Author, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
In connection with U.Va.'s online exhibit, "The Psychedelic '60s:
Literary Traditions and Social Change"
April 26, 1998
THE FOLLOWING TRANSCRIPT CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE AND CONTENT.
PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Kesey: I feel like there are warriors, and that we know, and have
known, a number of warriors
wonderful, powerful warriors. And
there is a way that you can see which is the warrior and which isnt.
And I have done this by making, arbitrarily, two categories
one of them is "shit floats" and the other one is "cream rises."
And we all kind of know what it is. "Shit floats" is Eddie Murphy.
"Cream rises" is Richard Pryor. "Shit floats" is Madonna. "Cream
rises" is Joan Baez. Ive known Joan Baez for 30 years. A couple
of years ago she was going over to Sarajevo to sing for people and
she had to cancel a concert in Eugene to go over and do this. And
she apologized to everybody and said that the people that wanted
their money back could bring in their tickets. Nobody from Eugene
brought in their tickets. They knew that Joan Baez would make good
on her promise. Her voice itself, who she is, is a warrior. We know
that this is a battle. Shes been at every really big time
battling scene that you could imagine all across the nation and
now around the world. Shes like Taj Majal -- these are warriors.
They dont make that much money but you sing stuff and you
say stuff that means something to young warriors.
floats" is Tom Wolfe. "Cream rises" is Hunter Thompson. We know
these things instinctively. And how we are able to sort through
them in our lives depends on how well we act. And we find various
different ways of keeping our compass needle trued up, and acid
is one of the ways, grief will do it, fasting will do it. My wife
is the best Biblical scholar probably in Oregon, and shes
been studying the Bible for so long and so hard that she doesnt
even argue with the 7-day Adventist anymore. Shes got it down
and it becomes a yoga for her. Shes never trying to get me
to go to her church. Im not trying to get her to come breathe
nitrous oxide, but they both are the same yoga in a way. It gives
you something you can draw meat on; and even if the meat is scattered,
like the nitrous oxide where sometimes the meat gets scattered,
still I respect her for her yoga and her belief and the fact that
she has been teaching Sunday School for 30 years. It always amazes
people -- "Keseys wife teaches Sunday School!" If youre
in Oregon they say, "Are you sure youre married to the Kesey
that weve heard about?" And I met this girl in junior high
in Oregon, same place that we live, where her parents lived. Weve
been married 40-some years. This gives me certain credentials to
go out there and talk about stuff. This isnt just somebody
jumping up and rattling on, or somebody whos been made famous
by some article in The Oracle 30 years ago. This is about a husband
and a farmer who has the right to speak about these things. And
nobody else is saying them. I am amazed how much is saying it. We
have five initiatives that are trying to get on the ballot today
in Oregon and none of them are going to make it. For one thing,
all five of these different groups are fighting with each other.
Theres medicinal marijuana, theres hemp, theres
the right to grow, theres all these different things and you
get them together and they fuss with each other.
in the "evil force." I dont know exactly how to convince you
that it exists, but I believe in it. And I believe the "evil force"
is able to get in and move people around and have them do dumb shit.
And we are full now of what I call FUDS -- these are "fat, ugly,
dumb people." And its not that they were not born fat or ugly
or dumb, but they have made a choice to be fat, ugly, and dumb.
They have made a choice to play the lottery, Christ omighty.
At an old liquor store where Ive been going for 30 years (the
same liquor store), all the tables that used to be filled with these
bottles of Elvis singing that you dump in the Southern Comfort,
thats been pushed aside because all of these video games are
there and all these scratch cards are there. I was through there
buying my own Southern Comfort a month or so ago and this woman
said, "Well which lottery ticket would you like?" I said, "I cant
buy lottery tickets. Im not allowed to buy lottery tickets."
