Friday, April 10, 2009

The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test

For the last couple of years I have been forcing myself to read novels that would be considered classic or required reading. So London, Camu, Louis Stevenson, Jean Paul Satre, Steinbeck have all been on my list that I am getting through faster than I thought. I’m able to get through maybe seven or eight novels a year. So last week I was at Borders and I can across Tom Wolfe’s, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”. I have always heard good things about it and it could be considered a classic. Newsweek even said “An American Classic that defined a generation”, on the back of the cover, so it must be true.
So I end up buying the book for about fifteen bucks. Its bout four hundred pages and I get through it in maybe four days. It’s a quick easy read but I don’t think I can recommend it.
The premise is essentially that of a group of middle class suburban kids move into San Francisco, circa 1962, and form a group called the Merry Pranksters. Their essential leader of this non hierarchal group is Ken Kesey, acid guru and author of the novel turned movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest. The “acid tests” are essentially a party thrown in some hall or warehouse where other like minded acid heads come to listen to the then up and coming Grateful Dead play and watch psychedelic inspired art films and trip out over strobe lights while drinking acid spiked kool-aid. Then group’s main focus is an all inclusive ceremony of sorts that brings people together to achieve the same goal or as the group’s remarks, “on the bus or off”. Meaning essentially you’re either on the same page or your not. There are some interesting ideas about improvisational art and the metaphysical concept of “living in the now” that I enjoyed reading.
What else is interesting is about the progression of the idea of using psychedelics to open doors in the mind. Kesey uses his group as a way to spread this idea but only as a smaller part of a bigger process of reaching a higher plain. His wishes are for people to used psychedelics to begin the process but must abandon them when they have accomplished it. If you do not, his understanding is that nothing else can be achieved. He uses the analogy of walking through an open door then walking back and walking through it again.
On another note, we see a sense of generational subcultures meshed together. Throughout the Merry Pranksters gatherings we see many figures of the beat era including Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg. Although their methods are different it seems that generations are all after the same thing.
What I found frustrating with the book it the style Wolf uses to write. The best way that I can describe it is, he uses a sense of the improvisational lifestyle his nonfiction characters live. It can change from a traditional structure to a rap and then back again. I think it would have been better with a more objective point of view. Other than that the book is engaging and fun.

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