Neal Cassady

“I am sitting in a bar on Market St. I’m drunk, well, not quite, but I soon will be. I am here for 2 reasons; I must wait 5 hours for the bus to Denver & lastly but, most importantly, I’m here (drinking) because, of course, because of a woman & what a woman! To be chronological about it…”

Born: 1926, Salt Lake City, Utah
Died: 1968, San Miguel de Allande, Mexico

Photo credit: Larry Keenan

Photo credit: Larry Keenan

Neal Cassady was the famous Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road. Kerouac described Neal Cassady and friend Allen Ginsberg (Dean Moriarty and Carlo Marx) in the novel. “But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Kerouac was incredibly impressed by Neal Cassady throughout the years, even though they lost touch for the most part in the mid-sixties, after Kerouac began drinking more and after Cassady’s troubles seemed to have multiplied. Yet, as younger men, they were fascinated with each other and in touch more often. Many of Kerouac’s books, especially On the Road and Visions of Cody were inspired by Cassady, who took to the road like a madman and wrote wordslinging, fresh spontaneous letters.

Cassady was the Wolfeian adventure hero from Kerouac’s youth, come to life. Neal’s and Jack’s “brotherhood” seemed to be a resurrected symbol of Kerouac’s lost brotherhood with his Gerard, who had died when Kerouac was only nine. Also, Kerouac was sympathetic to Cassady’s dreams to find his father, who had been a drunk in Denver, in and out of jail (much like Dean’s own experiences). From The Americans, in which there is also a passage from Kerouac’s Visions of Cody, it’s all about Dean going home, which is metaphorical, since Dean’s “home” seemed to be the road, and the search for the expanse of paradise from the road.

Cassady settled down (for the most part) with his wife Carolyn and their three children, near San Francisco, and worked many jobs, including one as a brakeman. Though his visions were to be a family man and support his wife and children, that wasn’t often the case.

Kerouac often stayed with the Cassadys during his road travels, and became very close to the entire family. He adored Carolyn and the three children. Neal and family are mentioned in several books, including the above two mentioned, Big Sur, and Desolation Angels.

In his later years, Cassady joined Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, along with Allen Ginsberg, and also suffered an arrest and conviction relating to marijuana possession, which was the final straw with his marriage to Carolyn. Toward the end of his life, he still visited Carolyn and his children–yet was going downhill, even mentally. Carolyn’s book describes a scene wherein Neal came home and took a shower, and became very delusional. Neal died after falling asleep on some railroad tracks in Mexico. Many books were written about Cassady, but his only novel, The Fist Third, went unfinished and unpublished until after he died.

A note about Neal Cassady’s death: when he died, a girlfriend went down to Mexico to retrieve his ashes. She brought them to Carolyn, who was living in Los Gatos, near San Francisco. Although Neal had taken numerous mistresses during their marriage, he was closest to Carolyn emotionally. They had a large bond, which was perpetuated by their three children, Carolyn’s final tolerances of Neal’s long-sought seeking and freedom, discussions of art and Cayce and philosophy and literature, and mutual friends–including Ginsberg and Kerouac. Carolyn still retains the ashes in a fancy box.

According to Adam Saroyan, who wrote “Genesis Angel” in the Rolling Stone Book of the Beats, “Stapled to the side of the box is a scrap of paper on which is typed Contiene Cenizas Del Sr. Neal Cassady Jr. in faint ink.”

Neal Cassady is known as Dean Moriarty in On the Road; Cody Pomeroy in Visions of Cody, Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels, Big Sur, and Book of Dreams; and as Leroy in Subterraneans. He is also known as Hart Kennedy in Holmes’ Go.

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