Madison authors, topics, book events and publishers
Longtime listeners know that Stu sometimes does deviate from those parameters when the guest is so special or the book is so important. And that is the case today as we welcome Ken Babbs for a conversation about his new book Cronies: A Burlesque: Adventures with Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead and Other Friends. It comes out on Tuesday as the first book on a brand new imprint, Tsunami Press.
In 1953, the Mentor Ohio High School yearbook said of Kenneth Babbs, “As scholar and athlete he does excel/We know in life he will do well.” That he did. As an athlete, he was good enough to play college basketball in the NCAA tournament. As a scholar, he did well enough to graduate magna cum laude from Miami University and attend the Stanford University graduate program in creative writing on a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship.
And it was there, in the fall of 1958, that he met another writer/athlete, a handsome young wrestler named Ken Kesey. And the American counterculture would never be the same.
But first Babbs had a little commitment to Uncle Sam he had to fulfill – service as a second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, the back end of his Naval ROTC engagement, which he had joined to pay for college. That service even included a tour of duty as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam in 1962-63.
While Babbs was in Vietnam, he and Kesey sent each other drafts of novels they were working on. Babbs’ book, based on his experience in country, was called Who Shot the Water Buffalo? and would be published in 2011. Kesey’s book was Sometimes A Great Notion, and its publication in 1964 would be one of the precipitating factors in the most famous bus ride in American history, the outlandish journey of the Merry Pranksters from Oregon to New York, with Kesey as the visionary CEO, Babbs as the chief operating officer and Neal Cassady as the primary driver of the bus Further.
That adventure is the centerpiece of this rollicking collection of 70 vignettes, snapshots and character studies, which also features up-close and personal accounts of the Acid Tests, the Grateful Dead, the Hell’s Angels, Woodstock, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Bill Graham and pranksters of all sorts and stripes.
And because it features verbatim dialogue taken from contemporaneous tape recordings, Cronies is an important contribution to the literature of modern American studies.
It is a real pleasure to welcome to Madison BookBeat its author, the Intrepid Traveler himself, Ken Babbs