The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test


Tom Wolfe chronicles the adventures of Ken Kesey and his group of followers. Throughout the work, Kesey is painted as a sort of Christ figure, someone starting a new religion. Due to the allure of the transcendent states achievable through drugs and because of Kesey's ability to preach and captivate listeners, he begins to form a band of close followers. They call themselves the "Merry Pranksters" and begin to participate in the drug-fueled lifestyle. Starting at Kesey's house in the woods of La Honda, California, the early predecessors of acid tests were performed. These tests or mass usage of LSD were performed with lights and noise, which was meant to enhance the psychedelic experience.

The Pranksters eventually leave the confines of Kesey’s estate. Kesey buys a bus in which they plan to cross the country. They paint it colorfully and name it “Further”. They traverse the nation, tripping on acid throughout the journey. As the Pranksters grow in popularity, Kesey’s reputation grows as well. By the middle of the book, Kesey is idolized as the hero of a growing counterculture. He starts friendships with groups like Hells Angels and their voyages lead them to cross paths with other icons of the Beat Generation. Kesey's popularity grows to the point that permits the Pranksters to entertain other significant members of a then growing counter-culture. The Pranksters meet Hells Angels, The Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg and attempt to meet with Timothy Leary. The failed meeting with Leary leads to great disappointment. A meeting between Leary and Kesey would mark the meeting of East and West. Leary was on the East Coast, and Kesey represented the West Coast.

As an effort to broadcast their lifestyle, the Pranksters publicize their acid experiences and the term Acid Test comes to life. The Acid Tests are parties where everyone takes LSD (which was often laced into the Kool-Aid they served) and abandon the realities of world in search of a state of “intersubjectivity”. Just as the Acid Tests are catching on, Kesey is arrested for possession of marijuana. In an effort to avoid jail, Kesey flees to Mexico and is joined by the Pranksters. The Pranksters struggle in Mexico. They are unable to obtain the same results from their acid trips.

Kesey and some of the Pranksters returned to the United States. At this point, Kesey becomes a full blown pop culture icon as he appears on TV and radio shows, even as he is wanted by the FBI. Eventually he is located and arrested. Kesey is conditionally released as he convinces the judge that the next step of his movement is an “Acid Test Graduation”, an event in which the Pranksters and other followers will attempt to achieve intersubjectivity without the use of mind-altering drugs. The graduation was not effective enough to clear the charges from Kesey’s name. He is given two sentences for two separate offenses. He is designated to a work camp to fulfill his sentence. He moves his wife and children to Oregon and begins serving his time in the forests of California.

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