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Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties by…

Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (2007)

by Robert Stone

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Maybe the bus on the cover should be a clue. That ain't THE bus, the one you were either on or not.

Stone's recollections are pretty sketchy. If you're interested in finding out more about what Kesey, Cassady, or other colorful Sixties characters were like, you won't find it here. You also won't find out what formative experiences Stone had, which might have inspired his writing of his first book, which was written and published during the 1958 to 1971 time frame recounted in the book. You won't learn what he learned from Wallace Stegner, nor what authors he read during this time period. You will find some rather misanthropic comments about certain events, without much exposition on why he thinks that way. Most of these pronouncements will only exasperate the reader. He talks about how his group of friends were snobbish about drug-taking; he still seems snobbish as he again and again talks about how they blazed this trail for all the lesser beings who would come later. A basic lack of generosity informs this book. It comes off as slightly cranky and bitter. Do we need another cranky 50s-60s self-described "bohemian" to set us straight? Well, he doesn't even seem to have the energy to really do that, even. It seems like a book designed (cynically, and it's hard not to come away thinking, "Geez, this guy is cynical!") to make a buck, to cash in on all the seemingly more interesting people Stone hung out with back in the day, populating the book with some pretty tiresome namedropping (did he mention that he knew Winona Ryder's father? Well, yes, more than once) and anecdotes without a shred of illuminating commentary. And there's really nothing about why they took so many drugs, and how they affected their lives.

But as someone who sweated out the draft in 1972 (yes, I knew people in that last lottery whose lives were affected), I was only puzzled by his statement upon arriving in Vietnam in 1971 that "it was over." Well, not quite. Tell that to the parents of the more than 4000 G.I.'s yet to die (source: National Archives), or even more dramatically, the vast numbers of Vietnamese who would be on the receiving end of massive B-52 raids over North Vietnam in 1972.

I haven't read Stone's fiction, which is purportedly dark and pessimistic. Having read this book, I'm unlikely to. ( )
  nog | Aug 24, 2009 |
He saw so much... so it's a shame Robert Stone is such a boring, stodgy and prohibitively (maybe inhibitively is more accurate) formalistic writer. Ginsberg and Kesey stand as literary giants of the decade and any decade because their words and their respective voices held a mirror to the sparkling orgasmic welter of color and life and expression they saw. But poor Robbie. It seems he had a permanent stick up his bum; never could strip naked and run screaming down main street. Maybe I'm wrong but it seems like he would have been a killjoy. All his retrospective cynicism gets to me, too, and makes me wonder if he ever REALLY believed...
  ashleybessbrown | Jul 1, 2008 |
Although I never read any of Stone's novels, I loved his memoir, Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties. The only problem I had with it was that Stone gives just brief camera flashes of his experiences of that tumultuous time. His stint in the Navy, and his time spent in New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, and Paris are just too briefly described, along with the cast of characters that included Kesey, Kerouac and Cassady, but man, Stone really knows how to nail a sentence and writes some lovely, thought provoking and humorous paragraphs.
  SeanLong | Jan 16, 2007 |
I SUPPOSE the ’60s seemed like a big revolution, but to me it always felt a small circle of friends,” Robert Stone said recently while revisiting his old East Village neighborhood, one of that era’s epicenters. “And by the time of the Summer of Love, in the late ’60s, it was over. That was the end of it. Every kid who was on the loose turned up, and it was no longer our thing. It was a fashion.”

Mr. Stone, who is himself an emblematic ’60s figure — perhaps the only member of Ken Kesey’s famed Merry Prankster bus trip of 1964 who can still remember what happened — is 69 now, and he and Janice, his wife of 47 years, recently decided to take a break. No drink or drugs for at least a year, after which, Mr. Stone said, they will “rethink.” One bonus of the new regimen, he added, is that he now gets more work done in the evening.

The author of seven novels, including “Dog Soldiers,” “A Flag for Sunrise” and “Damascus Gate,” Mr. Stone has at last finished a long-awaited memoir of the ’60s, “Prime Green,” which comes out Tuesday. It recounts his history not only with Kesey but with such other counterculture legends as Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg; with the pioneering “acid tests” in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco (Mr. Stone’s first hit was administered by Baba Ram Dass himself); his apprenticeship at a cheesy tabloid where he wrote headlines like “Mad Dentist Yanks Girl’s Tongue,” and, later, his stints as a war correspondent in Vietnam.

But as the book makes clear, Mr. Stone’s ’60s were in large part an outgrowth of the Beat culture of the 1950s, and Mr. Stone, who grew up in S.R.O. hotels on the West Side and now lives on the Upper East Side, recently spent a couple of hours wandering around the East Village, where he lived and hung out in those days. For a while he even had a paper route there. “It was almost a different country back then: you couldn’t understand people from other parts, and they couldn’t understand you,” he said in a voice that still has echoes of an old-fashioned streetwise New York accent. “The culture wasn’t so homogeneous. When I was in the service in the ’50s, I remember, they served pizza once, and some of the guys put ice cream on it because they thought it was pie.”

