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Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady, left, with Jack Kerouac in 1952. Photograph by Carolyn Cassady.
Born February 8, 1926(1926-02-08)
Salt Lake City, Utah
Died February 4, 1968(1968-02-04) (aged 41)
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Occupation Author, poet
Nationality American
Genres Beat poet
Literary movement Beat
Notable work(s) The First Third

Neal Leon Cassady (February 8, 1926 ' February 4, 1968) was a major figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s, perhaps best known for being characterized as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road.


[edit] Early years

Cassady was born to Maude Jean Scheuer and Neal Marshall Cassady in Salt Lake City, Utah.[1] After his mother died when he was ten, he was raised by his alcoholic father in Denver, Colorado. Cassady spent much of his youth living on the streets of skid row with his father, or spending time in reform school.

As a youth, Cassady was repeatedly involved in petty crime. He was arrested for car theft when he was 14, for shoplifting and car theft when he was 15, and for car theft and fencing when he was 16.

In 1941, the 15-year old Cassady met Justin W. Brierly, a prominent Denver educator.[2] Brierly was well known as a mentor of promising young men, and, impressed by Cassady's intelligence, Brierly took an active role in Cassady's life over the next few years. He helped admit Cassady to East High School where he taught, encouraged and supervised his reading, and found employment for him. Cassady continued his criminal activities, however, and was repeatedly arrested from 1942 to 1944; on at least one of these occasions, he was released by law enforcement into Brierly's safekeeping. In June 1944, Cassady was arrested for receipt of stolen property, and served eleven months of a one-year prison sentence. He and Brierly actively exchanged letters during this period even through Cassady's intermittent incarcerations; these represent Cassady's earliest surviving letters.[3] Brierly, apparently a closeted homosexual, is also believed to have been responsible for Cassady's first homosexual experience.[4]

[edit] Marriage

In October 1945, after being released from prison, he married the fifteen-year-old LuAnne Henderson. In 1947, Cassady and his wife moved to New York City, where they met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Columbia University through Hal Chase, another protégé of Justin W. Brierly's. Although Cassady did not attend Columbia, he soon became friends with them and their acquaintances, some of whom later became members of the Beat Generation. He had a sexual relationship with Ginsberg that lasted off and on for the next twenty years,[5] and he later traveled cross-country with Kerouac.

[edit] As a character

Cassady was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road, and Cody Pomeray in many of Kerouac's other novels. In the surviving first draft of On the Road, which Kerouac typed on a 120 foot roll of paper specially constructed for that purpose, Dean Moriarty is named "Neal". Ginsberg mentioned Cassady in his ground-breaking poem, "Howl" as "N.C., secret hero of these poems..." Additionally, he is commonly credited with helping Kerouac break with his Thomas Wolfe-influenced sentimental style (as seen in The Town and the City) and Kerouac's discovery of a unique style of his own he called "spontaneous prose", a stream of consciousness prose form, first used in On the Road.

[edit] Second marriage and bigamy

After Cassady's marriage to LuAnne Henderson was annulled, Cassady married Carolyn Robinson on April 1, 1948. The couple eventually had three children and settled down in a ranch house in Monte Sereno, California, 50 miles south of San Francisco, where Kerouac and Ginsberg sometimes visited. Cassady committed bigamy by briefly marrying a woman named Diane Hansen two years after he married Carolyn Cassady. During this period, Cassady worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and kept in touch with his "Beat" acquaintances even as they became increasingly different philosophically.

[edit] Cannabis and psychedelics

Following an arrest during 1958 for offering to share a small amount of marijuana with an undercover agent at a San Francisco nightclub, Cassady served a sentence at San Quentin State Prison. After his release in June 1960, he struggled to meet family obligations, and Carolyn divorced him when his parole period expired in 1963. Cassady shared an apartment with Allen Ginsberg and Charles Plymell in 1963 at 1403 Gough Street, San Francisco.

Cassady first met author Ken Kesey during the summer of 1962, eventually becoming one of the Merry Pranksters, a group who formed around Kesey in 1964 and were proponents of the use of psychedelic drugs. During 1964, he served as the main driver of the bus Further, which was immortalized by Tom Wolfe's book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He later played a prominent role in the California psychedelic scene of the 1960s.

[edit] Hunter S. Thompson

In Hunter S. Thompson's book Hell's Angels, Cassady is described as "the worldly inspiration for the protagonist of two recent novels," drunkenly yelling at police at the famed Hells Angels parties at Ken Kesey's residence in La Honda, an event also chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Although his name was removed at the insistence of Thompson's publisher, the description is clearly a reference to the character based on Cassady in Jack Kerouac's works, On the Road and Visions of Cody. His name appears explicitly in the 50th anniversary edition of the original scroll of On the Road (On the Road: The Original Scroll, Viking 2007). Cassady also appears in Ken Kesey's book Demon Box as "Superman" in the chapter "The Day After Superman Died".

