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Ken Kesey On Misconceptions Of Counterculture

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
August 12, 2011

The new documentary Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place gathers never before seen footage shot during the Merry Pranskters’ LSD-fueled bus trip across America in 1964. Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was the ring leader. The bus was driven by Neal Cassady, who was the inspiration for the main character in the Jack Kerouac novel On the Road.

On Friday’s Fresh Air, we’ll hear interviews with Tom Wolfe, who chronicled the bus trip in his best seller The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; with Robert Stone, who met the bus and hung out with Kesey, Cassady and the Pranksters when they arrived in New York; and with Kesey.

This interview with Kesey was originally broadcast on Dec. 15, 1989.

Ken Kesey, a leading figure of the counterculture movement, popularized LSD and other hallucinogens and wrote two of the era’s most popular books, Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He was also the subject of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s account of West Coast hippies after spending three weeks with the Merry Pranksters.

In 1987, Kesey joined Fresh Air’s Terry Gross for a conversation about his writing and his role as a counterculture figure. He told Gross that Wolfe’s novel, which followed Kesey and the Merry Pranksters across the United States, was a good book, but created some misconceptions.

“When New York wants to view somebody’s personality, they want it in terms of a sound byte,” Kesey said. “They don’t want to have it get too complex. It’s like coming over [to our performance] tonight. We got caught in the traffic. And I just hate coming to a place late because I know that’s what they expect of me and my Prankster upbringing. [They think] ‘Here he is, he’s late, he’s probably messed up.’ But I’m not. I’ve always been a reliable, straight-up-the-middle-of-the-road citizen that just happens to be an acid head.”

Kesey died in 2001 at the age of 66. His last major publication was a piece reflecting on Sept. 11 in Rolling Stone magazine. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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