‘ON AND OFF
to coincide with the publication
of ‘Off The Road’ by
originally published by Black Spring Press
(ISBN: 0-948238-05-4, 1990)
Late Spring. Leafy North London, off the main crawl. A dilapidated grey-white block, a gently decay of peeling paint, grass-fringed gutters, and a tall plume of chickweed up from the colonnaded portal overhang. Beat and beat-up…
Typically, Carolyn Cassady’s flat is across the avenue and down apiece, its exterior gleaming slick dazzle-white and clean. She, at the birth, epicentre, and death of the Beat Generation, always stood slightly to one side. A constant presence. A crash-pad. A stabilising influence when the Beatific rat-pack came in off the endless highway.
She’s there on the rear-cover photo of her book ‘Off The Road’ (Black Spring Press, 1990) with Neal Cassady. A shot ‘taken by the kind of street-photographer you usually just kick out of the way. So it was wonderful that this guy happened to get us, and that we happened to have the dollar to give him. For some reason we took that thing and ordered just two prints. Neal carried one around. That was just before we were married, when Neal had come to join me. You can see there all my dreams of the future. I’ve got on my suede jacket with the beaver, my tweed skirt, and my platform lizard shoes. We are outside this fancy store in San Francisco where I bought things. I was looking ahead with great confidence and rapture. I didn’t have a care in the world. Little did I know…’
Neal Cassady is a one-man Chaos Theory.
Carolyn is ‘Camille’ in Jack Kerouac’s novel ‘On The Road’ (1957), married to Neal’s holy goof alter-ego ‘Dean Moriarty’ – ‘his most constant, most embittered, and best-knowing wife Camille’. She and Kerouac are also lovers. She’s ‘Evelyn’ to Neal’s ‘Cody’ in ‘Big Sur’ (1961), and she later cameos in ‘Desolation Angels’ (1965). As Kerouac’s commercial stardom turns to tortured delirium tremens of self-disgust he continues to phone her, long rambling drunken panic-calls, until his death in 1969. It’s all here – this is a book flitting with sad ghosts and mad shadows. There’s William Burroughs, Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters (of Tom Wolfe’s ‘Electric Cool Aid Acid Test’ (1968) notoriety) on their trip FURTHER which drives Neal to final destruction, there’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Slim Gaillard, Gary ‘All-Seeing Being’ Snyder…
Subtitled ‘Twenty Years With Cassady, Kerouac, And Ginsberg’ her book is spangled with the restless dreams of the golden crazies whose cries of freedom still echo euphorically through the Nineties – and the decades beyond, although two of the three by-lined names failed to live beyond the sixties end. She quotes one of Ginsberg’s prophetic letters to her, ‘none of us are fast and strong enough to battle society forever, it’s too sad and grey’. Ginsberg himself succumbed to the reaper 5 April 1997…
And this is the way it begins.
Denver. Saturday afternoon, and on. March 1947. She meets Neal for the first time. Carolyn is twenty-four. He is twenty-one, and already married to LuAnne. He wears a T-shirt with a suit ‘not authentic zoot’ but closer than anything she’s seen outside the movie screen. He wants to hear Lester Young records. She’s never heard of Prez. Neal has talking eyes. When Neal and Carolyn first have sex, Allen Ginsberg lies feigning sleep on a couch in the same room, ‘not two feet from my feet’. Allen will also become Neal’s lover. Coming home later to the flat they by-now cohabit, Carolyn writes ‘the scene before me stunned my senses as if I’d run into a wall. There in OUR bed, sleeping nude, were LuAnne, Neal and Allen, in that order’. It was only the start of a compulsively recurring pattern.
‘I never got over being shocked’. She shakes her head wonderingly, bemused, amazed still.
After a five-week separation they re-unite in Frisco. He’s already introduced her to ‘bennys’ (Benzedrine), now they share ‘tea’ (Marijuana), ‘he held the joint away from him while he applied a match to the twisted end and waited for the paper to burn off. Then he put it between parted lips and drew in short, noisy, breaths without closing his lips, inhaling more deeply on each gasp until his lungs were fully expanded. He held his breath, becoming red in the face. When he could hold it no longer, he exhaled, very little smoke being expelled. ‘You see? Keep it all in. Now. You noticed I took in as much air as smoke? Too strong otherwise, burns your throat too much and you lose somee – cooo, myyy… this IS good shit!’
To Kerouac, Neal ‘was always tremendously generated towards complete relationship with his women to the point where they ended up in one convulsed octopus mess of souls and tears and fellatio and hotel room schemes and rushing in and out of cars and doors and great crises in the middle of the night’ (‘Big Sur’). In much of ‘On The Road’ Carolyn is the wife’s voice on the phone from the far side of the continent, until – when they crash wildly over in San Francisco she throws both Kerouac and Cassady out into the street. Back in New York, Neal’s pregnant model new-girlfriend Diana Hansen (Inez in the novel) phones Carolyn long-distance suggesting she initiate divorce proceedings. Before the annulment is complete Neal and Diana marry in Mexico. Yet by the novel’s end Neal ‘jumped on a bus and roared off again across the awful continent to San Francisco to rejoin Camille and the two baby girls. So now he was three times married, twice divorced, and living with his second wife’.
