Page 25 Tale of the Grateful Dead

…If the folktale is a foundation stone of Grateful Dead lore, another is the Acid Test, the name given by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to the wild, psychedelic public parties they produced in the mid-1960s for which the GD were the house band. Acid Test was a clever coinage referring to the street name for LSD, but its secondary reference is chemical, most commonly a test to distinguish gold from base metals; being a noble metal, gold is impervious to corrosion by acids such as nitric. Hence there is a third meaning, alchemical, for figuratively the transmutation of base metals to gold, or actually lower to higher consciousness, is the aim of alchemy, as commonly also is the effect of LSD. The illustration on Page 25 is one half, the right half, of the classic Acid Test poster designed by Prankster Paul Foster. During production work Paul gave me this poster, hand-colored in crayon by a young Sunshine Kesey, and it now inhabits the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz. What goes around comes around and no doubt the cycles of transformation and the mythmaking go on.
– Alan Trist, San Geronimo CA, January 16, 2016

See Page 24 for complete story

Page 25 acid test poster

The Water of Life: A Tale of The Grateful Dead

Once upon a time there was a dying King who sent his three sons, one after the other, on a quest for the Water of Life, the only means by which he could be healed. After setting off, the three in turn encountered a poor beggar crying for alms. The first two, callous fellows that they were, abused the wretched man and denied him aid. The third, himself a hunchback, had compassion for the beggar and responded to his pleas, receiving in return a bundle of magic arrows that would strike unerringly wherever they were aimed, and a magic lute, the music of which would make anyone who heard it dance.

Armed with these wonderful objects he continued on his journey, beset by peril and difficulty at every turn. One day while hunting he took aim at a fox with his arrow, but at the last moment relented out of pity for the creature. At another point along the way, he spent his last coins paying for the burial of a man who had died a debtor, whose body lay by the wayside.

Along the way, he met a mysterious stranger who offered to help in the Quest in exchange for half of any fortune the prince should gain.

He finally reached the castle of an ogre who possessed the Water of Life. The ogre retained him in service and soon he saved the ogre’s life by use of his magic arrows, receiving as a reward the object of his quest, a vial of the Water of Life.

The ogre had imprisoned in his castle a beautiful young maiden who refused to marry him. The prince won her love by means of his magic lute, the ogre released her and they began their long homeward trek.

But they were soon accosted by the two scoundrel brothers, who in jealousy attacked them by stealth, threw their brother down a deep well, and absconded with the princess and the Water.

Soon after their departure, along came the fox whose life the prince had spared. The fox let down a rope. When the prince reached the top he found the mysterious stranger who by magic relieved him of his deformed condition. They then embarked on another long and arduous journey back to the prince’s homeland.

Meanwhile, the elder brothers had already returned with the vial and the princess, but because of their misdeeds, were unable to heal the ailing King. The old man was on his deathbed, when amidst wails and lamentations the youngest son, now a strong and straight-backed young man, arrived. When he anointed the King with the Water of Life, the old man was instantly healed. He then castigated the elder brothers in public and they were banished.

The prince and his beautiful bride were finally reunited and their wedding was joyously celebrated. Then the mysterious stranger revealed himself to be the dead man for whom proper funeral rites had been provided thereby releasing his soul from eternal wandering.

Page 25 The Grateful Dead Man

The Grateful Dead Man Greets You

The prince offered his entire kingdom to settle their bargain so as to avoid dividing the princess, but the grateful dead man released the prince from his bond. In gratitude, the old King offered him anything in the kingdom he should desire. The grateful dead chose the lute and arrows, and wine and provision for his final ride to the Nether-world.

Adapted from The Grateful Dead: The History of a Folk Story (Gordon Hall Gerould, London, 1908) by Alan Trist and Robert M. Petersen.

Art Credit: Paul Foster, coloring Sunshine Kesey