photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
something EXTRAORDINARY happened in the 1960s. from the post-war economic prosperity and relative CONSERVATIVE CULTURAL MALAISE of the 1950s came an ERUPTIVE overflow of long-simmering ideas that altered the COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS of the BABY BOOMER generation just coming into their own. any and all TRADITIONS were under RECONSIDERATION, which resulted in various movements (CIVIL RIGHTS, FEMINIST, ENVIRONMENTALIST, ANTI-WAR, PROTO-GAY RIGHTS, NATIVE RIGHTS) and new adoptive practices (SEXUAL REVOLUTION and PSYCHEDELIC REVOLUTION) to effectively DISCONNECT this COHORT GROUP from all generations that came before. this was by definition a COUNTER CULTURE.
the SUPERB ALISON ELLWOOD and ALEX GIBNEY-directed MAGIC TRIP (MAGNOLIA, 2011) documentary holds its focus on this MONUMENTAL inflection point in AMERICAN HISTORY, manifested by the transformation of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (VIKING, 1964) author KEN KESEY during this period. KESEY was every bit the all-AMERICAN boy next door, the son of HUMBLE dairy farmers who married his middle school sweetheart (til his death in 2001) and attended the local UNIVERSITY OF OREGON as a lettered wrestler (and one-time OLYMPIC prospect). after being injured he became interested in journalism and later creative writing which led him to STANFORD after graduation. it was here that he became involved in nascent government studies on HALLUCINOGENIC DRUGS. it was his understanding at the time that they were being examined and studied for their PALLIATIVE EFFECTS, only to learn years after the fact via friend and colleague ALLEN GINSBERG that such were conducted with more COERCIVE intentions. incredibly, LSD was being state administered to garner information concerning their MIND-ALTERING EFFECTS to be used in future interrogations by the CIA. regardless, a seed was planted in KESEY.
in the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a groundswell of academic and intellectual exploration into the CONSCIOUSNESS-EXPANDING EFFECTS of PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES, most famously by HARVARD professors TIMOTHY LEARY and RICHARD ALPERT (a.k.a RAM DASS). even BRITISH intellectual heavyweights such as ALDOUS HUXLEY were early proponents of MEASURED and DELIBERATE usage of PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES in order to gain a WIDER and more VIVID EXPERIENTIAL APPRECIATION and PERSPECTIVE on the natural world and our connection to it. but this was still very much an academic and intellectual affair.
KESEY and his friends (dubbed "THE MERRY PRANKTERS") decided to cross the UNITED STATES from OREGON in 1964, auspiciously to see the newly opened WORLD'S FAIR in NEW YORK CITY while filming themselves along the way. there was a technical issue with the sound, which never linked with the video, and numerous editing attempts rendered the film ultimately abandoned. what is INCREDIBLE is that the majority of the film is conceived from this footage and some of the audio. MAGIC TRIP is a REMARKABLE look at the emerging of a CONSCIOUSNESS and the COUNTER CULTURE of the period. all of these clean shaven, short-haired prime examples of AMERICAN youth over the course of the journey on this PHANTASMAGORICALLY COLORED, heavily MODIFIED school bus (named "FURTHER") took DRUGS that opened them up to new SEXUAL CONFIGURATIONS with each other (regardless of married status) and new NOVEL APPRECIATIONS of the NATURAL ORDER, whose ever-shifting, EXPANSIVE landscape they witnessed in real time from their window. some went MAD and others fled for easier routes eastward, but what emerged was the birth of a new CONSCIOUSNESS. by the time they got to QUEENS and saw the WORLD'S FAIR, the cultural landscape had already effectively SHIFTED, rendering such a WILD corporate fantasyland of the future an anachronism due to simmering DESTRUCTIVE tides of the period related to the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT and the recent tragic assassination of JFK.
once the common usage of PSYCHOACTIVE DRUGS became something a NATIONAL SOCIAL PHENOMENON (or a trend) over the course of the decade and had long since transcended the measured and deliberate usage prescribed by its academic fore-bearers, KESEY changed his tune somewhat. more than being arrested on trumped-up MARIJUANA charges that forced his hand to avert prison time, KESEY saw the DESTRUCTIVE power of these CONTROLLED CHEMICALS on NAIVE and UNINFORMED users. such is the case with all new technology (nuclear, pharmacological or otherwise) that once out of the bag, the responsibility lies with the participating adult.
it INTRIGUING how in one roundtrip bus excursion across the UNITED STATES that took less than a year to complete is the story of an entire decade. one whose CULTURAL REVERBERATIONS we are still grappling with and feeling more than half a century later. MAGIC TRIP is an EXCEPTIONAL documentary well worth checking out.