When Ken Kesey, the West Coast's unofficial author/actor/playwright/activist/poet laureate, skipped off the planet in 2001, the literary world lost a leader, mentor and friend. Kesey had hosted an ongoing quest to shake down American melancholy, while treasuring his role as a read-hard, party-hard, acid-dropping, pill-popping, camera-flashing, road-tripping cultural icon.
In this role as cultural guru, Kesey served as Lord of the Merry Pranksters, Grateful Dead collaborator and friend to Beat writers like William S. Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg, while inspiring Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test with his LSD-laced crusade aboard the Day-Glo, finger-painted bus, "Furthur." As a writer, Kesey specialized in illuminating the human condition, producing two instant-classic novels, the system-shucking One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (the film of which plays 7 pm Sunday at the Guild) and the pastoral parable Sometimes a Great Notion.
Now comes the tribute anthology Spit in the Ocean #7: All About Kesey, a colorful compendium of essays, prose and poetry. One part fond eulogy, 10 parts amusing anecdotes, Spit 7 radiates a full-fledged literary contact high. Contributors range from Hunter S. Thompson to Ken Babbs to Gus Van Sant, and the anthology even includes touching reflections by fellow Merry Prankster Wavy Gravy and Happy, Kesey's loyal dog.
A few selections wax a tad heavy on interpreting Kesey's work, while others float off on fluffy infatuation. Yet when sucked down in a single gulp, Spit 7 conjures a sweet, amusing picture of a man with a plan.
In Kesey's Jail Journal, the author reproduces a series of diary entries and illustrations composed during a six-month stint in a minimum-security "Honor Camp" after a marijuana arrest. With free-flowing style, Kesey recounts the social and emotional pressures of living in captivity and inserts his brilliant, almost Crumb-worthy artwork as a personalized psychedelic backdrop.
Journal includes witty quips on 1960s-era prison life, keen descriptions of fellow inmates and accounts of his relentless quest to score dope inside prison walls. At face value, the work reprises Cuckoo from the other side of the fence. In this nonfiction portrait, however, Kesey serves as narrator, playing both the rebel McMurphy and the enigmatic Chief Broom. Prison Sgt. John Wayne stands in for Cuckoo's Big Nurse, and race riots and penal-code oppression are the unseen, man-made machines that clog the human brain-pump from behind the woodwork.
Journal functions as both compelling nonfiction and an in-character insight straight from the heart of Kesey. The book provides a refreshing puff to the brain, and coupled with Spit 7, offers a nice final trip for any Kesey fans who might have missed the bus.
edited by Ed McClanahan
(Penguin USA, 256 pages, $15)
Kesey's Jail Journal
by Ken Kesey, edited by David Stanford (Viking Press, 160 pages, $34.95)
The Ken Kesey Memorial Committee unveils a statue of the author Friday in Eugene.
Broadway and Willamette Street, Eugene. 1 pm Friday, Nov. 14.