Ken Kesey, Merry Pranksters and the bus

GOHBOR By GOHBOR, 12th Jun 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
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Merry Pranksters, centered around Ken Kesey, were the ones who started the drug-supported search into spiritual consciousness and for that reason they are regarded as the pioneers of ‘counterculture’ revolution in 1960s. Ken Kesey, a charismatic leader of the group and the author of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest", has been a cult figure since the early 1960’s. His social life, inseparably connected with drugs and psychedelic movement of the West Coast, highly affected his writing.

Flower Power

For careful observers, the social and political situation in America of 1950s revealed a deep crisis, noticeable in anti-communism hysteria, corruption of governmental authority, excessive investments in weapon businesses, introduction of modern technology harmful for environment, and, first and foremost, a decline of personal liberty and identity. The movements of the 60s, introducing new models of life and culture, are often seen as the reaction to the sense of purposelessness commonly experienced at that time. Therefore, America of 1960s is usually associated with the image of long-haired young people, wearing colorful clothes and original jewellery, and dancing in the streets with flowers in their hands. They were propagating the ideas of free love deprived of any formal obligation, protesting against the cruelty of Vietnam War and demanding the right to experiment with drugs, which were considered by them a facilitator in uncovering the hidden truths about a man and the world.

Memorable bus trip

In the summer of 1964 Kesey bought a school bus to drive him and the Pranksters to New York to see the World’s Fair, and back to California. The bus, equipped with sound systems and platforms on top, was painted exotically with day-glo colors. As Tom Wolfe depicted it in his The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, “It was sloppy as hell except for the parts Ray Seburn did, which were manic mandalas. Well, it was sloppy, but one thing you could say for it – it was freaking lurid.” Additionally, it had the word “Furthur” painted on the destination shield, indicating the aspiration to expand awareness, while the back read “Caution: Weird Load”. Neal Cassady, a legendary Dean Moriarty of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, was recruited to drive the bus. The Pranksters travelled through the USA, offering LSD to anyone who wanted to try it (LSD was legal in the United States until October 1966). Much of the trip was archived on film. Kesey’s son Zane offers on his website a version of the film edited by Kesey himself. Some of the footage has also been used in documentaries.

Cultural Revolution

The Pranksters were successful in spreading the ideas of cultural revolution on the East Coast and their trip marked the transition from the Beatnik generation to the hippies; the transformation of alcohol and jazz era into that of acid and rock’n’roll. After Merry Pranksters travelled in their peculiar bus, the vehicles like that became popular across the country. Moreover, as Tom Wolfe shows, the unconventional behavior of Kesey and his friends greatly influenced the youth of 1960s and played significant role in nationwide promotion of psychedelics.

Picture by courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2) Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. Ken Kesey, Author of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest,’ Is Dead at 66, The New York Times, Nov 11, 2001 In
3) Rick, Matthew. Tarnished Galahad: The Prose and Pranks of Ken Kesey In
4) Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1968.


1960S, Furthur, Hippie, Hippie Counterculture, Hippie Culture, Hippies, Kesey, Merry Praksters, Neal Cassady, Psychodelics, Spiritual, Tom Wolfe, Writer

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author avatar GOHBOR
Freelance translator and interpreter, only starting in writing business. I'm very excited and hope it'll be a good fun. As I'm interested in travel, literature and psychology, my writing will focus on these.

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
13th Jun 2011 (#)

Fantastic article which took me right back to my hippie days living in San Francisco between 1967-73. Thanks for a great share, GOHBOR.

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author avatar richellet
4th Mar 2012 (#)

I agree to Steve it is a well organized and a very interesting article. Though I am not from this era but still I love to read things about Hippies and the Peace sign.

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author avatar Denise O
4th Mar 2012 (#)

Love it! Thank you for sharing.:)

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