inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #76 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 09:14
    
slippage (and much more *sublimely* to the point by Ed!!!)
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #77 of 156: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 12 Feb 09 09:15
    
>>> What I'm saying is just that in changing oneself, one changes the
world. <<<

There was a time in my life when I believed this. Now, in my dotage
(54 years and counting...), I accept that in changing oneself, one
changes... oneself. One changes one's perception of the world, to be
sure, but that's not the same thing as changing the world.  
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #78 of 156: Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Thu 12 Feb 09 09:58
    
SteveB, compared to mine, your dotage is the merest infancy.  Now, on
to Scott's question about Kesey's two great books:


Cuckoo's Nest, I suppose, is the more important of the two, in terms
of its influence on American culture and consciousness.  But once Ken
establishes the mental ward as the defining physical and metaphorical
parameter of the novel, and installs Chief Broom's point of view at its
center and McMurphy as its Christ-like hero, the story almost becomes
a sort of set piece--an allegory, as he himself described it.  From
that point on, the plot and the characters are more or less ready-made,
so to speak, and I'm guessing that, in the hands of so forceful and
energetic a writer, the rest of the novel would've come together
relatively easily.

But Notion was an altogether different kind of animal, as I hope my
favorite anecdote about Ken's writing--and my favorite parable about
the creative process in general--nicely illustrates:

In the Fall of 1962, when my then-new friend Ken was, as far as I
knew, still basking in the early success of Cuckoo's Nest, at some
writerly get-together at the Keseys' house on Perry Lane, Ken asked me
to take home and read about 50 typed pages of very raw manuscript.  At
first glance, I saw that it was rife with typos and misspellings, and
that he'd done a good deal of scribbling in the margins as well; if a
student of mine up at Oregon State had turned in a draft in that
condition, I might well have been unwilling to read it at all.  So I
figured this was just a tentative trial run (I still didn't know Ken
well enough to know that he never did anything "tentatively"), and I
really wasn't expecting much when I began reading it.

Imagine my surprise!  It turned out to be the staggeringly arresting
opening scene, pretty much as it would eventually appear in print, of
Sometimes a Great Notion!  The novel begins, you'll recall, with a band
of loggers standing around beside a small Oregon river, glumly looking
across the rushing waters toward a gloomy, decrepit old house--the
Stamper family's homeplace--, while, dangling before them from a cable
that spans the river, is ... a severed human arm!

"So what'd you think?" Ken inquired when I returned the manuscript a
few days later.

Of course I said all the things that you'd expect--wonderful
beginning, dynamite writing, great stuff, blah blah blah--, but there
was one thing, I admitted, that puzzled me:  Why, in all those fifty
pages, do you never tell us whose arm that is, and how it comes to be
there?  

"Christ," Ken said, exasperated by my naivete, "how should I know
whose it is! That's what I'm writing this book for--to find out!"

In short, he was dangling the arm--and the mystery of it--out there in
front of himself like a carrot in front of a mule, as a motivation for
both his reader and for himself as writer.  And sure enough, we don't
learn the provenance of that arm until about 500 pages later, at the
very end of the novel.
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #79 of 156: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Thu 12 Feb 09 11:00
    
Were there really millions of acid heads? Isn't that like counting
each airline ticket sold as a flier?
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #80 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 11:24
    
Cuckoo’s Nest, it has been suggested, gains its literary
distinctiveness from the often hallucinated, narrative point-of-view of
Chief Broom. [This POV is lost in the movie, which is reduced to a
two-dimensional battle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched]. The
comparison between Kesey’s brilliant first novel from 1962, and the
movie by Milos Forman, which won five academy awards in 1975, could be
the basis for an entire college course comparing the virtues/
limitations of film vs. literature.

Yet, as amazing as Cuckoo’s Nest is, I found Sometimes a Great
Notion to be even more impressive for its compression of time,
multiple points-of-view, and seeming fragmentation that all comes
together so impressively at the end. 