To Carolyn, Diana was left in New York – ‘still modelling’, but, she adds tartly, ‘modelling maternity clothes…’
The first photo in the book’s insert is a monochrome profile of serene Garbo-esque beauty. ‘Yes, I like that one. It was done by a Denver student while I was there. At the time, he was majoring in photography. He majored in everything else before he was through.’
Looking at the picture it’s not difficult to see why both Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady gravitated towards her so inexorably. And it’s still there. She sits now in cobalt-blue knitted top and sweet-wine-coloured slacks. Spectacles hung on blue chain around her neckline. Her radio is tuned to ‘Jazz FM’ – although ‘it’s not quite as thrilling as I’d hoped’. She has the gift of intimacy. The warmth. A sharply perceptive intelligence and wit modulated by infectiously expressive intonation whipped in with artful mimicry and accent. ‘I usually pick up language rhythms, dialects and things fast – but I just cannot get straight English. It’s too complicated. The funny things they do with their vowels.’
She balances odd combinations of attitudes too, while drawing lightly on ‘Mores’, long slender brown cigarettes. One moment she’s talking matter-of-fact about the decadent sexual and narcotic modes and morés of the Beatnik demi-monde she inhabited, then she’s switching to attacks on current ‘Woman’s Libbers and Cigarette Bullies. It’s all so dumb. I HATE Feminism. First of all, they don’t know the real role of the male and female division. And secondly they’ve EMASCULATED all the men. They’ve RUINED all the men!’
And then later, even more bizarrely, ‘I think the greatest pollutant on the planet is foul language…!!!’
In the movie ‘Heartbeat’ (Orion/WB, 1980) Carolyn is played by Sissy Spacek, Neal and Jack by Nick Nolte and John Heard. The screenplay is (vaguely) based around her book ‘Heart Beat’, an early draft of an excerpt from her work-in-progress – then called ‘The Third Word’. It’s incorporated into the new work in the chapters covering the idyllic period of ménage a trios the three of them share on San Francisco’s Russian Hill. Kerouac assembled ‘On The Road’ there while experimenting with peyote, jazz and outrage. In her biography ‘Kerouac’ (Warner Paperback. 1974) Ann Charters writes ‘later in his life, thinking back to the attic room in Cassady’s small house on Russian Hill, Kerouac remembered it as one of the best places he ever lived in, because it was an ideal place to write – ‘it rained every day, and I had wine, marijuana, and once in a while Neal’s wife would sneak in’. In ‘Big Sur’ ‘for awhile then she had two husbands… we were the perfect family’.
‘Off The Road’ adds Carolyn’s own perspective. ‘I provided for whichever of them was in residence according to his individual preferences… On occasions, Jack and I would make love in his attic if the children were asleep. He’d produce a poor-boy of wine and play host. I think of him now whenever I smell unfinished wood, and remember how the sun sometimes lay across us like a blanket, or, how huddled under covers, we’d listen to the soft patter of rain close above our heads’.
The film arrived in 1980, and ‘it was a DISASTER. Just a travesty. Awful. If they’d not used our names – I’D HAVE PAID THEM NOT TO, I think they would’ve got a pretty little sit-com, visually it’s very pretty, everybody looks great, and nobody has any brains so you don’t have to think. There’s not a lot of real bad violence or sex. So it’s just a lovely little sit-com. You should just call it ‘Tom Dick and Harriet’, and GO with it. Because my criticism is that it wasn’t anything to DO with us at all. Sissy Spacek was a Darling. She begged to do it – but she’d read my original 1,143-page manuscript, thinking that THAT was going to be done. She threw the only temper tantrums of her career to try to get it straightened out, but of course it was no use. She did contribute a lot to making it better. The haunting thing – and worse, is that everybody connected with it was so excited about it and wanted so badly to do it. So it was really sad. ‘Cos it could have been great. It really could have been good. I do have a video cassette of it though’, she points. ‘It’s standing there…’
The birds in the foliage outside her window sing now as I replay the interview cassette.
She was born Carolyn Robinson in 1923, the youngest of five children.
