Paul Krassner’s Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut – Misadventures in the Counterculture

Four years after President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, a serious debate ensued as to whether or not his vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, had performed an act of necrophilia on Kennedy’s corpse as it was being transported back to Washington in Air Force One.

The story went that Jackie walked into the hold, where Kennedy’s body was laid out for the trip, to find Johnson humping away, fucking Kennedy’s neck wound. The story further went that this was why those investigating the assassination had difficulty ascertaining whether Kennedy had been shot from the front or behind—because Johnson had enlarged the neck wound so much, it appeared to be an exit wound.

The reason it was being seriously debated whether Johnson had fucked Kennedy’s neck wound was because in 1967, shortly after the publication of William Manchester’s The Death of a President, Paul Krassner had published “The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book” in an issue of The Realist, his now defunct, sporadically published, counterculture pulp mag. In this article, he published what he said was material that had been deleted from Manchester’s in-depth study of the assassination. Because there had been rumors about sections of Manchester’s book having been removed, due to their being too sensitive for public dissemination, and because Krassner so perfectly mimicked Manchester’s writing style, his joke caused outrage in the government and media, and reporters and columnists all over the country rushed to inform the citizenry that their president had not fucked the corpse of their previous president in the neck.

Following the media hysteria, sales of The Realist immediately boomed, with the “Parts Left Out” issue selling over 100,000 copies, up from roughly nothing. The whole story of this joke, including everything that led up to it and all the nuttiness that followed, is described in hilarious detail in Krassner’s newly revised and expanded edition of his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture.

If you want to know what the sixties were all about, and the whole hippie/make love, not war/turn on, tune in, drop out era, this memoir provides the best insider’s view of that period in print. It’s also one of the funniest nonfiction books ever written. Krassner has lived his life as satire, a firm believer in Malcolm Muggeridge’s dictum that “… laughter, in fact, is the most effective of all subversive conspiracies …”

Krassner covers stuff about the Charles Manson murders that I doubt you’ve heard elsewhere. At least I’d never heard this stuff anywhere else, and I’d met Manson at the house where I was staying, and knew two of the women who went off on bus trips with him. When I first moved to San Francisco in 1967, my pregnant wife and I were put up in a communal house in the Haight-Ashbury, from which all of the females had just taken off. “They went with Charlie,” a kid in the Navy who’d been staying there told me.  “He’s a guitar player. He’s got this bus he lives in and he just convinced them all to go with him. They don’t even know where they’re going.” The half-dozen male inhabitants of the house weren’t too pleased that all the women had disappeared. But there was one guy who had gone with Charlie, they told me, a guitar player named Jim. Jim was the only guy Charlie had invited.

Three days later I met Jim, a short, handsome kid of about twenty. Charlie had kicked him off the bus out on the highway, halfway to L.A., and Jim had hitchhiked back to San Fran.

“I was tripping,” he said. “Charlie started yelling at me. He scared the shit out of me. I was curled up in a ball on the floor and he started yelling, ‘Die, ego, die!’ over and over. Then he dragged me off the bus and just drove away.  I hitched a ride with a trucker back to the City the next day.”

A week or so later, I met Charlie. He was sitting in the kitchen playing a guitar and singing folk songs. He was surrounded by girls who all seemed to be mesmerized by him. I couldn’t figure it out. He was short, not very good-looking, and he was singing some kind of sappy ballad. His guitar work was less than stellar. I liked a lot of folksingers back then—Fred Neil, Dave Van Ronk, Holy Modal Rounders, Bert Jansch, Dylan’s old stuff. Charlie was nothing special. Remember that folksinger in Animal House—the one who gets his guitar smashed by John Belushi? That was Charlie. When I left the kitchen, one of the girls said something like, “Charlie wrote that song,” in an awestruck tone.  Maybe I should have listened to the words.

A week or so after that, I dropped acid for the first time. The trip became unpleasant when I had a vision of Jim with Charlie standing over him–yelling at him, then abandoning him at the side of the road. My wife, Linda, who was not tripping (because she was pregnant), saw the state I was going into and shook me out of it. She’d never taken acid, but she was schizophrenic and I think the acid put me into a place where she felt she could finally relate to me. (More on that another time.) But after that trip, I avoided going back to the house on Lyon Street. I just didn’t want to cross paths with Charlie again.

