THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2015
A dude named Rob Hughes in Great Britain is doing a story and asked me some questions, a lot
(1) What do you recall of the very first Acid Test at your place in Santa Cruz?
It wasn't really an acid test, per se. We hadn't started doing them yet. It was a Halloween party
at my place called, The Spread, in Soquel, California, a half mile east of Santa Cruz. The Merry
Band of Pranksters was actually a band, for we played instruments in a bizarre fashion,
calling our music a form of non-verbal communicaton. I played the electric bass, Kesey the
electric guitar, George Walker on drums, Gretchen Fetchin on electric piano, Mike Hagen
also on guitar. We had the instruments set up in the living room of the house and went outside
to commune with the moon and form an Om circle, holding hands and Ommming till we
levitated a couple of feet off the ground, then settled back down and heard music coming
from the house. We went in and saw that the band called The Walocks were playing our
instruments and singing through our microphones. We dug it a bit then slowly moved in
and started taking over. Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady were there that night. Very late,
we lay on the floor holding he microphones and rapping long nonsensical poetical free jazz
pontifications till the birds twittered us quiet.
(2) How do you account for Ken Kesey’s charisma? What made him so attractive to people?
He had grace, he had style, he had brains, he was a magician, a ventriloquist, magnetic
blue eyes, commanding use of the language, full of outlandish adventures and yarns, a
natural leader, fun to be around, inclusive of everyone, the word showman is very close
to the word shaman.
(3) Lee Quarnstrom called Kesey a “benign Prankster leader”, in that he suggested places
to visit (both physically and in your heads) rather than act like a dictator. What effect did
this style of ‘leadership’ have in people?
There is an Indian tribe whose chief arises from the people and is followed until he comes
up with something no one agrees with and everyone gets up and leaves the lodge and the
tribe is leaderless until another steps up to fill the void. Hard to be a dictator when, if the
people don't give a shit what the dictator is saying to do and laugh him off the dais. You
know what you get when you combine a penis and a potato. That's right, a dictator.
(4) You’ve said that you didn’t invent psychedelia, but rather that you were one of the first
to ride its wave. Could you explain this a little more plse?
We didn't create the wave. Nobody could create that wave. The wave came by and we got
on, that's when it all began. We were fotunate to be on the first crest and surfed the curl
along with many others. The wave kept going. In the seventies Kesey said, "It's all the way
to Kansas now." Now it's all over the world. The globe has been psychedelicized. Who
needs drugs? When someone asked Kesey if he still took LSD, he said, "Don't have to.
We're like Pavlov's dogs. All you have to do is bang on the side of the bus and we begin
(5) Can you tell me a little about the use of the American flag as iconography by the
Pranksters (bandanas, T-shirts, furniture coverings etc)? How subversive an idea was
that in the mid ‘60s?
Hey, we are staunch Americans all the way. Patriotism is not jingoism. We also represent
America and are living what America stands for. We don't seek protection and we dont
run for election. We'll be what we'll be and what we'll be is be free. This is not being
subversive, this is being blatant, extolling the spirit of what America is all about, don't
believe that other crap being shoved down our throats, we the people will endure.
(6) Do you think the Trips Festival was the breakthrough moment for the Acid Tests?
Was that when you finally felt as though you were having an impact on young society?
Ha ha. An impact on young society? As a goal? Never even considered such a thing.
What were our motives, other than making a movie, doing music, elevating the spirit,
sharing our experience with others who were also sharing theirs? This was what the
Trips Festival was all about, a place for all the people in the Bay Area who were
exploring new ways of expressing themselves in everlasting art forms to come together
in one weekend and strut their stuff. Freak freely, as the expression went. There was no
breakthrough moment for the acid tests. They were all breakthrough moments.
(7) The Trips Festival was famously billed as ‘an LSD experience without the LSD’. Was that to
get more people through the door?
You got me. I didn't know it was billed like that. We just went and did our thing. A great event
with all the Bay Area artists/musicians/ peformers/ dancers/gadlflys and good timers in attendance.
(8) You used to say that one of the main points about the Acid Tests was to learn how to
function under the influence of acid. How well did you think you succeeded?
