The Acid Test Chronicles - Page 20 - Youth Opportunities Center, Watts (10th) Acid Test - Feb. 12, 1966
The 2nd Acid Test held in Los Angeles in Watts, was the most memorable of all the Los Angeles Acid Tests, as far as documentation that exists.
The Pranksters went on to throw Tests throughout Los Angeles in 1966. The most notorious was at a Youth Opportunities Center in Watts on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday — only months after the Watts Riots. Reached by phone at "hippie Hyannisport," the communal house in Berkeley where he lives, Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farmers, a collective assembled to quell heads having bad trips, recalled that night. "The electric Kool-Aid was coined by me the night of the Watts Acid Test. Although [Wolfe] did maintain that I put the acid in the Kool-Aid at Watts — and I still have mothers hit me over the head with umbrellas for that one — I didn’t. In fact, I spent a good part of the evening saying the Kool-Aid on the right is for the children and the Kool-Aid on the left is the electric Kool-Aid. Get it? Nudge, nudge. My big falling out with the Pranksters is that I didn’t think people should take LSD unless they knew they were taking it." Wavy’s eagerness to warn Test participants of the Kool-Aid’s contents stems from an incident involving the Who Cares Girl, the nickname for a freak-out at Watts who required heaps of love and affection to mollify. -- From "The Day-Glo Effect" - LA Weekly, Dec. 30, 2004
(Notice that Phil goes on about Watts here, but completely overlooks the REAL first test, known to have taken place at Paul Sawyer's Unitarian Church in Northridge one week prior. - memory is not always the best source of knowledge", that is part of why I decided to create this project.)
"Before we settled down at the big pink house in Watts, however, we made our L.A. performance debut at the Watts [sic} acid Test, actually held in a warehouse in the central L.A. County city of Compton ("the hub city," proclaimed the seal on all the cop cars). This warehouse was probably the scuzziest place I ever had to play. There was all kinds of description-defying debris laying about (mostly in the corners, thank goodness) High windows let through brown light, even in the middle of the day. The concrete floors, walls, ceiling, and pillars were all painted with a faded hepatitis yellow, which reminded me of descriptions i'd read of the color of mustard gas. All in all, a rather poisonous atmosphere in which to attempt the transcendent, and it became apparent early on that this would not be an ecstatic experience.
It began for me at the moment we were supposed to start playing; Bear and his tech wizard Tim Scully had laboriously converted the guitars to low-impedance output mode so that they could be played through the "high-fi" rig that was now our amp line. My instrument was the last to be altered, and so in our shortsighted excitement at the thought of being able to play through the new system, we had left all our other amps behind in San Francisco. The conversion mainly involved an external transformer box plugged between the instrument and the pre-amp amp stages. It was this box, resting on the floor by the amp line, that Bear and Tim were attempting to build as we waited to play. As I watched them struggle with wires the size of a thread and a soldering iron like a polish sausage, colors dripping off of them like big drops of sweat, it slowly dawned on me that my bass wasn't going to work and that we had no other way to amplify it. No sooner had I drawn breath to let forth a screech of dismay than Bear had screwed the cover back on the box, and we were ready to go. We may have played one, maybe two tunes, when Jerry decided he didn't feel like playing anymore, spending the rest of the night in an animated philosophical discussion with George Walker, one of the Pranksters. My disappointment must have been palpable. I'd wanted to play so badly, and it had actually sounded good in that awful place. I guess I must have felt that if we'd continued, the downward spiral would have been halted, or at least slowed down. Given the nature of the Test, there was no contractual requirement for us to play, nor were we paid. The take, such as it was, was divided evenly among us all. It didn't matter much, in theory, whether we played or not, since there was always plenty going on to occupy one's awareness.
And so it came to pass, after a formless period of psychedelic glossolalia, that a new voice was heard in the land: "Ray! Who Cares?" The Who Cares Lady was lamenting the tragedy of existence, loud and long. At first just a sound source among many -- grain for the Mobius mill -- her voice came to dominate the whole experience, essentially taking over the function of music as the thread or carrier wave to mesh the assembled minds into a gestalt totality. At one point, Pigpen, the only band member left onstage, began to sing and chant in response to her wailing, occasionally singing in harmony with or in counterpoint to her cries; his theme, as always, was the infinite glory and variety of love. Gradually, the oppressive atmosphere began to lift and dissipate through the magical warmth of his voice. After that, I started to feel that we would survive the rest of the night with a modicum of hope for the future.
