"Since we don't know where we're going we have to stick together in case someone gets there." Ken Kesey
Of all the pioneers and frontiersman ever to grace this planet, few have been so influential and visionary as The Merry Pranksters.
The spiritual and legendary leader of this bunch of crazies was fabled author Ken Kesey and under his guidance The Merry Pranksters took America by storm in the very early sixties as they travelled from coast to coast turning people onto LSD, spontaneity and free thinking in such a way that much of America was terrified by their In Your Face approach.
It was 1959 and the folk of America were living the quiet life with nothing too radical going on. They were Post War God Fearing Fuckers, immersed in Rock ‘n’ Roll and Ice Cream parlours and Beatlemania and psychedelia was literally years away.
Vic Lovell told Kesey about a psychiatric hospital in Menlo Park that was conducting various drug experiments and paying volunteers $75 a day....
The experiments involved the volunteers being given various capsules (some of which were placebos) and then undertaking basic mental and physical tests. In very little time Kesey and Lovell had sampled LSD, psilocybin, peyote, mescaline, Ditran, morning glory seeds and the mighty IT-290. Kesey soon realised what was at stake here, that hardly anyone on the entire planet knew about this and so he threw himself into the experiments.
Soon various chemicals started coming home with him and he slowly turned on most of the Perry Lane crowd. Soon after this they discovered a way of getting hold of peyote via mail order from Mexico. It was around this time that Kesey started writing One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest, much of it being written whilst fuelled up on powerful psychedelics and inspiration for which was taken from his experience as a night attendant at Menlo Park Psychiatric Hospital.
In 1961 he moved back to Oregon, his birthplace, for a short while and began researching for Sometimes A Great Notion.
In mid 1963 the Perry Lane scene imploded and Kesey relocated to La Honda, up in the mountains from Palo Alto. By 1964 Kesey had finished Sometimes A Great Notion and La Honda was fast becoming a Mecca for various beatniks, writers and freaks, all running round in the woods whacked out on LSD, grass, IT-290 and Morning Glory. Ken Babbs, a friend of Kesey’s from Oregon turned up one day and introduced the idea of Pranks and the idea of The Intrepid Traveller was born.
Somewhere along the way this idea kind of ::: GREW ::: and Intrepid Trips, Inc. purchased a 1939 International Harvester school bus which was totally transformed by the gang. A complex system of tapes and microphones was installed, both inside the bus and outside and speakers were installed all over the place. Microphones outside allowed sounds from outside to be broadcast inside the bus, inside there were variable lag tape recorders and headphones that played sounds from outside in one ear and sounds from the variable lag tape system, inside, in the other!!!!
The bus had a platform on top accessible through a hole in the roof that had various musical instruments and speakers rigged up and the entire vehicle was painted up in wild colours.
The Merry Pranksters as they were now known, set of across the USA filming and recording everything that happened along the way, freaking people out and turning people on.
The Pranksters headed east to the New Worlds Fair in New York and turned on thousands of bemused Americans on their way, they were untouchable and ran rings around the confused cops they encountered on their journey (remember, nothing like this had been seen anywhere on earth).
Perhaps their greatest single achievement was the Acid Tests that eventually became The Trips Festival in January 1966.
The first Acid Test was held at Babbs’ house, close to Santa Cruz and the only advertising was a sign knocked up quickly by Norman Hartweg that simply read:
Can YOU pass the Acid Test?
The second Acid Test was held at the house of Big Nig, a friend of the Grateful Dead
and his house was wired up to the hilt with projectors and lighting gear, this event was better publicised than the first Acid Test which was really a ‘dry run’ and the Pranksters handed out coloured handbills, again with Can YOU Pass the Acid Test? and adding the address of Big Nig......Several hundred people turned up, Big Nigs electrics nearly got fried, many many people got turned on big style and the police turned up.
Realising that that this ‘thing’ was getting bigger they went in search of a bigger venue which was supposed to be at Stinson Beach but at the last minute changed to Muir Beach. So, in a big log cabin at Muir Beach was held the 3rd Acid Test along with a little known band called The Grateful Dead.....this time MORE people turned up and got turned on including the Hells Angels and things were starting to get out of control.
Suddenly this ‘thing’ was spreading like fire with more and more people getting their minds blown in chaotic Day-Glo style.
The cops closed it down at 2am and Ken Kesey was arrested on some trumped up charge. The net was now closing in as the police tried to pin various charges on Kesey in attempt to stop this crazy bunch of freaks from contaminating the entire youth of America with their filthy LSD invasion.
On the 2nd February 1968 Neal Cassady is found dead beside a rail road track in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico aged 41, his heart had given out after years and years of amphetamine intake. This was the final sad episode in the original Merry Pranksters story.
Well Ladies and Gentlemen, the story is far from being over because the original Merry Pranksters are still very much active and even brought Further over here to the UK on their Where’s Merlin? Tour in the Summer of 1999 starting In San Francisco and ending up in Scotland before heading back to Oregon.
Where’s Merlin? Tour - UK 1999 Itinerary
AUGUST 4 The Bus clears Felixstowe Customs.