- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2000

PLEASANT HILL, Ore.
For Ken Kesey, digital technology has made it possible to finish what LSD started back in the psychedelic '60s.
Working in a cluttered motel-room-turned-studio near his Oregon farm, the author and an old friend, Ken Babbs, have just completed the first installment of a movie from their 1964 LSD-fueled bus trip across America the trip immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
Mr. Kesey, best known for his novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," had always intended to come out of the bus trip with a movie, "Intrepid Traveler and his Merry Band of Pranksters Look for a Kool Place." Despite recruiting a Hollywood film editor, however, he could never get the audio in sync with the pictures. Powered off the bus generator, the tape recorder had speeded up and slowed down when the bus did.
"It finally just broke our back," said Mr. Kesey, now 64.
Until now.
Mr. Babbs' son, Simon, and Mr. Kesey's son, Zane, transferred the film and the audiotape to a digital editing rig. With modern software and a turn of a knob, the sound and pictures came together. Like Frankenstein's monster, "Kool Place" lives.
"When people ask what my best work is, it's the bus," Mr. Kesey said. "Those books made it possible for the bus to become."
He had used the profits from "Cuckoo's Nest" to buy the old school bus and take his friends known as the Merry Pranksters to New York for the World's Fair and a party for his second novel, "Sometimes a Great Notion."
But the trip soon turned into more, for them and in the public imagination.
Mr. Kesey, who had tasted LSD in government trials, wanted to share it with the masses. A pitcher of LSD-laced orange juice was a staple of the bus refrigerator. The Pranksters put on LSD parties known as Acid Tests. (The drug was legal then; by 1968, half the states had criminalized it.)
The bus, nicknamed Further and painted in psychedelic colors, became a counterculture icon.
"I thought you ought to be living your art, rather than stepping back and describing it," Mr. Kesey said. The bus is "a metaphor that's instantly comprehensible. Every kid understands it. It's like John Ford's 'Stagecoach' with John Wayne in the driver's seat just like Cowboy Neal."
Episode 1 scopes in on Neal Cassady, the wheelman from Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," who piloted the bus while turning out a stream of rhythmic rap-babble.
"It's what keeps this from just being 'what I did on my summer vacation,' " Mr. Kesey said. "We are keepers of the flame of Cassady."
The Proust-quoting Mr. Cassady, who had only a ninth-grade education, was a bridge between the Beats and the hippies. He died along a Mexican railroad track in 1968.
Mr. Kesey said his cinematic inspirations are Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, but "Kool Place" is more like home movies complete with Mr. Kesey stepping in front of the projector to inject comments.
The story would not be clear without Mr. Wolfe's book. But the images create an intimacy that makes the characters seem forever young, at a time when gas cost 28 cents a gallon.
In California oil fields, a highway patrolman pulls them over, but never suspects these college youths dressed like Tommy Hilfiger are packing LSD and marijuana. In Arizona, the bus gets bogged down in the sand by a river.
"I'm going to take some LSD," Mr. Kesey says. "Babbs could take some. Cassady, you want to take some?"
Mr. Cassady whispers, "I would, yes, I would."
A woman on her first acid trip swims in an algae-filled pool. Dogs and horses run by. Mr. Cassady returns with a farmer who pulls them to solid ground with a tractor.
In Houston, Mr. Kesey visits pal Larry McMurtry, and the Pranksters lose one of their number to a bad trip. In New Orleans, they jam with a piano player in a bar and get thrown out of a blacks-only beach.
Mr. Kesey is offering the film in video episodes there might be 10 in signed psychedelic boxes painted by him and Mr. Babbs on the motel bathroom's floor and sold on www.Intrepidtrips.com.
"We're the people who planted the seeds," Mr. Kesey said recently. "Whether it's artistically valid or not, we have to cultivate the crop."
Todd Gitlin, a New York University professor and author of "The Sixties," said the film won't add much to the historical record.
"Kesey was a force, and the bus trip, thanks to Tom Wolfe, took on mythic proportions," Mr. Gitlin said. As for the movie: "I would watch it if it was stuck in front of me."
But Aaron Kipnis, a professor of clinical psychology at Pacific Graduate Institute, said he is eager to check in with them again.
"I can't say whether it was the substance or the people, the environment or the time, but it moved me from being a street punk to being a spiritual seeker," he said.
"Instead of publishing words," he said, Mr. Kesey "published a way of being in the world."

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