Exclusive Interview: Psychedelic Pioneer, Author, Acid Tests Graduate & Original Merry Prankster KEN BABBS discusses his life, work, recollections of Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, Timothy Leary, and more

Exclusive Interview: Psychedelic Pioneer, Author, Acid Tests Graduate & Original Merry Prankster KEN BABBS discusses his life, work, recollections of Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, Timothy Leary, and more

Ken Babbs Reddit AMA

 

Ken Babbs Reddit AMA

Fri, December 4th, 2020

10:30am PT/ 1:30pm EST

https://www.reddit.com/r/gratefuldead/comments/jmloej/announcement_ask_me_anything_with_very_special/

 

 

The only true currency is that of the spirit.”-Ken Kesey

Furthur.

Ken Babbs. What a guy! This soon to be 85-year-old Merry Prankster lives on a 10-acre farm in the small, rural town of Dexter, Oregon along Lost Creek, a tributary of the Willamette River.

Babbs is still a Prankster and still boldly subjecting his endurance to unique irritations like recently answering 100 questions from a plucky sprat wordsmith who’s pieced together a rickety quasi-mythic collage of the psychedelic 1960’s while basking in the dual luxuries of 20-20 hindsight and internet access.

Writer, humorist, humanitarian, musician, athlete, Midwest native, former chopper pilot in Vietnam, Babbs is a wonderfully multi-dimensional character who is best known for co-creating the now legendary phenomenon of The Merry Pranksters.

 

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Led by literary college buddies Ken Kesey and his best friend and co-pilot, Ken Babbs, the Merry Pranksters were a core group of 14 people who helped give birth to the psychedelic counterculture in the mid-1960’s.

There was the Beat Generation, then the Pranksters, then the Hippies. Neal Cassady was the living link between the Beats and the Pranksters.

These cosmic jesters had japes aplenty. There was the core group and an extended family of peripheral associates. Just reading a list of Prankster nicknames will make you chuckle: Intrepid Traveler (Babbs), Swashbuckler (Kesey), Zonker, Hassler, Sometimes Missing, Gretchen Fetchin the Slime Queen, Captain Trips, Space Daisy, Mountain Girl, Barely There, Lord Byron Styrofoam, Doris Delay, Cadaverous Cowboy, Mary Microgram, Sensuous X, June the Goon, Marge the Barge, Dis-Mount, Mal Function, etc.

One of the most well-known adventures of the Sixties, the Merry Pranksters two month long, cross-country bus trip from June-August 1964 symbolized the searching, mind-expanding spirit of the Sixties and is the adventure that kicked off the Psychedelic Sixties.

They crammed into a psychedelically painted bus named ‘Furthur’ and filmed their zig-zagging journey from La Honda, California to “Madhattan” New York and back. Along the way, amid hallucinogenic hijinks, the Pranksters (and the bus) all blended into one rollicking amorphous organism spreading cheer, humor, kindness, and good-natured mayhem to the unsuspecting citizens of America.

Merry Pranksters (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Fueled by orange juice laced with LSD (which was still legal until October 1966), the Pranksters would stop in various cities, dress up their alter ego’s in weird clothing, play music and join people in their fluffy cozy web of institutionally-induced conformity coma. Synchronizing into a communal group consciousness, the Pranksters unsnarled uptightness and gave joy to of all forms of exploration: neurocognitive, geographic, interpersonal, multi-media, etc.

After the bus trip, the Pranksters began throwing Acid Test parties in the Bay Area of California. At an Acid Test, you would drink LSD-laced kool aid, dance to the Grateful Dead playing music live, watch Prankster home movies and engage in assorted shenanigans amongst dayglo painted everything, strobe lights, and smiles galore. There would also be the liquid light show going on, using a technique pioneered by Prankster Roy Sebern (he was also the guy who named the bus Furthur), using an overhead projector with changing cellophanes and liquid oil.

The Grateful Dead started off as a Palo Alto jug band with Bob Weir on washtub bass and Jerome “Jerry” Garcia on the banjo. They were called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, then they changed their name to The Warlocks and became the official Acid Test houseband before finally morphing into The Grateful Dead as electric rock & roll instruments transformed the musical landscape.

Everything the Pranksters stood for and promoted was geared towards generating fully joyful experiences. Blasting open those hidden vaults of your own mind, unlocking positive thinking, traversing new unexplored dimensions of your being, and accessing higher levels of reality beyond the usual mundane ordinary everydayness.

It had the flavor of a traveling circus of the mind and a sort of raw, universal quality to it. They personified the multi-colored living in the moment NOW spirit of the Sixties. Bold and inventive, the Merry Pranksters, were the ones who really, truly, unintentionally, popularized psychedelic culture on a large, global scale.

Prankster Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Babbs and company were the focus of ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ (published August 1968), a superb in-depth tale of the Pranksters written by journalist Tom Wolfe, who never rode on the bus himself.

Although the Pranksters were early LSD proponents, the role of drugs in general has been over-magnified. Yes, the late Sixties youth culture was drenched in LSD from a veritable free flowing melting neon tap of acid but what was really at the forefront was the powerfully deep yearning amongst young people to increase their mindfulness, kindness and creativity. A line from The Bardo Thodol says “Everything can be transformed to limitlessly positive configurations” and that ethos was one of the main driving forces of the counterculture.

The impossibility of distilling the Prankster experience into words creates a hilarious paradox. The more ultra uber transformatively fantastic something is, the harder it is to accurately describe.

But Ken Babbs, whom due to his historical figure status over the decades becoming an almost fictional comic book type character himself, is gonna give it a whirl.

KEN BABBS BIO

Gretchen Fetchin and Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“My family has been in Ohio for a long time. Our ancestry is English, Scottish, Irish, German. I have nine kids. Was married three times. Had four, four, and one.”

“I grew up 30 miles east of Cleveland in Mentor, Ohio on Lake Erie. Used to call it ‘minor Cedar Point on the lake’. They had a roller rink, bowling alley, dancehall where one side was underage and the other side was for drinking age. Going there only cost a dime!”

“Fortunately, my parents accepted me being a Merry Prankster. We were never on the outs. Although, I’m sure they often found themselves wondering what happened to this All-American Boy?”

“In the past 55 years, what questions haven’t I been asked? Have I had venereal disease?” (laughs)

Ken Babbs & Neal Cassady on the Pranksters bus c. 1964 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“Oh man, the way things have been going, things are so crazy, gonna get crazier probably. Question of what’s next? In terms of global scale, this is the absolute craziest I’ve ever seen things in my lifetime. This whole Covid pandemic lockdown isolation experience forces you to dip into your creativity.”

“There’s been such a huge change from the 1960’s to now. There’s more people and everything has expanded exponentially. I love watching the faces of the world. We may totally fuck up and destroy the Earth, who knows? Need to look to space to get a good perspective on life. Best thing we’ve done lately is we got a puppy 4-5 months ago. Taking care of this creature living with us has been tremendous.”

“San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 60’s were halcyon. Hard to describe, you had to be there for the experience. As things change in life, one day’s fad is another day’s antique. Shit happens but the 60’s live on.”

“The Pranksters, the Sixties, we’re talking about myth, which is made up of everybody’s contribution to the myth. You don’t want to refute anything, just add your own version. The Sixties will be a mountain of myth. 2,000 years from now some Homer-esque historian scribe will put it all together.”

Babbs comes to Detroit

Grateful Dead at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom (December 01, 1968)

“I’ve been to Detroit once.”

“I was in Ohio at my uncle’s and Jerry Garcia called me saying the Grateful Dead would be playing Detroit (December 1st, 1968 @ the Grande Ballroom). So I got in my car and drove up there. Great show, then we all partied at a hotel downtown afterwards with Jerry, Pigpen and the gang.”

 

On The Art of Writing

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“I used to write daily. Mostly journaling, thoughts, poetry. Still write frequently. My Vietnam novel Who Shot the Water Buffalo was published a few years ago. Also, recently wrote a big book called ‘Cronies’ which is about Kesey, Cassady, and Prankster adventures but can’t find a publisher for it. Might just self-publish.”