And the place is full of old people, of people my age, scratching
on these things and trying to come up with a lottery ticket. And
they all turned and looked and they were all outraged that I should
be banned from playing the lottery. And she said, "Well what do
you mean?" And I said, "My IQ just isnt low enough to play
the lottery." What I did was I was in their church and I said, "Bullshit,
bullshit is going on." She said, "Well what do you mean, dont
you like gambling?" And I said, "Well I do like gambling. I told
Karens husband Michael that I think poker is one of the great
games of the world, but thats skill; its not just chance.
Its not gambling." I told her, "Yeah, I used to like to go
duck hunting, but I dont consider going out sitting in the
fog just randomly shooting your gun in the air to be hunting. Thats
who are believing if I wear this on my watch chain, and I
have my Mother Christopher thing, and pet them just right and I
buy a lottery ticket. I mean if you buy a lottery ticket,
you dont need angels and saints, youre already up to
your ears in bad forces. Whats happening across the nation
with the Indians right now, with lottery and video poker and the
casinos. Its happening all over Oregon. First theres
a Warm Springs, now theres a Cow Creek Indian Reservation
they started up everywhere. A lot of money is coming in.
But you go in there and there are no Indians in there. Its
hired people from Las Vegas. The Indians have stood up under a hell
of a barrage of crap for two hundred years, but this may be the
one that does them in, when they start going into gambling. When
they start locking horns with Las Vegas, Las Vegas is going to win.
But I cant go into an Indian casino and say "bullshit" to
them because the word would get back to the Indians and the Indians
would say, "Hey what is it? You dont think the Indians have
a right to have a casino?" And I always think, "Yeah, but lets
do some Indian games. Lets not just do roulette and blackjack.
There are a number of great Indian gambling games and they have
been done forever. It would be fun. And it would be run by Indians,
instead of the Indians being convinced by some slick lawyer from
Reno to go into gambling because there is some opening, while they
really import all the stuff through Las Vegas."
I can see (if youve ever been to Las Vegas or Reno) its
like a huge funnel cloud circling around and aiming its point right
down there into the heart of Las Vegas, and its green and
its sucking money right out of the American pocket. Its
sucking money out of my grandsons college. Its drawing
money from whoever are the most vulnerable. My mom goes down there
and goes to Reno and Las Vegas, and shes kind of apologetic
about it, but her husband likes to go because there is the action
with the Elks and you get to see the girls and the dances and so
forth. But my mom knows that that is not any way to run a government.
You cant run a government with gambling because you are taking
money from the people that can least afford it and giving it to
the people who least need it. All I could see out of Las Vegas was
this funnel of green stuff going, going away and you dont
know where its going. But you dont see it popping up
in day care centers somewhere down in Charlottesville. None of it
is coming here. But people are driving there to shove their families
inheritance in this great sucking maw like that. You know what,
you dont run into anybody that smokes grass that goes to those
casinos, because they realize that thats laughable. You have
to have walked out part of your mind to go in there and deal with
these people from Las Vegas and give them the money and figure you
are going to get a good deal out of it. So next time anybody says
something to you about playing the lottery say, "I win the lottery
every day. I dont play. Ill let you dumb suckers go
ahead and contribute the money for taxes, but Im not going
to play. And all those dollars that I would spend playing the lottery
but I have other things
nitrous oxide is expensive." (Youll
have to excuse me as I continue to disrobe. I really did mean to
be formal, but Ill get down to it.)
friends die over the last few years, good friends, long powerful
good friends. Gensburg I didnt really appreciate how
much I loved him until he wasnt there. He was a little, kind
of effeminate, Jewish something. He was a tremendously powerful
man and he was trying to hand on his power. And the story about
Gensburg is when he had died, what his last words were. He had called
in all of his friends -- Frelingetty, Gary Snyder, Corso, Peter
Olafsky around his bedside and he motioned Corso to lean
close. And Gensburg said, "Toodiloo (waving)." And theres
something proportional about that. Theres something right
about Gensburg doing that.
