James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

The Naked Cowboy Manifesto

“I’m the Naked Cowboy, keeping it real for you”

“Isn’t it the purpose, the statement, the overall message of Naked Cowboy that faith in oneself and their dreams is absolutely enough? That the unstoppable will of the human spirit with an unquestioned objective is truly unstoppable? Isn’t that who I am? Naked Cowboy? The determined man on a mission who persists knowing that he is truly unstoppable, despite any odds or criticisms.”

Ever since the birth of the Naked Cowboy 19 years ago, Robert Burck has made journaling a daily ritual. With hundreds of journals already filled, he continues to spend hours a day writing, with the belief that “we become what we think about consistently.”

Meeting Burck was one of the more unexpected events in my life. In 2013, I found myself in Times Square, my least favorite place in New York, after a photo editor I had just met spontaneously asked me to find a story there. As I exited an office onto Seventh Avenue, the Naked Cowboy caught my eye. He wasn’t strumming his guitar or slinging women over his shoulder, just walking casually down the street looking like he was done for the day.

I followed him into a parking garage where I introduced myself as a photographer in search of a good story. A few hours later, I was at a private boat party with Burck and his wife, Patty, the Naked Cowgirl. Since that day, I have visited his parents in Cincinnati twice, gotten to know his entire family, followed him into Times Square during a blizzard and into one too many random bathrooms throughout the city.

Burck hands out signed Naked Cowboy promotional cards to the attendants of the garage where he keeps his car every day in Times Square. “I’m the happiest, healthiest, wealthiest, most beautiful man in the world. That’s what I write in my journal more than anything. It’s so deeply in me I have no choice but to be it.”
Burck met his wife in Times Square while she was working at a cafe. She now works with him as a Naked Cowgirl and also teaches belly dancing lessons in Queens. “My husband is my American dream because he changed my life. He is like an angel for me. He is with me in good and bad moments. There are no men like him anymore, he has a heart of gold. This is what made me fall in love with him.”
“To be the Naked Cowboy is to be everything in the freakin world. I took a picture of a guy today in Times Square with a t-shirt that said “I am the Messiah, ask me anything.” I went over to him, gave him a couple bucks, took a photo with him and said, congratulations, welcome aboard.”

What intrigued me most about the experience that first day was Burck’s willingness to share his thoughts about pretty much everything. It’s not a story I would ever have thought of pursuing, but I was intrigued by the full access he gave me, about the potential of slowly peeling away layers, of getting to know and understand the man behind the underwear and cowboy hat. After months of building trust, he gave me access to his Manifesto, a separate document from his journals in which details his core principles and beliefs, and provides insight into how he sees himself and the world.

In addition to his philosophical and spiritual musings, Burck has always been extremely outspoken politically. He officially ran for president in 2012 and, more recently, has been vocal about his support of Donald Trump and what it means to be a “hardcore American.” Burck sees himself in the same light as he views Trump: a “ballsy” winner who represents the epitome of the American spirit.

The most interesting aspect of this project, however, has been witnessing the more intimate moments of his life, especially those spent with Patty, a Mexican immigrant who after marrying Burck began the process of applying for U.S. citizenship. In what was probably Burck’s first time dressed in a suit in Times Square, I watched the couple renew their weddings vows two years ago. A small crowd of family and tourists huddled around and watched them kiss under falling snowflakes. Stripped of his Naked Cowboy persona, I saw him for the first time as simply a man doing his best to love and be loved.

Robert and Patty’s marriage vow renewal in Times Square. Speaking about his original hesitation to get married Burck said “I had never met anyone who didn’t immediately seem like an obstacle to my overall goal which is to glorify God and be the greatest guy in the world, to be rich and famous, to make me happy. By the time I met Patty I was at that point when I have been successful enough that I didn’t see marriage as anything but something that could add to my value system.”
Burck makes drives to Cincinnati every year for the holidays. His Dad is one of his biggest supporters and very proud. All throughout his home he has Naked Cowboy memorabilia, photos, and articles.
Burck looks at the house he grew up in in Cincinnati.

WHO WANTS TO BE UNATTRACTIVE AND UNAPPEALING?

Burck lifts weights in a car garage during a break from performing in Times Square.
“The Naked Cowboy is Infinite and endless. It’s being down to earth in my underwear boots and hat. It’s a funny looking character, it catches you off guard, its very innocent…. A fun loving character that comes up in your face”
“If I had to say one thing that reflects why I do what I do, it would be to glorify God, which is to glorify myself. If you’re waiting for someone like Jesus to come and save you, if you don’t see that the savior is within you, you’re not going to find happiness.”

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