“I co-authored The Last Go Round with Kesey in 1994.”

“A recent chapbook, ‘We Were Arrested’ is about the April 23, 1965 bust at Kesey’s La Honda home. You can buy the chapbook on my Facebook page.”

Ken Babbs-We Were Arrested

“I have piles of manuscripts. No shortage of material. I will soon be publishing a book called ‘7 Poems of Ken Babbs’.”

“In terms of what I like to read, I’m mostly into fiction, works of imagination. At the time I graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1957, Kerouac published ‘On the Road’ and the free form jazz-like flow of his writing had a tremendous influence on me.”

“Plus, my mother was a librarian. My dad was a newspaper editor. I grew up in a literary household reading Faulkner, Hemingway. There’s a great book called ‘The Way West’ by AB Guthrie Jr. I also love fiction adventure stories, detective stuff. Michael Connelly does some great stuff. There’s so many great writers today.”

Ken Babbs-Cronies

Order Ken Babbs books directly from Ken here

www.skypilotclub.com

 

 

Comic Books

Kesey and I both loved comic books. Our favorite character was The Spirit.”

“Comics are great. What we loved about Sixties Marvel comics was the heroes were always fighting against bad guys for noble ideals like rights and justice. Kesey and I had both been into comics since we were kids.”

“My dad thought comic books were trash, just a mind rotting waste of time. But not me, I loved them. Kesey even wanted to be a comic strip artist at one point.”

 

Experiences in Vietnam

Ken Babbs Vietnam (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Babbs served in the US Marine Corps from May 1959-1963. He trained in Quantico, Virginia, then attended flight school in Pensacola, Florida where he learned to fly choppers. He moved to San Juan Capistrano, CA and was stationed at nearby Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine before shipping off to Vietnam. While in Nam, he flew a Sikorsky H-34D “Dawg” in the Delta and Da Nang and wrote a novel called ‘Who Shot the Water Buffalo’ which was finally published in 2011. You can buy it on his Facebook page.

“The entire experience I had in Vietnam was completely insane. It was still early in the war, I was flying the chopper, we were supplying troops. It was a beautiful country. Within a few weeks in country it was obvious that us being there was a ridiculous waste of time and resources.”

The government always has to have an enemy that they can rouse the people against. Generals want to play with their toys, the big bombs and the fun guns.”

Vietnam domino theory (courtesy of Google Archives)

“In Nam they had the Domino Theory. First Vietnam will fall, then the Philippines, then Hawaii, then suddenly the dirty Reds will be in San Francisco having babies. The Red Horde will be at your door before you know it!”

Still have my leather flight jacket.”

“The Pranksters and my Nam buddies never got together but I’ve had great experiences with both groups. Beautiful thing as you get older, all your experiences are the sum of who you are right now. Just incorporate those experiences into your being. We’re all material beings, we’re not angels. As such, we’re fucking up all the time. Over time, your fuck-ups become your best stories.”

Sikorsky H-34D in Vietnam

 

Babbs at Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969, the Pranksters attend Woodstock music festival along with an estimated 400,000 people at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Mistakenly anticipating violence and chaos, the police were shocked at how courteous and well-behaved the attendees ended up being. There were so many people that there was a perpetual 9-mile long traffic jam. Of the 5,000 reported medical incidents, 800 were drug related. Hog Farmer Wavy Gravy was the official head of security of “the please force.”

“Woodstock was pivotal. It was a wonderful, momentous scene and experience in American History. During times of turmoil, awful times, the magic and people living the good life, helping each other, keeps the American spirit alive. Woodstock was a celebration of collaboration among the peace-loving people.”

“I was hired by Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm to help out. We took 4 buses and about 40 people from Ken Kesey’s farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and headed some 2,900 miles over to Woodstock in Bethel, New York.”

“Some of us Pranksters had our musical instruments. Across the hill from the main stage, we had the free stage. At one point I was on the main stage with the Grateful Dead. But mostly I was either helping out at the Freak Out tent or playing music on the free stage. I kept a very detailed journal of that amazing experience and should probably release it as a book.”

 

Memories of Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey on the Merry Pranksters bus (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs were best friends. Kesey was a groomsman at Babbs wedding in 1959. Kesey then volunteered to take mind-altering drugs at the local Menlo Park VA hospital later that year. He didn’t know it at the time but this was part of the CIA’s clandestine MK-Ultra project. He fictionalized his experiences in the instant bestseller ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962). Couple years later he moved to a large house (7940 La Honda rd, La Honda, CA) on 3 acres in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest. This became the HQ of the Merry Pranksters where spontaneous happenings would be attended by Hunter S. Thompson and the Hells Angels. In early 1966, Kesey was busted for marijuana, faked his death and became a fugitive in Mexico. He did time at a prison work farm called the Honor Camp (7546 Alpine rd, La Honda, CA) which was hilariously located only 1 mile SE of his house, practically in his backyard. After that he moved up to a farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and the rest is history.

Oh, God, so many great times and fun memories of Kesey!

“We met at Stanford University in the Graduate Writing program. We hit it off right away in grad school. He lived nearby on Perry Lane (9 Perry Lane, Palo Alto, CA), which was a collection of cottages. Block parties were frequent. Kesey was a social force. He’d written an entire novel called ‘Zoo’ before we even got to Stanford.”

Ken Kesey at a Pranksters Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“He had also been a wrestler at the University of Oregon.”

“One time he hurt his shoulder. He had shown me some wrestling moves and we both signed up to compete. They wouldn’t let him participate but I did and he became my coach and mentor for that experience. My first opponent was this big red headed guy. Kesey said ‘I’m gonna teach you a trick. This is called the Telephone Takedown. When the match starts, make a big noise and commotion, make it look like you’re answering an invisible ringing telephone. Then when the guy is confused, dive, flip and pin him’. So, I took Kesey’s advice. The match starts, I do what he said to do. The red headed guy looks at me, steps back, throws me over and pins me in two seconds flat. And the sonofabitch broke my tooth, I spit it out!”

“Kesey started off as a magician. He had a ventriloquist dummy named Blinky. In his hometown of Eugene, Oregon, he would do shows on Saturday’s at the movies. In between movies, he would come out and do his magic and ventriloquism and he was great, very captivating. He was also fond of sleight of hand coin tricks. He’d be expertly pulling coins out of people’s ears and noses.”

Ken Kesey (photo by Jerry De Wile)

“I remember in the 90’s when Kesey and I were traveling around the country performing our play ‘Twister’, Kesey would bring his ventriloquist doll Blinky out.”

“Kesey had a pet parrot named Rumiako. Man, that thing could crack macadamia nuts.”

The story about Kesey’s involvement with the LSD test monkey’s is a bunch of bullshit. That was some guy down on the coast. Kesey was not involved with releasing them into the wilds of La Honda.”

 

Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

During the Pranksters bus trip, they stopped at Millbrook in upstate New York, home of psychedelic Harvard exile Dr. Tim Leary.

Leary had the flu, so we didn’t see him until leaving. He said he was sorry. We were on the same wavelength and we became really good pals shortly after that.”

Timothy Leary & Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady at the jukebox (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady was a constantly on the go historical literary character who was intimately involved in both the Beat Generation in mid-1940’s New York when he linked up with Jack Kerouac and also the Merry Pranksters when he drove the Furthur bus in the mid-1960’s. From the mid-50’s onward, Cassady lived periodically in Los Gatos, CA until his mysterious death in Mexico in 1968, some 2,000 miles south of home.

“I first met Neal Cassady on the Prankster bus in 1964. Took a while for us to get acquainted. He called me a “tourist” (haha).”

Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“Super guy. He was the living link between the Beat Generation and the Merry Pranksters. He was a very rambunctious, energetic, knowledgeable person. Very intelligent. He was like our elder Uncle.”

“Cassady was also the very first sales clerk at the Hip Pocket bookstore. That was Ron Bevirt and Peter Demma’s store in Santa Cruz. Bevirt’s Prankster name was Hassler

 

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson circa 1967 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Hunter Thompson was the famous Gonzo journalist from Louisville. In the 60’s he lived at 318 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco. Over the years, his work has become tremendously influential, especially the seminal ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas‘ (1971).

