Many people are familiar with the 1960’s acid culture, now synonymous with Ken Kesey, the Grateful Dead, and Project MK-ULTRA. It followed the tail end or in the wake of a beatnik culture that lasted much of the baby boomer generation. While the beatnik generation set the precedent for such existential and liberal minds, the 60’s hippie and LSD culture took that idea and turned it into something accessible on a mass culture scale. Although many people bastardized the idea, its core was still held intact, especially in the San Francisco area.
Two of the biggest names associated with the LSD culture were Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead.
Ken Kesey is actually known for his associations with the beatnik generation. However, his works flowed into the 60’s and also played a huge role during the acid culture movement. The duality in his work was surely unique, and can best be summarized intrinsically with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The critically acclaimed novel combined elements of the beatnik generation in his unruly character McMurphy, while also adding stark psychedelic themes throughout the story.
"I was too young to be a beatnik, and too old to be a hippie." Ken Kesey, 1999
The Grateful Dead were one of the most followed bands in the San Francisco area, although at that time they were known as the Warlocks. Led by Jerry Garcia the Dead were the epitome of the acid movement and took the jam band motif to an entirely new level. Not only within their music but also within their style and the fans that attended their shows, they promoted an entire generation of liberation from timeless constraints.
Simultaneous to the acid culture movement was a governmental project, borne by the CIA, called Project MK-ULTRA. The project had actually originated in the 50’s but its effect as most notable within the 60’s. Project MKULTRA was an illegal venture taken by the United States and therefore there were many questions as to why and what the government’s motives were behind the project.
Over the years conspiracy theories have grown over the connection between certain acid culture leaders such as Kesey, The Grateful Dead and even Project MK-ULTRA. It has been documented that Project MK-ULTRA actually used both (along with Robert Hunter) as test subjects. Project MK-ULTRA was essentially a project that tested LSD on American and Canadian subjects. Even colleges and universities were used in order to gain test subject participants. Stanford University was notorious for being a breeding ground for these subjects and is where Ken Kesey and Robert Hunter volunteered for the Project.
Project MK-ULTRA was designed to test LSD for its mind controlling capacities in order to possibly be used in interrogation with enemies of the state. Yet conspiracies surrounding the project claim that Project MK-ULTRA was also tangentially used to influence mass culture within the United States. The reasoning behind using such influential minds such as Kesey and Garcia are curious.