....."In retrospect, the Watts Test resounds in my memory as the last manifestation of the incestuo-subjective Prankster-Dead combine; the Tests that followed -- Pico, Sunset, the Trips '66 attempt at recapturing the January magic -- were more about putting on a show than creating a gestalt, or group mind." -- Searching for the Sound - Phil Lesh - Pages 78-81
Wavy Gravy: "Well, I certainly cared, at least to get her to shut the fuck up. If she was unglued, I might at least find some way to get her glued back together, I went looking for her -- twenty minutes, twenty years, who knows how long it took to find her -- and found her standing in the middle of a circle of pranksters and people I didn't know still saying, "Who Cares?! Who Cares?! I got everybody to join hands which caused this woman to laugh and turn into jewels and light. That was when I passed my Acid Test. I realized that when you get to the very bottom of the human soul and your sinking, but you'll still reach for someone who is sinking worse than you are, everybody's going to get high. You don't need acid to get there." -- On the Bus - Paul Perry - Page 165
Lee Quarnstrom: "It was right after the Watts riot. I had the sense that we were the first white people to be there since the riot.
We held the Acid Test in an old automotive repair garage that was empty. We got a couple of thirty-gallon garbage pails and mixed Kool-Aid. Owsley had a couple of glass ampules with pure LSD in them and he pured it into the Kool-Aid. We did some quick mathematics and figured that one Dixie cup full of Kool-Aid equalled fifty micrograms of acid. The standard dose, if you wanted to get high, was 300 mics. So we told everyone that six cups would equal a standard trip.
After a couple of cups, when I was as high as I had ever been, somebody recomputed and realized that each cup held 300 micrograms. I remember hearing that and realized that I had just gulped down 2000 micrograms. The rest of the evening was as weird as you might expect.
.....That was also the night that the state narcs just came in and looked at people. They looked into our eyes with little flashlights to see what happened to the pupils. LSD would be illegal in the foreseeable future and they just wanted to see what LSD people looked like.
.....Another thing I remember was Pigpen, the late singer with the Grateful Dead. He was a drinker and was afraid of drugs, but somehow he had gotten some acid and was now pretty deep into a trip.
Someone had gone out and gotten some Kentucky Friend Chicken and he was trying to eat a drumstick. I say "trying" because he stood there for about fifteen minutes staring at this drumstick. He was absolutely frozen into a statue.
The Grateful Dead weren't exactly functioning, either. They kept tuning things up and trying to get things to work, but they didn't play any actual music. They were just too high to function....
Also, Paul Foster had painted his face half-blue and half-silver. When he left the garage, the police arrested him for public drunkeness or something of the sort. I bring that up because Jack Webb later used that in a "Dragnet" series. It was about a bunch of LSD addicts taking this drug and how one of the guys painted himself blue. They called him "Blueboy" on the show." -- On the Bus - Paul Perry - Page 161, 164-65
"At this time, Rock Scully became the band's manager. With Owsley on hand and the band itchy to play, several Acid Tests were set up in Los Angeles. But it just wasn't the same with Kesey gone. At the Watts Acid Test the vibes were intense, and certain people freaked out. Garcia remembered it as "the night everybody was terribly overdosed." - Captain Trips - Sandy Troy - page 85
"...Which was set for Watts, on Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12, 1966. Watts! the very Watts where hardly five months before the freaking revolution of the blacks had broken out, the symbol of all that was catastrophic and hopeless in American life, and what is this strange spaceship now approaching Watts, the very Youth Opportunities center itself--Youth Opportunities!--for the trip beyond catastrophe...
"I think what decided it for me"--Clair is recalling it for me--"was someone's description of Art Kunkin's spontaneous participation and enjoyment of the evening in the church. Most of the people there were given to improvisation as required, but Arthur and I share a reserve in crowds.
"Anyways. The Watts site--it was actually Compton, an incorporated city on the fringe of Watts--was chosen for reasons unknown to me. The best guess i've heard had to do with the politics of taking such a party into the recently stricken neighborhood, as a friend-ship thing; also a humorous--ironical?--site for such carryings-on.
