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Published: 2012/01/21
by Brian Robbins

Kesey, Cassady, Meatspace, and the Fourth World: Checking In With Ken Babbs

BR: If it had to be the last time, I guess that was a nice way to end it.

KB: Yeah, you’re right. Neal left for Mexico after that and died down there.

Now, see? You wanted me to leak a Cronies story – there’s one right there. (laughter)

BR: And we’ll let folks know that if they want more of that, they’ll have to stand by for the book.

KB: Right! (laughs)

BR: Around the time Magic Trip was released this past summer, I talked with Carolyn Garcia about the movie and about the bus itself. She was great about explaining the difference between the bus as a thing and the bus as an experience, a metaphor. She wanted me to understand that the old bus was just a thing. How do you feel about that? And when’s the last time you were around the original bus?

KB: Actually, Zane towed the original bus out of the swamp a while back to restore it. It’s sitting in Kesey’s barn now, right next to the new bus.

You know, people would ask Kesey about the different buses and he would say, “There’s only one bus. It’s like the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek – they made many versions of it, but there was only one Enterprise.”

And that’s true – the bus is the bus.

BR: And we’ve talked about this before, but for those who might have missed it, can you address the “Further” vs. “Furthur” issue one more time?

KB: (laughs) Sure – the original bus was “Further.” That’s the name Roy Sebern painted on the sign on top in June of ‘64. Roy said it was a good luck name – one that would keep the bus going to its destination.

Later on, somebody repainted the sign and misspelled it as “Furthur” – that’s where that spelling came from. And now, to complicate things even more, you have the band named Furthur, as well. All because somebody made a spelling mistake. (laughs)

You know, one of the neat things about the bus is all the memories of the people who were on it – whether they were there or not. (laughter) Particularly on that trip we made cross-country to New York and back; near as I can tell, there were hundreds of thousands of people on that bus. (laughter)

BR: Another occasion from the past year that I wanted to ask you about was the 10th anniversary of Ken’s death in November. Did you do anything in particular to mark that day?

KB: You know, that happens to also be the Marine Corps birthday – a huge day. That was a major chapter in Who Shot The Water Buffalo as you remember with a big celebration and all …

BR: Oh, I remember. What a mess.

KB: That’s right! (laughter) But yes, the anniversary of Kesey’s death is always a big deal. I always write something on my website about it. I didn’t go over to the place where he’s buried, but I know the family did.

BR: I think it’s different for everybody, don’t you? Myself, I don’t necessarily go to someone’s grave to feel closer to them. Is there anywhere special that you go – or any one thing that you do – that makes you feel especially close to Ken?

KB: Oh, sure. There are many, many, many things – his presence is always around me.

Like when you open a can of paint: you always take a hammer and a nail and punch holes around the inner edge of the can so that the stuff that collects in the little gutter there drips back into the paint. That’s something Kesey passed onto me and I think of him every time I do it.

Or when you make spaghetti: when you’re stirring the sauce with a spoon, you dip the spoon in the water that you’re going to boil the noodles in so that the flavor goes into the noodles. That was something Kesey showed me.

I asked him one time, “Where’d you get that from?”

And Kesey said, “Faye’s been taking a cooking class at the community college.”

I said, “Your wife? A cooking class? She’s only cooked about 6000 meals for about 10,000,000 people over the years!”

He said, “Yeah, I know. But that’s what they taught her at the class.” (laughter)

But yeah – every time I stir the spaghetti, there he is. There are lots of things like that.

And Kesey’s in my dreams all the time, too. That’s when you know that their spirit and their presence is still around you and connected to you. I had a dream last night that we were in together, in fact. I wish I could remember my dreams better; I should write them down.

BR: I’m thinking one of the single biggest things that’s evolved since Ken died that he would have made use of is the internet. Had you two tapped into it much prior to his death?

KB: Yes – both through our website and through e-mail. Kesey realized early on that this was the new “virtual bonfire,” as we called it. Years ago, people would sit around the bonfire and exchange stories; now that’s what the internet is. Facebook has really taken over now as that sort of thing – more than e-mails and websites. Websites are good for information; and e-mail’s good for talking to each other; but people are writing about their own lives on Facebook and other people are reading it and commenting and they end up talking back and forth.

BR: I love the vision of you two birds hand-painting the boxes for the VHS movies of the bus trip. Do you feel at all that the computer age has taken away some of the organic nature of things?

KB: Oh, you have to do both. You can’t just devote all your time to the computer and the world that goes on there. You have to get out of the box and get your hands dirty and laugh and … yeah: get in the paint!

That’s a good example – the movie. We were in the box working on the actual film, okay? But then we dipped the cardboard boxes for the VHS tapes in water with paint swirled on top and then hung them out to dry. Then we printed the labels on the computer and had to glue them on the tape boxes and send them out. It really was a complete organic process going on right there at the Intrepid Trips office we had.

The post office was next door; next to them was the bank. Across the parking lot was the market; and across the street was the pizza place. We had everything right there – we never had to leave! (laughter)

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