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Conversations with Ken Kesey

Conversations with Ken Kesey

Edited by Scott F. Parker
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Conversations with Ken Kesey
    Book Description:

    Ken Kesey (1935-2001) is the author of several works of well-known fiction and other hard-to-classify material. His debut novel,One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was a critical and commercial sensation that was followed soon after by his most substantial and ambitious book,Sometimes a Great Notion. His other books, includingDemon Box, Sailor Song, and two children's books, appeared amidst a life of astounding influence. He is maybe best known for his role as the charismatic and proto-hippie leader of the West Coast LSD movement that sparked "The Sixties," as iconically recounted in Tom Wolfe'sThe Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

    In the introduction to "An Impolite Interview with Ken Kesey," Paul Krassner writes, "For a man who says he doesn't like to do interviews, Kesey certainly does a lot of them." What's most surprising about this statement is not the incongruity between disliking and doing interviews but the idea that Kesey could possibly have been less than enthusiastic about being the center of attention. After his two great triumphs, writing played a lesser role in Kesey's life, but in thoughtful interviews he sometimes regrets the books that were sacrificed for the sake of his other pursuits. Interviews trace his arc through success, fame, prison, farming, and tragedy--the death of his son in a car accident profoundly altered his life. These conversations make clear Kesey's central place in American culture and offer his enduring lesson that the freedom exists to create lives as wildly as can be imagined.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-016-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-x)

    Though he made his reputation as a writer, it is as a psychedelic guru that Ken Kesey’s reputation largely maintains—and how one assesses Kesey as a cultural figure tends to have much to do with the amount and kind of value one recognizes in the psychedelic movement. Was it a noble experiment, regardless of its outcomes? Was it a lifestyle of radical self-indulgence? Surely, any honest reading of the ’60s must comprise both extremes and find its center of gravity somewhere between, but it’s easier to think in binary of poles, so Kesey—as the public face of acid...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Ken Kesey’s First “Trip”
    (pp. 3-14)
    Nurse and Ken Kesey

    Nurse: Do you have any anxiety? Or do you feel kind of excited about the idea? Could you tell me where you are?

    Kesey: I feel more excited than I do anxious. I don’t feel anxious because I think the whole atmosphere pretty well stops any anxiety that you might try to bring into it. It’s not the atmosphere you get just before you’re wheeled into an operating room.

    Nurse: You feel pretty good about the whole thing and kind of open and just waiting to see what happens?

    Kesey: That’s right.

    Nurse: Sounds very good. Sounds like a good...

  6. What the Hell You Looking in Here for, Daisy Mae?
    (pp. 15-28)
    Gordon Lish and Ken Kesey

    Pasted on his typewriter, over the place where the maker’s name would appear, there’s a decalcomania that reads MOON, VIRGINIA. Under the shed which houses this typewriter and which serves as his workroom, eighteen new pups, the total offspring of two Dachshunds, raise a muted, insistent cacophony. Out over his many acres of dark woods a Sousa march screams in stereo from three hi-fi speakers fitted to the roof of the main cabin. One moves behind him, because he knows the natural hazards on this path, up the side of the hill to Barking Bug Meadow—past fimbriated mobiles hung...

  7. Ken Kesey at N.D.E.A.
    (pp. 29-38)
    Ken Kesey

    First let me make it understood I’m not a writer. I haven’t written anything since I finished the last drafts ofNotion, and I don’t honestly look to write anything else. I have a number of reasons for this. Mainly it’s because I feel like to continue writing would mean that I would be unable to continue my work. I feel like if I wrote another few novels—I think it’s impossible to do this without becoming a kind of Walter Keane. And if you look at the works of a lot of writers this is what happens. You learn...

  8. The Evening Standard Interview: Ken Kesey
    (pp. 39-42)
    Ray Connolly and Ken Kesey

    You don’t meet too many men with the Stars and Stripes painted in enamel on their false teeth. Truth to tell Ken Kesey is the only one I know. Every time he smiles, which is pretty frequently on a good sunny day, the zip in his mouth breaks apart and his upper right incisor says a pepperminted “God Bless America” in red, white, and blue.