"The building was a warehouse, part of a Youth Opportunities center, but still vacant. They--the Center people--were using or were going to use the building as a workshop for manual trades, possibly automotive? Job-retraining, etc. It was legally leased for 24 or 48 hours by Kesey's group, with money, and the caretaker of the center was present at all times during the Acid Test.
"Announcements were made in the usual way, Free Press and KPFK calender etc., and around 200 people were in attendance. When I arrived, nothing had started...people were clustered in small groups, sitting on mats and blankets around the walls. The room, the main room, was huge...my conception of feet, in yards and such, is bad, but i'd guess maybe 50 by 25. There was a smaller room to the east and bathroom to the west, and the large room had a corridor running along the south wall which had open windows waist-high without glass...through which the scene inside could be observed.
"I had driven my car down, giving two people a ride, but I left them immediately...went to join some friends, who had some rose wine and were sitting on a pad on the floor. As I said, none of the effects had started...but shortly there was an announcement (I think by Neal Cassady, but I didn't know him then) that the evening would begin. Films were projected on the south wall, with a commentary...films of further, the Bus, the people in the bus....the commentary was a rather dull travelogue and the film seemed fairly uninspired and confused.
"Remember now, I'm a novice. I'd never even been 'high' on 'pot' or any kind of pill or anything...my strongest experience had been with alcohol. I knew a few 'heads' but didn't think much of the whole thing...had tried pot a few times and nothing impressed me, except for the unpleasant taste.
"This may explain why a lot of people were digging the film, laughing, and also why a lot of people were there. I'm sure I was one of the minority who had no idea what to expect. The word must have been passed, but didn't get to me. Also I think a lot of those in attendance had heard of Kesey's things and were very aware of what was being done. Not old unworthy Clair. Story of my life.
"The film continued, some slides were shown of flowers and patterns, this and that...then a large trash can, plastic, was carried to the middle of the room, and all were invited to help themselves to the Kool-Aid it contained. There was no big rush to the refreshment stand...people wandered up, it was being served in paper cups, and since Kool-Aid is a staple in the homes of Del Close and Hugh Romney and other friends of mine, I thought it quite a natural thing to serve...had a cup, had another, wandered and talked for a while, had another..."
Ironically, for Clair anyway, it was Romney's inspiration to serve Kool-Aid, as he called it. They had all...yes...laced it good and heavy with LSD. It was a prank, partly, but mainly it was a natural culmination of the Acid Tests. It was a gesture, it was sheer generosity giving all this acid away, it was truly turning on the world, inviting all in to share the Pranksters' ecstacy of the All-one....all become divine vessels in unison, and it is all there in Kool-Aid and a paper cup. Cassady immediately drank about a gallon of it. Actually there were two cans. Romney took the microphone and said, "This one over here is for the little folk and this one over here is for the big folk. This one over here is for the kittens and this one over here is for the tigers," and forth and so on. As far as he was concerned, he was doing everything but putting a sign on the loaded batch saying LSD. Romney was so thoroughly into the pudding himself it never occurred to him that a few simpler souls might have wandered into this unlikely way station in Watts and simply not know...or think that all this thinly veiled instructions probably referred to gin, like the two crystal bowls of punch at either end of the long white table at a wedding reception...or just not hear, like Clair Brush--
"Severn Darden was there, and Del Close, of course, and I knew them from the Second City in Chicago. Severn and I were standing under a strobe light (first time i'd seen one, and they are kicky) doing an improvisation...he was a jealous husband, and I an unfaithful wife, something simple and funny. He was choking me and throwing me around (gently, of course) and suddenly I began to laugh...and laugh...and the laugh was more primitive, more gut-tearing than anything I had ever known. It came from somewhere so deep inside that I had never felt it before...and it continued...and it was uncontrollable...and wonderful. Something snapped me back and I realized that there was nothing funny...nothing to laugh about...what had I been laughing at?
"I looked around and people's faces were distorted...lights were flashing everywhere...the screen (sheets) at the end of the room had three or four different films on it at once, and the strobe light was flashing faster than it had been...the band, the Grateful Dead, was playing but I couldn't hear the music...people were dancing...someone came up to me and I shut my eyes and with a machine he projected images on the back of my eyelids (I really think this happened...I asked and there was such a machine)...and nothing was in perspective, nothing had any touch or normalcy or reality...I was afraid, because I honestly thought that it was all in my mind, and that I had finally flipped out.
