Ken Kesey - writer, counter-cultural icon (1935 - 2001)
This KBOO exclusive recording is from a talk by writer Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, given in Portland and recorded by KBOO volunteers in 1976.
Kesey attended the University of Oregon with a degree in Speech and Communications. He also received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to enroll in the Creative Writing program at Stanford. His classmates in the program included Robert Stone, Larry McMurty, Ken Babbs, and Wendell Berry, all of whom would go on to be noted writers and lifelong friends of Kesey.
While at Stanford, he participated in government-funded experiments involving chemicals at the psychology department to earn extra money. These chemicals included psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD. This experience fundamentally altered Kesey, personally and professionally. While working as an orderly at the psychiatric ward of the local VA hospital, Kesey began to have hallucinations about an Indian sweeping the floors. This formed the basis for Chief Bromden (for "broom") in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, his writing project at Stanford.
In 1964, Kesey and his friends, who had become known as the Merry Pranksters, bought a 1939 International Harvest school bus and drove to New York to see the World's Fair. Kesey recruited Neal Cassady from Kerouac's On the Road to drive the bus. Kesey filmed a significant portion of the journey, and he later would show clips from the trip to chemically-induced audiences at his parties. Kesey became the proponent of a local band known as the "Warlocks," which later became the Grateful Dead.
Kesey and his Merry Pranksters became notorious for their "Acid Tests" and use of LSD and other drugs. Kesey's exploits with the Merry Pranksters during this period formed the basis for a best-selling book by Tom Wolfe (A Man in Full, The Bonfire of the Vanities) called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. When the government made LSD illegal, Ken and the Pranksters fled to Mexico, where Kesey tried to fake a suicide in order to escape later prosecution. But when he returned to the United States for a final performance, he was arrested on a marijuana charge, leading to a five-month prison sentence at the San Mateo County Jail. Upon his release from jail, Kesey moved to a farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, with his wife to raise his four children. He quietly taught a graduate writing seminar at the University of Oregon.
Kesey published Kesey's Garage Sale in 1973. His later works include Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear, a children's book (1990); Sailor Song (1992); and Last Go Around (1994), his last book, about a famous rodeo in Oregon.
Decades after his counterculture experience, Kesey never settled down. As he attested on his website late in life, Kesey warned that every now and then he got the itch to do "something weird." Kesey died on November 10, 2001, following cancer surgery on his liver.
This talk is part of a special series Treasures from the KBOO Archive, which presents examples of the thousands of reels currently deteriorating in KBOO's back room. We need your help to preserve these audio gems! Donate today to help support the archive digitization project.
*biography information from http://www.gradesaver.com