Happy Birthday Neal Cassidy
Born: February 8, 1926
Place of Birth: Salt Lake City, Utah
Died: February 4, 1968
Place of Death: San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
From Literary Kicks:
Neal Cassady by Levi Asher (brooklyn)
"The bus came by and I got on, that's when it all beganThere was Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to Nevereverland"('The Other One', Grateful Dead)
"N.C., secret hero of these poems ..."('Howl' by Allen Ginsberg)
The real genius behind the Beat movement in literature never published a book during his life. He appeared as a main character in many books, though, from 'Go' by John Clellon Holmes to 'On The Road' by Jack Kerouac to 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' by Tom Wolfe. His free-flowing letter writing style inspired the young Kerouac to break his ties to the sentimental style he'd picked up from Thomas Wolfe and invent his notion of 'spontaneous prose.' Without Neal Cassady, the Beat Generation would never have happened. Neal Cassady was born on February 8, 1926 and raised by an alcoholic father in the skid row hotels of Denver's Larimer Street. A car thief with a unique ability to charm strangers,he spent time in reform schools and juvenile prisons and developed the suave instincts of a con artist, although he never seemed to want to con anybody out of more than a ten-dollar bill, a roll in the hay or a good conversation. A friend named Hal Chase left Denver to enroll at Columbia University, and Cassady traveled to New York to visit him in December 1946. It was here that he met Kerouac and Ginsberg. Ginsberg immediately fell in love with him, and Cassady, who had a hustler's instinct to be whatever the person he's with wants him to be, began a sexual relationship with Ginsberg, balancing it with the numerous heterosexual relationships he enjoyed more. At the same time, he persuaded Kerouac to teach him how to write fiction. Soon he and Kerouac began the series of cross-country adventures that would later become 'On The Road'. They raced aimlessly across the U.S.A. and Mexico, with Cassady setting the pace and the agenda. Kerouac began writing about their adventures even as they were taking place, but he could not find a style that fit the content, and put the project away in frustration. He picked the project up again later, after a series of letters from Cassady gave Kerouac the idea to write the book the way Cassady talked, in a rush of mad ecstasy, without self-consciousness or mental hesitation. It worked: 'On The Road' became a sensation by capturing Cassady's voice. Cassady married several women and fathered many children (much of this activity is discussed in 'On The Road'). He finally settled down with Carolyn Cassady in Los Gatos, a suburb near San Jose, where he worked as a brakeman on the Southern Pacific railroad. He remained close friends with Ginsberg, Kerouac and many others from the Beat crowd, although he never profited from their eventual success. Kerouac wrote in 'Desolation Angels' of the strange way he felt when Cassady dropped by his apartment after the first advance copies of 'On The Road' arrived:
When Cody said goodbye to all of us that day he for the first time in our lives failed to look me a goodbye in the eye but looked away shifty-like -- I couldn't understand it and still don't -- I knew something was bound to be wrong and it turned out very wrong ...
In the 1960's, as Kerouac withdrew into alcoholism and early middle-age, Cassady began an entirely new series of road adventures, this time with young novelist Ken Kesey in Jack Kerouac's place. When Kesey organized a trip to the New York World's Fair in a psychedelic bus named 'Furthur,' Neal Cassady was the madman behind the wheel. This trip is chronicled in Tom Wolfe's 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.' When Kesey and Cassady were in New York, a party was organized for the purpose of introducing Kerouac to Kesey. But Kerouac and Cassady had been changing in opposite directions, and the meeting did not go well, especially after Kerouac, offended by somebody's frivolous treatment of an American flag, solemnly rescued the flag and folded it. After a night of hard partying in Mexico in 1968, Cassady wandered onto a deserted railroad, intending to walk fifteen miles to the next town. He fell asleep on the way, wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. It was a cold rainy night, and Cassady was found beside the tracks the next morning. He arrived at a hospital in a coma and died a few hours later. It was February 4, 1968. Kerouac would die a year later.
Although his name is unrecognizable to many, Neal Cassady is one of those rare individuals whose existence changed the culture of a nation. In fact he was such an integral part of the cultural revolution birthed with the Beats and set ablaze by the Hippies that Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was to later describe Cassady as “a tool of the cosmos.” Born February 8, 1926, Neal Cassady entered this world the way he would one day be immortalized – on a road trip. He was born by the side of the road, in Salt Lake City Utah, a quick stop over on his family's journey to Hollywood in search of better prospects. Some 20 years later, a series of road trips with writer Jack Kerouac would more fully birth his place in history.
Cassady met Kerouac in 1946 on a trip from Denver, Colorado to visit hometown pal Hal Chase, then attending Columbia University. There Cassady was also introduced to a young poet named Allen Ginsberg. While only Ginsburg would chase Cassady for his bed, both young writers were equally enamored of the charismatic and utterly uninhibited Cassady who was like nothing they – or anyone else – had ever seen before. Later to be called “The Fastest Man Alive”, Cassady would become the driving force that inspired both men in their ground breaking literary works, "On The Road" and "Howl".
It was his "continuous chain of undisciplined thought", as Cassady called it, expressed in his letters to Kerouac and Ginsberg that became the unselfconscious, raw style adopted by the Beats. But it was also Cassady himself that they sought to capture. Kerouac acknowledged that his friend was the model for Dean Moriarity in "On The Road" and Cody in “Visions of Cody”. Ginsberg was to call “N.C” the secret hero of his poem “Howl”.
In fact, Kerouac too styled his friend a hero, specifically the “new American Hero”. Recall that in the 50s and 60s, many young people felt smothered by the American Dream. Adult America was obsessed with living the Good Life, and with protecting the American way of life -- rescued from the teeth of the depression, fought for in World War II -- from communism. The role model they held up to their kids was basically: get a good job, get lots of stuff, impress the neighbors, have kids, drop dead. That was it.
Normal people just weren’t supposed to deviate from this goose-stepping road to nirvana. So it took an abnormal person like Neal Cassady to give young Americans a sense that life could actually be something worth staying awake for. Cassady’s rip, rolling ride through life, following the beat of his own inner impulses (captured in literature in “On The Road”), inspired young people to set aside their inherited mental programming and set out on a path of exploration – first calling themselves the Beat generation, and later the Hippies.
While the kids he inspired often came from stiflingly conventional homes, Cassady himself grew up on Denver’s skid row, the darling child of homeless drunks and bums. Leaving behind his mother, little sister, and older stepbrother at age six, he went with his father to live in a condemned building at 16th and Market Streets. There they shared a tiny, filthy room with a legless bum who scooted himself around town like the Eddie Murphy character in "Trading Places". The bum used his meager earnings from panhandling to booze himself to sleep each night. And when there wasn't enough cash to buy drink, there was always masturbation. Reflecting back on the white goo that was often found drying on the floor, Cassady said, “I thought it was fried eggs!” But in people such as these the young Neal discovered kindness, humor, inventiveness, and sparks of wisdom. He also learned from them drinking, swearing, hustling and a zest for life built on appetites frowned on by polite society.
Sexual intercourse was introduced to Neal at age nine. His father had taken him along to visit a friend, a German farmer of low intelligence who had several strapping sons. The men set to drinking and playing cards, but unlike the congenial poker nights of his skid row flop house, the situation soon became increasingly violent as swearing turned to brawling and brawling turned to raping all the sisters small enough to hold down. Cassady joined in.
After a brief hiccup as an altar boy at age 10 and a fascination with the Catholic saints, Cassady spent his youth hustling, stealing cars (he claimed to have “borrowed” 500 of them by age 21), and seducing women. At least as early as age 12 he was screwing older women to get his breakfast or other favors. Not a problem for Neal whose ample sex drive later led him to seek intercourse three times a day, with masturbation thrown in as an “in between meal” treat.
Cassady’s appetite for sex was to get him in more than one pretty pickle. Still married to teen wife LuAnne Henderson in 1947, he seduced his soon to be second wife, the beautiful and classy Carolyn Robinson. As if things weren’t interesting enough, in between secretly screwing both LuAnne and Carolyn, he still had time to climb in the sack with gay pal Allen Ginsberg. And later, while still married to Carolyn, he seduced and bigamously married third wife, model Diana Hansen in 1950. And then there were the legions of women met in passing whom Cassady screwed on park benches and anywhere else that was handy.