First stop: 13 St. Marks Place. “That’s where we were on New Year’s Eve, 1959,” Mr. Stone said, pointing to an upstairs apartment. “My wife and I and our first child. Of course the neighborhood wasn’t fixed up then: it was really an extension of the Bowery. When my wife or I used to go shopping, we used to have a choice about what to bring upstairs first, the groceries or the kid. I always figured there was more chance of the food being stolen, so I’d give some derelict a dime and ask him to watch the baby.”

Across the street he pointed out a brownstone building with a carved sign indicating that it was the Deutsche-Amerikanische Schützen Gesellschaft, or German-American Shooting School: a relic, he said, of the days when the neighborhood was a German one. “It was the General Slocum disaster that pretty much ended that,” he said, referring to a 1904 steamship explosion in the East River that left more than 1,000 dead, many of them residents of the old German-American neighborhood that became the East Village.

Mr. Stone paused for a minute, looking around, and said: “You know, the biggest change is that all these buildings have been cleaned. It all looks so different. When I lived here, everything was a plain, somber gray. In winter especially, I really liked the grayness, the severity, of it all. The grimness.”

Other landmarks on the block include W. H. Auden’s building, farther along, at No. 77 St. Marks Place, and closer to the middle of the block the site of the Polski Dom, or Polish Home, a favorite spot for Gypsy weddings, which Andy Warhol turned into the Electric Circus nightclub of the late ’60s.

“I never really got the Warhol thing,” Mr. Stone said. “Back then the concept of bohemia wasn’t a mass phenomenon. We still thought of it as kind of a coterie thing, and we were a little snobbish. When we started doing the drugs — peyote and smoking dope — it was part of the Beat scene. Dope wasn’t being done everywhere, and we felt kind of proprietary about it. And when it started spreading in the ’60s, it was like going to a party and having it spill out the door.”

Around the corner, on East Fourth Street, was an earlier apartment of the Stones, in a building called the Garden of Eden. But the sign is gone now, and Mr. Stone was no longer sure where the entrance was.

“I used to think of this as kind of an elegant block,” he said. “But it doesn’t look that way now.” He pointed to a little playground across the street.

“That’s where the Jets used to hang out,” he said. “They didn’t call themselves that, but that’s what they were, a gang.” He smiled and added that while growing up in New York he had briefly been a junior member of a gang called the Saxons. “But we didn’t have guns,” he said. “We had rock fights in Central Park.”

In the course of the afternoon a lot of bars and clubs were invoked, a litany of classic New York watering holes: Bradley’s, the Cedar Tavern, the Lion’s Head, McSorley’s Old Ale House (where, Mr. Stone recalled, they used to lock the door on New Year’s Eve and let the remaining customers finish off the kegs free), the 55 (for a while a druggies’ haunt, where Janice Stone once saw three men overdose on methadone) and the Figaro, at Bleecker and Macdougal Streets, where Robert and Janice Stone first met.

“Every young woman in black stockings worked at the Figaro back then,” he said. “During the day Janice worked as a guidette at the RCA Building, so in the evening she’d have to take off her uniform and then put on the other uniform — the black stockings.”

There was also a bar on East Sixth Street where Mr. Stone used to buy peyote buttons imported from a cactus ranch in Texas. “It was a place run by a guy named the Baron,” he said. “He was a follower of Ayn Rand, so the only sign out front was a big dollar sign.”

Mr. Stone recalled that he would sometimes stop off at the Baron’s on his way to The Daily News, where he worked for a while, writing sports captions and occasionally covering professional wrestling. And he added, though it probably goes without saying, “The wrestling matches were pretty weird on peyote.”

Heading toward Astor Place, he discovered that one of his favorite coffee shops had been turned into a Starbucks. Stopping for a light, he said, with less sadness than surprise: “I used to have such a tremendous sense of the city and of this neighborhood, and it’s lost to me now. It’s so far away I can’t even miss it. So many places I attached myself to, and I can’t even feel it anymore. It’s beyond nostalgia, beyond reclaim.” ( )
  addict | Jan 5, 2007 |
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With love and gratitude for the enduring friendships of that time, and to those, living or gone, who shared what we saw and what we were.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060198168, Hardcover)

From the New York City of Kline and De Kooning to the jazz era of New Orleans's French Quarter, to Ken Kesey's psychedelic California, Prime Green explores the 1960s in all its weird, innocent, turbulent, and fascinating glory. Building on personal vignettes from Robert Stone's travels across America, the legendary novelist offers not only a riveting and powerful memoir but also an unforgettable inside perspective on a unique moment in American history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:32 -0400)

A memoir of America's most turbulent, whimsical decade. From the New York City of Kline and De Kooning to the jazz era of New Orleans's French Quarter to Ken Kesey's psychedelic California, Prime Green explores the 1960s in all its weird, innocent, fascinating glory. An account framed by two wars, it begins with Stone's last year in the Navy and ends in Vietnam, where he was a correspondent in the days following the invasion of Laos. The narrative zips from coast to coast, from days spent in the raucous offices of Manhattan tabloids to the breathtaking beaches of Mexico, and merry times aboard the bus with Kesey and the Pranksters. These accounts of the sixties are riveting not only because Stone is a master storyteller but because he was there, in the thick of it, through all the wild times.--From publisher description.… (more)

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