“Oh man, Hunter was a great guy. Lucky to get to know him. We need his acerbic wit today, right now.”

“One time in the early 70’s he wrote a story about the Marathon in Honolulu, for some running magazine. He couldn’t finish the article so the editors flew him to Eugene, Oregon and put him up in a motel. He had locked himself in a bathroom. Paul Perry got him out of there by calling me because Hunter had asked for me to get him some weed. Thompson comes out of there and lights a string of firecrackers right in the room. So I get him the pot, and he finished the article. He’s getting ready to leave. Kesey and I are outside in Kesey’s car, waiting. Then Hunter comes out. He’s standing by the car door in his white shorts, white shoes, white shirt. As we pull away, Kesey lights a long string of firecrackers and throws it at Hunter’s feet! He’s dancing around as we pull off laughing.”

 

Ken Babbs on The Merry Pranksters

Merry Pranksters bus Furthur (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“The Merry Pranksters came together through divine planning. And the labels just happen. Deadheads are followers of The Grateful Dead. The Beats were named by John Clellon Holmes. The media came up with the label Hippies. I came up with the name Merry Pranksters spontaneously, naturally. This was not an intentional calculation whatsoever.”

Early 1964, after hanging out at San Gregorio Beach, we were all back at La Honda around the campfire when I was goofing around and said: ‘Tis I, the Intrepid Traveler, who has come to meet his Merry band of Pranksters across the country in the reverse order of the pioneers. We won’t blow up their buildings, we’ll blow their minds!’.

“I’ve told that story about 6 million times. Good stories do not get old.”

Initially, we were going to take my station wagon, a 1958 Ford, but instead we bought the bus right as our group grew, and we took the bus instead.”

Merry Pranksters on the bus. Ken Babbs (lower right, striped shirt). Ken Kesey (up top in the porkpie hat playing the flute) (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“Kesey and I were tired of writing on the manual typewriter. We were tape recording. We’d lie on the floor at night and rap stories onto tapes. Problem with that method is afterwards you have to spend too much time listening to it.”

“Then (George) Walker bought a 16mm movie camera, so we started filming everything.”

(Mike) Hagen saw the ad for the bus. It was located in Atherton. He and Kesey went to pick it up. Kesey sunk his money into the bus and the trip to Madhattan and back and the cost of filming the movie. Other than that, everyone chipped in what money they could and we did plenty of shows and performances which we got paid for.”

“On the trip, our very first prank was in Arizona. Barry Goldwater was a senator in Arizona and we drove through his hometown. Painted a sign ‘A Vote for Barry is a Vote for Fun!’ He was pro Vietnam. His actual philosophy was summed up in his phrase, ‘Nuke the Gook’.

Merry Prankster Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Prankster nicknames were created in the moment spontaneously as the bus trip unfolded. Ron Bevirt became ‘The Equipment Hassler‘, which was just shortened to Hassler. This was because every morning he would be rooting around in a drawer for things.”

“The Prankster movie was about interacting. We’d stop at a gas station somewhere and people would flock to the bus. We’d get out with our musical instruments and movie camera and help turn it into a fun thing. This happened everywhere we went. NYC was the climax of the trip. It was like we were a moving theater and the random people we encountered were the audience, they didn’t have a choice.”

We would balance intentionality and spontaneity. The intentionality is shooting the movie. Being spontaneous is having no script whatsoever. We were making it up as we went along.”

“The whole Prankster thing was about being open, friendly, creative, artistic, kind. Instead of participating in violence of any kind, take another path to keep the tranquility alive.”

Merry Pranksters bus with observation bubble (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

The Grateful Dead

UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1965: Photo of Grateful Dead when they started playing as the Warlocks (Photo by Paul Ryan)

“We became friends with them before they were even called The Warlocks.”

“They played our 1965 Halloween party at my house in Soquel. Wonderful group.”

 

LSD: The Merry Prankster’s Acid Test Parties

Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Merry Pranksters threw legendary LSD events from Fall 1965 to Spring 1966. This sort of gathering they dubbed an Acid Test, a reference to how a psychedelic chemical would test the strength and pureness of your being. An informal precursor to the official Acid Tests took place on Halloween night 1965 at Ken Babbs house ‘The Spread’ (Soquel Dr and Dover Dr, Soquel, CA). Then on November 27, 1965, the first official Acid Test also took place there. Since it was only advertised by limited word of mouth and a flyer at the local Hip Pocket Bookstore in Santa Cruz, the turnout was small compared to the thousands of attendees who would swarm future Acid Tests. The Pranksters went on to throw dozens of Acid Tests at various locations until the final Acid Test graduation at San Fran’s Winterland Ballroom on Halloween night 1966.

Pranksters LSD was put into orange juice, kool aid, and let me see, oh yeah, elephant piss! (laughs).”

LSD helped blow out the old imprints. You should keep the great ones but don’t get too hung up on old ideas. Make sure you let in some new stuff continually.”

We took LSD in whatever form the doctor prescribed. We ate mushrooms. Nitrous might have even been popular but it wasn’t always pretty.”

Ken Babbs at the Merry Pranksters Trips Festival (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD was cheap enough back then, you could trade it for a pound of hash oil. Last time I took acid? 1866 or was it the Greco Roman war?

All psychedelics and drugs should be legalized.”

The original Acid Test movie reels, the raw 45 hours of 16mm film are now in a vault in L.A.

Paul Foster, a fellow Prankster, created the acid test poster, it was printed at a local shop.”

Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)

Tom Wolfe the journalist was never on the bus. Great guy and great writer though.”

“His book Electric Kool Aid Acid Test was going to be made into a movie by Gus Van Sant but the project got shelved because a satisfactory screenplay never materialized.”

“We need Pranksters now. We need humor and off the wall happenings. The real battle is in minds between malevolent and benevolent thoughts, doing good or bad things. Don’t fight them. Just make a concentrated effort to grow your benevolent thoughts.”

Merry Pranksters Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Ken Babbs Final Thoughts

Ken Babbs with Kesey’s parrot Rumiako (photo by Jerry De Wilde)

What’s a good way to prank a Prankster?

Ask him 95 ridiculous questions.”

 

General advice for young people?

“Follow your bliss. You need a daytime job to pay for your nighttime creative fun. As you go through life, make this your goal. Follow the donut, not the hole. Be kind.”

 

Caution: Weird Load.

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Facebook

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Skypilot Club Homepage (order Ken’s books from him directly here)

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Email Ken Babbs

kapn@skypilot.com

Poem by Ken Babbs

Everything in a Aristotelian world

is in chronological order

but in a quantum physical

Einsteinian universe

everything is happening

all at once and we had

that experience when doing acid.

He was dyslexic, insomniac, agnostic,

woke up crying, Is there no dog?

No dog. What? No dog?

Does the universe end with a whine

and not a bark?

The wolf howled

and a heavy fog

held the cold

like a frozen blanket

juices were flowing

and the sap was rising

as spring awakened

from winter’s sleep.

We was swamped,

deluged, flooded

got muddy feet, the swamp lily,

now that was immaculate.

“Don’t eat when you’re angry,”

Cassady said, “No one

was ever happy, angry.”

—- Ken Babbs

 

Merry Pranksters & Assorted Psychedelic Timeline

NOTE: this is a raw, unpolished timeline compiled from my research notes. I approach interviews like doing detective work and always try to assemble a timeline for story coherence. Thought I’d include it since it might be a helpful resource to others. Cheers! Ryan

January 14th, 1936-Ken Babbs is born in Ohio

1938-LSD synthesized by Dr. Albert Hoffman @ Sandoz Lab (Basel, Switzerland)

1939-Al Hinkle and Neal Cassady, both 12, meet in Denver at a YMCA gym circus class

April 19, 1943-Dr. Albert Hoffman unintentionally takes the world’s first acid trip

1946-47-Neal Cassady moves to NYC, meets Jack Kerouac

1949-Dr. Max Rinkel brings LSD from Sandoz Labs in Switzerland to the USA, Boston

1951-Dr. Nicholas Bercel, a neurophysiologist at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) supposedly becomes the first American to experience LSD

1951-Dr. Humphry Osmond moves from London, England to Saskatchewan, Canada. He begins testing the therapeutic effects of LSD on schizophrenics and alcoholics at Weyburn Mental Hospital.

