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THE ACID TEST AS LITERATURE

Ken Kesey's bus trip is generally considered the gala grand opening of the hippie era. In the summer of 1964, Kesey and a bunch of friends who called themselves the Merry Pranksters loaded up a funky old school bus (painted in a fashion that inevitably become known as "psychedelic") and drove it across the country twice, California to New York and back. En route they shot thousands of feet of almost-unwatchable film, listened to lots of groovy music, made fun of "straights" at every stop and gobbled mounds of LSD.

Kesey had already written One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nes~t and Sometimes a Great Notion--a couple of the higher chart ent~ries on the Great American Novel Hot 100--before his vehicular period began. He'll be remembered for books, not busing, but Kesey's postliterary experience, financed with royalties from his writing, cut a big irregular hole in our society's fabric. The Merry Pranksters' experiments with LSD and public misbehavior thereon were widely emulated. Just a couple of years after the Pranksters did their bus thing, the Beatles took a woolly bus ride of their own, filming all the way. They called it The Magical Mystery Tour. To this day, nobody can watch that footage either, although the album still sounds okay. The Prankster fable became a part of literary history as well as counterculture tradition when Tom Wolfe's whizz-bang book, titled The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was published in 1968. It set the Kesey saga down in black and white and exclamation points and gave freaks all the world 'round their first how-to-trip handbook. Acid Test, a brilliant, thrilling book (at least to a generation that didn't read very much), was the first entry in what has become a trilogy of works about Kesey and the Pranksters. The second entry, a book by Scottsdale author Paul Perry, has just been published. On the Bus is a words-and-pictures retrotext and update of the complete Prankster blot. Acid-nostalgists of all eras, especially all who remember Wolfe's vivid depiction of Prankster life, will find its oral histories fascinating. On the Bus is a 25-year reunion for the characters we all met in The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test. It's an important mark on a time line that starts in 1960 and runs until the last Deadhead dies. And it's a midterm examination of the feed-your-head branch of pop MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.02 I9.03 philosophy. The pictures, primarily from the collection of Prankster photographer Ron Bevirt, also are really cool. The wobbly leg on the Prankster-book tripod belongs to Kesey himself, who's joined the acid-obelia trifecta with a new work of his own called The Further Inquiry--named for the bus also sometimes called "Furthur." In its own not-quite-fathomable way, The Further Inquiry is an equally telling benchmark. Kesey's work here--actually a 1978 screenplay, converted into a hardbound comic book for Day-Glo cultists--will push contemporary readers to conclusions of their own about the long-term effects on brain waves of coming of age in the Sixties. It will also show that Ken Kesey is still on the bus.

As the Pranksters made their way across the country in 1964, they developed their own language, their own morality, their own rituals--a religion that was all their own. Being "on the bus" came to stand for a subset of mellow attributes. If you were part of the group, if you were one of them, if you took psychedelic drugs to help you see the straight world for the bummer it really was, you were "on the bus." "You're either on the bus, or you're off the bus." That was a Prankster catechism. Another was: "Never trust a Prankster." A few more than a dozen tripsters actually rode on the bus that year, but lots of people were "on the bus" or got on shortly thereafter. Some people--Kesey was one of them--never got off. TMDRVhe Pranksters were one of the baby boom's most exclusive clubs. They still are. Kesey's book might make complete sense only to the inner circle of original Pranksters--the ones who actually bounced around on that old International Harvester school bus during what was a turning point in Kesey's life.

After securing himself a reputation of high standing among those who follow modern American literature, Kesey wandered away from it all. According to Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and several more megapopular novels, all that bus riding "was a lot of foolishness" that "ruined" Ken Kesey. Kesey's book documents those days. Paul Perry tries to explain their continuing attraction. He tries for the wide angle in his book, and succeeds for all who were merely fellow-travelers "on the bus" or who first got turned on to the new transportation possibilities Col 3, Depth P43.08 I7.28 When confronted with questions about the authenticity of this new bus--and considering that the big museum in Washington wants to hang it next to the Spirit of St. Louis, authenticity was probably a worthwhile line of questioning--Kesey reportedly shrugged. "There was more than one Lassie," he said. "TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO I was a freshman at Maryvale High School," says Paul Perry, pouring coffee in his Scottsdale study, which is attached to his Scottsdale home, which is located not very far from the green fairways of the Scottsdale Country Club. "I thought acid was something you took rust off of pipes with, and I didn't know Cuckoo's Nest from Adam."

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Dave Walker