cars of destruction are revving, in the garages of the heavens.  All the angels dressed in firesuits.  Waiting for the checkered flag to fall, signaling the beginning of the cosplay apocalypse, the destruction of death and the law, and the beginning of the liberating party in the free and endless desert for which your heart is always yearning.

God bless the people at Burning Man.

Thanks for listening.

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket.


Replacing my blog at

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