When not dodging angry wives, Cassady could also be a real exhibitionist. Explicit photos taken of him with lover Ann Murphy, were displayed in the 2002 showing of the Brand New Beats Roadshow. And Beat era author John Clellon Holmes notes “I remember going up there. The shades were always drawn, and they had a red light, or something. Neal wore a short kimono with his dork showing underneath it – just the tip.“ In fact, he became rather well known for answering the door half naked. Lover Ann Murphy also tells the story of being “joyously gang-banged” by a group of Hell’s Angels, while Neal stood by and watched, taking his turn at the last – a scene reminiscent of his 9 year old sex initiation.
Still, as legendary as it was, Cassady’s sexuality was but one aspect of his raw hunger for life. He had a brilliant mind that was as constantly pumping as his penis. He read, talked, and breathed philosophy. (And fucked with it too, as he more than once used his incredible mental vista to overwhelm the psyche of some young desirable.) No surprise then that he was utterly captivated when he accidentally discovered a copy of “Many Mansions”, Gina Cerminara’s book on the famous “sleeping prophet” psychic Edgar Cayce. Cassady and wife Carolyn became deeply enamored of the Cayce teachings – to the point that Neal would always attempt to convert Jehovah’s witnesses who came to his door.
Cassady even had several psychic readings from Edgar Cayce’s son, Hugh Lynn Cayce, exploring his past lives and their supposed karmic aftermath. According to Hugh Lynn, one such past life that was messing with Cassady's current incarnation was a past life castration for the crime of rape. Meanwhile Hugh Lynn advised Carolyn Cassady (fed up with Neal's drugs, philandering, and general unpredictability) that her only real hope of coping with Neal’s strange life was to keep her mouth shut. Before long, Neal ended up in San Quentin, busted on a drug charge. For two years, Carolyn struggled to provide for their three children while Neal contemplated and prayed in San Quentin – a period reminiscent of his stint as a choir boy.
But by 1960 he was out and on to the next thing. Worthy of his nickname “The Fastest Man Alive”, Cassady didn’t slow down as he approached middle age (though this may have been due in part to his dependence on amphetamines). While Kerouac wound down into alcoholism and cranky conservatism, Cassady became the muse of a new generation of counter culture heroes – Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, Thomas Wolf, and others.
Kesey, author of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest" put “Cowboy Neal” behind the wheel of “Further”, the Pranksters psychedelically painted bus and started an entirely new "on the road" mythology. The Pranksters found Neal to be an amazing character. Nothing seemed to happen “by accident” when they were around Neal. There was always some kind of cosmic synchronicity flowing into and out of him. He could predict the gender or appearance of the next person to walk in the room, as well as what they had come for. He could accurately rattle off the serial numbers of the dollar bills in your pocket, often up to the tenth digit. And he was legendary for his ability to carry on multiple conversations at once or even to resume conversations from days or weeks earlier without missing a beat. Kesey and lover Mountain Girl harnessed Cassady’s high energy and insight during the legendary “acid tests" described by Tom Wolf, even recording his insightful monologues, known as “raps”. A snippet of one such (heavily influenced by the Cayce teachings) runs:
The Embryo you know goes thru the Fish Stage but we didn't enter until Ape Late. Christ-Adam-Higher Soul help us out thru so the Cyclopses don't win the Unicorn Brew. We're here to Experience... and finally Evolution the Little Toe we'll beat it tho- The Odor of Sanctity.
Always the Holy Goof (he once helped Wavy Gravy kidnap Tiny Tim), Neal was an easy match with the Pranksters and their reality tweaking stunts. But somewhere amidst all the fun and self-evolving mayhem, Cassady began to spiral downward. He began to have huge lapses into mental blankness – “Speed Limit” had finally reached his own limits. Then, as the Pranksters' drug experimentation began attracting far too much negative attention from the fuzz, Cassady, Kesey and pals headed south to Mexico. A young writer, Lynn Rogers, meeting the 42 year old Cassady in the summer of 1966, would later describe him as “gaunt, grizzled”, a man who appeared “at least 60 years old – twitching, talking to himself.” Bear in mind this is the same Cassady that, but a short time before was a sexual Mecca for women in the hippie scene. They’d hop a plane or drive down the coast, just to be balled by the fabulous Neal Cassady.
In February of 1968, Cassady, the man who had given both the Beat and the Hippie movements their dynamic sense of direction, foundered and lost his own way. One evening, after digging a Mexican wedding party, he became seized with the peculiar idea of walking the 15 miles from San Miguel to Celaya to pick up his treasured “magic bag” at the train depot there. He claimed that he would walk along the track so he could count the number of railroad ties between the two towns. The night was cold and rainy. Cassady was lightly dressed in a tee shirt and jeans. He had already consumed a great deal of alcohol at the party, then topped it off with a handful of Seconals (the same combo that would kill musicians Hendrix and Joplin).
The next morning a group of Indians found Cassady lying next to the tracks, comatose -- about a mile and a half from San Miguel. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he died, four days before his 43rd birthday. His body was cremated and the ashes given to his widow, Carolyn. His family was far from shocked. And in fact there was a sense of relief that the downward plunge was finally over. For long time friend Jack Kerouac however, it was another bitter blow. His own downward spiral claimed him the following year in October of 1969. Ginsberg was left to carry the torch of tweaking the establishment without them until his own death in April of 1997.
8 Feb 1926
Neal Cassady is born near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Goes to live with father in Denver's skid row district.
Arives in New York with first wife LuAnne. Meets Kerouac and Ginsberg.
Neal begins his affair with Carolyn Cassady. Within a few months he’ll be banging LuAnne, Carolyn, and Allen.
Kerouac invents the term Beat Generation when pal John Clellon Holmes asks him to describe the unique qualities of their generation.
Cassady marries second wife Carolyn Robinson with whom he eventually has three children – Cathleen, Jami, and son John Allen.
Neal marries model Diana Hansen, while still married to Carolyn.
Cassady finds a copy of Many Mansions, a book about Edgar Cayce.
Carolyn catches Allen and Neal in bed. Surprise!
Ginsberg premieres Howl.
Cassady's lover, Natalie Jackson, cuts her own throat and falls to her Death.
Kerouac's novel On The Road is published.
Cassady is busted for drugs and sent to prison -- first Vacaville, then San Quentin.
Ken Kesey meets Neal Cassady in Palo Alto, CA.
Neal Cassady meets and becomes involved with mistress Ann Murphy.
The Merry Pranksters begin recording Neal’s "raps".
4 Feb 1968
Neal Cassady dies in Mexico, 4 days before his 43 birthday.
