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stephen gaskin

Get On The Farm Bus With Stephen Gaskin. via

Believe in something or someone enough and you’ll follow them to the ends of the earth.

Those following Stephen Gaskin to the ends of the earth found it in Tennessee.

Gaskin’s death at age 79 explains much about the counter-culture of the Sixties in general and hippies in particular.

A mobile society means moving away from your roots, leaving town.

Hippies were a mobile group, traveling in vans to protests, hitch hiking to concerts.

Complain all you want about no one staying in one place any more, but maybe it’s a good thing.

Like Oregon’s Ken Kesey, Gaskin was born in 1935. Too old to be a hippie and too young for the beatnik life, both men were just right to engage the youth.

As thirty year olds in 1965, they pulled a strong crowd of baby boomers looking for answers. Any answers.

In 1970 thousands of people listened to Gaskin link psychedelic drugs to religion in San Francisco.

When he took his show on the road his students followed.

The road trip continued until the group decided to buy land and create their own culture on The Farm.

Culture always pops up. Do anything a little different and suddenly there’s a new culture.

Was their vision different than Jonestown? Different than Rajneeshpuram in Oregon’s outback?

Since no news of mass suicides or mass poisonings came out of The Farm, call it the better vision.

Gaskin’s 1970 roadie came six years after Ken Kesey’s epic trip on the bus Furthur. Passengers on that bus included beats, pranksters, and those damn youths.

Youth was never younger in 1970.

Did two grown men pull a fast one on the impressionable counter-culture, or did they define it? My vote goes to definition.

Stephen Gaskin was a former Marine and English instructor who led his people to The Farm; Ken Kesey a former Division 1 wrestler at the University of Oregon who went to writing grad school on The Farm. Stanford.

Both liked buses and took roads less traveled internally and externally. Acid tripping and caravans, what could go wrong?

Gaskin had a one way ticket to his farm, Kesey a round trip back to his farm near Eugene where he raised a family and carried on.

One legacy includes four wives with six kids. Kesey had one wife and four kids. Any more than one wife is one wife too many. But that’s just me.

Gaskin’s last wife won fame as a natural birth expert. After his death, Kesey’s wife married Lonesome Dove’s Larry McMurtry, a classmate from a Stanford program that included Robert Stone, Wendell Berry, and Thomas McGuane.

Keeping score of who wears the Hippie King crown best is a game that never ends, but son Zane Kesey adds weight to his side with his 50th Anniversary road trip on a bus this summer.

Furthur Rides Again is a legacy for our times, but is it more important than the retirement community for old hippies Gaskin leaves on The Farm?

For all Boomers looking for a new view as they age, both Gaskin and Kesey show possibilities.

Instead of living through the lens of a maxed out stoner, the two men seemed more interested in life as we know it, where cause and effect have more meaning than a role model contemplating infinity in a grain of sand…again.

Stephen Gaskin’s death won’t mark the day the music died, his life song still resonates.

Think of a soundtrack for 2017.

About David Gillaspie


  1. Alex Paul says:

    I had a friend whose brother was a doctor and traveled with Steve Gaskin. They came through Spokane on their way east when we lived there in 1972 and we helped organize a place for him to talk.

    I remember feeling that they were travelers on a caravan to somewhere important, like merchants on camels on the Silk Road, up to something big. We both felt a tug to just quit our jobs and see what happened, but then they asked the people in the crowd to raise their hand if they had tried acid, and kept increasing by a factor of ten, I was stunned to see some people had taken acid over 500 times.

    We’ve never tried it, and that decided the matter, they were headed somewhere dark as far as we were concerned. Stephen was very charismatic though, it was his questioning authority that tugged others along. There was a certain purity in rejecting regular society, like living off the grid and off the land. It was a purity paid for by hard physical labor and forsaking a comfortable old age.

    I’m glad we didn’t up anchor and get on the bus. In the end they became poor farmers and part of society. And our doctor friend, who was the only one with a real money job? He worked in town and donated his earnings to the farm. He eventually returned to practice in Southern California.

    Life in America is already so free, it seems pointless to try and live freer.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Great comment, Alex.

      The whole acid test deal came into focus my freshman year in college when a woman in my dorm said, “I wonder who I’d be if I hadn’t taken acid.”

      It’s a Pass/Fail test on the bus and you hope the driver doesn’t put it in a ditch.

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