Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Tue 10 Feb 09 08:49
In Gurney Norman's wonderful little 1977 collection of stories titled Kinfolks, in the last story ("A Correspondence"), an old lady named Drucilla, who is a displaced Kentuckian currently living out her life, miserably, in Phoenix, complains bitterly about (among many other sorrows and afflictions of Western Living) "this sarcastic neighbor Mr. Ortiz who pranks with the electricity ... " Hey, I'd love it if somebody (anybody!) turned "Drowning in the Land of Sky-Blue Waters" into a real song. Your move, David! Melinda, I don't know of any better expression in the language than Gurney makes with that above-mentioned story ("A Correspondence") of how deeply rooted this often-exasperating "place on earth" (to borrow Wendell's title) is in the DNA of Kentucky natives. When I went out west in the '50s, I could hardly wait to scrape Kentucky off my shoe-soles--and when I came back twenty years later, I could hardly wait to get here! Like Faulkner said: "You have to be born there." (No, Faulkner wasn't talking about Kentucky ... but that's because he wasn't born here!) Give me a call sometime, and we'll have that pint.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 10 Feb 09 10:19
Ed, could you please name five books by others that you think have been underrated or nearly forgotten and deserve wider readership, from any era?
Melinda Belleville (mellobelle) Tue 10 Feb 09 11:04
Yes, I remember that story. We read Kinfolks in my Appalachian Authors class my last semester in school. Our instructor knew Gurney and asked him to come visit us and talk about the book. You're right and he was right about how the further away from KY you get the better it seems. Altho' I guess I'm ahead of the game. I already know I don't want to be anywhere else April through Oct and and wish I was anywhere else the rest of the time. I'd love to 'quaff some ales' with you sometime, but I could never impose. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org sometime when your schedule permits and we'll have an O'Round and a pint. Oh, and for all y'all who haven't read Kinfolks, it's a great little book of stories about growing up in E.Ky.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 10 Feb 09 11:26
One of my more fascinating discoveries when I wrote The Hippie Narrative was how many key literary figures of the 1960s and 70s counterculture grew up in KentuckyGurney Norman, Wendell Berry, and Hunter S. Thompson. In O the Clear Moment, you also mention, having unlearned the box-step one night in 1966 under the combined influence of Owsley acid, the Grateful Dead, and the strobe lights of the Fillmore [ ]. Hunter S. Thompson grew up in Louisville. Owsley is the scion of a politically prominent Kentucky family and the namesake of one of your Bluegrass State counties. Both went to California in the early 60s. Did you ever have the chance to talk to either Hunter or Owsley about your shared Kentucky roots? And, maybe its just those Cumberland Blues, but why do you think certain ethos from the counterculture resonated so strongly with you Kentuckians all born in the 1930s?
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Tue 10 Feb 09 19:41
First let me take a shot at Steve's question about books that, in my opinion, have been unjustly overlooked or forgotten, or otherwise haven't received the attention due them. (Are they mostly by friends of mine? You betchum!) At the top of the list, of course, are Sometimes a Great Notion and Divine Right's Trip, and coming in a close third is Kinfolks (Gnomon Press), Gurney's absolutely perfect little collection of stories, which has been quietly in print for more than thirty years, and is still selling briskly. Then there's the whole body of work by my dear friend (I met him at the paperback rack, smart ass!) Erskine Caldwell, which, uneven and trashy and irascible as it can sometimes be, is nonetheless a monumental but sorely neglected landmark of Southern literature. Bob Stone's later work is much acclaimed, of course, but nobody pays much attention nowadays to his great first novel, A Hall of Mirrors. Merrill Joan Gerber, a classmate of mine and Bob's in the Stanford writing program, has published a raft of fine novels and short story collections, all largely unnoticed. Harry Crews's A Childhood is a great non-fiction achievement which I fear is in peril of being