• March 3, 2011
    http://www.dead.net/features/ken-kesey/new-kesey-%E2%80%9Cbio%E2%80%9D-chief-deserves-better
    New Kesey “Bio”: The Chief Deserves Better

    If only I'd read the "Acknowledgments" first. Silly me, I read books front to back, and the “Acknowledgments” appear on page 415 of Mark Christensen's non-biography of Ken Kesey, Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy (Schaffner Press). So I was finished with the book and had already tossed it down in disgust when I read the author's "explanation" for his approach to the book:

    "Acid Christ was born from my publisher's idea of a 'participatory biography.' Unlike conventional biography which keeps its subject at arm's length and attempts at every level to be fair and balanced, a 'participatory biography' would be the tale of how a major modern cultural figure, in this case Ken Kesey, effected [sic] the life of the author personally and subjectively. I believe this to be the best new format idea ever invented…"

    Well, with no due respect, Mark, you are wrong. Day after day when I was reading this book, I would mutter to my wife, or even the cat, "This guy hates Kesey… He doesn't get Kesey… It's all about the author, and he's an asshole… Why should I care about his own tawdry drug stories and sex life?... I can't believe I shelled out nearly 30 bucks for this!" I can't recall if it was my wife or my cat that first asked me to stop whining. Alas, I could not oblige.

    As one who has long been fascinated by Kesey, has studied his role in the development of the West Coast counterculture, and also had the good fortune to interview him twice for my Dead 'zine The Golden Road (including one story based on an entire day my wife, Regan, and I spent with him on his farm in the summer of '86), I was very excited when I learned about what was being touted as the first biography of the man. But it becomes very clear that Christensen, who admits early on he is a frustrated novelist himself, has very little respect for Kesey and the path he took; indeed as early as page 17, the author asks, "So why did Kesey's life seem to go so far downhill after those two novels [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion]?" You see, Christensen adopts the typical straight-world line that Kesey threw away his talent and his future when he got into acid, hooked up with the Merry Pranksters and stopped writing novels. He believes Kesey turned into an ego-maniacal fame whore, though the actual details of Kesey's life post-Acid Tests hardly point to a person who's constantly seeking publicity and attempting to appear oracular; quite the contrary.

    But then, there is precious little actual Kesey biography in this book — there's much more Mark Christensen biography — and what's here is at best surface gloss, at worst largely negative conjecture and opinion based on one or two oddball sources. For all the recounting of his own drug adventures, Christensen doesn't appear to understand either LSD or the acid culture, and he definitely doesn't understand the Grateful Dead and their role in the early story:

    "And there was the New Music. From above or below. The Grateful Dead, Kesey's church choir, sang acid-blasted inverted hymns of deliverance and cohesion. But the Dead were not psychedelic or, even particularly, about peace and love. Their music wasn't half as spacey as David Crosby's, the Beatles or the Electric Prunes. I know of few Dead love songs, fewer Dead political songs — the themes that stagger to mind lean more to the side of drug bust, arrest, and incarceration…"

    Uh, right, Mark. Whatever you say. Here's the thing: Christensen is actually a pretty good writer. He can be quite witty, clever and perceptive. His literary analysis of Kesey's books is well done. He peppers the books with juicy quotes from Kesey interviews (presumably what any biographer would do). His discussion of the controversy surrounding Kesey's late-life book The Last Go Round is eye-opening —but completely one-sided. It's significant that none of the major players in Kesey's life appear to have co-operated with Christensen. This is a guy who had an agenda.

    I'm not implying, either, that Kesey was some sort of saint without flaws, above criticism. Far from it, obviously. But in the end, Acid Christ is not really a biography of Ken Kesey; it's more like a gangland hit job. Caveat emptor. Someday, someone will tell this story the right way.

    By now, I should be used to people getting the '60s, and the counterculture, so wrong in books and films. But it still hurts every time it happens. I'm quietly living in fear of the film that's coming of Tom Wolfe's brilliant book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, 'cause I just know they're gonna blow it. And don't get me started on the prospective Jerry bio-pics…

    What books and films do you think have succeeded in capturing some of the truth and essence of that era, or the hippie counterculture in general?

