The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Summary and Analysis of "Unauthorized Acid" & "Tootling the Multitudes"

The bus leaves Texas and begins to drive through the Deep South. The heat is unbearable, and once again insomnia mixed with the ill effects of a multitude of drugs begins to affect the Pranksters. In Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the Pranksters are confronted with the normalcy of the "citizens" as well as continued police interest, though the Pranksters have gotten very good at talking their way out of (legal) trouble.

The group visits New Orleans and then takes a trip to Lake Pontchartrain, where they take a small amount of acid and go swimming on a segregated beach that is reserved for African-Americans. They are not warmly received at first, but start blaring music from the bus and soon "thousands of Negroes are dancing around the bus, doing rock dances and the dirty boogie..." before the police show up to break up the party.

The group eventually finds its way to Pensacola, Florida for a rest. Sandy, feeling strung out, decides that he must take a trip and so drinks some of the "unauthorized acid" from a bottle of orange juice in the fridge. The acid is "unauthorized" because Kesey has been saving it for the trip home. Sandy, however, takes too much of the acid and begins a bad trip. Wolfe describes the fits of terror and anguish that Sandy feels as he experiences the negative side effects of LSD. He sees his body morphing into the body of his parents, people changing ages, and a football and Kesey's arm blending together when he tries to spray paint them with Day-Glo. Kesey knows that Sandy took the bad acid and reprimands him for it, further displaying Kesey's control over the group and their recreational drugs.

The Pranksters continue their drive across the South, making stops in Georgia to get stoned on acid, and then into the Rocky Mountains. Kesey decides that he wants everyone on the bus to be "deadly competent," and the most competent of all turns out to be Neil Cassady. Cassady is always moving forward, and sets the tempo for the rest of the bus. In the mountains, everyone takes acid and Cassady decides that he wants to drive the bus down a steep mountainside without using brakes - a feat that Kesey takes in while riding on top of the bus.

The gang gets to New York and finds out that even the "hip" New York crowd isn't ready for what Kesey and the Pranksters bring to town. They drive through the city, "tootling" with people and playing them "like they were music," and Wolfe recounts that "even New York had to stop and stare." A friend of Kesey's from Perry Lane gets the group an apartment on Madison Avenue for the summer, and the gang starts a months-long party. Kesey's new book, Sometimes a Great Notion, is released to mixed reviews. The group throws a big party at their apartment, and even Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the former leaders of the Beat Generation, come, although they don't have much to do with Kesey.


In the last chapter "Stark Naked" lost her mind, and so the gang left her in Texas. The Pranksters exhibit both confusion and admiration about such behavior. They realize that the point of their whole journey is to reach the place where society and the rest of the world can be left behind. Their acid trips take them beyond the normalcy of the world, yet when they are confronted with the reality of someone who actually leaves the normalcy of the world for the realm of insanity, they are reluctant to keep her with them. They choose instead to abandon her and continue on their own way.

Their encounter with a group of African-Americans at Lake Pontchartrain, outside of New Orleans, highlights just how far out of society the Pranksters are, and how different they have become from those who preceded them. The Pranksters don't realize that the beach they have chosen to go swimming at is a segregated beach, reserved only for blacks. The black people, however, realize immediately that their space has been infringed upon and threaten the Pranksters with violence. Oblivious to any racial tension, the Pranksters blast music from their bus and start a big beach party with the African-Americans.

The Pranksters' predecessors, the Beat Generation, viewed African-American culture quite differently. For the Beats, African-American culture - jazz, scat, slang, and poverty - was the stuff of real life. Much of what the Beats experimented with was how to retreat from a white, middle-class lifestyle of privilege to find a truer reality. The Pranksters, however, seem to have lost this sense of cultural distinction. Their idea is not to descend down the "ranks" of culture to find a more "real" way of living, but rather to transcend this life entirely. Their encounter with the group of African-Americans in the racially tense South speaks both to their indifference towards other cultures and to their reliance on the privileges they associate with white culture. Whenever the Pranksters begin to get into trouble, the police come to rescue them. Instead of being against and under the law, like the Beats, the Pranksters oppose the law on the surface, but still rely on its protection.

The differences between the Pranksters and the Beats become even more apparent when the group reaches New York City. The Pranksters throw a party at their Madison Avenue apartment (another indicator of the privilege and status that the Pranksters enjoy) and two of the Beat pioneers, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac come. Kerouac and Ginsberg, however, don't seem to want to have much to do with Kesey and the Pranksters, and there is tension between the two groups. The life that the Beat poets are after is not the same life that the Pranksters seek. The Pranksters hope to reach beyond traditional society while still relying on it for certain necessities (such as protection and money), while the Beats eschew all attachments to the "normal" world.

Kesey is even beginning to advocate a move beyond the literary stylings that have characterized the counter-cultural movement up to this point. While prose and poetry encompassed much of the Beat movement, a new reality of song and rock-and-roll will define the Pranksters.