The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

  • Publish Date: 1999-10-05
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Tom Wolfe
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Tom Wolfe's much-discussed kaleidoscopic non-fiction novel chronicles the tale of novelist Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. In the 1960s, Kesey led a group of psychedelic sympathizers around the country in a painted bus, presiding over LSD-induced "acid tests" all along the way. Long considered one of the greatest books about the history of the hippies, Wolfe's ability to research like a reporter and simultaneously evoke the hallucinogenic indulgence of the era ensures that this book, written in 1967, will live long in the counter-culture canon of American literature. They say if you remember the '60s, you weren't there. But, fortunately, Tom Wolfe was there, notebook in hand, politely declining LSD while Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters fomented revolution, turning America on to a dangerously playful way of thinking as their Day-Glo conveyance, Further, made the most influential bus ride since Rosa Parks's. By taking On the Road's hero Neal Cassady as his driver on the cross-country revival tour and drawing on his own training as a magician, Kesey made Further into a bully pulpit, and linked the beat epoch with hippiedom. Paul McCartney's Many Years from Now cites Kesey as a key influence on his trippy Magical Mystery Tour film. Kesey temporarily renounced his literary magic for the cause of "tootling the multitudes"--making a spectacle of himself--and Prankster Robert Stone had to flee Kesey's wild party to get his life's work done. But in those years, Kesey's life was his work, and Wolfe infinitely multiplied the multitudes who got tootled by writing this major literary-journalistic monument to a resonant pop-culture moment.

Kesey's theatrical metamorphosis from the distinguished author of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest to the abominable shaman of the "Acid Test" soirees that launched The Grateful Dead required Wolfe's Day-Glo prose account to endure (though Kesey's own musings in Demon Box are no slouch either). Even now, Wolfe's book gives what Wolfe clearly got from Kesey: a contact high. --Tim Appelo

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