1951-Neal’s son John Cassady is born @ 29 Russell st, San Fran; Kerouac also lived here for a bit; Carolyn Cassady took the famous photo of them across the street

1953-CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb buys the entire known world supply of LSD so the CIA can conduct mind-control experiments with it, thus kicking off the MK-Ultra Project

1953-City Lights books opens in SanFran, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A plucky young sci-fi novelist, Philip K. Dick, is a frequent customer.

Dr. Albert Hofmann (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

1954-Dr. Gottlieb starts Operation Midnight Climax where the CIA gives unsuspecting customers of prostitutes LSD inside a house (225 Chestnut Street, SanFran) so they can study their behavior

1954-68-the Hungry I nightclub in San Fran

1954-Neal Cassady buys house in Los Gatos (18231 Bancroft ave, Monte Sereno, CA). Lives here periodically until his death in 68. His wife Carolyn sells the house in 87 and it gets bulldozed.

1955-Babbs attending Case Tech school in Cleveland, then Miami University (Oxford, OH)

1955-Ginsburg reads Howl poem in San Francisco

1957-Kerouac’s book On the Road comes out

1957-Dr. Humphry Osmond coins the term ‘psychedelic’

1958-Ferlinghetti’s book Coney Island of the Mind is published

1958-Ken Kesey and his wife Faye Haxby move to California

Fall 1958-Babbs gets a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and enrolls at Stanford grad school writing program where he meets fellow outsider Ken Kesey at a cocktail party at professor Wallace Stegner’s house

1959-Pasadena, CA-Ken Babbs wedding. Ken Kesey is groomsman

Jack Kerouac (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

May 1959-Babbs enters the military; trains with USMC in Quantico, then Pensacola, FL flight school and learns to fly choppers

1959-Naked Lunch WSB

1959-Jerry Kamstra runs the Cloven Hoof Bookstore (Grant ave, SanFran)

1959-After being encouraged by Dr. Vic Lovell to sign up, Kesey volunteers at Menlo Park VA hospital (795 Willow rd, Menlo Park, CA) to take mind-altering drugs as part of MK-Ultra (financed by the CIA; they paid Stanford University; also supposedly tested LSD on monkeys). Kesey takes drugs under the supervision of Dr. Leo Hollister.

1960-Kesey lands job as psychiatric aid at the VA

1960-Cambridge, MA-Tim Leary and Richard Alpert conduct LSD experiments on themselves and others

1960-HST first encounters LSD in Big Sur but does not take any

1960-while working at Dow Chemical in Berkeley, a young Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin has his first psychedelic experience in the form of a mescaline trip at Dow

1961-Springfield, OR-Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs, John Babbs all take IT-290 (aka: alpha-methyltryptamine)

1961-Ken Babbs moves to Ganado Road, San Juan Capistrano, CA. He’s stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine before shipping off to Vietnam.

1961-while living briefly in Paris, France, psychedelic researcher Dr. James Fadiman is introduced to psychedelics by friend Ram Dass when Dass, Tim Leary, and Aldous Huxley pass through town. Soon after this, Jim and Dorothy Fadiman become Perry Lane neighbors of Ken Kesey.

Ken Kesey one flew over the cuckoos nest 1st edition hardcover

Fall 1961-Kerouac writes novel Big Sur @ Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Bixby Canyon, Big Sur. Later, Kamstra writes The Frisco Kid here

September 1961-Cambridge, MA; Leary takes LSD for the first time via Michael Hollingshead

1962-Tim Leary’s Good Friday psilocybin experiment in Boston

1962-Kesey’s One flew over the cuckoo’s nest published; breakout success, instant bestseller

1962-under the supervision of Dr. James Fadiman, Stewart Brand (soon to join the Merry Pranksters) has his first LSD experience at Myron Stolaroff’s International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, CA

1962-63-Babbs is USMC helicopter squadron in Vietnam (wrote novel Who Shot the Water Buffalo, unpublished until 2011); stationed down south in Delta, then north in Da Nang; he was flying a Sikorsky H-34D “Dawg”

Late 1962-Neal Cassady hangs out with Kesey in Palo Alto

1963-Babbs returns from Nam, hangs out at Kesey’s house (9 Perry Lane, Palo Alto) bongos and wine and pineapple chili. Pot wasn’t even on the scene yet

July 21, 1963-Perry Lane ends, bulldozed

1963-Leary fired from Harvard, moves to Millbrook

1963-Owsley synthesizes his own LSD in Berkeley. He then starts manufacturing homemade LSD via ‘Bear Research Group’

Merry Pranksters bus (c. 1964) Ken Babbs, Gretchen Fetchin the Slime Queen, Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

November 22, 1963-JFK assassinated in Dallas

1964-Kesey publishes Sometimes a Great Notion

March 1964-sci-fi author Philip K. Dick takes LSD and says the experience transports him to Latin-speaking ancient Rome. He then writes the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch during extended amphetamines binges at his house (3919 Lyon ave, Oakland, CA)

Early 1964-Kesey moves to La Honda (7940 La Honda rd, La Honda, CA) a large house on 3 acres in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest

1964-the Merry Pranksters are named by Babbs at San Gregorio Beach, CA. The Merry Pranksters form (core group of 14 people) = zapping the “squares” out of their conformity to the Establishment by using LSD, a day glo bus, music and laughter

Spring 1964-Prankster Hagen sees classified ad for 1939 International Harvester bus for sale by Andre Hobson in Atherton, CA. Kesey buys it for $1,200 with his ‘One flew over cuckoo nest’ money

June 17, 1964-the famous Furthur bus trip starts from Kesey’s house (La Honda, CA) to “Madhattan”; “Kesey wanted to see what would happen when hallucinogenic-inspired spontaneity confronted what he saw as the banality and conformity of American society”

June 29, 1964-Pranksters arrive in NYC. While in NYC, Neal Cassady introduces the Pranksters to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Chloe Scott’s apartment (Madison Ave and 90th St)

August 1964-the Furthur bus returns to La Honda

1964-San Francisco area-Pranksters help give birth to the counterculture

Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady on the Merry Pranksters bus

1964-HST first reports on the Hell’s Angels

August 2nd, 1964-Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam

October 1964-the Hip Pocket Bookstore opens (1500 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz) Run by Ron Bevirt (aka: Prankster Hagen) and Peter Demma. Neal Cassady is the stores first sales clerk.

February 21, 1965-Owsley’s home/LSD lab (1647 Virginia st, Berkley, CA) raided by police

March 30, 1965-Owsley creates first big batch of LSD

April 12, 1965-Tim Scully first takes LSD. Shortly afterwards, Owsley hires him as a roadie for The Warlocks (whom in a few months become The Grateful Dead). After that, he becomes Owsley’s lab assistant in Point Richmond.

1965-Roy Sebern, Prankster affiliate and artist, invents the liquid light show

April 23, 1965-Kesey’s La Honda estate raided by Agent Wong (Willie Wong, SF Chinese narc) but the Pranksters had a few days heads-up and ended up pranking the cops. Kesey and 13 other Pranksters arrested

May 1965-HST first article on Hell’s Angels appears in The Nation magazine

1965-Wes Wilson creates the world’s first psychedelic concert poster (San Francisco)

Hip Pocket Bookstore (1500 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA) opened 1964

1965-While working for Dow Chemical in Berkeley, legendary chemist Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin synthesizes MDMA

1965-Vietnam big surge US troops 500,00 (Marines to north, Army to south)

July 1965-Dow Chemical Company (Midland, MI), the makers of saran wrap, score a $5 million dollar Department of Defense contract to become the US military’s only supplier of Napalm. Until 1969, they manufacture Napalm-B, a jellied mix of gasoline, benzene, polystyrene.

