“As I’ve often told Ginsberg, you can’t blame the president for the state of the country, it’s always the poets’ fault. You can’t expect politicians to come up with a vision, they don’t have it in them. Poets have to come up with the vision and they have to turn it on so it sparks and catches hold.” — Ken Kesey, 1989
We first learned of the opportunity to publish Ken Kesey’s final writings through the Rev. Paul Sawyer. Besides being a minister at Throop Unitarian Universalist Church, Sawyer is probably best described as what some in this post-X, pre-Y generation refer to, all too disparagingly, as “an old hippie.”
No, not the sex, drugs and rock ’n roll variety. The other kind: Men, women and children who bravely preached social justice and racial tolerance when such notions were considered radical; people who took to the streets en masse to protest a brutal, unpopular war, and sometimes took a beating for it; writers, poets, clerics and philosophers who spoke out and wrote about the ongoing desensitization of our culture and the growing corporate and government control of our daily lives.
Perhaps there was no better person to eulogize Kesey when he died at the age of 66 than his old friend Sawyer. Sawyer cut his teeth as a man of the cloth in the San Fernando Valley and the Bay Area, where he met Kesey in the mid ‘60s. Kesey may not have been a “professional” religious man, but as it happened, the two were cut from the same political and spiritual cloths of their generation, a generation that dared to question authority, a generation that grew to harbor a deep-seeded need to be free, to love one another, and exhort others to be and do so. And Sawyer, like the somewhat eccentric Kesey, the “Intrepid Traveler,” leader of the Merry Pranksters and captain of the magic bus Furthur, kept the faith, as it were, over all the intervening years.
These reflections by Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Sometimes a Great Notion,” originally appeared in Rolling Stone about a month prior to his death on Nov. 10. They reflect the thinking and reasoning of a man of his times, a time long gone … a time when drugs were good, war was wrong and love was the answer. Today drugs are bad, war is good, and love … if nothing else, love remains. Kesey knew this above all else, apparently, because his passion for his work and his love for his fellow man and woman — along with a healthy cynicism for the times in which we now live — comes through clearly in every paragraph.
A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone released the piece to Sawyer, with the provision that it be used in a handout form by the Interfaith Communities for Justice and Peace, a group of 80 religious leaders that Sawyer belongs to that is opposed to the ongoing war now raging in southern and central Asia, as well as conflicts in other regions of the world. We happily obliged, promoting it on the cover and starting the package of stories by Kesey, Sawyer and the Rev. George Regas, rector emeritus at All Saints Church and a member of Interfaith Communities, on an odd-numbered page, thus providing an easy pullout section for everyone, including our regular readers, if they so desire.