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


September 17 Peace Love Activism

September 17 Peace Love Activism


Dred Scott

September 17, 1858: Scott did not live very long to enjoy his freedom. He died of  tuberculosis less than two years after he achieved freedom. (Dred Scott, see June 17, 1876; BH, see February 14, 1859)
Louis Armstrong
September 17, 1957: 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. (BH, see Sept 25; CW, see Nov 7)
High Hopes Baptist Church
September 17, 1962: 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. (see BH, see Sept 20; AM, see Sept 25)
Weather Underground
September 17, 1971: 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 communique 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. (NYT article) (BH, see Oct 2; APR, see December 30, 1976; WU, see January 29, 1975)
George Wallace
September 17, 1998: George Wallace buried. James Hood traveled from his home in Madison, Wis., to attend the funeral in Montgomery, Alabama. (Black History, see Feb 23; U of A, see Oct 13, 2005)

Technological Milestone

September 17, 1931: 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 (see Nov 26)

September 17 Music et al

August 28 – September 17, 1961: Elvis Presley’s Something for Everybody is Billboard #1 album.  (see Dec 18)
News Music
September 17, 1965: 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. (see Sept 24)
Musical Cultural Milestone: Doors
September 17, 1967: 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.

Musical Cultural Milestone: The Who
September 17, 1966: that same night 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. (Rolling Stone magazine article)(see October 2, 1967)

September 17 Peace Love Activism


September 17, 1972: 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. (see Oct 12)
September 17 Peace Love Activism

Native Americans & Russell C Means

September 17, 1974: Federal District Court Judge Fred Nicol reprimanded the prosecution, the Justice Department and particularly the Federal Bureau of investigation and then dismissed the charges against' Russell C Means and Dennis J Banks. (Wounded Knee, see January 30, 1989; Native Americans, see January 4, 1975)


Vanessa Williams
September 17, 1983: Vanessa Williams became the first African American Miss America. Midway through her reign, on July 23, 1984, Williams relinquished her crown due to controversy over nude photographs of her that appeared in Penthouse magazine.  (see July 19, 1984)
Malala Yousafzai
September 17, 2015: police reported that Saeed Naeem Khan, who was a public prosecutor in the Malala Yousufzai attack case, escaped an attempt on his life on in Saidu Sharif in Swat district. (Feminism, see Dec. 3; Malala, see April 10, 2017)

Jack Kevorkian

September 17, 1998: videotapes appear of the voluntary euthanasia of Thomas Youk, 52, who was in the final stages of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. (see Nov 3)

Sexual Abuse of Children

September 17, 2002: Boston Jesuit priest James Talbot charged with raping and assaulting three teenaged students. (see Sept 19)

Iraq War II

September 17, 2003:  President Bush conceded there was no evidence linking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the September 11, 2001 attacks. (see Oct 19)
September 17 Peace Love Activism

Occupy Wall Street

September 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street began. Approximately one thousand protesters marched on Wall Street in response to high unemployment, record executive bonuses, and extensive bailouts of the financial system. It was a Saturday and as usual, Wall Street was mostly closed. 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. (see Sept 20)
One year later…
September 17, 2012: 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. (see Sept 26)

Stop and Frisk Policy

September 17, 2013: Judge Shira Scheindlin said she will not put an overhaul of the New York City police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program on hold because of an appeal. Scheindlin ordered changes after finding the program discriminates against minorities. She said that granting the city's request would send the wrong signal. (see October 31)
FREE SPEECH & Student Rights
September 17, 2014: rejecting free speech arguments from parents, Republican lawmakers, and conservative groups, a federal appeals court refused to reconsider a ruling that found a South Bay high school had the legal right to order students wearing American-flag adorned shirts to turn them inside out during a 2010 Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals let stand its February ruling in favor of Live Oak High School administrators, who argued that a history of problems on the Mexican holiday justified the decision to act against the American flag-wearing students. Officials at the Morgan Hill school ordered the students to either cover up the shirts or go home, citing past threats and campus strife between Latino and white students that raised fears of violence.

A unanimous three-judge panel had found that the school's actions were reasonable given the safety concerns, which outweighed the students' First Amendment claims. "Our role is not to second-guess the decision to have a Cinco de Mayo celebration or the precautions put in place to avoid violence," the judges ruled.

