Stephen Bornstein on Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey – 2

Steven Bornstein on Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey continues from here

The party at Kesey’s with the Hell’s Angels was well planned with great anticipation. Nobody at Kesey’s was sure what to expect. However, we knew that once the Angels crossed that rickety wooden bridge, we were basically on our own. Alcohol and LSD were always unpredictable. I for one was hoping for the best. I remember spending a lot of time at the party up in the Tree House with Paul (Foster) We only had a half a dozen people take the risky climb up and visit us.

By this point I had become as Neal described me “My new best friend”, followed by a smart remark about my young age (sic – Bornstein was around 17 years old at this time)
Neal gave Allen and I and inside track into Kesey’s thinking. However, the bloom had begun to fade between Neal and the Merry Pranksters, you can see that his head was somewhere else. What Neal really like to do was to be driving somewhere. He always had his shirt off, or at most (had on) a t-shirt, and couldn’t sit still for very long. I got to know him, and even his ex-wife, Carolynpretty well.
Neal told us about Kesey’s access to Owsley Stanley’s millions of LSD doses. And that the drug was temporary legal in California. He told us that Kesey was thinking about doing something big.  Something mind-blowing!

He told us about a big party, Halloween eve, at Ken Babbs‘ Farm House, not far from the La Honda Compound. He said hundreds were invited, even the Hell’s Angels!
He told us that everybody was going to be dosed with LSD. That this was a test, for some larger event that would involve thousands. Neal called it an “Acid Test”.

I remember getting there at night. It was in a large flat area with no houses in the vicinity. And there was parking for hundreds of cars. It got real dusty, real quickly. We were like ghosts walking in the headlights. To be honest, It was little ominous. All of us in Allen’s entourage knew that this was potentially the start of something different.

Years later, I would read someone’s recollection of the moment as Allen Ginsberg arriving with a bunch of New York intellectuals”. (Oh really? first time I ever thought of myself as a “New York intellectual!)

It was being held at Babbs’ place purposely to keep it under the radar. The local police were keeping close tabs on what was happening at La Honda. I had the feeling this was some kind of rendezvous in the wilderness. The house itself, was kind of a regular sprawling ranch house. It didn’t have that one large big cavernous room, like Kesey’s place, that helped create such a special vibe. The funny, result was that Kesey didn’t appear like such a big person as he did in his own place. I clearly remember, even after the fog of 56 years, (sic – 2021), answering, almost challenging, him during one of his his rhetorical rages. I was the only one. Everybody looked at me, admonishing me. I couldn’t believe that these Californians had that kind of cult worship.

Shortly after arriving, I was introduced to the “audio tape decks delay” mechanism. It looked a little bit hillbilly. It was made from two reel to reel tape decks, one on record and the second one on playback. It produced not only a delay, but it would record you playing to yourself. Very enthralling, because a single player could soon sound like a whole group. they were two different makes, so one recorder was propped up on a bunch of magazines. The whole thing depended on maintaining a slight tension to the 1/2” magnetic recording tape. Too much and it would break, too little and it would just pool up on the floor, like a roll of toilet paper.

The Warlocks soon to be called The Grateful Dead were there, I didn’t see their instruments. I don’t remember them playing. There was really no room for a band. What we did have, were tambourines, bongo and conga drums, cheap wooden flutes.. and harmonicas. I very quickly, kind of, informally volunteered to be one of the group of people keeping an eye on the audio tape delay device.

Audio tape delay device

Sonny Barger and a few of the Hell’s Angels were also there. This had now been the second time we tripped together as a group. They easily intermingled as part of the group now. However, this further cemented their relationship with Kesey and The Pranksters. They would go on to become the de facto security for the front stage at the subsequent public Acid Tests. Afterwards, Bill Graham, a major concert promoter, would continue to use them as well. The whole world knows how badly that ended.

The only disagreeable instance in the whole evening was when everyone was really high, the loner, idiot, “The Hermit“ who lived at the very top of the hill, actually threatened me with a pistol that he constantly carried. I believe he was sexually attracted to me and became enraged when I rebuffed him. He must’ve done it often, because Babbs just pulled the pistol out of his hand without even saying anything. I remember thinking, “from their adoptive names to their outfits, how theatrical these Californians can be!”.

The party lasted till dawn. We got in the VW bus and went back to San Francisco. To me it was a bit of an ordeal and I was glad it was over. I kept expecting for someone to flip out and start flaring their arms widely around…..

The first public (sic) Acid Test was to occur shortly before we would be leaving (and) we would miss the subsequent ones that had already been planned. Quite frankly, after that initial Acid Test at Babbs’ house, I was growing a little tired of the Pranksters constantly striving to outdo each other. They seemed to be performing for Kesey’s attention. I eagerly looked forward to a change of my surroundings.

The actual, first public Acid Test, actually  went off well. A large group ended up dancing in the empty Sunday downtown streets at dawn, which made me, personally, very paranoid. I had been in charge for a while of the “tape deck delay” mechanism, right next to the small instruments.

However, after I got high, I went off in the corner. The Grateful Dead was playing under that name, for the first time. They really wanted to be a hit. The sheer vibrations of the music forced me off the stage.
After that, I really only remember partying on the street as the sun was coming up, hoping that the police wouldn’t come and arrest everybody.

One thing for certain, everyone who attended knew, that this was the first time, that so many people had “tripped” together.
The most amazing thing, is that someone had enough presence of mind to record the whole thing.

I found it 57 years later (2023) on YouTube:

One comment

  1. As a teenager of the 21st century, this sounds like one of the most amazing events in the history of western civilization. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t do something world-changing. I would attend this.

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