Aug 7, 1965-La Honda party w/ HST and some 40 Hells Angels; “amusingly incongruous cast of characters, a microcosm of an unsustainable social movement”; also present were Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsburg; 100 people total, all on LSD, HST’s first LSD experience; Lord Byron Styrofoam (aka Sandy Lehmann-Haupt) the KLSD radio station DJ, “800 micrograms in your head”

August 13th, 1965-Jefferson Airplane debut at The Matrix (3138 Fillmore st, SanFran)

August 24th, 1965-The Beatles first take LSD together @ Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house (2850 Benedict Canyon rd, Beverly Hills, CA) with Peter Fonda, David Crosby, and others

September 02, 1965-The Beatles concert @ SanFran Cow Palace (bad vibes, Pranksters leave early, return to La Honda to see 400 people there and Owsley, the world’s greatest acid chemist)

September 5th, 1965-the word “hippie” first appears in print in the San Francisco Examiner

October 15, 1965-Kesey and the Pranksters @ the Vietnam Day Committee protest @ University of Berkeley, Sproul Hall Plaza, some 15,000 people. Paul Krassner’s first encounter with the Pranksters

October 31, 1965-Babbs says that an informal Acid Test party, a precursor to the official Acid Tests, takes place during a Halloween costume party at his house “The Spread” (Soquel dr and Dover, Soquel, CA) on 400 acres

Merry Pranksters Acid Test LP

November 21, 1965-Lysergic A Go Go @ AIAA Aviation Academy Auditorium (7660 Beverly blvd, LA) event put on by Hugh Romney (aka: Wavy Gravy) and Del Close for 500 people

November 27, 1965-Soquel, CA-Babbs house ‘The Spread’ first Acid Test; advertised at the Hip Pocket Bookstore; Pranksters home movies, Cassady, Ginsberg

2nd test = December 4, 1965-San Jose Acid Test @ Big Nig’s house= The Warlocks first performance as the Grateful Dead; took place right after the Rolling Stones played San Jose Civic Auditorium

December 10th, 1965-Bill Graham takes over The Fillmore (1805 Geary blvd)

3rd test = December 11, 1965 = Muir Beach, CA feat. Grateful Dead, strobe lights; 300 people; Hell’s Angels, Owsley has LSD freakout, claims he goes into “parallel time dimension” with Count Cagliostro

December 18, 1965-acid test @ the Big Beat (998 San Antonio rd, Palo Alto)

January 1966-October 1967-Ron and Jay Thelin run the Psychedelic Shop (1535 Haight, SF)

January 8th, 1966-Fillmore acid test. Paul Krassner attends.

January 15th, 1966-Portland, OR acid test

January 19, 1966-Kesey arrested again for weed. Busted on Stewart Brand’s rooftop (Vallejo Street @ Grant St, North Beach, SanFran). Kesey along with Mountain Girl busted for only 3.54 grams of marijuana.

Merry Prankster Stewart Brand

January 21-23, 1966-Pranskters put on the Trips Festival, a 3-day long Acid Test @ Longshoreman’s Hall SanFran (considered the first true hippie festival/official gathering?) Babbs does the sound system and builds scaffold control tower; 10,000 attendees drinking LSD punch; Stewart Brand, Bill Graham

January 23, 1966-Kesey moves into Babbs house, The Spread, in Santa Cruz where he plans to, rather than do 5 years in prison, fake his death and become an outlaw in Mexico. Mountain Girl, Lee Quarnstrom, Ron Bevirt, Space Daisy, also move in.

January 31, 1966-Kesey’s abandoned vehicle is found in Orick, California. Inside is an 18-page long suicide note reading “O Ocean, ocean, ocean, I’ll beat you in the end”

February 04, 1966-Kesey becomes an outlaw in Mexico

February 1966-Ken Babbs becomes unofficial leader of the Pranksters. The Pranksters acquire the Sans Souci (saan soo see) old mansion in Stinson Beach. They have acid test at nearby Sawyer’s Church in Northridge.

Feb 12, 1966-Watts Acid Test (either 13331 S. Alameda or 9027 S. Figueroa, Compton, CA) 200 people; 30 gallon plastic trash can full of “Electric Kool Aid” (coined by Wavy Gravy), Grateful Dead

March 1966-Pranksters take the bus to Mazatlán, Mexico to visit Kesey. They do several small Acid Tests in Mexico. Kesey sneaks back into USA via Brownsville, TX.

1966-Mountain Girl has child with Kesey & also marries and separates from fellow Prankster George Walker. She later marries Jerry Garcia.

1966-Grateful Dead and Mountain Girl move to 710 Ashbury, SanFran

Summer 1966-1969-Lithuanian Leon Tabory takes over ownership of ‘The Barn’ in Scotts Valley from Big Daddy Nord. The Barn was a well-known beatnik, Prankster, hippie community gathering place located off Highway 17, just north of Santa Cruz. The Barn address (Granite Creek road and Santa Village Dr, Scotts Valley, CA).

July 24, 1966-Pranksters Lee Quarnstrom and Space Daisy (aka: Judith Ann Washburne) are married at The Fillmore. The best man is Julius Karpen.

September 1966-The Oracle newspaper begins

Merry Pranksters Trips Festival 1966 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

October 1966-Prankster affiliate Julius Karpen becomes the manager of rock band Big Brother & the Holding Company for one year.

October 6, 1966-LSD becomes illegal in the state of California (note the overtones of 666)

October 20, 1966-Kesey arrested on freeway in San Francisco

October 31, 1966-final Acid Test graduation @ Winterland Ballroom (SanFran) strange end to the Pranksters acid tests. The group gradually go their separate ways afterwards, periodically hanging out.

January 14, 1967-The Human Be-In @ Polo Fields (Golden Gate Park, SanFran) 30,000 people

Jan-Feb 1967-Tom Wolfe’s first articles on Pranksters run in New York Magazine

1967-Ken Babbs moves to Oregon

1967-Owsley living and making LSD at 2321 Valley st, Berkeley, CA

1967-Hugh Romney (aka: Wavy Gravy) starts the Hog Farm (West Conover St, Sunland-Tujunga, CA). This is a 33 acre commune in the hills above Los Angeles. To find it on a map, use the address 9401 Tujunga Valley st, Shadow Hills, CA. In 1969, the Hog Farm moves to Llano, New Mexico.

Feb 1967-HST book Hell’s Angels published

March 1967-Prankster Denise Kaufman (aka: Mary Microgram) joins all-female rock band The Ace of Cups. She does vocals, guitar, harmonica.

Merry Pranksters Acid Test Graduation (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

March 16, 1967-Houston acid test @ Rice University. Teacher and novelist Larry McMurty was a Stanford Univ pal of Kesey’s.

May 26, 1967-The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper album

June 16-18, 1967-Monterey Pop Fest in Monterey, CA (feat. Hendrix, the Who, Shankar, Joplin, etc)

June 23, 1967-Kesey goes to work farm for 5 months for marijuana charge. This is the San Mateo County sheriff’s Honor Camp (7546 Alpine rd, La Honda, CA). 11 acres. Former Boy Scout camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Pescadero Creek. It is hilariously located only 1 mile SE of Kesey’s house.

Summer 1967-San Fran-Summer of Love-“flower children followed by the sharks; Bay Area wasn’t kind of place we wanted to be around anymore”

1967-Lenny Bruce protégé & quasi-Prankster affiliate Paul Krassner founds the Yippies (Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman)

1967-Tim Leary moves to Laguna Beach to live with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (250 Woodland Dr)

1967-Quasi-Prankster affiliate Norman Hartweg car accident in Las Vegas, leaves him a wheelchair-bound paraplegic. He spends 1yr in hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then stays in Ann Arbor until moving back to LA in 1977. Norman’s father, Dr Norman E. Hartweg, was curator of reptiles at the University of Michigan, he was an international expert on reptiles.

