If the desert performance art, the explosives, the music, and the drugs sound familiar, it's because Mojave Auszug was the spark, or at least some kindling, that helped start another desert-dwelling festival: Burning Man. John Law, co-founder of Burning Man, told me Swezey's work had a big influence on him and many of the early festival collaborators. He explained that those early SLR performances were a huge inspiration for the desert festival—specifically the fire and machine art.
There were hundreds of acid-fried punks watching artists play with power tools and explosives, but it still felt safer than a night at an LA club.
Watt and Swezey both remember Boon as a larger-than-life presence, but also as a loyal friend. Swezey recently showed Watt some old footage from the first desert event. "Seeing D. Boon dance, it seemed like he wanted to jump right out of the fucking screen," Watt tells me about that footage. "It's still hard to believe, after all these years, that something could fucking kill him."The benefit show was the last of Swezey's Desolation Center events. "I started to feel like things had changed," he says. "For me it didn't have that element of adventure." Instead, he started Amok Books, an underground publishing house, with Leyssius, where he published gonzo journalist John Gilmore's memoir Laid Bare, among hundreds of other titles. He moved on, and the punk scene moved on, too.Swezey could have made a fortune by making the Desolation Center shows into a yearly festival, but the same spontaneity and disregard for the bottom-line that helped make his shows a countercultural success, were also what kept them from turning into a cash cow. The Desolation Center shows managed to avoid the pivotal moment when festivals for the counterculture shift and become mainstream, inevitably altering their feel and purpose. In some ways, the magic of the shows is that they never had a chance to become diluted by money or time: they were raw, they were real, and, most importantly, they were completely original.
In some ways, the magic of the shows is that they never had a chance to become diluted by money or time.