When you think about The Electric Kool-Aid Test, first thought is always “drugs” , but it wasn’t the only inspiration for Tom Wolfe. Photojournalist Lawrence Schiller and his works were author’s first source of information.


Enriched classic

The Electric Kool-Aid Test. Ken Kesey. Allen Ginsberg. The Grateful Dead. Merry Pranksters. Tons of LSD and experiments with LSD. Iconic book for everyone, who’s interested in hippie culture and the great year of ’68, The Electric Kool-Aid Test  is one of the first non-musical documentations on the movement. Probably the most popular example of New Journalism: “celebrated as a classic of American literature as well as the hippie movement, the text explores both the esoteric experience of hallucinogens and fundamental societal shifts of 1960s America”. This undoubtedly essential book is now being repressed. Why? Because something was missing.

New edition of The Electric Kool-Aid Test makes the book even more trippy (yes, it’s possible) – Taschen put the story in colorful hippie cover and added some essentials. Between rainbow-like pages of the book readers will find not only Wolfe’s manuscript pages and Ken Kesey’s jailhouse journals and handbills but photographic essay of Lawrence Schiller who managed to catch acid scene in all its highness and glory. Oh yeah, and for now it’s repressed in less than 2000 copies, although trade edition is on the way – feels like something special, right? I certainly wouldn’t mind to get one for Christmas.

The Electric Kool-Aid Test

Visuals of acid

“These photographs – together with those of poet Allen Ginsberg and other photographers who covered the scene – paint a vivid picture of the counterculture world that set Wolfe’s scene: acid parties near ‘capsule corner’ in Hollywood, the hippie-filled streets of Haight-Ashbury, the abandoned pie factory the Pranksters called home, and the infamous Acid Tests, Kool-Aid and all,” publisher explains. And yes, while Schiller’s coverage of hippie movement practically inspired Wolfe to write The Electric Kool-Aid Test, the book itself changed photographer’s life. Schiller switched from photojournalism to writing and collaborating on book and films and this career change brought him Pulitzers (for Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song) and Emmys (for four of his made-for-TV films or miniseries).

The Electric Kool-Aid Test The Electric Kool-Aid Test

“He’s said that seeing my original LIFE magazine essay inspired him to expand his original idea for New York magazine – which was to do a story on Ken Kesey getting out of jail – into a greater book that covered the entire acid scene”, Schiller says about Tom Wolfe, admitting that in his photographs he haven’t covered the whole acid scene. By the way, Taschen’s repress of The Electric Kool-Aid Test  features complete photo essay including the photos that were never published before, so readers will have a chance to understand the context better. In fact, it is the context.


Double inspiration

Filled with strobe lightning and blurred movement, Schiller’s photos are trying to imitate visual experience of being high on acid. “Photographers use techniques to try to explain what the experience is. It’s like shooting sports and using slow shutter speeds, blurring the action to try to give the feeling of speed and movement”. And while trying to catch on of those blurry acid moments, the photographer was noticed by Wolfe and later on mentioned in the book – back then Schiller was unaware that it’s not going to be just an article for New York magazine.

The Electric Kool-Aid Test The Electric Kool-Aid Test The Electric Kool-Aid Test

“When I saw, perused, and read some of The Electric Kool-Aid Aid Test, all of the sudden I realized, for the first time as a young photojournalist, that a writer didn’t have to be at every goddamn location to write a great book, and that a writer only had to have a small piece of the experience if he had the ability to include his own look at things,” Lawrence shares his first thoughts after reading the book. Later on, he realized that it’s possible to do investigative journalism in collaboration with other writers who can share their creativity and ideas on the subject. For some of his works Schiller interviewed more than 150 people and now his private storage has 1,800 boxes of tape recordings. While writing The Electric Kool-Aid Aid Test, Wolfe also interviewed a lot of people, so there’s a certain similarity in their approaches.

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