From Random Walks:
KEN KESEY: This was the avatar. Cassady. One of the great failures of all time. I mean, he failed big. But everyone who touched him was influenced by him. Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac and me and Bill Graham. Cassady was Bill's nemesis. I mean, Neal could eat three Bill Grahams with a small glass of sauterne on the side to wash him down. This was a guy who was off the scale...He didn't want to deal with us so he got out in the street and pretended to be looking for something. As he went by, Cassady said, "There's Bill Graham out there, checking the tire treads to see if one of them picked up a nickel. Bill heard him. He flushed. But he couldn't take Cassady on. No one could. He could run circles around anyone with words. Bill came over and asked him why he had said this. Neal said, "'Cause I'm concerned about your soul, Bill." Bill said, "This is just show business, Neal." Neal said, "This is soul business, Bill." Not many people do what Cassady used to call the inside straight. He went for the inside straight all the time. Like Zarathustra or Lao-tzu, who was able to make that Zen koan maneuver and expose where you were. (Robt. Greenfield)
"It's hard to even know what to say about Cassady," Garcia said in 1994. "He had an incredible mind. You might not see him for months and he would pick up exactly where he left off the last time he saw you; like in the middle of a sentence! You'd go, 'What? What the...' and then you'd realize, 'Oh yeah, this is that story he was telling me last time.' It was so mind-boggling you couldn't believe he was doing it. "If you'd go for a drive with him it was like the ultimate fear experience," Garcia continued. "You knew you were going to die; there was no question about it. He loved big Detroit irons -- big cars. Driving in San Francisco he would go down those hills at like fifty or sixty miles an hour and do blind corners, disregarding anything -- stop signs, signals, all the time talking to you and maybe fumbling around with a little teeny roach, trying to put it in a matchbook, and also tuning the radio maybe, and also talking to whoever else was in the car. And seeming to never put his eyes on the road. You'd be just dying. It would effectively take you past that cold fear of death thing. It was so incredible... "He was the first person I ever met who he himself was the art. He was an artist and he was the art also. He was doing it consciously, as well. He worked with the world... He was that guy in the real world. He scared a lot of people. A lot of people thought he was crazy. A lot of people were afraid of him. Most people I know didn't understand him at all. But he was like a musician in a way. He like musicians; he always liked to hang out with musicians. That's why he sort of picked up on us." (Blair Jackson)
Garcia: I remember flashing on Neal as he was driving, that he is one of these guys that has a solitary kind of existence, like the guy who built the Watts Towers, one person fulfilling a work. I made a decision: to be involved in something that didn't end up being a work that you died and left behind, and that they couldn't tear down. Neal represented a model to me of how far you could take it in the individual way. In the sense that you weren't going to have a work, you were going to be the work. Work in real time, which is a lot like musician's work. (Silberman)
Jon Mcintire: I think Neal Cassady just went where the juice was and this was where he felt it. This was the moment of the shift from the beatniks to the hippie movement. The baton was passed on by Neal Cassady directly to the Grateful Dead. You can draw that literal connection because of Neal Cassady. (Robert Greenfield)
David Nelson: "God," we said. "You mean Neal was taking acid and driving, too?" We were going, "Wow! How do you drive when you're hallucinating?" And Page said, "We asked him that too and Neal said, 'You just pick out the hallucinations from the real stuff. Then you drive right through the hallucinations!'" (Robert Greenfield)
"I came to love the man dearly, but at first I found him very intimidating," Sara Ruppenthal says. "It wasn't until the Palo Alto Acid Test at the Big Beat that I really came to appreciate him. That was the night I saw him do that thing where he could tune into everybody's reality. He had an extraordinary gift. He really was a 'Martian policeman,' as he called himself. Doing his monologue with a hammer — juggling a hammer — and talking. And somehow managing to touch everybody in this circle of people watching him, to call each of them on their trip or let them know what they were thinking and could never say. He was a genius, maybe psychopathic. Probably really psychic and a brilliant psychologist. And a very gentle soul. A very compassionate person, although he would always head for the medicine cabinet and help himself to whatever you had." "He was a unique individual, for sure, and anybody that was that filled with energy and that much in motion all the time was never easy to be around," adds Dave Parker. "You had to balance right there on the edge to stay with it. He came around the house on Waverly a few times and I got to hear his amazing raps on a few occasions and I had the rare privilege of driving with him around Palo Alto one time. He had this zen driving technique where he would just fire right on through whatever was in the way. If there was traffic, it didn't matter. I remember one time he drove up on this sidewalk and there was a space between a telephone pole and a building that was wide enough for the car to go through with maybe six inches on either side and he just whizzed through there. Talk about edge of your seat! But everything with him always happened so fast he'd be onto the next thing by the time you figured out what you'd just experienced. He was a fascinating guy to be around but a difficult guy to spend a lot of time with because he was so exhausting; who could keep up with that?" Bob Weir said, "When I fell in with Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady, it seemed like home sweet home to me, to be tossed in with a bunch of crazies. There was some real serious crazy stuff going on. Jesus, where do you start? For one thing I had to abandon all my previous conceptions of space and time. It was pretty conclusively proven to me that those old concepts were shams. I thought I was pretty well indoctrinated into the 'anything goes' way of dealing with life. But I found much more than anything goes with the Pranksters. There was a world of limitless possibilities. It was ... God, it's hard to say anything that doesn't sound clichéd. But it was really a whole new reality for this boy. We were dealing with stuff like telepathy on a daily basis. "It might have been partly because of the LSD or the personal chemistry of everyone involved, and the times. We picked up a lot from those guys. Particularly from Cassady. He was able to drive 50 or 60 miles an hour through downtown rush-hour traffic, he could see around corners — I don't know how to better describe it. That's useful if you're playing improvisational music; you can build those skills to see around corners, 'cause there are plenty of corners that come up. We gleaned that kind of approach from Cassady. He was one of our teachers, as well as a playmate." (Jackson)
Just before Neal left for his last trip to Mexico, Wavy and a friend took him to kidnap Tiny Tim from a place in the Village called the Scene, where Tiny was doing his ukulele-and-flowers act. Wavy's last, best memory of Neal is of Neal driving up West Side Drive toward the Cloisters: "And every now and then Tiny'd go, 'Oh, Mr. Cassady, not so fast!" and Neal, "Well, Tiny, not to worry," and Tiny, "AUUUUUGGHHH!" But then the two of them broke into these Bing Crosby duets as the sun was coming up. It was just the most beautiful, beautiful thing that I ever experienced with Neal -- just him and Tiny and the sunrise." (Silberman)
After a show once, reports Scott Allen, Wavy Gravy ran into Cassady, who had been dancing for three hours. "Boy are my feet tired," said Neal. "It's a good thing I'm not a foot." (Skeleton Key)
Bulldozing Neal’s House
From Archive.org’s archive of SanJose.com:
Neal Cassady's house--once a pit stop for Kerouac and Ginsberg, bites the dust
by Clarence Cromwell
DURING THE 1950s, Neal Cassady's house at 18231 Bancroft Ave. was a frequent stop for Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. In the '60s, the guest list included novelist Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Cassady once drove Kesey's psychedelic bus furthur up Bancroft Avenue with the transmission stuck in reverse as wide-eyed neighbors watched the multicolored, wired-for-sound spectacle.
On Aug. 22, it took less than five minutes for a bulldozer to destroy Cassady's former home, a small, olive-green ranch house. At about 8:25am a bulldozer nearly as high as the building roared to life in the driveway. The operator spun the monster 180 degrees to face the building and leveled the garage in two passes, then turned to the left and plowed into the main part of the house. Within five minutes, a pile of lumber and bricks remained to be loaded into a huge blue dumpster on the lawn.
The current owners, Bruce and Hemmie Schechter, decided to tear down the house and replace it with a 2,800-square-foot Cape Cod-style house. Carolyn Cassady sold the house to the Schecters in 1987.
A group of 10 or so spectators grew to about 15 as nearby neighbors wandered outside to watch the demolition machine. John Cassady, son of Neal and Carolyn Cassady, taped the demolition on a video recorder and reminisced with his boyhood pal Bill Reimer.
A few minutes before demolition began, the pair snapped photos in the house, from which windows and doors had already been removed.
Cassady recalled the spot just west of the front door where Kerouac used to sit in a chair and read his books, unless he was drinking port at the bar between the living room and the kitchen.
Neal Cassady's memoirs and letters have been published, but he's better known for being written about. He tagged along with the best minds of his generation. With them, he traveled the country, prowled the Bay Area and smoked marijuana in the living room on Bancroft Avenue.
"Jack probably lived here off and on for weeks at a time," Cassady said. "He'd camp in the back yard, just sleeping under the stars. Ginsberg would visit whenever he was in the Bay Area.
"I just wish the walls could talk," he added.
Cassady got permission from the new owners to remove the bartop and the front door from the house. The door was still the weird day-glow green color that Carolyn Cassady painted it in the '70s, he said.
Neal Cassady built the house for $16,000 in 1954 after receiving a settlement from the Southern Pacific Railroad related to a train accident. Cassady was a Southern Pacific brakeman until he won the $20,000 court settlement and lost his job. Neal Cassady died in 1968 in Mexico.
The demolition came as a surprise to Monte Sereno city officials, who were unaware of the house's significance. The Cassady house was not listed on the city's inventory of historic buildings. Former Heritage Preservation Committee member Sue Anawalt said the city wasn't thorough enough in identifying its historic buildings when it launched the heritage committee.
"The list we were given was very incomplete," Anawalt said. "We were trying to slowly add to it."
Had the house been on the list, the demolition probably would have taken place anyway, because the Monte Sereno City Council gutted the historic preservation ordinance in March.
by John Perry Barlow
(Ken Schumacher received this from Barlow after posting a request for reminiscinces from people who'd known Neal Cassady. Thanks to Ken for sending this to me, and to John Perry Barlow for giving me permission to include it in Literary Kicks. It is a very beautiful piece of writing, and it also answers a question that had been bugging me for years: why did he spell Neal's name wrong in the title of the song? Turns out there's a simple answer. -- Levi Asher)
Cassidy-------By John Perry Barlow with Bob Weir Recorded on Ace (Warner Brothers, 1972)Cora, Wyoming February, 1972
I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream.I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream.Ah, child of countless trees.