When I spoke with Faye Kesey at the ED McCLANAHAN PRODIGAL PRANKSTER
BARBECUE in November, I asked her about her husband's approach when
writing Notion. (It’s a curiousity I have about most writers I admire,
and was similar to my first question to you in this discussion). Faye
spoke about how Ken had all these notes and arrows pointing
every-which-way in his den, but that he would go for thirty hours at a
session because, as she said, “it took him that long to get going so he
could juggle all those balls at one time.”

The through-line to that novel, as suggested in the edition of the
Northwest Journal called Kesey, is a single note taped near Ken’s
typewriter. It said, simply: “Try to make Hank give up.” In other
words, for all the kaleidoscopic meandering and multiple characters
and story threads, everything in that 500 plus page tome is
oriented toward defeating Hank Stamper, the heir-apparent of the
family logging business in the forested valley of Oregon's coastal
(and fictional) Wakonda Auga River.

As relates to your great post about your personal relationship with
Ken, Sometimes a Great Notion at its core is essentially about two
aspects of Kesey’s own evolving personality––the ruggedly
individualistic alpha male/star athlete vs. the artistic,
reflective/über-sensitive hipster––which played out through the two
main characters, half-brothers Hank and Lee Stamper.

Another thing Faye emphasized when we spoke, was how Ken had only
taken one creative writing course while an undergrad at the Univ.
of Oregon. His real love had been drama. This seems to underscore
just how valuable and edifying Ken’s support base at Stanford must
have been for his writing, both in helping him hone his
understanding of craft, but also from having excellent readers, such
as you, to help edit his early drafts.

There has been fair bit of discussion in academic circles and the
media about why Ken Kesey turned away from the novel in the late
Sixties and, even when he wrote a third novel, Sailors Song, around
1990, he never regained the brilliance and ultimate cohesion of those
first two novels.

Stephen Tanner, a literary scholar, lamented in his book on Ken Kesey,
and I paraphrase, how unfortunate it was that LSD truncated the career
of a great novelist.

Kesey himself insisted at the time of the Acid Tests that the novel
was growing irrelevant and that other arts such as music were
supplanting literature.  He claimed that, with the Pranksters, he
wanted to live life-as-art.

When I spoke with Chuck Kesey at the great EDDIE McCELEBRATION, he
talked about how disappointed his brother was at the shaky critical
reception garnered from Sometimes a Great Notion.  Why would Ken invest
the energy to write more novels, Chuck suggested, if his best work was
simply going to be panned?

More so than Cuckoo's Nest, it's obvious that Ken poured everything he
had into Notion, and was clearly spent, artistically, after it was
finished.  However which way he viewed it, Kesey clearly wanted a break
from the rigors of creating fiction.

One angle on this that I've never heard discussed is the role that the
Stanford literary community played in the quality of Kesey's work. 
Obviously, Ken had strong regard for your opinion, Ed, when he asked
you to read that early draft of Notion.  Faye noted how Ken wasn't very
steeped in literature/creative writing before he came to Palo Alto. 
You arrived in 1962 to Palo Alto, Kesey in the Fall of 1958, so
obviously you had no involvement with Cuckoo's Nest which came out in
'62.  

Likewise, we see in Cuckoo's Nest a highly conventional narrative
structure (albeit with a highly unusual protagonist and narrative voice
in Chief Broom).  Kesey's flourishing literary chops certainly
benefited from the workshopping it received from an excellent peer
group of fellow writers at Stanford, and from his teacher/mentors in
the Stanford program. 

Wallace Stegner and Malcolm Crowley usually receive most of the credit
for Kesey's development, but Faye Kesey mentioned Richard Scowcroft as
being the most influential of Ken's instructors at Stanford.

So Ed, you spent several years in that same world in the '60s.  What
is your take on the role that this literary environment around Stanford
had on helping Kesey "tame" his two masterpieces? Clearly, Ken never
attained the same level of "polish" in his later writings.   
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #81 of 156: Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 12 Feb 09 11:29
    
> the arm


"I don't write to say what I think, I write to find out what I'm 
thinking."