Learys son called (his dad was about to check out) and we
have seen Leary a great deal over the last 4 or 5 years and we had
this bone of contention between us that was put there by Tom Wolfe.
And I didnt appreciate it and he didnt either until
we found out that all these people that read "Koolaid Acid Tests"
talk about the time we went to Learys and yelled things at
it didnt happen. Tom Wolfe just put that in; it made
for a better book. But I said, "Tim, Im really so glad that
we got this bone of contention put away and that we have hung out
together and that I got to know you. I feel like its a tremendous
privilege to get to know Tim Leary, so lets not let it slide.
Lets keep it going. Lets meet some place on Halloween
night. You pick the place." He says (whispering), "Houdinis
grave." Now thats nimble, thats fun, thats courageous,
thats somebody whos facing the great hole in the world
and is still able to wink at you and is still able to come up with
the right, clever thing to say at the right time.
my son in a wrestling accident. On the way to a wrestling meet,
the van went off a cliff. I remember the feeling
get back to that
ok Ill tell it
.You know, if anybody
knows the song "Broke Down Palace," (fairly well, fairly well,
I love you more than words can tell), after Jed had been dead
a few months we went to see the Dead. They were playing at our opera
house. They did their usual stuff and got their big ovations and
then, they started playing "Broke Down Palace" and they all turned
toward me and all our family was sitting up there. They all turned
toward us and the guys in the audience began to turn toward us.
And that song was sent from the Grateful Dead to our bruised hearts.
And it was like having somebody reach out and putting their hand
on your shoulder and saying, "Yeah we feel it." And when it was
over there was no applause. Everybody knew it. We were all crying.
And how many bands do you know that could do that? Like when Eric
Clapton begins to sing "Tears in Heaven," this is real. This isnt
rock and roll. This is the heart speaking out to other people whos
hearts have been wounded. And there are a bunch of us.
have more people in jail in this country than any other nation in
the history of the world; more people per capita in jail. I am continually
being asked to sign things that they can sell to try to get some
22 year old kid out of jail who has sold a little dab of acid somewhere
and got busted and is serving 25 years. And the less vicious the
drug is, the more years they are giving him. We are finally getting
around to pulling the covers on tobacco and tobacco is a bad drug
and weve known it. All you people my age, weve known
that black tobacco was a bad drug. I dont care whether you
are from Virginia or not, tobacco is a mother-bad damn drug and
when people say, "Yeah, but weve got to have some way to take
care of the farmers that live out in the Ridges and dont have
yeah, but I would rather have the opportunity to
give them the money than to have them grow the tobacco and sell
kids that shot the kids at the school
Everybody who saw that
thought, "Whos to blame for this?" I know whos to blame.
We are to blame. Were all to blame. Were blamed for
watching the homicide stuff on TV. Were blamed because we
have the kids and we find out we want to do something else. You
start counting the amount of times a gun goes off on television
and they say that the gun isnt connected to this. How long
are we going to stand for this shit? Its wrong, its
wrong. Take the guns away from these people. Or if they raise hell
and they wont give you the guns, take the bullets away. Theres
nothing in the constitution about bullets, is there? Just take the
were getting down to it. Ill get into my beret consciousness.
I havent done this in a while, so itll take me a while
to get warmed up to it.)
of in the same vein as the kids that shot the kids, I have watched
people on both sides of the abortion argument, people who are naturally
very close trying to defend something that needs defending, they
are trying to defend something thats helpless. They are right
at each others heads, screaming at each other with this terrible
vindictiveness even though youll see these women wholl
be right at each other and you cant tell whos for it
and whos against it. If theyll step back and look at
it again, what theyll see is theyve been tricked into
being on this side or this side. It doesnt matter which side
youre on. If youve been tricked into being on one or
the other side, the evil force has got you by the ears. Anybody
that wants to be free enough to be a real warrior cannot be tricked
like that. When it comes down to it, its not either one of
those womens fault. Its the fault of the guy that knocked
them up. Women havent figured this out yet because they are
still so busy arguing that they dont want to calm down and
deal with it, but the truth is nobody really wants an abortion.