Ah, child of boundless seas.What you are, what you're meant to beSpeaks his name, though you were born to me,
Born to me,Cassidy...
Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac.I can tell by the way you smile he's rolling back.Come wash the nighttime clean,Come grow this scorched ground green,Blow the horn, tap the tambourineClose the gap of the dark years in betweenYou and me,
Quick beats in an icy heart.Catch-colt draws a coffin cart.There he goes now, here she starts:
Hear her cry.Flight of the seabirds, scattered like lost wordsWheel to the storm and fly.
Faring thee well now.Let your life proceed by its own design.Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine.(Repeat)
This is a song about necessary dualities: dying & being born, men & women, speaking & being silent, devastation & growth, desolation & hope.
It is also about a Cassady and a Cassidy, Neal Cassady and Cassidy Law.
(The title could be spelled either way as far as I'm concerned, but I think it's officially stamped with the latter. Which is appropriate since I believe the copyright was registered by the latter's mother, Eileen Law.)
The first of these was the ineffable, inimitable, indefatigable Holy Goof Hisself, Neal Cassady, aka Dean Moriarty, Hart Kennedy, Houlihan, and The Best Mind of Allen Ginsberg's generation.
Neal Cassady, for those whose education has been so classical or so trivial or so timid as to omit him, was the Avatar of American Hipness. Born on the road and springing full-blown from a fleabag on Denver's Larimer Street, he met the hitch-hiking Jack Kerouac there in the late 40's and set him, and, through him, millions of others, permanently free.
Neal came from the oral tradition. The writing he left to others with more time and attention span, but from his vast reserves flowed the high-octane juice which gassed up the Beat Generation for eight years of Eisenhower and a thousand days of Camelot until it, like so many other things, ground to a bewildered halt in Dallas.
Kerouac retreated to Long Island, where he took up Budweiser, the National Review, and the adipose cynicism of too many thwarted revolutionaries. Neal just caught the next bus out.
This turned out to be the psychedelic nose-cone of the 60's, a rolling cornucopia of technicolor weirdness named Further. With Ken Kesey raving from the roof and Neal at the wheel, Further roamed America from 1964 to 1966, infecting our national control delusion with a chronic and holy lunacy to which it may yet succumb.
From Further tumbled the Acid Tests, the Grateful Dead, Human Be-Ins, the Haight-Ashbury, and, as America tried to suppress the infection by popularizing it into cheap folly, The Summer of *Love: and Woodstock.
I, meanwhile, had been initiated into the Mysteries within the sober ashrams of Timothy Leary's East Coast, from which distance the Prankster's psychedelic psircuses seemed, well, a bit psacreligious. Bobby Weir, whom I'd known since prep school, kept me somewhat current on his riotous doings with the Pranksters et al, but I tended to dismiss on ideological grounds what little of this madness he could squeeze through a telephone.
So, purist that I was, I didn't actually meet Neal Cassady until 1967, by which time Further was already rusticating behind Kesey's barn in Oregon and the Grateful Dead had collectively beached itself in a magnificently broke-down Victorian palace at 710 Ashbury Street, two blocks up the hill from what was by then, according to Time Magazine, the axis mundi of American popular culture. The real party was pretty much over by the time I arrived.
But Cassady, the Most Amazing Man I Ever Met, was still very much Happening. Holding court in 710's tiny kitchen, he would carry on five different conversations at once and still devote one conversational channel to discourse with absent persons and another to such sound effects as disintegrating ring gears or exploding crania. To log into one of these conversations, despite their multiplicity, was like trying to take a sip from a fire hose.
He filled his few and momentary lapses in flow with the most random numbers ever generated by man or computer or, more often, with his low signature laugh, a *heh, heh, heh, heh: which sounded like an engine being spun furiously by an over-enthusiastic starter motor.
As far as I could tell he never slept. He tossed back green hearts of Mexican dexedrina by the shot-sized bottle, grinned, cackled, and jammed on into the night. Despite such behavior, he seemed, at 41, a paragon of robust health. With a face out of a recruiting poster (leaving aside a certain glint in the eyes) and a torso, usually raw, by Michelangelo, he didn't even seem quite mortal. Though he would shortly demonstrate himself to be so.
Neal and Bobby were perfectly contrapuntal. As Cassady rattled incessantly, Bobby had fallen mostly mute, stilled perhaps by macrobiotics, perhaps a less than passing grade in the Acid Tests, or, more likely, some combination of every strange thing which had caused him to start thinking much faster than anyone could talk. I don't have many focussed memories from the Summer of 1967, but in every mental image I retain of Neal, Bobby's pale, expressionless face hovers as well.
Their proximity owed partly to Weir's diet. Each meal required hours of methodical effort. First, a variety of semi-edibles had to be reduced over low heat to a brown, gelatinous consistency. Then each bite of this preparation had to be chewed no less than 40 times. I believe there was some ceremonial reason for this, though maybe he just needed time to get used to the taste before swallowing.
This all took place in the kitchen where, as I say, Cassady was also usually taking place. So there would be Neal, a fountain of language, issuing forth clouds of agitated, migratory words. And across the table, Bobby, his jaw working no less vigorously, producing instead a profound, unalterable silence. Neal talked. Bobby chewed. And listened.
So would pass the day. I remember a couple of nights when they set up another joint routine in the music room upstairs. The front room of the second floor had once been a library and was now the location of a stereo and a huge collection of communally-abused records.
It was also, at this time, Bobby's home. He had set up camp on a pestilential brown couch in the middle of the room, at the end of which he kept a paper bag containing most of his worldly possessions.
Everyone had gone to bed or passed out or fled into the night. In the absence of other ears to perplex and dazzle, Neal went to the music room, covered his own with headphones, put on some be-bop, and became it, dancing and doodley-oooping a Capella to a track I couldn't hear. While so engaged, he juggled the 36 oz. machinist's hammer which had become his trademark. The articulated jerky of his upper body ran monsoons of sweat and the hammer became a lethal blur floating in the air before him.
While the God's Amphetamine Cowboy spun, juggled and yelped joyous *doo-WOP's,: Weir lay on his couch in the foreground, perfectly still, open eyes staring at the ceiling. There was something about the fixity of Bobby's gaze which seemed to indicate a fury of cognitive processing to match Neal's performance. It was as though Bobby were imagining him and going rigid with the effort involved in projecting such a tangible and kinetic image.
I also have a vague recollection of driving someplace in San Francisco with Neal and a amazingly lascivious redhead, but the combination of drugs and terror at his driving style has fuzzed this memory into a dreamish haze. I remember that the car was a large convertible, possibly a Cadillac, made in America at a time we still made cars of genuine steel but that its bulk didn't seem like armor enough against a world coming at me so fast and close.
Nevertheless, I recall taking comfort in the notion that to have lived so long this way Cassady was probably invulnerable and that, if that were so, I was also within the aura of his mysterious protection.
Turned out I was wrong about that. About five months later, four days short of his 42nd birthday, he was found dead next to a railroad track outside San Miguel D'Allende, Mexico. He wandered out there in an altered state and died of exposure in the high desert night. Exposure seemed right. He had lived an exposed life. By then, it was beginning to feel like we all had.
In necessary dualities, there are only protagonists. The other protagonist of this song is Cassidy Law, who is now, in the summer of 1990, a beautiful and self-possessed young woman of 20.
When I first met her, she was less than a month old. She had just entered the world on the Rucka Rucka Ranch, a dust-pit of a one-horse ranch in the Nicasio Valley of West Marin which Bobby inhabited along with a variable cast of real characters.
These included Cassidy's mother Eileen, a good woman who was then and is still the patron saint of the Deadheads, the wolf-like Rex Jackson, a Pendleton cowboy turned Grateful Dead roadie in whose memory the Grateful Dead's Rex Foundation is named, Frankie Weir, Bobby's ol' lady and the subject of the song Sugar Magnolia, Sonny Heard, a Pendleton bad ol' boy who was also a GD roadie, and several others I can't recall.