[edit] Travels and death

In January 1967, Cassady traveled to Mexico with fellow prankster George "Barely Visible" Walker and longtime girlfriend Anne Murphy. In a beachside house just south of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, they were joined by Barbara Wilson and Walter Cox. All-night storytelling, speed drives in Walker's Lotus Elan and the use of LSD made for a classic Cassady performance ' "like a trained bear," Carolyn Cassady once said. Cassady was beloved for his ability to inspire others to love life. Yet at rare times he was known to express regret over his wild life, especially as it affected his family. At one point Cassady took Cox, then 19, aside and told him, "Twenty years of fast living ' there's just not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don't do what I have done."

During the next year, Cassady's life became less stable and the pace of his travels became more frenetic. He left Mexico in May, traveling to San Francisco, California; Denver, Colorado; New York City, New York and points in between: then returned to Mexico in September and October (stopping in San Antonio, Texas on the way to visit his oldest daughter who had just given birth to his first grandchild); visited Ken Kesey's Oregon farm in December; and spent the New Year with Carolyn at a friend's house near San Francisco. Finally, during late January, 1968, Cassady returned to Mexico once again.

On February 3, 1968, Cassady attended a wedding party in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. After the party he went walking along a railroad track to reach the next town, but passed out in the cold and rainy night wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jeans. In the morning, he was found in a coma by the track and taken to the closest hospital, where he died a few hours later on February 4, four days short of his forty-second birthday.

The exact cause of Cassady's death remains uncertain. Those who attended the wedding party confirm that he took an unknown quantity of Secobarbital, a powerful barbiturate sold under the brand name of Seconal, that can easily lead to overdose. Cassady was not a heavy drinker, though he may have participated in a toast to the bride and groom. The physician who performed the autopsy wrote simply "general congestion in all systems;" when interviewed later he stated that he was unable to give an accurate report, because Cassady was a foreigner and there were drugs involved. 'Exposure' is commonly cited as his cause of death, although his widow disputes this and believes he may have died of renal failure.[6]

[edit] Legacy and influence

[edit] In literature

Ken Kesey wrote a fictional account of Cassady's death in a short story named "The Day After Superman Died", where Cassady is quoted mumbling the number of railroad ties he had counted on the line (sixty-four thousand nine-hundred and twenty-eight) as his last words before dying. It was published as a part of Kesey's 1986 collection Demon Box.

Cassady's autobiographical novel The First Third was published posthumously in 1971, three years after his death. His complete surviving letters are published in Grace Beats Karma: Letters from Prison (Blast, 1993) and Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (Penguin, 2007).

[edit] In music

Cassady lived briefly with The Grateful Dead and is immortalized in their song "The Other One" as the bus driver "Cowboy Neal."[7][8] A second Grateful Dead song, "Cassidy," by John Perry Barlow,[9] might seem to be a misspelling of Cassady's name; in fact the song primarily celebrates the 1970 birth of baby girl Cassidy Law into the Grateful Dead family, though the lyrics also include references to Neal Cassady himself.

A New York City-based folk duo, Aztec Two Step, in their 1972 debut album memorialized Cassady in the song "The Persecution & Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On The Road)".

The Beat-inspired folk revival band the Washington Squares released a song named "Neal Cassady" on their 1989 album Fair and Square.

The Doobie Brothers guitarist and songwriter Patrick Simmons refers to Cassady in his song "Neal's Fandango" as his incentive for taking to the road.

North Jersey-based progressive rock band Children of Dust pay tribute to Cassady in their song "Neal Cassady."

The progressive rock band King Crimson released a song named "Neal and Jack and Me" on their 1982 album Beat.

Tom Waits composed and recorded a song named "Jack & Neal" (included in his 1977 Foreign Affairs album) about a trip to California, with Neal Cassady driving in the company of Jack Kerouac.

The Franco-American band Moriarty is named after the fictional character Dean Moriarty that Kerouac created from Neal Cassady.

[edit] In film

Cassady and his life and friendships were portrayed in the 1980 film, Heart Beat, starring Nick Nolte as Cassady. The ending of the film depicts him as misunderstood by his more youthful Merry Pranksters cohorts. The film was based on Carolyn Cassady's memoir of the same name.

The film The Last Time I Committed Suicide, with Thomas Jane as Cassady, was released in 1997 and is based on the "Joan Anderson letter" written by Cassady to Jack Kerouac in December 1950. Although much of this letter had been lost, a surviving remnant was originally published in an early 1964 edition of John Bryan's magazine Notes from Underground.

