Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cowboy Neal's 80th Birthday Party

Yesterday was Neal Cassady's 80th Birthday and, since he was born here in Salt Lake City, we celebrated the day with several events.

First, I attended a lecture titled "Neal Cassady and the Beat Generation" up at Weber State University in Ogden. I was pleased to see a room full of attentive college students listening as author Michael Schumacher talked about Cassady's influence on the Beat authors. I must admit that my favorite moment was when he got sidetracked and went on a brief Bush Admin tirade. "We need a new Abbie Hoffman!" he declared.

At 6:30 in the evening, a dozen or so folks gathered next to where the Cassady family lived for a few weeks when Neal was born. Historian and WSU archivist John Sillito debunked the myth that Cassady was born on the side of the road. Turns out he was delivered in a hospital by a doctor from a prominent Utah family. And the Cassadys stayed for at least a couple weeks (enough to make the local registry). The building they resided in is now gone, but there was a lot to learn as we huddled in the cold next to where it had once stood. Because of the song Cassidy (about Neal but spelled with an "i" because it is also about Cassidy Law), I was interested to learn that Neal's name had that spelling on his birth certificate at first. This was changed in 1944, most likely when Neal in his dad made a visit to Salt Lake. They took a tour of the Mormon Tabernacle and then Neal's dad (Neal Sr.) went on a bender and ended up in jail for a few days.

Then we headed over to Ken Sanders' Rare Books where both Sillito and Schumacher both spoke again. When they were done, some guy busted out his own poem about Cassady ("Neal at the WHEEEEEEEL!") and then we had cake.


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