January 20: On this day in 1966, Ken Kesey was released from a San Francisco jailafter an overnight stay for marijuana possession. This allowed Kesey and abusload of Merry Pranksters to tour the city, trying to astound—Kesey wore hiswhite jeans with HOT on the left backside, COLD on the right backside, andTIBET in the middle—and to advertise the Trips Festival beginning the next day.Regarded by the historians as a “seminal cultural event,” or “thebeginning of the sixties,” or just a very good and very weird time, thisinaugural three-day Trip promised “slides, movies, sound tracks, flowers,food, rock ‘n’ roll, eagle lone whistle, indians and anthropologists … nudeprojections, the God Box. The endless explosion. The Congress of Wonders, theJazz Mice, liquid projections, etc. & the unexpectable.” Lest thishand-bill description left any bases uncovered, organizers spread rumors thatAllen Ginsberg, Marshall McLuhan, and many topless dancers would be inattendance. And perhaps they all were; the following is from Tom Wolfe’sdescription of the event in The ElectricKool-Aid Acid Test:
In fact, the heads arepouring in by the hundreds, bombed out of their gourds, hundreds of headscoming out into the open for the first time. It is like the time the Pranksterswent to the Beatles concert in full costume, looking so bizarre and so totallysmashed that no one could believe they were. Nobody would risk it in publiclike this. Well, the kids are just having an LSD experience without LSD, that’sall, and this is what it looks like. A hulking crazed whirlpool. That’s nice.
Lights and movies sweepingaround the hall; five movie projectors going and God knows how many lightmachines, interferrometrics, the intergalactic science-fiction seas all overthe walls, loudspeakers studding the hall all the way around like flamingchandeliers, strobes exploding, black lights with Day-Glo objects under themand Day-Glo paint to play with, street lights at every entrance flashing redand yellow, two bands, the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company and a troop of weird girls in leotards leaping around the edges blowing dogwhistles, and the Pranksters.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.