How we met: Ken Kesey & Ken Babbs

Ken Kesey, 64, was born in Oregon, and studied at Stanford University. Aged 23, he volunteered to take part in CIA-funded LSD experiments. His work in a psychiatric hospital helped inspire his book `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (1962). In 1964 he and a group of friends calling themselves the Merry Pranksters toured America in a psychedelically painted bus which they packed with acid

Ken Babbs studied at Stanford University, and was one of the first American soldiers to be sent to Vietnam, serving as a helicopter pilot with the Marines. Babbs was Kesey's closest ally in the Pranksters, and was known to all as the `Intrepid Traveller'. After a drugs bust, he and other members of the group settled near Kesey's rural birthplace in Oregon. Ken Babbs has nine children by several wives

KEN KESEY: We met at Stanford University, California. We were both in Wallace Stegner's writing class for graduates, with a lot of people who went on to become very successful, like Larry McMurtry and Robert Stone. I've been fairly close to the whole bunch all these years, but Babbs more than the rest of them. He looked like a gleef, a Midwest term for somebody who's not quite an oaf but is on his way there. I really wasn't that impressed with him until I went to a place up on North Beach [in San Francisco] where you could get up and take the microphone, and Babbs took it and blabbered impressively. We became closer, and have been the best of buddies ever since. I saw underneath the oafishness pretty quickly. He's way better-read and has a better grasp of the English language than almost anybody I ever met.

Vietnam changed him quite a bit. He came back from there pretty wacky, and he almost never speaks of it, because it was like something that happened on another planet. Getting on a plane in this fetid jungle, and 10 hours later stepping off the aeroplane in Los Angeles - he said it was a tremendous culture shock. While he was there, I was sending him samples of LSD, not realising that he was going to be adjusting to them while flying around in a helicopter. Like a lot of people, when he came back, he had a kind of existential outlook. The difference was that his existential outlook was funny.

He wrote a good novel about it, it was bitter black humour, and if he had waited five years they would have published it in a hot second. At that time, nobody wanted to publish anything about Vietnam. He's written prolifically since, stuff I've never seen and don't want to. It seems off the subject. Writing's not really that important to us now.

Taking acid together when he got back was, though. There were times when we both knew that we were seeing the same hallucination, and when that begins to happen, it means there's something there. This was a real shock to our spiritual foundation, that we could find something that nobody else could see, but both of us could agree on. If you get too serious about it, you can get very scared. But with Babbs to see the humour in it, you're weeping and end up laughing.

Then, a couple of years later, we all got arrested. I don't know that it was anybody's idea to head back to Oregon and settle, but it sure seemed like the thing to do. Babbs has got a little spread over at Lost Creek, he built that house completely, and he has made a very successful homestead. He's far more capable than me.

The Pranksters' relationship hasn't changed much. Every year or so, we'll come up with some scheme, and head off and do it, and Babbs is always as willing to go in as wacky a direction as I am. We have lasted longer than any band I know of. The only thing that holds it together is affection, and respect.

KEN BABBS: We were both in the Stanford University graduate writing class in 1958, so we've known each other for 41 years. He and I and the other members of the class all hit it off terrifically well. The head of department, Wallace Stegner, had a cocktail party to greet everybody, and right away we knew we were all of the same type. Kesey and I were both athletes in high school, and free-spirited, so naturally we hit it off real good.

As time went on, Kesey and I spent more time together. The other guys I think were more serious. They were devoted to their craft. We were also devoted to life and San Francisco, because at that time the Beat generation was still going strong, and North Beach was a mecca for free-thinking and free-living. We'd go up to San Francisco a lot of times on weekends.

I left Stanford in 1959 and went into the Marine corps. We wrote back and forth all the time I was in Vietnam; he sent me whole chapters of his book Sometimes a Great Notion, and I'd write back long letters of what I thought. Writing was a bond. When I came back I hid in my house for five days, then went out into the middle of flamboyant consumer America. It was like an acid high, and it all extended from the rush of seeing Kesey and my other friends again.

The plan of the bus grew out of taking LSD. It opened up new ways of thinking, to the point where we were no longer happy with just writing. We were into taping - we'd lie on the floor at night, get high, have microphones on and recite novels. We'd progress from that to playing the parts we were making up, and then to filming ourselves. When we took the bus to New York, our plan was to play these parts on the road, and film ourselves interacting with the American people.

Then we got busted in 1966, and when you get arrested, you really get arrested - things come to a stop. Afterwards we moved right on up to Oregon, because we had kids to get in school, and we became ordinary citizens. But we still continued to do the things we've always done together. Kesey says our mission is no less than saving the world.

The way we work is that Kesey'll have an idea. But if it's too harebrained, we won't do it. You know how Indians pick their chiefs? They sit around in a group, and one guy becomes the one who makes the decisions. But when he starts making decisions that people don't go along with, they quietly leave the tent, until pretty soon he's the only one there. We're like that too.

Our relationship is one of those things you don't think about, it's like an old marriage. We still look out for each other. I don't let him cross the street without looking to the left. Particularly in England. What started in the Sixties has matured nicely, with a lot of grace.

The Pranksters are now touring Britain, and their perfor-mance at the Minack Theatre, Penzance, on 11 August, will be broadcast on Channel 4. The channel will also be showing a documentary of the tour on 30 August

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'