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Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties
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Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties

by Robert Stone

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A memoir of America's most turbulent, whimsical decade, in the words of the man who experienced it all...

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


A memoir of America's most turbulent, whimsical decade, in the words of the man who experienced it all...

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 Robert Stone's last year in the Navy, when he took part in an Antarctic expedition navigating the globe, and ends in Vietnam, where he was a correspondent in the days following the invasion of Laos. Told in scintillating detail, Prime Green 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.

Building on personal vignettes from Stone's travels across America, this powerful memoir offers the legendary novelist's inside perspective on a time many understand only peripherally. These accounts of the 1960s 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 these incredible experiences, Prime Green forges a moving and adventurous portrait of a unique moment in American history.

Editorial Reviews

At times, novelist Robert Stone's trek through the '60s was literally a joy ride: He traveled cross-country with Ken Kesey's acid-fueled Merry Pranksters, imbibing psychedelics and the master's wisdom. Sometimes though, this Brooklyn-born Navy veteran was caught up in a different kind of history: He served as a correspondent in Vietnam and witnessed the Cold War invasion of Laos. Along the way, he metamorphosed into a major American writer: His 1967 novel, A Hall of Mirrors, won a William Faulkner Foundation prize, and his 1974 novel, Dog Soldiers, based partially on his Asian experiences, won a National Book Award. Prime Green recounts Stone's long, strange trip to greatness.
Michiko Kakutani
What Mr. Stone excels at is conjuring the mood of specific times and places, capturing the attitude he and his friends shared as well as the larger zeitgeist. He gives us the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, when the Bowery was still lined with flophouses and “roach-challenged bars,” and when going to an artist’s loft party was “like going to a party in the subway.”
— The New York Times
Wendy Smith
There aren't many authors who write about metaphysical matters with such passionate unpretentiousness. So it's no surprise to find that Stone's memoir of the 1960s views with unsentimental clarity a decade that has been the subject of more overheated rhetoric than any other in U.S. history.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
It's a long, strange trip that's navigated in this engaging memoir. Novelist Stone (A Hall of Mirrors) recounts his salad days from a stint in the navy in the late 1950s to a desultory trip to Vietnam as a correspondent during the disastrous 1971 invasion of Laos. Stone largely sat out the civil rights and antiwar movements and cops to no ideology beyond "ordinary decency." His bailiwick was the relatively apolitical counterculture, which dawned for him when he took in Coltrane, Lenny Bruce and peyote in San Francisco in the early '60s and really kicked in when he entered the circle of literary provocateur and psychedelic guru Ken Kesey, the book's presiding genius. Memorable encounters with hallucinogens, and the resulting states of heightened awareness and stoned reflection, therefore loom large. But Stone's story, from a cross-country bus trip in which he ran a gauntlet of antihippie persecution to a stint crafting lurid headlines and freakish fables for sleazy supermarket tabloids, is also a funny, entertaining picaresque. (His big-picture ruminations say, on the links between the CIA, the drug culture and Silicon Valley sometimes have a period-authentic muzziness.) But Stone is a born storyteller, with a wonderful feel for place and character that vividly evokes the cultural gulf America crossed in that decade. Photos. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Celebrated novelist Stone resurrects his experiences during the Sixties. With a five-city tour. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Stone's first nonfiction book is a memoir of the decade when he came of age and absorbed experiences transformed into such memorable novels as Dog Soldiers (1974), Outerbridge Reach (1992) and Bay of Souls (2003). It's primarily a tale of people encountered and places seen, beginning in 1958 when Stone was a naval officer aboard a cargo ship performing geophysical research in latitudes approaching Antarctica. Despite side trips to Australia and South Africa, he ruefully concedes, "I felt very worldly, but in fact my international sophistication was severely limited." The persona thus established became a paradoxical survival skill, as Stone moved on to the first of two tours in New York City's journalistic world, marriage and fatherhood during lean years spent in New Orleans, back to New York, then to California (on a Stegner Writing Fellowship)-and into several drug-fueled years lived under the inspiration of Kerouac and the Beats and the saturnine tutelage of novelist-"prankster" Ken Kesey. Stone was in fact a passenger on the bus "Further" during its infamous 1964 cross-country joyride. Later, there were voyages to Paris and London, gigs with popular magazines (notably Esquire), the successful publication of his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors, and its unsuccessful filming spearheaded by Paul Newman, and a 1968 trip to Vietnam as a correspondent for the short-lived British publication INK. The author relates several interesting stories, including one about the Mexican misadventure that gives this book its arresting title. Stone's descriptive and rhetorical intensity and versatility are strongly imprinted on every page, but the book is not self-serving: As hard as he is on America'spuritanical legalism and reckless international adventuring, Stone is even more bluntly candid about the residue of his own ingenuous friendships and wasted youth (". . . in the end we allowed drugs to be turned into a weapon against everything we believed in"). An excellent piece of work, and an invaluable gloss on a body of fiction that looks more prescient, and important, as the decades pass.
Men’s Vogue
“Think A Moveable Feast on acid.”
Men's Vogue
"Think A Moveable Feast on acid."
Louisville Courier Journal
“…[the] memories are as entertaining as they come.”
Men’s Vogue
“Think A Moveable Feast on acid.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties

Chapter One

In 1958 I was on the bridge of the USS Arneb, an ungainly naval transport ship with the lines of a tramp steamer. LCVPs were stacked on hatches fore and aft under mammoth A-frames designed to raise and lower them. The Arneb had entertained kamikazes at Okinawa. Veterans of Normandy and the South Pacific ran many of the ship's divisions.

