The Furthur Bus and New Merry Pranksters: Interview with Alexander Polinsky

 

Alexander Polinsky is what you would call a second generation psychedelic American and creative renaissance man. As the son of a hippy dad who became a successful businessman, actor, and acting coach, Alex was inspired from a very young age by tales of San Francisco in the 60’s and the cultural explosion of love, spiritual exploration, and creative expression that arose in opposition to war, conformity, and the rigidity of social norms. With the help of his father’s coaching, when Alex was a teenager he starred in the hugely successful TV series Charles in Charge and would later go on to be a prop-maker, voice actor, writer, director, singer, reverend, and founder of the conscious-character-creation philosophy Avatarism. With his flamboyant style and self-actualization orientation, Alex is the embodiment of the sacred clown archetype.

It was perfectly fitting, then, that at the Burning Man festival a few years ago, Alex was approached by the filmmakers behind the documentary Going Furthur, a film that both celebrated and recreated the famed ride of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters that was one of the key moments in the 60’s psychedelic movement. Through this synchronicity, Alex would go on to narrate the film, share sacramental moments with original Pranksters, and be initiated as a Neo-Prankster himself. We caught up with Alex recently to talk about the long, strange cross-generational trip it has been.

Thanks so much for speaking with us Alex. You come from a psychedelic lineage of sorts, I’m curious to hear about your dad and how he influenced you.

My Dad told me about LSD when I was very, very young, like maybe 6 or 7. When I was in bed, all snuggled up, dad told me about the “magic stuff” and all the associated adventures and misadventures with it. It was like a bedtime story, but better, because my dad was the star.

My father ran away from home when he was 15 years old after his dad died and his mom found another guy right away that he did not like. Where does he go? Straight to the epicenter, Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. As a 15 year old runaway in Haight Ashbury in the middle of the 60’s, he did everything, and I mean everything. Not only drugs, but be-in’s, communes, finding himself up on a hill with 200 naked people for some kind of film art. My dad would tell me these stories, and he left nothing out. So the great experiences were balanced with the bad trips, the bad things he did, and his warnings about all of it.

When my father told me these psychedelic bedtime stories he promised me, in a way, that some day I would be a psychedelic prince and have my own little inward kingdom, and have experiences that nobody else could possibly understand but that everyone would want to have. I was gobsmacked, so mind-wide-open, so in love with my dad, and feeling like WTF this is the best story ever! And it had a crazy effect on me, it turned me into an absolute drug prude. As I grew up, I didn’t want it, was scared of it, and just knew it was going to change me, so I didn’t do anything at all until I was in my 20’s and my brain was done forming.

Did your dad know any of the Merry Pranksters?

My dad would talk about the bus and the Pranksters a lot. He never graduated college, and didn’t even graduate high school until I was an adult and got his GED. His version of the “high school football moment” was being in jail with the Merry Pranksters during Christmas. He got arrested protesting the war and was imprisoned with them and all these poets, musicians, and amazing people- it was like summer camp. He even said somebody broke in and left them gifts of candy and cigarettes in the middle of the night, people took care of them.

What does being a Prankster mean to you?

There’s a page in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test where Kesey describes how he wanted all the Pranksters to be immediately recognizable, so even if you didn’t know who they were, you’d see them walking down the street and be like “Oooh yea, oh shit look at this, it’s them”. So dressing like a psychedelic peacock is part of it, but my dear late friend Burning Dan took it a step further. He made his persona part of an interactive game that invited people to interact with him. For example, he would walk around Burning Man in a tiger suit with a bomb stitched on it and people would say “Tiger…balm?” And he would say “Yes, would you like some on your nipples?”

I realized that anyone crazy enough, funny enough, smart enough, savvy enough, and fool enough to create a persona with a built-in game that makes people want to interact with you, is a fucking genius. If you are this person that walks down the street and people just know what you are, then you have mutated yourself beyond some of the conventions that I think keep people unhappy, lonely, uninspired, friendless, and quite frankly on the path to disease and death. If you don’t have a little bit of that spark in you, you’re in trouble. And yes you can get that spark without the aid of a substance, and that is one of the cool things that really clicked for me on the Furthur bus. My psychedelic character has been engaged so many times with the aid and without, that it is engrained. I feel like that is one of the best lessons I learned through the whole experience, you can have the happiness, freedom, humour, and novel experiences without the aid of anything external, you just have to train a little bit.

What is the psychedelic experience to you?

There are so many ways to explain how I feel about the psychedelic experience, but I will tell you that it was always for learning and always for spiritual growth, and always for magic. I’ve used sacraments as a spiritual tool for when I felt like something needed to be opened in myself, and I can count the number of times I’ve used them on my hands. If people respect these things, they won’t have a problem with them, and overindulgence in anything including water can kill you. When I would discuss my own experiences with my dad, his first question was always “Did you learn anything?” I’m grateful that I never had that feeling of shame or that I was doing something against the will of my parents like many other people have to deal with.

Also, I feel like aftercare is one of the integral and missing pieces to the psychedelic experience. As I heard Alex and Allyson Grey once say when I was at an event with them and original prankster George Walker aka Hardly Visible, we should not seek out new psychedelic experiences before we have integrated the lessons of the previous one, something that can take years if not a lifetime. That’s something that wasn’t entirely understood yet in the 60’s but I’m really glad to see is emerging in the psychedelic culture of today. Of course, Hardly Visible in true original Prankster form blurted out in that serene moment in the woods: “I broke the rules today, I took LSD for FUN!”

Classic. So overall, what did this experience with the Furthur bus and Pranksters mean to you?

I always wondered how I would get on the proverbial bus myself, how I would be a Prankster, and then suddenly these guys come out of the fog and interview me for this movie, and all of a sudden I’m going to be in a movie about the new Pranksters and get to ride on the actual bus. I was so happy. I felt like something had been completed. I got to be the narrator of the film, then I got to get on the bus and arrive at festivals, and have people say “You’re the Pranksters!” and we would say “Yes!”. Then I got to take my dad to the premier of Going Furthur and he got to meet the Merry Pranksters again, and he knew some of the folks there and had friends in common after 50 years. That was really special. So finally I got to join my dad in his most treasured memory when he was young and free and making a difference in this world, and fighting the forces of war and domination. It’s so funny how the current administration is at such a war with creatives and artists, it’s so like the 60s now. And I’m very excited for the art, and for the psychedelic scene to sort of resurface.

 

We are very grateful to Alex for speaking with us and sharing his story.  To follow Alex’s awesome endeavors, follow him on Instagram and Twitter, check out Avatarism on the web and Twitter, and visit his new social media company Happy Spaceship.

Wesley Thoricatha

Wesley Thoricatha is a writer, visionary artist, permaculture designer, and committed advocate for psychedelic therapy as a means to a more meaningful and harmonious world.

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