October 21, 1967-Washington, DC-a group led by Abbie Hoffman attempt an exorcism of The Pentagon. They sing and chant, trying to get it to levitate so they can perform an aural exorcism

November 1967-Rolling Stone magazine begins

Merry Prankster The Hermit (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

November 1967-Kesey gets out of work farm after 5mnths and moves to Kesey Farm (64acres) in Pleasant Hill, Oregon

November 27, 1967-The Beatles release Magical Mystery Tour album

December 1967-William Leonard Pickard moves from Cambridge, MA to Berkeley, CA and gets a job at UC Berkeley inside Latimer Hall at the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology

December 1967-Owsley’s LSD lab raided in Orinda, CA; Owsley arrested; the Brotherhood of Eternal Love takes up the mantle of LSD production

Feb 1968-Neal Cassady dies mysteriously some 2,000 miles south of La Honda, CA in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

1968-Sausalito, CA-William Mellon (aka: Billy) Hitchcock introduces the Brotherhood of Eternal Love to chemists Nick Sand and Tim Scully

August 1968-Tom Wolfe publishes book ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ detailing the fascinating exploits of The Merry Pranksters

September 1st, 1968-Stewart Brand (Prankster) publishes the first Whole Earth Catalog

Late 1968-the hippie scene starts getting ugly as the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood turns seedy and violent after an influx of street predators move into the neighborhood

October 24, 1968-Congress passed Staggers-Dodd Bill, effectively criminalizing the recreational use of LSD-25. LSD is made illegal in USA

Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (1968) Tom Wolfe first edition softcover

November 05, 1968-Nixon elected President

December 9th, 1968-the Mother of All Demos introduces email, hypertext, and the computer mouse via Prankster Stewart Brand and computer scientist Douglas Englebart at San Fran’s Brooks Hall, Civic Center Plaza. Stewart was at SRI HQ in Menlo Park working one of the computers

March 1969-LSD chemists Tim Scully and Nick Sand make the famous Orange Sunshine acid at their farmhouse (Mitchell Lane west of Baldocchi Way, Windsor, CA). They make 3 pounds (4.5 million hits) of Orange Sunshine LSD

July 20, 1969-NASA on the Moon

August 9-10, 1969-Charles Manson’s cult the Family kills 5 people

August 15-18, 1969-Pranksters attend Woodstock, along w/ an estimated 400,000 people

September 1969-The Beatles breakup

October 21, 1969-Kerouac dies

December 6, 1969-Altamont Free Concert (Grateful Dead hire Hell’s Angels as security, one of whom stabs a man to death)

1970-LSD declared Schedule One controlled substance in USA

Charles Manson and Sharon Tate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

1971-Prankster Mountain Girl (Carolyn Garcia) and Jerry Garcia move into the Sans Souci mansion (18 Avenida Farralone, Stinson Beach, CA)

1971-Mark McCloud’s house (3466 20th st, SanFran) becomes an LSD museum called the Blotter Barn. He has over 30,000 blotter works of art here.

Nov 1971-HST publishes Fear & Loathing

1972-Watergate

1973-Pigpen dies

1973-Nixon creates the DEA

November 1973-Billy Hitchcock rats out the Brotherhood of Eternal Love

1974-81-Babbs involved with Spit in the Ocean publication

1975-Vietnam War ends

1975-One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest movie released starring Jack Nicholson

Jerry Garcia (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

1978-Mountain Girl finally officially divorces George Walker

1982-Owsley moves to Australia

1983-Babbs editor of The Bugle (Eugene, OR zine)

1984-Kesey’s son Jed dies in car accident

1985-Prankster Stewart Brand & Dr. Larry Brilliant co-found The Well. Larry, a native Detroiter, is the guy who delivered a Native American baby on Alcatraz Island in 1969 during the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz. And then in 1975 he led the UN effort that successfully eradicated smallpox in India (eradicated globally by 1980).

1994-Norman Hartweg dies

1994-Kesey and Babbs co-author The Last Go Round

1995-Jerry Garcia dies

1997-Kesey sells his La Honda house

1999-Babbs plays Frankenstein in Twisted, a play he co-wrote w/ Kesey

2001-Kesey passes away

Merry Pranksters Roy Sebern liquid light show

2001-Jim Irsay (owner of Indy Colts fb team) buys original Kerouac scroll for $2.45mil

2001-Sandy Lehmann-Haupt dies

2003-work camp where Kesey served time is permanently closed

2003-Paul Foster dies

2005-HST suicide

2005-Ken’s son Zane Kesey pulls the original Furthur bus out of the swamp at Kesey’s Oregon farm

2008-Dr. Albert Hoffman dies at the ripe ole age of 102

2010-George Walker published a chapbook

2011-Babbs book ‘Who shot the water buffalo’ published (thanks to Sterling Lord)

2011-Owsley dies

2012-Ken Babbs brother and noted fly fisherman John Babbs (his Prankster name is ‘Sometimes Missing’) passes away

Dec 2018-Al Hinkle (92; San Jose) dies; he was with Kerouac and Cassady in the On the Road story in the 1949 Hudson Commodore; Al was a brakeman and conductor with Southern Pacific Railroad for 40yrs

Dec 2018-Babbs publishes chapbook ‘We Were Arrested’ (talks about 14 Pranksters busted for pot at Kesey’s house; and the first acid tests)

July 2019-Paul Krassner dies

October 2019-Chloe Scott passes away. She was a Perry Lane neighbor of Ken Kesey’s. The Merry Pranksters stayed a night at her cousin’s apartment in New York in 1964 where they met Jack Kerouac.

February 2021-Lawrence Ferlinghetti passes away at 101 years old

Ken Babbs business card (courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Merry Prankster George Walker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Neal Cassady circa 1964 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Haight Ashbury poster (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Warlocks (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Pigpen of the Grateful Dead (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Ken Kesey, Lee Quarnstrom, Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Watts Acid test (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Turn on tune in drop out Leary (Courtesy of Google Archives)

Mountain Girl’s Merry Prankster Acid Test diploma (courtesy of Google Archives)

October 1966, Ken Kesey outside the Warehouse, Harriet Street, South of Market, San Francisco, California (photo by Ted Streshinsky)

Ken Kesey and Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

The Grateful Dead in San Francisco (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters first official Acid Test November 27, 1965 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ace of Cups business card (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Beatles (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady mugshot (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Timothy Leary poster by Brotherhood of Eternal Love (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Keseydelics (courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD chemist Owsley & Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia

Grateful Dead concert poster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Barry Goldwater (“A vote for Barry is a vote for fun!” (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Gretchen Fetchin at La Honda circa 1965 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey’s La Honda estate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Haight Ashbury circa 1967 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Hunter S. Thompson (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey mugshot (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey graffiti mural (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

downtown San Francisco circa 1960’s (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Paul Foster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady sorta kinda resembling Dennis Hopper (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters at Millbrook. Ken Babbs is the shirtless weirdo (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Timothy Leary’s Millbrook estate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

The Realist (courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster George Walker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Merry Pranksters poster (courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Zonker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Trips Festival

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Hunter S. Thompson the edge (courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD chemist Tim Scully (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript of ‘On the Road’ (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Owsley Stanley (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Doors psychedelic poster (courtesy of Google Archives)

Timothy Leary (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD cologne (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Thelin Psychedelic Shop (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Albert Hofmann blotter acid LSD

Roy Sebern, Merry Prankster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Trips Festival advertisement (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey circa 1957 (photo from The Eugene Guard newspaper in Eugene, OR)

Timothy Leary trippy gif (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Diggers funeral notice for the death of the hippie (October 1967, San Francisco) image courtesy of Google Archives

Hells Angels annual party (c. 1971)

Grateful Dead-trip or freak (c. 1967)

The Barn (Scotts Valley, CA) c. 1966-69

Spit in the Ocean literary journal by Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of PBA Gallery)

Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

The Grateful Dead Book (1973) Hank Harrison (image courtesy of Abebooks)

Timothy Leary (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Owsley Stanley (photo by Explorewithstorm)

Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego:  Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego: Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love Detroit. This city is loaded with great stories, many of which are oft hidden, unacknowledged, or underreported. If not inscribed for the future, when these stories are gone, they’re gone forever, like magnificent old buildings. To me, these stories are priceless.

