After graduating from Maysville High School and attending several universities, Maysville Kentucky raised Ed McClanahan found himself in 1962 at a creative writing program at Stanford University. This is where the west coast half of the Beat Generation congregated. The counterculture literary movement, the Beat Generation, began with a close group of writers in New York City. Fueled by Jack Kerouac's On the Road
, it eventually migrated to the campuses of California. By the time McClanahan reached Palo Alto, it was already in the midst of a revolution, and his home became ground zero.
All of the literary greats of the period passed through Stanford in the early 1960s, and many of them ended up at Perry Lane, the bohemian center of Palo Alto. McClanahan himself lived in a cottage on Perry Lane, and one of his neighbors was Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. McClanahan and Kesey spent much of their time hanging out in McClanahan's living room with other writers, swapping ideas of how to change the country. It was a quickly changing political climate in America at the time, and these changes were largely based on the writings of those who gathered regularly in McClanahan's bungalow.
"The whole area had a communal feel to it", McClanahan later said.
McClanahan wrote that at one of these gatherings, Kesey was passing around a book he had been working on, when all of the sudden Neal Cassady burst through his door. Those literary inclined will recognize the name. Cassady was the fast-talking, energetic icon of the Beat Movement that Jack Kerouac based his main character, Dean Moriarty, on in the novel On the Road.
According to McClanahan, Cassady came into the bungalow and pushed his way through the twenty-five or so people gathered, all the while saying, "... just passin' through, folks, don't mind me, my shed-yool just happened to coincide with Mr. Kesey's, here, just by coincidence you understand, always had the greatest respect for, yes, and all that redundancy as well, not to mention the works of, ah, Alfred Lord Tennyson, you see, and the worst of the poems of Schiller, huntin' and peckin' away there as they did, so I'll just say how-d'ya-do to my friend Mr. Kesey and then we'll be on our way, have to get there in plenty of time, you understand ..." If you've ever read On the Road, this is definitively Dean Moriarty.
A lot of strange notions hatched on Perry Lane with the group of literaries that gathered in Ed McClanahan's living room. These ideas changed the course of America in the coming years. McClanahan himself was a central figure in the group, another writer recalled. "So many lives have passed through him."
The story continues in Part III...
See also: Part I