Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey

The man who discovered the 60s

September 17, 1935 – November 10, 2001


The jock

     As the counter-cultural view expanded during the 60s, one of the divides between the status quo and those who supported new views was between athletes (who typically sided with the status quo) and, for lack of a better word, nerds. By nerd, here, I mean anyone whose views and preferences put them outside the views and preferences of those around them. 

     Ken Kesey was a bright and athletic person. Those two characteristics are often and unfairly viewed as opposites of each other. He was a great wrestler in college who won several awards as a wrestler.  He'd even qualified for the Olympics, but an injury prevented his participation. 

The nerd

     At the University of Oregon, Kesey majored in speech and communication. He loved literature as well. His preference for Ray Bradbury's science fiction expanded to include Ernest Hemingway and other modern fiction writers.

Non-grad grad student

     After his graduation from Oregon, Kesey began a non-degree program in creative writing at Stanford University. He lived most of that time on Perry Lane, an enclave of cottages near the university and where many "outsiders" lived. Also living there was Ken Babbs and Larry McMurtry, two people who would play a huge part in Kesey's future adventures.

     Though some faculty members saw Kesey as an emerging talent, others thought him a threat. A typical reaction by the status quo to a non-traditional view.

     Despite the intolerance, Kesey continued taking classes.


     Anyone who has taken graduate courses knows that finding a source of cash always hums in the background. 

     Ken Kesey began to volunteer in a drug testing program. It was the top-secret Project MKULTRA, a federal government program aimed at discovering and developing drugs to use in the Cold War. Psychoactive drugs such as LSK, mescaline, and psilocybin were part of the protocol. 

     Kesey's use of these drugs, his job at the Menlo Park Veteran's Hospital, and creative ability led to his final draft of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the book that put Kesey's name on the literary map.

Further or Furthur

     As anyone who has the wonderful tool of Spellcheck knows, our ability to spell correctly runs up against the English language's failure to pronounce words as spelled.   Roy Sebern learned that when he first spelled the bus's name. The bus was a 1939 International Harvester school bus.

     Kesey had written a sccond book, Sometimes a Great Notion, and he decided to combine business with pleasure and travel cross-country to New York for the publication party.

     Kesey's crew, known as the Merry Pranksters, fixed the bus with video and audio equipment. On the Road hero Neal Cassady was the driver. The story became part of Tom Wolfe's famous Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Not until  2011 were the disjointed audio and filmed pieces put together and released as the documentary Magic Trip. 

7940 La Honda Road

     After the demolition of the Perry Lane cottages, Ken Kesey moved to La Honda. It was there that the so-called Acid Tests emanated.   With LSD as the cocktail, black lights, strobe lights, fluorescent paint, video cameras, tape recorders, and the music of the Grateful Dead combined to make a grand experiment. 

Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey

     Kesey gradually exited from the public eye.  An Acid Test graduation, a marijuana conviction, a faked suicide, and escape to Mexico, his return to the US and arrest (NYT article), a 5-month imprisonment, and a return to Oregon where he became a family man raising children and writing. 

     In 1992 doctors diagnosed Kesey with diabetes.  He continued to be an active writer and activist, but mainly from his Oregon home. 

     In 1998, he had a stroke and in October 2001 Kesey had surgery to remove a tumor. He died of complications on November 10, 2001,  at age 66.

Ken Kesey


Thursday 17 September

September 17, 1931, Technological Milestone: the first long-playing record, a 33 1/3 rpm recording, was demonstrated at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York by RCA-Victor. The venture was doomed to fail however due to the high price of the record players, which started around $95.


September 17, 1957, BLACK HISTORY & the Cold War: jazz musician Louis Armstrong angrily announced that he would not participate in a U.S. government-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union. Armstrong was furious over developments in Little Rock, Arkansas, where mobs of white citizens and armed National Guardsmen had recently blocked the entrance of nine African-American students into the all-white Central High School.


September 17, 1962, BLACK HISTORY: High Hopes Baptist Church near Dawson, Georgia was burned to the ground. It is the 4th “Negro Church” to be set ablaze. Three white men later admitted burning the church. They were sentenced to seven-year prison terms.. The homes of five Black families had also been burned.


September 17, 1965, News Music: Time magazine launched its coverage of antiwar songs in the article, “Rock ‘n’ Roll: Message Time,” which quoted from the nineteen-year-old P. F. Sloan’s best-selling song “Eve of Destruction.” Barry McGuire, the former lead singer for the New Christy Minstrels, recorded the song, and in late August, his record had begun to appear in the pop charts. Within a few weeks, it had reached Number 1, and then began to fade. Protest had seemingly become fashionable. Sloan would later recall,  “The media frenzy over the song tore me up and seemed to tear the country apart,”. Josh Dunson, a member of the Broadside group, interpreted the broader impact: ‘Eve of Destruction’ is the first protest song dealing in specifics to reach the non-college-educated sector of the population. It is awkward and full of holes, but the earnestness with which it was bought by hundreds of thousands and blocked by dozens of stations might indicate a large segment of the young population other than college students is dissatisfied with our war policy abroad and double standard at home.


September 17, 1967, Cultural Milestones: The Doors appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and perform “Light My Fire”. Sullivan had requested that the line “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” be changed for the show. Jim Morrison agreed, but ended up performing it the way it was written and The Doors are banned from the show.


September 17, 1967, The Who appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. They played 2 songs, “I Can See For Miles” and “My Generation”. At the end of “My Generation”, Pete Townshend started smashing his amp and Keith Moon had his drum set rigged to explode which did cut Moon’s leg & singed Pete Townshend’s hair, along with doing damage to Townshend’s hearing.

September 17, 1971, BLACK HISTORY, Attica Prison Riot &  Weather Underground:  the Weathermen launched a retaliatory attack on the New York Department of Corrections, exploding a bomb near Correctional Services Commissioner Russell G. Oswald’s office. The communiqué accompanying the attack called the prison system ‘how a society run by white racists maintains its control,’ with white supremacy being the ‘main question white people have to face'” and saying that the Attica riots are blamed on Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.


o-MASH-FINALE-facebookSeptember 17, 1972, Vietnam: The comedy series “M.A.S.H.” premiered on CBS. Though set during the Korean War, its stories obviously paralleled and often mocked the ongoing Vietnam war.


September 17, 2003, Iraq War II:  President Bush conceded there was no evidence linking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the September 11, 2001 attacks.


Occupy Wall Street begins: approximately one thousand protesters march on Wall Street in response to high unemployment, record executive bonuses, and extensive bailouts of the financial system. It is a Saturday and as usual, Wall Street is basically closed, but by the afternoon Zuccotti Park became the central location and camp for the protesters. The “people’s mic” became an effective way to communicate to the large groups, i.e. a speaker talks, those closest to the speaker repeat loudly what is said, those in back of the front repeat again, and so forth.


September 17, 2012: Occupy Wall Street from the NY Times: More than 100 arrests were reported on Monday, the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as protesters converged near the New York Stock Exchange and tried to block access to the exchange.