There was also a hammer-headed Appaloosa stud, a vile goat, and miscellaneous barnyard fowl which included a peacock so psychotic and aggressive that they had to keep a 2 x 4 next to the front door to ward off his attacks on folks leaving the house. In a rural sort of way, it was a pretty tough neighborhood. The herd of horses across the road actually became rabid and had to be destroyed.
It was an appropriate place to enter the 70's, a time of bleak exile for most former flower children. The Grateful Dead had been part of a general Diaspora from the Haight as soon as the Summer of Love festered into the Winter of Our Bad Craziness. They had been strewn like jetsam across the further reaches of Marin County and were now digging in to see what would happen next.
The prognosis wasn't so great. 1968 had given us, in addition to Cassady's death, the Chicago Riots and the election of Richard Nixon. 1969 had been, as Ken Kesey called it, *the year of the downer,: which described not only a new cultural preference for stupid pills but also the sort of year which could mete out Manson, Chappaquiddick, and Altamont in less than 6 weeks.
I was at loose ends myself. I'd written a novel, on the strength of whose first half Farrar, Straus, & Giroux had given me a healthy advance with which I was to write the second half. Instead, I took the money and went to India, returning seven months later a completely different guy. I spent the first 8 months of 1970 living in New York City and wrestling the damned thing to an ill-fitting conclusion, before tossing the results over a transom at Farrar, Straus, buying a new motorcycle to replace the one I'd just run into a stationary car at 85 mph, and heading to California.
It was a journey straight out of Easy Rider. I had a no-necked barbarian in a Dodge Super Bee try to run me off the road in New Jersey (for about 20 high speed miles) and was served, in my own Wyoming, a raw, skinned-out lamb's head with eyes still in it. I can still hear the dark laughter that chased me out of that restaurant.
Thus, by the time I got to the Rucka Rucka, I was in the right raw mood for the place. I remember two bright things glistening against this dreary backdrop. One was Eileen holding her beautiful baby girl, a catch-colt (as we used to call foals born out of pedigree) of Rex Jackson's.
And there were the chords which Bobby had strung together the night she was born, music which eventually be joined with these words to make the song Cassidy. He played them for me. Crouched on the bare boards of the kitchen floor in the late afternoon sun, he whanged out chords that rang like the bells of hell.
And rang in my head for the next two years, during which time I quit New York and, to my great surprise, became a rancher in Wyoming, thus beginning my own rural exile.
In 1972, Bobby decided he wanted to make the solo album which became Ace. When he entered the studio in early February, he brought an odd lot of material, most of it germinative. We had spent some of January in my isolated Wyoming cabin working on songs but I don't believe we'd actually finished anything. I'd come up with some lyrics (for Looks Like Rain and most of Black-Hearted Wind). He worked out the full musical structure for Cassidy, but I still hadn't written any words for it.
Most of our time was passed drinking Wild Turkey, speculating grandly, and fighting both a series of magnificent blizzards and the house ghost (or whatever it was) which took particular delight in devilling both Weir and his Malamute dog.
(I went in one morning to wake Bobby and was astonished when he reared out of bed wearing what appeared to be black-face. He looked ready to burst into Sewanee River. Turned out the ghost had been at him. He'd placed at 3 AM call to the Shoshone shaman Rolling Thunder, who'd advised him that a quick and dirty ghost repellant was charcoal on the face. So he'd burned an entire box of Ohio Blue Tips and applied the results.)
I was still wrestling with the angel of Cassidy when he went back to California to start recording basic tracks. I knew some of what it was about...the connection with Cassidy Law's birth was too direct to ignore...but the rest of it evaded me. I told him that I'd join him in the studio and write it there.
Then my father began to die. He went into the hospital in Salt Lake City and I stayed on the ranch feeding cows and keeping the feed trails open with an ancient Allis-Chalmers bulldozer. The snow was three and a half feet deep on the level and blown into concrete castles around the haystacks.
Bobby was anxious for me to join him in California, but between the hardest winter in ten years and my father's diminishing future, I couldn't see how I was going to do it. I told him I'd try to complete the unfinished songs, Cassidy among them, at a distance.
On the 18th of February, I was told that my father's demise was imminent and that I would have to get to Salt Lake. Before I could get away, however, I would have to plow snow from enough stackyards to feed the herd for however long I might be gone. I fired up the bulldozer in a dawn so cold it seemed the air might break. I spent a long day in a cloud of whirling ice crystals, hypnotized by the steady 2600 rpm howl of its engine, and, sometime in the afternoon, the repeating chords of Cassidy.
I thought a lot about my father and what we were and had been to one another. I thought about delicately balanced dance of necessary dualities. And for some reason, I started thinking about Neal, four years dead and still charging around America on the hot wheels of legend.
Somewhere in there, the words to Cassidy arrived, complete and intact. I just found myself singing the song as though I'd known it for years.
I clanked back to my cabin in the gathering dusk. Alan Trist, an old friend of Bob Hunter's and a new friend of mine, was visiting. He'd been waiting for me there all day. Anxious to depart, I sent him out to nail wind-chinking on the horse barn while I typed up these words and packed. By nightfall, another great storm had arrived. We set out for Salt Lake in it, hoping to arrive there in time to close, one last time, the dark years between me and my father.
Grateful Dead songs are alive. Like other living things, they grow and metamorphose over time. Their music changes a little every time they're played. The words, avidly interpreted and reinterpreted by generations of Deadheads, become accretions of meaning and cultural flavor rather than static assertions of intent. By now, the Deadheads have written this song to a greater extent than I ever did.
The context changes and thus, everything in it. What Cassidy meant to an audience, many of whom had actually known Neal personally, is quite different from what it means to an audience which has largely never heard of the guy.
Some things don't change. People die. Others get born to take their place. Storms cover the land with trouble. And then, always, the sun breaks through again.
Literary Kicks Contributed by John Perry Barlow
From Intrepid Trips:
And here comes Neal ...to somehow make it across the boundariless spread of America to San Fran and Carolyn again; to gritty railyard toil of couplings, lanterns and Aztec complexities of accordianed freight-schedules, the big watch yanked out of the pocket, snorings in the caboose over the clattering miles, time-caged -- Time that could only be eluded by continual energy-expenditure that had its source in Time -- "keep a step ahead, keep your mind ahead" -- (I heard his insistent voice) -- "don't butt your dumb head against their walls, man! - look for doors, and then GO - Just leave them snarled up in their worries, their motives - it's their kick man, it's their dreary high - But, listen - never knock the way the other cat swings"
- how wearying, now, for me to think of his days drenched in adrenaline, his heart driven out by dawn, his will accepting all contingencies, beating towards the Unknown, straight on out of the kitchen-table compromises, the street wise chicanery, the square machineries of interpersonal relations, the sinister repetitions of the hour-hand, towards - what? Who knew? Did he? The stubborn, ungraspable hope that became the obsession of the prisoned spirit in his body. ~John Clellon Holmes
Why'd he come on that bus trip anyway? It happened in '64. Remember it? When the Beatles wanted to hold your hand. When Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination and was swamped by LBJ in the fall. When a Buddhist burned himself in Saigon. When the World's Fair opened in Flushing Meadows to celebrate the 300th birthday of New York City. When three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi. When Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When General MacArthur and Prime Minister Nehru died. When Khrushchev was involuntarily retired. When the Olympics were in Tokyo and Peter Snell doubled in gold. When Saul Bellows published HERZOG. When Peter Sellers introduced Inspector Clousceau. When the best picture was TOM JONES. When Patricia Neal and Melvin Douglas won oscars for HUD. Cassady had been dropping by Kesey's place fairly regularly. One night when he was there we turned the gain full up and stuck the micro phones on our stomaches and recorded the gurgles. Cassady's stomach was different. Ours went a -guggle, gurgle, bloop."Hear mine?" he crowed. "Twang-a-ding-twing-deedly-doop-deep?" His stomach surged and splurged at twice the speed of anyone else's; formed words he couldn't quite make out. "That's me!" Cassady said gleefully. Proof that he was a singular talent with a singular mission. No one argued. His vanity was real. He had something to back it up. His God-given, Leonardo da Vinci-like arm, for instance He flexed his bicep and held the microphone in a clenched fist, showing off."Look at that. Isn't it beautiful?" It was. A magnificent arm. Every cell glowing and preening. Even the stub of a thumb he stuck in the air, laughing at its incongruity, was beautiful. "I took a punch at Luanne, my first wife, one time years after our divorce when I was still jealous over her other men. My thumb glanced off her chin, hit the wall and splintered the end of the bone. Doctor Butcher set it wrong and osteomylitis forced him to amputate the tip." Cassady twirled his freaky thumb. Kesey nodded. "Beautiful," he admitted. And it was. The divine and the imperfect merged. But at the beginning, he was just Cassady. The man and the reputation.We knew he helped found the Beat Movement, that he was best friends with poet Allen Ginsberg, that he was the real life prototype of Dean Moriarity, the fictional hero in Jack Kerouac's novel. ON THE ROAD. That he was famous in the San Francisco Bay area for his weekend-long speed runs, his fantastic driving and his non-stop talking. What we didn't know was that the thing we were just barely starting to explore - coming on in a dramatic, meaningful way - was the thing Cassady had been doing for years. Just to get ready for this trip. ~Ken Babbs
"Dale, did you get that fuse in?" George yelled.
