Murder at the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities (4/5)

Paul Krassner is one of the more inspiring members of the cavalcade of personalities from 60s counterculture. Co-founder of the Yippies (who once nominated a pig named Pigasus for president), stand-up comedian, and editor of The Realist, he is in fact a realist and a skeptic, and is typically not taken in by vapid New-Ageisms. The “heroic doses” of acid and pot he mentions in his essays and articles put you in mind of that other great journalist of the 60’s, Hunter S. Thompson, though Krassner’s writings seem to be much more traditional than Gonzo journalism.

His most notable accomplishment is serving as editor of The Realist, but he has published quite a few books, many of them more recently than you would think. This one is dedicated to Robert Anton Wilson “Damned Old Crank, weird friend and favorite philosopher” and introduced by George Carlin who says that he “can’t overstate how important [The Realist] was to him”, helping him muster the courage to change his act from mundane comedy to instead taking on sacred cows and using satire.

This is a collection of essays through which the most colorful characters of the counter-culture roll call: Krassner talks to Timothy Leary on his deathbed, reminisces about Abbie Hoffman, chats with John and Yoko in his living room (where Yoko asks him to throw another “cookie” on the fire), covers Robert Anton Wilson at a prophet’s conference, has discussions with Charlie Manson, remembers Alan Ginsberg, discusses mushrooms with Terrance McKenna, reality with John Lilly, writes a letter to Hunter S. Thompson, shares memories of Lenny Bruce, tours with the Grateful Dead, and talks about his friendships with Ram Dass and Ken Kesey.

Aside from these items, he covers humor after 9/11, FBI atrocities, orgies, dirty underwear at Disneyworld, Neo-pagans, conspiracy theories, the War on Drugs and efforts to legalize marijuana, and a host of other issues and topics.

Krassner does a wonderful job presenting all of this information in a straight-forward way, with only a dab of cynicism despite any doubts he might have. For instance, take Terrance McKenna. He claims to have predicted Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin wall and the Tienanmen Square massacre. He predicts further that if we do not get our act together as a species and start eating ‘shrooms en masse by December 21, 2012, Something will happen. He never says what, but Armageddon is implied. Krassner follows this with the subdued comment: “you had to admire McKenna, if for nothing else, for just how far out on a limb he was willing to go.” He never mocks these people, who are his friends, but instead gently chides them in their most absurd moments.

The real nutjobs are revealed in the title story. There is a woman named Cathy O’Brien who insists that she has been raped and abused throughout her life by Gerald Ford, Dick Cheney, Robert Byrd, Hillary Clinton, Bill Bennett, Manuel Noriega, and Ronald Reagan as George Bush looked on, shooting heroin. Another, Brice Taylor, claims that “Walt Disney raped her on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; that she had sex with all three Kennedy brothers plus JFK, Jr. when he was 12; and that she has cavorted with public figures ranging from Prince Charles to Alan Greenspan, from Elvis Presley to Neil Diamond, from Johnny Carson to Ed McMahon. Hi-yo!” Of course, Jesus eventually saved them both, but seemed to take his damned sweet time doing it.

He doesn’t ignore the hypocrisies of the flower children now that they have grown into what they had always hated, but he gives it short shrift. An offhand mention that Jerry Garcia designed ties vastly understates the business genius of Garcia in his later years, and much of the generation followed the same path. Admittedly, most of Krassner’s friends stuck to the guns until their end, but at times he sounds more like a myth-maker or legend-manufacturer than a journalist.

In addition, the book feels repetitive in places and a couple of the essays/articles should probably have been kept out of this collection to reduce that feeling, even if it made for a thinner book. I have found that this is usually the main problem with collections such as this. Unless the book is a comprehensive collection of writings, repetition should be rooted out so that each item feels fresh and new.

My favorite part of this book was at the end of the introduction, where he relates that his daughter tried to convince the Catholic League that figurines of Popeye, Laurel & Hardy, Fidel Castro, Santa Claus, the pope, nuns and angels that are in the act of defecation are rooted in Catholic Catalonian peasant tradition dating back to the 1800s, “and that one is typically placed in a nativity scene to bring families prosperity and good luck.” So if you ever see Snoopy pooping next to the baby Jesus, you now know that you have Holly Krassner to thank for that wonderful mindfuck.

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