Furthur, Further … that literary device on wheels, that great American rolling metaphor.
Fifty years after novelist Ken Kesey gathered his friends into a painted bus and drove a jagged route from California to New York City, the novelist’s son Zane Kesey is hitting the road again, in a new bus with a new gang of Merry Pranksters, funded by a Kickstarter that has already met its goal.
We’ve written a lot on this website about Ken Kesey, who died in November 2001, and whose gregarious literary ambitions have sometimes been misunderstood because he broke so many rules about how to live as a famous writer. Despite Kesey’s heroic refusal to ever conduct himself in a serious and dignified manner, his bus trip was a thoroughly literary journey, not only because he put Jack Kerouac’s automotive muse Neal Cassady behind the wheel but also because the 1964 bus ride’s cast of characters would include Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ken Babbs, Sandy Lehmann-Haupt, Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary.
The destination was the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, which serendipitously connects literary classics in yet another way: here was the driver from On The Road heading to the spot immortalized in The Great Gatsby, with the author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest calling out the path to follow.
The bus trip became a countercultural legend after Tom Wolfe wrote about it in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Douglas Brinkley also wrote about the trip in The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey, a book that emphasizes Kesey’s intended historical significance. The continent that encompasses the United States of America was settled, civilized and modernized from the east coast to the west. By traveling from the west back to the east, Brinkley wrote, those mad California proto-hippies were on a mission to “unsettle America” in every possible sense of the phrase.
We’ll be following Zake Kesey’s journey as it proceeds. The Kickstarter video emphasizes that they will have separate blogging stations and YouTube portals near the front of the bus, so they intend to do this journey in a very networked way (though I hope their web design will be slightly better than that of Key-Z.com, which also looks like it was designed fifty years ago, or at least at the height of the MySpace blinking-background era, which wasn’t fifty years ago but could have been).
We presume that the journey will begin from Northern California in mid-June, and it’s a good bet that they’ll swing through Texas to visit Faye Kesey and Larry McMurtry, who got married not long ago. Beyond this, it’s only known that they will be on the east coast in late summer and early fall.
I contributed $20 to the Kickstarter, which allegedly earns me some treats and a phone call that will come at some mysterious point in time from some mysterious voice on the bus. If and when this phone call comes, I will have only one question to ask: when is the bus coming near my town?
But I won’t ask how I can get on, because this is a bus I’ve been on for a long time.