A first-timer in the throes of a bad trip. “I experienced the desire to die, but not actual death,” she later said, “very strongly the desire to rip my skin off and pull my hair out and pull my face off.” As the first national photojournalist to capture the American acid scene from the inside, Lawrence Schiller began with a single contact in Berkeley, California, and built a large network of young, receptive subjects who allowed him to document their private experiences with LSD. Hollywood, 1966. (Lawrence Schiller/Polaris Communications Inc.)
Cover of The Collector's Edition of The Electic Kool-Aid Acid Test printed in a hardcover with a slipcase (Taschen)
The Hollywood Acid Test was held at midnight on February 25, 1966, in a small film studio near the Sunset Strip, just down the block from photographer Lawrence Schiller's studio. The addition of dry ice to the LSD-spiked Kool-Aid was an effect that Kesey used as early as 1960. This photograph has never been published before. (Lawrence Schiller/Polaris Communications Inc.)
Hollywood Acid Test, February 25, 1966. The psychedelic movement was the invention of the acid test events, where live music, movies, “audioptics,” and the “stroboscopic ballet machine” were standard features. The costumed revelers dancing into the small hours of the night endures as one of Schiller’s most iconic images from his coverage of the LSD scene and was featured on the cover of the Capitol Records LP of the same name and year. (Lawrence Schiller/Polaris Communications Inc.)
When Tom Wolfe arrived in San Francisco to cover the hippie movement, photographer Lawrence Schiller had been there for a while covering the burgeoning counterculture for LIFE. Together the two, along with Ted Streshinsky, created a comprehensive account of one of most bizarre moments in American history.
Part of this narrative is recorded in Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a landmark piece of writing for the New Journalism movement that explores the dramatic social changes in 1960’s America. In the book, Wolfe follows famed writer Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters on a psychedelic journey across the country in a school bus, during which they imbibed LSD-laced drinks in hopes of achieving “intersubjectivity.” For those already part of the hippie movement, Wolfe’s book became gospel. Since then, the figures and places mentioned in the Acid Test have gained a cult-like following.
In an effort to synthesize the great works that captured West Coast counterculture at its height, a collector’s edition of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is being published to include Wolfe’s manuscript pages, as well as writings from Ken Kesey during his incarceration. Weaving the prose altogether are photographs from Schiller, Streshinksy, Allen Ginsburg, and others from the era.
The resulting 356-page book paints a vivid picture of a hallucinogen-fueled social movement, from the streets of Haight-Ashbury to the “acid tests” themselves. To purchase one of the 1,768 prints of the collector’s edition for $350, click here. Before you do, enjoy a preview of the book below.