Movie about the Merry Pranksters may have missed the bus

The Pranksters seemed a lot merrier in the Day-Glo hues of the ’60s, but even 40 years after it was published, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” remains arguably the best book about the drug-drenched period and the clearest snapshot of San Francisco’s emergence as the cradle of hippiedom.

New Journalism auteur Tom Wolfe placed himself in the middle of the feathered pack of anti-establishment adventurers who were led by Ken Kesey, as they traveled the country in their neon International Harvester school bus giving the word “trip” a whole new meaning.

Wolfe used his famous punctuation excesses to help him provide some visual interpretation of the drug culture he witnessed, but in an interview published this week in Time he claimed he never took LSD because it was “too strong” — contrary to earlier statements that he dropped acid to be able to describe the experience.

Maybe that’s why he turned to fiction.

Drugs, he said in the interview, “inevitably lead to a total lack of intellect — particularly in the case of LSD, which everyone assumed opened the doors of perception. We’ve since discovered that it does the opposite.” Another sense of an altered reality may emerge next year, when, remarkably, a film version of the book finally comes to the big screen, under the often-jittery care of director Gus Van Zant. As we’ve learned from film adaptations of the books of New Journalism’s other heavy hitter — the late Hunter S. Thompson — drug-laden hijinks are just sooooo funny!!!

It may be worth noting that Thompson wrote for an earlier incarnation of The Examiner — not a pretty moment in his career — and that he basically introduced Wolfe to the Hells Angels, who play an integral part of the Kool-Aid Test when they arrive en masse at Kesey’s farm in La Honda, for what was essentially the ’60s version of a rave that lasted two days.

Still, while the Pranksters’ counterculture dreams may have seemed bold at the time, it’s hard to romanticize their actions all these years later, which is why a film version may play out better as parody rather than realism. Wolfe paints Kesey and his Pranksters as almost an addled religious movement, but somehow being either “on the bus or off the bus” seems more quizzical than quixotic.

A film might have seemed a good idea — when the rights were optioned in 1970.


S.F. resists statewide sales-tax decline

San Francisco is once again bucking a trend, but in a rare role reversal, this time it’s actually a good thing.

A number of cities across the state, especially those that rely on sales-tax revenues, are reeling because of the economic downturn. Consumers just aren’t consuming, and big-ticket items such as cars are staying on the lot.

Statewide sales-tax revenue is down 2.1 percent from the same quarter last year, and the Bay Area as a whole is up only 1.3 percent. San Francisco, however, is up 3.1 percent.

“So the Bay Area was doing better than the state and we were doing better than the Bay Area,” is the way City Controller Ben Rosenfield put it.

That’s important for a city struggling with an annual deficit. Usually, more than one-third of cities’ general funds are used to pay for services including park maintenance and street repairs — a few things sometimes missing in action in San Francisco.

How long San Francisco swims against the economic tide will be a key concern for our budget warriors — but it clearly shows why San Francisco will be forever primping for our ongoing parade of tourists.


Nolan or no Nolan? That is the 49ers' question

How far have the San Francisco 49ers fallen? Well, here we are just bubbling with anticipation over the season opener this weekend, and all most people are talking about is whether coach Mike Nolan will still have his job by the end of the season.

The bottom line: Don’t bet on it. Nolan may be a fine, upstanding individual, but it takes a special person to take one of the most high-octane offenses in sports and turn it into a comedic reel. Hiring Mike Martz to be his offensive coordinator may have saved his job for a year, but if the team starts actually scoring a lot of points, who do you think will get credit for that?

Fans who turn out for the team this year are going to be reminded why the owner is still the most important position on any professional sports team (hello, Candlestick Park). And if the York family isn’t able to convince voters in Santa Clara next year why they should be digging deep into their wallets to pay for the privilege of bringing the 49ers to Great America amusement park — a real possibility — NFL honchos are going to be none too happy.

But all that aside, the fact that they’re starting the season with a journeyman quarterback from UC Davis has all the makings of a great story. Get your J.T. O’Sullivan jerseys while they’re still available.


She shoots, she scores … the GOP's VP nod

Far be it for me to say whether GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is qualified for the White House — she’s probably a better speller than Dan Quayle, and that librarian look she’s got going for her clearly raised the temperature inside the Republican convention.

The Republicans joked that Palin got more votes running for mayor of the town of Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president. It’s not true — not by a long shot — but hey, that’s what presidential campaigns are all about.

And while she may not exactly represent those infamous “San Francisco values” — what with that rifle-toting, wolf-killing, environmental-torching thing — let the record show that by winning the mayor’s job in the town of Wasilla, Alaska (population 9,780), Palin got about as many votes as those people representing the supervisor districts in San Francisco.

And speaking of mysterious vice presidential runs, whatever happened to Matt Gonzalez?

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