It’s 5:30 AM as you stand in the middle of a dusty, heat-scorched plain that is flat for miles in every direction. Look left and you catch a glimpse of a converted double decker bus, packed with 100 cheering souls, as it shoots flames from its uppermost point. A girl with mysteriously dilated pupils bikes past you, drawn insect-like towards a strobe light off in the distance. The cool morning air is filled with sounds blaring from a half dozen points on the horizon as the sun ponders peeking over the mountains.
It’s Burning Man, of course, and although the media glare has long since faded from this annual bacchanalian rite of glowsticks, flamethrowers, and nudity in the Northern Nevada desert, the rite itself persists, strong as ever: 50,000 lunatics celebrating inarticulable notions of radical self-expression and all-purpose debauchery in Salvador Dali-esque splendor.
Perhaps the last thing you’d expect to find here ― here, that is, in the heart of a garish, faded trend, the pop-cultural equivalent of that tribal tattoo you got on that drunken night in college ― is a Good Corporate Citizen. But it’s here that I find Jeff Taylor, the founder and longtime CEO of New England-based internet job-hunt giant Monster.com. Then again, maybe it isn’t so crazy to find him here after all: in 2006, the average Burning Man attendee was 36 years old, and a sizeable contingent of older folks is in evidence all over the grounds. Taylor, dust-covered and stubbly in a Mad Max-esque outfit that includes a leopard-print headband and goggles, looks spry and fit at 46. Two years ago he left the job market to form Eons.com, a MySpace for boomers. Eons is aimed squarely at a market that might be dubbed extreeeem early-retirement – in a promotional video, a clean-shaven, sport-jacketed Taylor, sans goggles, describes Eons as a “celebration of turning 50 . . . all the way to your reachable goal of living to 100.” So it’s not difficult to discern how this connects to his new company: for today’s boomers, fifty is the new twenty.
The geographical and spiritual center of this whole Burning Man mess is, of course, the eponymous, vaguely-humanoid wooden sculpture that is torched at the week-long event’s conclusion. But during the rest of the week, the soul of Burning Man lies in the many “sound camps” which dot the festival’s inner and outer ring. These camps, usually consisting of a giant soundsystems housed within geodesic domes, beat with an almost mystic volume, a pulse that can be heard clear across the desert. The largest, and loudest, of these camps is known as Root Society. And the man at the center of Root Society’s ragged circus is Jeff Taylor.
“I came out here looking for ways to extend my hobby and my passion for DJing,” he says. “Burning Man seemed like a really interesting way to look at the spiritual side of creativity and to explore the music. At home, wherever home is, if it isn’t commercial Top 40, or if it isn’t classic rock, people are not willing to experiment. Out here people are so hungry for that, it almost aches for the excitement. The people will dance and the more progressive you are, the harder you are, the more people love it.”