ken kesey

Roberto Loiederman

During the Vietnam War I worked as a deckhand on ships that delivered napalm and other ammo to Southeast Asia. On my first vessel, as we approached Vietnam, my shipmates looked longingly toward the green coastline, rotten ready to get ashore after three tough weeks at sea.

Thinking I was being clever, I grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote something on the messroom blackboard. It was a quotation from The Egyptian Book of the Dead and it went like this:

“Death is before me today, as the odor of lotus-flowers, as when one sits on the shore of drunkenness.” One hour later I came back to the messroom and someone, probably Ed, the ex-junkie third cook, had erased most of the quote. It now read: “Before me today… drunkenness.”

For the last 45 years I’ve worked as a writer, and – like all working writers – I’ve been edited and rewritten many, many times by editors, directors, producers and publishers.

But none of them did as good and clean a rewrite as Ed, the ex-junkie third cook.

I was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2014, 2015, and 2021. I’m the co-author of The Eagle Mutiny, a nonfiction account of the only mutiny on an American ship in modern times. For more info, please visit: www.eaglemutiny.com

Memoir

The Night Ken Kesey Gave His Magic Away

written by Roberto Loiederman

In January 1966, novelist and countercultural leader Ken Kesey held a three-day event in San Francisco called The Trips Festival. This story is Roberto Loiederman’s recollection of the festival — a mind-bending event, as well as a dramatic turning point for Kesey, and those who attended.

© 2001 Robero Loiederman  | Recording © 2022 Rivercliff Books & Media. All rights reserved.
First published by Los Angeles Times, November 2001.

PlayPlay

In late 1965, I went to the Trips Festival at the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. 6,000 people attended the three-day celebration of the music, art, and energy of the burgeoning counterculture. The festival was run by Ken Kesey, who had hired his new friends, the Hells Angels, to handle security.


And in the center of it all was Ken Kesey. Dressed in a silver spacesuit, including silver shoes and carrying a walkie-talkie, he was in constant communication with the Hells Angels and others who were running the show.

 

Then he printed the single word: POWER. Instead of erasing it, he made it darker and darker, extending the lines, thickening the letters, as if he were etching it in stone. POWER. P-O-W-E-R.


But Kesey’s movie signaled a different kind of power arrangement between artist and audience, between leader and followers. Kesey presented life as it was, and it was the viewer’s responsibility to give it meaning—a process that would be made easier, one would suppose, if the viewer had ingested a certain substance that lubricated the imagination.


ken kesey

Roberto Loiederman

During the Vietnam War I worked as a deckhand on ships that delivered napalm and other ammo to Southeast Asia. On my first vessel, as we approached Vietnam, my shipmates looked longingly toward the green coastline, rotten ready to get ashore after three tough weeks at sea.

Thinking I was being clever, I grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote something on the messroom blackboard. It was a quotation from The Egyptian Book of the Dead and it went like this:

“Death is before me today, as the odor of lotus-flowers, as when one sits on the shore of drunkenness.” One hour later I came back to the messroom and someone, probably Ed, the ex-junkie third cook, had erased most of the quote. It now read: “Before me today… drunkenness.”

For the last 45 years I’ve worked as a writer, and – like all working writers – I’ve been edited and rewritten many, many times by editors, directors, producers and publishers.

But none of them did as good and clean a rewrite as Ed, the ex-junkie third cook.

I was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2014, 2015, and 2021. I’m the co-author of The Eagle Mutiny, a nonfiction account of the only mutiny on an American ship in modern times. For more info, please visit: www.eaglemutiny.com

 

Q&A with Roberto

Tell us about your story...

One night in early 1966 Hunter Thompson and I took LSD. We went on his motorcycle to a club called The Matrix and about a couple of hours later we went into the men’s room to take some more of the drug. We sat on the floor of the men’s facing one another. I opened a capsule and the granules fell on my sweater. Without saying a word, we both started sucking on my sweater. Hunter started laughing hysterically, imagining some straight guy walking in on this scene, seeing two lunatics sitting on the floor of a men’s room and sucking on a sweater. That was the good part. Much of the rest of the night, however, was tense and nerve-wracking.


What inspired you to write this story?

When Hunter Thompson blew his brains out in February 2005, I immediately wrote about that crazy night we’d spent together and sent it to the L.A. Times, which published it on the entire back page of the Sunday Book Section. But besides trying to clarify what had really happened on that night – which Hunter also wrote about and semi-glorified – I wanted to understand the meaning of Hunter’s well-known writings in light of the events of that night 40 years earlier.


What have you recently read and enjoyed?

Rereading Joyce’s Ulysses, given that it’s been 100 years since its publication, and I’m enjoying it immensely because I’m not trying to understand all of the references, just reading it as one would read a “normal” novel, following the events, characters and interactions.


Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Doing a lot of crossword puzzles, NY Times, LA Times, and The New Yorker. Been doing the NYT Spelling Bee every day as well and Wordle. It’s a great way use your mental faculties, at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m doing puzzles instead of more productive activities.

Coffee or Tea? Whiskey or Wine?

Coffee!

Anything else you'd like to share?

I started making ice cream at home about a month ago, and I realize that it would be a holy exercise, a way straight to enlightenment, to go on an ice-cream-only diet.

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