Picking up where Ginsberg left of yesterday, Ken Kesey, whose new Magic Bus had broken down somewhere in Idaho, said "the Sixties were the most important thing to happen this century --- more important than World War I, or The Great Depression."
The Kesey press conference was similar to Ginsberg's the day before in that he was promoting much more than his current project which happened to be a multi-media, performance art, road show called "Twister" and was happening in Boulder on July 4th to help celebrate the Ginsberg tribute at Naropa. He was talking about hugging, loving, kissing, smoking grass, becoming a Warrior (like Eleanor Roosevelt) and, most explicitly, raising consciousness.
There hasn't been much talk lately of raising consciousness. The Baby Boomers who have now consolidated a lot of power in the political and economic arena seem much more attuned to real estate prices, what schools their kids go to, how to make a quick buck. Sounding almost like a warped mix of Jean Baudrillard and Yogi Berra, Kesey was saying things like "there's very little happening that's happening."
When Kesey speaks of happenings he's referring to a lot of things, including the "Happening" concept that floated around in the Sixties where it was thought that art could be a kind of group activity mixing the artists and audience in spontaneous acts of co-creation. Kesey has always been more than just a lone novelist hiding out in his reclusive Vineland eventually releasing whatever novel he happens to have finished. His concept of art has continuously ventured toward the Bacchanalian, a kind of open-ended party that can be interiorized existentially, or let loose geographically as he has been doing for years in his expansive Merry Pranksterisms. He advises us that we first get in touch with Existentialism through reading books by Sartre, Camus, and Hesse, and that once we've laid the Existential foundation we then venture into the realm of psychedelics where we can begin to explore other worlds. And when it comes to drugs in general, Kesey tells us to "Just Say Thanks."
Truly cynical Boomers or slackers for that matter might look at the Kesey program as being hopelessly out of touch with contemporary economic reality, but Kesey would combat that close-minded attitude with a call for a new consciousness, the same kind of creative vision that Ginsberg was talking about at his press conference. This new consciousness would open itself up to many things including computer-generated Virtual Reality which Kesey says we need to learn about because "making sense of all the connections going on there makes you very strange --- and strong."
From this strength, which one can achieve not only by becoming heavily involved with Internet but also through drug experimentation and following a path toward optimum love of other human brothers and sisters, one can begin to raise consciousness. Using this raised consciousness to create visionary artwork is also part of the Kesey program. He quoted his old friend Jerry Garcia as saying "there's no such thing as an original lick, every lick's been played before --- all you can try to do is play it tasty. Be tasty."
With all this talk about being tasty and smoking weed and playing music or art like it was the love coming out of you, you'd think that these Historical Characters I'm writing about here are in some kind of time warp or flashback but it's not that at all. Rather, there's a certain kind of moral conviction that permeates their open form and communication and for some reason, maybe because it's July 4th, it seems so very Amerikan in spirit. Kesey and Ginsberg both speak with the kind of abandoned clarity that William Carlos Williams was after in his search for the true Amerikan idiom.
The thing about Kesey that becomes important for a young writer like myself is when he says that "it's not the poetry of Ginsberg or my novels or performances that matter, it's the fact that we're warriors, like Eleanor Roosevelt, and that we're out there fighting for what we believe in." A self-described Acid-Head Christian with Buddhist leanings ("Christianity needs Buddhism"), Kesey realizes that there's more to being a writer than just sitting behind a keyboard and cranking out the magic stuff. The stuff of magic is actually made of people moving around and connecting with other people and changing lives by helping raise an awareness of the kind of mind control and rigid authoritarianism that pervades contemporary culture. Hakim Bey calls it "psychic nomadism." The idea isn't to rebel against this authoritarianism, that's kid's stuff. Rather, we need to create an alternative reality. As Kesey describes his early days on the Magic Bus with Neal Cassady at the helm: "We were doing things so fast there was no time for deliberation. No spin. No selling soap. Just doing it."
For some odd reason, I immediately thought of the Nike commercial with the Beatle's "Revolution" in the background.