Black Swan, 1995. ISBN 0-552-99366-2

This is a great book by Tom Wolfe first published in 1967. It tracks the story of Ken Kesey following the eye of the storm so to speak as it leaves the Beat Generation, stops by the Perry Lane bohemians and then crashes onto California at full force with the hippies, LSD and psychedelia.

Kesey was voted "boy most likely to succeed" at his high school in Oregon and went on to a creative writing fellowship at Stanford University. Perry Lane was next door and he was welcomed as a kind of rough diamond writer from the wilds.

Wolfe really takes the story from there, outlining the first culture clash as Jack London turns out to be Captain Marvel- not quite what the intellectuals had in mind. In fact Perry Lane was itself to physically disappear a little later as the bulldozers moved in and the journalists who arrived to meet the disgruntled academics instead found Kesey and the new arrivals on mattresses up a tree offering round a LSD chilli.

Visitors at this point included Neal Cassady, Larry McMurtry and Jerry Garcia among others and Wolfe has carefully tracked down most of them to help build the zeitgeist.

After Kesey's book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was published in 1962 the show moved to California and a clearing in the woods at La Honda. (top)
Royalties from the book paid for everybody and everything including a 1939 International Harvester bus that the Pranksters as they now called themselves painted (good photos on the unofficial Ken Kesey Home Page) and set out in with the idea of visiting the New York World Fair.

The story of the acid-tests follows with Wolfe getting detailed accounts from Pranksters and participants. We meet Owsley the greatest LSD manufacturer in the world, Babbs,The Hermit, Mountain Girl, Stewart Brand trying to work out why there is no photograph of the earth, Timothy Leary and plenty of other exotic fauna.

The energy builds through the book together with Kesey's fame and fortune, the grand climax to be the largest acid test (officially non-acid test) or "graduation" in the giant Winterland stadium.

At this point Wolfe paints a portrait of Kesey's loss of control. His movement abandons him and he is left to stage the show in his warehouse dressed in a leotard and white satin cape. In a confused mess the press and people drift off leaving him with the faithful who eventually leave themselves.

Apart from being a great story this is an invaluable record of modern history. No one seems to get to the nuts and bolts of events like these better than Tom Wolfe.

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