In this book, Krassner connects Manson’s madness to Scientology. Manson apparently had an e-meter (a kind of Scientology lie detector) at the Spahn Ranch, where he was holing up with the girls, and he claimed to be “clear,” which is a big deal to Scientologists. It means you’ve pretty much been completely brainwashed, which is the main goal of the religion’s followers.

Chapter Five of this book describes the time that Groucho Marx asked Krassner to turn him on to acid. Groucho was playing the part of God in Otto Preminger’s 1968 pro-LSD comedy, Skidoo, and Groucho, like a proper method actor, wanted to see what LSD was like.

Here’s Groucho, at 77, on acid, after the sublime experience of urination:

“You know, everybody is waiting for miracles to happen. But the whole human body is a goddamn miracle.”

Krassner and Groucho were listening to the soundtrack of Fanny while Groucho was tripping, and here is how Krassner described it:

There was one song called “Welcome Home,” where the lyrics go something like, “Welcome home, says the clock,” and the chair says, “Welcome home,” and so do various other pieces of furniture. Groucho started acting out each line, as though he were actually being greeted by the clock, the chair, and the rest of the furniture… There was a bowl of fruit on the dining room table. During a snack, he said, “I never thought eating a nice juicy plum would be the biggest thrill of my life.”

During his trip, Groucho also called marriage “legal quicksand,” and referred to Lyndon Johnson as “that potato-head.”

This book was initially published almost 20 years ago (1993), but an updated edition has just been released with new material, including a new 21-page final chapter titled “Bloopers and Outtakes.” You’ll also find updated material throughout the book, as Krassner has added commentary on everyone from Bono and Matt Drudge, to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Andrew Breitbart, Justin Bieber, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney, among others.

I’ve been a fan of Krassner’s since I was in high school. I started subscribing to The Realist in 1965. (Krassner launched the publication in 1958.) He’s been an associate, friend, confidant, adversary, and/or co-conspirator with a long list of movers and shakers, performers, activists, writers, artists, revolutionaries, and media stars since the late 1950s. In addition to Groucho Marx, Krassner reminisces about (in no particular order) Lenny Bruce, Abbie Hoffman, Tim Leary, George Carlin, Alan Watts, Larry Flynt, Wavy Gravy, Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Joan Baez, Mort Sahl, Phil Ochs, Jerry Garcia, Gore Vidal, Jerry Rubin, Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, Dick Gregory, Margo St. James, Woody Allen, Orson Bean, Ed McMahon, Ken Kesey, Bob Dylan, Stewart Brand, Ram Dass, Mama Cass Elliot, Mae Brussell, Ed Asner, Robert Anton Wilson, Matt Groening, John Lennon, G. Gordon Liddy, William Burroughs, Steve Allen, Hunter S. Thompson, and dozens more, and he tells compelling, funny, sometimes outrageous, sometimes confounding stories about all of them.

There’s a touching chapter about the death and final wishes of George Carlin. There’s a chapter on Lenny Bruce’s harassment and demise. Krassner was a close friend of Bruce’s, and edited Bruce’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. There’s the birth of the psychedelic movement with Tim Leary.  And there’s Krassner’s reporting on the government lynching of the Chicago Seven. Krassner did a short stint as editor at Hustler (which came to an end not long after he scheduled an interview with Tiny Tim) and has lots of Larry Flynt stories. Krassner has led one of the weirdest lives of anyone ever. He just keeps getting into the middle of crazy situations with crazy people. The title of this book comes from an FBI report Krassner saw that labeled him “a raving, unconfined nut.”

Krassner is honest to a fault, and in some of his stories, you learn disturbing things about people you once regarded as heroes. The ugly rift he describes between Emmett Grogan of the Diggers and Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies is sad.

Krassner also devotes chapters to intimate details of his personal life–primarily stories about his childhood, his wife, his daughter, and his mother. These chapters make this book one of the most honest and uplifting memoirs of a life lived to the fullest that you’ll ever read. Krassner turned 80 this year, having outlived so many of his contemporaries, and he’s as disarmingly honest about aging as he has been about every other aspect of his life.

