|The PRANKTOWN BUSRIDERS are comprised of members of the Merry Pranksters, a 1960s guerilla troupe of anarcho-artists. They were, as social historian Lauren Kessler writes, "a transgenerational bridge between the Beats and the hippies." Ken Kesey and his friend Ken Babbs were the progenitors of the Pranksters. Babbs actually conceived the idea of the "prank" and Kesey turned it into performance art.|
Better Living Through Chemicals|
As graduate writing students at Stanford University, Babbs and Kesey frequently took the trip north out from Perry Lane, Palo Alto's "rustic" bohemian enclave, to San Francisco's North Beach. As the 1950s turned into the 1960s North Beach was the west coast center of the now well-publicized Beat Generation. The counter-cultural Beats were inspirational to the young writers.
In 1960, when Babbs went to fly helicopters in a place called Vietnam for the United States Marines, Kesey volunteered to take psychedelic drugs, including lysergic diethylamide (LSD) for a government funded program at the nearby Veterans Hospital in Menlo Park. Kesey continued to experiment with the mind-expanding hallucinogens after his participation in the research study ended. His cottage at Perry Lane became a haven for creative psychedelic drug use.
For Kesey, the effect of LSD and the other drugs he took was profound. During the summer of 1960 he got a job as a psychiatric aide at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital. It was his experience with the patients and nurses and his eye-opening LSD trips that led to the writing of first published novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Published in February 1962, Cuckoo's Nest was a popular and critical success. At 26, Kesey had become a successful writer with a $20,000 check from Kirk Douglas of Hollywood for the movie rights to his novel. Better living through chemicals.
According to Jay Stevens, author of Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream it was "Babbs who came up with the idea of the Prank, those great cosmic put-ons that seemed to come bubbling out of some ribald sector of the Other World." It was the "acid" that initiated this bubbling. LSD helped bend the contours of reality. That's what made it so profound. You took this very small chemical dose (250 micrograms) and it provided the means to visions and insights and initially it rocked your sensibilities but then with experience it became possible to expand your consciousness, it felt like you could access and use parts of the mind that normally are dormant or ignored. Kesey wrote: "The first drug trips were for most of us shell-shattering ordeals that left us blinking kneedeep in the cracked crusts of our pie-in-the-sky personalities. Suddenly people were stripped before one another and behold: we were beautiful. Naked and helpless and sensitive as a snake after skinning..." In their social history of LSD called Acid Dreams Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain explain the Pranksters' use of the drugs: "For them acid was a means of eradicating the unconscious structures that interfered with experiencing the magical dimensions of the here and now, the ever-widening Present."
The first "prank" was the now mythical trip to New York in the summer of 1964 in a rehabilitated 1939 International Harvester school bus known as "Furthur." A sign on the back of the bus described its inhabitants: "Caution- Weird Load." Fourteen young men and women departed the La Honda camp on June 14, 1964. Neal Cassady, also known as "Sir Speed Limit" and also known as one of the primary icons of the Beat generation for his starring role as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel On The Road was the chauffeur. Cassady provided the surreal link to the immediate countercultural past. The bus, outfitted with speakers and tape recorders and amplifiers and painted in day-glow colors and inhabited by a mixture of people with some place to go and others just along for the ride sped across the south announcing the birth of the new counterculture. In a sense, this trip was Kesey's third work of art served up for public consumption. It was a piece of performance art that would be further refined during the "acid tests" which would come later.
Ostensibly the trip was to see the New York World's Fair and to attend the publication party for Sometimes a Great Notion. There were a number of interesting group experiences on the way to New York as the Pranksters dropped acid and presented themselves to American society. In New York there was a much-described party where the Pranksters met Jack Kerouac, their spiritual forefather. According to several reports this meeting did not go well. Kerouac was put off by the Pranksters' irreverence and the Pranksters perceived Kerouac as a man more closed down than opened up. The day after this meeting the Pranksters drove to Millbrook, New York, headquarters for Timothy Leary's mind-expansion enclave called the Castalia Foundation. Like the Pranksters Leary and his colleagues were exploring the social possibilities of the psychedelic drugs. But while the subject matter might be similar the method of exploration was different and there was some tension between the two groups. Describing the reactions the two groups had of each other Jay Stephens writes: "What [the Pranksters] found was a bunch of Ivy League eggheads walking around in robes and talking like comparative religion professors...The Castalians regarded the Pranksters in their Day-Glo costumes, as the sort of thing that might happen if you put LSD in the punch at a Greek mixer-- a bad fraternity prank."
From the coolness of the east coast the Pranksters went by way of Calgary, Alberta to the hot tubs of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The Pranksters were back in La Honda by the end of August 1964 after having spent about $70,000 dollars and after having exposed some 50 hours of 16mm film and after having recorded endless hours of audio tape. The plan was to make a movie out of the recorded experience. But instead of making the movie the next Prankster project was to be the staging of the "acid tests."
