Sparks Fly Upward!
In 1992, I was a young Army officer, stationed in Hawaii. Hawaii’s great, but it was far from the Grateful Dead shows I wanted to see, and culturally, the Army was about as far as I could imagine from the Deadhead scene I missed. Recently divorced, I began a voracious reading binge on weekends away from work.
One of the first books I picked up was Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. It was an account of a magical journey by a group of people I knew little about at the time, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters—and, of course, Furthur. I was fascinated, captivated, and enticed by this brave, ridiculous, adventurous crew. They seemed to me to be doing something completely original, something completely intrepid, and something quintessentially American. They inspired me not to lose my “Deadhead self” during my stint in the Army, and they motivated me to pursue my artistic and literary ambitions. I never forgot the feeling I had reading the book, and I continued to learn everything I could about Furthur, Kesey, the Pranksters and all they inspired.
Fast forward to 2005. I was going through my second divorce, on the heels of ten hard years of schoolwork and climbing the corporate ladder. I was consulting top tech companies in Silicon Valley and co-owner of a film production company based in San Francisco. I was working 80 hours a week, and I was near my breaking point. That’s when I got the call.
Friends of mine from LA had happened upon my resume and realized I’d written my English masters thesis on Beat and 60s literature. They wanted to know if I’d like to join them in Eugene, OR the following day to recover Furthur from the swamp behind the Kesey farm. Without even thinking, I said yes.
The following day was magic. Ken Babbs was the first person I met in Eugene. Ten minutes later, I was among about ten Pranksters I’d dreamt of meeting so many years ago. And then there was the bus. Wow!
I helped the ragtag collection of wonderful spirits there that day pull Furthur out of the swamp, and hung around perhaps even longer than my welcome lasted. The last thing I remember as I left the Kesey farm was seeing Ken’s grave, and his headstone inscribed, “Sparks Fly Upwards.”
To make amends for being an interloper, I bought everyone dinner in Eugene, and we had wonderful meal at Soriah. Would you believe the story gets better, though? It was shortly after that dinner that I met my future wife, Sulwyn Sparks. Upward, indeed!
Sulwyn and I are now happily married, after being together since that night. I moved to Eugene in 2006, and continued to work toward making Furthur Down the Road possible. Glad to be here. Can’t wait to get the bus back on the road.— Jason Johnson, Director, The Furthur Down the Road Foundation