Tom Wolfe’s passing takes me back to undergrad years and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
I loved Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff, but it was Acid Test—published 50 years ago—that made Tom Wolfe electric.
We were studying Ken Kesey under Barry Leeds and there was never enough to go around. Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion may have been 200 proof literary genius, but they were mere distillations of a mind living beyond bounds. Wolfe captured that extraordinary madness, put pen to a dynamic period in Kesey’s life better than Kesey himself.
We did our own lame version of ‘Toodling the Masses’ on and off campus, but this was the 90’s at Central Connecticut State University. Nothing compared to visions of Neal Cassady—Dean Moriarty’s living, breathing spirit—driving Further, the bus that carried the Merry Pranksters around America. Wolfe brought Cassady’s muscular, hammer-throwing arms to life with a vibrant, dazzling style, even when it left him for dead on railroad tracks to nowhere south of the border.
To this day, when I tie up my plain black Rockports and head to work for Uncle Sam, I think of them as Shiny Black FBI Shoes.
I’m not big on dressing fancy. But Tom Wolfe sure could write, and his inimitable style goes with me everywhere.
Rest in Peace, sir.