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If only I'd read the "Acknowledgments" first. Silly me, I read books front to back, and the “Acknowledgments” appear on page 415 of Mark Christensen's non-biography of Ken Kesey, Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy (Schaffner Press). So I was finished with the book and had already tossed it down in disgust when I read the author's "explanation" for his approach to the book:

"Acid Christ was born from my publisher's idea of a 'participatory biography.' Unlike conventional biography which keeps its subject at arm's length and attempts at every level to be fair and balanced, a 'participatory biography' would be the tale of how a major modern cultural figure, in this case Ken Kesey, effected [sic] the life of the author personally and subjectively. I believe this to be the best new format idea ever invented…"

Well, with no due respect, Mark, you are wrong. Day after day when I was reading this book, I would mutter to my wife, or even the cat, "This guy hates Kesey… He doesn't get Kesey… It's all about the author, and he's an asshole… Why should I care about his own tawdry drug stories and sex life?... I can't believe I shelled out nearly 30 bucks for this!" I can't recall if it was my wife or my cat that first asked me to stop whining. Alas, I could not oblige.

As one who has long been fascinated by Kesey, has studied his role in the development of the West Coast counterculture, and also had the good fortune to interview him twice for my Dead 'zine The Golden Road (including one story based on an entire day my wife, Regan, and I spent with him on his farm in the summer of '86), I was very excited when I learned about what was being touted as the first biography of the man. But it becomes very clear that Christensen, who admits early on he is a frustrated novelist himself, has very little respect for Kesey and the path he took; indeed as early as page 17, the author asks, "So why did Kesey's life seem to go so far downhill after those two novels [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion]?" You see, Christensen adopts the typical straight-world line that Kesey threw away his talent and his future when he got into acid, hooked up with the Merry Pranksters and stopped writing novels. He believes Kesey turned into an ego-maniacal fame whore, though the actual details of Kesey's life post-Acid Tests hardly point to a person who's constantly seeking publicity and attempting to appear oracular; quite the contrary.

But then, there is precious little actual Kesey biography in this book — there's much more Mark Christensen biography — and what's here is at best surface gloss, at worst largely negative conjecture and opinion based on one or two oddball sources. For all the recounting of his own drug adventures, Christensen doesn't appear to understand either LSD or the acid culture, and he definitely doesn't understand the Grateful Dead and their role in the early story:

"And there was the New Music. From above or below. The Grateful Dead, Kesey's church choir, sang acid-blasted inverted hymns of deliverance and cohesion. But the Dead were not psychedelic or, even particularly, about peace and love. Their music wasn't half as spacey as David Crosby's, the Beatles or the Electric Prunes. I know of few Dead love songs, fewer Dead political songs — the themes that stagger to mind lean more to the side of drug bust, arrest, and incarceration…"

Uh, right, Mark. Whatever you say. Here's the thing: Christensen is actually a pretty good writer. He can be quite witty, clever and perceptive. His literary analysis of Kesey's books is well done. He peppers the books with juicy quotes from Kesey interviews (presumably what any biographer would do). His discussion of the controversy surrounding Kesey's late-life book The Last Go Round is eye-opening —but completely one-sided. It's significant that none of the major players in Kesey's life appear to have co-operated with Christensen. This is a guy who had an agenda.

I'm not implying, either, that Kesey was some sort of saint without flaws, above criticism. Far from it, obviously. But in the end, Acid Christ is not really a biography of Ken Kesey; it's more like a gangland hit job. Caveat emptor. Someday, someone will tell this story the right way.

By now, I should be used to people getting the '60s, and the counterculture, so wrong in books and films. But it still hurts every time it happens. I'm quietly living in fear of the film that's coming of Tom Wolfe's brilliant book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, 'cause I just know they're gonna blow it. And don't get me started on the prospective Jerry bio-pics…

What books and films do you think have succeeded in capturing some of the truth and essence of that era, or the hippie counterculture in general?

