The electric kool-aid acid trip turns out to have been filmed

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The Independent Culture

It has been 36 years since Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters drove their psychedelic bus across the United States, introduced the world to LSD and gave a whole new meaning to the term "tripping". And now, a few decades late, it is all available on video.

The journey, as all good hippies know, was exhaustively chronicled by Tom Wolfe in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a landmark of Sixties counter-cultural literature. What the hippies may not have realised was that Kesey and his friends also had film cameras running throughout and intended to release their own chronicle of the trip as a movie.

There was, however, a snag. The sound system was powered by the bus generator, which had the unfortunate effect of slowing down and accelerating the tape recorder in sync with the speed of the bus.

For years, Kesey tried in vain to match up the sound with the pictures but could not crack it until the advent of digital technology. Now everything has been matched, re-edited and converted to video - hours and hours of acid-dropping, philosophical musings and pranks.

Kesey, who lives in seclusion on a farm in central Oregon, has begun selling the first instalment of the trip, called Journey to the East, via his website intrepidtrips.com. As many as nine more instalments of the film are promised.

His die-hard fans are thrilled at the chance to relive an iconic moment in America's post-war coming-of-age. "I feel obligated to warn you that it veered dangerously close to being coherent. Scary," one fan, Steve Schuster, reports.

For Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the trip he organised in 1964 marked a transition from the life of a novelist enshrining his art in the written word to the life of a performer living his art in every moment.

The excuse for the trip was a visit to the World's Fair in New York and a launch party for his second novel, Sometimes A Great Notion. But the real motivation was the journey itself. A 25-year-old school bus was daubed in psychedelic paint and nicknamed "Furthur". The driver Kesey hired was Neal Cassady, the inspiration behind the central character in Jack Kerouac's On The Road, and the fuel that kept the Pranksters rolling was not petrol so much as LSD.

The Pranksters crashed a Unitarian Church conference, partied with the Hell's Angels and, at one point, even staged Kesey's death.

The video tracks the first part of the journey, in which the bus gets painted, gets stuck in Arizona's Big Muddy River and cruises into Houston where one of the Pranksters dies as a result of a bad acid trip. All along, we see Cassady at the wheel spouting a non-stop, barely intelligible monologue in which he talks a lot about gonads and quotes Marcel Proust.

Cultural historians are divided on whether the trip itself defined the Sixties, or whether the real landmark was Wolfe's account of it. The video will no doubt fuel that debate further. Kesey and his friends, meanwhile, are busy hand-painting and signing the video boxes on the bathroom floor of his makeshift office in the Oregon countryside.

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