Wake up, America. Ken Kesey has assembled a bunch of the old Merry Pranksters for a cross-country trip to deliver his psychedelic bus to the Smithsonian Institution.
But here's Kesey's latest prank: When he gets there he might not really give them the bus."They did ask for (the bus) a long time ago," said Kesey, sitting at his kitchen table in his red long underwear after taking the bus for a spin past his neighbors' farms. "This was going to be a swan song. But suddenly, the swan is up and dancing, and doing rap.
"There's a dilemma with that Smithsonian thing. It's like the song by The Who. `You want it? You want it? You caaaaaaan't have it.' "
Now 55, Kesey was a young literary lion roaring with success from his novels "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion" when he bought the bus to take a bunch of friends to the 1964 World's Fair in New York.
Along the way the Pranksters became heroes of the free-love, acid-rock, turn-on, tune-in, drop-out 1960s, largely through Tom Wolfe's book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
Ed McClanahan - a writer pal of Kesey's who missed the first trip but is coming along to chronicle the current one - figures the bus inspired The Who's "Magic Bus" song - the one with the lyrics "I want it, I want it, I want it . . . - You caaaaaaan't have it" - and the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" movie.
"That trip was a seminal moment in American culture," McClanahan said.
The painted psychedelic swirls that made the bus a cultural icon originally were applied to keep it from looking like a school bus, said Kesey's wife, Faye.
Over the next 25 years, the designs mutated and evolved into a mural that embodies Kesey's vision of the bus as a rallying symbol for saving the Earth.
On the right side is Michelangelo's Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion skip up to the Emerald City, where a northern spotted owl is perched. On the left is a totem pole. Fish swim on the flanks. The hood ornament is a bronze jester.
Over the windshield is its name, Further, worn like a crown to proclaim the bus' destination.
The idea for this trip grew out of Kesey's latest book, "The Further Inquiry." The book originally was conceived as a play staged on the bus, where the soul of Neal Cassady is put on trial.
Cassady was the basis for the hero of Beat writer Jack Kerouac's "On The Road," as well as the charismatic man behind the wheel of Further. On that first trip he laid down a free-association rap-babble that still makes Kesey shake his head in wonder and joy when he watches old home movies.
Kesey wanted the book to include a movie of Cassady, printed one frame to a page, so that they moved as the pages were flipped.
"It's important to see how he jabbers and jumps," Kesey said.
His publisher, Viking, agreed to include the flip pictures if Kesey would drive Further to a book fair in Las Vegas.
He had so much fun that he planned a cross-country trip to ease Further into its grave at the Smithsonian and promote his new book.
The latest trip won't be as wild as the others.
"We're grandparents now," Kesey said.
He is scheduled to take Further to a book signing in Portland on Sunday. On Monday, he heads south to California, hoping to reach Berkeley by Halloween to help counterculture pal Wavy Gravy collect for UNICEF and campaign for City Council. After that, the schedule gets dim, though Kesey hopes to pick up LSD guru Timothy Leary and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson along the way.
But getting back on the road has given Kesey second thoughts about turning over the bus to the Smithsonian.
"This is why I would hate to see it laminated and stopped," Kesey said. "It was just going good again."