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If only I'd read the "Acknowledgments" first. Silly me, I read books front to back, and the “Acknowledgments” appear on page 415 of Mark Christensen's non-biography of Ken Kesey, Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy (Schaffner Press). So I was finished with the book and had already tossed it down in disgust when I read the author's "explanation" for his approach to the book:

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Anyway, I never talked with the man (I did see him walking around the parking lot in Eugene in 93 or 94, as well as make a "woedaolfiejrlejaljkldjljdlf" announcement in Eugene 90), so I don't know what he was REALLY like. I didn't care for "Twister" when that came out. I'm sure Kesey had good stuff and not so good stuff about him. Whatever. Listen to the Acid Test reels in your collection and go from there. He was a pioneer in some ways (wink wink, nudge nudge). I don't think anything has captured the truth and essence of the era at all, EXCEPT for Sunshine Daydream, and that's an event from 1972.
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i remember that article in the Golden Road. there was a jerry riding in an Eldorado. OCD, OCD, not so fun for you and me.
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this is why i avoid posting too often here. (the snakes...the snakes...)
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why would someone write a book bout him in 2011? I have been shown the light, my people. I wish you well.
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Thanks for saving me the money, time, and frustration. My favorite books on the 60's/counterculture are usually source material: Jim Carroll's Basketball Diaries, Cuckoo's Nest (of course), Hoffman's Steal This Book, which I helped a friend "liberate" from my brother, Lenny Bruce's autobiography, Gene Anthony's Summer of Love photo book, all manner of undeground comix, including ones by R. Crumb, books that contain high quality prints of art from that time such as ones by or including Rick Griffin and other poster artists, and speeches by Malcolm X. However, I have also enjoyed Charles Perry's Haight Ashbury: A History and Acid Dreams by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, and Storming Heaven by Jay Stevens. The latter two provide interesting accounts of the intrigue that brought LSD into the counterculture. A lot of these books I read long ago and several are probably out of print now, but I highly recommend them. Thanks for inciting us to think about 'em.
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SongsfROwnJerry's movie.
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Well? Why don't you give it a try? I'm reading Krassner's autobiography at the moment. At times I howl with laughter and at others I am profoundly sad. I have to agree with stoltzfus on the wretched title...
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Christensen says in the book that he had originally wanted to write a biography of Krassner instead and that it was PK who convinced him, in part, to turn his attention to Kesey.
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What books and films do you think have succeeded in capturing some of the truth and essence of that era, or the hippie counterculture in general? what 'bout? catch 22, cool hand luke, slaughterhouse five, sometimes a great notion, easy rider, one flew over the cuckoo's nest, sirens of titan, cat's cradle among others
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I was in SF for New Years,(coming from Australia and stopping off to see/hear Further on our way to Jam Cruise) and I picked up a copy of Acid Christ, to read while I was in the district. I think I was hoping that the book would help me get a grasp on the beginning of the whole scene and that reading it while in SF would make me more open to new ideas. Not so, I agree with you Blair,a whole lot of self serving nonsense, no new insights and I left the book on my flight from SF to Lauderdale half finished. I'm not interested in getting to the end of it at all. On the other hand, I did pick up Peter Conner's latest effort "White Hand Society" at City Lights (the best book store on the planet) and I'll be delving into that again. A Tasty treat, interesting, fresh , well written etc
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The picture of the cover that you show has the sub-title "Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Last Great Gurus of American Dissent" whereas other cover pictures I have seen show "Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy". Curious to know why.I will not be spending money or time on this item. If you don't believe Blair's assessment try finding a good review of this thing somewhere. I haven't seen any reviews of this that have concluded anything other than "Crock of shit". As Ken Babbs said: "Those close to Kesey have made it clear Christensen missed the bus.". There are two types of books of this sort - the ones that try to convey what the person in question was really all about and the ones that are written simply to try to raise the profile of the writer and make him some fame and fortune. From what I have read, this book comes firmly in the second category. So Kesey and Christensen both hailed from Oregon - so what.
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a movie which comes to mind is "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Definately, as someone mentioned " Cool Hand Luke", "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is another. The book by Mailer "The Armies of the Night" got part of the political thing, certainly. With the Dead phenom, I think a lot of it was literary based and Jazz based. I always think of the Bloomsbury group in England, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris, Dabid Bryne-Jones, Rossetti, Aldoux Huxley, Ouspensky, Gurdieff, Beaudelaire, Byron, Poe, Yeats, the Theosophical Society, Nin, Radcliffe, and others as sort-of the intellectual precursor-the Bohemian underground that was sowing seeds from the 1800's onward. People were getting other ideas about reality. Most of it was not church based thinking. There was spiritual -humanistic thought, the individual was more central, women were demanding social equality, Morris was nostalgic for an idealized past which could become a new model for future community. I think Jerry as a voracious reader, autodidact person( and certainly Robert Hunter) drew on a lot of these ideas in fashioning a zeitgeist. Their vision was certainly steeped in a subjective version of Americana but it was literary based, I think. Just some thoughts.
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book: Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S Thompson..... film: Alice's Restaurant film: Magical Mystery Tour
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...is a must. The sight and sound of those lovable freaks in the audience will be locked in my mind forever - and, I suspect, in yours too.Saint Stephe-e-e-e-e-e-e-n-n!
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I would add the following title to those folks have already mentioned, since it may be out of the mainstream of the sort of things folks are familiar with, and it certainly does help illuminate part of the early scene that the Dead were involved with: The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde too little recognition is given to that magic moment when "hippy" music and ideals merged with the then nascent electronic music avant-garde Anyhow, this book is worth checking out, and it comes with a CD of the sort of electronic music one might have heard at acid tests.....
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I guess his book on Kesey doesn't rate a mention because it seems to be a part of the Deadhead bible "Book of Revelations". Anyway, read that and both of Kesey's great works and you have all you need to know about the man, besides having been in Eugene in 72 or 82.
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I had not noticed that the subhead on the book cover depicted is different than the one I have. I think we pulled the image from Amazon, so maybe they had an earlier version (much like my ill-fated "Feed Your Head" book, which was up on Amazon for a while, cover and all, and then vanished without a trace after the publisher decided not to publish it. And they still haven't paid the cover artist, who was our own Scott McDougall, the talented lad who does the Road Trips cover images. Scoundrels!) Agreed, lamagonzo about Wolfe's book. "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" is absolutely essential reading for all Dead Heads. It's amazing through the years that nearly all the participants have said that EKAT got it mostly right--even though Wolfe never took acid and didn't take notes much, either. That book had a profound impact on me, for sure. (And influenced me to write a lot of really strange term papers in college trying out his style.) Seems like "On the Road" is part of the basic libertine canon, as well... BTW, the movie "Howl," a little indie release with James Franco as Allen Ginsberg that came and went very quickly last year, is worth your time and a place in your Netflix queue. It doesn't try to do too much, so I think it achieves its modest goal. It's about the poem and the reaction to it, not the characters so much (they're glossed over). NOT recommended is another indie called "Neal Cassady" with Tate Donovan (of "The O.C."), which tries a scattershot approach to different parts of Neal's life but misses the mark despite its earnestness. The "Bus" part is not good.
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Hey! I like THIS... I mean your scathing review. I hadn't read this particular book, & now, thankfully, Blair, I don't HAVE to. But this seems cool to me, a sifting review process. You are treading dangerous ground, tempting other writers to say: "HEY!, YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" But you just keep on doing THAT. I will read with itzy-bitzy grains of salt, Blair. Thanx ~~~~~~~
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Blair, I read your rant about the Kesey bio. I loved your Golden Road and couldn't agree with you more. Kesey deserves better, he was not perfect but no one is, last time I checked. In closing as Kesey said 10/27/91 as the Dead were playing tribute to Bill Graham, "In any given situation there's always more dumb people than smart people and we ain't many."
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Couple of thoughts from someone who did not live through the era. I thoroughly enjoyed "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests" while "Fear and Loathing in LV" and/or "On the Campaign Trail" should be essential reading in any course on 20th century literature. As I say, having not lived through the era, it is tough for me to gauge, but those books feel like an era. A couple of Hollywood movies that I also like are "Shampoo" and "I Love you, Alice B. Toklas." Very funny movies-- in particular, the all night party scene climax of Shampoo is great. For another era, I have one recommendation-- the biography of Muddy Waters, "I Can't Be Satisfied." As a blues-loving Deadhead who happens to be a historian, that book is fantastic. It really places Muddy in his time and historical context. It is an exceptional read, the finest music bio I have read (with Blair's book on Jerry being a close second).
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... I watched some of "Alice B. Toklas" the other day on TCM and I was kinda embarrassed that I had liked it back in the 60s when it came out. I think the teenage me back then was smitten by the lovely Leigh Taylor-Young as the lead, rarely clothed hippie chick... Another film I liked back then but would doubtless hate today was "Joe," starring Peter Boyle as a working stiff who goes down to Greenwich Village to extract his daughter out of hippie colony there...Of course for pure camp value it's hard to beat "Wild in the Streets." And Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"...

Totally agree about the Muddy Waters bio, too. Wonderful. The Howlin Wolf one "Moanin' at Midnight" is also excellent.

 

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"Be Not Content" by William J. Craddock. This one captures the acid tribe environment just prior to the ill-fated "Summer of Love". Adequately written it occasionally gets a bit too "cosmic" for it's own good but overall the feeling is there. There are descriptions of an early acid test and a ballroom concert with Country Joe and the Fish. Essential for those interested in the times told by someone who was actually there. Alas, out of print for quite a while. Followed up with "Twilight Candelabra" which covers the subsequent dark side (to say the least) of the scene. Lots of witchcraft and speedballs there. Books were published in 1970 and 1972. "Be Not Content" was written in 1967-68. Last I heard Craddock died a few years ago in 2004. Rudy Rucker has some information at http://www.rudyrucker.com/blog/2007/04/27/postsingular-cover-william-j-… left a number of unpublished books...one purported to be a sequel to "Be Not Content" with the same characters. Love to read that.
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I just looked up "Be Not Content" on Amazon and they wanted $75 for a used copy. Perhaps my local library has it... Seems like something I should read, though...
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is Ralph J Gleason's "The Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound" (1969), Ballantine Books which, as far as I am aware, has been out of print for decades now. Obviously (from the title) it is more oriented to the San Francisco music scene than the counterculture in general, but the two were intimately intertwined. It is a fine book due to the fact that the author knew exactly what he was writing about, unlike Mr. Christensen apparently.
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In-depth 1967 interviews with the entire Airplane, Jerry and Bill Graham, plus a long and detailed introduction about the rise of the SF scene based on his own reporting from that era mostly... I still have my dog-eared copy that I got for subscribing to Rolling Stone back in 1969. Also got one of the Don Juan books in that deal, too, I believe. Loved those, too, whether they're "real" or not... Speaking of Rolling Stone, the best $60 or whatever I spent in the past five years was buying the complete Rolling Stone on CD-ROM. I can't tell you how often I've dipped into that in the course of writing this or that, and also just for fun. It's easily searchable and it prints pdfs of the original pages nicely (albeit in pretty small print). It's one of the best late '60s music references you'll ever find, and the mag was tremendous in the early '70s when it was printing Hunter Thompson's campaign stuff, etc.
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The title of Christensen's text worried me and the subtitle echoed that effect. Your review tells me that my BS detectors are still functional, in some ways at least. Thanks, Blair. By the way, I've just finished writing a play for my Master's thesis that's set in front of the Warfield the hour before doors open that titled Waiting for the Show; if any of the readers of this thread would like to subject a copy to their scrutiny, literary or otherwise, I'd be happy to email out a copy as a PDF.
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I really enjoyed reading You can't always get what you want by Sam Cutler. The part where Cutler talks about how the Dead would make band decisions is especially telling. I think Cutler captures the cold cut throat business side of the Dead and the Rolling Stones in his book.
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I actually have high hopes for the upcoming Jerry bio-pic, the one that will concentrate on his pre-Dead days.In recent years, as you know, there have been some excellent Beatles and/or Lennon bio pics (Backbeat,etc.), and I'm hoping Jerry's will be made with the same intelligence, integrity and knowledge of subject. Once in a while you get shown the light In the strangest of places if you look at it right.
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Btw, I may be having a flashback, but I thought I had read somewhere a while back that Weir was writing his bio?Any truth to that? I would devour it. Once in a while you get shown the light In the strangest of places if you look at it right.
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?yrots riew bob eht :deye-ssorc nrob
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Thanks for the post Blair. I've been really into biographies the past few years and could easily have gotten snagged by this one.Now that Kesey's been gone 10 years (wow! seems like less), I'm surprised that someone has not written the "definitive" bio.
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I lived in Oregon a few years during 70s. Ken Kesey was one of the only true heros of the counter culture. Down to earth, funny, one of the great modern writers of America. I met him a few times and found him to be a straight up human being. I hate to see a hack writer put together a half assed bio on someone who had so much integrity. Better just to read, reread the great works of Kesey. He could never top his first two books. Great Notion is one of the great american novels. I've met quite a few people who consider it to be one of best books or the best book ever read by them. So I refuse to buy "Acid Christ". Better to go on memories of what I remember first hand. And reread his books.
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Phil Lesh's autobigraphy "Searching for the Sound" paints a good picture of what it would have been like to have been there when it all began. I forget what year he got involved with the band, but Steve Parish's "Home Before Daylight" also does a good job of describing the reality of life in the counter culture movement. I could have used a few less groupie stories though!!! The Keith Richards book "Life" describes the counter culture movement from across the Atlantic. He is generally dismissive of the the utopian visions he shared with Mick and the Stones while stumbling around Stonehenge, although he fully admitsmust to having them while wearing a feather boa around his neck. If you read the Miles Davis autobiography he dogs everyone. I mean everyone!!! He even gives John Coltrane a hard time. He then describes the scene when he brought his fusion band to the Bay area. He was suprised at all the young kids who were so into all of his experimental music. Like I said, he dogs everyone. However, he says something like "Jerry Garcia was a cool motherf@#$er." I always thought Jerry must have been very cool to get a compliment out of Miles. Electric Kool-aid Acid Test was a good read, but I feel Phil does a better job at describing the scene. Wolfe seemed to be forcing the story into a narritive form with a beginning, middle, end, heroes, villains, etc.For movies The Grateful Dead Movie lets the counter culture speak for itself. Fillmore: The Last Days also shows the scene warts and all in 1971. Festival Express is a good snapshot of the scene as it travels to Canada in 1970, again warts and all.
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...he does make an attempt to explain the title, if obliquely. He talks about how the McMurphy character in Cuckoo's Nest has Christ-like attributes (which Ken talked about in interviews) and he views that character as an extension of Ken, ergo... I'm not saying I buy it; just saying that's not totally out of left field...
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Outside of Kesey and what he stood for/believed in, there is the literary legacy of 'Cuckoo's Nest'. In the decades to come, the book will undoubtedly stay in print. It is a tour-de-force. The novel continues to resonate with new generations. Even if a reader knows nothing of Kesey, the '60s and LSD, he/she can appreciate the novel's attack on conformity, authority, and how society defines "normal." I've always thought the novel to be incredibly lucid, and the whole thing was written with such precision and grace. And keep in mind the story is told through the eyes of a schizophrenic (if you believe Chief to be schizophrenic, that is). Writing such a beautifully clear novel with a narrator who suffers from hallucinations seems like an impossible task, doesn't it? But when you read 'Cuckoo's Nest,' you can marvel at the genius of the prose, to say nothing of the book's themes. And the novel's dialogue? It's cinematic. You can almost hear McMurphy, or Billy Bibbit, or any of them really. Kesey had an amazing ear for dialogue. If you haven't read it in long time, get a copy and read it again. Question for Blair: Did Kesey ever see the 'Cuckoo's Nest' film? I know he said he never would watch it, but I wonder.
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What books and films do you think have succeeded in capturing some of the truth and essence of that era, or the hippie counterculture in general?A book that I think should be republished or available as an ebook (maybe it has been?): "The Music Never Stopped," at least it seemed so in the early '80s. I got more than a dozen copies & accidentally gave them *all* away. Humm lets see, & I think that the author was ...Mr Blair Jackson Thanks Blair!
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Has anyone read TC Boyle’s 2003 novel Drop City? Boyle is one of my favourite novelists. Some of his writing is astonishingly good. Drop City is about a 1970 hippy commune from California that relocates to Alaska. It is also about Alaskans seeking their own, rather different (or not?) utopia in the backwoods. He certainly skewers aspects of the counterculture movement, but is also basically sympathetic. Some in the commune movement got upset by his portrayals of commune life and what they saw as stereotyping. Maybe not Boyle's very best, but an absorbing read, insightful, sometimes very funny, often very dark.