I don't remember ever saying that. I didn't know there were any points. What was the spread?
ha ha, sports analogy. We always scored a lot of points. The reason for the Acid Tests were
that we were editing our bus movie at Kesey's place in La Honda, California, and every Saturday
night we would show the reel that we edited that week. Word got out and pretty soon the crowd
was getting too big for the place to handle, plus consider the mess after it was over, so we rented
halls and came up with the name, The Acid Test, and here's the theme: Can You Pass The Acid
Test, a double meaning for the acid test you know was how you determined if that rock is really
gold. You put acid on it and if it shone it was gold. Same same.
(9) In what way were the Grateful Dead the ideal band to play at the Acid Tests?
Oh, you mean their superb musicanship, their finely crafted tunes, their beautiful voices, that
soaring guitar, the fine rhythm, muscular dumsmanship, whomping Hammond B-3 organ, with
leslie, wailing mouth harp? Not to mention the long introspective and bombshelling space jams
when the merry band of pranksters -- they were an actual band, you know -- joined in, the Warlocks
(at the time, for a while, at a later acid test they changed their name) on a stage at one end of the room,
the pranksters on their stage at the other end. Three reels of the bus movie projected on the walls,
Roy Sebern's light show on another wall, big black speaker hanging from the ceiling with a strobe
light in the middle under which dancers whirled and skipped and diddly-bopped, participants gaily
garbed in flourescent colors and flowing dresses and tie-dye shirts, in the middle of the room two large
plastic garbage cans full of Kool Aid, one labeled, For Kids, the other, For Adults Only, this one laced
with acid, who put the acid in the Kool Aid? We never knew or cared, our bit was to put on the show,
only rule was you had to stay till dawn, when things cooled out, didn't want anyone roaming the bricks,
loaded and looney, swaying and singing and attracting undue attention.
10) Can you describe the set-up at the Watts Test? And do you agree with Tom Wolfe’s view that
Watts was more or less the end of the Tests?
Big concrete building, cold inside and cavernous, we did most everything at one end of the place.
There were more acid tests in L.A. after that one. We had one scheduled at Pauley Pavilion, the
basketball arena at U.C.L.A. but when we did a preview in the student union dining hall at noon,
the powers to be decided this was not fit fare for their proud academic institution and who wants
to play in an institution anyway? The Hog Farm and Hugh Romney (later named Wavy Gravy)
were our L.A. hosts and found the places for us to do the Acid Tests, mostly small movie studios.
We quit doing the Acid Tests the night LSD became illegal and drove the bus to Mexico to hook
up with Kesey who was on the run from a pot bust conviction.
(11) The Acid Tests can also be seen as the beginning of multi-media entertainment (films, strobes,
music, spoken-word performances). Do you take credit for that? And was this your way of trying
to maximise the acid experience?
We didn't deal with credit. Cash all the way. We weren't the only ones doing this kind of thing.
Like all prankster endeavors the Acid Test were uniquely ours. We fell in the crack between the
Beat Generation and the Psychedelic Revolution (AKA the HIppies) and had our own originality
and individuality, still do. No need to try to maximize the acid experience. It is what it is, find an
open space, the musicians and performers and audience will come and have a good time.
(12) Can you explain under what circumstances people flunked Acid Tests?
They came, acid was poured on them, those who shined like gold passed, those who didn't weren't high.
(13) Did it sadden you, in the wake of the Tests, to see drugs become appropriated as a
fashion more than anything else?
Not a bit. Drugs are drugs, can be used in a lot of ways. And are. LSD was not a party
drug for us, but a door into expanded consciousness where you learned you are part of
the human race, the world, the universe and our work is to keep it moving in the right
direction simply by being kind.
(14) What do you see as the legacy of the Pranksters?
Kindness, creativity, friendship. What ever happened to the revolution? someone asked
Kesey. He thought for a minute and sang,
When you walk the street
You will have no cares
If you walk the lines
And not the squares
As you go through life
Make this your goal
Watch the donut
Not the hole.
This is where the revolution is at, he said, the thing that sets the people apart, their
optimism; they sincerely believe that mercy comes before justice, that the carrot is
better than the stick, and that love is the only compass you can trust to guide you
down the mean main streets of moneymad America. One other thing: don't bug the fuzz.
How did ‘straight’ society change as a result?