    We’re rolling and waltzing, and power jerking and swanking and feeling good behind the blue, anti-glare windscreen of his maltreated Cadillac—Kesey and me and a New York girl disciple, all doe eyes and sweeping...

  9. Once a Great Notion
    (pp. 43-52)
    Ann Arbor Argus and Ken Kesey

    Argus: You want to do an interview?

    Kesey: I hate interviews. I’ll tell you about interviews. It’s like, well, there’s no such thing as an underground newspaper.

    Argus: That’s true. A revolutionary newspaper, though, how’s about that?

    Kesey: It’s just that the whole form— every time I get in the paper, it causes trouble.

    Argus: I read the thing inGood Timesabout you and it seemed to me it was pretty right on.

    Kesey: I know, but it was awful—it’s just awful, you don’t know. I mean you can be going along, you can be moving like this...

  10. An Impolite Interview
    (pp. 53-77)
    Paul Krassner

    Q: Okay. Let’s start off with a simple one. How would you distinguish between freedom and insanity?

    A: True freedom and sanity spring from the same spiritual well, already mixed, just add incentive. Insanity, on the other hand, is dependent onmaterialfad and fashion, and the weave of one’s prison is of that material. “But I didn’t weave it,” I hear you protest. “My parents, their parents,generationsbefore me wove it!”

    Could be, but when you’re a prisoner, the task is not to shout epithets at the warden, but toget out.

    Q: Well, specifically, when you were...

  11. Ken Kesey Summing Up the ’60s, Sizing Up the ’70s
    (pp. 78-95)
    Linda Gaboriau and Ken Kesey

    It was a long, winding path that led me Springfield, Oregon, and an “interview” with Ken Kesey. Kesey and I have a few mutual acquaintances. We were both first turned on by the government, he in the west coast scene at Stanford, and me on the east coast at Harvard. The people from those two groups couldn’t help but know each other. And then there was Paul Krassner, who, with Kesey, had coeditedThe Last Supplement of the Whole Earth Catalogue.When I spoke to Krassner, he warned me that Kesey was turned off to the media and not doing...

  12. Ken Kesey: The Prince of Pransksters
    (pp. 96-100)
    Rick Saunders, Bob Nesbitt, Vaughn Binzer and Ken Kesey

    For those of yourMarijuana Monthlyreaders who don’t recognize the vehicle in this [picture], its name is Furthur and it belongs to Ken Kesey. For those of you who don’t know who Ken Kesey is, he’s the guy who wroteOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest(andKesey’s Garage SaleandSometimes a Great Notion), and he’s also widely known through Tom Wolfe’sElectric Kool-Aid Acid Testas owner and pilot of the Magic Bus whose only destination is Furthur. Ken was the Intrepid Traveler whose band of Merry Pranksters toured the country in the Bus in the’ 60s...

  13. Getting Better
    (pp. 101-109)
    John Nance, Paul Pintarich, Sharon Wood and Ken Kesey

    Sharon Wood: Where did the titleDemon Boxcome from?

    Ken Kesey: Oh that’s been the name of this whole collection of work for a long, long time, even before I wrote the story that has that name. It is based on a notion a guy named Clark Maxwell had a hundred years ago about . . . oh it’s too hard to explain real quick here, but it has to do with our minds, and in our minds we have this little box, and on one side of the box is the good and on the other side is...

  14. The Fresh Air Interview: Ken Kesey
    (pp. 110-115)
    Terry Gross and Ken Kesey

    Terry Gross asked Kesey what he thought about Wolfe’s book and how accurate it was.

    Mr. KEN KESEY: Oh yeah. It’s a good book. Yeah, he’s a—Wolfe’s a genius. He did a lot of that stuff, he was only around three weeks. He picked up that amount of dialogue and verisimilitude without tape recorder, without taking notes to any extent. He just watches very carefully and remembers. But, you know, he’s got his own editorial filter there. And so what he’s coming up with is part of me, but it’s not all of me, any more than Hunter S....

  15. Collaboration in the Writing Classroom: An Interview with Ken Kesey
    (pp. 116-125)
    Carolyn Knox-Quinn and Ken Kesey

    Last year, Ken Kesey and a group of University of Oregon graduate students collaborated on a novel during a year-long writing class. Their novel,Caverns(Viking Press, 1990), was published under the group name of U.O. Levon.

