Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters

To all appearances, Ken Kesey had a considerable share in the invention of what has since come to be known as the counterculture of the 1960s. He authored the sensational best-selling novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — his literary debut, published in 1962, before he turned twenty-seven. In July 1964, then, at his home in La Honda (just south of San Francisco), Ken Kesey and a group of friends, relatives and devotees embarked a battered 1939 International Harvester school bus, to go on a cross-country ride to New York. Boldly named FURTHUR (fusing "further" and "future"), the bus was especially prepared for the occasion. The seats were replaced by couches, many-colored iridescent day-glo sprays were applied liberally to enhance the coating, and an intricate sound and film equipment was installed, not merely for entertainment, but to document the outing. Enormous footage on celluloid and audio tape was produced along the way (much of which still awaits examination in the Prankster Archives).

The Pranksters' journey on the bus turned into a trip — whose general direction was suggested by the Pranksters' desire to visit, along the way, Timothy Leary and to get attuned, on the road, to the prospective meeting with the prophet of LSD. The patriarch of the communal outing, Kesey had first come across LSD when as a graduate student at Stanford he wanted to earn some extra money on the side (he was married and the father of a boy, with another child on the way). He volunteered at Menlo Park VA Hospital in a government-sponsored program, participating in experiments conducted to study the effects of hallucinogenics. The experiences gained with "the best LSD he ever had . . ., sponsored by the government" (so he has liked to claim), were vital in the conception of Cuckoo's Nest.

The driver seat of the Prankster bus was occupied mainly by Neal Cassady, who had inspired Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) and Visions of Cody (1959).

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His autobiographical The First Third underlined that Cassady indeed was Dean Moriarty, the protagonist of Kerouac's cult novel, and Cody Pomeroy, of the sprawling documentary. — By the time FURTHUR had made it to New York, however, it had become sufficiently clear that, driven by Cassady, Kesey and his Merry Pranksters had left the Beats far behind. Significantly, in New York they encountered, among others, Jack Kerouac, who was completely put off by the Pranksters' appearance and habitus; in particular, the ardent patriot (Kerouac in his youth in Lowell, Massachusetts, had spoken the French Canadian dialect his parents had used at home) resented the Pranksters' abuse of the flag; and Kesey, the "Chief," liked to pose as Captain Flag. The Further Inquiry, cast as a screenplay and enhanced ostentatiously by graphics, is a latter-day reassessment of Cassady's part in the undertaling. More balanced is the recollection offered in Ken Babbs's and Paul Perry's On The Bus: The Complete Guide to the Legendary Trip of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and the Birth of the Counterculture.

A condescending, sensationalist account of Kesey's and the Pranksters' adventures has been delivered by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The book cover of Ken Kesey's 1990 recapitulation (of sorts) of those wild days on the bus back in '64, '65furtherinq.jpg (16132 Byte)
Kesey and the bus at his farm near Springfield, Oregon (in the 1990s)Kesey1.jpg (14958 Byte)
Kesey's favorite pose these days, taking after Faulkner'skeseybabbs.jpg (14430 Byte)
Ken Kesey (right) and his perennial Prankster lieutenant Ken Babbsonthebus.jpg (20776 Byte)
Ken Babbs's and Paul Perry's account of Prankster extravaganza

grandfur.gif (58838 Byte)Kesey and his Pranksters are still taking to the the road in 1997


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Check out their Website

There has been much concern over Kesey having suffered a light stroke in late September 1997. Happily, recovery seems to have been swift.

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(From an add on the homepage of  Intrepid Trips, Inc.,
The Prankster Shop)

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On Kerouac and his book, see the following:

friendly plot summary and excerpts

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