The Journey

The real story of the Merry Pranksters

   Fri, November 25, 2011 - 7:34 AM
I just watched the film "Magic Trip" which was a re-editing of the original 40 hour home movie of Ken Kesey's legendary trip on the psychedelic bus "Further" to visit the 1964 World's Fair in Queens. I had more questions than answers. It seemed like a big show - a media event. The presence of the camera's made everything artificial and un-natural and they seemed to drop the project as soon as they arrived home. This rendition of the film, taken from the editing that was done by Kesey ten years later, seems to be promoting Kesey as All American Boy who can do acid and still stay in the mainstream. "Don't worry America, LSD is just for fun - like booze, sex and cigarettes. Its not transformative, its not going to change the world, so don't worry about it. We will all become good law abiding productive capitalists after we get this out of our system." Let the kids have their drug of choice. They will eventually join the ranks of middle class America.

Yes, there is a lot of back story. I was thinking - what was the motivation for this film? Kesey had been a successful writer who wanted to change his story telling and artistic medium to film. He had made some royalties off of the play being doing of his book. He bought lot of expensive equipment but, apparently, did not learn how to use it nor have people aboard who knew anything about it. He and his friends had been doing a lot of LSD in their home there for some time. All those people on the bus were already "experienced." He perhaps thought that he could just film this trip with 40 hours of tape and come back and edit it into a film. But something happened when they got back. They showed the unedited 40 hours over and over to their friends probably while tripping and they became bored with the project and it never got any more work. The place became a hang out for tripping and the Kesey's had to move to get some sanity. Kesey rejoined the bossom of his extended family and tried to start another life.

He came back to the film 10 years later - then the editing choices and additional footage began and it seems that the effort was then to spot light Kesey as an example of an All American nice family man who did not destroy himself on acid but retained all the family values of capitalism, normal morality, enterprise, and security. Hence - LSD is just for fun and its not life changing or "spiritual." Its something to enjoy like sex and recreation. And when you you get enough kicks from it, then you should move on. Its interesting how there was no mention of spirituality in the whole film or really what this might mean for the mind, consciousness, or our society in general.

The film came out as a home movie of a lot of attractive kids. The directors' comments were over and over saying how attractive everyone was. Their triumphant entrance into NYC was all about their wanting to be looked at, wanting to be the sensation -that is probably why the world's fair was a disappointment - they were not he main attraction. And the Millbrook people were not impressed (I agree that is a good reaction for them - maybe they did get the total sort of narcissism in this whole thing). Also the constant presence of the camera and recording equipment would have made the whole thing artificial and put on. The filming thing ruined any "real' quality the experience might have had. It is ironic that they were trying to buck Hollywood and Madison Ave but just created their own form of it.

They probably got this when they got home and there was no enthusiasm to complete the project, but hey, lets drop some acid and chill out...

I am also in the camp of the philosopher girl and also prefer Millbrook to the Pranksters. However, I like it that they were snubbed at Millbrook. Imaging guests coming in on a bus with load speakers and letting off smoke bombs as they arrive! May have been some different expectations about the visit between Kesey and Leary and Leary may have sensed that Kesey wanted the show to be his. Someone made the comment late in the movie or maybe the director's comment that some long-standing resentment occurred among some of the people on the bus. Makes sense to me that they didn't all stay friends at all.

The movie, maybe for brevity, also left out the bit about Kesey getting out on bail and was a fugitive in Mexico for many months. The book did a better job of showing how disappointing and pathetic the "Acid Test Graduation" was. Was to be a big event at Winterland with the Dead and the promoters pulled out because of disagreements with Kesey. So the event was held at the last minute off of Mission St without many people showing up. And Kesey did seem to cave under legal pressure.

I wish the film had told the story of the entire trip - from its conception to its final return with more detail, with more explanation of who was on the bus (since there are more people on the bus than are recognized in the film), what their relationships were, what the dynamics were that they alluded to. It could have been a much better movie. I thought the last 15 minutes about Kesey's life after the trip was a waste. They should have used the time to explain more about the trip. All it seemed like to me was a home movie - and it could have been a description of an event. I'm sure it was much more interesting than the sound bites - more about the reception of Karouac and Ginsberg, more about the experience at the fair, more about the experience at Millbrook. Its like the film maker just wanted to present the home movies made by Kesey which were not very good or thought out and very amateurish. Its like there were some interesting things that later people realized about this being the start of a movement but that they players themselves were basically just playing around and when they came back just ran the movie over and over - which seems sort of pathetic actually. Did they really get anything out of it - other than the drugs? Did they live more fully and in the now when they returned, or did they just reminisce about what a trip it was. I think I would have been in the same camp as the philosopher girl - and I think I would have preferred Millbrook to the Pranksters. Its strange though that the people at Millbrook didn't even come out to meet them. Seems really rude and uncool and not very "enlightened." I still think there is a lot more stories here.

So, does anyone know anyone writing a critical,more objective history of this event? It was a keystone in the development of a generation and yet, because it appears to be all about acting out and showing off as a very self-conscious media event, all I have found about it is more of the same deadhead drivel and nothing about its complexities or dark side.



2 Comments

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Fri, November 25, 2011 - 10:24 PM
Sounds like...
Tom Wolfe did a better job of it in his novel...
Sat, November 26, 2011 - 5:02 AM
I have read Electric Kool Aid Acid Test in college and maybe another time. My friend just read it again and said its pretty critical of what happened if you read between the lines. I ordered it again. He, of course, wasn't there and had his own agenda.