Furthur Down the Road

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Driving Songs

A key ingredient to the cosmic cookie dough that – once properly baked – gave us the enduring legend of Furthur was music. It should be noted that the relationship between Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, and the music of the Acid Tests, and in particular, the Grateful Dead, came a few years after the cross country trek that began in the summer of 1964. Nevertheless, the same spirit of participatory music, where the audience is as much a part of any performance as the musicians themselves was clearly an idea the Pranksters embraced from the beginning, and it was expressed in a variety of ways.

Take “the movie” for example. Before the bus even turned a wheel, it was decided that the entire great adventure should be filmed. Equipment was carried off and loaded back on board the bus as often as possible, with the Pranksters doing their best to draw the general public deeper and deeper into their random and unpredictable lifestyle. Still, it was often said that everyone who was on the bus was making their own movie, while at the same time holding down various supporting roles in each and every other movie that was happening. In other words, nobody’s story could be any more or less important than anybody else’s. All tales were equally valid and equally important.

And every movie needs a soundtrack. As visually stunning as the old bus was in its heyday, thanks to layer upon layer of psychedelic color and fantastic imagery, it was Prankster Sandy Lehmann-Haupt who applied his skills as a sound engineer to modify Furthur for sound. A New York City kid, Sandy was introduced to Kesey when the author was in town for the Broadway opening of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The two became friends and Lehmann-Haupt moved out west. Once the bus was effectively wired, the Pranksters were able to offer both riders and onlookers an audible experience designed to stimulate the ears, bringing even greater depth to the rolling canvas that symbolized a brave new world for all of the senses. Here too, Kesey and the Pranksters were onto something.

Years later, when Kesey’s Acid Test house band, the Grateful Dead, traveled to Egypt to play an unprecedented three-night stand at the base of the Great Pyramid, it was Ken Kesey and Owsley Stanley, the band’s sound-mixing impresario and resident chemist who conspired, in true Prankster fashion, to electrify the ancient wonder by running the music from the band, through the pyramid, and back out to the audience. It was truly a ridiculous idea, doomed from the start, and yet – when George Walker succeeded in raising a flag adorned with the band’s iconic Steal Your Face logo atop the Great Pyramid on the night of a lunar eclipse – the high ground was indeed claimed, at least for the night.

In an interesting footnote to history, United States President Jimmy Carter presided over the signing of an historic peace treaty between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat at the Presidential Retreat at Camp David, Maryland, the very next day.

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