May 5 2004 12:00 AM

Across the universe, just past Jamul

    The Madre Grande Mon-astery is a tiny tree-and-scrub paradise far up in the Dulzura hills of southeastern San Diego County, just a little north of the U.S.-Mexico border. This spot is about 25 miles from downtown, but that's meaningless and you're unlikely ever to find this place unless you really need to.

    Why I was there on April 23 is a diverting question, since my job as an L.A.-based rock critic usually takes me no more than a cab ride from Sunset Strip. Yet an imp pricked and howled in my ear when a beloved old friend from my UCSD days called with the old rallying cry: "You gotta hear this fuckin' band!"

    Even the perennial freakshow that is Los Angeles ill prepared me for the next two days. When I arrived at Madre Grande Friday afternoon, "Xara Dulzura" was under construction-"a pastoral paradise civilization 400 years in the future."

    My old friend's jolly new friends are all Burning Man enthusiasts (aka "Burners"), so my clothes, long platinum hair and Strip-stamped fuck-you attitude won me the playa-name "Rockstar." Accepting kisses and fiendish liberties from deities with names like Gaia, Kingsley, Sara Tonin, Sizzle, Queen Nipples and many more, I was an instant Jungian archetype, a god of Xara.

    Just like them.

    Playa rules ruled at Xara Dulzura. In a gift economy, no one uses money and no hands are out for anything. Since all take responsibility for individual behavior and collective vibe, theft and violence are unheard of. The Xaraproject dumps out gallons of desert sweat to actualize what is, for most, a utopian daydream.

    Elaborate sight and sound equipment was muscled through and sets and stages thrown up in every clearing. Out of a dusty heap of bright pieces, the culture of Xara was built. It was just like last year, save for double the number of Xarans in attendance, all bringing oddments of their own.

    The oddments included dance, poetry, art, cinema, costume, nakedness, food, drink, smoke, love and a gorgeous, cortex-twisting cacophony of music. The ever-reliable techno-slam was a pulse frequently wracked with spasms of ambient jazz, druidic chants, '70s glam and soul.

    On Friday night, Sexaphonic Fire Tribe wrought monumentally corkscrew funk variations, with a lady Satan named Deane shouting hellblast poetry, confessing her choicest sins. Starting at 3 a.m., L.A.'s The Mutaytor (the "fuckin' band!" I had been summoned to see) was a monstrous revelation of what I'd missing by hanging out at the Troubador. Mutaytor's intricate guitar 'n' drum mechanics powered a sexbomb circus capable of abrupt, terrifying turns on a stylistic dime, as luscious firedancers, acrobats, hula-hoop artistes and some of the slickest lights and effects added visual stimulation.

    Throughout the weekend, someone would occasionally yell, "Hey, Rockstar!," looking for a bit of banter. But if I wanted solitude, I got it. Camp High's abstract formalist film was shown on three big screens, giving off a drive-in effect visible for hundreds of yards. A relay of nudes posed for a half-circle of painters. There were clubs and discos every 50 feet. During the whole hot weekend, I heard less anger than any 15 seconds at the Roxy's will-call line on a Friday night.

    The U.S. Border Patrol chased some migrants through the site a few hours before dawn on Sunday. A roadblock/car search dawdled into the very late afternoon when I left with my friends. The lovely representative from High Times was briefly detained, but let go.

    "I have a real talent for playing dumb," she later giggled. I just smiled over my pink glasses and waved to the boys in brown.

    They don't work for me. I am Rockstar.

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