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home | Acid Test Chronicles | The Acid Test Chronicles - Page 19 - . . .

The Acid Test Chronicles - Page 19 - Unitarian Church Acid Test (9th Test) - Northridge Feb. 6, 1966

   This was the first Los Angeles Acid Test. It was held at Paul Sawyer's Unitarian Church in Northridge. (In the San Fernando Valley) - 

   In fact, Babbs carried the Acid Tests into Los Angeles with an amazing determination. The Pranksters were now out of their home territory, the San Francisco area, but they performed with an efficiency they never knew they had before. It was as if they were all picking up on Babb's exhortations of months ago: "We've got to learn how to function on acid." They were soaring out of their gourds themselves, but they were pulling off Acid Tests that seemed like they were orchestrated. 
   Babbs was in great form, as I say, and he had also hooked up with a remarkable head named Hugh Romney, a poet, actor, and comedian who had gone the whole route, starting back in the Beat Generation days and was now into the LSD thing and had "Discovered the Management," as he put it, "and when you discover the Management there's nothing to do but but go to work for it." So Romney and his friend Bonnie Jean were now on the Bus, and they all set out to--nothing more, nothing less--turn on Los Angeles to the Management...Yes...The first Test was at Paul Sawyer's church in Northridge, just out from Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley Sawyer has never lost his willingness to experiment and is on the bus himself. And if the sport shirts could see this...new experimental rites...including music, dance, and sacrifice---the sacrifice? -- well...it was not strictly an Acid Test, but a "happening," which had become a harmless and un-loaded word in Cultural circles, even in Sawyer's Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church. A marvelous modern building shaped like a huge Bermuda onion, it was, forming one great towering...Dome, with fantastic acoustics like it had been created for the current fantasy itself. So the Pranksters moved in and wired and wound up the place, and hundreds arrived for the "happening," partaking of Prankster magic and pineapple chili, which was a concoction the Pranksters served, on the vile side in taste, but pineapple chili nonetheless, a wacky thought in itself. And Cassady had a microphone and started rapping, and Romney had a microphone and started rapping, and he was great, and Babbs and Paul Foster, flying with the God rotor and not stuttering at all....People dancing in the most ecstatic way and getting so far into the thing, the straight multitudes even, that even they took microphones, and suddenly there was no longer any seperation between the entertainers and the entertained at all, none of that well-look-at-you-startled-squares condescention of the ordinary happening. Hundreds were swept up in an experience, which built up like a dream typhoon, peace on the smooth liquid centrifugal whirling edge. In short, everybody in The Movie, on the bus, and it was beautiful---They were like...on! the Pranksters--now primed to draw the hundreds, the thousands, the millions into the new experience, and in the days ahead they came rushing in...
   Clair Brush, for one. Yes. She was the girl in her twenties, a pretty redhead, who worked for Art Kunkin, the editor hip circuit weekly, the Los Angeles Free press. Her old friend Doc Stanley had called her up before the Test at Sawyer's church and said, Clair, there is going to be a happening in Unitarian Church in the Valley that you really out to pick up on, and so forth...But one of the things Clair did at the Free Press was compile a calender of events for the hip circuit and this was the big season of "happenings" and she had been through all that a dozen times, and each one was always billed as the wave of the future, and was inevidably a drag. So she didn't go. Ummmmm. However.
   In hearing about it from people who did attend, though, she decided to go to the next one." -- Electric Kool Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe - Pages 269-71

   "With Kesey in Mexico, Babbs was the man in charge. He took the bus to Los Angeles for a series of Acid Tests. With the help of Wavy Gravy (also known as Hugh Romney), the Pranksters put on four Acid Tests. The first was in a Unitarian Church in Northridge, a dome-shaped ediface where dozens of acid heads and a few rank-and-file Unitarians showed up to drop acid and eat Prankster prepared pineapple chili. Like ministers, Cassady and Wavy Gravy stood before the assembled multitude rapping to each other over microphones. It was later described as a sort of mind-reading experience, in which Cassady knew what Wavy was going to say before he said it. At the time it must have seemed a bit like the synched-up Church of Acid Sacrament." -- On The Bus - Paul Perry - Page 116 

