Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady Neal Cassady was born on February 8th, 1926 in Salt Lake City as his alcoholic barber father made his way to Hollywood and a downhill drunken spiral that ended with Neal Sr and Jr at 6 years old living in a Denver slum flophouse with a legless, drunken, publicly masturbating beggar. According to his later reflections he did not find this particularly disturbing though he was already engaging in the obsessive behaviour for which he would later become famous. He later lived with his mother where he was abused by his older violent bullying step brother. He spent summers hoboing and begging with his father where his first sexual experience at age 9 consisted of following an older brother raping his sisters in the barn where the feeble minded family lived while the fathers looked on drunk. He spent time in reform school for car theft and minor crimes but even at a young age he was able to launch naturally into the verbal torrents and physical tics that most people require large overdoses of amphetamines to begin and to attract the attention of some older mentors.

Neal Cassady In 1946 with his 16 year old wife he stole a car and headed for New York to meet Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac of whom he'd heard through mutual friends. He was physically tough though not violent (except to women) with a strong sex drive and endless energy mostly provided by amphetamines. A psychopath who was ready for anything except scruples and prudence. Though never writing anything more than letters he became the central figure amongst the 'Beats'. Cassady did this by having sex (despite his strong heterosexuality) with Allen Ginsberg thereby converting him into a love struck worshipper who was under his spell for years and leading Kerouac who wanted adventure, but had little courage, out onto the road. He seemed to enjoy nothing as much as driving somewhere else.

Cassady returned to Denver after a few months where he married Carolyn Robinson on April 1st, 1948 with whom he eventually had 3 children and a 14 year marriage. He worked as a railroad brakeman until he conned a disability payout by crushing his foot. Part of this went on a suburban home and $10,000 on the racetrack where Cassady had discovered a sure fire system and part on drugs which Cassady used as frequently as he could.

Neal Cassady Kerouac and Ginsberg's controversial publications had given a Cassady a minor fame which rebounded on him when he was arrested for marijuana possession and sentenced to two years goal in 1958. In 1962 he introduced himself to Ken Kesey who had great success with his first novel, 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and who had become a dominant figure in the Palo Alto bohemian scene. He became the main driver of the Merry Prankster's bus ride across USA in the stoned retelling and retelling of which he has become more and more a magical and mythical figure "Speed Limit" (at right flipping a hammer, one of his repertoire of repetitions).

Both Kerouac and Ginsberg have written of Cassady as "holy" and a "saint", "christ like" and he was able to impress many apparently intelligent, sensitive people as to his brilliance - especially if they were stoned or tripping. Yet his intellectual and spiritual ideas and interests were mediocre, even stupid - Edgar Cayce and gambling and drugs. He was a psychopathic conman and thief who stalked disturbed women, whose sexual gratification was enhanced by, even required violence against his women partners and who would invariably cheat and let down even his best friends and abandon his "wives" and children.

He had qualities that were similar to those expected of saints in the Eastern traditions. "Realised souls" are supposed to be detached from other people and the results of their actions and live in the "here and now" without fear for the future and past. This is how Cassady lived but he did it from a purely selfish, sociopathic consciousness but as he combined it with frenzied energy, working class strength and bohemian raves he was able to con the "beats", intellectuals and immature "hippies" without too much trouble. It's no surprise that the other Beat conman, William Burroughs, never fell under his spell but his "holy" stature is indicative of the emptiness in the "Beat" milieu.

His amphetamine abuse and increasing psychosis alienated him more and more from others, even the hero-worshipping hippies and in 1968 he died alone on a Mexican railroad track from an overdose of alcohol and barbiturates and/or exposure. He died aged 41 whether it was from a short-term or long-term overdose couldn't be determined.

Neal Cassady Bibliography:

  • The Holy Goof
    A Biography of Neal Cassady

    William Plummer
  • Off The Road with Kerouac & Cassaday
    Carolyn Cassidy
    By wife of Cassady
  • The Beats
    Ann Charters
  • The Birth of the Beat Generation
    Steven Watson
    Good short introduction, with plenty of pictures for the non-literate.
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
    Tom Wolfe
    Ironic history of the Merry Prankster's bus ride across USA, the book that it famous.
  • On The Bus
    Ken Babbs & Paul Perry
    Extremely illustrated "history" of the Merry Prankster's bus ride across USA.
  • The Furthur Inquiry
    Ken Kesey
    Pseudo trial of the spirit of Neal Cassady with plenty of pictures for the non-literate. Furthur proof that drugs do not enhance literary creativity.
  • Ginsberg A Biography
    Barry Miles
    Hagiography by a long time Ginsberg associate that doesn't attempt to sanitise his picture of Ginsberg for the "squares" too much.
  • Dharma Lion A Critical Biography
    Michael Schumacher
    It's unlikely that anybody naming a book about Ginsberg 'Dharma Lion' would be capable of critical thinking about him and Schumacher certainly proves this point. A lot more detailed than Miles' biography and somewhat more sanitised also, twice the words and half the drugs and sex of Mile's book.

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