By Mark Christensen. Schaffner Press, 2010. 440 pages.
Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Muisadventures in the Counterculture. Kindle Edition, 2011.
I have a simple test when deciding whether or not to read supposedly sweeping histories of the 1960s. I check the index, and if Paul Krassner’s not in it, I pass.
When skimming Mark Christensen’s multi-faceted biography of Ken Kesey, I fully expected to find Krassner references. The men were close friends for decades, and worked on several literary projects together. Kesey comes up frequently in Krassner’s own voluminous autobiographical writings.
What I didn’t expect is that Acid Christ would have dozens of well-researched Krassner anecdotes and fresh Krassner quotes. Or that there’d be a whole chapter illuminating the life and works of Krassner, a whole section of the book that barely even mentions Kesey. In the book’s introduction, Christensen exults Krassner ever more, then mentions that when he’d first decided to write about ‘60s radicalism the person he’d wanted most to biographize was KRASSNER. Until Paul Krassner himself talked him out of it, suggesting that Kesey would be a better subject.
He’s not, but that sort of selflessness is why I’ve always loved Krassner, so I can’t kick. I slogged through Acid Christ diligently, but much more interesting in the subplots and tangents than in the central story. I don’t find it so strange, that someone as swept up in ‘60s consciousness as I am would have their eyes glaze over while reading about one of its icons.
It’s not Christensen’s problem. His writing is lively and unpredictable. He enters himself into the narrative at unexpected points, basically to explain why a certain age-old attitude or anecdote should be construed as timeless or universal. He changes the emphasis on certain eras in Kesey’s life, which is welcome since the times when Kesey was most on public view (movies, bus tours) weren’t necessarily the times when he was doing his most interesting work.
My own issues with Kesey probably have a lot to with his personal success. Not the commercial kind—he was widely ‘rediscovered’ with the release of the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, but the book had come out back in 1962 and been adapted for the stage is 1963, and Christensen shows how the movie version was nothing but a frustration and a distraction for him. No, it’s the rare success he had in being able to create a home and a community for himself that epitomized his own tastes, desires and emotional characteristics. His way of living was free yet precise, and the more I learn about it the more I know I personally don’t share those exact values. I wouldn’t have lived in that part of the country, hung out endlessly with the people he did, done those drugs. Details emerge, I stop relating, even though the big picture is very appealing. So Ken Kesey, to me, is the author of a couple of very good bucks and a couple of extremely good catchphrases, who was able to live his dream. But he doesn’t epitomize the 1960s for me, as I know he does for others. To me, he only epitomizes Ken Kesey, which is fine.
Paul Krassner, on the other hand, is reason I became a journalist—because he showed how there were new kinds of journalist to be. He published, edited, collaborated with or otherwise influenced and popularized the works and ideas of dozens of people
I’m sorry Mark Christensen got talked out of writing a full book on Krassner, with the sudject’s participation. I still hold out hope that someone will, and that they will be able to start it soon, since Krassner will turn 79 in April.
Luckily, Krassner’s come to the rescue with a revised edition of his 1994 autobiography Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut. The alterations are minor—he corrects legends he’s been able to fact-check since, he throws in observations on recent media phenomena which are too pure to his sort of reporting to go unacknowledged (the FCC’s fining, then not fining, then fining again, U2 for obscenity, for instance). But I’m reading the book, which I’ve read several times in its original edition (and which already restated material covered in previous Krassner books) cover-to-cover happily again, as if it’s all new confessions.
Meanwhile, Krassner’s magazine The Realist has now been completely archived at http://www.ep.tc/realist/, a multi-year labor of love by other Krassnerphiles who have done all of us a wondrous service. That’s the history of the ‘60s (and ‘70s and ‘90s) right there.
I know it’s not a comfy LSD farm commune in Oregon, like Kesey’s, but Krassner’s world is where I prefer to dwell.