zxvasdf's Reviews > The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
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's review
Jul 16, 2011

it was amazing
Read from July 01 to 06, 2011

So you're new to the psychedelic scene and you're grooving with it. So you want to know about it, drape the trappings of a notorious decade upon your brain a shimmering web of counterculture lore. You bought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to read but saw the movie instead, and while you were at it, also watched Oliver Stone's Jim Morrison biopic. You collared yourself with a hemp necklace, dreaming of dreadlocks. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley were cool so you got a shirt. You heard about the Grateful Dead, took some songs to heart, and dug Pink Floyd. Ken Kesey... Ken Kesey who? The guy who wrote the book that the Jack Nicholson movie was based on?

One of the most underrated figures of the Flower Power Era, Ken Kesey died in 2001, after several feeble recreations of his glorious original journey. Literally a government created monster, Kesey emerged from the MKUltra Project with an expansive knowledge of alternative consciousnesses and the means of attainment. That, compounded with his experiences in the mental institution where he worked, Kesey saw that people who didn't fit in society were not really crazy but were triangles trying to fit into squares or vice versa.

So Kesey made a place where people could be up front, be themselves without judgement from others in the circle and thus were born the Pranksters. With the earnings from his first book, he bought some land in La Honda, California where he formed a society of people whose sole purpose was to be up front. Be yourself. People began to develop bizarre It was a grand experiment, and one day they set forth, no, further in a long road trip towards New York. Another underrated driving force in the narrative of the sixties and seventies is Neal Cassady, made famous as Dean Moriarity in Kerouac's On The Road. As in Kerouac's book, Cassady is a tireless marauder of the roads, and he was a vital component of that mad bus drive across the country.

Kesey singlehandedly, with the manic enthusiasm of his fellow pranksters, dredged an entirely new, vital movement from the corpse of the stagnant cold war mentality of the fifties. Without him, the seventies as we know it would not have existed. The Beatles wouldn't have their Magical Mystery Tour (a watered down albeit more popular version of the pranksters' journey). We wouldn't have had communal living. Acid rock (Kesey reportedly had to kick out Jerry Garcia for hanging out with them, like a Senior booting out a froshie. Later, with the Grateful Dead helmed by Owsley, the acid king, creator of the most potent acid in the world, Kesey's acid tests became popular. Kesey's lover Mountain Girl eventually went on to wed Garcia). Be ins. Happenings. Music technology. Mixed media shows. That decade as we know it, was shaped by the indomitable vision of a single man.

The end of The Electric Kool-Aid Test is heart-wrenching, with a vision crushed into oblivion, and a man going quietly into the darkness. I for one, would have loved to see the DSMO experiment succeed, and who knows how the world would have shaped itself after this?

Tom Wolfe manages to tackle an extraordinary difficult subject matter with his first venture into the entirely new and self-created gentre New Journalism, and he pulls it off. Have you seen him? The guy looks like he oughta be sipping from a pipe while sharing conversation with Mark Twain on a riverboat! I can't picture him getting down and dirty with hippies, but I reckon that's one of the coolest things about journalists. Wolfe draws the narrative from interviews and Kesey's open willingness to share the entire library of footage and recordings from the bus tour. He descends into the psychedelic psyches of the Pranksters, and does a magnificent job for someone who says he has never taken LSD before.

I originally planned to read this along time ago, but I kept putting it off. It's a good thing. For some books, there is a time and place to be read, and for me, ten years ago wasn't it. Now I am hesitant to pick up other masterpieces of Wolfe's, lest they don't shine against the light of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
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Quotes zxvasdf Liked

Tom Wolfe
“A person has all sorts of lags built into him Kesey is saying. Once the most basic is the sensory lag the lag between the time your senses receive something and you are able to react. One-thirtieth of a second is the time it takes if you are the most alert person alive and most people are a lot slower than that.... You can't go any faster than that... We are all doomed to spend the rest of our lives watching a movies of our lives - we are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1 30th of a second ago. We think we are in the present but we aren't. The present we know is only a movies of the past and we will really never be able to control the present through ordinary means.”
Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Andrew Dugas I strongly recommend to you "Storming Heaven" by Jay Stevens

zxvasdf Andrew wrote: "I strongly recommend to you "Storming Heaven" by Jay Stevens"

Thanks! Am definitely checking that out.

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