forgotten. And while we're on the subject of non-fiction splendors, I nominate Chuck Kinder's hilarious Last Mountain Dancer, a hillbilly laff-riot if ever there was one. I have a couple more local nominees, too: Hell and Ohio, Chris Holbrook's superb collection of Appalachian stories, and James Baker Hall's long-neglected first novel Yates Paul, His Grand Flights, His Tootings, now back in print after forty years (thank you, University Press of Kentucky) and as funny and touching as ever. But before we move along, let us pause momentarily for a reverent tip of the McClanahat to that modest little masterpiece A Congress of Wonders, by the shy and retiring Sweet Singer of Burdock County, Ed McWhat's-his-name. See, Steve, you never shoulda asked me that question in the first place. Now on to Scott's question about Owsley and Hunter Thompson and what it is with Kentucky and the "counterculture ethos": I met Owsley (or at any rate was in his exalted presence) a couple of times, but never got to know him at all. I did know Hunter, and liked him very much, but to tell the truth our conversations had mostly to do with (or were seriously befuckled by) whichever substances we happened, at those all-too-infrequent moments, to be mutually abusing. But the outlaw ethos is powerful in Kentucky, land of Mike Fink and alligator-horses and moonshiners and Hatfields and McCoys and company. When I first moved back here in the mid-1970s and was working in tobacco, I was fond of predicting that Kentucky (because of its history of hemp and tobacco cultivation plus the tradition of moonshine outlawry) was destined to become the marijuana capital of the known world. And sure enough, thirty-some-odd years later, guess what our number one cash crop is!
Scott MacClanafar (s-macfarlane) Tue 10 Feb 09 20:23
Im going to have to expand my collection of fine Kentucky literature, and use some stout bottles of hootch as bookends. Fascinating list. When I examined Divine Rights Trip (DRT) for my book, several reviews commented on how amazing it was that Norman could connect two such disparate worldsthat of the Appalachian mountain people and the California hippie. Yet, in the back-to-the-land movement toward self-reliance and finding a righteous path, as Divine Right/David Ray yearned to do in DRT, the separation of these cultures wasnt really so incongruous. The emerging environmental awareness wasnt lost on the old-school Kentuckians, such as when Divine Right hears this from a local miner he has picked up in Urge, his faithful VW Bus: Got cows, good garden and a spring, man can live good there if hes willing to work. But theys this outfit owns the coal rights underneath, and theyre on their way to get it. Eighty miles long, that bench is. Reminds me of a big sarpent sneaking through the hills, big old eighty mile long snake killing everything in its path. Its that way everywhere around here. Some folks call it the end of time but me, I just call it a bunch of goddamn criminals out tearing up the world. (from DRT)
Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 10 Feb 09 21:22
Wonderful, Ed, thanks so much.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 10 Feb 09 22:49
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 10 Feb 09 22:54
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 10 Feb 09 23:02
Even though you live in Kentucky and most of the surviving Merry Pranksters are in Oregon, youve remained close with your old friends. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear you read from O the Clear Moment three months ago in Eugene, and then visit with you at a Prankster barbecue held the next day on your behalf. Several of the original Pranksters were there, including George Walker, Mike Hagen, John and Ken Babbs, Mountain Girl, Chuck Kesey, Ken's widow Faye, and yourself, of course. Ken Keseys absence from that party was palpable. He was very much a family man, and that party was comprised of his clan--both blood relations and Prankster related. My own father and that side of my family are all from Oregon, and, down to the few remnant longhairs, this low-key gathering reminded me so much of being with my aunts and uncles and cousins in the Willamette Valley. Do you see similarities and differences between this gathering in the Pacific Northwest, and those youve been to in Kentucky? And, can you describe, briefly, your relationship with Ken on a personal level?
