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(top): Photo by Tom Johnson (bottom): Photo by Ted Streshinsky

Skippin’ through the lily fields
I came across an empty space,
It trembled and exploded,
left a bus stop in its place.
The bus came by and I got on,
that’s when it all began,
There was Cowboy Neal
at the wheel of the bus
to never ever land.

—”That’s It for the Other One,”The Grateful
Dead

 

Zane Kesey bears a striking resemblance to his father,
deceased novelist Ken Kesey. The main difference is that Zane, 42 or 43 years
old (he forgets), is yet to be victimized by the male-pattern baldness that
struck his dad in high school. Dressed as a tourist in a Hawaiian shirt, stone-colored
pants and blinding-white running shoes, Zane guides a reporter from a local
daily around Further, the 1947 International Harvester bus that he drove down
from Pleasant Hill, Oregon, to Pomona for the L.A. County Fair. Construction
workers passing through the exhibition hall stop to gawk at the bus’ coat of
narrative imagery, which evokes a William Blake painting. With its Day-Glo interior,
its golden Joker figurine mounted on the hood and its American flags positioned
at full mast, it’s a dead ringer for the original Further, the 1939 International
Harvester that Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters piloted from La Honda,
California, to the Big Apple and back 40 years ago this past summer. The original
Further is stuck in a swamp outside of Eugene, Oregon, waiting to be resuscitated,
but it’s still very much alive as an icon of the days when Kesey and his Pranksters
put acid on the map by gobbling it like mad and, over the course of their literal
and figurative trip, fermented the mindset that would move the counterculture
from the Beats to the hippies.

Flashback to 1964. Ken Kesey, having already published One
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
, has just finished his follow-up, Sometimes
a Great Notion
. To celebrate, he and the hangers-on around his place south
of San Francisco set off for the World’s Fair in New York City. At the wheel
of their audaciously painted school bus is Fastestmanalive Neal Cassady,
the real-life Dean Moriarty to Jack Kerouac’s Sal Paradise in On the Road.
En route to the East Coast, the Merry Pranksters stop in Millbrook, New York,
where their spontaneity proves at odds with the sterile experimentation of rival
heads Timothy Leary and his League of Spiritual Discovery. Upon their return
to La Honda, the Pranksters start hosting psychedelic tribal gatherings called
the Acid Tests. These freeform festivals of light, sound and pictures, with
LSD as the party favor of choice, eventually travel to Santa Cruz, San Jose,
Muir Beach, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles and the beaches
of Baja, Mexico. “I’d like for someone to someday list all of the Tests
that took place,” Zane says.

The Pranksters’ story — a part of which is Kesey’s mythical transformation
from country bumpkin to college wrestling star to literary lion to borderline
cult leader — is most famously told by Tom Wolfe in his 1968 counterculture
opus The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Because Wolfe never was on the
bus
, he had to rely on firsthand accounts from people trying really hard
to convey the experience, along with countless reels of film documenting the
voyage and Tests. Wolfe’s New Journalism masterpiece was conceived as an article
for the Sunday magazine of the now-defunct New York World Herald Tribune.
Legendary editor and current UC Berkeley journalism lecturer Clay Felker decided
that the story was “so significant and wonderfully reported and written”
that he devoted the entire issue to it. That Sunday the Herald Tribune sold
more than 750,000 copies, beating The New York Times.

Condensing such an epic, metaphysical journey into a simplified
Q&A session with a clueless reporter is noticeably irritating to Zane. After
a while, he stops the session and sends the daily reporter off to do his homework,
referring him to various books on the topic.

“That’s the kind of stuff that would drive Dad crazy,”
Zane says after the reporter leaves. Sitting on the bus’ shiny bumper, though,
he is all bark and no bite, hamming it up for a photographer by sporting shades
and flashing peace signs and touching his index figure to his tongue to symbolize
the act of dropping acid. Like father, like son. Zane’s audience is rapt as
he tells the story of making a magical batch of Kool-Aid when he was a child.
Instead of sweetening the drink with granulated sugar, he used some “sugar
cubes” he found laying around. When Zane’s parents came home, they found
him dangling from the tree fort. They took Zane to the doctor to have his stomach
pumped, but it was too late to stave off the sugar’s effect. So Ken Kesey took
his son to play in the woods instead.

[


Pass the patchouli: acid test
poster promises NealCassady and The Dead 

 

The San Francisco Bay Area may be synonymous with the counterculture,
but Los Angeles provided a haven for the scene’s progenitors once the heat up
north got too hot. What’s more, Los Angeles is on the way to Mexico, where Kesey
had fled after faking his death to avoid a felony marijuana-possession charge
in January of 1966. Later that month, Reverend Paul Sawyer offered to let the
Pranksters stage their first L.A. Acid Test at his Unitarian Universalist Church
in North Hills. His only requirement was that LSD not be served, since his congregation
would be participating. “I was kind of concerned that the thing would become
a publicity ploy,” he says, his tone deliberate.