                        -- Gary Snyder
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #82 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 11:41
    
Robin, the term "acid heads" implies regular repeated consumption. 
However, I would suggest that there were millions in the '60s and '70s
who ingested LSD, Peyote, Mescaline, or psilocyben, the powerful
hallucinogens. And many millions more have smoked what has, over the
years, evolved into the highly potent psychoactive drug, marijuana.
Number one cash crop in Kentucky, number two cash crop, behind apples,
in Washington state.  Yet, the way the whole phenomenon was prosecuted,
obfuscated, distorted, we will never likely know the numbers, or, more
significantly, have an honest appraisal of the impact of this class of
drugs either collectively or on individuals.  

Interestingly, in one interview, Ken Kesey lamented the way this was
all shut down, stifled by widespread criminal prosecution, never
allowing the truth to surface.  He pointed to himself and those in his
scene as being the perfect test subjects for long term study on the
impacts of LSD use.  This, of course, never happened.
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #83 of 156: David Gans (tnf) Thu 12 Feb 09 11:43
    

Steve B, I think changing oneself is changing the world.  Gandhi said it:
"You must be the change you want to see in the world."

You know how they say the Velvet Underground didn't sell many records, but
everybody who bought one went out and started a band?  I think the world has
been changed by people who took acid.  John Markoff wrote a book about
psychedelics and Silicon Valley, the title of which escapes me but I think
there's a topic about it here in the inkwell.

See also Eric Christensen's excellent documentary, "The Trips Festival"
<http://thetripsfestival.com/> - in addition to the film itself, the DVD has
a panel discussion from the Mill Valley Film Festival with many of the
participants talking about how that experience changed them.
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #84 of 156: David Gans (tnf) Thu 12 Feb 09 11:47
    <scribbled by tnf Thu 12 Feb 09 11:47>
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #85 of 156: David Gans (tnf) Thu 12 Feb 09 11:48
    

> “Try to make Hank give up.”

Isn't it true that the original working title of "Notion" was "Never Give a
Inch"?
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #86 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 12:01
    
Markoff's book is called What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s
Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer.

"Never Give An Inch" was the name sometimes used for the movie version
of the book staring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. 
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #87 of 156: Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 12 Feb 09 12:16
    
A propos of something, the Prankster footage has always struck me as the
ultimate You Had to Be There phenomenon.  After all the build-up in
Wolfe's book about "the movie" and Kesey moving beyond mere prose, etc.,
and then all the layers of mythico-twistico accrual of legend among
goggle-eyed Deadheads and whatnot, I've never seen Prankster footage that
didn't make me feel -- well, bored and slightly uncomfortable.  It's not
well or even competently shot (I mean, with the solar wind blowing, all
the camera people probably deserve Purple Hearts for even trying), and
frankly, there ain't much going on onscreen of interest -- not the music,
such as it is, not the raps, such as they were, and not the cosmic
self-importance of it all.  Cassady was fascinating to watch under any
circumstances, like a be-bop Charlie Chaplin.  But, er... well, it must
have been fun!  I remember when I was a kid, how much Wolfe's book was
trashed as a sleazy NY poseur's take on these alchemical wizards who had
already transcended language, but a few decades later, Wolfe's mere words 
still tingle on the page, while the footage looks like somebody's folks' 
Knights of Columbus rituals, but with tits and mud.  Not to be a cynic in 
my dotage or anything, but ya know what I'm sayin'?
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #88 of 156: Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Thu 12 Feb 09 12:37
    
I really don't remember, David; it may well have been.  But that
injunction is prominent in the book, of course, and when they brought
the movie back to late-night tv after it bombed in the first run,
that's what they re-titled it.  (Sorry, Scott, for steppin' on your
line.)

I don't even remember the tits, Steve--and believe me, what with all
that boredom and mud, I was lookin' for 'em! 
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #89 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 13:03
    
Fetchin' Gretchen the Slime Queen may have revealed her breastesses,
and maybe there was footage of the classic scene in suburban Houston at
Larry McMurtry's home when Kathy "Soon-to-be-named-Stark-Naked" Casano
stepped off the Bus, well, stark naked.  (Of course, I don't pay much
attention to such visuals). 