David Gans (tnf) Wed 11 Feb 09 01:30
Greetings from Oregon! Simon Babbs came to my gig in Hillsboro this evening. I wonder what it is like to be the spittin' image of a legendary character. I remember reading "Drowning in the Land of Sky-Blue Waters" and thinking it actually worked as a lyric (putative song lyrics that show up in novels etc. tend not to, I think). I'm 500 miles from my copy of the book - would someone mind posting it here? I'm glad you're here, Ed, and I'm glad my favorite Kentucky gal found her way over here to join the conversation. And I really want to see the original "GD I Have Known," so I went and ordered a copy of "My Vita" - thanks for the pointer! So many fine comments and questions on the table already. As a once and future writer who is currently contemplating a possible attempt to someday tell some of my own damn stories, I admire the hell out of the way you tell yours. "O the Clear Moment" makes me both envious and inspired, so thanks. Here's a question I have been thinking about a lot. There's a line in "St Stephen" that I keep ruminating on in my own life and work: "Did it matter? Does it now?" LSD, the Pranksters, and the Grateful Dead didn't change the world to nearly the extent we had hoped they might, but they did change it some. So you agree? How did it change you, and how did you put all that to work in the life that followed those days?
Scott MacFanoclan (s-macfarlane) Wed 11 Feb 09 07:10
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 1985, 2008 ©Ed McClanahan [I write this and then share these lyrics w/o talking to Ed McClyriclan, but it's for educational purposes, you know, and a get rich scheme for you and Gans, Ed.] "Drowning in the Land of Sky-Blue Waters" I've lost my way again Out in this neon wilderness, Where the rivers run in circles And the fish smoke cigarettes; Where the only things that gave me Any peace of mind Are a jukebox and a barstool And a strange electric sign. CHORUS: 'Cause I'm drowning in the land of sky-blue waters Since I lost my way home to you. Yes, I'm drowning in the land of sky-blue waters; I need you to see me through. I've seen that peaceful campsite A hundred times tonight, Where the campfire's always burning And everything looks right. But across that crazy river In this godforsaken place, A man is going under; He could sink without a trace. CHORUS: For he's drowning...(etc.) The Elbow Room is closing now, And I must face the street, Where the only rushing rivers Are rivers of concrete. There's no way I can cry for help; My pride has got its rules. But at last call for alcohol My heart calls out for you: CHORUS: Oh, I'm drowning...etc. So David, is it too much to expect an international premiere of this fine and future song at the great annual Grateful Dead caucus in Albuquerque??!!?? That'll give you a full two weeks... (Oh, and Diga and I expect glory and fame in the liner notes if this little ditty hits the big time...)
David Gans (tnf) Wed 11 Feb 09 11:21
> So David, is it too much to expect an international premiere of this fine > and future song at the great annual Grateful Dead caucus in Albu- > querque??!!?? That'll give you a full two weeks... I CAN'T TAKE THE PRESSURE! One things at a time, as I am wont to say. I'll ruminate on it.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 11 Feb 09 13:47
No worries, David. Stretch out your elbows, have a cold beer and whenever, if ever, is cool! (And when you see a neon waterfall flowing uphill, know that either someone's gotten to your Blue Ribbon, or the muse is camped out on your shoulder.)
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 11 Feb 09 16:41
That should be a verse! (Just kidding -- it would not fit in with the simple sort of urban-country pathos of the rest of the lines as they are now, seems to me. That more psychedelic image is kind of like the old folk-tune, Big Rock Candy Mountain.)
