Between the Covers

By: Neil Feineman

Although it was a long time ago, before television, when novelists were cultural heroes, people talked a lot about the Great American Novel. Some claimed it was Tom Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel or You Can't Go Home Again or MacKinley Kantor's Andersonville, Faulkner's Light in August, Fitzgerald's Gatsby, Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Melville's Moby Dick, etc.

But most agreed that the book hadn't yet been written yet. As such, it served as a sort of holy grail. Many believed Ken Kesey's 1964's Sometimes a Great Notion, a book about the logging industry in Oregon, was to be that novel. It wasn't. But it was a great book nonetheless and provides enough of a reason to spend a few minutes on another of electronic music's spritiual forefathers. For Kesey, who was born in 1935, was far more than a writer. Too young to be a beatnik and too old to be a hippie, he put his indelible stamp on our way of life not once, but twice.

While at Stanford grad school in the late 1950s, he was a guinea pig in Project MKULTRA, a CIA-financed study that dosed people with LSD, magic mushrooms, cocaine and DMT to see how they behaved on drugs. In Kesey's case, the effects appeared to be long acting, since it led to what he called his "Acid Test" parties in northern California several years later. These parties featured performances by The Warlocks (an early incarnation of the Grateful Dead), strobe lights, body painting, black lights and copious amounts of LSD. These parties served as the basis for Tom Wolfe's groundbreaking article, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" and Hunter S. Thompson's masterpiece, Hell's Angels.

Not content with changing culture once, he did it again with the Merry Pranksters, a roving band of friends, including beat gods Neal Cassady and Alan Ginsberg, that started as a marketing prank. When the publisher wanted Kesey in NY to promote Sometimes a Great Notion, he got the idea of driving across the country in a bus, performing random acts of art. These extended roadtrips also played a large part in Wolfe's essay and firmly established the wacky, hip road trip of the 1960s as a gneerational rite of passage.

The Pranksters went on spreading their merry brand of mayhem until 1966, when Kesey got busted for dope. Rather than go to jail, he faked his own suicide and hid out in Mexico for several months. Thinking he had waited them out, he moved back to the bay area, but was caught and sent to prison for five months. After that, he moved back to Oregon, where he had gotten his B.A. and pretty much stayed put, living the good life and writing books like One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest until his death in 2001. Ken Kesey, it seems, was not content to have just one great notion.

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Roseland Theater

8 NW 6th Ave
Portland, OR 97209

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Hours: 8:00:00 PM - 2:30:00 AM
Capacity: 1400
Ages: All Ages