They want not to get pregnant. And theyve had birth control
in France for 30 years that men take and it works. Men take it.
They dont want to sell it over here for a number of reasons,
but one of the reasons is that it turns the whites of your eyes
bright blood red. But you know you can imagine that being a real
hold card at a singles bar. You go in there with bright red eyes
But its evidence of how often were turned against each
other from our warrior positions, from our warrior hearts, who we
I was talking with Faye a day or so before we left.
She was doing something about the Ten Commandments. I said, "Theres
the problem. Its one commandment short. It should be the first
commandment. Have mercy. Have mercy in the straight old New Testament
way. Feel out with your heart. When you see somebody hurting, reach
out and comfort them. When you look at the faces of people, these
flood victims, you look at their faces. Are they bomb victims? Or
any victim. Theres something in their face that hadnt
been there before -- the sanity. You see people hugging each other,
lifting bags of sand to fix the levies. There is more to them. They
are not blaming anybody. They are saying, "Lets work together
and get this thing cleaned up." That sanity still runs through our
veins. You know when you see that Jefferson building. When I go
over and see the writing of Faulkner, the hand-written stuff of
"The Sound and the Fury," what it does is it makes you proud to
be an American. And thats also one of the things that the
establishment wishes I would quit saying. For one thing I should
have gotten a divorce, my kid should have been locked up, all the
bad stuff should have happened to me. But it didnt and Im
still saying, "Im proud to be an American because the dream
that these guys put together is a work of genius. Nothing else like
it in history." These guys wrote this stuff to get in there and
not only fix the thinking that needed fixing, but put in loopholes
so you could go back and refix stuff that you dont even know
thing of ban the bullet, I tried selling this as a bumper sticker.
Nobody would put it on because it made the NRA mad at them. Nobody
wants to go after the people with the guns because they are like
you dont go up against a Doberman. And the Republicans, they
believe that everybody should have a Doberman, or at least a Doberman
in a cyclone fence to go around your place and keep people from
getting in on you. And most of the real strong Democrats that I
know are planning to become Republicans just as quick as they win
the lottery anyway.
finish telling the story about Jed. This was ten years ago or so,
the wrestling team was going up to Washington state to wrestle.
And I had wrestled on that team, and so had my brother, so had my
brothers boy, my two sons. We were Oregon wrestlers. We were
wrestling people. Any wrestling people out there? Wrestling parents,
you know how you are dedicated to that sport. Its a poor sport
and you have to make do. And they were traveling in a van they had
borrowed from a chicken farm, so they didnt have anything
in it but seats and chicken stuff and the van went off a cliff.
We were called and we flew up to Washington state and we stood there
around. It was a (?) and his little black teammate, a guy named
Lorenzo West, a really great, great wrestler, a lot of humor in
him, a fun guy. There was a lot of other kids still bad hurt, but
Jed and Lorenzo. You could go in there and look at them, and you
knew that uh-oh, fixed and dilated. The doctors are
telling you that theres just no way that the brain has got
too much bruising; its going to swell. So he convinced us
(and Im not sure I would be convinced anymore) to sign the
thing that turns off the juice in time for them to salvage the organs.
And thats hard. Thats psychedelic, thats when
youre right in there and you think, "Oh God, oh God, how can
this be?" And Ill tell you women something, it affects men
much more because women, by being women, they already know the creation
of life, and they know the other side of life. When death comes
to a man, it catches him by surprise. But Faye and Sue and the West
family, all the women, they were ready for it much more than we
were. So we got in the plane and we flew from Spokane to Seattle,
and we landed there and we had to get off and change planes. And
we stood there at the window and watched these two big boxes come
down off the airplane, come down the ramp. And we were all standing
there watching, and there was nothing more to say. And finally,
I didnt want to be there; I just turned around and left because
I could see that this was going to happen to everybody that I love,
everybody. Like [some bands name] says, "Born to die, born to die."
