Angel Headed HipsterIn December of 1946, Neal Cassady arrives by bus in New York City with his teenage wife, LuAnne. They are there to visit his Denver friends Ed White and Hal Chase who are attending Columbia University. In a Livingston Hall dormitory room, Neal meets, for the first time, the man that will chronicle part of his life, Jack Kerouac. Cassady also meets Allen Ginsberg, who will fallen in love with the "Adonis of Denver".
By March 1947, Cassady is back in Denver, but the wheels have been set in motion. Over the next several years Cassady and Kerouac will make sporadic road trips which Kerouac will immortalize in his novel On The Road. Kerouac will also produce another portrait of Cassady in his experimental novel, Visions of Cody. And Neal will also appear in Kerouac's Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Desolation Angels novels.
But back to Denver. It is March of 1947, Neal is still married to LuAnne Henderson but begins an affair with Carolyn Cassady, who is doing graduate work at the University of Denver. By the summer, Neal will be erotically involved with LuAnne, Carolyn, and Allen who has come to Denver to be with Neal.
Cassady will spend a life time driving, talking and loving. He will marry Carolyn; together they'll have three children. Cassady will also marry a third time, in 1950, after he meets Diana Hansen, a New York model. Diana will give birth to Curtis Cassady, a child Neal never really gets to know, because he will have gone back to Carolyn. Cassady will also fall in love with the star-crossed Natalie Jackson who, while Neal is sleeping, will cut her throat and fall to her death late in 1955 in San Francisco.
There are many takes on Cassady's personality, not all complimentary. For example, Alan Temko, a Columbia friend of Jack's thought Cassady was pathetic:
There was a born hatred between me and someone like Neal Cassady, because I felt he was just a sponger and useless. I didn't see his charm...I thought he was criminal in the worst sense. That is I felt he would perform a criminal ripoff on anyone. I think he had no loyalty to anyone. (Jack's Book, Gifford and Lee)
But others, like Kerouac and Ginsberg found Cassady profound.
The charismatic Cassady, known as Dean Moriarty in On The Road will become the personification of youth when the novel is published in 1957. A year later, Cassady he'll be busted on drug charges and sent to prison for two years.
While Kerouac showed disdain for the generation that emerged in the 1960s, Cassady made the transition. After getting out of prison Neal read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. He strongly identified with the main character Randle P. McMurphy. Soon afterward Cassady met Kesey and became a member of Kesey's psychedelic troupe known as the Merrry Pranksters. The Pranksters crossed the country in the early 1960s spreading their unique form of cultural radicalism. Cassady, known as "Speed Limit" drove the Prankster bus.
Not long after his tour of duty with the Pranksters, Cassady found himself walking alone along railroad tracks in Mexico. By these tracks on February 4, 1968, four days before his 42nd birthday Neal collapsed and died.
In speculating about whether Neal committed suicide by mixing pills and alcohol, Carolyn Cassady is doubtful. She writes:
...but he might have taken a risk, not caring, or perhaps he was so mentally out of it he didn't realize what he was doing...I preferred to think the God within him had mercifully relieved Neal of a burden which was too great for him to carry or transcend. I had always dreaded the idea of Neal as an old man; it would have been grotesque-- he personified youth to everyone who knew him. (Off The Road, Carolyn Cassady).
When told of Cassady's death, Jack Kerouac replied:
It's just a trick. He's hiding out someplace, like Tangier.
Neal CassadyPitching Record YEAR TEAM ERA W L IP ER BB K 1983 Beats 4.39 4 9 84 41 29 31 1984 Beats 3.26 18 9 232 84 64 192 1985 Beats 3.53 5 4 97 38 54 37 1987 Beats 4.42 14 14 214 105 92 0 1995 Beats 3.35 10 11 193 72 88 110 1996 Beats 3.46 14 10 182 70 82 110 6 Seasons 3.68 65 57 1002 410 409 480
Poetry by Neal Cassady
Neal Cassady at Literary Kicks
A Neal Cassady Home Page
Information About the Merry Pranksters
For a time I held a unique position: among the hundreds of isolated creatures who haunted the streets of lower downtown Denver there was not one so young as myself. Of these dreary men who had committed themselves, each for his own good reason, to the task of finishing their days as pennyless drunkards, I alone, as the sharer of their way of life, presented a replica of childhood to which their vision could daily turn, and in being thus grafted onto them, I became the unnatural son of a few score beaten men.
Neal Cassady, The First Third
1997 Dharma Beats Roster
1997 Neal Cassady Cosmic Player Plate
Published: December 24, 1996
Revised: January 5, 1997
© 1996, 1997 by the Cosmic Baseball Association