The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

September 3, New York: A good book is like a drug, it alters your perception for the time in which you read it, becomes a new lens through which you see the world. I’ve had this realization a few times during this project, with different analogies— with The Invisibles, for example: a good book is like a spell cast over you. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip

As a youth, reading this book was the first time I understood that there were people who took drugs to experiment with reality, not just because they were burnouts or addicts. School had taught me the Nancy Reagan doctrine (we had a DARE program, of course) and the kids at my high school who were publicly into acid were kind of the worst. Yet, here’s this moment in history where a different thing was happening.

As an adult, it was interesting to read this book immediately after On the Road; that was a “synchronicity” I’d not experienced the first time around. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is almost a cultural sequel. Kerouac launches the beat generation, Kesey and a bunch of beats launch the hippie generation. You see the changes to San Francisco: North Beach gets hip post Kerouac and the priced-out beatniks head out to the Haight. And so many of the characters overlap. Kerouac himself drops into a scene as the now-famous novelist. Allen Ginsberg shows up to a few parties, including to the famous one with the Hell’s Angels. Hunter S. Thompson is around and working, and oh, hello very young and still very enterprising Stewart Brand!

And who should be painted all across the pages but Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty? He is an early Prankster and with them through the end, he is the God-touched driver of the psychedelic bus who is the only human who can live his life at the limit of 1/30th of a second delay from reality to perception of reality. He cuts as memorable of a performance across these pages as well as Kerouac’s. Reading these two books back to back made it seem like I was reading Cassady’s biography across time. From his intellectual awakening through to his role as a hammer-tossing semi-divinity in his own right.

Blow your own mind and buy a copy of The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

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