Flashbacks: Ken Kesey’s CIA-Sponsored Acid Trip

The new documentary Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place chronicles the  hallucinogenic adventures of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they rode the Magic Bus across America in 1964. The bus driver was none other than Neal Cassidy, the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. The saga was immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s best-seller The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

NPR Fresh Air marks the film’s release with archival interviews with Ken Kesey (1989), Tom Wolfe (1987), and Robert Stone (2007).

Kesey explains how his first LSD trip happened when he joined a research study at Stanford University in 1959:

I’d never been drunk on beer, you know, let alone done any drugs. But this is the American government. They said, come in here. We’ve just discovered this new spot of space, and we want somebody to go up there and look it over, and we don’t want to do it. We want to hire you students. And I was one of 140 or so that eventually turned out. It was CIA-sponsored.

I didn’t believe it for a long time. Well, Allen Ginsberg says, you know who was paying for that? It was the CIA. I said aw, no Allen, you’re just paranoid. But he finally got all the darn records, and it did turn out the CIA was doing this. And it wasn’t being done to try to cure insane people, which is what we thought. It was being done to try to make people insane – to weaken people, and to be able to put them under the control of interrogators.

We didn’t find this out for 20 years. And by that time the government had said OK, stop that experiment. All these guinea pigs that we’ve sent up there into outer space, bring them back down and don’t ever let them go back in there again because we don’t like the look in their eyes. Listen/read more

Author Ken Kesey poses in 1997 with his bus, "Further," a descendant of the vehicle that carried Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on the 1964 trip immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Kesey, who died in 2001, is the subject of the new documentary Magic Trip. [Source: Jeff Barnard/AP/NPR]
Author Ken Kesey poses in 1997 with his bus, “Further,” a descendant of the vehicle that carried Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on the 1964 trip immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Kesey, who died in 2001, is the subject of the new documentary Magic Trip. [Source: Jeff Barnard/AP/NPR]

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