    The following is an edited version of our conversation in the Keseys’ red-barn home in the Willamette Valley countryside near Eugene, Oregon. Here he addresses a number of current topics of interest to composition teachers: collaborative writing, peer editing, publishing in the classroom, learning to write by writing, designing a novel, and the teacher as classparticipant. Kesey also talks about the creation of...

  16. Comes Spake the Cuckoo
    (pp. 126-134)
    Todd Brendan Fahey and Ken Kesey

    It was just another Saturday on Ken Kesey’s farm, but it felt like Shangri-La.

    Some shaven-headed freak stood staring down from the rough-hewn stage, glassy-eyed and grinning through a musky amalgam of marijuana and pine, slapping a pair of spoons against his chest and thigh—a demented rhythm section in an unknown band, one of the dozens to play in the moss-draped south-40 of a man uniformly known as America’s First Hippie. While every cop in Eugene stood poised on the roadside overlooking a commercial replacement for the Grateful Dead’s aborted late-August doubleheader, the Cuckoo strode around his own eight...

  17. Ken Kesey: Writing Is an Act of Performance
    (pp. 135-142)
    Dan McCue and Ken Kesey

    Even counterculture superstars have to sometimes go to the supermarket.

    And so it was that Ken Kesey, author ofOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestandSometimes a Great Notion—not to mention the central character in Tom Wolfe’sThe Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test—was in the position to literally drop everything for someone he didn’t know.

    Kesey had spent the better part of the past three decades engaged in “living” his books rather than actually committing them to paper, but when he did release a bit of writing here and there from his farm in the wet hills of...

  18. An Interview with Ken Kesey
    (pp. 143-146)
    Matthew Rick, Mary Jane Fenex and Ken Kesey

    Ken Kesey’s sitting at a table with a stack of books beside him, and a bag of markers, pens, and rubber stamps to assist him in the project of autographing copies ofSailor SongandThe Sea Lion, his two most recent works. To his side is a blonde-haired boy named Lutien, who is helping Kesey on the project. The stamp in his hand is done in the style of Northwest Indian art.

    “It’s like this frog is appearing out of the fog,” Kesey is telling the child. “This is a fog frog.” Introductions are made and then he resumes...

  19. Ken Kesey: The Art of Fiction No. 136
    (pp. 147-169)
    Robert Faggen and Ken Kesey

    At the center of Kesey’s work are what he calls “little warriors” battling large forces. Over the years, some critics have praised his work for its maverick power and themes of defiance; others have questioned his wild and paranoid vision. He has been dubbed a renegade prophet, a subversive technophile, a spiritual junkie—characterizations that Kesey does little to discourage.

    He lives in a spacious barn that was built in the ’ 30s from a Sears Roebuck catalog. It is decorated in bright DayGlo colors. The stairs ascending to his loft-study are covered in streaks of neon green and pink,...

  20. Ken Kesey: Still on the Bus
    (pp. 170-175)
    Robert K. Elder and Ken Kesey

    Time slows you down, even if it doesn’t change you. That was what struck me most when I visited Ken Kesey for the last time in 1999. Though he had suffered a stroke eighteen months before, there were few outward indications. He couldn’t handle a pen as well, but his eyes were bright and his head was full of new projects.

    He was celebrating two thirty-fifth anniversary milestones, one for the publication of his novelSometimes a Great Notionand the other for his first outing with the Merry Pranksters—but Kesey was looking to the future.

    “I’ve been more...

  21. Ken Kesey’s Last Interview
    (pp. 176-190)
    Mike Finoia and Ken Kesey

    I met Kesey at a Phish concert in upstate New York in the summer of ’97. The Pranksters drove there in Furthur 2.0. I saw the bus from a distance and approached it in awe, like a child approaches a mall Santa Claus. And Kesey smiled and welcomed me in.

    Fast-forward to senior year of college. I sold my advisor on a final project: I would interview concert goers on how the live music experience drives them to the road, and then I would interview Kesey about his experiences. She approved, but would Kesey? Would the lion allow me into...

  22. Index
    (pp. 191-194)