"Yeah, but I think it was a dome light fuse."
"Gentlemen," Cassady said, arriving at the bus with his gear, "the secret of the fuse is to think of the soul and not the ego. It took the Red Chinese years to discover swallowing tadpoles by the dozens doesn't make for effective contraceptives."
"Only two things I wanted out of life when I was a kid, "Neal yelled above the roar of the engine. "To run the mile in the Olympics and play left half so I could throw lefthanded on the run at Notre Dame. But then I found out I was color blind. I was out there, as youngsters will do, on the grass and all, and to me it looked red, and Charley Wooster, my Cole Junior High friend, said, 'The grass is red? You're nuts!' I was so mad at that grass I learned cars."
"Cassady is revved up like they've never see him before, with his shirt off, a straw version of a cowboy hat on his head, bouncing up and down on the driver's seat, shifting gears - doubledy-clutch, doubledy-clutch, blamming on the steering wheel and the gearshift box, rapping over the microphone rigged up by his seat like a manic tour guide, describing every car going by." ~Tom Wolfe
Interview with Carolyn Cassady
From American Legends:
Carolyn Cassady - On Jack and Neal
Carolyn Robinson first met Neal Cassady in 1947in Denver, Colorado, where she was getting her MA degree in Theater and Fine Arts at the University of Denver. Neal was then a self-taught intellectual andalready a legendary ladies man who had grown up in Denver flophouses and pool halls. Early stages of his involvement with Carolyn were fictionalized in Jack Kerouac's On the Road where Carolyn was called "Camille." She was called "Evelyn" in subsequent Kerouac novels and her actual name was used in Some of the Dharma. Neal, of course, was the irrepressible "Dean Moriarty" in On the Road--and "Cody Pomeroy" in later books. Neal and Carolyn had three children, but Carolyn finally divorced Neal shortly before his death; she had instituted the divorce "hoping to free him from family responsibilities." Carolyn realized her mistake when Neal died only five years later in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. No one knows the exact details of Neal's death; the death certificate states only that all systems were "congested." During Neal and Carolyn's twenty-year marriage Neal worked as a brakeman and conductor for the Southern Pacific Railroad--a job he loved and at which he excelled with his speed, coordination and love of freedom--and Neal also survived a two-year stretch in San Quentin for supposed marijuana dealings. After the divorce Neal joined Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters as driver of the bus "Further" until his death--becoming a permanent hero of the 1960s counterculture. (The above introduction was written by a long time Cassady scholar; and here, in an exclusive interview with American Legends--conducted via e-mail over a two year period from her home in London--Carolyn Robinson Cassady recalls Neal and his buddy, Jack Kerouac.)
How did Neal feel about being the central figure in On the Road?
Neal had mixed emotions about his role in On the Road. Of course, he got a little ego boost but mainly he was unhappy about it because Jack glorified all the aspects about his character he was trying so hard to overcome. Jack may have intuited Neal's feelings somewhat because he often wrote that he hoped no one felt badly about his writing about them. Neal certainly did not resent Jack's fame. There were never two more mutual admirers than those two.
Neal was also a central character in Tom Wolfe's book (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) about the Merry Pranksters--the group that drove around San Francisco with Ken Kesey in a bus painted in psychedelic colors.
I can't speak for Tom Wolfe's accuracy about the Prankster years, other than I don't think he had any clue about Neal. Kesey told me he hated that book, so maybe that indicates something similar. It was so out of Wolfe's milieu.
There are a number of stories about Jack's original draft of On the Road.
The On the Road manuscript went through many changes and variations. At our house, Jack was writing what he called Visions of Neal. Parts of it became On the Road, parts Visions of Cody...Jack would read us bits of what he was writing, but I never saw the scroll or any of On the Road in manuscript or otherwise.
Was there a dynamic that drew Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac together?
Both Allen and Jack admired Neal's brilliant mind and memory, as well as his energy. Allen, of course, was in love with Neal physically, but his descriptions of their coupling are Allen's fantasies. As for Jack and Neal, in some ways it was a case of opposites attracting. Jack was terribly self-conscious, shy and gauche. Neal was confident, polite. He could relate to anyone on their own level. Neal approached women easily--Jack had great difficulty, so he admired and envied all these things in Neal that he lacked himself. Neal admired Jack's writing ability and his way of describing sensory perceptions. Allen was sort of a little brother to both of them. They admired his talent, and felt compassion toward him, but didn't go along with his radical, activist behavior--not that they condemned him. It was what made Allen, Allen.
In one Kerouac biography, Jack's Book, someone refers to Neal as a "sociopath" who had to act out every impulse.
A lot of Jack's friends, like Allan Temko, the now famous University of California [architecture] professor [Roland Major in On the Road] put Neal down. It was kind of a left-right bias...or snobbery.. or maybe jealousy...
Over the years, there has been criticism of the Beats' attitude toward women.
I was never bothered by their attitude. In those days, men were gentlemen, polite, and never swore in mixed company. Jack and Neal always treated me as an equal, listened to me, asked my opinion and advice, and I was happy being feminine and nurturing. I'm not a feminist, and I think they haven't the right take on what feminine power is. I chose a domestic life with free time for my own pursuits. It didn't turn out quite like my parents' but I made what choices I made. And I'm afraid I don't understand women who dress in a provocative manner and then blame men for treating them like sex objects.
In his work, Jack Kerouac referred to Neal's "great sex" letter. Supposedly, this stream of consciousness letter influenced Jack to create the "spontaneous prose" method of composition he used to write On the Road.
That letter was known as "The Joan Anderson Letter." It actually appears in the back of Neal's book The First Third [a posthumous collection of Cassady's autobiographical writings published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights]. It begins--"To have seen a specter..." Supposedly, some of the manuscript blew off Gerd Stern's houseboat, but what is left is a complete story. Neal may have written about other escapades, but I think this is the "lost" letter. A film was made of it last year entitled The Last Time I Committed Suicide. The material was turned into a superficial sitcom...
Neal was also known for his monologues. Writer Pierre Delattre claimed that down in Mexico Neal would give his long raps backed up by a guitarist named Phil Santoro. He talked about everything from race car drivers to writers who had influenced him.
Neal didn't do the long monologues until he was with Ken Kesey. Previously, he "discussed" subjects-- interested in the feedback from his listeners. When he'd given up trying and was waiting for death, he just babbled all the stored knowledge in his head. This was so vast, it impressed the groupies, even if they didn't understand it.
Jim Morrison once told a friend, Linda Ashcroft, that he identified with Dean Moriarty in On the Road. Was Neal aware of Morrison, or James Dean, whose offbeat images were like Neal's?
Yes, he was aware of his comparison with James Dean. We saw the movies together, but I can't recall any specific conversation. I don't know about Morrison. But the trouble was that the side of Neal that was celebrated was the side that he was trying hard to overcome--and be respectable. Neal sometimes said that he wished no one would read On the Road.
In Grace Beats Karma, Neal's prison letters, he writes of how his Roman Catholic faith helped him survive San Quentin.
In Grace Beats Karma, Neal was only trying to occupy his mind, so as not to act with the fury he felt. He had long ago figured how irrational his Catholic training was. But they start so early. He and Jack had that sense of fear, guilt, worthlessness buried in their genes and couldn't overcome it.
It seems that after San Quentin Neal never got it together.
