Article & Photography by Matt Tennyson | Owl Staff
A vibrant array of colors surrounds a diverse union of people dancing carelessly into the night. The streets come alive to the tune of a classic “Grateful Dead” jam. Laughs, miles, and peculiar looks are given as the psychedelic school bus appropriately named “Further” leaves people in awe at the 8×10 club in Baltimore City.
Counterculture author Ken Kesey, known for books such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, launched the original “Further” bus along with his friends that called themselves “The Merry Band of Pranksters” in 1964.
Their goals were to travel the country, experiment with their consciousness, film their whole adventure, and show other people how to let loose and really be themselves. Little did they know that launching this bus trip would spark the flame of revolutionary movements and radical perspective transformations for years to come.
In an attempt to revive the spirit and impact of his father’s legendary trip across the country during the 1960s, Zane Kesey and his “Merry Band of Pranksters” embarked on the 50th anniversary tour of the trip that changed America forever.
“I wanted to get the bus out there so this new generation could participate and see what has bloomed and what still is blooming,” says Kesey.
Along with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the ‘60s era is known for being a time of diverse social change.
Anyone who lived through the ‘60s will remember it as either a paradise on earth or an extended nightmare due to the underlying revolution of mind taking place.
Critically acclaimed author Ken Kesey (father of Zane Kesey) had given rise to an entirely new transformation of America commonly referred to today as the “Psychedelic ‘60s.”
While some may associate the Psychedelic ‘60s with debauchery and chaos, there was also a wave of open mindedness, spirituality, and sexual liberation that was brought in by the likes of Ken Kesey and his “Band of Pranksters.”
“When we first broke into that forbidden box in the other dimension, we knew we had discovered something as surprising and powerful as the New World when Columbus came stumbling onto it,” says Kesey, alluding to the transformational nature of methods used to expand one’s consciousness into previously unmapped territory.
Kesey and others like him catered to a completely new paradigm of ideas and radical perspective transformation. Author Tom Wolfe wrote about Kesey’s excursions in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, explaining how Kesey would say, “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.”
This wasn’t just a literal statement; it was also a metaphor that pertained to a state of mind associated with the Further Bus.
To be “on the bus” was to be on the same wavelength as Kesey and the hippies. It meant that you weren’t afraid to show your true self and get weird.
Along with this radical change in perspective, expression, culture, and artistic freedom in the 1960s came the rise of various political movements. The most notable of these political movements were the civil rights movement, the student movement, the anti-war movement, the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement, and the environmental movement.
On May 5, 1967, counterculture leader and American poet Allen Ginsberg came to HCC for a cultural art fair that was being held on campus. Although The Aegis wrote that “the college should have spent the money on something better,” his appearance was hailed by hundreds of students on campus.
Avery Ward, a former student and current Dean of Behavioral and Social Sciences at HCC recalls the visit. He says, “I wanted to hear this voice of dissent,” speaking on the counterculture influence of Ginsberg.
Ward adds, “We’re always going to have issues and we’re always going to have movements of dissent. They’re important for giving people a way to voice their grievances with society.”
Nonetheless, the peaceful protests of the 1960s gave rise to a chain reaction of even more social change movements to follow in the coming decades. Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and the Million Masked March are just a few examples.
The goal of each of these movements may differ in their desired result; however, the method in which they take action to achieve the result is often similar — question authority, disobey convention, and say what you truly feel inside. These movements and others like them often rely on nonviolent, civil disobedience to enact social and political change, though they have become violent at certain stages.
Having kick-started an entirely different shift in culture and awareness in the 1960s, the Further bus tour was revamped for this modern generation and Zane Kesey embarked on a journey to create a legacy of his own in 2014.
Stopping in major cities all along the continental U.S., the mission of the bus was simple: “Bring the positive back around. We want to bring back the love vibe and all that was once embraced to be manifest again,” says “Thumpah,” a prankster on the bus.
While the message is often positively received with smiles, laughter, and dancing, not everyone is as amused.
“Some of the more conservative people pretend not to notice the bus, or they cry out ‘devil bus!’” explains “Pesky,” another prankster riding the bus. He adds, “We just smile and tell them we love them.”
The bus has been known for stirring things up wherever it goes; however, according to Zane, “In the 60s, everything was all so new and so fresh that it couldn’t be ignored. Now they [government and media] don’t mind ignoring us at all.”
He adds, “The hippie movement has fractured. People look at us now like we’re these dirty, confrontational people who just want to argue about government and taxes and the environment.”
People will often gawk and stare in awe at the explosion of colors, symbols, and shapes painted all over the bus. The radical visual expression is only part of the message behind the Further bus.
“We need to get some of that innocence and fun and approachability back. Once we do that, we can reclaim some of the power that the 60s had,” says Zane.
What does this mean? Where can we go from here? Where are we going from here? The message behind the bus and those who are “on the bus” certainly gives rise to many questions.
With all that’s going on in the world, it can sometimes be overwhelming to try and grasp the enormity of the situation we are in.
Despite this, there is something we can all takeaway from the Keseys, the Pranksters, the 1960s, and the Further bus that propelled America into a new era — love yourself, your neighbor, and your environment, but also be true to yourself and express what you feel inside.
Who knows? You might just inadvertently start the next movement that changes the world.