The building at 3000 East Grand Boulevard is sign-less and unassuming. It sits near the Jam Handy warehouse on Detroit’s Eastside, within view of the stately 30-story tall Fisher Building.

This humble 3-story brick building was built in 1910 and is 8,790-square feet. It houses a significant contribution to Detroit’s cultural history, something vital and irreplaceable, a collective of Detroit techno culture.

Exhibit 3000, the world’s first (and only) techno museum is housed here on the main floor.

In the basement is the legendary Submerge’s Somewhere In Detroit (SID) record store and then upstairs is the HQ of Underground Resistance (UR). There are also recording studios, rehearsal spaces and offices.

Downstairs, DJ John Collins and Tyler Dancer are prepping the museum for a school tour today. Collins has been a well-known DJ since 1985. He’s a producer, manager, and talent agent. Tyler is a young DJ and producer from Kalamazoo who now lives in Detroit. Techno great Mad Mike Banks is also here getting things squared away. The ethic is: everyone helps out regardless of status.

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’m sitting upstairs in a conference room with Detroit’s own Cornelius Harris, who was (and still is?) the only black manager in techno music in the world. “That’s what I’ve been told.  I’m not aware of any other black managers in techno, in the world,” he says.

Cornelius Harris is the label manager of Detroit-based independent techno label Underground Resistance, an assistant at Submerge Distribution (and SID), and founder of Alter Ego Management.

Cornelius is a deep thinker with a multitude of insights and very focused on all aspects of the intersection of culture and music. We are discussing books, vinyl records, the roots of techno and all-things Detroit.

Cornelius explains:

“History, especially local history, is important to know so you understand the context of where you’re at in the world and in your own time. The impact of certain points in history have a lingering echo long after the fact.”

“I’m originally from Ann Arbor. Moved to Detroit in the 90’s. I’m not here by accident. I love the people, the culture, the history, the music.”

“I consider myself a cultural advocate and activist, promoting agents of culture beyond mere entertainment and using it as a tool for education and inspiration. I studied Media and Pop Culture at University of Michigan. My family are all educators and very passionate.”

“Economically, how do you bring this thing that came out of Detroit and generates millions of dollars globally, back to the source? I’m always interested in the next stage of evolution. Detroit is a powerful music center. How do you drive culture in the city?”

 

Detroit: The Birth of Techno

“Belleville Three” Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May. These are from Belleville High School yearbooks (circa 1980 & 1981). Kevin Saunderson also played varsity football and basketball for the Belleville Tigers. Atkins (class of ’80), May & Saunderson (class of ’82). Thanks to Psyche Jetton at the BHS Media Center for allowing me to do research there (Ryan M. Place)

“Techno music was started in the early 1980s by four African Americans: Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Eddie Fowlkes. The first three went to Belleville High School and Eddie went to a different school.”

“At the time, it wasn’t called ‘techno’, it was just a new, emergent form of different music. The British press came up with the title ‘Belleville Three’ even though they DJed mostly in the city of Detroit.  Belleville isn’t known for its cutting-edge club scene.”

Just like any inception-story, there’s different mythologies about this. One is the facts. The others are the added interpretations, which become the agreed upon history. So, let’s just agree to a middle understanding of all this.”

“They were playing a precursor to techno before their music was given a label by outsiders. What they had created was inner city dance music with a futuristic vibe.”

In the mid to late 80’s, techno blew up here locally in Detroit. It was already a phenomenon here for several years before it became popular globally.”

Kevin Saunderson (senior photo 1982 Belleville High School yearbook)

“All of the techno labels were based in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood.”

The first one was in 1985 when Juan Atkins opened Metroplex (1492 Riopelle St), then in 1986 Derrick May opened Transmat (1492 Gratiot), then in 1987 Kevin Saunderson opened KMS next door to Transmat.”

“Derrick started referring to Gratiot Avenue as ‘Techno Boulevard’.”

“These were the days of things like Channel 62 ‘The Scene’ and the Electrifying Mojo on Detroit’s WGPR, which was the first black radio station in America.”

“We also had Duane ‘In the Mix’ Bradley on WJLB Radio.”

“We had Jeff Mills, DJ Stacy “Hotwaxx” Hale, and there was Ken Collier who played house music at Club Heaven (19106 Woodward @ 7 mile).”

“There was The Music Institute (1315 Broadway an after-hours techno club opened from 1988-89).”

“Across the river in Windsor, there was Richie Hawtin (Plastikman) who was inspired by Detroit techno. By the early 90’s, everybody was getting turned on to Detroit music all over the world.”

Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit (c. 1988 vinyl record)

“Music popularity goes in waves. Techno got big globally around 1991, then experienced another resurgence in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, and a few years ago we had another wave.”

“Also, we had the techno festival, which started in Detroit in 2000 and was called DEMF before it became Movement in 2006.”

“Detroit is the smallest big town ever. Among creatives here of all stripes, mostly everyone knows everyone. Some of Juan Atkins old tapes even feature Kid Rock back when he had spiky hair and was trying to rap.”

“I credit Creem Magazine with symbolizing the Detroit ethos. Not being on the East or West Coasts, we weren’t bound by those scenes. There’s no restrictions here, we’re free to do our own thing, which Creem reflected in its coverage of music. “

 

Underground Resistance (UR) Detroit

Underground Resistance

Underground Resistance, aka: UR, is a collective, that’s the best word to describe it because there’s so much back and forth flow between the various groups and producers.”

“UR was started in 1989 by Jeff Mills and Mad Mike Banks in Mike’s mom’s basement on Detroit’s Westside near 7 Mile and Livernois. Mike and Jeff worked together before in a group called Members of the House. Mike had at one time been in a band on tour alongside Parliament Funkadelic.”

“The UR album UR001 had Yolanda Reynolds on it. She was the original third member of UR. A lot of people think of Robert Hood as the third member of UR, but he came later, though a lot of people forget that.”

“In 1991, the city of Berlin, Germany was hit by UR’s music from Detroit not long after the Berlin Wall came down. Detroit’s techno music helped unite the young people of East and West Berlin and reenergize the city. It was the soundtrack of what was happening in Berlin. And there were tons of Detroit techno records at the Hard Wax store owned by Mark Ernestus.”

Terrence Parker (photo courtesty of UR)

I joined UR in the mid 1990s. The Detroit Regional Music Conference, started by DJ John Collins, was going on and I was a producer at the time. I submitted to perform at the conference. The music showcase manager said I should give my tape to Mike Banks, which is how we met. I also had put together a zine called SCENE. Mike and Lawrence Burden asked me to work with them doing promotion. Mike later asked about me doing label management. I did it until 2001 when I became extremely burned-out.”

“I quit everything for a bit and became anti-music for a few years. Did some management at Kinney Shoe Corp (Foot Locker), then Kinko’s, also did some teaching at a middle school. Eventually, I created Alter Ego Management and started again fresh. Alter Ego used to rep Juan Atkins, Model 500 and others. Right now we handle UR and some others.”

“At the time just before starting Alter Ego I, got a call from Mike. He said they’re working on a project in Japan. He invited me to come work on it, and initially I said, “no,” but he said ‘they got those thinking gardens in Japan, you could just come here and think’ (laughs). I was in the middle of acting in a show with Plowshares Theater. Mike was insistent. So I went to Japan. I was there for six hours and decided to return as label manager in 2005.”

“My first time as a tour manager, through the Burden Brothers (Lenny & Lawrence), was a tour in Germany. I was tour manager for Aux 88 who was on their label Direct Beat.”

“I remember being in Berlin outside this club talking to a local dude, told him he should come check out the scene in Detroit. He said, ‘I’ll never go to Detroit.  I don’t make enough money to travel, but when I go to this club and it’s dark, and a Detroit DJ is playing, I can imagine that I’m in a Detroit club. That’s how I’m able to travel’. His explanation really stuck with me.”

“I realized that we’re giving people, people who are willingly giving their hard-earned money to us, these one-of-a-kind experiences. We owe everything to these people who make that choice to support the music. It really had a profound effect on me, gave me a sense of purpose.”

