The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Author:Tom Wolfe "We are working on many levels here," said Ken Kesey of his mystic brotherhood, the Merry Pranksters. Many levels, to say the least. — For a start, Kesey's own life with the Merry Pranksters is perhaps the consummate example of something that has so baffled the national imagination over the past two years: the transformation of the "promising mid... more »dle-class youth with all the advantages" into what is popularly known as the hippy. Kesey was more than promising. He was a Golden Boy of the West, a scholar, actor and star athlete-and one of the outstanding young novelists in America-when he burst forth as an experimenter with powerful new hallucinogenic drugs, leader of the mystic brotherhood, the Merry Pranksters, and, finally, fugitive from the FBI, the California police, and the Mexican Federales.
By that time Kesey and the Pranksters had originated and spread most of the life styles that now make up the "psychedelic" or "hippy" world: the communal living, the exuberant costume dress, much of the vocabulary and much of the philosophy. They even set out to turn on the world through the Acid Tests -- the first psychedelic mixed-media happenings, orgies of drugs, lights and rock and roll, culminating the Watts Acid Test, at which they served Electric Kool-Aid, a punch laced with LSD.
The Acid Tests, however, were more than a party. They were Bacchanals in the original sense of the word; i.e., they were religious orgies. And the Pranksters evolved from a loose-knit commune of hippies into a new religion. That evolution bears startling parallels to the founding of other religions, major and minor, permanent and transient, of ancient and medieval history. So striking are the parallels, in fact, that Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test serves as a graphic and detailed illumination of the very process of primary religious experience and development -- and it takes place not in ancient Asia Minor, but in America in the 1960s. In one sense Kesey's adventure consisted in saying yes! to the electro-pastel, 400-horsepower energy, freedom and abundance of postwar America and soaring with it to the Westernmost edge of experience.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test goes beyond any of Tom Wolfe's previous writings both in the depth of its exploration and in its stylistic inventiveness. The rich and often comic scenes of the Prankster adventure-their romp across America in the first "psychedelic" bus, their alliance with the Hell's Angels, their Be-elzebubbling takeover of a Unitarian church convention, their conversion of the biggest anti-Vietnam rally of all times into a freakout, their zany games of hide-and-seek from the law in two countries -- surge through this book with an astounding energy.« less