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The Day-Glo Effect 

Exhuming Ken Kesey and Further 40 years after the Acid Tests

Thursday, Dec 30 2004
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Page 6 of 7

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 Place and 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 Express documentary about a five-day train ride and impromptu jam session through Canada featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band and others, The Acid Test and both Kool Places are historical documents more than 30 years in the making.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 Test to 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."

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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.

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