Bombed Out of Their Gourds



This week, Taschen is publishing a new, photographic edition of Tom Wolfe’s 1968 classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Testfor which he embedded with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters for their transcontinental (and very psychotropically enhanced) bus tour. Printed in a limited run of 1,968 copies, the new edition features never-before-seen facsimile reproductions of Wolfe’s manuscript pages; excerpts from Ken Kesey’s jailhouse journals; handbills and ephemera from the period; and photo-essays from Lawrence Schiller and Ted Streshinsky, who covered “the acid scene” for Life magazine and the New York Herald Tribune, respectively.

Below are a few of the photos and documents from the book. Tomorrow evening, Tuesday, November 29, Wolfe will appear in conversation with Paul Holdengräber at the New York Public Library.

Original manuscript page for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, complete with Tom Wolfe’s doodles and corrections, ca. 1967. The author’s never-before-published manuscript pages appear as tip-ins throughout the book. Copyright: © 2016 and courtesy of Tom Wolfe.


Ted Streshinsky, San Francisco, color photograph, 1966. The multicolored Merry Pranksters’s modified 1939 International Harvester school bus, nicknamed “Further,” gleams in front of the Harriet Street warehouse after a thorough repainting before the Acid Test Graduation. Purchased in 1964 for fifteen hundred dollars, the bus was first used to ferry the Pranksters across the country to the New York World’s Fair. Credit: Ted Streshinsky Photographic Archive, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Lawrence Schiller, Me and My Shadow, black-and-white photograph, 1966. For the Flaming Lips’ lead singer, Wayne Coyne, who selected this photo for the cover of their album The Soft Bulletin, “the photo represents a person going into the unknown—the unknown within themselves.” Copyright: Photo by Lawrence Schiller © 2016 Polaris Communications Inc.

Pages from Ken Kesey’s jail journals, 1967. Rarities from the era including manuscripts, handbills, and magazines are reproduced in the Taschen edition of Wolfe’s counterculture classic. Copyright: Reproduced with permission from the Ken Kesey Estate.

Lawrence Schiller, black-and-white photograph, San Francisco, 1966. Although famous for phrases such as “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” Dr. Timothy Leary’s research was academic rather than recreational, and focused on LSD’s psychiatric and spiritual benefits. Copyright: Photographs by Lawrence Schiller © 2016 Polaris Communications Inc.

Ted Streshinsky, color photograph, 1966. A photo of the Acid Test Graduation, on Halloween night, held at the Merry Pranksters’s warehouse/headquarters on Harriet Street in San Francisco’s Skid Row area. All eyes are on Ken Kesey, spotlight shining on his bare back, as he pulls off his biggest prank of all: graduating from acid. Copyright: Photo by Ted Streshinsky © 2016 Estate of Ted Streshinsky.

Acid Test handbill, ca. 1966. Before the advent of music festivals and large outdoor counterculture gatherings, the recreational use of LSD was low profile and generally limited to small groups of friends in intimate settings or quiet, natural environments. It was also still entirely legal across the U.S. But all that was about to change when the antics of the Merry Pranksters’ exploding use of the drug hit the mainstream press. LSD was criminalized in California on October 6, 1966. The rest of the nation soon followed. Copyright: Courtesy the Richard Synchef Archive.

Lawrence Schiller, black-and-white photograph, Hollywood, 1966. A first-timer in the throes of a bad trip. “I experienced the desire to die, but not actual death,” she later said, “very strongly the desire to rip my skin off and pull my hair out and pull my face off.” As the first national photojournalist to capture the American acid scene from the inside, Lawrence Schiller began with a single contact in Berkeley, California, and built a large network of young, receptive subjects who allowed him to document their private experiences with LSD. Copyright: Photo by Lawrence Schiller © 2016 Polaris Communications Inc.

Life magazine, March 25, 1966. Lawrence Schiller photo-essay—six months in the making—served to introduce America to the sweeping new LSD epidemic. By the time Wolfe started working the story, the acid scene had become a scintillating subject for the mainstream media. Copyright: TAM Collection.

Original manuscript page for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, from Tom Wolfe’s archives, ca. 1966.