By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
While working through the synching problem, the Pranksters — Zonker, Speed Limit, Intrepid Traveler, Mal Function, Hassler, Hardly Visible, Gretchen Fetchin’, Dismount, etc. — would host Saturday screenings of their work in progress, with the Warlocks–cum–Grateful Dead serving as the house band. Word spread throughout the Haight and Berkeley like the monster surge of adrenaline that occurs a half-hour after dropping a hit of primo acid. Kesey and wife Faye’s place would soon be overrun with seekers anxious to get high with their newfound heroes. The ruckus would leave behind such a mess that the Pranksters were forced to take the Tests to auditoriums, other peoples’ homes, and wide-open spaces.
Suddenly, Babbs drifts off into an aside. "Have you ever heard of the Aquarian Conspiracy?" he asks. "It’s something that I think comes from England. According to the Aquarian Conspiracy, all this stuff that happened with acid started in England to bring about the downfall of the American government so we would become once again an English colony. Well, something like that. They’re still pissed off at us.
"So, this is a conspiracy. One of the things of the conspiracy is that we were going all over the country and turning everybody on. It couldn’t be farther from the truth because we never passed out acid to anybody. It was strictly a personal thing. In those days it was legal. Where it came from, I don’t know. We didn’t have access to any of that kind of stuff. We’d get stuff once in a while and go turn on ourselves." Of the Tests, in particular, he says, "It’s not like we didn’t know people were taking acid. We weren’t the supplier, though. The raison d’être of the Acid Tests was not to pass out acid and get people high; that was just something people did."
I quit acid years ago, after a hellish ride on two no-bullshit tabs from a sheet bearing a profile of Timothy Leary’s face. Somewhere in the "St. Stephen"–to–"The Eleven"–to–"Turn On Your Love Light" segue on The Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead, hearing music in stereo became like being trapped in a darkened haunted house with the music from the stereo acting on me like frightening noises jumping from the shadows. Notes emanating from nowhere hung in pockets of air taunting me. Totally wrecked and out of control, I buried my head in a pillow while those tripping with me questioned the existence of a midget scampering about the room. I can only imagine what it was like at a Test, where coping was not enough when Kesey, who enjoyed pushing the limits of everyone’s mental threshold, expected performance under the spell of LSD, composure in the throes of its absurdity.
Naturally, I was psyched to find out that Zane had pieced together enough film and sound to make The Acid Test, a 55-minute VHS tape of footage from a couple of L.A. Tests. Available for $25 from Key-Z Productions, a mail-order Web site and archiving operation Zane founded in 1989 or ’90 (like his age, he forgets), the mini-film has sold approximately 5,000 copies in nearly five years. Through www.key-z.com, Zane also sells memorabilia related to Kesey and the Pranksters and the Beats who influenced them, including two other mini-films recounting the eastbound leg, The Merry Band of Pranksters Look for a Kool Placeand North to Madhattan: The Merry Band of Pranksters Look for a Kool Place, Part 2. "We need to come out with the trip back, which is going to be a lot of fun," Zane says. "They go to Yellowstone and come through Canada, hit the Calgary Stampede and pick up some runaway hitchhiker and paint her up while she’s in her panties. They drop off Cassady and pick him up again in Oregon. Eventually, they wind up in Mexico."
Similar to the recently released Festival Expressdocumentary about a five-day train ride and impromptu jam session through Canada featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band and others, The Acid Testand both Kool Places are historical documents more than 30 years in the making. More staggering to contemplate is the 50 to 75 hours of 16mm film left behind by the Pranksters when they went on hiatus in the late ’60s. "I’m still looking for the right person to do the Ken Kesey life documentary," Zane says. "Because, boy, do I have some footage." Prospective directors can use this free synopsis of The Acid Testto get their agent excited:
An unidentified voice bellows, "This is the engine room coming in loud and clear. The captain has just informed me that we’re now on the verge of going into Operation Crystallization. Kesey, the chief engineer, has already left his space unit at the AV console to go down to the engine room to prepare the rocket fuel needed to enter this new configuration. The captain himself is going down — there’s the electrician. Cassady, however, will remain at his post in the projection booth in order to keep driving this ship through whatever electrical and meteor showers we happen to encounter. We’ll keep all the stations alive on the line, and the old pointed-head will continue to monitor from his post."