Even though Kesey is said to have spent $70,000 on movie equipment,
literary genius never translated into proficiency with the newer
medium.  Here the (adverse) impact of ingesting certain substances is
more clear cut!
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #90 of 156: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 12 Feb 09 13:18
    
In an interview Michael Douglas, who had the film rights to "Cuckoo's
Nest" and who produced the film version, said Kesey couldn't write a
screenplay, either. Well, specifically, he couldn't write a usable
screenplay for "Cuckoo's Nest." "Here was my literary hero and what he
gave us was so disappointing," I remember Douglas saying. (Larry Hauben
and Bo Goldman wrote the screenplay that was used -- I think Dale
Wasserman got a credit too, though I can't remember for sure.)  
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #91 of 156: Gary Lambert (almanac) Thu 12 Feb 09 13:36
    

Yeah, the promised epic "prankster movie" that keeps cropping up in
Wolfe's book strikes me as kind of the 60s equivalent to Joe Gould's
mythic "Oral History of Our Time."
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #92 of 156: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 12 Feb 09 13:43
    
Home movies are pretty much home movies no matter who's in them or who
shot them. 
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #93 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 14:02
    
The bad feeling between the Douglas family (Kirk purchased the
performance rights for stage and screen) cut both ways.  Chuck Kesey
told me that Ken only made $150,000 total on Cuckoo's Nest, when the
movie in the mid-70s grossed over $8 million.  Any resentment by Ken
there, you think?  

Ken would never go see the movie (unlike the play, as Ed pointed
out!).  He hated the choice of Jack Nicholson for Randle P. McMurphy. 
RPM was a big, cowboy of a man in the novel.  And, again, the movie
screenplay takes the protagonist of the novel (Chief Broom) and
relegates him to the periphery as a member of ensemble in the mental
ward (with Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, et. al).  

I won't suggest that Kesey would have been proficient as a
screenwriter. I don't know.  Yet, for a screen adaptation, to think
that an author would neuter his point-of-view character is ridiculous
for Michael Douglas to have expected.  The Director Milos Forman has
stated that he didn't want some trippy Sixties voice ruining the story.
 I'm thinking that the Czech filmmaker didn't have the requisite
skills to accommodate such a brilliant approach. The protagonist who
changes at the end of the book is the Chief, not McMurphy or Nurse
Ratched.

Despite this, for what it is, the Hollywood movie is excellent, but if
the novel can be viewed as a three-legged beast featuring RPM, Big
Nurse, and Chief Broom, the screen version is a two-dimensional
stand-off with the Chief serving as artifice.
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #94 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Feb 09 14:03
    
*the ensemble
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #95 of 156: Gary Lambert (almanac) Thu 12 Feb 09 14:21
    <scribbled by almanac Thu 12 Feb 09 14:21>
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #96 of 156: Gary Lambert (almanac) Thu 12 Feb 09 14:23
    

The Broadway version with Kirk Douglas was by most accounts a pretty bad
mess, but I was lucky enough to see a tremendous Off-Broadway production
of the Dale Wasserman play in 1971 or thereabouts, with William Devane
just about perfect as McMurphy. Danny DeVito was in that cast as well.

I agree that there was something that Milos Forman fundamentally didn't
get about the material.
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #97 of 156: Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Thu 12 Feb 09 15:45
    
Ah well, you know the adage:  Never trust a Prankster.

But here's a thought:  It's true that if it hadn't been for Wolfe's
book, nobody would have been the least bit interested in Kesey's
what-I-did-on-my-vacation film footage;  but then it's also true that
if Wolfe's book hadn't been about Kesey, nobody woulda read it anyhow!

And by the way, Michael Douglas was something of a disappointment
himself, inasmuch as he tried (or so I'm told) to weasel out of paying
Ken anything at all for Cuckoo, even after it was obviously on its way
to making unspeakable quantities of dough.  (Yes, Douglas's father,
Kirk, had bought the stage and screen rights fair and square back in
1961, for the princely sum of eighteen grand, but still ... )

My friend Pat Monaghan's high school production, Gary, was the
progenitor of that off-Broadway version you saw.  Hey, read all about
it in Pat's story ("The Character") in Spit in the Ocean #7!  

