• Todd Strasser

Ken Kesey: The link between the beatniks of the 1950s and the hippies.

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

Kesey was a seminal link between the beat generation of the 1950s and the hippie/counter-culture of the 1960s. From Wikipedia: Kenneth Elton Kesey (September 17, 1935 – November 10, 2001) was an American novelist, essayist, and countercultural figure. He was born in La Junta, Colorado, and grew up in Springfield, Oregon, graduating from the University of Oregon in 1957.

He began writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1960 following the completion of a graduate fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University; the novel was an immediate commercial and critical success when published two years later. During this period, Kesey participated in government studies involving hallucinogenic drugs (including mescaline and LSD) to supplement his income.

Kesey was also the leader of the Merry Pranksters, who drove their psychedelically-painted school bus across the country.

The driver of the bus was Neal Cassady, a good friend of Jack Kerouac’s.

Kerouac immortalized Cassady in his famous novel, On the Road, in which Cassady’s character was called Dean Moriarty. (Cassady in on the left).

Around San Francisco Kesey conducted a series of LSD gatherings called acid tests. (Seated on left appears to be Phil Lesh. Seated fourth from left appears to be Jerry Garcia.)

The house band at the acid tests was a fledgling rock band called The Warlocks. Later they would change their name to something more recognizable.

Tom Wolfe would write about Kesey and the acid tests. Wolfe was a groundbreaking proponent of what was then called New Journalism, a genre he was very much at the forefront of.

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