Then Along Comes Kesey
Excerpted from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac”
I was well into Jack — and this whole conference kicked that up a few dozen notches — like it did everybody else — but The Chief and The Boys (the Grateful Dead) — those were the magic beans I wanted to come home with handfuls of. So I immediately parlayed myself into being Kesey’s handler — the guy who was supposed to make sure he was where he was supposed to be. Good luck with that!
His first event was a big press conference with Allen and Burroughs. And of course he’s late. Way late. I’d called him at the house where he was staying, and he promised they were just leaving. Like, an hour ago.
After much pacing and looking back and forth from my watch to the furthest cars driving anywhere near — Kesey finally just “appeared,” all alone, blissfully walking up the sidewalk … and I was quickly learning what was known as “Buddhist time” in Boulder: Things were supposed to happen at a certain time. Unless they didn’t.
You’re immediately struck by his size and stature, and I don’t just mean literary reputation. This was a big man — a wrestler with a tree-trunk neck, a barrel chest, and Popeye forearms; a mountainman with ruddy cheeks and glowing skin; but more impactful than anything was his ever-present smile, his big, easy and infectious laugh, and the Prankster twinkle perpetually flashing in his leprechaun eyes.
“How was the trip here?” I asked.
“Great. We drove 40 hours non-stop,” and he turned and smiled a wide one in pride at their Cassady-like achievement. In fact, I’d hear him tell people this for the next week. “All the way from Eu-gene,” he’d say, emphasizing the first syllable and not the second, like he always did.
This all sounded well and good and very On The Road and In The Spirit and all that, so I never broke it to him that I got here from Portland, which is furthur, in 42 hours — and I didn’t even have a car! Smoke that in your pipe and hold it.
As we speed-walked the sidewalk to the gig, he also shared, “It was a return trip.” I looked at him. “My pa packed up the family and moved us from right near here to where we live now. I was born not far from here. Smack in the middle of the war he up and moved us all to Oregon, been there ever since. But this was my first home.”
And then, oh man! That press conference was sumpthin! I’ll just say straight out — there are very few people I’ve been around who change a room just by walking into it, but Kesey’s one of them. This was just the first of many times I would experience it. It has to do with energy, there’s no other way to explain it. People radiate energy, and I saw the effects of Kesey’s many times. He’d enter a room, and the whole space would change, even for people who didn’t know he was there or who he was. It would get louder and more animated. He was this huge splash in the energy pool and ripples would roll across the room, hit the far wall, and come rolling back again. Mind you, he was also partnered with his Lieut. Babbs, the former Vietnam helicopter pilot and Senior Prankster who’s got a bellowing baritone to match his big Oregon frame. So . . . things change when they walk in a room. As they did to the nines in the Glenn Miller Lounge at this press conference.
Lined up next to each other were Babbs, Ginzy, Anne Waldman, Burroughs and Kesey in front of the microphones and cameras and tape decks and standing-room-only reporters. The first question was to Kesey, and he was off, galloping with words and thoughts and obscure references, and leaning forward into the questions, not sitting back in his chair, and playing the room, merging the artists and audience like the best musician magicians can do.
The one and only time my trusty Kodak Instamatic X-15 screwed up and took multiple exposures was with Kesey and his convertible.
Or you can check out a bunch of performance videos with various musical line-ups here.
Or here’s a ton of different readers’ reactions to the book.
And here’s a whole second round of rave reactions that came in from all over the world.
For more from the Boulder Beat Book — check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or here’s . . . Who All Was There.
Or here’s another part about Jack’s wife Edie and best pal Henri.
Or here’s the part where we arrive at Red Rocks for the Grateful Dead’s show as part of the conference.
Or here’s a related Kesey follow-up story about finding buried treasure.
For a vivid account of being at the historic “On The Road” scroll auction — check out The Scroll Auction.
For my keynote essay from “The Rolling Stone Book of The Beats” on the decade that birthed the Beats — go here.
Or also from “The Rolling Stone Book of The Beats” — here’s my riff on The Power of The Collective.
For a story about the London “On The Road” premiere at Somerset House — check out this sex & drugs & jazz.
For a great story of the world premiere of the new shorter final version of “On The Road” — check out this Meeting Walter Salles Adventure!
For a complete overview of all the Kerouac / Beat film dramatizations including clips and reviews — check out the Beat Movie Guide.
For an inspiring and colorful description of being at a Beat jazz-&-poetry reading in Greenwich Village — check out Be The Invincible Spirit You Are.
For a story about Henri Cru’s birthday — check out The Legend Turns 70.
For an account of the historic Beat show at the Whitney Museum in New York — check out Wailin’ at the Whitney.
For purchasing prints of the best photos taken at the Jack Summit, including ones with Kesey — check out the Lance Gurwell Collection.
by Brian Hassett
karmacoupon@ gmail.com BrianHassett.com