MERRY PRANKSTERS-RELATED LITERATURE
This is a highly selective list of Prankster literature. All the major works are included, plus some articles that I found interesting. The list covers the original Prankster era only, and does not include biographies of Ken Kesey or Neal Cassady, as an example. Books that deal with the history of psychedelia in general can be found here.
S F Oracle Ramparts Hell's Angels The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
The Realist/Last Whole Earth Catalog Kesey's Garage Sale
Spit in the Ocean On the Bus The Further Inquiry
Rolling Stone Prankster Memoirs
Issue #3, November 1966
- Kesey Escapes to Mexico
- Graham Withdraws Support
- Acid Test Graduation Ceremony
- and more
As shown by Tom Wolfe, the events around the Acid Test Graduation was a watershed event in the Haight history, where various policies and factions came into play. The Pranksters left the scene shortly after. The SF Oracle issue, published only days after the event, attempts to explain and discuss the various games and opinions that were in play.
"A Social History of the Hippies," Ramparts, Warren Hinkle, March 1967.
A later issue from the same year includes Ken Kesey's "Jail notes".
Hell's Angels, A Strange and Terrible Saga
by Hunter S. Thompson, Ballantine, 1967. Thompson's classic documentary contains an account of the famous Prankster-Angels acid party at La Honda in 1965. Interesting read, especially as all other accounts are written from the Prankster perspective. Allen Ginsberg also wrote a poem about the event, one of the high-points in the Prankster saga.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
by Tom Wolfe, Farrar, Straus, 1968. This is still the best place to begin. Wolfe's literary style is dated in parts, but noone can deny the entertainment value of his Pranksters study. The story is biased as an effect of what particular Pranksters Wolfe interviewed, and begins when they were in fact preparing to leave the scene, but the background and preceding events are retold in detail.
MAY-JUNE, 1971 issue
"An impolite interview with Ken Kesey" by Paul Krassner
THE REALIST PRESENTS THE LAST SUPPLEMENT TO THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOG,
book co-edited by Ken Kesey and Paul Krassner, 1971.
- Kesey contributes separate articles on the Bible, the I-Ching, Mantras and Martin Buber. He also writes about Hemingway, The Beatles, Woody Guthrie, Wm. Burroughs, Ginseng, S.Clay Wilson, Eldridge Cleaver, The Grateful Dead, Dope, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Lord Buckley, Neal Cassady and more.
The interview, and most of the Whole Earth material, is reprinted in the Garage Sale book.
Kesey's Garage Sale
by Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs, Viking, 1973. Lots of fun odds and ends, although personally I'm not a fan of the semi-biographical movie script that takes up the bulk of the book. Interesting in theory as it provides more insight into the Prankster Mexico days, but ultimately it reads more like an egocentric amphetamine project. The other material makes this a necessary item anyway. Plenty of b/w graphics. The hardcover version is quite rare.
Spit in the Ocean
Issue #6, edited by Ken Babbs, 1980. "Spit In The Ocean" was one of several scattered projects that Kesey & Babbs had going during the 1970s. Each issue was handled by a different guest editor, Tim Leary being among the earlier recruits. For this special "Cassady Issue" Babbs was in charge, and it is an essential piece in the Prankster/Neal puzzle, containing plenty of unique manuscript material and recollections, some rare photos, and an unpublished excerpt from Neal's autobiography. This was the last issue... except for the posthumous tribute issue, #7:
Edited by Ed McClanahan, #7 is a fine tribute to Kesey with contributions from many luminaries and Pranksters, and provides some additional detail to the saga.
The Further Inquiry
by Ken Kesey, Viking, 1990. Charming recollection of the first leg of the bus journey, presented as a mock trial for Neal Cassady's spirit. Was it Neal's (or Kesey's) fault that Stark Naked went crazy? Plenty of cool color pics.
On The Bus
by Paul Perry and Ken Babbs, Thunder's Mouth, 1991. The best introduction to the Further trip around, although the multiple narrator structure may cause some confusion. Plenty of rare photos, mostly b/w. An essential piece of history. Still in print.
#53, March 1970
Extensive piece about "Kesey on the farm", written in the typical Rolling Stone style which means that it's very long and not always that interesting. Basically an eye-witness report from a few days in Oregon, showing Kesey wrestling with day-to-day issues, shooting the breeze with Babbs and Hagen, and the whole gang loading up for a Dead concert in Corvallis. The highpoint is when Kesey gets going on a couple of extensive monologues that are quite brilliant, some about his younger days as an author, others about how to approach the communal lifestyle. There's also some talk about the Further movie and lots of details about how to run a creamery. Plenty of photos and of obvious interest for the Prankster fan. 10 pp. The issue also includes coverage of the Dead bust in New Orleans and an indepth look at "Zabriskie Point".
Prankster Memoirs by John Babbs
Here's a recent (2003) addition to the Prankster canon, provided by the enigmatic John "Sometimes Missing" Babbs. A self-published, DIY desktop work, this is an anthology of writings from Babbs (brother of Ken the Intrepid Traveler) collected over a long period of time. Despite the title, only about a third of it relates directly to the Merry Pranksters, the rest shows various brainstorms and projects Babbs had going, up to and including smut essays for porn magazines! Although his background isn't as a professional writer, John Babbs has an agreeable, somewhat Hemingway-esque style, which fits his low-key tales from various American underbellies well. Specifically for the Pranksters we learn of his staying with brother Ken in California in the early 60s, of hanging out with Ken Kesey and having his first acid trip by an Oregon river, and of various reunions including a fun verbatim dialogue account of a Dead concert in the early 1980s. There's some photos I haven't seen before.The mythical bus trip is covered only in passing, perhaps with the myriad of Further stories already floating around in mind. All in all, an enjoyable read. 230 pp, black & white photos here and there.
Available directly from John Babbs at ANGLE PRODUCTIONS, 3577 E 8th Ave, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.
Ken Kesey Bibliography
Merry Prankster History Project
The Merry Pranksters