A 2007 short film, Luz Del Mundo, deals with Cassady's friendship and adventures with Jack Kerouac. Cassady is played by Austin Nichols and Kerouac is played by Will Estes.[10]

Another film, the biopic Neal Cassady, was also released in 2007.[11] This film focuses more on the Prankster years and stars Tate Donovan as Neal, Amy Ryan as Carolyn Cassady, Chris Bauer as Kesey, and Glenn Fitzgerald as Kerouac. Noah Buschel wrote and directed the film. The film deals primarily with how Neal became trapped by his fictional alter-ego, Dean Moriarty. The Cassady family criticized this film as highly inaccurate.[12]

Cassady is portrayed by Jon Prescott in the film, Howl,[13] which chronicles the creation of the poem "Howl"[14] by Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity trial surrounding its publication.

In the film Across the Universe (2007), the character Dr. Robert, played by Bono, is said to have been inspired by Neal Cassady [15] There are also striking parallels between the character and Jim Morrison of the The Doors, particularly his messianic West Coast persona at a Warholesqueue party and psychedelic school bus as preferred mode of transportation. The matter is further complicated by the Dr. Robert character in the film Ciao Manhattan. Dr. Robert was a real MD in New York City in the late 60s, who administered amphetamine injections to The Factory scene and many others in the day.

[edit] Published works

  • "Pull My Daisy" (1951, poetry) written with Jack Kerouac
  • "Genesis West: Volume Seven" (1965, magazine article)
  • The First Third (1971, autobiographical novel)
  • Grace Beats Karma (1993, collection of poetry and letters)
  • Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (2004, letters)

[edit] Published biographies

  • The Holy Goof: A Biography of Neal Cassady, by William Plummer (1981)
  • Neal Cassady, Volume One, 1926-1940, by Tom Christopher (1995)
  • Neal Cassady, Volume Two, 1941-1946, by Tom Christopher (1998)
  • Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero, by David Sandison & Graham Vickers (2006)
  • Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg, by Carolyn Cassady (Original version-Penguin, 1990, first revision Black Spring Press, Amazon.co.uk - sole distributor, 2007)

[edit] Literary studies

[edit] Appearances in literature

[edit] Appearances in film

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Sandison, David; Vickers, Graham (2006-11-19). "'Neal Cassady'". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/19/books/chapters/1119-1st-sandi.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  2. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1.
  3. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1; Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 42'46.
  4. ^ Turner 1996, p. 79 ("Brierly had been sexually attracted to Neal, and managed to entice him into his first homosexual experience."); Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 41'42 ("Brierly was most likely also a closet homosexual, and it was probably through him that Neal Cassady would first discover and explore gay sex and serve as a hustler in Denver's gay community."). According to some reports, however, Brierly's sexual orientation was an open secret. See Weir, John (June 22, 2005), "Everybody knows, nobody cares, or: Neal Cassady's Penis", TriQuarterly, http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-5075349/Everybody-knows-nobody-cares-or.html .
  5. ^ Young, Allen: "Allen Ginsberg: the Gay Sunshine interview," page 1 (Bolinas, California: Grey Fox Press, 1973)
  6. ^ http://www.nealcassadyestate.com/carolyn.html, retrieved 26 January 2009
  7. ^ http://www.dead.net/song/other-one, retrieved 4 August 2007
  8. ^ http://arts.ucsc.edu/GDead/AGDL/other1.html, retrieved 23 August 2007
  9. ^ Cassidy's Tale
  10. ^ IMDB title
  11. ^ IMDB entry
  12. ^ http://www.nealcassadyestate.com/carolyn.html, retrieved 28 August 2007
  13. ^ Brooks, Barnes (December 2, 2009). "Sundance Tries to Hone Its Artsy Edge". newyorktimes.com. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/movies/03sundance.html. 
  14. ^ "Alessandro Nivola is hotter than Audrey Tautou". BlackBookMag.com. http://www.blackbookmag.com/article/alessandro-nivola-is-hotter-than-audrey-tautou/11028. Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Bignell, Paul; Johnson, Andrew (2007-07-29). "On the Road (uncensored). Discovered: Kerouac 'cuts'". The Independent (London). http://arts.independent.co.uk/books/news/article2814743.ece. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 

[edit] Bibliography

  • Cassady, Neal; Moore, Dave (2004), Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967, Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0142002179 
  • Sandison, David; Vickers, Graham (2006), Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero, Chicago Review Press, ISBN 978-1-55652-615-6 .
  • Turner, Steve (1996), Angelheaded Hipster: A Life of Jack Kerouac, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, ISBN 0-7475-2480-7 

[edit] External links

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