Sail On, Tom Kennedy


Gutted by this news. Artist, activist, teacher, prankster Tom Kennedy drowned at Ocean Beach in San Francisco last Sunday, April 12th. John Law has written him a beautiful memorial over at Laughing Squid, and everyone’s telling tales in the comment thread of the big, strong, tender-hearted man who inspired them to live more fully, more bravely, more creatively.

Photo by Mister W. Burning Man, 2003.

The single most cherished moment of my time at the annual Burning Man festival: one perfect evening in 2003, singing sea shanties at the prow of La Contessa with some of the best friends I’ll ever have in this life. A member of the Extra Action Marching Band leaned halfway out of the crow’s nest, shouting “PORT BOW, THAR SHE BLOWS” and we all looked… Tom’s glowing white whale, her belly full of whooping passengers, her blowhole spouting propane fire, was on a collision course with us.

At the last moment she gave way, and the chase was on! We sped after each other across the playa, weaving and dancing, hollering and cheering and going much too fast –sometimes missing one another by mere yards– until finally the Black Rock Rangers pulled over both vessels and gave everyone a stern talking-to.

It was an exhilarating dream. No one who was there will ever forget that night as long as they live.

Thank you, Tom. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tom Kennedy (1960-2009). Photographed by Leo Nash.

6 Responses to “Sail On, Tom Kennedy”

  1. Nadya Says:

    I remember you telling me that story a long time ago… I think it was you, me and Bun at this Japanese place next to Canter’s and Nova. And I remember when you told me that story, it was the first time in my life that I considered going to Burning Man seriously. And of course, I did eventually go, and it was life-changing.

    What a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to all of Tom’s loved ones.

  2. Vivacious G Says:

    I read the article and am so impressed by his creations. What a loss.

  3. choklit Says:

    Alas! I was always heartbroken that I finally made it out to the Playa only after the days of La Contessa and the Great White Whale were done… that race is the stuff of legends. I often dream of what it must have been like to see it. Pure magic.

    Tom’s legacy will live on in the hearts of everyone who has ever tried to create something outlandishly ridiculous, beautiful, and BIG!

  4. gooby Says:

    I used to deliver pizza to him back in ’96 or so. He tipped me well cuz I would deliver his pizza and sodas balanced on my head while running up his stairs.

    Anytime friends would visit I would take them up Spruce street to see his shark car, and when the first art car parade happened in Berkeley (his doing), I was so blown away, I knew I had to stay in this area for a bit.

  5. Tequila Says:

    Sad sad sad. I never met the man but have heard or read stories about his work for years. It’s eye catching stuff even for those like me who may not have the proper attitude to enjoy it in its native environment. His creations had this outlandish quality that made sense also…it’s like “Of course this has to exist…”

    It’s beautiful to know some people have the imagination and skill to bring such creations to life. His were quite special to many by all accounts and in that sense he’ll always live on. Quite the proper way too…making such personal and deep impressions on people.

    Rest In Peace good sir!

  6. Jerem Morrow Says:

    That brought me down and took me right back up.