The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Summary and Analysis
by Tom Wolfe
"The Mexican Bust," "Secret Agent Number One," & "The Cops and Robbers Game"
One of the Pranksters, Hagen, finds himself in a lamentable situation when he brings a young girl from California with him to Mexico. The girl's father pulls every string he can to try and get her back, and though it is unclear as to whether or not this situation is the cause of the Pranksters' troubles, they blame it on the girl nonetheless. As they are driving down a highway one evening, they suddenly encounter a roadblock of Mexican police. The police find pot in the Pranksters' car, and begin to arrest Kesey. Kesey, however, runs away from them, into the jungle. There is a train going by, and though the cops are shooting at him, he jumps on the train and ends up in Guadalajara, many hundreds of miles away from the Pranksters and the village. In Guadalajara, a young American befriends him and offers him food and shelter. Kesey eventually goes to the U.S. consulate's office posing as a deadbeat fisherman, and the consulate gives him bus fare to get back to the Pranksters. Back in Manzanillo, Hagen and Ram Rod are both in jail, which turns out to not be so bad, because as long as they have money they can order in any drug they want. Kesey begins to feel consumed with paranoia, and things aren't going very well for the other Pranksters, either. For the first time, many of the Pranksters begin to feel an unfamiliar sensation: loneliness.
One afternoon Page discovers a man taking pictures of the Pranksters' "Rat shack." Worried that the man is from the police, Page talks to him, and the man asks him if he's seen any Russian submarines surfacing lately. Page, putting the man on, tells him that yes, there are have been Russian submarines, and that he should come back at night to see them. The next day Page and the man go to a local restaurant, where Kesey joins them. The man shows them his badge and tells him that he is "Secret Agent Numero Uno" and relates stories about his secret missions on which he busted people for pot.
Though Kesey makes friends with the "secret agent," the man's stories seem to hit too close to home, and Kesey decides it's time to head back to the United States. They decide to throw a series of Acid Tests in Mexico on the way home. They hold the first one in Manzanillo, the second in Mexico City, and more at other stops along the way. The parties are not the big affairs they were back in California, but they draw the attention of the authorities nonetheless. Eventually, having been pressured by the Mexican authorities to leave, Kesey crosses the U.S. border dressed as a drunken country musician. The authorities never suspect a thing.
Back in the U.S., Kesey hatches a plan to be a full-time fugitive who only shows himself in public on occasion - just to annoy the authorities. He is holed up at a friend's house in Palo Alto and vacillates between extreme paranoia and indifference. He throws loud, wild parties at his friend's house before hiding in the basement, afraid he's going to be caught.
Wolfe describes the time while Kesey and the Pranksters were out of the country. The Acid Movement came out of hiding after the great Acid Tests, and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco became the center of the movement. Different leaders were leading different movements, and it was all so strange that the cops didn't know what to do about it. They knew the dangers of alcohol and dope, but they had never seen what LSD could do and they didn't know how to handle it. Even some of the leaders of Civil Rights and peace movements gave up their work and moved to San Francisco to take part in the "head" movement. As it turned out, they believed that Kesey had been right when he had told them to turn their back on activism.
Kesey begins to negotiate with other leaders of the Acid Movement, including Owsley. They are all suspicious of his idea to "move beyond acid." They believe that Kesey is selling out just to stay out of jail. But he remains popular and begins to plan a great Acid Test Graduation: a costume ball where he will show everyone how to move beyond acid before disappearing into America as a fugitive. Kesey also starts showing himself in public more. He gives an interview to a San Francisco newspaper reporter, and agrees to do a secret television interview. In all of these he talks about how he wants to be the "salt in J. Edgar Hoover's wounds." Just as the television interview is airing, however, Kesey and some of the Pranksters are driving along a San Francisco freeway when the cops find them. They pull them over and Kesey once again tries to run, but this time he fails to escape.
Until now, the audacity of the Pranksters has only worn thin the patience of the American authorities. Now, however, Kesey and the Pranksters are proving to be a problem for the Mexican authorities. Their bust on a Mexican highway sends Kesey on the run and several of the Pranksters to jail, but when Kesey returns things pick up almost as usual. It's not until a Mexican Secret Agent finds them that the authority of the Mexican law hits too close to home.
Kesey's problems with the law - even in the supposedly lax Mexican system - speaks to the Pranksters' need to act in total opposition to societal dictates. The Pranksters did not come to Mexico to stir up political or social trouble - they only hoped to find a place where they could experiment freely - but their experimentation is so contrary to the system that even the Mexican authorities eventually ask them to leave.
There is dissension in the Prankster ranks, as well. Sandy, who drove down from New York on a motorcycle, takes the big Ampex amp that was the center of all the Prankster auditory experiments off the bus, using the ruse that he just wants to test its weight on the motorcycle. When Kesey finds out, he immediately knows that Sandy has taken the amp and left the bus for good. This kind of behavior has never happened in the Prankster ranks before. Their organization is built around a kind of communal living, but now even that is falling apart. This speaks to the difficulty of keeping an organization moving based solely on an experience. When the experience ceases to be as real for members, the result is dissension...or even dissolution.
Wolfe's analysis of the growth of the hippie movement is an insightful look into the differences between the peace movements, the student movements, and the hippie movements - all of which tend to be conflated in modern history. But Wolfe paints them as very different. In fact, he suggests that it was the LSD movement that effectively killed the peace and student activist movements, because many of those young leaders became lethargic after experiencing LSD. They began to see such causes as futile, and no longer liked the kind of crowd that was hanging around activist movements. LSD, Wolfe suggests, zapped the energy from the protest movements and moved it all into the psychedelic movement.
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