Before The Village People, there was the Village Family...
‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ should be required reading at every high school in the world, in my opinion. It was my introduction to Tom Wolfe, and gave me a vicarious immersion into the subject matter - the world of Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters and the bacchanalian Acid Tests. Sure, Wolfe is also well-known for ‘Bonfire Of The Vanities’ too, which is good, if a little pithy and complex in its study of the ambition, racism, class politics, and greed of 1980s New York. In any case, I recently picked up ‘The Pump House Gang’ for the criminally low price of one Zuid Afrikaansche Rand at a Christian junkshop. No, I won’t tell you where this den of cutrate delights is located. The book is a collection of short journalistic articles that Wolfe put out in the sixties, and covers Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion, California surf subculture, the Swinging Sixties scene of London (and its underground – literally – lunchtime clubs), and his fortuitous stumbling upon an illegal private casino. Which is where I lifted this fantastically descriptive passage from:
‘There was only a dim light on the stairway. I kept climbing and finally got to the door the tea boy had talked about and it was still just quiet, cold, dim and drafty in someone’s old moldering townhouse. The door was heavy and had a lot of crowded carving on it. I knocked, but nobody answered, so I went ahead and turned the knob and pushed it open and –
Santa Barranza! –
- inside, the scene was the way I always pictured it in The Masque of the Red Death, the Edgar Allen Poe story, when they go through all the rooms in the big old moldering castle or whatever it is, and finally they get to this last room, where everybody is having one utterly final choking red revel in a room suffocating with red velvet, gilt, ormolu, heavy glass – inside, as soon as I open the door, this great heaving fullness comes rolling over me, sherry-yellow, lights, florid browns, hunt-blood reds, smothers, smothers, smothers of merino cloth, velvets, tapestry, swollen, swollen, swollen with gilt, covings, ogee and ovolo moldings, all yeasting up with the heat of the gambling funk, the smoldering armpits of the punters, a stagnant haze of cigarette smoke, and voices, a low burble of voices and clattering chips, and a woman with a low voice and a Central European accent saying:
“…pos-see-bul flush…straght-y-ning…no help…”
The room is a huge drawing room, filled with green-baize gaming tables crowded with young men and a few women, all florid and ripening amid fading Louis XVI needlework, old Sultanabad carpets with white ticks where the woof is coming up and goddamnedest bunch of gilded tables, sideboards and commodes you ever laid eyes on, riots of rosewood and ormolu, every table leg in the form of a great swollen jaded baby hooker with blank eyes and gilded nipples rising up to into a gush of acanthus leaves – perfect!’
Now if that doesn't conjure up the picture in full blown sensovision, then you're as dull as dishwater.
Thompson Mailer Burroughs Capote Wolfe - all hail the maverick scribes of the 20th Century !