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first: imho this is the most cogent critique of EKAAT that I have read, "Wolfe seemed to be forcing the story into a narritive form with a beginning, middle, end, heroes, villains, etc." As to books, movies, films, etc, that captured the "sixties" (an era beginning as early as the late fifties and ending sometime in the seventies), the song "Alice's Restaurant" captures the anti war movement encapsulating the famous photo of a young man placing a flower in the muzzle of a soldiers rifle, while merging the folk tradition of protest with some of the nascent "hippie" ideas of using humor and love to combat hatred and fear. One movie that really captured the absurdity that the Viet Nam war became was "Apocolypse Now" with the increasingly bizarre world encountered the further the boat crew gets from saigon, including the scene of the soldiers taking acid and shooting tracers into the night. The movie culimates with an Icon of the sixties, Marlon Brando, playing the narciscisticaly megalomaniacal colonel who has created a cult of personality around himself. This character could be viewed as a archetypal characterization of the Nixon presidency. Have to agree that Cool Hand Luke clearly captures elements of the era, as well as defining an era of "anti-heroes" as leading characters in movies. The classics of the era, slaughterhouse 5, stranger in a strange land, the lord of the rings, howl, on the road, really could be considered the literature that informed and inspired the generation, the things that everyone read that formed some of the basic underpinnings of how the world was viewed. A cult classic, the peter fonda film "The Trip". There are lots of things that capture bits and pieces of bits and pieces of the era, nothing could truly capture this (or any other) era in its entirety.
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When I was living in Oregon years ago I would backpack often. One of my favorite areas was a lake basin with about 50 little lakes. Muskrat lake was my favorite because there was a cabin there. The cabin was built in 1935 and had a bunch of visitors by 1979 (my first visit)It was filled with writing everywhere but the floor. This was the register until a proper one arrived. The oldest entry on the wall was from 1953 by the Kesey brothers ( i think there was 5 names) It talked about catching 50 fish and burrying them in a snow bank, only to be eaten by a marten < little critter. I always thought this was cool since I was (am) a deadhead and all etc. A few years later I was laying on a cot inside enjoying the ride. I looked up onto the top window trim & in tiny letters was written: The Shit The Shingle Was Great - Kesey I pondered this for a long time and I still kind of get it. Just about everyone in 1953 when the first entry was written were probably straight. The second entry sounds kind of high, at least thats what was in my head. Sailors Song by Ken is a fantastic book. Not a bio but full of a lot of magic that can make you feel good.
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Appreciate the effort and sentiments expressed in your review. Sure beats shilling for Rhino, but we all gotta eat. "Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own."
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Garcia was a huge fan of the beats. Namely Jack. But I have been a huge fan of most beat writers for nearly 20 years (born '74) and it's no surprise to me how much of a catalyst their writing and lifestyle was for the counter-culture. Corso's Gasoline, Bob Kaufman, Lew Welch, and of course Howl, On the Road etc. And before them was another slew of brilliant visionary writers: Joyce, Pound, Faulkner, Huxley. I think when it comes to literature, the rebel visionary Spirit has always been there over the centuries. From Homer to Hunter. Re this book & your review Blair, thanks for reiterating what I've already heard multiple times via Zane & Stephanie. Yours has been the most entertainingly scathing I've read. now who's gonna write a real bio on Kesey? Blair? "It's not my objective to get people to read, but to get them to think." -Montesquieu
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....that so many have mentioned the same books as touchstones in various ways. I think it's true that certain books DID capture the imagination of large numbers of people back when reading books for pleasure and enlightenment was more common... It was deemed IMPORTANT to read certain books, because they unlocked some mystery about our lives or our humanity or our culture, or something deep. That doesn't happen so much anymore--where a writer undeniably taps into the zeitgeist and plugs us all into something profound in the process. Now, about the only thing we share culturally are YouTube videos of sinister-looking groundhogs and cats wearing bunny ears....