Those five years he did his best to get killed-- rolling buses, taking any offered drug, behaving as he has been depicted, and filled with self-loathing. Ken Kesey doesn't see him this way and had no idea of all this--Neal still had that saintly something even when a performing bear. His last words to me from the Mexican border before he died were: "I'm coming home. I'm coming home."
What would Neal Cassady make of America in the 21st century?
It's hard to say what Neal would make of today's world. He battled so hard against his abnormal lust in the days when sex was a dangerous and forbidden fruit. Now, it is so blatant and crude, I don't know if he would have been glad of that or appalled at the disrespectful and degrading attitude toward what he considered, in essence, holy.
(The following books were helpful in preparing this interview: Carolyn Cassady, Off the Road, New York, Morrow, 1990; Arthur and Kit Knight, editors, The Beat Vision, New York, Paragon House, 1987; Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, New York, Quality Paperback Books ed., 1990; Neal Cassady, Grace Beats Karma, New York, Blast Books, 1993)
Straight Theater Rap
The third night of the Straight Theater’s Grand Opening Sunday July 23, 1967 presented The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company starring Janis Joplin, Wildflower, The Phoenix and Lights by Reginald & Straight Lightning. The night held some important firsts and significant lasts. This was the last time the Grateful Dead would appear at the Straight with only one drummer. The next time the Dead played the Straight two months later Mickey Hart had joined the band creating the two drum kit sound. This would be the last time we would hear the original Dead starring Jerry Garcia-lead guitar, Phil Lesh- Bass, Bob Weir rhythm, Bill Kreutzmann, drums, and Pigpen Ron McKernan, keyboards and lead vocal. This night they welcomed a guest to the stage and gave him a mic as the band did a live sound check making it sound like a Ken Kesey Acid Test. Neal Cassady, hipster star for Kerouac, prankster prototype, driver of the not only the BUS, Further, but was a driving force for the generation. His poetic prose rap speeds from one subject and inflection to another like a staccato talking announcer describing racing cars speeding by on an oval track. Neal describes each car only as it roars by the grandstands. When three or four cars pass together he comments on each one almost simultaneously. The subjects seem to race by changing with each breath and have no connection with what came before or afterwards but if you are a careful listener you can pick out references, some from Dean Moriarity “On the Road” days, prankster humor, literary chatter, sports, current events, and his beloved Speed, Speed got some speed? while always commenting on what is happening in the “Now”.
Annotated By Ken BabbsTranscribed & Designed By Kim Spurlock
The Grateful Dead COMPOSE IN THE BACKGROUND... Voice: Neal Cassady...Neal Cassady... [Tentative Drumroll]
Neal: (OFF MIC; APPROACHING) I got the penguin1 right here in my pocket...Phil Phil2 I just bought a three hundred & thirty-five dollar fender mint Bic3...come again on that lemon a roasta beef4...Four fingers5 ya know are...I've forgotten it...that's just enough see...trying to play ya see...(GROANING IN BACHGROUND) The claw6 & me...three inches the bigger thumb...and I said of course to the Metro7 as the...but it hides my thumb and also reveals my Greek torso...well at 49th I said Spence8 hadn't seen him since 51st...he said move 2-49th. Nope moved to 51st. Well again Heinz9 said...The waiter in '56 beet the 6 seeds10 he had. Seed law and marijuana...The only writing I ever did was a laudatory11...But on marijuana "oooooooo...," I was saying in the..."Are you alright in there on the wall12 Mr. Cassady?"...cause I was having these insights you see. I only got 20 years on you.13 I knew I should've worn more paisley.14 I double-crossed at...no...the son of the man15is about to mount the podium. Grimsby16 was impressed in a short drive. I said I'm serious about America to Marco Greg17...at the last year you know we arrived just in time.18 Double park in Winnemucca19...speed er endurance.20 Six days it was. Finally she grabbed the Vick's VapoRub21 instead of the Vaeline it was and that was what ended it. My first child '42 then22...Charlie Valencia23 on Temple24 where we had an Acid Test25...but 135026his father half Mexican half Irish like Anthony Quinn27 so he loved her you know...there was a triumph of us. The only 3-way I ever had. Kerouac's not queer but my present wife the fourth and he it was just a New Year's Eve sortofa28...He was always looking for a colored girl29 Keroassady30...finally he found her Bedford-Stuyvessant and that was the last time I committed suicide31) I knew toward the Ford sign across the Hudson32...gotta getta across this long Missouri that preacher said VanHelLuther33 I didn't see it.34 Move on. Menopausal.35 Don't ask me how 20 years 36 I held 10 on the railroad37 and 10 more for...an I'll be dead a thousand years38 see so if I don't do right now right in it...Reb Parker39 the same Acid Test then. He used to be Al Collins all fat and sassy you know and but he was all skinny and dressed in...you can work yourself into anything how do you get out of it? 6 uh days, 6 glasses a day pretty soon your system demands it. 1000 days Aurobindo40 says you've had it. Old Joe Alcoholic you know we used to drink together but he went drinking. Gitcha enjoys but...Dry is always D insteada T41 so the second...a German pornography42...(SINGING) "Burn..." Hmm each daay offered thou week to week. O in The Name of The Christ don't call on that I say that's another...then the next day November 1st is All Souls All Saints.43 He did nothin and I did nothin and finally nothin, there wasn't nothin he wouldn't do for me and nothin I wouldn't do for him. We sat around all the time doing nothin. 100 miles an hour goin a great 4 wheel drift44 he uh adjusting his goggles you know everybody in the audience with their right foot but I can't heel and toe45 I'm double left.46 I'll get the Pigpen47 microphone going I've got to cut the organ...Ginsberg48forced us up here. I went because it's a good drive; Mt. Baker out of the Chillaquin Indian country in Oregon; the lava beds and the guy49 who was opposite brother Chuck's50 Eugene creamery should know the area. He was an editor who'll never make it because of the rocky overhang.51 So I drove up into the snow and found you know...I excited all to turn him. Guy comes in last one outta the mountains; Ed Sanders52 leader...3 things I had: a flat tire, a place to stay, & a joint. He handled all 3 immediately...couple years later I found a course he had a couple wives a couple kids and everything but anyway...it's true...yer home is...so anyway the ski-boy...I excited him to move...a week...and I'm glad I didn't hear it...protected you know...The minister: "I'll blow ya for money," he said-half hour later she...what did she say...? He was listening to the radio and I said "O..." I'd just gone thru...fortunate you know you throw off. Don't eat when you're angry. Who was ever happy angry? Before all fixin due...'53...a pleasure dome you see. Antrophy. Thank you...thank you...I went...I used to have my 2-16.53 I...left the a fleet of course and finally the 4th largest union54 we'll take that up but first the guy...then the stockboy...and when I was replacing the 3rd man from moving on Obetrol55 changing too fast you know...the tires56 so...I lost my...extension.57 Logical Positivism had a great increase at UCLA recently they got Alcindor58 but no water polo...what are we gonna...? you all are surrounded...I've never found who was...I played short short...outfield-no glove...you just need...I learned an illegal pitch-caught Satch Paige59 barehanded...after the 303 guard you know had done me in cause the coach thought I was chicken. Why bother was my...vein. The brain of the..."But Nell.60 Now see here Hard Dick." [Major Hoople/W.C. Fields voice] My wife medical secretary works for Stiff Dr. Peck. Double reed.61 From the second balcony Dillenger62 uh...the L5...I said to Robert Jones Melvin63...on the left he wears these rings. A sensitive-we're all sensitives. Thinks it's alright to charge to astrologize.64
The Embryo you know goes thru the Fish Stage but we didn't enter until Ape Late. Christ-Adam-Higher Soul help us out thru so the Cyclopses don't win the Unicorn Brew. We're here to Experience... and finally Evolution the Little Toe we'll beat it tho- The Odor of Sanctity.
1. PENGUIN: Pocket book of On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
2. PHIL: Phil Lesh, bassist of the Grateful Dead.
3. BIC: Cigarette lighter, noted because Phil had no light. Five o'clock in the morning at the Watts Acid Test, light barely glimmering. Phil was still thumoing when Babbs shut down the power. "No light! No light!" Phil screamed, but to no avail. It didn't come back.
