(Originally printed in one of my rags, HUMP Megazine)
Here’s a quick summation of how we have gotten to this point in our iconoclastic culture: WW11spawned the Beats, the Beats spawned the Hippies, The Hippies spawned the Yippies, The Yippies spawned the Yuppies and now we’re stuck with Woodstock 99: “Dyed, Tattooed and Ready to Rock,” !
Despite societies incessant desire to crush the sacred, I have always been intrigued by the mystique, the transcendent and the sublime. And in my mind nobody has personified this as clearly in the last couple of generations than Ken Kesey. Best known for being a famous author (One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Sometimes a Great Notion etc..), Kesey is also the celebrated central character in Tom Wolfes’s Kool Aid Acid Test. While Wolfe’s book strayed from reality into swirling poetic detail, Kesey’s portrayal as a somewhat reluctant leader among his generation seemed accurate.
Kesey’s Acid Tests were a predecessor to today’s Rave scene and an ancestor of the Greek Elusion Mysteries. The Tests were often put on in unannounced locations that could only be accessed through secret phone numbers or by some instinctual homing device. Several of the Acid Tests, such as the Longshoreman’s Ball, were blueprints for larger Raves known as Massive’s, hugely attended (10,000 or more people) events, that were advertised with the most colorful flyers ever seen till that date. Acid Tests were fueled by music, lights, colorful clothing, themes, and an “anything goes, the freakier the better,” atmosphere.
The Acid Tests broke down the barrier between audience and performer and made many of the people who participated, stars. The Tests were psychological and social experiment zones where new thoughts and ways of acting were explored and initiated and in the midst of it all was Kesey.
Kesey’s gang, reveled under the monikor of “Pranksters.” Simply put, Pranksters had an agenda to seek out new experiences and go where no wo/man has gone before. Inner dimensions of the mind were for the taking by the Pranksters, and even now you’ll find, while wandering around the inside of your head, a day-glo tag that says, “Kesey was here.”
True to form, Kesey found that the Acid Tests worked best in non-locational atmoshperes . With earnings from his literary career he bought a school bus, painted it like a cross between Bosch and Dali, loaded it up with friends, had Neal Cassidy (the infamous Dean in Kerouac’s On The Road) drive it, and went on a cross country jaunt that changed the lives of all that came in touch with the aptly named “Furthur” bus.
Recently Kesey loaded up “Furthur” and headed out to European soil in search of the myth’s of Merlin. Continuing the quest for the immortal soul of humanity under the guise of fun, and the pursuit of happiness, Kesey is man who lives by his passion.
This interview was conducted via e-mail. You’ll find that most of the interview is my text, with Kesey tossing in apt answers when the mood struck him. So, get ready to take a flight with this fanboy, as we HUMP with the maestro of mayhem, the curator of chaos, and the pundit of pranksters, Ken Kesey…….
How shall we start?
Best way is just ask a
question over e-mail, get
an answer, ask another and
so on till we get tired of
each other. Takes longer
but the result is shorter.
HUMP-A core belief of yours that I have always admired is the importance
of family. From the Pranksters to the Creamery, the wholeness and value
of family has seemed to be the gel that has held your vision together.
Were you reared by your parents in this way of thinking, or, was it a
way of doing things that grew organically?
KK- (Kesey does not answer, interviewer is alarmed but pushes on)
HUMP- Perhaps I started to far back in my questions, as I originally
mentioned that we could talk about your search for Merlin. But my
excitement at having a chance to pester you with questions led me to go
waaay back in your history. So let me regroup. I did my Master's work in
Transpersonal Psychology, which is a focused study on building a bridge
between Eastern and Western thought. Do you feel that it is a natural
evolution of society to seek out a ruler, or a King, that has some sort
of grace of divinity? If anything, Bill Clintons reign has proven that
the President of the US is, and always will be, human, complete with all
the frailties and imperfections that comes with that form. Perhaps I was
brainwashed by Tom Wolfe, but it seems that the Pranksters had a
reverence for the mystique. Do you feel the emergence of Merlin could
shift our countries infatuation with the profane (i.e. jerry springer,
zippergate) and move it towards the profound?
HUMP is here, enjoying
lofty status by the crapper.
(interviewer now wonders, if Kesey has been replaced by an artificial intelligence device used to ward off annoying zine editors)
I'm flattered, one of our slogans is "Breakfast of Champions: HUMP &
You know, besides being a great fan of your novels, I'm entranced by
your mystique. I'm currently reading Paul Krassners autobiography again,
and I can't help but feel that people like Paul and yourself, have
helped define our future. Often times when I speak with Rock Stars, they
seem to be so helplessly caught in the middle of things that they cannot
see their greater effect on society. Do you perceive yourself as
anything but an author trying to tell a good yarn? Don't be modest on my
KK- I try to be a warrior,
like my heros. And writing
is just one blade on my
Swiss Army samuri sword.
I can see that role assignment! That is one thing i find compelling
about your books, is that, for me there is a definite psychodrama going
on while I read your works. There is a movie going on in my head during
the entire reading. It's funny that most folks, if they see a movie of a
book first, then when they read the book, feel as if the book isn't as
good as the movie, and vice versa. But, with Cuckoo's Nest, there was
total acclaim for both projects. With Hollywoods recycling of projects,
have you been approached yet on "re-doing" Cuckoo's Nest? Would you ever
consider "re-doing" Great Notion?