Went bonkers. What the fuck is happening? Oh, so scared, so worried, the kids, it's all
going to the dogs and the dogs are rabid, armor up, put up the walls, don't let anyone
in or anyone out, check the bodily orifices for stashed drugs, is that a pistol in your
pocket or are you just glad to see me? Actually, it's all pretty much the same. The jerks
are jerks, the psychopaths want it all their way for they know they are totally in the right
even though they are doing a lot of wrong; the enlightened people go about their business
really doing the right thing, best they can, fucking up all over the place, but recognizing it
and rectifying the mistakes, knowing every dawn is a new day to do the best you can.
It's our job to change things from a police state to a puh-lease state. Those old white bread
fogeys deeply entrenched in their rich or semi-rich lives are afraid of this new psychedelic
world where everything is hppening all at once and there's no easy targets for them, like
the Beatniks and Hippies and Black Panthers to lash out at so they have to catch everyone
in the ne int order to hold on to their jobs, their sinecures, their properties, their jails and
corporations and armies. Be Like Pinochet is the banner plastered on their foreheads which
must be pierced with slings and arrows of higher consciousness, work for the good, stay out
of the war, don't seek re-election or need protection, be what you'll be and what you'll be is be free.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2014
Here's some questions and answers from and to Tana Oshima, Knight Affiliate,
Hi, Tana, here we go.
A couple of days ago I talked with Gwen Davis, who used to hang around with Kesey on Perry Lane. Do you know her?
Never met her. I was at Stanford in the fall of '58 till May, '59, and spent a lot of time at Perry Lane with Kesey and his wife, although I had my own place behind whiskey gulch, out by the 101. In May, '59 I went into the Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant, having been In Naval ROTC. Kesey stayed at Stanford another year, having received a Stegner Fellowship. That first year in the class neither of us had the fellowship and we were admitted to the class after submitting stories we had written.
2. What was it like on Perry Lane?
A real bohemian scene, rustic cabins connected by paths through vegetation and trees, artists and muscians and grad students lived there and they got together at each other's places to drink wine, share meals and talk deep shit far into the night. Kesey, being the robust physical and mental character he was, attracted a steady stream of like minded men and women. Roast pig barbecues in front of the house. Basketball games on the street, a hoop and backboard nailed to the big oak tree. Loud music and loud talk. The Beat Generation slowing down and a new generation picking up the beat and taking it to new places.
3. Is it true that you came up with the name "Merry Pranksters"?
Yes. By then Kesey had moved to La Honda up on the ridge between Palo Alto and the ocean. The same group that had become regulars at Perry Lane were coming up there, all good friends. LSD had entered the scene, thanks to Kesey liberating a bottle of pills from the VA hospital in Menlo Park where he had worked for a while as an aide. It was 1964 and Kesey's second book, Sometimes A Great Notion was coming out and there was a publication party in NYC scheduled for the end of June. Kesey and a bunch of us were going to go. I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps, after doing a year in Vietnam, flying helicopters. One night, Kesey and I had gone to the coast to look things over while the rest of the group stayed at his house, in the yard, sitting around a fire. When Kesey and I came back, Mike Hagen yelled, "Who goes there?" and I replied, "Tis I, the Intrepid Traveler, come to lead his merry band of pranksters across the land, in the opposite direction of the pioneers, our mission, the obliteration of the entire nation, meant figuratively of course, blow their minds, not their buildings."
4. To what extent were the Merry Pranksters ahead of their time? It seems like you guys were the pioneers of psychedelia and the hippie movement (in terms of drugs, free sex and freedom in general).
That is a popular myth but the reality was that we, along with many others, were riding a wave. We didn't create the wave, we were lucky enough to be among the first on the wave, their were many who rode that wave and Kesey said once sometime in the 70's, "and that wave is still going. It's all the way to Kansas by now." Of course the wave continued all the way around the globe and now the whole world has been psychedelicized. When asked if he still took LSD, Kesey replied, "Don't have to, we're like Pavolov's dogs, all you have to do is bang on the side of the bus and we beging to hallicuinate."
5. What did you learn from Wallace Stegner and other professors (Malcolm Cowley?) at Stanford?
The year I was there, Wallace Stegner didn't teach the course. Our instructor was Dick Scowcroft, a great teacher who knew all the nuances of writing and passed them on on to us. He woud read a story in class and we would discuss it. The beauty of that class, due to the great people who were in it, was that we never harshly criticized one another, nor got into arguments, nor tried to one-up anyone, instead with Scowcroft's guidance, used the time to enrich our knowledge of writing and to increase our skills. We have remained friends ever since and every triumph of one of our classmates has been a triumph for us all.