"I sought a person I trusted, stopping and asking people what was happening...mostly they laughed, not believing that I didn't know. I found a man I knew not very well but with whom I felt simpatico from the first time we met. I asked him what was happening, and if it was all me, and he laughed and held me very close and told me that the Kool-Aid had been 'spiked' and that I was just beginning my first LSD experience...and not to be afraid, but to neither accept nor reject...to always keep open, not to struggle or try to make it stop. He held me for a long time and we grew closer than two people can be...our bones merged, our skin was one skin, there was no place where we could seperate, where he stopped and I began. This closeness is impossible to describe in any but melodramatic terms...still, I did feel that we had merged and become one in the true sense, that there was nothing that could seperate us, and that it had meaning beyond anything that had ever been. (Note, a year and two months later...three months...I later read about 'imprint' and that it was possible that we would continue to be meaningful to each other no matter what circumstances...I think this is true...the person in question remains very special in my life, and I in his, though we have no contact and see each other infrequently....we share something that will last. Oh hell! There's no way to talk about that without sounding goopy.)
"I wasn't afraid any more and started to look around. The setting for the above scene had been the smaller room which was illuminated only by black light, which turns people into beautiful color and texture. I saw about ten people sitting directly under the black light, which was black-draped by a white (luminescent lavender, then) sheet, painting on disembodied mannequins with fluorescent paint...and on each other, their clothes, etc. I stood under the light and drops of paint fell on my foot and sandal, and it was exquisite. I returned to this light frequently...it was peaceful and beautiful beyond description. My skin had depth and texture under the light...a velvety purple. I remember wishing it could be that color always. (I still do.)
"There was much activity in the large room. People were dancing and the band was playing--but I couldn't hear them. I can't remember a note of the music, because the vibrations were so intense. I am music-oriented---sing, play instruments, etc.---which is why this seems so unusual to me. I stood close to the band and let the vibrations engulf me. They started in my toes and every inch of me was quivering with them...they made a journey through my nervous system (I remember picturing myself as one of the charts we had studied in biology, which shows the nervous network), traveling each tiny path, finally reaching the top of my head, where they exploded in glorious patterne of color and line...perhaps like a Steinberg cartoon? ...I remember intense colors, but always with black lines...not exactly patterns, but with some outlines and definitions.
"The strobe light broke midway...I think they blew something in it...but that was a relief, because I had been drawn to it but it disturbed the part of me that was trying to hang onto reality...playing with time-sense was something i'd never done...and I found it irresistable but frightning.
"The Kool-Aid had been served at ten or so. Almost from the first the doorway was crowded with people walking in and out, and policemen. There were, throughout the evening, at least six different groups of police...starting with the Compton City police, then the Highway Patrol, sheriff's deputies, L.A.P.D. and the vice/narco squad. I seem to remember them in groups of five or six, standing just inside the doorway, watching, sometimes talking to passers-by, but making no hostile gestures or threatening statements. It seems now that they must have realized that whatever was going on was more than could be coped with...and a jail full of 150 people on acid was infinitely undesirable...so they'd look, comment, go away, and others would come...this continued through the night.
"Dignitaries from the neighborhood attended...I'd guess around midnight, but i've no sense of the time of any of this, until 6:00 a.m. or so, when I finally sat down (I had walked, danced or stood from 10 p.m. on, not wanting to sit down...for what reason I can't imagine). There were two or three women, about seven men. One of the men was dressed in a white suit and had a Shriner's cap on--I thought he was Elijah Muhammed. They smiled, watched, talked with some of the people...stayed for about half an hour, and left, wishing us a happy evening. No Kool-Aid was in evidence at the time, of course...it had been removed quickly. The neighborhood people were Negro, naturally, They seemed to have no idea of the party as being anything but a gathering of young people, and appeared to be pleased to welcome us to the neighborhood. I remember one of the women was carring a child and many people stooped to play with him...probably a two year old boy.
"The caretaker of the building was present for the whole time. It seems he's go back to the office part and sleep for a while, or maybe just get away from the noise and the claos...but periodically would check to see that everything was all right. He was friendly, happy, but very, very confused at the strange activities.