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Wed 11 Feb 09 18:18
I'll start with Scott's question: Hey, the reason Ken wasn't there is that it was MY goddamn party, and we didn't invite him! In fact, I feel very strongly connected with those folks in Oregon. For one thing, I'm something of an Oregonian myself, having spent four years (1958-62) in Corvallis. I was a rural guy (not to say a hick) teaching at what was then a rural college (Oregon State), so even from the first, I never felt like a total stranger out there. And of course during my California and Montana years, Ken and his family and all my Prankster pals in Oregon exerted an irresistibly powerful magnetic force on me. It was--still is--like going home; I went there as often as I could make it ... and I still do. As I imagine almost anyone who held Ken in high regard would acknowledge, it was easy to love and admire and enjoy him from a distance; being his friend, on the other hand, could at times be its own kind of acid test. He could be very judgmental, for one thing, and he sometimes jumped to conclusions and then stubbornly clung to them till you could practically see his knuckles turning white. Introducing him to one's friends was always risky, because he would sometimes take an almost instant dislike to someone, and then, almost as if he'd formed a sort of prejudice, it would be really hard to dislodge that opinion from his noggin. Also, in conversation, his responses were sometimes as quick and reflexive--and therefore as "thoughtless," in both the best and worst senses of the word--as an athlete's reactions in the heat of competition. But that friend of yours whom Ken hadn't liked was liable to have become, by the next time you ran into him or her, an indispensable inner-circle Prankster. And although Ken would never apologize for hurting your feelings with some offhand abrasive observation--sincere apology requires at least a modicum of humility, and humility wasn't among Ken's many virtues--, the next time you saw him he was liable to say or do something so genuinely, ingenuously affectionate and generous that an apology would have seemed to violate a whole new reality. He'd never dream of allowing you to suppose YOU had changed his mind--but if he changed it himself, that was an altogether different matter, and whatever he'd changed it to had magically become ... the New Reality! Ken always rose to the occasion. I think the best thing I ever wrote about him (and I wrote a lot!) is the story called "Ken Kesey, Jean Genet, the Revolution, et Moi" in Famous People I Have Known. In that story, he takes on Genet, a sizable contingent of Black Panthers, and a roomful of academic would-be revolutionaries, and wins the day even as he ascends to the very pinnacle (or, if you will, descends into the mire) of Political Incorrectness. "One things at a time"! I love that, David! And it's good advice for me right now, because it's a really windy evening here in Lex, and I'd like to get this posted before we lose power. I'll try to come to grips with the "did it matter" matter in the next posting.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 11 Feb 09 18:47
Ed, that post is brilliant written and observed. Thank you.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 11 Feb 09 18:48
Authentic Frontier Gibberish (gerry) Wed 11 Feb 09 18:58
Indeed. I don't have anything to add right now, but I just want to say that I've been following along here and am thoroughly enjoying this magnificent discussion. I *love* your style, Ed!
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Thu 12 Feb 09 06:49
Thank you, Steve and Gerry! You're too kind. Now, back to David's question: Did it matter? Yeah, I think it absolutely did--but not necessarily in the ways we thought it would. We allowed ourselves to suppose that, with our acid and weed and politics and ecstatic dancing at the Fillmore, we were stirring up some giant tsunami wave of change that would sweep all that old detritus of history away before it and leave the world shining anew, all fresh and bright and good to go--and everybody knows how that worked out. Yet the change was happening withal; but it was our individual, separate, multitudinous selves that we were changing, one at a time, irrevocably. Here's a passage from Famous People I Have Known, from the story "The Day the Lampshades Breathed," about the Perry Lane days back in the early '60s: "But for weekenders and day-trippers like me, psychedelics were mostly just for laughs; they made things more funny ha-ha than funny- peculiar. And for me at least, the laughter was a value in itself. I hadn't laughed so unrestrainedly since childhood, and the effect was refreshing, bracing, invigorating--aftershave for the psyche. Nor had I ever in my life allowed myself to fall so utterly in love with all my friends at once. And there were several occasions, in the highest, clearest moments of those high old times, when I caught a glimpse of something at the periphery of my vision that shook the throne of the tyrannical little atheist who sat in my head and ruled my Kentucky Methodist heart." The little atheist has long since resumed the throne (he's as tenacious as that tiny demon on tv, the one that takes up residence under your toenail), but things are never quite the same after an experience like that. There's an old story by Ray Bradbury about a guy who takes a time-machine trip back into pre-history, where he accidentally steps on a butterfly--and when he returns to the present, he discovers that his little accident has resonated through the ages and altered (very much for the worse, in Bradbury's story) a recent, crucial presidential election. In the '60s, bless our innocent hearts, we tried very, very hard not to step on any butterflies. And look who's president now!