The 9th Circuit decision relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court's 1969 precedent on when schools can cite safety concerns to justify taking action that might violate student free-speech rights. (FS, see Dec 22; SR, see March 30, 2015)

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September 16 Peace Love Activism

September 16 Peace Love Activism



Palm Beach County, Florida hurricane
September 16, 1928: a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour made landfall in Palm Beach County, Florida. The hurricane destroyed a levee that protected a number of small farming communities from the waters of Lake Okeechobee. Most of the residents of these low-lying communities were black migrant farm workers. When the levee was destroyed, water from Lake Okeechobee rushed into these communities, killing thousands.

After the hurricane, black survivors were forced to recover the bodies of those killed. The officials in charge of the recovery effort ordered that food would be provided only to those who worked and some who refused to work were shot. The bodies of white storm victims were buried in coffins in local cemeteries, but local officials refused to provide coffins or proper burials for black victims.

Instead, the bodies of many black victims were stacked in piles by the side of the roads doused in fuel oil, and burned. Authorities bulldozed the bodies of 674 black victims into a mass grave in West Palm Beach. The mass grave was not marked and the site was later sold for private industrial use; it later was used as a garbage dump, a slaughterhouse, and a sewage treatment plant. The city of West Palm Beach did not purchase the land until 2000. In 2008, on the 80th anniversary of the storm, a plaque and historical marker was erected at the mass grave site.
September 16, 2016: white police officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old black man, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Crutcher was unarmed during the encounter, in which he was standing near his vehicle in the middle of a street. (B & S, see ; Crutcher, see May 17, 2017)

Early “News Music”

In 1929: composed by Fats Waller with lyrics by Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf, Edith Wilson (1896 – 1981) sang "(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.”. It is a protest song that did not speak of how something should change so much as it spoke of what life was like for those who suffered inequities.

In 1929 Blind Alfred Reed (1880 – 1956) wrote “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” The song describes life during the Great Depression.

In 1931, Florence Reece (1900-1986) “was a writer and social activist whose song ‘Which Side Are You On?’ became an anthem for the labor movement. Borrowing from the melody of the old hymn ''Lay the Lily Low,'' Mrs. Reece wrote the union describe the plight of mine workers who were organizing a strike in Harlan County, Ky. Mrs. Reece's husband, Sam, who died in 1978, was one of those workers. Pete Seeger, the folk singer, recorded the song in 1941. It has since been used worldwide by groups espousing labor and social issues.” -- New York Times Obituaries, August 6, 1986. (Labor, see March 3; Feminism, see Dec 10)

Also in 1931:  “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” by lyricist E. Y. "Yip" Harburg and composer Jay Gorney., the song asked why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war (World War I), who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned, in bread lines.

Harburg believed that “songs are an anodyne against tyranny and terror and that the artist has historically always been on the side of humanity.” As a committed socialist, he spent three years in Uruguay to avoid being involved in WWI, as he felt that capitalism was responsible for the destruction of the human spirit, and he refused to fight its wars. A longtime friend of Ira Gershwin, Harburg started writing lyrics after he lost his business in the Crash of 1929. (Yip Harburg, see Jan 10, 1947)

In 1932 Jimmie Rogers (1897 – 1933) was born in Meridian, Mississippi worked on the railroad as his father did but at the age of 27 contracted tuberculosis and had to quit. He loved entertaining and eventually found a job singing on WWNC radio, Asheville, North Carolina (April 18, 1927). Later he began recording his songs. The tuberculosis worsened and he died in 1933 while recording songs in New York. In 1932 he recorded “Hobo’s Meditation.”

In 1938, Lead Belly (born Huddie William Ledbetter) (1888 – 1949) sang about his visit to Washington, DC with his wife and their treatment while in the nation’s capitol in his song, “Bourgeois Blues”. (BH, see Nov 22)

In 1939: during the Great Depression, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) wrote many songs reflecting the plight of farmers and migrant workers caught between the Dust Bowl drought and farm foreclosure. One of the best known of these songs is his  “Do Re Mi.”

In 1940, News Music: Woody Guthrie wrote Tom Joad, a song whose character is based on John Steinbeck’s character in The Grapes of Wrath. After hearing it, Steinbeck reportedly said, “ That f****** little b******! In 17 verses he got the entire story of a thing that took me two years to write.” * (see Feb 23)

September 16 Music et al

“She Loves You”

she loves you

September 16, 1963: the US release of “She Loves You.”  The song wasn't a hit at first. Capitol - EMI's US counterpart - refused to release it, and Vee Jay - which had released Please Please Me and From Me To You to little effect - also declined. Desperate for a stateside hit, Brian Epstein licensed the song to Swan Records, based in Philadelphia, although it was picked up by very few of the crucial US radio stations. (see Oct 4)

Teenage Culture
September 16, 1964: Shindig! premiered on ABC. Produced as a replacement for Hootenanny which fizzled out with the British Invasion. Shindig! will become one of a few shows providing a venue for pop music. The opener featured Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, the Wellingtons, Jackie and Gayle, Donna Loren, Bobby Sherman and the Righteous Brothers.

