This Halloween marks an auspicious occasion: the 50th anniversary of the Acid Test Graduation. The acid tests were a series of psychedelic parties held in the mid 1960’s and hosted by author and Oregon son Ken Kesey with his Merry Band of Pranksters. KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert caught up with some of the original pranksters as they gear up for an all-night celebration in Eugene this Friday.
In the early 60’s, Ken Kesey worked as a night watchman at a mental hospital where psychedelic drugs were being tested. He had the keys to the drug drawer. After experimenting with them, Kesey got an idea.
The acid tests were a meta-physical challenge of sorts. In early 1965, he and cohorts called the Merry Pranksters started throwing parties. Folks would show up in a public place and pay a buck to tune in and drop out.
Kesey: “When we got to the end of it we really go a sense of what the acid test meant to a lot of people. It was a test and there were some people that passed. And some people that didn’t pass.”
Walker: “I’m George Walker. I was part of this Merry Prankster thing from day one. And I still am.”
George Walker is a chipper, wily 77-year old. From start to finish, he attended every acid test.
Walker: “It had this double meaning. Kesey was great at picking up on things like that. So he coined the term the acid test for these parties that we had and at the time it was still legal so we handed out LSD to people that came.”
In the Fall of ‘64, Carolyn Adams- later to be Garcia-entered the scene. The Pranksters gave her the name Mountain Girl. She too was a regular at the acid tests.
Mountain Girl: “Well they were planned. And plus we always tried to have it in a place there was a perimeter. Walls. We would have a front door that was defended. Just to make sure that it was safe on the inside. So people felt free to behave as they wished.”
The parties were all about participation. Exhibition too. Mountain Girl had a sewing machine. She remembers creating matching attire for the original Merry Pranksters at the acid parties.
Mountain Girl: “These beautiful white coveralls. They were from a workman's store on Market Street. The label inside said, ‘union made, can’t bust em.’ Every button on it said ‘can’t bust ‘em.’ By this time, we’d been busted enough, you know? We didn’t want anymore.”
Mountain Girl: “We set up all sorts of little gadgets and fun things. We had hand instruments out and usually the band would come and play…”
Walker: “The band as Mountain Girl refers to was the Grateful Dead. And the fact that we had a band-- they took LSD too---the music was affected by the acid and it was different from what people had been listening to.” (’66 psychedelic Dead music plays)
Ken Kesey: “They weren’t just playing what was on the music sheets. They were playing what was in the air.”
Walker says Kesey’s gatherings, games and acid tests were always about mind expansion.
Walker: “Becoming more aware of our subconscious in ways that we could become different from ordinary, mundane human beings.”
In 1966, Mountain Girl had a child with Ken Kesey and later, she and Jerry Garcia had two daughters. Now 70, she says her acid test experiences taught her something important about the larger world.
Mountain Girl: “Attuning to each other and learning how to be in the same room together no matter how big that room is.”
After about 15 acid test parties, Ken Kesey decided to hold a graduation ceremony. On Halloween night, 1966, he handed out diplomas. Mountain Girl, each member of the Grateful Dead and George Walker, were among the many who *passed the acid test.
Walker: “I got my diploma, I cut it up into little pieces and turned it into art work. (laughter.)”
This Halloween marks the 50th anniversary of that bizarre graduation. Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, and several other original pranksters have passed on. But those who remain are doing what they do best—throwing a party. In Eugene. And of course, in the great tradition of the acid test gatherings, there will be art…lots of art.
The barn at Andy’s Rubber Chicken Ranch in Veneta is buzzing with activity. Tie dyed merry makers hammer, cut and decorate with glitter. Spray paint fumes hang heavy in the air.
Sky: “I’m Sky. I came in from Oklahoma. This is the Door of Perception. And if you look, there’s multiple dimensions. It’ll take you a moment to even notice the keys. It will come to life when we all come to life.”
“Big Al” Jenkins went to high school with Zane and Jed Kesey and he considers their father his creative mentor. He’s hard at work adding day glow paints to a 9-foot long Sail Fish.
Big Al: “The Prankster Fish or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Fish.”
Big Al believes that every step in life, each new level of enlightenment is a graduation.
Big Al: “One thing Kesey taught me was ‘Don’t look for the answers. Look for the mystery.”
“Hi, I’m Steve Brown. I’m one of the producers of the Acid Test Graduation Commemoration.”
Brown says the response he’s gotten from Pranksters, old and new, has been overwhelming. They are coming from all over the U.S. and Canada for what will be the biggest and quite possibly the last reunion of its kind.
Brown: “Some of the original pranksters who are coming to this event: "The Intrepid Traveler,” "Wavy Gravy,” “Anonymous,” “Malfunction,” “Brother Charlie,” “Mary Microgram,” she was in a group called the Ace of Cups, the first all-female psychedelic jam band.”
George Walker will read a commencement address at the Acid Test Graduation all-night party in downtown Eugene this Friday.
Walker: “Several people have asked me, ‘well, what are we graduating from?’ And I said ‘we’re not graduating from, we’re graduating to.”
In the 1960s, Ken Kesey talked about the “wave of energy” that started the Merry Prankster phenomenon. He said they didn’t create the wave, they were just smart enough to jump in and ride it.
The Psychedelic Costume Ball and Acid Test Graduation Commemoration is this Friday night at Whirled Pies, 8th and Charnelton.
To hear the Ace of Cups: