A week before Thanksgiving I drove to Sebastopol, California near Santa Rosa, to catch a performance/reading by a travelling troupe of writers and Pranksters. The occasion was the release of two new books, one about the late Ken Kesey, and the other written by him. The former is titled Spit in the Ocean. It’s a collection of short pieces written in appreciation of Kesey’s life and work by those who knew and loved him. The latter is titled Kesey’s Jail Journal, and it’s just that — a chronicle in words and drawings of the six months that Kesey spent incarcerated in San Mateo County, California in 1967 after being convicted of marijuana possession.
On hand to give her firsthand account of the bust that led to that conviction was Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia. Other readers and performers included Kesey’s longtime friend and co-conspirator Ken Babbs, along with his wife Eileen and their daughter Lizzie; Spit in the Ocean editor Ed McClanahan, author of The Natural Man, Famous People I Have Known, and other famous books; Jail Journal editor David Stanford, formerly of Viking Press, known for his work on Jack Kerouac‘s Collected Letters and Some of the Dharma; Kesey’s son, Zane, proprietor of Key-Z Productions; inveterate clown and do-gooder Wavy Gravy; tour documentor Freddy “AreWeReally” Hahne; graphic artist John Lackey; computer whiz Pat “Chef Juke” Mackey; and longtime Prankster, Neal Cassady’s backup driver, George Walker.
The event took place in the roomy Sebastopol Community Center. The psychedelic bus, Further II, was parked just outside, open for tours and inspections. With most of this crew on board, Walker had driven the bus down from Oregon for a series of California performances. The evening was built around a series of six skits, or sketches — in Through the Looking Glass-fashion they had by now become “skitches” — that Ken Babbs wrote for the book tour. In each skitch Walker played the part of a reporter asking questions of Kesey. The other performers — Babbs, Mackey, Stanford, Hahne, and Zane Kesey — fronted by a variety of Kesey masks, would then answer the questions. A number of musical instruments were also played, sometimes on key. Songs were sung, jokes and stories told, and portions of each book read. It was all rather fast-paced and informal, educational and fun — a literary entertainment, a gathering of old friends and making of new ones. After the final skitch and a sing-along of “Goodnight Irene” there was ample time for conversation and book purchases and signings.
Kesey’s flesh envelope is now interred on his Oregon farm, but his friends and colleagues provide evidence that his spirit is still vibrant. As Wavy Gravy put it in his “Haiku for Kesey”:
They say Kesey’s dead-
but never trust a prankster
even under ground