KK- I actually first wrote
it as a screenplay. It
was to have starred Taj
Mahal. Maybe it'll happen...
important to get immediate reaction from an audience to your works, as
opposed to the solitary work of writing? I've seen you perform and never
before have I seen a happier storyteller. Do you find the oratory to be
as satisfying as the written word?
KK- Storytelling live is
far more gratifying.
I've read everyone of your books , AI agree that
your writing is put one arm of your arsenal. Who is that you would put
in the realm of "heros"? And who in particlicular that is alive and
still flapping their wings would you assign the rank of "hero"?
My buddy just scored Neil Youngs old 16 track sound board, we're
hoping there's some 'lost tracks' floating around in it. I told another
friend that your reply's have been either a word or two, or a haiku. He
said, "yeah but Kesey probably reads your question, goes out to the
barn, shovels some dung, mixes the compost, comes in and brews a new pot
of tea, smokes a little, finds the coins amongst the debris of the
kitchen table and tosses the I-Ching, mossies back to the computer and
plinks down a precise answer. Either that or he's just Prankstering your
With that in mind, what was it about Neal Cassidy that was most
remarkable? We've all heard stories, legends at this point, about his
being the "fastest man alive," and his hammer twirling, radio playing
and raconteurship.Do you think Cassidy was one of those folks that
Abraham Maslow said was able to reack "peak experiences" as a steady
KK- yep. (interviewer has grave doubts on his choice of profession, considers getting a real job)
Strange how after a carpet bombing of Iraq, an icy chill
sweeps our nation. Hmmm.
OK, I have asked this question several times, several different
ways, and perhaps you have no answer, or perhaps you have not the time
for a seeker of such ideas. In any case.....................When I look
at the Pranksters and the Acid tests, I see a gestalt movement. I'm
reminded of Theodore Sturgeons book MORE THAN HUMAN. There seems to be a
barrel full of monkeys, each trying to push the other over the edge of
what our potenetial of humans is. Can you elaborate on how important
this idea was to those days?
In the sixties MEATBALL
fell. Everything was hit
by MEATBALL. Everthing and
everybody. A lotta people
won't cop to it, but they
were hit, nevertheless.
Grace happens, like shit.
You can't do shit to make
it happen, but you can learn
to recognize it.
Is there a path you have found that makes you more receptive to
recognizing grace? Is there actual lessons to be learned from Capt.
Marvel, or is it more to be found in spiritual scriptures?
As I waited for my Astrovan to be smogged today, a 70 year old
fellow engaged me in discourse as his trembling hands shook the pages
of the Bible which he had firmly planted between his knees. He said,
"Bill Clinton is obviously a victim of spiritual warfare, demons plague
him, causing him to stray from fidelity.
My wife and I accepted Jesus into our lives 27 years ago (I only wish it
happened sooner). Our nation will not be able to reach a level of
transcendence till we have a leader that has Jesus in his heart." $51
later, I was smogged.
I got my orders from De
Lawd decades ago. I have
never questioned those
orders or doubted that
Authority. I march,
tanglefooted and toe
stubby and sometimes
blind as a peeled
potatoe-- but I march.
I'd like to ask a question that might spur some notions. In your
quest for Merlin, did you feel that you were seeking only a part of a
greater sum? Besides a breakdown of our technologically dependent
society, the year 2000 is being billed as the year that yields the
return of past hero's (i.e. Merlin, Jesus, Aliens, etc..). Do you think
that the arrival of a "higher" being would be an invitation for people
to assign their own interperations to the person. Would one mans Merlin,
be another mans Jesus, and be yet another mans Alien and on an on. CS
Lewis had a character in one of his books named "Psyche" who, when
appearing in public, took on the form of each viewers expectations. I
believe that in the book "The Martain Chronicles," the aliens also were
able to become the person that the viewer wanted to see most. So if you
had someone like Merlin, who was close to the Godhead, would they return
as Merlin, or as your long lost brother, to each as was needed?
Also, I was always intrigued by Nikos Kazantzakis Last Temptation of
Christ and the way in which Jesus is portrayed as being so tortured in
his psyche. Dreams haunt him and Judas threatens to kick his ass if in
fact he cannot pull off a semblance of Messiah-hood. Jesus tries
(without success) to not be chosen, to not have voices guide him, to not
have to deliver any meaningful messages to the populace. In our modern
society, anyone that speaks of the possibility of miracles is either
branded a religious nut or a New Ager. And anyone that boasts of being
able to perform miracles is either proclaimed (by the DSM111) as loony,
or locked in the basement of some Government building and forced to do
remote viewing (this is only speculation). It seems that things are set
up so that anyone with Messiah tendencies would have to adopt
Kazantzakis' script just to stay sane. While this is not a direct
question, I have always wondered if you have suspected, as Philip K.
Dick suggested, that the Roman Empire never really fell, but just
Sounds like you're ready
for TWISTER! which is even
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And so HUMPers, if you can read between the lines of that interview you are a sure candidate for Acid Test Graduation. So until we march in our gowns and throw our caps in the air, this is your faithful servant saying adieu, farewell and happy trails.