     
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #98 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 13 Feb 09 08:11
    
Regarding the book and film versions of Cuckoos Nest, I wrote this for
The Hippie Narrative, but didn't use it in the published book:


Originally, Kesey was hired to write the screenplay, but his was not
the one used for the movie.  Michael Douglas produced the movie and
chose Milos Forman to direct.  In the late ‘60s before the Soviet
crackdown on reforms in this satellite nation, Forman was a considered
one of the most creative filmmakers in Czech cinema. When asked by an
interviewer why he chose to “treat the story objectively rather than
through the eyes of the Indian, Kesey’s point-of-view character,”
Forman said:

        "I didn’t want that for my movie, […] I hate that voice-over, I hate
that whole psychedelic ‘60s drug free-association thing, going with the
camera through somebody’s head. That’s fine in the book, or on a
stage, which is stylized. But in film the sky is real, the grass is
real, the tree is real; the people had better be real too.
“You know, I’m glad I didn’t know the reputation of the book when I
read it, so I didn’t have this artificial reverence for the ‘cult
classic.’ And I think it’s much better that it was made now than in the
‘60s. After a certain time, all the distracting elements fall away,
all the transitory psychedelic stuff. And we can follow what it is
really about. My film is very simple. (VillageVoice 12/1/75)

The choice of Forman to sidestep the P.O.V. of the Chief for his
adaptation is understandable as the far easier approach, but to
relegate this aspect of the novel to a “psychedelic ‘60s drug
free-association thing” not only distorts the timing of Kesey’s
involvement in a counterculture that had not yet emerged, it minimizes
a highly innovative literary approach for conveying the struggle for
sanity.  Chief Broom was integral to Kesey’s story, not a “distracting
element.”  Forman calls it “my movie,” as though this justified the
liberty he took to blatantly truncate, not scenes, but one of the three
“legs” of Kesey’s story.  

Like so much written about the ‘60s, Forman’s statement reads like
revisionist history.  Again, there was no psychedelic counterculture at
the time Kesey wrote Cuckoo’s Nest.  However, the themes resonating in
this novel do explain why the counterculture emerged a few years
later.  Perhaps Forman didn’t have the cinematographic skills to
effectively convey the perspective of the Chief, or the imagination and
appreciation to capture the breadth of Kesey’s story.  

His comments are akin to a talented American filmmaker doing a movie
about the “Prague Spring” by focusing only on the political tension
between the Soviets and Czechs in 1968, but deeming the defiant
artistic expression of this time and place as too “transitory,” too
much of a “distracting element” to feature.  If such a two-dimensional
American film had been made about the “Prague Spring”, one can only
imagine that Forman’s reaction would be similar to Kesey’s response to
the simplified adaptation of his novel.
Forman’s movie eliminated the interiority of Ken Kesey’s story.  More
than most comparisons between film and novel, this demonstrates,
objectively, why literature resonates more deeply than film.  The fact
that the movie was so well received can be attributed to the powerful
surface story rendered by Kesey, and the stalwart acting throughout the
film. 
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #99 of 156: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 13 Feb 09 08:26
    
Ed, when you have a chance, I would still love to get your take on the
question I posed up in post #80 about Ken's maturation (or lack
thereof) as a novelist.

I'm also very interested in hearing more about how you came into your
own as a writer.  You mentioned earlier, Hollis Summers and Robert
Hazel, as excellent creative writing teachers that you studied under
while an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky.  Are there any
other significant influences who shaped your skills as a writer,
particularly those who helped you learn the core craft?  

Likewise, do you have any trusted readers, today, who you ask to give
you the straight low-down on the developing drafts of your stories?
  
inkwell.vue.346 : Ed McClanahan - O the Clear Moment
permalink #100 of 156: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 13 Feb 09 09:25
    
Forman directed the movie of Hair, too, iirc.
  

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