Merry Pranksters Jam
Music/Lyrics: Phish/Merry Pranksters
Vocals: Phish/Merry Pranksters
Historian: League of the Sufficiently Twisted (Doctor_Smarty)
In 1993 Ken Kesey, celebrated author, legendary psychonaut, and patriarch of the Merry Pranksters, was faced with a vision of troubling times looming on the millennial horizon. As he put it in a letter to his friend Allen Ginsberg:
“This is just shit. It's happening. No blame. Happening and on the rise it would appear. What can we do to delay it? Probably zilch. To stop it? Likely less. But to survive it? Now that sounds more promising. There is evidence of bad shit having been survived before. Ancient Advice Left in cave by Wise French Caveman: ‘When Big bad Shit come, no run scream hide. Try paint picture of it on wall. Drum to it. Sing to it. Dance to it. This give you handle on it.’ So Twister is my try.”
Twister: A Ritual Reality in Three Quarters Plus Overtime if Necessary is Kesey’s only play, written in 1993 and first performed at the National Guard Armory in Eugene, Oregon after the Grateful Dead show at Autzen Stadium (8/21/93). Kesey’s great notion in writing the play was to evoke the power of chaos to quell the natural disasters that would befall humanity as the millennium came to its disastrous conclusion. Loosely based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, his Twister pits the wizard, the scarecrow, the tinman, and Dorothy, with Elvis, Legba, and Frankenstein against three crises: The Hungry Wind; The Lonely Virus; and The Restless Earth. The Merry Pranksters took Twister on tour subsequent to the debut, and despite several sellout performances, the show was widely panned as a “Musical Catastrophe” for being overlong, too loose, and largely uninteresting. In response, Kesey and his Merry Pranksters set about making a film version of the play, that featured Huey Lewis as Elvis, Ken Babbs as Frankenstein, and Allen Ginsberg as Walt Whitman. The film Twister: A Musical Catastrophe debuted at The McKenzie Theater in Springfield, Oregon on 4/11/98.
“What in the hell does all this have to do with Phish?” you ask. Well, in the midst of Colonel Forbin dragging his weary shit ass up the mountain to find Icculus at Darien Lake (8/14/97), he instead ran into Kesey’s wizard, scarecrow, tinman, and Frankenstein who were in search of their missing Bozo friends. In the process they delivered a healthy dose of chaos to the show. How and why the Bozo crew ended up at the Phish show is best described in Part 2 of the Grandfurthur Tour Kronikles. Despite the heroic efforts of all involved, the “Merry Pranksters Jam” (which included segments of “Frankenstein” and a funk groove that ultimately resolved into “Camel Walk”), the short PranksterPhish adaptation of Twister was no less of a musical disaster; once again for being overlong, too loose, and largely uninteresting. The prank certainly did what it was supposed to however, as it managed to stave off the seemingly disastrous conclusion that would befall the Phish world for another seven years.
Digging deeper into the why behind this curiosity, it becomes apparent that the Merry Prankster’s appearance was all about Ken’s idea of taking things FURTHER. Despite suffering a stroke earlier in the year and then being diagnosed with diabetes, Ken Kesey was still trying to foment chaos with what little time he had left on Earth. He lived to see the millennium but never recovered from surgery to remove a liver tumor and moved on to “The Great Gig in the Sky” in November 2001. I was lucky enough to meet the man, the myth, the Merry Prankster and take one of his after school “tests” one evening at the Hollywood Taxi (Steve Kimock Band 12/15/00). He – along with the good doctor H.S.T. – have served as inspirations to my life and to my writing. Thus, in conclusion, I offer the words of the wizard of Pleasant Hill that have guided me as advice to writers everywhere:
“One of these days you’re going to have a visitation. You’re going to be walking down the street and across the street you’re going to see God standing over there on the corner motioning to you saying, ‘Come here, come to me.’ And you will know it’s God, there will be no doubt in your mind – he has slitty little eyes like Buddha, and he’s got a long nice beard and blood on his hands. He’s got a big Charlton Heston jaw like Moses, he’s stacked like Venus, and he has a great jeweled scimitar like Mohammed. And God will tell you to come to him and sing his praises. And he will promise that if you do, all the muses that ever visited Shakespeare will fly in your ear and out of your mouth like golden pennies. It’s the job of the writer in America to say, ‘Fuck you God, fuck you and the Old Testament you rode in on, fuck you.’ The job of the writer is to kiss no ass, no matter how big and holy and white and tempting and powerful. Anytime anybody says come to me and says, ‘Write my advertisement, be my ad manager,’ tell him, ‘Fuck you.’ The job is always to be exposing God as the crook, as the sleaze ball.”
So let it be written... BOZOOOO!... so let it be done.
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