The "acid test" was Kesey's fourth contribution to the culture. The concept of the test grew out of what was happening at La Honda, the Pranksters' headquarters. In addition to taking LSD trips participants describe a free-form encounter-group atmosphere. For example, there was the "Power Game", described by Prankster Lee Quarnstrom: "We had this spinner that would be spun around and whoever it pointed to would get all the power for the next half-hour. They could use it or abuse it...It was a particular high to have twenty people staring into your eyes for thirty minutes. It was Kesey's way of being psychedelic without drugs." But most of the psychodramas were LSD-inspired. A typical trip took between eight and twelve hours and a commitment to expect the unexpected. The scene at La Honda attracted so many people that a larger physical space was necessary. The first public acid test occurred in November 1965 at "The Spread", Ken Babb's 400-acre ranch in Soquel, outside of San Jose. Over the next year approximately 15 acid tests were held in various venues. Having garnered the attention of the popular media the acid tests may have hastened the California's decision to make LSD illegal on October 6, 1966.
What did it mean to "pass" the acid test? And did you pass the test just by dropping acid and confronting the psychological undergrowth that was unearthed by the psychedelic drugs? "The willingness to endure what could be a rather harrowing ordeal [taking LSD] was for many young men and women a way of cutting the last umbilical cord to everything the older generation had designated as safe and sanitized. If smoking marijuana turned people into social outlaws, acid led many to see themselves as cosmic fugitives." (Lee & Shlain, Acid Dreams). Yeah, the desire and willingness to take the trip, that was how you passed the acid test.
So the Pranksters were very much a cultural vanguard, providing a service as they carried the countercultural ball relaying it from the Beat generation of the 1950s to the hippies of the 1960s. But where is that ball now? Who has it and who are they giving it to? Well, it is our belief that the ball is in the gloves of those individuals somewhere in their forties and fifties. The middle-aged now need to take their hands off their wallets and throw the ball to their children who are getting bored waiting.
|Cathy Adams aka "Mountain Girl"
She joined the Pranksters at La Honda after their east coast trip. She and Jerry Garcia fell in love at the S.F. State Acid test (1966).
|John Babbs aka "Sometimes Missing"
Ken Babbs' brother. He was a college English teacher who took the trip during his summer vacation.
|Ron Bevirt aka "Hassler"
The official Prankster photographer. Bevirt got on the bus just after finishing a tour of duty in the U.S. Army.
|Page Browning aka "Cadaverous Cowboy"
First met Kesey at Perry Lane in Palo Alto. Not initially part of that crowd but a true Prankster member with a tent in La Honda.
|Jane Burton aka "Generally Famished"
Friend from the Perry Lane period. She took the bus ride so she could see friends in New York.
|Kathy Casano aka "Stark Naked"
She got on the bus hoping and dreaming of becoming a movie star.
Joined the Pranksters in La Honda after their trip to New York. He was a computer programmer but as a Prankster he made signs like the one outside the La Honda camp that said, "No Left Turn Unstoned."
A playwright from Michigan, living in Los Angeles, Kesey invited Hartweg to La Honda to help edit the 50+ hours of 16mm film shot during the Pranksters' trip to New York.
|Denise Kaufmann aka "Mary Microgram"
A San Francisco native she met the Pranksters shortly after their trip to New York. LSD turned her on to music and she was deeply involved in the "acid tests."
|Charles Kesey aka "Brother Charlie"
Ken Kesey's brother who climbed on the bus for the trip to New York. He went on to be a successful acidophilus yogurt manufacturer.
|Dale Kesey aka "Highly Charged"
Ken Kesey's cousin who also climbed aboard the bus for the trip east.
Born in Idaho she is Ken Kesey's wife. They were high school sweethearts in Springfield, Oregon and got married during their first year of college at the University of Oregon.
|Steve Lambrecht aka "Zonker"
He was on the bus en route to see his girlfriend in New York. He grew up in San Jose and as a teenager he had watched Neal Cassady changing truck tires at an auto shop. After his Prankster years he returned to San Jose where he owns a hazardous waste disposal company.
|Sandy Lehman-Haupt aka "Dis-mount"
He met Kesey in November 1963 in New York at the opening of the stage version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Sandy was the Pranksters' sound system artist/technician.
The Pranksters' "Minister of Information." As a young reporter for the San Mateo Times Quarnstrom went to La Honda to do a story. He became captivated and a Prankster much involved in the "acid tests."
A painter and Prankster, he is credited with naming the Pranksters' bus "Furthur." Sebern was also an originator of the acid light show.
After getting out of the U.S. Navy in 1958 he went to Stanford on a Wallace Stegner Writing Fellowship.
|Paula Sundstern aka "Gretchen Fetchin'"
She got on the bus for the east coast trip because she was on her way to a waitressing job at a restaurant owned by the boxer Jack Dempsey. But she never took the job; she stayed on the bus.
|George Walker aka "Hardly Visible"
A friend of Kesey's from Oregon. Tom wolfe describes him as "a blond All-American-looking guy...son of a wealthy housing developer...has what is known as a sunny disposition..." After his Prankster years, Walker got into car racing.
|Team Staff & Management|
|Ken Babbs aka "Intrepid Traveller"
Essentially second-in-command of the Pranksters. He met Kesey at Stanford, then went to Vietnam and flew helicopters for the Marines. After his tour of duty Captain Babbs and Kesey formulated the Prankster concept.
Associated with the Pranksters in San Francisco but not an official Prankster. He went on to create and publish the very popular Whole Earth Catalog.
Author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, published in 1968. This book is Wolfe's chronicle of the Merry Pranksters.
|Ken Kesey aka "Chief"
American author and prime mover behind the Merry Pranksters. Kesey's first published novel was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This novel was in part a result of Kesey having taken psychedelic drugs as part of a government research program. After his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion Kesey temporarily gave up writing for performance art as expressed in the "acid test" concept.