Set back about 50 yards from Haskell Avenue, the church is at
the end of an asphalt path lined with shrubbery and vibrant flowers that culminates
in a circular driveway. It was constructed in 1964 by Neutra contemporary Frank
Ehrenthal and is regarded as one of the world’s first round churches. Sawyer
likens the church to the Hagia Sophia, though it has taken on “The Onion”
as a nickname on account of its bulbous, wineglass-upside-down-without-a-stem
shape. In 1969, the church was renamed Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society.

Sawyer, who until his retirement this past summer was the reverend
of Throop Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, met Kesey in 1965
at San Francisco State University, where Kesey was giving a speech about Sometimes
a Great Notion
. Afterward, Kesey invited Sawyer, his wife and kids up to
La Honda for a ride on the bus and a glimpse at a real, live Hell’s Angel. (The
Pranksters’ relatively harmonious relationship with the biker gang came to an
abrupt end after an Angel stabbed a black fan to death during the Rolling Stones’
set at Altamont Speedway, an event captured in the stark Gimme Shelter documentary.)
Later that year, Sawyer and Kesey were invited to speak at Asilomar, a new-age
conference center on the coast of the Monterey Peninsula. Sawyer was tapped
for his knowledge of the arts, religion and worship, and Kesey because One
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
had turned on the head theologian at Asilomar.

Having labored all of his ministerial life under his association
with Kesey, whom he says many considered crazy, Sawyer is nevertheless quick
to exalt the man, his comrades and the overall experience: “Their goal
and interest was really making life not just fun, but good in the deepest moral
sense. There’s a deep morality to it — to make heaven on Earth, as they say,
and to be quite deep at that. Not at all just some playing around. And playing
around was part of it. Not to be so highly serious but to have a deep purpose.
I think that’s underrated around Kesey’s situation, and I don’t think it comes
through in Tom Wolfe’s book. He intimates that that’s what they were reaching
for, but you don’t have the sense that they touch it.”

The Pranksters went on to throw Tests throughout Los Angeles in
1966. The most notorious was at a Youth Opportunities Center in Watts on Abraham
Lincoln’s birthday — only months after the Watts Riots. Reached by phone at
“hippie Hyannisport,” the communal house in Berkeley where he lives,
Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farmers, a collective assembled to quell heads having
bad trips, recalled that night. “The electric Kool-Aid was coined by me
the night of the Watts Acid Test. Although [Wolfe] did maintain that I put the
acid in the Kool-Aid at Watts — and I still have mothers hit me over the head
with umbrellas for that one — I didn’t. In fact, I spent a good part of the
evening saying the Kool-Aid on the right is for the children and the Kool-Aid
on the left is the electric Kool-Aid. Get it? Nudge, nudge. My big falling out
with the Pranksters is that I didn’t think people should take LSD unless they
knew they were taking it.”

Wavy’s eagerness to warn Test participants of the Kool-Aid’s contents
stems from an incident involving the Who Cares Girl, the nickname for a freak-out
at Watts who required heaps of love and affection to mollify.

 




Contrary to the Reverend Sawyer, photojournalist Larry Schiller
never invited the Pranksters into his life, but they ended up in his home anyway.
“I remember one night at 3064 Elvill Drive [in Studio City], my wife and
I are in bed — and I’ve got three kids — and people are jumping up and down
in our swimming pool,” Schiller says, eating a steak with his bare hands
in the commissary of a production office in Canoga Park. “And I get out
of bed and go out and see who’s in our swimming pool. There they are — half
a dozen people tripping out on acid. My wife went ballistic, but I didn’t because
I recognized the faces. I later came to know them very quickly as the Merry
Pranksters.”

[

While under contract with Life magazine in the mid-’60s,
Schiller was lured away by the big money of The Saturday Evening Post.
When that publication failed, he returned home with his tail between his legs.
No matter. He had a “get” that would land him back in the good graces
of his Life editors. Following up on a tip from Dr. Sidney Cohen, an
LSD expert stationed at Wadsworth Veterans Administration Hospital near UCLA,
Schiller modified his idea of doing a medical story on LSD to focus on the subculture
of teenagers winding up with psychoses from using the drug indiscriminately.
The result was “LSD: The Exploding Threat of the Mind Drug That Got Out
of Control,” a cover story in the March 25, 1966, issue of Life
that unintentionally aided in criminalizing the substance less than six months
later.

