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Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Paul Krassner's 50 Years of Misadventures in Satire and Counterculture

An interview with co-founder of the Yippies and legendary satirist Krassner on his new book and his recent forays into journalism and activism.

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Well, they don't seem to need the same kind of charismatic leadership. Unlike the 1960s, there's no Abbie Hoffman organizing protests and getting media attention. The Internet has changed the nature of organizing. Facebook and Twitter are the new Abbie.

There's also probably not much acid in Egypt these days...

When I was there in '78 when the Grateful Dead performed three outdoor concerts at the Pyramids, there was a lot of hash. Powerful hash. One inhalation, and you were sweating like a barbecued pig. I remember the Egyptians were laughing at us. There was a bubble boy who'd go around and light the coals of each gigantic hookah, and he'd get a toke from each little group as his reward. I was there with two women from the Pranksters, Mountain Girl and Goldie Rush. We were not exactly keeping a low profile. We traded liquid acid with them that we had smuggled in with Visine bottles. A true cultural exchange.

Was it hard to get permission to put on a rock show at the Pyramids?

The Dead had actually been invited there by Anwar Sadat's wife. And while he was in the U.S. at Camp David for the peace accords, we were like visiting American ambassadors. The concerts were a benefit for her favorite charities. One of the nights there was an eclipse of the moon. I remember the Egyptian kids were running through the streets shaking tin cans with rocks in them to bring back the moon. I told them the Grateful Dead would bring the moon back, and then, in the middle of "Fire on the Mountain," the moon reappeared. It was as if that was the power of music.

Do you still protest these days?

I just returned from a demonstration in Palm Springs against the Koch brothers. It's important to bring out information about them, because everything they've done is legal, aided by a corrupt Supreme Court that rewarded corporations with personhood. It was encouraging to see the enthusiasm of the demonstrators. It brought back some memories. But today's technology has changed things. You can reach a wider audience immediately, without costing anything or getting your hands all messy with mimeograph ink.

Did you see any old comrades there?

I saw some old faces, but not the same old faces.

Not to be morbid, but reading the new edition of Raving, Unconfined Nut, it occurred to me that few of the main characters are still around.

It's true. Abbie, Jerry [Rubin], Ken Kesey, Tim Leary, Phil Ochs, Tuli Kupferberg --a lot of them are gone. It feels like I'm the last of the Yippies.

Do you think about them often?

I still have dialogues with them in the sense that they're touchstones. If I'm doing stand-up, I imagine Lenny in the audience saying, "Don't say that, it's a cheap shot." I dialogue about political things with Abbie, cultural things with Kesey. It's like a conversation with people who are dead. I don't believe in that kind of communication, but if you knew 'em well enough you could kind of sense how they would react to something. It happened with this novel I'm working on about a contemporary Lenny Bruce-type performer. For a while I even thought I was channeling Lenny -- until the day he said, "Come on Paul, you know you don't believe in that shit."

You are one of the only people at the center of so much counterculture history. Do you find interest in this period is still strong?

I seem to have become the go-to guy for countercultural stuff. I just accepted an invitation to give the keynote address at the University of Southern Illinois, where they're having an all-day symposium about the counterculture, but it's increasingly difficult for me get around, stemming from an old police beating. I should have a template by now of certain answers. There's a lot of interest among the young. Those days just sound like more fun than now. But people have a lot of media stereotypes. They know that Leary was a cheerleader for LSD, but not that he published hundreds of academic essays in psychology journals. It's ancient history to a lot of people. They think that Abbie Hoffman is the congresswoman from upstate.

Do people often ask you about Lenny Bruce?

 
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