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11 years 5 months
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To have just finished TEKAAT for the first time in 37 yrs and to see this review pop up. Thanks, Blair, for a little deju vu all over again minute. BTW, I did find the part in the Wolfe's book that answered Paul Hawken question that I posted in the "Dead-er" blog...Wolfe mentions a couple of things that Hawken has listed on his website bio: the march on Selma and working as a photograher for CORE. So the Smith and Hawken guy is the same Paul Hawken in "Acid Test."
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Nice honest review, Blair - I cracked right up at the quotation of the author's descriptions of the Grateful Dead as being "not half as spacey" as David Crosby or the Electric Prunes!
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its kind of sad that the only things we seem to share are the youtube videos you mention, well there's still music. Literature should be important, so many of the books listed are truly timeless, I keep waiting for books and literature to be rediscovered. I couldn't even get my 11 year old daughter to read the little house on the prairie books, she'd rather play with videos on youtube. Could the death of reading explain, at least in part, the current political landscape???????????
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Well, I haven't finished reading it yet, and my personal knowledge is of the times and not the people, but Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin by Alice Echols is impressing me with what feels like truth and insight. Hmm. Come to think of it, I guess I'd be interested in knowing what others think of it—whether it resonates with their recollections. Thanks for asking, Blair! —Da Fredcritter
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Thanks for the review, Blair. I know that Zane and Stephanie Kesey are discouraging people from buying this book, but now that I've read your review, I'm discouraged from even reading it. I did my MFA thesis on Kesey. took a weeklong writing class with him in boulder at Naropa's Jack Kerouac School and had the good fortune to be his Faculty Assistant and sell an interview I did with him and from '98 to the present have worked with Zane Kesey, selling his ephemera at music festivals around the country. I have read all of Kesey's published writing and a handful of the unpublished writing from the U of O Special Collection and also really connect with the Prankster side of the Kesey story. All of that said, I don't think I've let my cheerleading for The Cause blind me from seeing Ken's contradictions or his ability to infuriate people who knew and loved him. I genuinely welcome any thoughtful critique of The Prankster Story, but a hit job doesn't appeal to me. Especially one where the tale is not even about the subject so much as it is about the impact of the subject on a guy who barely knew him, didn't understand him, and has little genuine respect for him. You have convinced me to pass on this book entirely. As for books that captured the Kesey Tale, hamal named many of my favorites. Charles Perry's "Haight-Ashbury: A History" is amazing. "Acid Dreams" and "Storming Heaven" are close contenders for me. And, of course, Tom Wolfe's Kool-Aid book can't be overstated. Kesey claimed it was "98% true" but added "it was Tom Wolfe's story, not mine." Here's a link to my MFA Thesis: http://bit.ly/i459Oi And one to my interview with Ken: http://bit.ly/fMRlBo I welcome all honest feedback. groovin' the light fantastic at http://www.popeshady.com strictly commercial at http://shakedowngallery.com
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    clementinejam
    6 years 10 months ago
    Keyboardists
    I grew up on Live Dead. 1969 till 1974. TC was by far the best. Missing PigPen very much. New York and the Fillmore East. Wonderful nights. Am 61 now. I wax poetic for those special times.
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    tdub
    7 years 7 months ago
    hack job
    Blair, I appreciate the analysis. When the book was released, the local "independent" Portland paper (which has always been somewhat clueless and snotty about the Dead and the 60's in general) proudly did a feature and excerpts from the book and it took about 2 paragraphs to see that the book was a) a hack job b) clueless about the man, the era, the genre. I am certainly not gullible and star-struck enough to not know that Kesey had his flaws and dings, but the whole slant of painting him out as a messianic svengali to the drug-numbed public was LAUGHABLE, then ultimately annoying, knowing that this author took the lazy and cheap way out, which in the literary world is unforgivable.
  • LazyLightning
    7 years 7 months ago
    Re: comments on new Kesey bio
    I hope you can add this review to Amazon.