6. Why did you take 45 years to publish your book? Did you keep working on it throughout all these years, or was it finished and it just sat there?
I started writing my novel, Who Shot The Water Buffalo, when I was in Vietnam. I recognized it was a place rich with material and I used the war and the people and the country as a setting for a fictional story about the pilots and men of a Marine Corps helicopter there in 1962 and 1963, right at the beginning before everything blew up. I sent the book to Sterling Lord and when we took the bus to New York in 1964 met with him and he gave me some good advice how to make the book better. I took the book home with me but never got around to working on it because by then we (Kesey and me and the pranksters) had become movie makers. We filmed the whole bus trip and began editing it with the goal of having it come out on the big screen. Unfortunately we got arrested (double meaning), busted for pot at Kesey's house, which put a kibosh on the editing and we never got back to it until the nineties when we learned video editing on the computer and did part one and part two of the movie and released it on VHS that you ordered from our website. Never did part 3 because Kesey died. After that, wondering what to do now, I got out the old Vietnam novel and whipped it into shape and it came out in 2011. I was the last one in my class at Stanford to get published. Now I am working on a book about the adventures with Kesey and the Pranksters called, Cronies. It is not a memoir and not fiction but something else, a legitimate literary form, called a burlesque, which is defined as, "An historical occurrence embellished with inventions and exaggerations." It's a long hard slog but I keep plugging away.
7. Young people today, especially Stanford students, don't seem too prone to experiment in life. They seem to prefer the safe path to success, which is a material and social success. Sometimes that also means they don't ask themselves deep questions about who they are, where they come from and where they're going. What would you say to them, if they were your students?
Put down the phones, they are the lastest in a long line of drugs that are designed to keep you hooked on cyberspace. They are, of course, good tools, but don't dawdle, get on, do what you need to do and get off, back into meatspace. Can't knock everyone on this for there are many many who work on keeping fit, eat the right foods, get out into nature, party with their friends, marry, have kids, continue the line that has gone down since the beginning. The main thing we are fighting (aside from gravity which is pulling us down all the time, ever notice how many people have frown lines and not laugh lines?) is advertisement, beckoning to us from every direction to buy this or that which will remove all your anxieties and self loathing with potions and lotions and pills and cars and houses and furniture, well, forget all that shit, dance and sing and shout hallelujah I'm alive I'm solid I'm all everything God gave me to be and I'm going to enjoy every minute of this (now, don't say, miserable) life, just the way I am, wonderful me. Oops, what's this spare tire around my middle?
Be of good cheer.
SIXTIES QUIZ 4
THE MARCH OF TIME
TIME MARCHES ON
Questions from Daniel T Boron-Brenner
Answers from the other side of the O'Reilliken Galaxy
1. In the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe described the Merry
Pranksters as a proto-religious movement as much as it was the
fermentation of a counterculture. Is this the truth or did Wolfe
Gotta remember Tom Wolfe was at the peak of his whammo blammo new journalism style and coming up with all kinds of exaggerations in the name of freedom of writing religion.
1.a. If Wolfe is on the money, did the Pranksters realize what was
going on at the time or is Wolfe's observation borne out of hindsight?
Pranksters knew what they were doing they just didn't always know that they knew it. In hindsight the heavy weight of knowledge is borne best by bowing one's head in obeisance.
2. What role do you think LSD has come to assume in its modern
I don't know, maybe as a recreation or party drug. I certainly hope its role remains one of consciousness expansion, for that was its main purpose back in the day
2a. My first introduction to it was under strictly recreational
terms. After having taken it, I I discovered it to be a much more
expansive and cerebral high than marijuana or alcohol but the fact remains
that it has lately been lumped in with them under the all-encompassing
label of "Drugs". Do you think this is a fair assumption or a knee-jerk
reaction stemming out of conversative fears?
The irony is that the CIA experimented with LSD to use it as a means of control or brainwashing but even they caught on that LSD freed up the mind, not tied up the mind. So nothing to do but make it illegal and lump it with cocaine and speed and other mind numbing drugs. Did the same thing with mushrooms and pot.