"Mostly I'd call the Acid Test a master production. Everything was very carefully meshed and calculated to produce the LSD effect, so that I have no idea where the production stopped and my own head took over. The films being shown were so vivid, with patterns and details of flowers and trees and often just color surrounded by black lines and fast-moving scenery and details of hands and such...again, I avoided getting hung up watching them...."
"People were standing outside...it was a cold, clear night...someone panicked, got in his car and drove away, burning rubber...I wanted to go back to my house, but knew that driving would be insane. Bonnie (who was Hugh Romney's lady) was standing alone...we touched hands and smiled, knowing, caring...Further was parked in the street. I went alone and sat in the bus, and heard and felt the spirits of the people who lived in it...we (the bus and I) went on a journey through time, and I knew them so well...I went back inside and found the man whose face was painted half-gold and half-silver, with a bushy head of curly hair, who had seemed earlier to be frightening and strange" --
--this was Paul Foster -- "and looked at him and understood. The costumes of the Merry Pranksters had seemed bizarre, and now they were beautiful and right. I recalled a poster which we'd had on the ceiling of the Free Press when our offices were under the Fifth Estate...it's a poster for the production of "The Beard" and has "Grah roor ograrh...lion lioness...oh grahr...' (like that) printed on it...and for that moment I understood exactly what was being said.
"A great flash of insight came to me. I've forgotten it now, but there was one instant when everything fell into place and made sense, and I said aloud, "oh, of course!'...why didn't I see all this before, why couldn't I have realized all these things and not resisted them so much. That didn't last, and hasn't recurred.
"There was a witch who was very kind and sent out the best warm and lovely vibrations. She was wearing red velvet and she's an older lady, really a witch in the best possible way. I was glad she was there, and she was smiling and understanding and enjoying, mothering those few who were not reacting well.
"There was one girl who was wrestling with God. She was with friends, and I think she was all right after a few hours. There was one man who became completely withdrawn...I want to say catatonic, because we tried to bring him out of it, and could not make contact at all...he was sort of a friend of mine, and I had some responsibility for getting him back to town...he had a previous history of mental hospitals, lack of contact with reality, etc., and when I realized what had happened, I begged him not to drink the Kool-Aid, but he did...and it was very bad. These are the only two people I know of who did have bad experiences, but I'm sure I wasn't in contact with everyone.
"I told you about the tape recording ('Who cares?....I don't care...') and how it was used again at the next one. Show biz. ---yessss--and noooo--Clair was soaring on LSD, wondering what was happening to herself and whether she was going mad, and so forth, and the most crazed scream rang out:
And then Ra "Ray!....Ra-a-a-a-ay!...Who Cares!"
Not even such a manic scream could have been heard over the general roar and rush of the Test ordinarily, over the Grateful Dead wailing, or certainyl not with such clarity, except for the fact that it was being picked up by a microphone and amplified out of huge theatre horns---
That was just the thing for somebody like Clair to hear. Clair who thought she was going mad---the sound of a woman freaking out, blowing her mind, all of it amplified as if it were tearing out of every gut in the place and up through every brain cell. So, Clair's protector and impromptu guide put his arms around her again and told her, "It's a tape they made. It's just a put-on. Hugh Romney made it." Well that seemed plausible. Hugh was an actor and a great satirist and put-on artist and a Prankster...In fact, between screams, there was Hugh's voice sure enough, coming over the microphone:
"Ladies and gentlemen, there's a cop who's come apart in the next room."
The next room was the anteroom off the big hall that Clair had started out in. There was a girl in there sitting on the floor and freaking out in the most complete way. Just the thing for acid veterans. These things happen, what you need is--and Panksters and other heirophants of the acid world heard about the girl sitting in there and screaming. Who Cares! and freaking out. Norman Hartweg and Romney came in there, and here was a fairly pretty girl, if only her face wasn't so contorted, with one crippled leg, shrieking Who cares! and Ra-a-a-a-ay. Ray, the very Ray himself, and Romney looks at Ray and sees the picture at once. Ray is a big guy with a crewcut and a T-shirt and a sleeveless jacket or vest or something on, which shows his muscles very well. He looks like some sailor who fell in with a bunch of hippies and now he wonders what in the fock has happened--
The worst possible guy in the world to deal with the Who Cares Girl. This is a job for experts, and we have them here, some of the greatest acid experts in the world, Romney, Norman, the Hassler--he comes in--and here comes Babbs--and they're all gathered around her in a bunch--Attention!--remember Rachael Rightbred!--and it came to pass!--and they give her the freakout expertise:
"...don't fight it..."
