Adam Gorightly sure picks interesting subject matter for his books. Last years' THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA: BLACK MAGIC, MIND CONTROL AND THE "MANSON FAMILY" MYTHOS gave us one of the best books on Charles Manson in well over two decades. Now Gorightly has delivered another tantalizing glimpse into the fringe of society, this time with the colorful counterculture hero (or anti-hero?) Kerry Thornley in his book, THE PRANKSTER AND THE CONSPIRACY (The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture).
They say that there is a fine line between genius and insanity and Kerry Thornley is a classic example. Like a combination of Lenny Bruce and Syd Barrett, Thornley's genius burned out much too soon. Was it a case of too much acid (amongst other drugs) in the '60s? Or was he programmed by MK-ULTRA (which Kerry believed)? Was he the result of a Nazi breeding experiment (another belief of his)? Can his mental condition be blamed on an oppressive father (a convenient scapegoat in this generation)? While I don't totally believe that he was 'programmed' (although the CIA DID experiment with LSD and mind control), I do believe that a simple answer could be found in the combination of his high-strung, energetic personality AND his consumption of drugs, especially LSD. In the book, Becky Glazer recalled - "Kerry got high off of everything." While I don't totally blame Kerry's drug use on his later mental illnesses, you have to look at the other side of the coin. Would have Kerry's creative output have been as prolific if he HADN'T taken the drugs? Gorightly documents Thornley's prolific output as a writer. He was also a key player in the history if independent zines, printing his own one-page "wall newspapers" in the mid-'70s, well before the zine craze caught on in the '80s.
One example of Kerry's brilliance was co-founding of the Discordian Society (along with Greg Hill)! While the Discordian Society wasn't the only 'spoof' religion created in the '60s (another example is the Reformed Druids of North America founded in 1963), it was one of the most ingenious. Discordianism can best be described as a "revelation of the doctrine of chaos and the worship of the Goddess Eris. The practice of Discordianism, i.e. sowing the seeds of chaos as a means of achieving a higher state of awareness - is a perpetual game, better known in some quarters as 'operation mindfuck'."
Kerry's kinetic attention span also covered the areas of politics. Thornley was renowned for changing ideas in conversation roughly every two minutes and over the years Kerry shifted from right-wing politics to libertarianism, to anarchy and finally to his own "zenarchy" (a combination of anarchy and Zen Buddhism- Social Order which springs from Meditation).
Finally, the subject that became Thornley's 'albatross' was his association with the Lee Harvey Oswald and several seemingly random coincidental meetings with such notorious players in the Kennedy assassination saga such as Guy Banister, David Ferrie and possibly even E. Howard Hunt. Kerry Thornley almost seems like the Forrest Gump of the Kennedy assassination! As for the Oswald connection, Thornley shortly served with Lee Harvey Oswald in the Marines and Oswald later influenced Kerry's book IDLE WARRIORS. While Kerry stated that he didn't see Oswald after the Marines, they both lived in New Orleans at the same time, even living near each other. Unfortunately, Kerry didn't write down his Kennedy assassination-associated memories. By this time, he was already suffering from mental problems. Kerry's paranoia grew and he once stated, "It's hard to be an anarchist when your head is talking to you!". Although a practicing psychiatrist told him that he was schizophrenic, Thornley refused any type of treatment.
The Kerry Thornley story is an interesting twist on the 'tragic hero' - a gifted and talented counterculture figure that eventually succumbed to his demons. Adam Gorightly has delivered a book that is both funny (some of Kerry's antics were inspired hilarity) and sad (his decline in his later years) and gives you lots of twists and turns in between. Whether you are a Kennedy assassination buff or simply interested in the counterculture, THE PRANKSTER AND THE CONSPIRACY is definitely a must read.
What follows is an interview with the book's author, Adam Gorightly...
EC: First, congratulations on another fascinating book! I am curious, how did you come up with the subject of Kerry Thornley? I know you have a fascination with various conspiracies - so was this an offshoot of your readings of the Kennedy assassination?