2b. Do you still take LSD?
As Kesey once said, "We are like Pavolov's dogs. All you have to do is bang on the side of the bus and we begin to hallucinate."
(to be continued)
heres a little something called the" Swamp Stomp" I penned while da bus wuz still in the woods just before Zane annouced Furthurs intrepid trip to ze orchard;
Theres a Bus down the road,though you,d never know ,
unless you feel it in your Heart,
Shines a Psychadelic Rainbow about da round world,
May our Freak Flag always be unfurled,
Furthur by day, Furthur by night, Furthur we go
On our conciousness flight, like a Pilot in da Sky,
in da center of God's Eye,we fly, Sky Pilot High,
Sky Pilot High, Sky Pilot Fly, In da Sweet Bye&Bye,
Wake Up your Soul w/a blend of Blues&
Righteous Rock&Roll,Pioneers on de Orygun Trail,
Pioneers of a Mystical Frontier, And da
Trees & da Bus & da Fog & da Moss, Tree Frogs
& Rain, Atypically Insane
Further A. Head
email from a guy calls himself 7up
Well... isn't that special... These A-heads portray themselves as all conscious and shit and then dump an oil leaking old vehicle in an ecologically sensitive wetland area. Oh, forgive me, I meant "The Swamp". Right. But, yay, now it's out of there, after how many years of polluting the groundwater and aquifer?
If it weren't fer the fack the engine and tranny and rear end are all sealed up and not leaking anything I imagine the nutrias and other critturs and all those blackberry bushes and other fauna mighta been kinda upset, but yeah, it's probly better the bus isn't in the swamp any more jest in case . . . jest in case . . .
I should clarify something about where the bus was parked in the so-called swamp. The swamp was a name Kesey gave to a swath of land on the east side of his property where a ditch ran through that carried runoff water from the slopes of Pleasant Hill a couple miles south of his farm. The ditch ran through several different properties, through Kesey's, under the road through culverts that are too small in diameter to handle the heavy rains of winter, then across a huge pasture and on to the Willamette River.
In one part of Kesey's the ditch is wide and shallow and in the winter the land there floods and that is the swamp proper. Just north of that, the ditch is deep and that area doesn't flood. There is a high wide spot just east of the ditch with trees and a pasture. That's where the bus was parked, next to the pasture, nestled in the trees. Can't call that a wetland or a swamp in actuality but you know how those names stick.
Anyway, just to reassure you there was no ecological disaster in the happenings; but as aforesaid, just as well the bus is out of there and sitting now in the orchard.
Kapn, a few questions. Respectfully yours, John Budan
1. Enclosed are 2 pictures. The picture with Kesey on the roof does NOT have 3 little lites uner the FURTHER sign, also it doesn't have a plastic bubble on the roof. I'm confused? Is it because these are not the same bus or were those 3 little lites added later and the plastic bubble added later?
John, the pic with the bus with kesey on the top was taken in 1964 on the Oregon coast after we got back from the trip to New York City. By then someone had repainted the name on the front and spelled it with 2 Us.
The pic with the 3 little lites and the plastic bubble was taken much later, when the bus was retired to the swamp at Kesey's farm. Those lites and the plastic bubble were added to the bus in 1966 in San Francisco. The plastic bubble was used for shooting movie film from inside the bus while we were moving down the road.
2. When you guys visited Kerouac did he go down and look at the bus or look inside or was he ever actually inside the bus?
Kerouac stayed inside the apartment we were using in Manhattan. He, as far as I know, never went inside the bus or looked inside. But he could have. When Cassady and Ginsberg brought him over to the apartment they might have had him look at the bus which was parked out in front.
3. Do you know if the bus has the original motor?
The original motor was replaced in 1964 in Minneapolis at the International Harvester garage when the motor went kaplooey on us. The replacement motor is still in the bus.
4. On the original bus I saw a photo was there with a poem written on the glove box door. I wonder if that was a poem with some writing.
Could be, I can't remember.
5. Why would he want to store it in a swamp for so many years if they were planning on restoring it?
Kesey never planned to restore it once it was rusting comfortably in its home in the swamp. He had a new Further that is the working Further and he said many times, "The bus is like the starship Enterprise. Despite its many incarnations there is only one Starship Enterprise." The idea to restore the old bus is something that has come up in the past few years.