Episode 111: The Merry Pranksters’ Ken Babbs

Episode 111 of The JamBase Podcast, a partner of the Osiris Media Network, features an interview with author Ken Babbs. JamBase’s Andy Kahn recently spoke to Babbs about his excellent new book, Cronies A Burlesque: Adventures With Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, the Merry Pranksters & the Grateful Dead.

Babbs, who is well into his 80s, spoke over a video call from his home in Oregon. Much of the interview focused on Babbs’ book, which is a collection of 70 essays capturing his life experiences on the forefront of the 1960s counterculture movement with The Merry Pranksters and beyond.

The book begins in 1958 with Babbs attending Stanford University where he met Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and himself a prominent member of The Merry Pranksters. From there, Cronies presents one psychedelic adventure after another, including The Merry Pranksters legendary journey across the United States in 1964 on the iconic bus called Further (or Furthur).

Babbs talked about the magical voyage on the bus, which was notoriously driven by the Beat Generation muse Neal Casady. With Cowboy Neal at the wheel, Babbs and Pranksters headed to the East Coast, setting out from California and eventually meeting Beat Generation icons like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and connecting with fellow early-LSD supporter Timothy Leary.

Babbs and The Merry Pranksters were also integral parts of the Acid Tests in California in the 1960s when LSD was still legal. Babbs recalled first encountering the members of the Grateful Dead, who also became essential players at the Acid Tests. Babbs forged deep friendships with the Dead, and detailed his relationships with Pigpen, Jerry Garcia and others.

Among the many things Babbs talked about was the time The Merry Pranksters showed up at Phish’s concert in Darien Lake, New York in the Summer of 1997. Listen to hear him talk about the pre-show hang with the band on the bus, appearing onstage as Frankenstein and more.

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