Skip to main content
  1. Arts & Entertainment
  2. Books

Off the Road: My years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg by Carolyn Cassady

See also

Off the Road: My years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg by Carolyn Cassady

Rating:
Star5
Star
Star
Star
Star

This reporter has recently been hired by CO Rocky Mountain High Tours as a Beat Historian providing travelogue pertinent to the several remaining spots from that countercultural movement's metaphorical childhood and youth here in Denver via the late Neal Cassady. In that connection, he had occasion to reread Carolyn Cassady’s excellent memoir, Off the Road, avalable now for order online and at new and used booksellers near you. In this work, the recently departed Mrs. Cassady recounts her experience as a Bennington graduate in residence at what is now the Colburn Hotel on 10th and Grant while attending Denver University, upon meeting Neal Cassady eventually moving to California with him and bearing three of his children, in the process being introduced to all his teammates, from the riff raff to the artists and intellectuals like Kerouac and Ginsberg, providing over the next several years the closest thing to a stable family the troubled Neal had ever known, as evidenced by his repeated failures to comport himself appropriately in that placement.

There followed twenty-some years of tumultuous relationship with Neal and the people drawn into his orbit, also including William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gordon Lish, and others. Off the Road is an interesting companion to Kerouac’s On the Road (in particular The Original Scroll) and Visions of Cody, since parts overlap, also Hunter S. Thompson’s Hells Angels and Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, for the same reason, though in the latter two, the majority of Neal’s life at the time was unknown to Carolyn (which produces an interesting effect when the two books are read simultaneously). In a sense, Off the Road is as much about Ms. Cassady’s relationship with Kerouac as with Cassady, since the two were on-again off-again lovers, and their pairing represented an equal conflict or challenge as Jack’s closing alcoholic period began to take the form of alcoholic phone calls insisting he was Jesus Christ and so forth. Equally valuable to the inspiration and enjoyment of life evoked by Wolfe or Kerouac’s portrait of Beat Superfigure Neal C is the sensibility, endurance and positive aspiration of Carolyn Cassady as a mother and a spiritual seeker whose own road was more of a duty than any sort of fling. As a book reviewer, this reporter has long been familiar with the predictable objections of other readers loath to admit new aspects to their cherished authorial ideals (as seen in the case of the recently released Burroughs-Kerouac collaboration, And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks), and as fans, they’re completely entitled, of course, but this reporter would earnestly plea that an equal amount of respect be given to Mrs. Cassady’s account. She wasn’t Neal’s only “One and Only,” but let there be no doubt, she loved him very much, in spite or because of their dissimilarity as types, never losing sight of the momentous quality in terms of life lessons for both of them.

I had known about Neal’s discovery of the book Many Mansions by psychologist Gina Cerminara while cleaning the train cars one day (he worked as a brakeman for the SP railroad until being sent to San Quentin for offering two joints as payment for a ride home). Said book detailed and analyzed the history and legacy of “sleeping prophet” Edgar Cayce, providing an understandable diagramming of the function of reincarnational karma. Edgar Cayce’s miracle health cures delivered under hypnosis, helped thousands until, after lengthy success, he was asked about reincarnation and delivered a lengthy response in the same calm voice. Cayce, a Disciple of Christ in his waking life, was shocked to learn of what he’d said, since it didn’t correspond with his habitual dogma, but in time came to peace with these utterances, since he felt they were doing people good, and in so doing, broadened his own understanding of Christianity. Neal was immediately captivated by Cayce’s story and convinced of his philosophy’s verity. His mania communicated to Carolyn, whose own pursuit of Cayceana was lifelong, and served along with her husband’s to disharmonize them with the other Beats, who, beginning with Kerouac, had developed a fixation on Buddhist ideals, both zen and otherwise, which, while not entirely dissimilar, were far less practical. In their time, Neal and Carolyn even met with Cayce’s son, Hugh Lymnn, early advocate Elsie Sechrist (1909-1992), and reformed reincarnation-believing convict Starr Daily in their vigorous efforts at salvation in the here and now. Carolyn’s is the most thorough account we have of that aspect of Neal’s life so far. It’s worthy of note that in this sense, Neal Cassady, who inspired a revolution in literary experession, also provided the inspred with a link to the continuing revolution in American spirituality.

Advertisement