"...go with it..."
"...neither accept nor deny..."
"...go with the flow..."
"...we're with you..."
"...you're in the hands of experts..."
--experts--and the Pranksters are there rapping over her, riff after riff of words--and then Romney got hold of some Thorazine, a tranquilizer that is good at aborting bad LSD trips and he says, "Here, take this--"
--take this--the Who Cares Girl and Ray look at this costumed freak amid a group of costumed freaks, all zonked, trying to hand her a capsule of God knows what--diabolism--and Ray throws the Thorazine away and the Who Cares Girl throws it away, and capsules go skidding across the floor, and the Who Cares Girl goes:
haruummmppparummmparrrumppparrrumppparruuuuuuuumparumpauharuharummmpa mumbling along, drifting in and out of the freakout, giggling for a stretch and they say ah she's coming out of it and then: "Who cares!...Ray!...Ra-a-a-ay!...Oh, what's the use!...Sex!...Ray! Sex!...Who cares!"
That phrase!--it sticks in Romney's head. He can't get it out. Her scream shrieks over the hall, because now Babbs has brought up the microphone and holds it near her, right in front of Ray, solicitously, like this will do it. Ray's head sprockets around inanely. Babbs is getting it all over the microphone, to make it part of the test--not an isolated event--but All-one, anachoretic freakout--Who cares! Romney looked at Babbs and Who Cares! -- well, Babbs cares, with one part of him, but with another his devotion is to the Test, to the Archives, a freakout for the archives, freaked out on tape in the Archives, Who Cares in the Prankster Archives, and they cry wails over the hall, into every brain, including Clair's--
Romney can't get this insane cry out of his head. Who cares, and it becomes the Who Cares Test for him, and he is back at the microphone, with his mission now, his voice furrowing into the microphone:
"Listen, this girl's brains are coming out! and who cares? This girl's coming apart! and who cares? This girl's breaking up into crispy chips! and who cares? This girl's caked in the dust, nylon wall-to-wall on her eyeballs! and who cares?"
---and it was very clear. Everybody who cared would do something, pour on the Energy if nothing else, bleed Dimensional Kreemo for her, if they truly cared. It became a test for Romney, he could feel it, to find the depths of how much he cared--Who Cares! she shrieks
He cares! he feels it, and feels himself growing--
--while the tapes reel it all in.
.....What exactly have we done? and...
Even to the Pranksters, the anti-babbs faction, the Test was a debacle. They doubted the ethics of springing acid on the Kool-Aid, on the one hand, and thought the treatment of the Who Cares Girl, piping her freakout over the speakers, was cruel. Shortly after they got back to L.A. from La Jolla, the schism broke out true and rife, out front. This was a great little Morbio Inferiore all it's own, the Life Magazine divide." -- Electric Kool Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe - Pages 271-82
Ron Bivert: "There was this one kid from Santa Cruz who was about six-foot four-inches tall. His name was Ox. And OX walked up and put his face about two inches in from these cops' faces and said, "I'm so high, I am so far out. Where I am, my consciousness is so far beyond anything that you can comprehend."
The cops never said a word. They just turned on their heels and walked out. "Way to go, Ox", I thought, "now they are going to come in and throw a net over us." But they didn't. - On the Bus - Paul Perry - Page 164
"At the Watts Test a few months later, Owsley saw the sound coming out of the speakers; and the experince joined two passions; a reverence for LSD as "a pathway to another place," which "seemed to give you access to mental powers" known to ancient alchemists, Rosicrucians, and Freemasons, whose literature he read as science. And it focused a talent for manipulating sound on a worthy subject: the band. Following the Watts Test, ...Owsley no longer saw himself as the electrical engineer, he had trained to be, nor as a chemist, but as an artist. After seeing sound, he would accept whatever psychedelics disclosed to him as real, "more real, perhaps, than my everyday life," which was governed by a "restricted consciousness..." -- Sweet Chaos - Carol Brightman - Page 101