Kesey And The Bus


August 17, 2011 by David Gillaspie


Flashback to 1964 and ask yourself if you’d get on a bus with thirteen others for five minutes.

If there’s no bulb in your flash, like you weren’t born yet, or were in grade school, review the times before you decide.

If you answer yes, and it’s the bus called FURTHER, then your five minutes wouldn’t get you out of the driveway before you ran out of gas. 

Would you take a six thousand mile trip from Oregon to New York City and back with the same bus load of people?

Doesn’t sound bad?

What if the organizer is a famous author of books about lunatics and loggers, and the driver a speed-rapping ghost from another era who drove a different author to the brink?

Still sound like a great notion? Then get your ticket punched and climb aboard.

In a game of Follow The Chief, the documentary that evolved from film shot on the first tie-dyed roadie, Magic Trip, we learn why it’s so difficult to watch a film about acid made by people on acid.

It’s clear from the beginning that directors Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney weren’t tripping when they put Magic Trip together.

Archival footage of the event reads as if the camera operators filmed while rolling down hills. They zoom in and out, pan every direction, creating the feeling you get after a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Maybe that’s what it felt like being on acid in 1964, but even the Merry Pranksters saw the difference between their film skills and what an audience expects to sit through.

The directors started their version of the first stoner roadie with stock images of the fifties; the well dressed housewife and her vacuum, the father figure and his pipe, as if to ask ‘What’s it take to break free of this mundane future?’

The answer for the twenty-nine year old Kesey was gather a bunch of people from the neighborhood, round up a few jugs of juice spiked with acid in uncertain potency, and hit the road.

Hilarity ensues, sort of.

Halfway through Magic Trip I started wondering about the difference between a trans-continental bus ride on weed and acid versus the same trip on whiskey and cigarettes. One means getting schooled on the arrival of the Psychadelic Era by the new teacher, the other might mean passing out in a pool of old-school vomit on your own.

By the end of the movie it was a wash.

If you’ve been cross country on a bus, you know the challenges. One guy takes off his shoes and the smell is no different than three day road kill melting in the hot sun; the guitar playing folkie who won’t give Joan Baez a rest; the five times married and five times divorced sailor hitting on every female between the ages of fifty and fifteen. 

Since the human funk of fourteen people living pristine lives on free range, organic chicken and vegetables grown in certified soil would be enough to stun the most discerning nose, imagine the blast coming off sweaty pre-hippies peaking on their astral plain. Even if you got used to the stench, you couldn’t make your eyes stop watering.

Magic Trip played at the Hollywood Theater in northeast Portland. Instead of a standing room only, sold-out opening, the early show brought more than enough older men flying their freak flag gray ponytails. They sat alone, sprinkled around the theater.

Closer to showtime couples arrived, young couples in batik print, natty dreds, and matching anklets; older couples in slacks and Hawaiian shirts. One group looked ready for Woodstock, the other ready for an early bird dinner.

After you see Magic Trip and lament missing the bus, don’t despair. You can still plan the experience on your to-do list.

Book a seat on Green Tortoise. You’ll take the same route as Magic Trip, see the sights, and come back no worse for wear. If you think making such a trip would be an exercise in repetition, it’s not.

Every journey is unique to every traveler.

Your cross country trip could include a Kesey inspired soundtrack and video.


One thought on “Kesey And The Bus

  1. lazarusdodge says:

    Ha! Just heard an interview with Robert Stone where he talked about those days on the bus – picked up his memoir “Prime Green” and just getting into it. During the interview spoke of meeting Neil Cassady and Jack Kerouac, those other fellow travelers who I fell in love with after devouring Kerouac’s On The Road back in the late 60’s.

    Would I have done it? Looking back at where I was, who I was, and what chances I would take, yep, in a New York minute. But minus the acid – as Tim Leary said not everyone can be an astronaut. I would’ve washed out of the program. Couldn’t even get into Carlos Castaneda.

    Who knows – maybe I would’ve gotten a chance to drive the bus!

    – Jeff

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