I’m in pretty good health, but over the decades, stemming from that old police beating, my gait has gradually gotten gimpier and gimpier. My hip became so out of kilter that my right foot turned inward when I walked, and my left foot was continually tripping over my right foot. More and more often, I found myself falling all over the place. Dozens of times. Several fractured ribs [ … ]

One time in a restaurant, I tripped on my own cane and fell flat on my face—bruising myself badly, yet grateful that I hadn’t broken any teeth. That’s my nature—to perceive a blessing in disguise as soon as I stop bleeding [ … ]

I really am a walking time bomb. I cannot afford to fall again. I must be careful when I walk. I just have to be fully conscious of every single step. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Any fall could injure me. It might even be fatal. So I’ve surrendered to a process of survival that’s truly an ongoing lesson in mindfulness. I’m learning that when you’re mindful in one aspect of your life, you’ll strengthen mindfulness in other aspects.

Paul Krassner has long been an inspiration to me. Twenty years from now, as he reaches the century mark, I expect to see another update to this book, as I’m sure the world will continue to be as sick as it always has been, and Krassner will continue to find the joyful, irreverent humor in it.

For those of you thinking of not reading this book because it’s all ancient history, let me tell you why you should read it. The 60’s changed the consciousness of America. After the 60’s, the American people lost their fear of speaking their minds. It all started with the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, with the consciousness-raising of Tim Leary, and the student anti-war movement, and Paul Krassner was at the heart of all of it.

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Paul Krassner’s Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut – Misadventures in the Counterculture”

  1. Younger readers may not realize that Johnson was one of the great tragic figures of the 20th century, and that Krassner’s depiction of LBJ as a neck-fornicator was not only brilliant, but an act of great courage.

    It goes back to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 and what followed. By late July 1964, after the Republican convention, Goldwater’s poll numbers had climbed to 31% from 18% in early June (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_polling_for_U.S._Presidential_elections#United_States_presidential_election.2C_1964). Despite Johnson’s enormous lead, the correspondence of his campaign people at that time shows that Johnson and his team were starting to worry. According to David Grubin’s documentary “The American Experience: LBJ”, Johnson was an insecure man who wanted a landslide victory to show that he was not an “accidental president” who had lucked into the job solely as a result of JFK’s November 1963 assassination.

    As Goldwater’s numbers started to climb from nowheresville, partly because of his hard-line position against the North Vietnamese Commies, an order went out to the U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to start making 20 mile sweeps increasingly deeper into the Gulf until they got hostile engagement with North Vietnamese torpedo boats. They managed to get a skirmish out of the North Vietnamese on August 2, 1964, and then reported a second engagement (that turned out to be false) on August 4. LBJ took that to Congress and got a unanimous vote on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which allowed Johnson to commence open warfare against not only North Vietnam, but any country in Asia he felt was endangered by Commie foes.

    You could make a good case that Johnson was willing to kill over 58,000 U.S. troops, and a million to 2 million Vietnamese, for the purpose of achieving a landslide victory in the presidential elections of November 1964.

    What makes Johnson a tragic figure rather than a simple mass murderer was that he intended to use his landslide to pass his Great Society legislation–especially his Civil Rights bills, Medicare and Medicaid, and his War on Poverty bills.

    By 1967, when Krassner put out his neck wound piece on LBJ’s overweening ambition, the death rate of both U.S. troops and Vietnamese had really started to escalate (nearly doubling every year). The average U.S. high school boy by now knew at least one former neighborhood kid who’d been killed and was terrified of getting drafted. Boys who’d had no intention of going to college started going to get a student deferment if they had any prayer of handling the classes at all. (Romney, btw, got four different student deferments during the Vietnam war. Dick Cheney got five. Clinton and W. worked both the student deferment and other angles.) The student anti-war movement was starting to get on LBJ’s nerves, and the Civil Rights movement was starting to make an issue of the proportion of black troops getting killed. J. Edgar Hoover had Martin Luther King Jr. and anti-war leaders under surveillance round the clock. (Hoover had named Martin Luther King Jr. as “the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation.”)

    Krassner surely had many sleepless nights in the months after his satire hit the newsstands.

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