In 1965: Time Magazine called young people the "generation of conformists" (see Jan 8)
Grateful Dead
deadSeptember 16, 1966:   Dead poster for a show at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco. [from Professor Poster] Undoubtedly the most famous poster from the 60's as well as the most recognized image ever used by the Grateful Dead. The central image is a drawing done by Edward Joseph Sullivan, a late 19th and early 20th century artist. Sullivan created this drawing to illustrate one of the quatrains of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Mouse and Kelley added the color, as the original drawing was in black and white. A thorough examination of this poster shows the excellent lettering, fine use of the ribbon motif an ideal choice of coloring and perfect framing and balance in the design. (see October 2, 1967)
Are You Experienced


September 16, 1967:  'Are You Experienced?' entered the Billboard Hot 200 album chart, where it stayed for 106 weeks, including 77 weeks in the Top 40. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No.15 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and two years later it was selected for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in the United States. (see November 16 – 29, 1968)

Last live Jimi Hendrix
September 16, 1970: Hendrix joined Eric Burdon on stage at Ronnie Scotts in London for what would become the guitarist's last ever public appearance. (see Sept 18)
see Victor Jara for more
September 16, 1973: Allende supporter, Victor Jara, was tortured and executed. His last words, “A song has meaning when it beats in the veins of a man who will die singing. “ Jara thought American folksingers were spoiled and immature. Many have dedicated songs to Jara or referred to him in a song’s lyrics.  (see June 27, 2016)
September 16 Peace Love Activism


September 16, 1974: President Ford offered conditional amnesty to thousands of Vietnam era draft evaders and military deserters who agreed to work for up to two years in public service jobs.

"My sincere hope," he said in a statement, "is that this is a constructive step toward calmer and cooler appreciation of our individual rights and responsibilities and our common purpose as a nation whose future is always more important than its past."

In his proclamation, the President declared that "desertion in time of war is a major, serious offense," and that draft evasion "is also a serious offense." Such actions, he said, need not "be condoned." "Yet," he continued, "reconciliation calls for an act of mercy to bind the nation's wounds and to heal the scars of divisiveness."

Some questioned Ford’s conditional amnesty compared to his unconditional pardon for Nixon 8 days earlier. (NYT article) (Vietnam, see Dec 26; pardon, see January 21, 1977)

US Labor History

September 16 1965: César E. Chávez's National Farm Workers Association voted to join Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) grape strike. (see October 1965)


September 16 Peace Love Activism

September 16, 1975: Papua New Guinea independent of Australia. (see Nov 11)


Leonard Matlovich
September 16, 197: attorneys for Sgt. Leonard Matlovich of the Air Force argued that the military was unlawfully trying to impose on him the moral standards of the majority by requiring his discharge for admitting that he was a homosexual. (LGBTQ, see Sept 22; Matlovich, see Oct 22)
Episcopal Church
September 16, 1976, LGBTQ: the Episcopal Church, at its General Convention in Minneapolis, formally approved the ordination of women as priests and bishops.(see January 27, 1977)

Iraq War II

September 16, 2007:  employees of Blackwater Security Consulting (since renamed Academi), a private military company, shot at Iraqi civilians killing 17 and injuring 20 in Nisour Square, Baghdad. The killings outraged Iraqis and strained relations between Iraq and the United States. Blackwater guards claimed that the convoy was ambushed and that they fired at the attackers in defense of the convoy. The Iraqi government and Iraqi police investigator Faris Saadi Abdul alleged that the killings were unprovoked (Iraq, see Dec 30; Blackwater, see October 22, 2014)


Malala Yousafzai
September 16, 2013: Amnesty International announced that the recipients for its Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2013 were Malala Yousafzai and American singer, human rights and social justice activist Harry Belafonte. Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, stated: “Our two new Ambassadors of Conscience are different from each other in many ways, but they share a dedication to the fight for human rights everywhere and for all.” (see Nov 10)

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What's so funny about peace, love, and activism?