And I wanted to cease to exist. I didnt want to commit suicide,
I just wanted to find a button and say that "I couldnt take
it" and I would turn it off, and so I left. I didnt know where
I was going, but I was leaving. And I was going up the concourse
there and here came a big black guy, probably about 35 or so, hair
long with dreadlocks, walking down this concourse, his face streaked
with tears. And when he went by he did something that changed my
mind; it changed my life. He made a gesture, and we all know the
gesture. Its this [shakes clenched first in front of his heart].
He did that. To me it meant
He didnt stop and he didnt
look me in the eye. He kept walking and I kept walking. It meant
than if wed held each other and hugged each other. He said,
"Be strong [making the gesture]. I know how you feel." And sometimes
thats all you need is somebody to say "Be strong [making the
gesture]." Thats what this [the gesture] means. Its
not this [clenched fist facing outwards]; its not this [clenched
fist facing inward]; its not this [clenched fist raised above
head]; its this thing by your heart [shaking clenched fist
next to your heart, while fist faces straight ahead]
strong"[making gesture again]. And this was when I got thinking
about warriors. This guy is a warrior. The people that I know, and
have known for a long time, they are warriors.
Ill do a little game on you guys here to show you how much
you are warriors. Ive done this little thing on people when
we toured Poland and Czechoslavakia and all over America, and its
this: Ill give you one clue and you guys answer it. The one
clue, and were talking about great warriors, one of the greatest
warriors of our century, (heres the clue): she was a first
lady. Say it. [Audience answers Eleanor Roosevelt.] Now how
do we know that? Ted Koppel never said it. How do we know that Eleanor
Roosevelt was a warrior? How do we communicate this to these kids
who dont know why she was a warrior? We are here because this
is who we are -- we are warriors, because we know that Eleanor Roosevelt
fought great battles for us. We know her and we respect her, but
weve never voiced it. They were having a big convention about
the great inventions in this last century, and there were people
up there talking about psychotron, salt vaccine, radar, and somebody
in the back shouts out, "Its the thermos." They kind of ignore
him and they go on to talk and pretty soon he shouts out, "Its
the thermos." And they say, "Well come on up here. What do you mean
its the thermos? We are talking about a century where there
has been more inventions than probably in any of the other centuries.
How can you say its the thermos?" He says, "Well when you
put hot water in a thermos, you know how it stays hot?" They say,
"Yeah." "And when you put cold water in a thermos, it stays cold?"
They say, "Yeah." "How do it know?"
do we know were warriors? How do we know who we are? We do,
we do. Go ahead and brighten up that little spark in your life.
Brighten it up and when you see each other there, dont turn
away from each other. When some guy on the street needs money, give
him some damn money. We can afford it. Lay a couple of bucks on
him and then meet his eyes; deal with him. This is what most of
them want is just to have that human touch. And we dont have
to have masters degrees or big houses. We can do it with funny
clothes on. We look at each other and say, "Have a nice day," and
mean it, fucking mean it right down from where you are say, "Have
a nice day." The person looks back and your face lights up and then
already you are having a better day. This is where its gonna
got a good black friend. Ive known him for 30 years. Hes
a jazz player, he talks a lot of jazz stuff. And often we will get
into this argument and people will come out and say, "Yeah but look
how many people are doing it. Look how many voted for it." But that
has to do with numbers. We are never going to win by numbers. There
are not enough of us. We are strong, but there are not enough for
us to win a huge popular election. We are losers. Face it from the
beginning, you dont have to deal with it later. We are dead
ass losers, and yet its a wonderful game to be in there fighting
for that place on the block. And so my friend says, "You can count
the number of seeds in an apple, but you cant count the number
of apples in a seed." We are the seeds.
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