The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Summary and Analysis of "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" & "The Fugitive"

With Kesey leaving for Mexico, Babbs becomes the de-facto leader of the Pranksters. They move the Acid Tests down to Los Angeles, but the Pranksters are unhappy with Babbs' leadership. He "runs this like the the Boy Scouts." When Pancho Pillow tries to get on the bus with the group, Babbs cruelly kicks him off. All of the Pranksters are having a hard time dealing with the loss of Kesey. Even though they aren't trying, the Tests seem orchestrated. One of the Tests takes place at Paul Sawyer's Unitarian Church, and everyone - even the "squares" - gets into the act. Everyone participates in the Acid Test, pineapple chili is served, and "everybody was in The Movie, on the bus, and it was beautiful."

The next Acid Test that the Pranksters host is in Watts, a place where massive race riots broke out just months before. According to Claire Brush, an editor for a hipster magazine in LA, the choice had to do with "the politics of taking such a party into the recently stricken neighborhood, as a friendship-thing; also a humorous - ironical? - site for such carryings-on."

Clair goes to the Acid Test, and at first thinks it is kind of lame. People are just sitting around, watching the film of the Pranksters' bus trip and various slide shows of things like flowers. Then, someone pulls out a giant trashcan full of Kool-Aid. Clair, who has never used drugs in her life, doesn't know the Kool-Aid is laced with LSD. She starts drinking it, and then begins her first acid trip. She doesn't know what's going on, and keeps asking people until finally someone tells her. The whole room begins to melt around her, and a person holds her close. She feels that their bodies melt into one, their "bones merged, our skin was one skin, there was no place where we could separate, where he stopped and I began."

There is a large crowd at this Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Police show up as well, but they are so overwhelmed by the whole thing that they can't do anything, and they definitely don't want "a jail full of 150 people on acid." The festivities only calm down when several neighborhood dignitaries show up to observe the party. As far as they can tell, the white kids are simply engaging in a goodwill gesture by throwing a huge party in a predominantly black part of town. As soon as they leave, however, the party starts back up and the Kool-Aid is put back out. Claire continues her acid trip, but she notices a few others who are not doing as well. Several of the attendees begin to have bad trips. In another room, a woman lies on the floor and shouts out "Who cares!" at the top of her lungs. Some of the Pranksters try to help her, and they take one of the microphones into the room. Her screams can be heard over the noise of the music, but they don't - or perhaps can't - help her because they are so stoned. Instead, they use her screams to go further into the acid trip. As dawn breaks, the party finally winds down and the cops tell the Pranksters that they have to leave.

By 1PM, news of the Acid Test is breaking. One of the Pranksters, Paul Foster, has been arrested, and some of the "anti-Babbs" faction of the Pranksters state that they didn't like the way the Test went. They question the ethics of lacing the Kool-Aid with acid so that even those who didn't want to take it did, and they think the way they held the microphone to the "Who cares girl" was cruel. News of these Acid Tests is breaking on a larger stage as well, and Life Magazine comes to do a cover story on the Pranksters. At the photo shoot, however, Babbs pulls the ultimate prank: he steals the bus while some of the Pranksters are getting their picture taken, and then goes to the Prankster hideout and takes all their food and money. Not knowing what to do, some of the Pranksters head back to San Francisco and some to New York. It is suddenly clear that the Merry Pranksters were over the day Kesey left for Mexico.

In Mexico, Kesey is trying to adjust to life as a fugitive. He is renting an $80 a month apartment in a bungalow close to the jungle, but is extremely paranoid that the cops will find him nevertheless. The trip down to Mexico was "easy," according to Kesey. Kesey, Boise, Zonker, and Jim Fish all drove Boise's truck down into Tijuana, blowing a third of their money on audio equipment along the way. Kesey is not particularly impressed with Mexico, and in great chunks of run-on sentences and rambling prose, Wolfe recounts Kesey's sensation of Mexico as having its own "Rat aesthetic." To Kesey, Mexico is one big desert of a dump. Boise, in contrast, keeps his spirits high. They make it to Mazatlan, which has become a Mexican hangout for acidheads. In a bar at a resort in Mazatlan, Kesey and Zonker meet up with some other acidheads, but they don't tell anyone who Kesey is. Kesey hooks up with a girl from California whom he calls "Black Maria," and she joins the group of fugitives.

Kesey can't help but make calls back to the U.S., and eventually the "jig is up." The fake suicide was botched by one of the Pranksters, and the suicide note which had sounded beautiful when they had written it high on weed didn't make any sense to the sober authorities, and so they knew from the start that Kesey wasn't really dead. Kesey calls one of his friends back in California, and that friend happens to talk to another friend who happens to be a newspaper reporter, and so the story of Kesey's fugitive status in Mexico hits the national newspapers. Kesey's paranoia increases, and he comes up with an escape plan in case the authorities find him. The plan involves running into the jungle and living there for several days until Black Maria hangs one of Zonker's yellow t-shirts from a clothesline to signal that the coast is clear. But Kesey, who is enormously paranoid and high on drugs, takes off into the jungle frequently, regardless of whether or not anyone is actually chasing him.


Kesey's departure for Mexico signals the beginning of the dissolution of the Pranksters. Babbs turns out to be an ineffective and often cruel leader, and lacks Kesey's ability to temper the selfish behavior of many of the Pranksters. Nothing highlights the selfishness of the group like the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

This Acid Test, which takes place in Watts, is the epitome of the acid movement. In one way the Test is a mockery of the other counter-cultural movements of the '60s, like the peace movement and the Civil Rights movement, which were about equality and social justice. The Pranksters' counter-cultural movement is far more selfish. The fact that the Test is held in Watts may position it as a mockery of the realities of race in America. What it really shows, however, is just how ignorant the Pranksters were about the realities of inequality. The Pranksters hold the Test in Watts simply because it is an economically depressed area and they can rent out the hall at a very cheap rate. The police and the community leaders can't really stop them, because they have no power in that neighborhood. The Pranksters are simply using the misfortunes of others for their own benefit.

Their selfishness is also epitomized in the bad trip of the "Who cares girl." The Pranksters, instead of helping her out of the bad trip, use her cries to enhance their own trip. Romney, who tries to help the girl, feels that he does care about her trip, but he is rendered useless by his own drug experience and can't care enough to help her out. This selfishness does not sit well with the other Pranksters, who feel that Babbs is being unusually cruel. The Pranksters finally implode just as Life Magazine is writing a cover story on them for national publication. By this time, the acid movement has taken on a life of its own. The Acid Tests have actually accomplished what they set out to do: take the experience to the masses.

As the narrative shifts to Mexico and Kesey, the reader finds that things aren't much better there. Instead of the land of the "real people," Kesey discovers that Mexico is really just a "Rat hole" of a place. He doesn't like the poverty of it or the "who-cares" attitude of the residents. Part of what the Prankster life was about was rebelling against societal norms, but in Mexico the people are simply numb to Kesey and the behavior of the acidheads who come to Mazatlan. The Prankster aura just doesn't have the same feel in Mexico.

Kesey is also being consumed by his paranoia that American law enforcement is going to find him and take him back to the U.S. His intricate plans to escape show that the law and the protection once afforded him because of fame, money, status, and race don't mean much anymore. The life that he has devolved into no longer intrigues him. He now uses drugs predominantly to escape the realities of his situation, rather than in order to achieve transcendence. But Kesey's charm and charisma still work for him, and he attracts Black Maria to his fugitive gang. According to her, "even while he was reeking with paranoia, he seemed to have total confidence."