I'd forgotten about the tape, of course, the tape I'd ordered and received from Kesey's Intrepid Trips in Oregon after reading about it in the Chronicle. I'd paid the invoice, a hopeless mis folded Xeroxed sheet of paper with a send to address and $29 scrawled across the face, no return envelope, nothing to indicate when they received it who'd sent the payment. How were they to know I'd sent them their money? Perhaps these things work themselves out. Perhaps this is Prankster space and regular rules don't apply. Perhaps.
The first of the Prankster tapes. A first look, thirty years later, at the Merry Prankster's journey from San Francisco to meet Leary in New York, tripping with Kesey and Cassady and Babbs on the bus. The stuff of legend. It turns out better, I discover, than I had any right to hope. They have done actual editing and added a music track and off the wall psychedelic commentary that is reasonably comprehensible. I am thinking I should go out and buy that new television set to see what it looks like in color.
When I got out of the army in 1969, Baumgart and I drove down to San Miguel de Allende because Baumgart
had spent some months down there on a drinking binge the year before and recommended the local band of ex-patriots and because we'd both learned that Neal Cassady, the model for Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road and more recently the Prankster's resident lunatic, the driver of the mystical now mythical bus, the mad speed redeemer, the plug that had sparked the Beat Generation itself, had staggered out of that very town one night in the middle of winter and promptly died of exposure on the railroad tracks. A reason sufficient in and of itself to make the journey, to drive to Mexico in a Volkswagen bus in that summer of 1969 after I'd gotten out of the army, to see these places and people we'd only until then been reading about.
Kesey's trip, the Prankster's trip, seemed to run on something called LSD. We needed to know about this LSD, Baumgart and I, proto Bohemians both. Other generations had had their own drugs and initiations. With Hemingway it had been booze and war and grit your teeth in the face of bullets and something about Matadors and the killing of farm animals. What did we know? With the Beats is was speed, booze and marijuana. Now hippies had added LSD. I'd missed a war through pure dumb luck for which I was then and am now eternally grateful. Marijuana I'd tried with some success. LSD I'd experimented with, but so far with little result. Music, long hair, Rolling Stone, Ramparts, the underground press, Comix, the Beatles and LSD: They all fit together somehow and Kesey was the out front leader of the pack example, the writer in residence, the key. And this, thirty years later, is the legendary chronicle itself, tape one, more tapes to follow, $29, including tax.
I have no desire to wish myself back to wangle a place on that bus. LSD is one of those adventures that requires maybe a couple of days of quiet time in warm surroundings after it's over so you can reel back those pieces that may have wandered off and gotten lost in the Cosmic Giggle. Sometimes two days isn't enough. Spending a month on a psychedelic bus with a bunch of crazies on some weird journey into the deep south at the height of the Civil Rights Movement swacked on LSD, one and all seems, um, extreme. Thirty years later.
By the way, should anyone else out there buy this tape, $29, cleverly packaged? Maybe. I suspect you already know. For those of you who have some experience with the Pranksters and their various iterations over the years, it's better than you expect. For those of you who don't, it isn't.