Friday, April 8, 2016

Santa Cruz Commemorates First Acid Test, Neal Cassady, Furthur, Ken Kesey, Grateful Dead












In December 2015, it was announced that the city Santa Cruz, a hippie/student/skater/surfer enclave in Northern California, would commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first acid test (which took place in Santa Cruz in 1965) by placing a "historical marker" near the site of the event.

Tom Wolfe captured the spirit of The Merry Pranksters in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). They travelled in the bus Furthur all over California and even across country, doing acid and trying to freak out the clueless locals.

At the Santa Cruz acid test, as at later such events, participants took acid, listened to The Grateful Dead (then called The Warlocks), danced, and attempted to transcend this reality, challenge their own assumptions, have fun, be creative and be truly alive in the moment.

Some of the Prankster vets, such as Mountain Girl and Ken Babbs, along with Neal Cassady's daughter Jami, gathered in December 2015 to mark the anniversary and celebrate the official city commemoration.

Many were curious as to how "acid" would be presented in the "historic marker" and in the end, it was only mentioned on a poster pictured on the display. The event itself is referred to as a Warlocks show.

The historic marker is in fact a bus stop, which seems odd at first, but they try to make it work by referencing the bus Furthur with Bob Weir's line "The bus came on and I got on".

Themed "The counterculture comes from Santa Cruz", it is actually much better than your run-of-the-mill historic marker in that it has much more information and illustrations than normally possible.

(By the way, psychedelic pioneer Alexander Skip Spence, founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, is buried near this site over in Soquel.)

Very nice to see an official city commemoration to the counterculture, albeit semi-whitewashed, but specifically mentioning Beat hero (and Furthur bus driver) Neal Cassady, Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), and The Grateful Dead (you know, John Mayer's new band).

Also referenced is Santa Cruz's legendary downtown 1960's-era bookstore/hangout place The Hip Pocket Bookstore, where Neal Cassady once worked and where one could hang out for hours for free, reading, writing, talking, and meeting the most interesting people around. A growing counterculture needs free, open places for people to meet. We could use a place like that now. Sub Rosa is part of that legacy, but we could use more spaces like that today, in a world that is increasingly insular and insulated.

The connection between the 1940's-50's Beat Generation (of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs) and the countercultural revolutions of the 1960's is located squarely in the acid tests, The Grateful Dead, and Ken Kesey, and most notably in the person of Neal Cassady, who played such vital roles in both the Beats and hippie movements. He is the connection, the spark, that made it happen.

UPDATE (4/15/16): Heard from Jami, Neal Cassady's daughter (who grew up near and still lives in the Santa Cruz area). She said she thinks the memorial at the bus stop is "amazing!" but clarified that there will also be an official city historical plaque near the location of the first acid test on Soquel Avenue near Santa Cruz.


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