Monday, October 28, 2013
The words are still fresh on the tip of my tongue, right inside my ear, still beating in my heart, what Ken Kesey said for Bill Graham when he died. And I'll say it here for another man who's been so loved and so revered.
"And the other thought. The second thought, the warrior thought, the hard thought, the final thought is that we ain't many. In any given situation there's going to be more dumb people than smart people, we ain't many."
And now we are one less.
He was a man who didn't listen to anyone about anything. Bless him.
Friday, October 25, 2013
I was a junior in college when I saw Ken Kesey standing on an island in the middle of Arrivals traffic at the San Francisco International Airport. My mom and I were dropping my pilot dad off for a flight and were attempting to pull through a traffic jam. I saw him standing there. So obvious, Ken Kesey!!! He had wild silver hair and a tie dye on. He was trying to find his way through the madness.
"Oh my god, MOM!!" I yelled, "That's Ken KESEYYY!!!"
She stopped the car, always game for fun, and said, "Oh! Oh! Do you want me to yell, 'KEN!!'" No, don't do it, mom! DON'T DO THAT! "Why not?" She wanted to know, as she rolled the window down, "HEY KEN!"
I remember ducking in the car, "No! MOM! Just…sit here a minute."
And she did. She stopped traffic so I could look upon one of my heroes, a literary hero, the best kind. I looked at him in wonder at the history rolled up in his brain, in his big belly, his crazy hair…I soaked him up as much as I could, then said "Ok." And she pulled out of the traffic and put us on the highway.
Ken. I was reminded this morning how much I love him and why, exactly. He was a brainiac, accepted into Stanford on a scholarship. This brainiac writer took acid not because it was popular but because he volunteered for a drug study sanctioned by the US government. When he found out they were testing people for military interrogations, NOT psychiatric use, he was very sad that he had contributed.
He spent a long time after that proving that LSD was meant for good things: an open brain and loving heart = enlightenment, not evil.
When Ken spoke, he spoke clearly, he was never confused or swayed. The Man could never get Ken's goat.
That very night after seeing him at the airport, I was at a Grateful Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. It was Halloween. Bill Graham had just died in an awful helicopter accident and Ken was there to pay tribute with a deeply moving speech followed by a portion of an ee cummings poem. Even though I'd seen him arriving that day, it was a surprise when he stepped out on stage. He read for Bill with love and admiration, and his loud, solid voice of conviction boomed out across the massive arena with grace.
Buffalo Bill is
he was a handsome man
he used to ride on a white horse and shoot clay pigeons
onetwothreefourfive just like that
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy now
I yelled until I couldn't hear myself, I could only feel. Sound pummeling my belly, the vibrations pounding my eardrums. A deafening roar.
Listen to Ken's speech and read his words here.
Hearing it again just now, my heart is pounding and my chest is tightening…my eyes are stretching and tears are coming. My throat is clogging with emotion. My hands tremor. GodDAMn.
Fast forward a couple years and I found myself working at the legendary Psychedelic Shop in San Francisco. I found myself one day ordering Acid Test memorabilia from the Kesey farm, talking on the phone with his son's wife. It was a mind-blowing what-the-fuck-how-did-I-get-here moment. God, I'm so lucky. Life has led me to such interesting places.
I feel bad for all the new Kids who will never know such comprehensive multifaceted joy. Thank god I was born in 1970, right on the cusp between seeing what was left and missing it all.
During a search to find the recording of Kesey's speech, I also found the night documented by many show attendees who had the same experience as me.
This is one of the best shows I've ever seen and one of the best experiences of my life. What I heard, saw, and learned at this show eventually led me to study energy transfer at the graduate level (physics, psychology, spirituality, etc.) and changed my life. Bill's death…hung heavy in the air that night. Our grief, mixed with the expectation that the film between the spirit world and the profane would stretch thin and break on All Hallow's Eve…built the energy in the Coliseum up to an intense level. By the time Kesey came out for his rap I could feel ghosts flying around the room, Jerry's intense guitar work backing up Ken's passion and our longing to connect to the other side. The Drums sequence was very tribal...and the edge that Jerry put into all of his solos that night took the whole thing past the doors of perception, over the edge, and into another space and time. This show was past entertaining, it was like a high holy day at church. I will remember it forever.
Kesey's poem was terrifying in its intensity. But the most powerful moment for me was the first notes of "Fire on the Mountain". Given that Graham's helecopter crashed and burned on the side of a Sonoma hill, the song was disturbing. But more disturbing was being close enough to the stage to see Jerry crying while he was singing the song. It saddens me just writing this.