Adam Gorightly: Yes, it was through the Kennedy assassination that I first became acquainted with Kerry Thornley. However, the Kennedy Assassination--though obviously an important event in the storyline--is only one sub plot of many that appear. Kerry was an important figure in the 60s counterculture, and this is another important subplot I try to capture in the book.
EC: I've gotta admit - the first thing I did when I got this book was flip forward to the pictures. Some said that Kerry was a 'double' for Oswald, but it was hard to see a resemblance in the photos of Kerry in the book. Did you run across any photos in which Kerry did look like Oswald?
Adam Gorightly: Actually, I did have some photos of Kerry that more resembled Oswald, however the publisher decided to leave them out of the book, mainly because they didn't reproduce very well. I will be showing these in a power point presentation during my upcoming book signing tour in the spring.
EC: Do you think it was ultimately the drugs that led to Thornley's mental problems? Was it a combination with his high-energy personality? Or, if you were to believe Kerry himself, was he programmed? Could Garrison's harassment have led to his breakdown?
Adam Gorightly: Not to sound flippant, but yes to all of the above. Kerry was a complex individual, and the story of his life was one wild ride.
EC: In your book, the shady character of "brother-in-law" made several ominous appearances. Do you think this person could have actually been E. Howard Hunt?
Adam Gorightly: Sure I do. Do I know for sure…no. Recently I've come across more information on "brother-in-law" aka Gary Kirstein and his partner in crime, Slim Brooks. Whether these guys were using pseudonyms or not, I don't believe Kerry totally imagined them. I do believe they existed, and that they were involved with the mafia and intelligence agency operatives.
EC: You state that Kerry "coined" the word "paganism" to describe various nature religions. But doesn't "coined" seemed to intimate that he created that word? I mean, that word has a long history. I just want to clarify what you meant.
Adam Gorightly: Actually, I never said he coined the phrase. It was the editor, on the back cover copy of the book, who made that claim. However, Kerry was a seminal figure in the neo-Paganism scene in the America during the late 60's.
EC: Also, your book seems to infer that the "peace sign" of the '60s was started by the Discordians. Or were you just pointing out similarities?
Adam Gorightly: Robert Anton Wilson claims that the Discordians were waving the peace sign a few years before them damn hippies and yippies started up. And since Bob Wilson can do no wrong, who am I to say different?
EC: I especially like your quote of Bob Black as telling Kerry: "You used to satirize conspiracy theories; now you believe in them." It took Kerry almost 10 years until he started compiling notes on his Brother-in-law/Kennedy assassination-associated memories. Police often say that your first account, right after an incident is the most correct. How accurate do you see his remembrances, especially coming so far after the actual events?
Adam Gorightly: Obviously, there was some amount of confabulation in Kerry's recollections. However, there are also elements of his story that ring true to me. I really can't answer your question in any more detail than that. But I understand where you're coming from-the passage of time certainly clouds our memories, or distorts them.
EC: Your book mentions Kerry's vast collection of papers that he kept. What happened to these when he was 'homeless'? And what ultimately happened to Kerry's collection of papers after he died?
Adam Gorightly: I don't know for sure, but I suspect that Kerry's ex-wife, Cara, took care of Kerry's papers during the years he was homeless. I believe she still has a lot of this material, though I don't know for sure. Cara didn't want to be interviewed for my book, although she did hook me up with a few other important players in the story, who I interviewed.
EC: The story of Kerry Thornley would make a very interesting book - has there been any interest in a film version?
Adam Gorightly: No, no one's approached me. But I agree, it would make a great movie if approached in the right spirit. In case anyone's interested in optioning the rights to the story, feel free to contact my agent Jim Fitzgerald at: firstname.lastname@example.org
EC: Finally, do you have a subject for your NEXT book yet?
Adam Gorightly: Yes. To be released shortly is a chapbook called "Adam Gorightly on Death Cults" which will published by Victor Thorn's Sisyphus Press.