The true story behind the hazy, crazy Magic Bus trip that was the start of the hippy era
Last updated at 10:14 PM on 7th August 2011
The newly-released documentary Magic Trip is a free-wheeling portrait of a fabled road trip across America in the legendary Magic Bus.
It was to be the trip that launched America's hippy era.
In 1964, Ken Kesey, the famed author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, set off on the legendary, LSD-fuelled cross-country journey to the World’s Fair in New York.
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Taking the high road: The wildly painted bus brought and bewilderment from passers-by as it made its way west to east across America in 1964
He was joined by The Merry Band of Pranksters, a group of counter-culture characters, including Neal Cassady, the American icon immortalized in Kerouac’s On The Road, and the driver and painter of the psychedelic Magic Bus.
They wanted to make a documentary about their trip, shooting footage on 16MM, but the film was never finished and the footage remained virtually unseen.
With Magic Trip, filmmakers Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood were given access to this raw footage by the Kesey family and restored and edited 100 hours of film and audiotape.
Kesey was 29 and flush with the success of Cuckoo's Nest when the bus rolled out of his ranch in La Honda, California, along with his friends and a jar of orange juice laced with LCD.
Psychedelia was essentially born on the trip, which was immortalised in Tom Wolfe's The Elctric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Observer reports.
More room on top: The Merry Band of Pranksters made sure there was plenty of foolishness and fun along the way
Mr Wolfe said: 'The trip had a dual purpose. One was to turn America on to this particular form of enlightenment, the other was to publicise Kesey's new book Sometimes A Great Notion.'
Carolyn Garcia, aka Mountain Girl, who went on to marry the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, said Kesey felt a film of the bus trip would spread the gospel of freedom through LSD.
She said: 'They didn't know they were starting the 60s obviously, but they knew they had a big secret and they were going to exploit it to the full.'
Unlike most documentaries, Magic Trip does not use the reminiscences of ageing participants, instead it uses interviews Kesey made a decade after the trip.
The main man: Ken Kesey, flush from the success of his novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, 'organised' the trip
Miss Ellwood said: 'It was a way to get on the bus and stay on the bus.'
At the centre of the action is Kesey, who had signed up for research into the effects of LSD.
He believed the drug, which was still legal then, should be widely available.
He wanted to share his experiences of LSD with others.
At times, the Merry Pranksters's exploits look innocent.
In one scene, high on amphetamines, Cassady drives the bus backwards in Phoenix, Arizona.
The pranksters blow their trumpets and horns in mock support for Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate.
No ordinary journey: The bus, pictured here before the special section on the roof was made, broke down several times on the trip
What you smokin', boy? The party in an encounter with the law at a time when a widespread drug culture did not exist
Miss Ellwood said: 'It was more haphazard than planned. But Kesey knew something had to shift.'
He equipped the pranksters with 16mm cameras hoping to recreate the visions he'd had while in the psychedelic research project at the hospital.
Kesey's son Zane was four at the time and recalls the horror of travelling atop the bus on the mountainous coast road from Oregon to California as Cassady steered it wildly.
He said: 'Dad knew he and the pranksters were doing something fun and something that the world could enjoy if they documented it well enough.
American icon: Neal Cassady, immortalised in the book On The Road, drove and painted the Magic Bus
'But they were absolute amateurs and they were high.
Zane added: 'When they came home they showed the movie and that became a party.
'They did it again and it became an Acid Test.
'Then too many people started coming so they rented a place and bands started to come and play.
'So it was very much a part of how the Sixties were born.'
After Cassady drove the bus off the road in Arizona, Kesey dosed the party with LSD.
They tipped model paint into a stream, then dipped a T-shirt in it to create the tie-dyed effect that would become associated with San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury hippy scene.
A vision to be shared: Ken Kesey had signed up for research into LSD, which was legal at that time, and he liked what he saw
Zane said that throughout Kesey would guide the action.
'Dad said acid is not for everybody but if you can handle it there are things to be learned.'
Carolyn Garcia said the Magic Trip also marked the start of a greatv period of creativity.
'Music just poured out of the different scenes,' she said.
'We couldn't see what was going on in London but we knew fashion was going wild and people were having these things they called happenings.'
For Kesey, who died in 2001, the role of being a prophet was wearing off.
Garcia said: 'It was not what he planned. He was thinking of one summer and suddenly into turned into a lifestyle.
'People didn't want to leave. He had to deal with the aftermath of the bus trip for a long time.'
Eventually, Kesey distanced himself from the movement.
Garcia said: 'We didn't have any money, the bus was always breaking down, there was a lot of foolishness and sometimes people would triple-dose and have a really hard time.
'But for all the harsh realities, I'd like people to recognise the unbridled, goofy joy of the times. We had a heck of a lot of fun.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2023532/True-story-Magic-Bus-trip-launched-hippy-era.html#ixzz1UOnC8k1H