   Lee Quarnstrom: "I was pretty high, so I can't remember a whole lot about this particular place. But the church itself was like a theatre in the round, with carpeted steps coming up from the perimeter. I spent most of my time sitting on those steps because I was so high." - On the Bus - Paul Perry - Page 161

   "Later that month, Reverend Paul Sawyer offered to let the Pranksters stage their first L.A. Acid Test at his Unitarian Universalist Church in North Hills. His only requirement was that LSD not be served, since his congregation would be participating. "I was kind of concerned that the thing would become a publicity ploy," he says, his tone deliberate.
   Set back about 50 yards from Haskell Avenue, the church is at the end of an asphalt path lined with shrubbery and vibrant flowers that culminates in a circular driveway. It was constructed in 1964 by Neutra contemporary Frank Ehrenthal and is regarded as one of the world’s first round churches. Sawyer likens the church to the Hagia Sophia, though it has taken on "The Onion" as a nickname on account of its bulbous, wineglass-upside-down-without-a-stem shape. In 1969, the church was renamed Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society.   
   Sawyer, who until his retirement this past summer was the reverend of Throop Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, met Kesey in 1965 at San Francisco State University, where Kesey was giving a speech about Sometimes a Great Notion. Afterward, Kesey invited Sawyer, his wife and kids up to La Honda for a ride on the bus and a glimpse at a real, live Hell’s Angel. (The Pranksters’ relatively harmonious relationship with the biker gang came to an abrupt end after an Angel stabbed a black fan to death during the Rolling Stones’ set at Altamont Speedway, an event captured in the stark Gimme Shelter documentary.) Later that year, Sawyer and Kesey were invited to speak at Asilomar, a new-age conference center on the coast of the Monterey Peninsula. Sawyer was tapped for his knowledge of the arts, religion and worship, and Kesey because One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had turned on the head theologian at Asilomar. -- From "The Day Glo Effect" - LA Weekly, Dec. 30, 2004

   "It was the era of the Acid Test, as immortalized in Tom Wolf's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. Romney had introduced Del to the West Coast's nascent psychedelic scene, and they both participated in the group LSD experiments sponsored by Ken Kesey Merry Pranksters. Del participated in the first LA Acid Test held Feb. 6, 1966 at the Valley Unitarian Church. In the following weeks L.A. Free Press Paul J. Robbins called it "a revolutionary concept of the function of the theatre and the relationship of individuals in a society." Nonperformers were encouraged to take part; Robbins noted that Neal Cassady "went out on an hour's worth of fascinating word salad over a mike while interferometric Del Close began casting magical and ineffable colors onto a wall, directed only by his spontaneous explorations of what he was doing. Hugh Romney began a monologue like an incantation while watching a film being shown on another section of the wall.
   But LSD was never Del's drug of choice. While living on Lemon grove during the Acid Test, he was content to rig the light shows for the others and was, the only one allowed not to drop acid; he preferred to shoot speed instead. Romney recalled waking up one morning and finding forty people in their kitchen making breakfast: The Merry Pranksters were staying with us. And Tiny Tim said to me in a puzzled voice, 'Mr. Neal Cassady is looking for some grass---there is a whole lawn of it out front'.
   Although he was part of the hippie scene, Del was experiencing a clash of cultures, as he later explained to Jeff Lyon in the Oct. 14, 1982 Chicago Tribune. 
   'I walked into one of the Acid Tests wearing my shades, a black suit, thin tie, white shirt, the hipster suit the Blues Brothers wound up later adopting. Neal Cassady is there in a pair of cut-off jeans, and he stopped dead in his tracks. 'Hey what are you trying to do, be 15 years out of date?'. So I quickly let my hair grow out and changed my dress style.  Protective coloration, see. But honestly, I never took any of it very seriously. I never gave up on being a beatnik. This whole psychedelic thing was co-opted so quick. As soon as people started wearing beads, they opened up bead shops.  It got too commercialized." -- The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close By Kim "Howard" Johnson - Page 115