Ken Kesey's been on a long trip since
1959 when he first volunteered for a cia sponsored psychoactive
drug research program, writing of his experiences and publishing
his first novel "one flew over the cuckoo's nest".
His adventures with his co-horts helped sponsor the hippie movement
of the sixites. He's still on the road lecturing and performing
at college campuses and turning on the next generations with
his outspoken views and lifetstyle. Firezine caught up with
him over lunch at shepherd college in shepherdstown, wv - 4/1998.
FIREZINE: Are you familiar with The Firesign Theatre?
KEN KESEY: Oh yes. I was on Peter's radio show. There were certain forts and Firesign Theatre's fort was down in LA, on 'The Farm'. They're real warriors. I found this way of judging, it's just arbitrary and it's not based on anything except what I think. I call it judging warriors. It's who are warriors and who our heroes really are. Because you need some criteria to judge the people who you are listening to or that you love or that you hate, I've come up with this thing that I call 'shit floats and cream rises'. Shit floats is Jerry Rubin. Cream rises is Abbie Hoffman. Shit floats is Tom Wolfe. Cream rises is Hunter Thompson. Shit floats is Madonna. Cream rises is Joan Baez. Shit floats is Eddie Murphy. Cream rises is Richard Pryor. Eddie Murphy has a long way to go before he will become a warrior. Shit floats is Billy Crystal. Cream rises is Jonathon Winters. These are revolutionaries. If you watch these people long enough you know which guy is a warrior and how much they're dedicated to that really secret place in ourselves that wants to be a warrior. Not to be a soldier. A soldier fights for the government. A warrior is like a samurai, he fights for the people.
FZ: You use a lot of humor in your presentations, who are some of your other favorite comedians?
KK: One of the best tools that we have is humor. Understanding what's going on and being able to laugh and enjoy what's happening in the world makes you love the world. Lord Buckley. It was such a shock to everybody that we found out that Lord Buckley was white. We'd been betrayed somehow. But I knew all those records like my left hand. I wished I kept all those damn records. The CD is a drag. The more you listen to it the more you want certain times to have clarity and separation and there's other times you want the sound to warble around within itself. Jonathon Winters, his stuff is pretty far out.
FZ: What's your definition of psychedelic humor?
KK: When I had finished "Cuckoo's Nest" and had gone back to Oregon. I dropped by the doctor's place and picked up a bunch of good stuff. My brother and I would take it and take it to other places. One of the drugs was called MP 14, a derivative of a mushroom's active ingredient, I think. And we'd gone out duck hunting and went to this place that you had to pay to go into. It was completely dark. The blinds were septic tanks set in the ground. When you get back in there and put the lid over, you get a chance to shoot at the ducks as they go by. Chuck and I were just beginning to really get whoozie and we're seeing stuff. We're standing up in there looking and here came 3 big ole, beautiful small teal, flying right straight toward us. I was watching them and suddenly, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. Chuck dropped them all. I said, "God, that's good shootin'." He says, "Out Of a flock like that I should have got 10 or 12."
When I last spoke to Timothy Leary, last year, his son had called and said, "You better speak to dad, he's checking out." So I called and I could barely hear him breathing on the phone. And so I was telling him, "Leary, it's really been a hell of a few years getting to know you and I'll be grateful for it forever. In fact, let's just not let it slide, let's keep it going. Let's meet. Let's meet on Halloween eve at midnight and you name the place." He said, "Houdini's grave." And that is courage. That is somebody who's right up against the doorstep there and he still got his wit and he's still got his humor and he's still Tim Leary.
FZ: In your lectures you advocate the legalization of marijuana.
KK: I want to talk about it, because nobody else is, God damn it. Nobody wants to touch it. I swear, when we first got into doing drugs 30 some years ago, I thought by now we would be teaching it in college. You can't imagine Cheech and Chong doing "Up In Smoke" now, it would not be allowed. It wouldn't happen. The amount of money the government has poured in to stop kids smokin' dope is a shame and everybody who knows anything about dope knows that the safest thing in the world for you to take is grass. It's good damn stuff and most of you know that. It's so obviously wrong headed what's happening with the government, right now. It's because a lot of people have chosen to be stupid about it. William Bennitt says, "Marijuana is a drug that makes some people think they feel better. You don't really feel better, you just think you feel better." It's going to take a lot of work to get them to get up off this attitude and recognize that if those grade school kids in Arkansas had been smoking a joint instead of using grandpa's guns those other kids would still be alive. If OJ had smoked a joint, he would have said, "Hell with it, I kill the bitch tomorrow."
FZ: What's it like doing LSD as an older person?
KK: I don't do near as much as I used to. I found a long time ago that you don't need to have a great big tuning fork. You can tune your guitar with a little bitty tuning fork. I think one of the reasons we do LSD is it straightens you out. It puts things back in their proper perspective. You know what's important and you also know where you have strayed. It's really easy to forget that. Pretty soon you'll be voting for Dan Quale. If you don't watch it.
FZ: He's not running.
KK: That's the worst part of it. We're going through a time where it's very easy to get pissed-off at each other. People are on each other's case almost constantly. I mean, who would have thought we'd be discussing the shape of the president's dick? And so the dick has become sort of holy. My dad used to have a saying, which was, "It's as different as a minister's dick."
FZ: Well, we got the video trip up Reagan's butt on the evening news, remember?
KK: Yeah, and I'd rather look at Clinton's dick! Hate is being sold everyday over every damn TV program that you can watch. The consciousness that's putting all these shows on, they want us to buy Dobermans and a house that has a Cyclone fence around it and an electronic gate that opens and they live in there with the rest of the Republicans and keep all of the rest of the people out. In fact most of the Democrats that I know are planning to get a Doberman and a cyclone fence and become Republicans just as soon as they win the lottery. The evil force doesn't care which side you're on, it just wants you fighting. And to get people to get off of that, to get off each other's case is going to take somebody who goes in there and says, "Hey, let's stop this screaming. Let's get together and move from love instead of from hate."
As the Firesign Theatre said, "We're all Bozos on this bus." Either you're on the bus or you're under it