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Life Arts

Visions of Kesey

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When morning for Monday, August 8, 2011, arrives on America's East Coast, the financiers will have already coped with their response to the Asian stock markets, the military will be replying to the weekend's helicopter attack in Afghanistan, and the President will be meeting with his advisors to implement the Obama Administration response to the credit downgrade.   Voters in the USA will be visiting various web sites to learn the political pundits explanation for and analysis of last week's news and that will be one step behind the playing out of this week's reality and so the curious citizens might just as well be reading a subjective response to one of the new movies that opened this past weekend and by a remarkable co-inky-dink that is what this column contains.

The film "Magic Trip" contains home movies made by novelist Ken Kesey of a cross country trip he and his acolytes made in 1964 to visit the New York World's Fair.   The 16 mm home movies, almost 50 years old, used to provide the bulk of the movie's images, may provide an inadvertent and very accurate prediction of what the USA would be like in the summer of 2011.

Ostensibly the documentary provides a nostalgia laden look back at a more innocent time when the USA was poised to grow and prosper and provide workers with a consumer's paradise full of mod clothes, exciting new music, and inexpensive travel opportunities.   Unfortunately a closer look at the adventures of the Merry Pranksters may provide a metaphor for the dazed and confused America that is trying to figure out why their own government social services must be eliminated to provide a balanced budget that will permit the continuation of some capricious and perplexing military adventures in far away lands.

The film starts with the shot of a microphone which provides film aficionados with a visual pun that refers back to promotional material made for "Citizen Kane."  

Successful novelist Ken Kesey (who was enjoying success from "One Flew Over the Cookoos' Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion") spent some money in early 1964, to acquire a 1939 International Harvester bus that had been transformed into a rolling dormitory room.   He envisioned using it to take his friends on a quest for an insightful movie about their journey.   The group of road acolytes were accompanied by Neal Cassidy who had already achieved fame as Jack Kerouac's on the road traveling buddy.

What the movie actually shows is a group of social misfits and goof-balls lurching through a series of travel disasters, a string of social faux pas, several encounters with American Literary legends Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, an anticlimactic visit to the World Fair, a bumbling inept visit to Timothy Leary's estate, a series of numerous dispensations from their marriage vows, a return to the West Coast and coping with their leader's jail term which was (magically?) truncated by a promise to denounce the use of the growing popularity of the experimental psychedelic drug called LSD.

Is the Tea Bag movement the political equivalent of LSD for conservatives?

The new century has seen the USA become embroiled in questionable examples of democracy in action, a series of unprovoked wars, an imitation of Hitler's distain for the Geneva Convention rules of war, the principles America established at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, and the standard American dream of a home surrounded by a white picket fence going into foreclosure.  

Simultaneously, America has turned on Fox News, tuned into the Republican talking points and dropped out of being well informed about political issues.

When the USA bombs Libya constantly for more than four months to protect its citizens from their leader of forty years at the same time that the President turns his back on the Syrians who are being shot down like rabid dogs in the street, no responsible political pundit takes notice of the dichotomy.  

Why should they?   Aren't they being paid to reassure the voters that the radioactive sites in Japan, the economic turmoil, the endless wars, the unexplainable election upsets, and the rapidly dwindling 401K accounts are no cause for alarm?   Chill out, dude!   You're just having a bad trip.  

After seeing "Magic Trip," we went to the Berkeley Public Library and borrowed a copy of Tom Wolfe's book, "The Elecgtric Cool-aid Acid Test," which was about what happened to Kesey's posse

The book is highly regarded as a pioneering example of gonzo journalism, which was the label given to the trend in journalism whereby the writers injected themselves into the story they were covering.   From the vantage point of more than forty years later, the tone of the beginning of the book is more like a sales pitch at the entrance of a freak show.   Wolfe provides the ordinary folk with an alter ego for a journey into the land of pathetic drug fiends.  

Will he actually drop acid later in the book?   Perhaps, as the long hot summer of 2011 continues to play out, we will have a chance to finish reading the Acid Test book and write a column on its efforts to be a valid example of gonzo journalism.

Wolfe's newspaper article and subsequent book anointed the Merry Pranksters to a high level of fame and notoriety.   Perhaps with some lucrative book deals some influential future historians will be able to depict the summer of 2011 as a time full of warm and fuzzy sentimentality when folks walked out of their recently foreclosed homes and went off in search of their inner Woody Guthrie?  

Wasn't the Great Depression chock full of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, Amos "n' Andy radio shows, and Black Mask magazines that were just so much fun?   Won't the future look back at this summer with so much envy because they will have to settle for a vicarious participation in the antics?  

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BP graduated from college in the mid sixties (at the bottom of the class?) He told his draft board that Vietnam could be won without his participation. He is still appologizing for that mistake. He received his fist photo lesson from a future (more...)
 

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