L.A.’s underground acid scene took hold at an unlikely place —
the neighborhood deli. “I found out very quickly that Canter’s Delicatessen
was where everybody hung out and dropped acid from 11 at night until 4 in the
morning,” Schiller says. “By hanging around there three, four, five,
six nights, I also discovered that at 1 in the morning Phil Spector would pull
up in his car, and I also discovered that The Who would pull up — that in the
wee hours of the morning, when the Troubadour was done and the Whisky a GoGo
was done, this was the place.”

Schiller’s method of ingratiating himself was to disarm the people
he was shooting by being upfront with his address and phone number at the outset
of an encounter. At organized Acid Tests this was less of an issue because attendees
were required to purchase an identification card for a dollar or two that included
such information. To this day, Schiller’s not sure if it was his honesty or
the ID card that led the Pranksters to his swimming pool; however, he did find
out that they had been using his mailbox as a drop-off and pickup spot for drugs.
In the course of his reporting, Schiller invited the Pranksters to his studio
on Sunset Boulevard for a photo session that he hoped would yield a cover shot
for the Life spread.

“As Tom Wolfe writes, they started getting real paranoid
of me, distrustful of me,” Schiller says. “Because they saw me shooting
black-and-white film, and they thought the cover of Life magazine was
color. They didn’t realize that I had an idea in my head in which I was going
to use their images in black-and-white and then do a solarization of color —
like Richard Avedon’s pictures of the Beatles, like Andy Warhol’s lithographs.
But even better than that.” Kesey’s right-hand man, Ken Babbs, was the
first to think he smelled a rat and, in typical Prankster fashion, aborted the
shoot, hijacked Further and headed for Wavy’s. Those who chose to stick
around ended up in a photo spread inside the magazine.

Like Tom Wolfe, Schiller didn’t indulge in LSD, though he does
testify to the ubiquity and significance of the Tests. “Everybody who went
[to the Tests] knew they were going to drop acid there or knew there was acid
there. The music was incredible. It was music you hadn’t heard or felt before.
People just existed as they wanted or as they came, not knowing how they were
existing. It was the first time that I think I saw strobe lights being used
to enhance an experience. There were light shows all over the fucking place.
They used different types of projectors — this and that — different types of
images that had no relationship to each other, but all had a relationship because
they were all organized and coming alive and exploding in different ways,”
Schiller says, and then hesitates. “I don’t know if I’m making myself clear.”

 

 



Among the photos Schiller took of the Tests, the most enduring
is the image of an aimless wanderer that later graced the cover of the Flaming
Lips’ Soft Bulletin album, which is a testament to Schiller’s influence
on pop culture. But Schiller’s legacy doesn’t end at pictures. “If it wasn’t
for the Life magazine essay, do you think The Electric Kool-Aid Acid
Test
would exist?” he asks me. “I’m not saying that Tom Wolfe
wouldn’t have written a book, but that essay was one of the things that got
him interested in the subject.”

[

 

Not only does this year mark the 40th anniversary
of the Pranksters’ odyssey, but it is also the 10th anniversary of my discovery
of Ken Kesey and the Pranksters, the Beats, the Grateful Dead, recreational
drugs, free thinking and, as someone who had a hankering to be a writer, the
internal debate over whether it is more meaningful to be the author of a remarkable
story or the character who makes the story remarkable. During my senior year
in high school, I had to give an oral report on the poet or writer of my choice
for English class. My teacher, Mrs. Pittman, tired of my inability to choose
a subject, suggested I check out a guy by the name of Allen Ginsberg. Coincidentally
or serendipitously, I soon thereafter found myself watching a film in American
History in which Ginsberg rallied a group of demonstrators with his words. Considerably
more intrigued, I nonetheless waited until the night before the presentation
to pore through Ginsberg’s Collected Poems 1947–1980. I was mesmerized.
That’s poetry?” I thought. Cool.

Delving into Collected Poems and related writings, I got
hip to the names behind the words, the characters giving shape to the verse.
William Burroughs, Carolyn Cassady, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
Bill Graham, The Grateful Dead, Chet Helms, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke,
Robert Hunter, Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary, Michael McClure, Mountain Girl,
Peter Orlovsky, Gary Snyder, Augustus Owsley Stanley III, Hunter S. Thompson,
Wavy Gravy, William Carlos Williams, Tom Wolfe . . . But it was Kesey — not
so much for his writing as for his individualism and ability to forge his own
destiny — who grabbed my throat after I read “First Party at Ken Kesey’s
With Hell’s Angels,” a poem I delivered to the class:

 

Cool black night thru redwoods
cars parked outside in shade
behind the gate, stars dim above
the ravine, a fire burning by the side
porch and a few tired souls hunched over
in black leather jackets. In the huge
wooden house, a yellow chandelier
at 3 A.M. the blast of loudspeakers
hi-fi Rolling Stones Ray Charles Beatles
Jumping Joe Jackson and twenty youths
dancing to the vibration thru the floor,
a little weed in the bathroom,
girls in scarlet tights, one muscular smooth skinned man sweating dancing
for hours, beer cans bent littering the yard, a hanged man sculpture dangling
from a high creek branch,children sleeping softly in their bedroom bunks.
And 4 police cars parked outside the painted gate, red lights revolving in
the leaves.

