Title: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Author: Tom Wolfe
Page Count/Review Word Count: 422
This is one of those books that I’d heard a lot about but for whatever reason I’d never got to it. In fact, all I’d really heard was that it was super influential and that it was a must-read for people who are interested in beat poetry, and I’d also heard the title thrown around so many times that it was getting stuck in my head.
It’s basically a non-fiction book about Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and his band of Merry Pranksters as they travel around in a bus and take way too much LSD. Along the way, they party with Hells Angels and get into trouble with the law, but they also change a few minds and created a legacy of hippyishness that can still be felt today.
We also get to see quite a lot of Neal Cassady, who was the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Kerouac himself also makes an appearance, as does Allen Ginsberg and a number of other important literary figures. But as interesting as that was, they weren’t the most compelling characters in the book.
That’s because Wolfe did a great job of capturing the real people who were members of the Merry Pranksters, which means that there are a lot of crazy hippies knocking around. As cool as it was to read about Beatles concerts, beat poets and the Hells Angels, it was way more fun to read about crazy naked women and people brewing up industrial quantities of LSD.
With that said, as fun as it was to read about the Merry Pranksters, I’m not convinced that I’d want to live with them or be a part of their commune. They were all a bit mad, and while I’m sure it would be great to live with them if you wanted to expand your mind and stuff, it wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable or conducive to writing books, even though one guy managed to do just that.
Anyway, Kesey said that books were a dying art form and was focussing most of his own energy on making a movie. If anything, this is probably best approached as a biography of Kesey with some hippie stuff thrown in, but that’s alright because he was an interesting character. Even though he was also kind of like a cult leader.