By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
A young, beardless Jerry Garcia offers a quizzical look while Augustus Owsley Stanley III (otherwise known as "Bear," otherwise known as Steely Dan’s "Kid Charlemagne," otherwise known as "Mr. LSD" to the media covering the counterculture) hauls an amplifier on his shoulder. Tape recorders, speakers and wires are strewn about in an electronic wasteland. A reel of film is rolled onto a projector. Arts and Crafts posters are detailed with sparkles and liquid lettering. Wavy Gravy bounces around, outfitted in a jester costume. The Grateful Dead’s first casualty, blues-belting, keyboard-and-harmonica-playing Pigpen, turns a complaint about the lack of electricity into song: "There ain’t no power on stage. No electricity on stage. Fix it. We need power, power, power. You got the poooooooower . . ." A beautiful woman in a transparent dress dances next to a Renaissance fairy twirling a wand. A square in a three-piece suit and a burly, leather-clad Hell’s Angel frolic in blissed-out reverie.
"Welcome to the inner sanctum."
Floodlights shine down from the rafters onto trash barrels being filled with a powdery, foreign substance. Men and women gather in a circle on the floor. They hand each other sake-type shooters and down the contents as if performing a ceremonial rite. The Grateful Dead’s relentless groove fades into reverberation, jagged voices, screeching, eeriness. Everything assumes a maddening shade of red. Pools of sweat boil on Kesey’s face. Partygoers noodling on woodwinds are instantly real musicians; one with a drawn-on handlebar mustache sports a helicopter-pilot helmet and black goggles as he plays a flute.
"There is no need for paranoia to exist in this auditorium."
Jesus freaks partake in a drum circle. A man wearing a turtleneck, his face painted white with black stars around his eyes and flecks of glitter in his hair, bebops around like a joker. Spasmodic bodies are suspended in strobe lights. Garcia sings "Death Don’t Have No Mercy" while Neal Cassady puffs on a cigarette and sways arm-in-arm with a lady friend. A bleaching effect overtakes the picture. The background melts into a spectrum of colors.
"The cops seem to be turning everything off . . . and they have asked everybody to be turned off."
"That’s impossible. You know as well as I do nobody’s going to be turned off. We’re not machines after all; we’re human beings."
"Can’t turn us off. Hell, no!"
"They can try to turn me off but all my switches have been short-circuited."
Equipment is broken down and loaded onto trucks. Meanwhile, Garcia dutifully sweeps the floor as a chorus cranks out "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Back at the fair, Zane tells us we have him for another 45 minutes and then he has to go back to the Sheraton, where his wife, Stephanie, and his pre-teen son Caleb are waiting to start their vacation in Disneyland. I offer to give them a ride to Anaheim, but Zane is fired up to surprise Caleb with the limousine he has rented — and pleasing Caleb is important, considering he is next in line to officially preserve and extend his grandfather’s legacy.
But for me this is where the love affair ends. As a child to parents who were at Kent State University when the Ohio National Guard shot four students dead, I was born a sucker for the romantic notions of Ken Kesey and fellow ’60s icons, and all they had to offer in terms of opening my mind in formative years. Now, like the Acid Test Graduation, the final Test in which Kesey urged not only the Pranksters but all heads to move beyond LSD for enlightenment, I too must move beyond my younger self’s fascination with the characters in my favorite story. Unfortunately, stardust and wanderlust don’t stand a chance against the real world.