That quarter of 1957–58, spring in the Northern calendar, darkening autumn in the Southern Ocean, we had been given some kind of pass from the alerts of the cold war. UNESCO had designated 1958 as an International Geophysical Year and the Navy had patched together the Arneb as America's contibution. We were tracking electrical activity on the surface of the sun, "sunspots" in the far south of the Indian Ocean, southwest of the ghost whaling station on the Crozet Islands. On board was a team of astrophysicists from the University of Chicago. It was the last of the Antarctic expeditions mapped out by Admiral Richard Byrd and was known as Operation Deep Freeze III.

One day we were steaming on the northern edge of the ice floes at the latitude where the seasonal oscillations of the Antarctic Convergence determine the weather. The subpolar wind warmed as it quickened, the dark blue plain of ocean rising into spiky horsetails that here and there showed white. The weather in the far south, I was learning, was weird and contrary in ways that made it differ from the Arctic. April at latitude 55 offered a dark sapphire sky dappled with cirrus trails. Colors were harsh and dry, without mist. Icebergs flashed on the horizons, intensely defined yet somehow ghostly, likehallucinations.

I was at the helm, a watch where the night hours looked little different from day. The ocean glowed with the same strangely referred light. As a petty officer (my rank was officially journalist third class) I was exempt from helm watches. In fact I enjoyed them far out at sea. A watch on the helm on the open ocean involved keeping an eye on the binnacle indicator, feeling the big lumbering transport fall away under the roaring polar wind, then bringing her back on so that the needle showed the designated course. A helmsman got to know the ship and its eccentricities, its stubborn lists and rolls. If the captain or the exec had not planned some exercise for the day, it was a soothing routine.

The formalities of the bridge were vaguely liturgical: terse commands repeating ancient formulas in antique language, bells, blocks of Morse code reporting weather from the adjoining radio shack, the boatswain's whistle at the regulation times of day. There was a sense of everything seriously in place. Over and over, we located and realigned ourselves in the mathematics of the planet, forever adjusting and correcting the location of our tuck in space and time. The ocean around us stood for blue infinity. Time came to us courtesy of the Naval Observatory, sifting out across the garden fifteen thousand miles away in Washington, over which Vice President Nixon then brooded.

Also, helm watches could be traded for other, less diverting details in the ship's system of graft and barter. The duty helmsman whose watch I stood would perform some equivalent responsibility for me. With the ship far out at sea, the helmsman's sole responsibility was to keep the ship on course, so there was time for daydreaming.

For the previous month or so we had been undergoing repairs in Melbourne. In the antipodean autumn of 1958, I spent my idle hours contemplating the moves of an Australian Olympic fencer named Denise Corcoran, whom I had met by carrying her foils across Hyde Park, the one in Sydney. I had learned something from Denise, and I was still grappling with the substance of it.

Crossing Hyde Park, Denise and I found that we were both bound for Melbourne: the Arneb was going in for repairs to its evaporator system; Denise was headed for hours of swordplay in a gymnasium above the Spencer Street railroad station, preparing for the Empire Games that were due to start in Montreal in a few months.

I went often to watch her work in the dingy gym above the station, even when we had settled down together (on our free nights at least) in a mean and ugly neighborhood at the end of the line. She was tall and redheaded, which she told me was all wrong for fencers; it aroused anger and spite in opponents because you looked, as she put it, like a big gawk—people laughed. Fencers were meant to be compact and sleek, never outsized, overdone, or obvious, certainly not freckled and redheaded and slightly bucktoothed like my Denise. Nevertheless, she seemed to be their star, intimidating the other girls. Out on the ocean, in my mind's eye, I could still see how she used the long, strong, and shapely legs she complained about in unexpected lunges that ran her enemy the length of the enclosure. The fencer's costume was particularly lacking in any sort of glamour, but she could appear quite handsome and provocative, planted and prepared to strike. I liked the way the cloth of her breeches wrinkled over the taut skin at the backs of her knees. I also enjoyed her pretense to a complete absence of humor, which made her a most droll comic. She used expressions like "crikey," "fair dinkum," and "truly." A pint made her "squiffed."

Some days, if I had a twenty-four in town, I would sneak Denise early out of the gym, out from under the raptor dragon gaze of her coach. This meant making our way through the humid halls and moist saloons and beer-polished private lounges of the vast station in which around five o'clock each afternoon a state of headlong societal breakdown was under way. In those days the official bar-closing hour in the state of Victoria was 6 p.m. (It was the bloody women, blokes explained—they had the vote, they wanted the blokes home for their tea.) At the same time . . .

Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties. Copyright © by Robert Stone. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Robert Stone is the acclaimed author of seven novels, including A Hall of Mirrors (winner of the National Book Award), A Flag for Sunrise, Children of Light, Outerbridge Reach, Damascus Gate, and Bay of Souls. His short-story collection, Bear and His Daughter, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Stone lives with his wife in New York City.

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