First Trips

January 20: On this day in 1966, Ken Kesey was released from a San Francisco jail after an overnight stay for marijuana possession. This allowed Kesey and a busload of Merry Pranksters to tour the city, trying to astound—Kesey wore his white jeans with HOT on the left backside, COLD on the right backside, and TIBET in the middle—and to advertise the Trips Festival beginning the next day. Regarded by the historians as a "seminal cultural event," or "the beginning of the sixties," or just a very good and very weird time, this inaugural three-day Trip promised "slides, movies, sound tracks, flowers, food, rock 'n' roll, eagle lone whistle, indians and anthropologists … nude projections, the God Box. The endless explosion. The Congress of Wonders, the Jazz Mice, liquid projections, etc. & the unexpectable." Lest this hand-bill description left any bases uncovered, organizers spread rumors that Allen Ginsberg, Marshall McLuhan, and many topless dancers would be in attendance. And perhaps they all were; the following is from Tom Wolfe's description of the event in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:

In fact, the heads are pouring in by the hundreds, bombed out of their gourds, hundreds of heads coming out into the open for the first time. It is like the time the Pranksters went to the Beatles concert in full costume, looking so bizarre and so totally smashed that no one could believe they were. Nobody would risk it in public like this. Well, the kids are just having an LSD experience without LSD, that's all, and this is what it looks like. A hulking crazed whirlpool. That's nice.

 

Lights and movies sweeping around the hall; five movie projectors going and God knows how many light machines, interferrometrics, the intergalactic science-fiction seas all over the walls, loudspeakers studding the hall all the way around like flaming chandeliers, strobes exploding, black lights with Day-Glo objects under them and Day-Glo paint to play with, street lights at every entrance flashing red and 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 dog whistles, 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.

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