As a teenager in West LA, we were all destined to be rock stars, so I wrote songs and sang in rock bands.
As King Spaz, lead singer of an early punk band called The Spastics, I even made a record and headlined at Hollywood’s famous Whiskey-A-Go-Go in 1977 – this is the only surviving picture. One of the Spastics went on to become a successful recording artist, but I went to college instead – and produced concerts at Georgia Tech.
Later, at Harvard Business School where students produce an original musical each year, I shocked a few audiences from HBS to Off-Broadway by performing as Mick Jagger in the 1984 grand finale.
Then I moved to Silicon Valley and sang with the KLA Players, a company band. But in the 90s I got too busy in startup land to even notice the arts. I was fully sucked into the rat race, an adult with too many important goals to notice art or community. I did marry an amazing woman named Kathy who rocks my world, and we’ve since celebrated our 20th.
In 2003 as post-dot-com burnout threatened, a childhood friend invited me to Burning Man, part art festival and part experiment in intentional community – a place where everyone participates and no spectators are welcome. Like a whack on the side of the head, my passion for art and community was ignited – big time! Coming home, I threw away my TVs so I could create art like this fire stage instead of consuming crap, and adopted the motto “if we can dream it, we can do it!”.
Within 2 years, I started the largest regional theme camp at the Burning Man event (still), instigated an annual “holiday” for participants now celebrated in a dozen countries, created several large art installations, and formed what has become one of the world’s largest industrial art/maker projects – www.Playatech.com.
Playatech is a make-believe company with a real brand and products but 100% of revenue benefitting other artists – many thousands of people have downloaded and built my designs for rapidly-deployable flat-pack furniture made of slotted plywood with no fasteners. Need a couch, stage, bar, or bike rack in the middle of nowhere? IKEA can’t hold a candle to our planet-friendly designs that “leave no trace” and otherwise immerse makers in pARTicipation over consumption.
Since then, I’ve built a dozen large art installations, burned several in spectacular fashion, installed a friend’s giant interactive zoetrope in a San Jose park, helped thousands use power tools for the first time, and helped hundreds of artists execute their artworks in radically efficient flat-pack manner. To see some of my art, check out https://playatech.com/art-installations/
I also became a published photographer, PR organizer for successful events from 500-10,000+ attendees, and was invited to sing on stage with a band of top studio artists from LA, SF, and Chicago. I also spent 5 years as a lead singer in a 12-piece dance band called the Soul Providers, led by one of SF’s top pro horn players. Want my autograph? LOL! Click on the image for a phone vid of me rockin’ a stage at Burning Man, just before an epic battle between a giant space alien and silver suits shooting fireworks to bring it down in flames.
But community is not just about art and music – sometimes it means trying hard to help people who need a hand, or more.
In the 80s, I served as President of a Big Brothers/Big Sisters agency, helping lead the agency from near bankruptcy to growth.
In 2015 after wildfires devastated northern California, I formed www.RVsWithoutBorders.org, to loan and donate unused motor homes to fire victims as temporary housing – and after the 2017 fires, I donated my own RV to a family with two year-old triplets.
In 2007, I co-founded a company to design rapidly-deployable flat-pack “village in a box” solutions for disaster relief, ultimately contributing the patent applications to the public domain. In 2012 I saved low-income housing from the wrecking ball in Dallas.
What’s next? I’m at the early stages of developing a large permaculture community in Costa Rica, where residents and visitors will live in complete harmony with nature, while practicing emerging group decision-making approaches known by names like “consent” and “sociocracy”. The community will of course practice art, dance and music.
I’m also developing a tourism project where guests will save wildlife, not just watch it – a “no spectators” destination like Burning Man, but focused on science rather than art. We are creating a showcase for eco-positive and regenerative real estate development, tourism, agriculture, and species/habitat restoration, with everything to be measured and tweeted to share how it is done and can scale.
This one is about civic duty, or what the Jewish religion calls “tikkun olam” – healing the world. Something to leave for my kids (and yours) that points the way to a healthy and happy human future on this planet. Come visit, tentatively late 2020 – the experience will rock you.
Recently, I learned that some of the world’s great technical geniuses barely distinguished art from engineering – Leonardo, Ben Franklin, Einstein, and even Steve Jobs. I’ll never be like them, but I sure do enjoy finding ways to mix things up myself. And none of them ever got a picture like this in the Harvard Business School Bulletin!