The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Kesey, who died in 2001, is the subject of the new documentary Magic Trip.
Author Ken Kesey poses in 1997 with his bus, "Further," a descendant of the vehicle that carried Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on the 1964 trip immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book
Author Ken Kesey poses in 1997 with his bus, "Further," a descendant of the vehicle that carried Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on the 1964 trip immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Kesey, who died in 2001, is the subject of the new documentary Magic Trip. Jeff Barnard/AP
The new documentary Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place gathers never before seen footage shot during the Merry Pranksters' LSD-fueled bus trip across America in 1964. Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was the ringleader. The bus was driven by Neal Cassady, who was the inspiration for the main character in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road.
On Friday's Fresh Air, we'll hear interviews with Tom Wolfe, who chronicled the bus trip in his best-seller The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; with Robert Stone, who met the bus and hung out with Kesey, Cassady and the Pranksters when they arrived in New York; and with Kesey.
This interview with Kesey was originally broadcast on Dec. 15, 1989.
Ken Kesey, a leading figure of the counterculture movement, popularized LSD and other hallucinogens and wrote two of the era's most popular books, Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He was also the subject of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe's account of West Coast hippies after spending three weeks with the Merry Pranksters.
In 1987, Kesey joined Fresh Air's Terry Gross for a conversation about his writing and his role as a counterculture figure. He told Gross that Wolfe's novel, which followed Kesey and the Merry Pranksters across the United States, was a good book but created some misconceptions.
"When New York wants to view somebody's personality, they want it in terms of a sound bite," Kesey said. "They don't want to have it get too complex. It's like coming over [to our performance] tonight. We got caught in the traffic. And I just hate coming to a place late because I know that's what they expect of me and my Prankster upbringing. [They think] 'Here he is; he's late; he's probably messed up.' But I'm not. I've always been a reliable, straight-up-the-middle-of-the-road citizen that just happens to be an acidhead."
Kesey died in 2001 at the age of 66. His last major publication was a piece in Rolling Stone magazine reflecting on Sept. 11.