The American Experience In1



The American Experience In

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Mass Comm and Society

Late November, 2000



“Kesey in la casa grande with the wind up and the sky cloudy, and the Gulp flapping, and the Rat plaster paneled with pages from out of Marvel comics, with whole scenes of Dr. Strange, Sub Mariner, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Human Torch--Superheroes, in short. All heads believe them to be drawn by meth freaks, because of the minute phosphorescent dedication of their hands. Superheroes! Ubermenschen! (Tom Woolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, page 288)”.



The Electric Kool-Aid Acid test by Tom Woolfe is a lovely piece of literary journalism cooked up by renowned paperman Tom Woolfe. Written in 1968, the book (henceforth referred to as Acid Test) was a rousing success at providing the world at large with a stranger than fiction narrative of the formative days of the early “hippie,” or “head” movement. This book contains it all: Hell’s Angels, the formation of the Grateful Dead, Owsely’s Acid, Jack Keuorac, Timothy Leary and more. It centers on an enigmatic young Oregonian–a man who could be a farmer, or your son-in-law–who, for all intents and purposes, co-founded experiments into things psychedelic and the attendant lifestyle that followed. The man I am speaking of is one Ken Kesey, best-known for authoring One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest. This man, via mind-altering hallucenogens, transitioned from Stanford University to Everywhere, U.S.A., picking up other interested parties every which way. These fellow travelers become the “Merry Pranksters,” and, on their painted bus dubbed “Furthur,” they attempt to explore the very edges of reality and consciousness. And Tom Woolfe writes about it. Some academians (Of the New York University School of Journalism) were so impressed by his work that they put it on a (relatively) short list of the 100 best examples of American journalism for the 20th century. Is this designation deserving? I think so. I’m going to show you this rather than telling, but suffice it to say the highest complement that I can pay is that Acid Test is truly a non-fiction novel. Pay careful attention to the excerpts which follow. Here you will get a taste of Woolfe’s style, his attempt to capture, as he might say, not merely the overt facts of his subject but the psychological flavor as well.
It would be impossible to give a roll call to Kesey’s band of Merry Pranksters, just as it would be laughable to portray their story in a linear progression. A key element to the overall motif of Acid Test issssss.....(I’m using a Tom Woolfe-ism here.) The American Experience. If there is one thing about these Pranksters, these Intrepid Travelers, that makes them of interest, it is that they seek to experience life in a way that utterly thumbs the nose at all attempts to grovel at the posits of history. They don’t want yesterday. In fact, the whole point is to catch up to the cusp of now.
Let me set the scene for you: psychedelic drugs. In the 60s. They’re everywhere. But as our story opens, they’re just beginning to proliferate. Here is an in-house description of the Power the psychedelic experience packs, not in causing hallucination but in giving a truer portrait of Reality:
“...These drugs seem to be the key to open these locked doors. How many?-maybe two dozen people in the world were on to this incredible secret! One was Aldous Huxley, who had taken mescaline and written about it in The Doors of Perception. He compared the brain to a "reducing valve." In ordinary perception, the senses send an overwhelming flood of information to the brain, which the brain then filters down to a trickle it can manage for the purpose of survival in a highly competitive world. Man has become so rational so utilitarian, that the trickle becomes most pale and thin. It is efficient, for mere survival, but it screens out the most wondrous part of man\'s potential experience Without his even knowing it. We\'re shut off from our own world. Primitive man once experienced the rich and sparkling flood of the senses fully. Children experience it for a few months--until "normal\' training, conditioning, close the doors on this other world, usually for good. Somehow, Huxley had said,