Book Review: On the Bus by Paul Parry, et. al.

Publisher Thunder's Mouth Press
Format: Hard cover 196 p.
ISBN: 0-938410-91-1
Price: $21.95

book coverAlthough this book was published in 1990, I didn't become aware of it until over five years later. It seems to be pretty obscure because unlike Kesey's book on the same subject (The Furthur Inquary), I did not see it in any book store, nor did it turn up in any library card catalog search I had done so far. I didn't find it under Hippies or Haight-Ashbury. I only found it when looking under Babbs.

This book is unique because no one person tells the story. Everyone from Hunter Thompson to the late Jerry Garcia as well as many of the Pranksters contributed their memories to this book. The story starts on Perry Lane about the time of the LSD experiments at Menlo Park. The material here that is new is about Kesey's writing class, where Kesey would bring in each chapter of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and read it to the class.

Next, the story moves on to Kesey's pad in LaHonda, if you can call it a pad. I don't know why, but I have never seen a good photo of it. New material here include a story of a Christmas tree decorated with part of the Prankster movie. Then there's the bit where Kesey invited himself along when Hunter Thompson was going to see some Hells Angels about a book he was writing about them. Kesey hit it off right away with the Angels. They were passing joints around and the subject came up that the Angels didn't know where they were going to go for their Labor Day motorcycle run and Kesey says, "Well, why don't you bring all the boys over to my pad out in the woods and we'll have one hell of a party," or something to that effect. Hunter Thompson just about had a fit because he was sure that the Angels would make mince meat out of the Pranksters, especially if he turned them on to acid. Well, the Angels came and Kesey turned them on to acid and they didn't make mince meat out of the Pranksters. Instead, they completely dug the scene, even though Allen Ginsberg was there.

Next is the story of the bus trip and photos of the inside of the bus I had never seen before. This has better coverage about the party for Kerouac and the Pranksters at Millbrook than I have read before. Although a good part of the book is about the bus trip itself, I don't remember anything new except for the part about New York, which was kind of skimped on in Tom Wolfe's book about the Pranksters.

The last of the book is about the Acid Tests. There was some new information about the Watts Acid Test, much of which I tend to doubt that was true. First, it claims that someone (Owsley) mis-calcuated how much LSD to put in the Kool-Aid, that they thought that they only had 50 micrograms per cup but it turned out to be more like 300 a cup, and most people drank several cups. I think the key phrase here is several cups. For example, if each cup had an honest 50 micrograms and if someone were to drink five cups, that would be 250 micrograms, an overwhelming amount for a first time user, and difficult for even an experienced tripper, especially when you consider that a freakout was being piped over the PA system that night.

Then, there was the story about the Kentucky Fried Chicken and the weird effect it had on Pigpen. He picked up a drumstick and he couldn't even eat it because it caused him to freeze like a statue for some 15 minutes, or at least that's what the book claims. This has to be one of the most bizarre tales I've heard about the Grateful Dead and the Watts Acid Test and my biggest criticism of the book is that the editers didn't check these bizarre stories out before including them. That would have saved everyone from getting a bunch of e-mail, saying, "Hey, I was there and that didn't happen."

In all fairness, I would have to say that this isn't the only book about the Grateful Dead that contains these tall tales, especially stories about Pigpen getting dosed without his concent. For a full list of these, see my Pigpen page. I've noticed that most of these books tend to be written 20 years or more after the fact when there are fewer people around to dispute what is written. That may make for better book sales, but is sad when you consider that kids may be using them some day to complete their school assignments to learn about the time period. This is in contrast to books like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which were written with two or three years of the time period being reported.

One last interesting footnote about this book: it helped a friend of mine win the Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties contest that Rockument used to have on their web site. The question was to name the real names of as many of the Merry Pranksters that you could think of. Well, anyone could have looked in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and done that, but this book mentions the real name of one of the Pranksters not mentioned in Tom Wolf's book, Mary Microgram. It's a nice book to have around to win those kind of contests.

Copyright © 1995-2001, Colin Pringle