Ken Kesey and Patsy Cline

Ken_Kesey by William Stafford.

Kesey was sitting on the floor with his back against a washing machine, rolling a hash joint with practiced dexterity. This was in Richard Hugo’s basement, I think. We were respectful, awed, especially by the tightness of his roll. He borrowed a lighter, lit it and took two or three tokes.

Someone asked him about Cassady. He’d probably answered that a thousand times, but it was fair as an opener. We wanted to hear him talk.

“He really liked to drive …. (exhale) … everyone thinks about the craziness, but he really liked to just drive, to eat up the countryside with his eyes.”

Of course: we all understood.

“At night we would have the radio on, trying to pick up those 50,000 watt stations. In the south XERB from Tijuana, KBAP from Fort Worth. In the north stranger shit, like KSL from Salt Lake and KAQQ from Spokane.”

Someone asked if they listened to the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, the Grateful Dead. The joint had made a circle and returned to Kesey. He inhaled, pursed his lips and smiled.

“Those stations didn’t play any of that. Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Charlie Pride if you were lucky.”

“But you had your own music,” someone suggested.

“Yeah … but late at night, driving in the West, if you want to be one with driving, you should be listening to the radio … some of the time.”

I saw my opening: “What about Patsy Cline? Did you ever listen to her?”

“Patsy Cline, ever so fine,” Kesey said. “Once Cassady and I listened to a whole hour of Patsy Cline from KBOI — that was in Boise, but we picked it up in Arizona, driving across the Navajo Reservation.”

“What was your favorite?”

“I liked them all. But I remember seeing those hogans in the moonlight with Patsy singing ‘Crazy’ — he sang a bar — “what could be better than that? “

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