Counterculture

Zane Kesey and the New Merry Pranksters' Acid(-Free) Tests

They're keeping counterculture kicking.

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Zane Kesey, Furthur Bus

A technicolor dream bus called "Furthur" captained by a man named Kesey is zigzagging across the country. It's no coincidence that exactly 50 years ago, a nearly identical magic trip took place.

Zane Kesey is the son of American literary and cultural icon, Ken Kesey, who participated in early government tests with psychoactive drugs like LSD, wrote the powerfully anti-establishment novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and then gathered on a busload of folks who called themselves Merry Pranksters and travelled the country experimenting with drugs, playing avant-garde music, and spreading love and mischief. Kesey and his gang were integral bodies in the constellation of American counterculture, whizzing around and often colliding with Beatnik-era survivors like Neal Cassidy, budding writers like Hunter Thompson, groups like the Hells Angels, and yet-unknown bands like The Grateful Dead.

Zane, who has the same mountain man frame and infectious smile as his father, thinks a lot of that stuff was pretty cool, so this May he launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than enough funds to do the trip again. Wearing an electric-blue zebra-stripe carnival-prize pimp hat and a day-glo-splattered jumpsuit, he rolled into the college town of Kent, Ohio this Monday and explained his aim:

On the surface we're doing the 50th anniversary trip and just going out and doing a bus trip and having fun, but deeper down we're setting out to see what that seed has blossomed into and how much of the '60s is still out there and whether it's thrived or shriveled on the vine and so far we're seeing a lot of really good stuff.

The nutshell of the '60s and almost what made it fall apart is [the idea that] all you need is love. And if you got everyone on that same page it would be a beautiful world. Not everybody got on that page. I'd still like to get everybody on that page.

Another part of the goal is to raise interest and money for a long-delayed restoration project of the original Furthur bus (there are several), to preserve that piece of American history. He and his pranksters stop in cities for jam band shows, play some music of their own, and sell blotter paper. Zane makes it clear, the paper is just art. It's drug free and so is the bus.

He's never had a taste for LSD and says that although drugs can be liberating, they were not an unequivocally positive feature of the movement his father started. "It's really important for us not to have that in the trip. And 'don't do drugs' is not necessarily our message. As long as you do all the steps you did before, you dress up crazy and act crazy and have psychedelic music and lights and everybody's having fun, it can be just as much fun."

His intrepid fellow travelers seem to agree. They range in age from "Pinky," who just turned 21, to some older souls who almost certainly qualify for Social Security. Brendan, who says he's "an outlaw in spirit" just joined the bus this week, claims he traveled all the way from Iraq to part of the fun. All decked out in hippie and raver attire, they enjoy having dance parties going down the highway.

Asked about their best experiences so far on this journey, many said they couldn't single any out.

"Every day is the most interesting day with the pranksters," says Matt, who serves as documentarian for the trip. "They're going to be friends for life." For him, "a big part of the message is showing that we can go even further in another 50 years" in terms of developing music, the arts, and the freedom to be "outgoing and creative and not caring what people think about you."

They're warm, if elusive, individuals. Some of them like "Thumpah" go by their prankster nickname instead of their given name. He wants to "prank at free will and allow people to think that which isn't really is, but at the same time in very humorous gesture." Far out.

Scotty, a.k.a. "Dontcha Know," says one of their favorite recurring pranks is to tell someone who looks rather serious, "Hey, you dropped something." The person looks down. "Oh, you dropped your smile!"

"I hate seeing people all depressed and driving in their boring cars and going to their boring jobs and thinking we have to be on this path. It doesn't have to be like that," says a young woman named Enthusiastic. She's a 7th grade teacher and wants to "show kids that they can change the future" by "taking back our freedom and really using it. Making new music, exploring new ideas. Going further forever."

It's a tall order to capture and recreate the energy, optimism, and absurdist humor that shaped American counterculture 50 years ago, but today's pranksters come at with a palpably genuine attitude, and they do succeed.

The tour is making stops in Maine and Rhode Island, and then they're heading, rumor has it, for a stop in San Francisco before parking the bus back on the Kesey property in Oregon.

NEXT: Rand Paul: "If it was wrong not to protect the consulate in Benghazi, then it's wrong not to protect the consulate in Erbil."

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  1. That sounds boring and stupid. At least do drugs.

  2. I’ve mentioned this before: LSD is impossible to find these days.

    1. My understanding is that a large amount of the supply was created by one guy (a professor or some such thing– think “Breaking Bad”) and he got busted.

      That’s why all the dodgy facsimiles have cropped up.

