Pubdate: Tue, 02 May 2000
Source: Athens Daily News (GA)
Copyright: 2000 Athens Newspapers Inc.
Contact:  to the Editor
Fax: 706-208-2246
Author: Babbie Rosenthal
Bookmark: MAP's link to Georgia articles is:
Referenced: The article the letter writer refers to follows at the end.


Shame on this paper for exhibiting such totally irresponsible, poor
judgment in the decision to put the article about the sick resurrection of
the "Acid Test" on your front page (April 26)!

This is a knock-out-punch in the face to those individuals and institutions
who have worked so hard to get the anti-drug message out to our young
people today. At question is not Ken Kesey's talents as a writer, but the
subject matter of that particular book (which I have read), a relic of the
destructive "everyone should do this" drug culture which gripped the '60s
and early '70s.

Indeed, revivals like this can help (to quote the first paragraph) "finish
what LSD started back in the ... '60s."

What about the story merited the front page? Was it "cultural relevance"?
Your readers would have been better served by replacing it with the AP
story about the Rock 'n' Soul Museum in Memphis, which you felt only
deserved a page 7 standing.

I truly believe The Athens Daily News owes the readership, the children and
the general citizenry of the area an apology and an explanation for tacitly
glorifying drug use.

Certainly there are those who will howl "censorship!" how about "common
sense" and "good judgment"? This is not an "underground" paper. There are
issues of responsibility and journalistic integrity which an editor must
grapple with. Where do the best interests of the community fit into the

Babbie Rosenthal


Referenced article:


By Jeff Barnard / Associated Press 

PLEASANT HILL, Ore. -- For Ken Kesey, digital technology has made it
possible to finish what LSD started back in the psychedelic '60s. 

Working in a cluttered motel-room-turned-studio near his Oregon farm, the
author and an old friend, Ken Babbs, have just completed the first
installment of a movie from their 1964 LSD-fueled bus trip across America
- -- the trip immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book ''Electric Kool-Aid Acid

Kesey, best known for his novel ''One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,'' had
always intended to come out of the bus trip with a movie, ''Intrepid
Traveler and his Merry Band of Pranksters Look for a Kool Place.'' Despite
recruiting a Hollywood film editor, however, he could never get the audio
in sync with the pictures. Powered off the bus generator, the tape recorder
had speeded up and slowed down when the bus did. 

''It finally just broke our back,'' said Kesey, now 64. 

Until now. 

Babbs' son, Simon, and Kesey's son, Zane, transferred the film and the
audiotape to a digital editing rig. With modern software and a turn of a
knob, the sound and pictures came together. Like Frankenstein's monster,
''Kool Place'' lives. 

''When people ask what my best work is, it's the bus,'' Kesey said.
''Those books made it possible for the bus to become.'' 

Kesey had used the profits from ''Cuckoo's Nest'' to buy the old school
bus and take his friends -- known as the Merry Pranksters -- to New York
for the World's Fair and a party for his second novel, ''Sometimes a Great

But the trip soon turned into more, for them and in the public

Kesey, who had tasted LSD in government trials, wanted to share it with
the masses. A pitcher of LSD-laced orange juice was a staple of the bus
refrigerator. The Pranksters put on LSD parties known as Acid Tests. (The
drug was legal then; by 1968, half the states had criminalized it.) 

The bus, nicknamed Furthur and painted in psychedelic colors, became a
counterculture icon. 

''I thought you ought to be living your art, rather than stepping back
and describing it,'' Kesey said. The bus is ''a metaphor that's instantly
comprehensible. Every kid understands it. It's like John Ford's
'Stagecoach' with John Wayne in the driver's seat just like Cowboy Neal.'' 

Episode one scopes in on Neal Cassady, the wheelman from Jack Kerouac's
''On the Road,'' who piloted the bus while turning out a stream of rhythmic

''It's what keeps this from just being 'what I did on my summer
vacation,''' Kesey said. ''We are keepers of the flame of Cassady.'' 

The Proust-quoting Cassady, who had only a ninth-grade education, was a
bridge between the Beats and the hippies. He died along a Mexican railroad
track in 1968. 

Kesey said his cinematic inspirations are Bergman and Fellini, but ''Kool
Place'' is more like home movies -- complete with Kesey stepping in front
of the projector to inject comments. 

The story would be unclear without Wolfe's book. But the images create an
intimacy that makes the characters seem forever young, at a time when gas
cost 28 cents a gallon. 

Episode one opens with an older Kesey and Babbs in lab coats, finding a
key to a vault. 

''I'm scared,'' Kesey says. 

''I don't blame you,'' says Babbs. 

They open the vault and take out the films. The flick of a switch starts
the clickety whirr of a projector. 

In California oilfields, a highway patrolman pulls them over but never
suspects these college kids dressed like Tommy Hilfiger are packing LSD and
marijuana. In Arizona, the bus gets bogged down in the sand by a river. 

''I'm going to take some LSD,'' Kesey says. ''Babbs could take some.
Cassady, you want to take some?'' 

Cassady whispers, ''I would, yes, I would.'' 

A woman on her first acid trip swims in an algae-filled pool. Dogs and
horses run by. Cassady returns with a farmer who pulls them to solid ground
with a tractor. 

In Houston, Kesey visits pal Larry McMurtry, and the Pranksters lose one
of their number to a bad trip. In New Orleans, they jam with a piano player
in a bar and get thrown out of a blacks-only beach. 

Kesey is offering the film in video episodes -- there might be 10 -- in
signed psychedelic boxes painted by him and Babbs on the motel bathroom's
floor and sold on his Web site, 

''We're the people who planted the seeds,'' Kesey said recently.
''Whether it's artistically valid or not, we have to cultivate the crop.'' 

''You compost it long enough and stuff will grow out of it,'' said Babbs,
a Vietnam helicopter pilot and longtime Prankster. 

Todd Gitlin, a New York University professor and author of ''The
Sixties,'' said the film won't add much to the historical record. 

''Kesey was a force, and the bus trip, thanks to Tom Wolfe, took on
mythic proportions,'' Gitlin said. As for the movie: ''I would watch it if
it was stuck in front of me.'' 

But Aaron Kipnis, a professor of clinical psychology at Pacific Graduate
Institute who says the Pranksters turned him on at an Acid Test, said he is
eager to check in with them again. 

''I can't say whether it was the substance or the people, the environment
or the time, but it moved me from being a street punk to being a spiritual
seeker,'' he said. 

''Instead of publishing words,'' he said, Kesey ''published a way of
being in the world.'' 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst