Babbs lets sparks fly in ‘Buffalo’
by Stephen Alexander, portlandtribune.com
May 12th 2011
Though he is considered a giant in the world of literature, Ken Kesey wasn’t the originator of one of his most famous sentences. It came from his best friend Ken Babbs.
While Babbs was in the Vietnam War, he and Kesey were exchanging letters with pages from the books they were working on. While reading a page in “Sometimes a Great Notion,” Babbs read Kesey describing the new frontier as a place “for a man to be as big and important as he feels it is in him to be!”
“I wrote back and I said ‘Hey, that’s my line,’ ” Babbs says. “But, I was just kidding. I didn’t care.”
When “Notion” was published there was as an asterisk at the bottom of the page that said “Courtesy of Ken Babbs.”
“I went, ‘Oh no, he didn’t have to do that,’ ” Babbs says. “You don’t break up the narrative of a novel to stick something like that in there. I was kind of miffed at him. But, later I realized it was a real brotherly thing.”
Though Babbs was a founding father of the Merry Pranksters and co-wrote “Last Go Round” with Kesey, it seemed Babbs would forever be remembered as a footnote.
That changed this spring, when after more than 40 years of working on it, Babbs published “Who Shot the Water Buffalo?”, a comical and heartbreaking novel of the friendship between two helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War.
While Babbs, who lives in the Eugene area, wants readers to find out for themselves whether the famous line shared by Kesey is in the novel, he grooved to the Tribune about war, writing and why sparks fly up.
Portland Tribune: Ernest Hemingway said that war is a good subject for a book because it packs the maximum amount of human experience into a short period of time. Did you find that was true?
Ken Babbs: War is very intense, particularly when you’re in the shooting end of it and people are dying and you’re killing people. Time gets totally distorted. It expands. What normally seems to happen in an instant seems to take forever. It’s a psychedelic experience without drugs. Hemingway was pre-psychedelic, but experiencing that psychedelic sensation. There are other experiences in life that are just as intense. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a baby. But, it is a good thing for him to say and it is true also.
Tribune: Do you ever wish people would stop looking at you as a legend?
Babbs: It’s a double-sided coin. I like that people look at it both ways. We have to live with ourselves and what we’ve done in life and who we are. The whole Prankster/Kesey myth is growing all the time. And I love the way it grows. There are now thousands and thousands of people on that bus (named “Further”) in 1964. I just accept it all.
Tribune: Would this novel have been as good if it didn’t take you as long to write?
Original Page: http://portlandtribune.com/features/story.php?story_id=130514810713918400
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