4. ROASTA BEEF: Riffing on the chow at the Straight-always the worst, and Cassady was a truck driver's special man, hated ratburgers.
5. FOUR FINGERS: Pertains to his flute playing, "Three finger delight," he said, "no, that's masturbation," but in this case he's threatening to play the flute like he always did while driving the big bus Furthur, thus the groans from the musicians.
6. CLAW: His hand with the tip of thumb cut off. (See On the Road for best explanation for how it happened.)
7. METRO: The law. Police station. Clenches his fist to hide the thumb and reveal the torso, muscles tense.
8. SPENCE: Dick Spence, a connection, always drive past his place, no telling what might be available.
9. HEINZ: As in '56 flavors in '57, or was it the other way around?
10. 6 SEEDS: busted for seeds the waiter was, can you believe it?
11. LAUDATORY: Refers to a 6 page letter to Gavin Arthur who visited Cassady in San Quentin when Neal was doing two years for two joints; lotta time on his hands. My brother's bar in Neal's hometown of Denver has the letter on the wall.
12. THE WALL: Some of the best writings can be found on the shit-house wall.
13. 20 YEARS: Cassady's a bit older than the audience in the theater. He's being heckled.
14. PAISLEY: In vogue amongst the younger set; why not join in? "If you want to be loved, be lovable," Cassady often said.
15. SON OF THE MAN: Christological reference to San Francisco's Mayor's son. Chip Alioto.
16. Roger GRIMSBY: San Francisco television reporter.
17. MARCO GREG: Nightclub critic always thought Cassady was putting everyone on. "Talks about cars a lot, doesn't he?"
18. JUST IN TIME: To save the lady from committing suicide, she's at her nitwit's end.
19. WINNEMUCCA: Nevada: east of Reno on Interstate 80. Site of the Mustang Ranch, a a barbed wire enclosed bordello. The management dug Neal so much they didn;t charge him for services rendered. Always a quick stop for Neal when heading East out of Frisco.
20. ENDURANCE: "What, what? Consistency," Cassady said. "Not how you come out of the blocks or make the first turn." You gotta be in it for the long haul.
21. VIC'S VAPORUB: Mentholated version of the popular lubricant.
22. FIRST CHILD '42: One of many kids alleged to have been fathered by a young Neal in Los Angeles and Denver.
23. CHARLIE VALENCIA: her boy friend.
24. TEMPLE: Street in L.A.
25. ACID TEST: Were held in L.A. in spring of '66, Cassady the star, Grateful Dead the band, Pranksters the crew, Furtur the bus.
26. 1350: Street address on temple. Now a shrine to the CKC nuts. (Cassady Kerouac Corso). The Cassady virus was brought across the border on the bottom of the sneakers of a wetback. Cassady was all man. From the top of his head to the bottom of his feet-to the very sole. They say clothes can't go to heaven but those shoes had sole. Other soles picked up the Cassady Virus and it's since spread across country and now into Europe. "After us, the deluge," Kerouac said, a soulful man.
27. ANTHONY QUINN: the actor who was shooting a movie called Guns for San Sebastian in Mexico and involved with Neal's last lover. She had to make a choice between Neal or Quinn, she chose Neal.
28. SORTOFA: Read all about it in Carolyn Cassady's book, Heartbeat.
29. COLORED GIRL: Neal and Jack took her to Neal's house in Los Gatos and past Carolyn asleep and up the pull-down stairs to the attic, pushing the girl's ass to get her through the hole when Carolyn woke up. It was Neal's birthday and he was supposed to be wining and dining Carolyn under candlelight but Jack called to say he'd been busted, could Neal come bail him out? "Back in 'alf a mo' darling," and that was hours ago the candles have burned out Carolyn is pissed. What do you think she did to get even?
30. KEROASSADY: the composite Jack/Neal: a hybrid personality that did 'em both in.
31. SUICIDE: After Carolyn got her revenge, Neal was so devastated he sat in the car with a gun in his hand all night fighting over suicide being wrong versus I don't wanna go. He rejected suicide as an option and decided to go home and beg.
32. FORD SIGN: Billboard where you turn West driving from Manhattan to the coast.
33. VANHELLUTHER: Preacher who lectured Neal on the wonders of Valballa, home of the warriors slain in battle.
34. DIDN'T SEE IT: Blessed are the peacemakers-for they shall be called the sons of God. "There is no excuse for violence," Cassady said, "except when making love."
35. MENOPAUSAL: Just as the woman stops bleeding, the peacemaker declines to shed blood. The grace that comes with age.
36. 20 YEARS: My, how time do fly. To think, 20 years gone by already, like a blink of the eye. Kerouac said, "Cassady knew time."
37. RAILROAD: Neal was a brakeman on the railroad for ten years, with an impeccable record, never missed a train, but when he went to prison, lost his job, his pension, his wife, his home.
38. 10 MORE FOR: For what? Not even Cassady could predict that. But he still was going to give it all he got in whatever time he got left. DEAD A THOUSAND YEARS: the orthodox lapse between incarnations.
39. REB PARKER/AL COLLINS: Old runaround friend of Cassady's he ran into at the Acid Test.
40. AUROBINDO: Savant who knew body functions from having existed at one time or another as every organ in the body, so he was a soothsayer alright-could tell you straight what alcohol did to you, and Cassady was always scared of the booze what with growing up on skidrow Larimer Street in Denver with his wino father.
41. D INSTEADA T: A Nealish proto AA injunctive?
42. PORNOGRAPHY: Those German drink so much beer it's obscene.
43. ALL SAINTS Church: Downtown Denver where Neal was an alter boy.
44. 4 WHEEL DRIFT: Auto racing. A Stirling Moss technique. Going around corners giving it the gas and breaking at the same time. You slide but don't cartwheel if you do it just right.
45. HEEL AND TOE: Heel on the brake, toe on the gas.
46. DOUBLE LEFT: Cassady was left handed, so left-footed too, and couldn't manipulate the heel and toe with his right foot.
47. PIGPEN: Ron McKermnan: vocalist and keyboardist for the Grateful Dead. Since deceased.
48. GINSBERG: Allen the ubiquitous poet.
49. THE GUY: Luther Frease, RIP, who worked at the Springfield News across the street from the Springfield Creamery.
50. BROTHER CHUCK: Ken Kesey's brother, who owns and operates the Springfield Creamery (not the Eugene Creamery) Chuck is also an original Merry Prankster who was on the bus, Furthur, in 1964 when Cassady drove.
51. ROCKY OVERHANG: Luther's furrowed brow.
52. ED SANDERS: Leader of the Fugs, radical music group of the 60's. He also wrote book, The Family, about Charles Manson.
53. 2-16: Union card. He's riffing about the fleet, never having been in the Navy or any other branch of service, being color-blind..."I was out there on the grass and all," Cassady said, "and to me it looked red. The grass red? You're nuts. I was so mad at that grass I learned cars."
54. 4TH LARGEST UNION: Railroad brakemen.
55. OBETROL: Great speed. An OBETROL 10 tablet contained: 2.5 mg. each of Methamphetamine saccharate, Methamphetamine hydrocloride, Amphetamine sulfate, & Dextroamphetamine sulfate. OBETROL 20's contained twice this potency.
56. THE TIRES: at the Los Gatos Tire Company while on parole after stretch in San Quentin.
57. EXTENSION: for his socket wrench.
58. ALCINDOR: Later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
59. SATCH PAIGE: Ancient Negro pitcher finally made it to the big leagues with the Indians at age of sixty-something.
60. NELL: The nurse in W.C. Fields comedy.
61. STIFF DR. PECK, DOUBLE REED: Carolyn worked for a spell as receptionist to Radiological Associates; Dr.'s Clemmer M. Peck, MD, & Robert H. Reid, MD. DOUBLE REED: The oboe, most difficult of instruments to play. You gotta get just the right lip on it.
62. DILLINGER: John, the 30's gangster shot down as he left The Biograph movie theater, Chicago-July, 1934.
63. ROBERT JONES MELVIN: Religious leader who got rich from donations, but after all, gotta drive a Caddilac, you think they'll give money to a man in a clunker?
64. CHARGE TO ASTROLOGIZE: No money changers in the temple.
Material for this piece researched and collected as part of an ongoing project: THE CASSADY FILE. For more information write: THE CASSADY FILE: POB 630: COOPER STATION: NEW YORK 10276