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 12 Feb 09 07:15
It'd be a difficult case to make that the goings on at Perry Lane, the Haight, Berkeley, etc., had much to do with Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president 40-45 years later. I suspect the goings on in Selma, Montgomery and Little Rock (not to mention Washington, D.C.) had rather much more to do with it. So you're saying, Ed, that the difference that was made by the psychedelic era was a difference for and within individuals, not for society in general?
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 07:58
Steve B, I had a professor in college who challenged the notion of the term, "the masses," as used then when discussing "the mass media" or "the rising of the masses." His point was simple. A mass is a singular blob which doesn't actually exist. What exists in society are hundreds, thousands and millions of individuals, not a mass. "...to fall so utterly in love with all my friends at once." So if the Kentuckian Owsley, one of several LSD "cooks", produced an estimated 5 million hits of acid taken by millions of young people, at what point did all the hits that were consumed during that era help precipitate a collective consciousness shift, a cultural shift in the way that "we" viewed our friends, community, nation, and possibilities for the world? The powerful hallucinogens were and are some serious skookum. From out of that period's cauldron of change, the Civil Rights and other liberationist movements do not adequately explain a shift in consciousness or the rise of a new ethos, which in its most positive manifestations included: honoring mother earth a we-can-change-the-world hopefulness the oneness of being an ecological interconnectedness of the last whole earth an anti-materialism leading to more conscientious consumption of resources the need for humans to use appropriate technologies, and ideals to actualize world peace I don't know what Ed's take is on this, but of all the core threads of change in the late 60's and early 70's, the shifting dynamic of the drugs being used, namely those potent hallucinogens taken by millions, is the least examined for the effects it had on our subsequent culture.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 08:09
Somewhat related to SteveB's question, I was talking informally to a semi-retired psychiatrist recently about Cuckoo's Nest. Kesey once described his first novel as "a simple Christ allegory that takes place in a nuthouse." Yet, the impact of this book read by millions of individuals was not so simple. The psychiatrist told me, in no uncertain terms, that Cuckoo's Nest was the primary catalyst in changing mental health practices, most notably the elimination of Electro-Shock Therapy. One thing that Ken Kesey stayed true to throughout his life, interview after interview, was his unfaltering belief in the reality and continued possibilities of a "consciousness revolution." Ed, youve cited Gurney Norman's Divine Rights Trip as a greatly underappreciated work of literature. I wholeheartedly concur. And, while not ignored nearly to the extent that DRT has been, you also say that Sometimes a Great Notion never received the literary acclaim it deserved. Including Cuckoos Nest, how do you view Keseys two great works of literature and their impacts? Is there something in the thematic depth and complexity of the works that elevate them to a stature as great American novels?
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Thu 12 Feb 09 08:56
C'mon, Steve, no need to take everything so fucking literally, fer crissake! What I'm saying is just that in changing oneself, one changes the world. That's not to say, though, that social movements like Selma, etc., don't change it a whole lot more, or at any rate a whole lot faster.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 09:13
Back to #72. I didn't connect the final dot. SteveB, there is a definite linear connection from the Civil Rights Movement through the many diversity initiatives in our culture and the efforts to allow enfranchisement to a broad swath of American society that is at the core of why Obama could be elected in 2008. However, the children of the enfranchised were also, from the inside, railing against the establishment in droves during that era. Reaction to the Vietnam War was the primary agitation, but there was also something profound taking place in core cultural attitudes when psychedelic albums by the Beatles and many others proselytized for peace and a change of consciousness. I doubt that John Lennon was implying sex when he said: "I'd love to turn you on." In a less linear way, the widespread consumption of potent psychedelics was key part of breaking down the old order. So rather than look at the consciousness revolution to provide a linear cause and effect for why Obama could be elected forty years on, it did play an indirect role. Again, this is a significant component of the shifting social gestalt that is seldom appreciated or examined for the impact it had.
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