The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Summary and Analysis of "Cloud" & "The Frozen Jug Band"

The Pranksters get word that the Beatles are coming to play a show in San Francisco, and build a huge sign that says "THE MERRY PRANKSTERS WELCOME THE BEATLES." The Pranksters figure that since they put up a sign welcoming the Hell's Angels, and the Angels came, so too will the Beatles. Kesey believes that if they all "imagine" them in The Movie, then the Beatles will magically appear in it. Kesey is exerting his "hubris" on the world, and making things happen as he believes they should happen.

On September 2, the day of the show, all the Pranksters put on their Prankster costumes and pile into the bus to head to the show. An acid dealer has gotten Kesey thirty tickets to the sold-out show, and so the entire group is ready to go. They put "Help!," one of the Beatles' most famous songs, on the bus stereo system, and begin the drive. On the way there, as everyone is getting high on acid, they all begin to experience a transcendental experience. As Wolfe describes it: "no one even has to look at another because they not only know that everyone else is seeing it at once, they feel, they feel it flowing through one brain, Atman and Brahman, all one on the bus and all one with the writhing mass sun reflector ripple sun bomb prisms." Wolfe describes this feeling of complete intersubjectivity and transcendence as "CLOUD," when they could "draw the whole universe into...the movie."

As they arrive at the concert venue, The Cow Palace, an old converted cattle herding and slaughtering facility, their trip begins to go bad. Mountain Girl thinks that the venue looks like a concentration camp, and the crowds are so huge that the Pranksters feel lost in the mass of people. There are numerous opening acts, and the crowd begins to get impatient for the Beatles to arrive. When they finally do, the noise of the screaming crowd is so loud that it is like a "vibrating poison madness and filling the universe with the teeny agony torn out of them." Kesey realizes that the Beatles have complete "Control" over this crowd just as he did with the Unitarians.

When the concert ends the Pranksters almost get trampled by the mass of people trying to leave. Kesey sees all of these people as a "cancer" and is determined to get out. Zonker, one of the Pranksters, begins telling the crowd that the Beatles are coming to La Honda, and a buzz starts. A few of the Pranksters get lost, and Kesey has to go back into the crowd to find them. It was all a "bad vibration."

On the way home they try to find the CLOUD again, but everyone is too down. They don't care about the Beatles anymore, and just want to get home. When they arrive, however, there are more than four hundred people there, all waiting for the Beatles and for the party. Kesey is infuriated and storms into the house, leaving the Pranksters to try and herd everyone off the grounds. One person, however, stands out. His name is Owsley, and he happens to be the biggest acid dealer on the West Coast. In fact, he is internationally known for the quality of his drugs. Wolfe gives a little of his background: he was the son of a Kentucky senator, and bounced around from school to school until he finally ended up in Berkeley. He began an acid production factory out of his house, but it soon got busted and he moved to Los Angeles. He was naturally gifted at science, and made some of the best acid around. By 1967 his acid was internationally known, and was in fact the same acid that the Beatles first took. Owsley started a band with some friends called "The Grateful Dead," and started the phenomenon of "acid rock" that would also influence the Beatles. Wolfe ends the chapter by ironically noting that in 1967 the Beatles got the idea to dress up in fabulous clothes, get on a bus "zonked out of their gourds" on acid, and to film it. It would become known as the "Magical Mystery Tour," but of course, it was the Pranksters' idea first.

The Pranksters are not completely cut off from the wider world. As Wolfe explains, the Pranksters pay attention to and "groove" on the growing political and social tension of the 1960s. They watch the great blackout in New York City on TV, enthralled by the idea that a great "surge" can simply wipe everything out. They understand the whole thing as the "Cosmos," and the "surge" is what the "Cosmos" send through the wires to create the "consternation in the cancer capital!"

In Berkeley, a group known as the Vietnam Day Committee organizes a huge rally against the war and invites Kesey to be a keynote speaker. The plan is for the rally to gather fifteen thousand young people from across the West and end in a great march on Oakland. The organizers hope that it will end in a violent struggle between them and the National Guard. Their plan is to have twenty to thirty speakers come and get the crowd angry, and then to march. Kesey is supposed to be one of those speakers, but instead Kesey plans a great Prank.

The Pranksters paint the bus blood-red and dress up in army costumes. They bring all sorts of musical instruments and noisemakers with them, and head off for Berkeley. They are supposed to meet up with the Hell's Angels in Palo Alto, but the Angels don't show. They are planning on a grand, noisy entrance, but instead they simply pull into the Berkeley campus and join the crowd.

Kesey is the next-to-last speaker, and the crowd is pretty excited when he gets up to speak. However, instead of continuing the anti-war rhetoric, he tells the crowd that they are simply playing "the game." Kesey tells them that "they've been having wars for ten thousand years and you're not going to stop it this way." Then he pulls out a harmonica and starts to play and sing "Home On the Range." The rest of the Pranksters jump up on the stage and start playing their instruments, and the crowd grows confused. Instead of pulling Kesey off the stage, the organizers can only watch him go on, and when he finally finishes the rally has died down.

The organizers continue to try to march on Oakland, but by the time they get there the energy of the rally has flagged. The marchers turn around and go back to Berkeley, where they listen to an old "jug band" play on the student lawn. Someone throws tear gas into the crowd and everyone disperses, but the band, high on acid, can't do anything but stand there. The rally has degenerated into a big "half-ass, with the frozen jug band the picture of how far they had gotten."


Kesey's experience with the Beatles begins with a continuation of his desire to "control" things, but ends up as something completely different. The power to control people and make them bend to his wishes that he found at the Unitarian camp has infected him in some way. He believes that by simply hanging a sign welcoming the Beatles, he will entice them to come to La Honda and be in The Movie. The great acid trip that they all have on the bus on the way to the concert symbolizes their belief in this power to transcend the normal world and to connect with anybody they want to, bringing those people into The Movie, as well.

When they arrive at the concert, however, they are greeted by a throng of screaming people. For once, the Pranksters don't stand out. They aren't special, and they aren't the center of attention. Even with their Day-Glo costumes and drug-addled behavior, they don't mean anything in the larger scheme of the Beatles craze. As Kesey watches the Beatles on stage, he can see that they exert a different kind of control over the crowd. Kesey sees that the crowd is just one big teeming mass of hysteria that bends to the will of the Beatles, and he knows that he himself does not possess such power. After World War II, "crowd-psychology" became a minor discipline in the field of psychology and caught on with some famous and semi-famous artists and intellectuals.

This realization of the power of the crowd and the nature of what they want turns Kesey and the Pranksters off, and the great acid high they were on during the bus trip turns bad. The crowd is giving off bad vibrations, and the Pranksters want nothing more than to leave. The power of the crowd is turned towards base desires: commercialism, sex, and fame. These aren't the goals of Kesey and the Pranksters, and their love affair with the Beatles thus comes to an abrupt end.

Soon, however, Kesey gets another chance to experiment with crowd control when the Vietnam Day Committee invites him to be a speaker at their rally. Instead of going with the theme of the day, Kesey instead decides to kill the crowd's buzz just as the crowd killed his buzz at the Beatles concert. He does the one thing that a crowd like that can't tolerate: he tells them that they are not important. The entire rally is built around the idea that a mass of people can come together and effect great change in world affairs, but Kesey tells them that they are fighting a worthless fight and that their best option is to give up. It's another experiment in power, and Kesey realizes that he can have as much control over a mass of people as a mass of people can have over a single man. It is an interesting paradox and a theme of the book: how can one person exude so much charisma that people will simply bend to his will?