 

Kesey died in 2001, at the age of 66, from complications during
surgery to treat cancer of the liver. With Kesey gone, original Prankster Ken
Babbs — the guy, in fact, who coined that term — survives as the most direct
link to this period of history, and the best person to help me understand the
essence of the merry pranks and the Prankster motto, “Never Trust a Prankster.”

Babbs tells me that pranks were random yet calculated expressions
of performance art meant to surprise people, shock them, make them laugh, shake
them up a bit, but never make them feel as if they’re the butt of a joke. An
example of a prank: When I e-mailed Babbs to request an interview — an admittedly
scattered and overzealous request — he placed my e-mail on his Web site/blog,
www.skypilotclub.com, without asking for permission (as if he needed
it, but still), and next to it wrote a response: “Take your time. Take
all the time you can, remembering time is money and if you need money seek no
further than how much time you have on your hands or as grampa said, ‘Hold out
both hands, shit in one and wish in the other and see which one fills up faster.’
Time waits for no man. What’s that other famous saying? Something about, sure,
it will happen, it will happen when pigs fly. Well, we pilots know that is not
an impossibility. It is a Skypilotclub reality, one we participate in every
day. The interview is on. Michael, proving himself a participant, is joining
Skypilotclub so this will be between members, for members, and about members.”
I caught his drift and mailed a check for $7 to cover the Skypilotclub membership
dues.

Babbs and Kesey met in 1958 while attending the same graduate
writing program at Stanford University as Robert Stone and Larry McMurtry. The
following spring, while Kesey was working at the mental ward where he scored
the drugs that fueled the get-togethers of poets, intellectuals, musicians and
philosophers expanding their minds on Perry Lane, the bohemian spot in
Palo Alto, Babbs left for Vietnam to serve a five-year tour of duty with the
Marines. During his absence, Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
and Sometimes a Great Notion. Upon returning (“I got off the
helicopter and on the bus”), Babbs also managed to author a novel. To this
day it sits in a box in his office in Dexter, Oregon, unpublished.

[

 


Kesey with some friendly
neighborhood Hell's Angels
Photo by Ted Streshinsky
 



Babbs: One of the reasons I should have gone ahead and published
it then was it’s a psychedelic novel. I didn’t realize at the time that I was
writing a psychedelic novel.

Me: In what respect?

Babbs: Did you see the movie Apocalypse Now?

Me: Yes.

Babbs: Well, would you say that’s a psychedelic movie?

Me: Yeah, I’d say it’s pretty psychedelic.

Babbs: Okay, then. There you go.

Burned out on the typewriter, Babbs and Kesey started practicing
the art of the come-on — “of making things up, spontaneous combustion,
eruption,” Babbs says, the Beat in him surfacing. “We’d lie on the
floor at night and put microphones to our mouths and make up stories — complete
novels right off the cuff, with characters and dialogue and everything.”
Eventually, these improvised novels grew into plays that they would film themselves
performing. When someone in their circle proposed the trip to the World’s Fair,
Babbs and Kesey decided to make a movie of their journey across America in Further.
What they found was real drama playing out in ordinary, everyday situations,
and they reasoned that if they entered into these situations — breaking the
fourth wall — it would make for a good movie. Babbs adds, “We had serious
intent here, because we thought that when we came back we’d edit it and put
it all together and it would play in the theaters, just like movies do.”

But the Pranksters had another thing coming when they returned
to La Honda. “We got back home and hooked up the film and turned on the
tape recorder and we went to watch the movie and the movie is going along and
the sound would be going along okay and then all of a sudden it would start
to sssssslllllllllllooooooowwwwwwww ddddddddddooooooooowwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnn and
the picture is going along right at the regular speed aaaaannnnnndddddd tttttthhhhhhheeeeeee
ssssssoooooooouuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnddddddd iiiiiiiiisssssss ffffffffaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllllllliiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnngggggggggg
fffffffaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrtttttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrr and
fffffffffffaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrtttttttttthhhhhhhheeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrr and fffffffaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrtttttttttthhhhhhheeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrr.
And then other times thesoundwouldspeeduplikemad.”

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.”

 


Original Electric Kool-Aid cover art
 



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 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.”

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!”

“Ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous.”

“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.