10 November 2001 Ken Kesey has died

version 2

I've just heard on the radio that he died today, at the age of 66 (I think they said of liver cancer) ... and I feel sad - for there was a time when he and the pranksters and the others seemed to be one of the most hopeful things in that world, of the fifties and sixties, even when viewed at a distance through reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Tom Wolfe's TheElectricKool-aidAcidTest... and Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalogand the Hog Farm and everything...*

(I saw them briefly in the seventies at the UN environment Conference in Stockholm to which they came - with Stewart Brand and Gary Snyder and Wavy Gravy and but without Ken Kesey I think - and in the psychedelic bus or something like it.)

And Ken Keysey's novels, the ones I remember were One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (in researching which I believe he faked madness to experience for himself some of the dangerous psychiatric drugs and the state of mental hospitals) and Sometimes a Great Notion from which I remember the obstinate craziness of the Stamper family of loggers made evident (on page 39) when Henry Stamper 'laboriously lettered his own personal gospel of NEVER GIVE A INCH!' on top of a copper bas-relief of Jesus carrying a lamb through a field of daisies with the raised words 'Blessed are the meek' which Henry obliterated with yellow paint... and nailed to the wall above (was it his son's?) bed, NEVER GIVE A INCH! - the hard motto of the Stampers who refused to move their house back when the river began to shift its course until eventually the house became an obstinate peninsula into the current while everyone else moved back...

Everything about his books and his doings, and the things he inspired others to do, was outrageous and seemingly crazy and actually dangerous but it inspired even me and some like me who never took the risk of taking drugs or meta-physically shaking the establishment ... I missed the peak of the sixties by disappearing to write Design Methods- but at least I was able to read those beat books and enjoy the new culture which had exploded into existence... (and they did review Design Methodsin The Whole Earth Catalog).

There was much more I know now to Ken Kesey, though I never met him, other writings, other doings, that didn't reach everyone - just the readers of small press poetry - I don't think he sold out in the late seventies and the dreadful eighties, but for me, and I guess for many, the memory of him and those brave and wild Americans changed the world, it really did, and for the better I feel sure - though I'd never have done that sort of thing myself... (but of course all actions change the world, there is no way to measure any whole, or holiness, or person ... he was just a man)

And I was going to say, yes, there were the lines from popular songs and poetic descriptions of west coast scenery, slabs of it, interposed within the deliberate crudities of Sometimes a Great Notion for instance (page 209):
Time overlaps itself. A breath breathed from a passing breeze is not the whole wind, neither is it just the last of what has passed and the first of what will come, but is more - let me see - more like a single point plucked on a single strand of a vast spider's web of winds, setting the whole scene atingle. That way; it overlaps.... As prehistoric ferns grown from bathtub planters. As a shiny new ax, taking a swing at somebody's next year's split-level pinewood pad, bites all the way to the Civil War. As proposed highways break down through the stacked strata of centuries.

Yes, Ken Kesey was one of the main energies of the time, one of the makers of a something we inherit, though we may not know it in these so different times, the rightness of a man reacting to things felt to be unjust or crazy, things ready to be broken, and yet nourished by the previous energies of other writers, other doers, in the amazing and continuing streams of not only consciousness but action in the stories of our time - - - - - - where are we going now we do not know but still we are the better for those visions and those deeds! And we laughed a lot - it was incredible...

So thank you Ken Kesey, for what you were and what you did. It made a difference - and it continues.

But you are gone - and we are sad.

* Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex 1972 (first published in the USA 1957)

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, Bantam Books, New York 1969 (first published in the USA 1968).

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,Penguin USA 1962 (several editions in print).

Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion,Methuen, London 1972 (first published in the USA perhaps in 1963).

The Last The Whole Earth Catalog,edited by Stewart Brand, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex 1971, isbn 0140035443.

The first Whole Earth Catalogwas edited by Stewart Brand in 1968 and some of the later issues were edited by Lloyd Kahn, Gurney Norman (with Dianan Shurt), Gordon Ashby (with Doyle Pillips), J D Smith (with Hal Hershey), Ken Kesey and Paul Krassner, and some at least were published by The Portola Institute, Menlo Park, California - and perhaps there were other issues after the 'last' one of 1971 from which I am copying this information...

I have not been able to find details of The Hog Farmbut I think it was a name for the community or commune which produced 'all this'... ?

Ken Kesey website: http://www.key-z.com/index.html