Tom Wolfe Discusses Kool-Aid, Brian Wilson, and How to Fake an Acid Trip

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The only known photograph of Mark Graham and Lane Brown in existence, circa 7:30 a.m. this morning. Photo: Thomas Shelley

It’s been 40 years since Tom Wolfe’s game-changing feat of New Journalism bluster, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, introduced the world to Ken Kesey and his roving band of LSD-taking, Day-Glo drop-outs. Wolfe himself was joined by novelist Rick Moody and actor René Auberjonois at Symphony Space last night for a conversation that was partly about the book’s legacy, and partly about Paris Hilton, the Beach Boys, and how to pretend one knows what it’s like to be high on acid (hint: Throw around terms like “the perspective flash” and all the real heads will believe you). As for Wolfe’s eight-week experience with the Merry Pranksters? “It was not fun,” said the white-suited scribe. "I was so far from being on the bus."


Wolfe revealed that an infamous Hell’s Angels gangbang scene in Kool-Aid had been vouched for by Hunter S. Thompson himself, who'd sent him tapes of the affair as proof, then shared a story about a sixties encounter between novelist (and ex–Waffen SS member) Günter Grass and Allen Ginsberg, who was mouthing off about America’s descent into Fascism. Grass didn’t appreciate the comparison. Wolfe said he set them all straight — "We’re in the middle of a happiness explosion!" Then, he told us about how emblematic the Beach Boys were of the best part of the decade — all “fun! fun! fun!” thanks to Brian Wilson, “one of the great composers of the twentieth century.” From there it was off on another tangent about how no fictional account could ever accurately depict the sixties: “The subject is novel-proof,” Wolfe intoned. “Fiction has to be plausible — and so little else does.” Like Paris Hilton, for instance ("I think she is beautiful"), whose unlikely sex-video-to-TV-star transformation would never play in novel form, he claimed. (Perhaps there’s a role for her as a vacuous hippie in Gus Van Sant’s upcoming film adaptation of Acid Test.)