Thursday, September 11, 2014

I think of Neal Cassady. I think of Neal Cassady. I think of Neal Cassady...

Jack Kerouac's sketch map of On the Road travels 1947-48

Those three sentences may have been the final three sentences of the original scroll version of "On the Road," but we'll never know because the last few feet of the scroll were famously "eaten" by Lucien Carr's dog. Well, chewed. Or perhaps merely shredded.

We don't know, and what actually happened to those missing last few feet of the Scroll will be the topic of scholarly and Beat research and debate for generations to come, as are all things Kerouac, all things Cassady, all things Beat, especially as the principals die off and there is no one left to testify and spin yarns and juggle the true facts any more. Comes now: "Scholarship!"


I mentioned some time back that I missed seeing the original scroll of "On the Road" at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe when it was exhibited there in 2007. I arrived in New Mexico from California on the last day of the exhibit, with plenty of time to get to Santa Fe if I had known about it, but I found out about the exhibit just as the Museum was closing. I was somewhat surprisingly disappointed and saddened that I had missed seeing something so seminal. Whether I will ever have another chance, I don't know. But I've now read the published version of the Original Scroll Version of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," so I don't feel I've missed it entirely.

The Scroll, as much as anything, is a visualization of the journeys across "the awful continent" that Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady took together and separately and with others during the post-war years between about 1947 and 1951. It was a time of international glory, exhaustion, and partial peace for the United States abroad, and restlessness, reconception and nascent rebellion at home.

Kerouac and Cassady and the other would-be Beats were part of the rebellion, but as we read, the Rebel of the Rebellion was singularly and always Neal Cassady himself.

Neal Cassady on the Streets of San Francisco c. 1955

I've kept some notes, but they are kind of a jumble.


  • I've finished reading the original scroll version of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." I took my time. It's taken me several months, in part because I wanted to savor it, and in part because I mostly read it at bedtime, and I don't stay up as late as I used to, so 6 or 10 pages at a time was about all I could handle.

  • Of course, the book -- no matter which version -- is about Neal Cassady (yclept "Dean Moriarty" in the 1957 published version.) Neal Cassady. Neal Cassady.

  • The source of the name, "Dean Moriarty,"  is something of a mystery, and yet it fits the time period when the novel was re-written (mid-1950s). Throughout the Scroll Version, the real names of the characters are used. The Scroll Version is rougher, clearer, harder, and harsher. It felt real for the most part, except when Kerouac was obviously trying various literary forms. The reader could tell when the author was affected by substances, and sometimes it seemed possible to determine whether the passage was written under the influence of alcohol, speed, pot, or a combination of two or more... probably not really possible, but maybe...

  • I found myself catching my breath toward the end of the novel. I didn't want it to end. The Mexican passages seemed hurried just the same. Like Kerouac was tired of the story and wanted it over with.

  • I only have the vaguest recollection of Neal Cassady, and those are all from Tom Wolfe, "The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test," Timothy Leary (Deary) and the Merry Pranksters. Though I knew that Kerouac wrote about Neal Cassady in "On the Road," his character in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" was limned, it seemed to me, quite differently, and I didn't quite see a connection between the two.

  • God, how poor they were. I had forgotten, or it never really occurred to me in the first place, that the Beats were broke most of the time, even when they had some money from working odd jobs or their literary efforts or whatever, they were constantly poor and beset by the consequences of their poverty. These were not the proper working and middle and high class sorts that appeared as protagonists in those days. That they were able to travel as often and well as they did, much as the next generation's hippies would do, on practically no money at all, to travel nearly everywhere and fit in with like minded communities on the margins of America is something only the Underclass still knows how to do. In those days, it seemed that everyone could figure it out and if they wanted to, they could do it. Not so much, I think, any more.

  • When I read "On the Road," sometime in the early 1960s, "Dean Moriarty" was a distinct character, wild and free, an avatar of what was to come as Liberation took hold of the popular imagination, but not -- it seemed to me -- as pure and spiritual as the Neal Cassady in Tom Wolfe's vision. Not the same at all. But maybe he was.

  • Kerouac wrote about Neal Cassady with a kind of reverence and awe reserved for divine beings, something I had a hard time accommodating when I was a young teenager. The idea that someone -- anyone -- was worthy of worship or near worship bothered me greatly, and given the danger inherent in Being Neal Cassady (let alone being around him), it seemed odd to me that anyone like Kerouac -- who was a remarkable person in his own right -- would find Cassady worthy of this sort of attention. Yet he did.

  • Neal Cassady may have been a con man, but not necessarily in a bad way -- his cons were mostly of the personal kind and relatively benign as described by Kerouac and by Wolfe. Many people have said he used his charms and skilful conning in order to be taken advantage of, not to take advantage of others. I knew the type only too well later on. They were always on a knife edge of disaster, always seeking -- and generally finding -- some soul to take them in and take advantage of their energy and passion. Kerouac himself did that with Neal, but it was two-way. Neal was taking Jack in and keeping him from whatever peril he might be facing, almost by magic, while taking advantage of his apparent stability. Neal couldn't settle down, ever. He was always figuratively on the road, and as often as he could, he took the road, wandered questing, until the very end.

  • Kerouac settled in to a stodgy personality type, it seems, even before his lengthy travels with Neal and the rest. The contrast between Jack's settled-ness and Neal's wild-ness was a big part of their bond.

  • Neal is a classic "addictive type." Drugs are a necessity. Even when he isn't using some combination of substances -- most often marijuana and benzedrine reinforced with alcohol -- he acts as if he is. There is no time when he is not wired except at those rare times when he falls asleep as in the scene in the Mexican jungle when he curls up on the sandy roadside and sleeps while the Mexican policeman checks on him solicitously, "Dormiendo?" Sí, verdad. Dormiendo. But that is one of the very few times Jack portrays Neal as sleeping throughout all their journeys and wild times.
  • Since we've settled in New Mexico, I haven't done nearly the traveling I once did. I used to make ten to twelve trips back and forth between California and New Mexico every year, and no matter what kind of work I was doing prior to that, it seemed I was on the road constantly -- or I was constantly in an airport getting ready to fly somewhere and then to drive and drive and drive.

    When I was little, we moved a lot.

    At one point I think I realized with a kind of wonder that I'd attended ten different elementary schools. Not all of that was because we'd moved, though that was often the case, but it was also because of the Baby Boom and the new schools that were being opened all the time; I was typically among students transferred when a new school opened, even without a move.

    New Mexico figures in "On the Road" but not the way I thought it might. Notice is taken of the fact that the first atomic bomb was exploded in New Mexico, and that there were places to stop or pass through or have a bite to eat on the road in New Mexico -- but not really much else about the place seems to have made enough of an impression on Jack and Neal to comment upon. Interesting. Part of it is because they often pass through at night, so they see little and interact with residents less. Some of the descriptions of their Mexico travels feel more like New Mexico impressions to me. But then, that's to be expected I guess. I also suspect something I have no proof for. My suspicion is that "Dean Moriarty" is a name conjured from an amalgam of the person James Dean and the place Moriarty, New Mexico -- which would have been a place they passed through on the road, then Route 66, between Albuquerque and Amarillo.

    Maybe something happened there, I don't know. Or maybe they just commented on the name as they passed through in the night. It's not in the book whatever it might be...

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