      1. Yep – I’m familiar with his story. Wiped out 90+% of the world’s supply or somethin’ like that.

      2. Some guy in a missile silo in Texas, but that was like 13 years ago.

    2. It depends where you live. I hear it is easy enough to get on the West Coast.

  3. Never been on a Reason cruise. Is this what it’s like?

    1. It’s noro-tastic.

  4. So, as we fast-forward those 50 years, what do I have to do to get on that bus? How many forms do I have to sign, what code of conduct do I have to adhere to, and what are strictures of the speech codes? I mean, let’s just get this out of the way now.

    Oh, and I’ll fuck bet there’s no smoking on board.

    1. Yeah. I’m guessing everyone won’t be so merry when you go to light up a Lucky Strike. Or if you have one too many whiskies and tell an off-color joke.

      1. Based on the text and the picture, I see a lot of boomer half-beards there. If they’re anything like the people on, oh, I dunno, lemme pick at random, the Seattle City Council, ‘fun’ will be a four-letter word.

        I’m guessing the fundamental differences are as stark as the original Woodstock concert, and the redux they did a few years ago.

    2. Oh, and I’ll fuck bet there’s no smoking on board.

      Or no large sugary drinks, and only gender neutral words, comrades.

  5. I first read that as a bus called “Fuhrer”.

        1. Who?

          1. First!

            1. Dang, I thought you set us up the base.

  6. a busload of folks who called themselves Merry Pranksters and travelled the country experimenting with drugs, playing avant-garde music, and spreading love and mischief.

    My God…the smell

  7. I hate seeing people all depressed and driving in their boring cars and going to their boring jobs and thinking we have to be on this path

    Well, comrade, someone has to produce the revenue to support your dear ruling elite, and that can’t be done by riding around in a bus and acting like hippies out of a 60s time warp. So get yourself to the salt mine, comrade, and makes your masters moar revenues!

    1. Yep. Most jobs that are necessary to create wealth are boring and meaningless except in terms of creating things and services. Very few jobs are jobs in which people can find their “passion”.

      1. But to automate those jobs and free those workers from that daily grind would be a horrible fat-cat plot.

        1. Of course because there would be no other jobs and you would only have the owners and a few employees for their automated factories and offices and millions of destitute. That is the evil plan of the fat-cats.

  8. ’60s nostalgia is stupid. I can’t wait ’til all the boomers die off.

    Zane and his crew could have at least come up with something original, instead of ripping off his father.

    1. 60s nostalgia isn’t so bad. It’s that you can’t really do ’60s nostalgia. A good swathe of it is now illegal, another large portion is politically incorrect, and the last tiny corner is regulated out of existence by petty rules and insurance reasons.

      Woodstock could never happen again. It can’t. Just look at the police response to Woodstock vs. what you’d expect now.

      Imagine police being so overwhelmed with people that they throw up their hands, say ‘fuck it’ and just start directing traffic, hanging out and talking with the concert-goers.

      1. Much of what they did that is illegal now was illegal then.

        Boomers spawned political correctness.

        Woodstock could never happen again. It can’t.

        “Woodstock” didn’t really happen then either. The concert promoter got shafted by people jumping the fences. Basically, a bunch of people set out to put on a music festival, and a bunch of freeloading hippie fuckheads crashed.

        Just look at the police response to Woodstock vs. what you’d expect now.

        Versus music and arts festivals that occur on a regular basis that are even bigger than Woodstock? Versus biker rallies?

        Hell, Sturgis is bigger than Woodstock on off years. Laconia is bigger. Cops at these events do what they did at Woodstock, direct traffic.

        1. *”Woodstock” didn’t really happen then either. The concert promoter got shafted by people jumping the fences. Basically, a bunch of people set out to put on a music festival, and a bunch of freeloading hippie fuckheads crashed.*

          See also: Napster, BitTorrent, etc.

          Plus ca change…

        2. Most of the musicians that performed barely got paid anything and pretty much said they didn’t seriously give a shit whether or not they got paid. Musicians that weren’t the top of the pops weren’t making anything at festivals back then (partly because rock festivals didn’t exist until Woodstock) because Woodstock was so out of control that there was no way to make a structured merch sale, and, being the first festival of its kind, it was very far out, and the musicians performing there pretty much did it just for the fun of doing it.

          I know the history of economics in rock and pop music is not the most covered topic when discussing how much you hate hippies, but it is pretty documented, and kind of flips what you just said on its head.

  9. Holy God, this sounds like a horrible experience.

    A bunch of do-gooders dressed up and pretending to be hippies on a bus, pretending to be having fun while pointedly abstaining from using LSD.

    “Dontcha Know,” says one of their favorite recurring pranks is to tell someone who looks rather serious, “Hey, you dropped something.” The person looks down. “Oh, you dropped your smile!”

    Somebody fucking shoot me.
    If a fake hippie did something like that to me on a fake drug-free hippie bus, I would want to punch him in the face.
    Seriously.

    1. Then you’re just a twat. \:^)

  10. Sometimes a Great Notion washes away a lot of sins.

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