“For some people, music is their main outlet. It’s a type of therapy, a release for them, something they can’t get any other way. We all owe a deep appreciation for the fans who live on this stuff.”

“The clubs are social spaces where amazing things can happen. The 1980’s were rough in Detroit. The U.S. was in a bad recession, there was crack, AIDS, Detroit was dubbed ‘Murder Capital of the World’, the auto industry went to hell, etc. The one good thing at the time coming out of Detroit globally was this music, techno.

“These aren’t just DJ’s, they’re cultural ambassadors. They are some of the best representations this country has ever had, often better than professional diplomats. They tour extensively and as a result, acquire a broad perspective and deep understanding of other cultures and people around the world.”

Jeff Mills currently lives in Miami, France and Japan. In 2017, Jeff got the Order of Arts and Letters in France, which is that country’s second highest title, for his cultural contributions. Other nations seem to recognize the importance of creativity. The city of Detroit, our state, our nation, should consider providing more recognition to their own people. Why do we gotta go to France to get awards and be recognized? Why can’t it happen right here where it all started and continues to thrive? It would uplift the community in a positive way.”

Detroit’s global contributions are numerous. Back here at home, true community development is not just giving money to something and hoping for the best. Things need to be nurtured, cared for, and given the proper attention in order to develop.”

Submerge Distribution

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Submerge Distribution was founded in 1992 by Mike Banks and Christa Robinson.”

“It was originally located Downtown at 2030 East Grand River Ave. However, in 2000, we moved to 3000 East Grand Blvd.”

“Submerge exports Detroit techno labels to Europe and the world and transmits Detroit’s techno music around the world. All the techno and house labels went through Submerge.”

“There is no ‘Submerge Records’, it’s a distributor and vinyl record store. We carry all kinds of records but primarily specialize in techno, house and hip hop. Heavily Detroit oriented. There’s also Basic Channel out of Berlin.”

“Submerge even put out J. Dilla’s first vinyl record in 1994.”

“Everybody who visits the Submerge basement signs the wall.”

The Impact of Books on Cornelius

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love to read. Books are powerfully influential across all cultures, professions, whatever. Books are windows into the unfamiliar. Having a broad interest in a lot of different things gave me the perspective I have today.”

“Prior to music, I worked in the reference department at the downtown Ann Arbor Library from 9th grade through my time at the University of Michigan. First shelving books, then at the desk as an assistant. I grew up surrounded by books. A lot of my interpretation of the world was formed by books and music.”

“Here’s a few of the key books that have inspired me over the years.”

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes. Chronicles black entertainment from slavery to the modern late 60’s. Amazing as a kid growing up with that book. It traces the painful lineage of exploitation as well as incredible achievements.”

Sex and Race (1940-44) J.A. Rodgers (3 vols.) I first read it at the public library when I was 10 or 11. Originally was excited by the name (laughs). Turned out to be a fascinating study of racial classifications, how people mix and blend and the fact that definitions of race are subjective.”

Dustland (1980) Virginia Hamilton. It’s part of The Justice Trilogy about an African American girl named Justice. First time I ever read sci-fi where the central characters were African American. It blew my mind.”

No-No Boy (1956) John Okada. The first Japanese American novel. It takes place just after WW2, it’s about Japanese no-no boys and post-war trauma in the USA.”

Los Arboles Mueren de Pie (1949) Alejandro Casona. Amazing book, written in Spanish. I recommend learning Spanish just to read this book. It’s about how you define family. Magical realism. Many intriguing twists and turns.”

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) Ishmael Reed. Magical realism about historical events and a contagious epidemic of the Jes Grew virus.”

New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (1988) Wolfman and Perez (DC Comics, Titan). They took this medium and crafted a story so thoughtful, warped, exciting. It’s about betrayal and abuse.”

 

Some Favorite Records & Why Vinyl Still Matters

Cornelius Harris @ Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Musically, I listen to a range of different things. Grew up on jazz and gospel. My grandma from the had grown up in the South and turned me onto Hank Williams.”

“Some influential albums for me are:”

Prince-Dirty Mind (1980)

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

Grace Jones-Nightclubbing (1981)

Ryuichi Sakamoto-Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Vinyl records still matter, still sell, still elevate the listener. There’s something special and different with something being tangible, rather than bits of information on a computer. To feel the grooves with your fingers. It’s an experience, you feel more connected. With vinyl you have to put the needle on it, make sure the needle is clean, flip it over when it’s done, you interact with it differently than you do a playlist on your smartphone.”

“Also, the order of the tracks meant something, not just random shuffling. Tracks are not just thrown onto an album indiscriminately. There’s a meaning in the order.”

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

The Need to Preserve Creative Spaces in Detroit

Detroit aerial (photo courtesy of Formulaone)

Detroit needs more creative spaces. The value of the creative community to a city cannot be overstated. Creative people imbue spaces with value. And they almost always need help from the city to mitigate things like gentrification and help maintain safe and fun spaces & outlets, for other people to go and experience the gift of their creativity. There should be a low barrier to entry.”

People have had their life changed forever by music or art. Creativity keeps people in neighborhoods and stabilizes communities. Make it easy for people to access these things.”

“Right now, Detroit is a place where the creative community can go in any direction. As a city, we need to recognize talent and creativity and help engage creative types. Yet some of our greatest spaces are being ignored and disregarded. Detroit is loaded with iconic spots that should be preserved and used instead of being wasted unnecessarily. How do you set things up for success?”

“Listen, I’ve traveled all over the world for the past almost thirty years and I can honestly tell you that Detroit is a global nexus of untapped, undiscovered potential. It’s here but it’s disguised because it’s not often officially recognized by big-time funding.”

“We have the spaces, we’re just not doing anything with them, not making them accessible, and it’s a tragedy that’s rarely discussed. These places will get torn down and most folks, especially young folks, won’t ever even know they were there in the first place. We need to preserve them and do everything we can to drive more creative people to the city.”

The world is saturated with creativity in all forms from Detroit. I remember when I was in Japan, a promoter told me at the time he couldn’t book one of my DJs because Japan had too many people from Detroit there! (laughs) That’s how big and powerful our footprint as a creative class of people is globally.”

We’re givers not takers.  We give the world our creativity, but I don’t think we take enough a lot of times and it shows because it seems there’s always a financial struggle here for everyone. Culture comes from the incredible wonderful, people here. The people are the value. They should be embraced.”

Thoughts on The Future

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I don’t worry about the future of techno.  It will evolve.  Musical, creative diversity has to be encouraged. Stuff that doesn’t exist currently will be born and become transformational. Music is a reflection of that generation, that time, what’s happening globally and locally.”

“There is an undeniable need for space and a need to encourage openness. Hopefully Detroit will continue being at the forefront like it always has been. Don’t be afraid of the future. Yes, things will be strange and different than what you’re used to right now, and that’s a good thing.”

“Just remember, Motown was started by high school kids singing in their garages. They were broke but they were passionate and creative. However, what really changed everything was love from the local community. The community was supportive and encouraging. Local support helped them thrive globally. Never forget the enduring and positive lesson of Motown.”

Bonus: Cornelius’ favorite eateries in the Metro Detroit area

Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno (3149 Livernois, Detroit)

Yum Village (6500 Woodward, Detroit)

Royal Kabob (3236 Caniff, Hamtramck)

KG’s Grill (465 Inkster rd, Garden City)

Al Ameer’s (27346 Ford Rd, Dearborn Heights)

Cornelius Harris @ Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

UR, Submerge & Exhibit 3000 Museum

3000 East Grand Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48202

 

Exhibit 3000 Museum

For free tours or if you want to donate early techno artifacts

Contact:

John Collins

jcpremier@gmail.com

Cornelius Harris

cornelius@alteregomgt.com

 

UR

http://www.undergroundresistance.com/

 

UR FB

https://www.facebook.com/URundergroundresistance/

 

Somewhere in Detroit (Submerge)

https://www.facebook.com/Somewhere-in-Detroit-242400282479827/

 

Alter Ego Management

http://www.alteregomgt.com/

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)