Sunday, January 18, 2004
Pleasant Hill, Ore. When Ken Kesey was kicked loose after spending the 1967 Summer of Love in jail for a marijuana bust, the guards asked the famous author, psychedelic explorer and prankster if he was going to write a book and include them in it.
"I think so," Kesey replied.
Two years after the author's death, "Kesey's Jail Journal" is out. The book includes two dozen color plates of collages Kesey made from ink drawings entwined with his handwritten reflections laid down in notebooks smuggled out by a buddy who got busted with him.
Looking for something that went beyond the two novels he had already written, Kesey melded words and drawings in a psychedelic 1960s version of an illuminated manuscript that contains echoes of the battle between freedom and authority he described in his most famous book, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
"He was trying to make the whole page move, so it would convey something beyond what the words themselves could say," says his widow, Faye, at the Willamette Valley farm where the family moved after Kesey got out of jail.
Perhaps the best stuff never left jail, she says: His last two notebooks were confiscated by guards just before his release.
"Ken had always hoped the other journals would show up," she says. "It would have made it so much more complete if they had. I have a feeling they are still out there somewhere."
In 1967, Kesey was a star of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll freak show going on around San Francisco. It was five years after publication of "Cuckoo's Nest," and three years after his psychedelic bus ride across America, chronicled in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
Kesey's six-month sentence to the San Mateo County Jail stemmed from a raid on his rural home at La Honda in the Coast Range above Palo Alto, Calif., where Kesey and the Merry Pranksters partied with Hells Angels, tried to make sense of the movies they had taken on the bus trip and orchestrated the acid tests that helped turn the world on to LSD.
The journal describes learning the ins and outs of prison life, the complex cast of characters behind bars and an encounter with a famous sex criminal who wrote poetry.