Grandad is profusely bearded, a little self-important. His eyes dominate the room from where he’s posed between bookshelves that are crammed like some Dead Poets Society with Beat first editions. ‘That painting has been shuttled all over the States’ she travelogues, ‘my parents were both from English-Scots-Irish descent…’
Kerouac’s first impression of her (as Camille) is of ‘a well-bred polite young woman’. An accurate appraisal. No natural bohemian, she. Her family background is middle-class, straight, Nashville. ‘I was so sheltered. I had no idea that everybody didn’t live the way my parents did. But they gave me such a blind sense of security that I never lost it. Even in the worst times with Neal I never felt panicky or really deprived. I had fun fixing up those little crackerbox places we lived in, and knew things would get better. We were working on it. So I never really felt deprived even though I never knew where the next cent was coming from’. She went to Prep School, a very academic establishment where she took Latin and English Literature. Graduated to Bennington College in Vermont which was ‘totally unacademic – suited me perfectly. That’s the reason for all my future problems. My family never quite got over it. I was the only artist in the bunch, and the youngest. I just kept disappointing them all the time’. She went on to gain an MA in Fine Arts and Theatre Arts from Denver University.
In Denver she met Neal. And even then there was the odd juxtaposition of attitudes. ‘We all wanted a home and a family and a good life someday.’
So – impossible question, how would her life have developed if it hadn’t been totally beat out of frame by her collision with Neal? Marriage. Marriage to Cyril, the parentally approved suitor. ‘But I’d have made Cyril so miserable. I’d have been a BAD girl. I couldn’t STAND that life! Before Neal I had never been in the least inclined to love anyone else, no matter how eligible. And since Neal I’ve never met anybody REMOTELY eligible either.’
At one point midway through the hyper-drive GO of ‘On The Road’ Sal Paradise (Kerouac) pauses, ‘I suddenly realized that all these women were spending months of loneliness and womanliness together, chatting about the madness of the men’. Carolyn’s title slyly puns along similar lines. While their men were out roaring high on the Bop-crazy madness of the Beat Route, the women waited, off the road. She provides new perspectives on old myths. New dimensions of understanding. The Beats were a Boy’s Gang – to Ginsberg ‘a hazy circle which itself knoweth itself not’. The image is writ, familiarised into cliché, speeding romantic thumb-trip hipsters wired and wild-eyed, drunk on dreams and amphetamines, cruising for kicks and the ravenous zen high, fuelled on jazz existentialism with the gas-pedal fused hard to the floor. But behind the glare, back on Russian Hill, Carolyn and the kids bide their time. ‘The sun had set, and as the sky turned to deeper blue, city lights began to blink on like Midwestern fireflies… with my free hand I dropped the needle onto the turntable beside the couch and let Lady Day say it for me – ‘no good man / ever since the world began. / There’ve been other fools like me / born to be… in love with a no-good maayann’.
Cascades of luminous prose of constant crisis. But why? What’s a nice girl like you DOING in a continuum of intellectual hoodlums like this? ‘In the end, I always had a choice. It was my choice. Other women would have just split. People think that I’m some sort of victim, or that they manipulated me. But they’d be the first to say ‘do what you want’. And I was DOING what I wanted. I knew all the time. I COMPLAINED to everybody, and they said ‘why don’t you leave him?’ And I’d ask myself that, day after day. I could have left. You can always do what you have to do. And I kept wishing he’d do something I couldn’t stand, you know? I’d probably have said if he’d become an alcoholic, or if he’d beaten me, I’d have been gone in a flash. But he never did. He did things OTHER women couldn’t stand, but he never did anything that I couldn’t quite take. I liked to believe every excuse he gave me. And in the end it was a good thing.’
Carolyn’s book tells it ALL in four-hundred-&-thirty pages. It’s an emotional experience to travel through. All the familiar scams, from unfamiliar angles. New glimpses and insights in charged prose of tactile clarity. But ‘Off The Road’ is more, much more than that. It’s Carolyn’s story, her strength and integrity. And it’s part of a post-Feminist sprawl of woman’s-eye flashes on the previously male-o-centric (un)Beat(en) Generation. The Beat Goes On – but with new, feminine voices.
Jan Kerouac, Jack’s daughter, wrote of her brief meeting with the father who originally denied her existence in her ‘novel’ ‘Baby Driver’ (Andre Deutsch. 1982). ‘She writes well. It’s just that she’s good at telling you about what’s going on around her, but you’ll never find out what’s going on inside her. She’s got a coat of armour that’s impenetrable. And no wonder. She USED the name of course. It was HER name to use anyway. And she’s handled it the best way to handle it. She’s a little exploiter from the word go. But you can’t blame her after her childhood. She was a prostitute and a drug addict at twelve, which doesn’t make for a very healthy way to grow. So she comes on very flip and carefree and whatever, but you don’t know what she suffers inside. Unless she’s completely frozen over.’
Then came ‘Minor Characters’ by Joyce Johnson (Collins & Harvill. 1983), a Beat-ette Kerouac sucked into ‘Desolation Angels’ as ‘an interesting young person, a Jewess, elegant, middle-class – sad and looking for something’. ‘Oh – that book was excellent. Joyce Johnson is great. The thing I like is that, not only is she so good at writing about what was going on, but that she doesn’t emphasise or exploit her experience with Jack. Really the book is about Elise Gowan, a girlfriend, and Allen Ginsberg – a terrific thing in itself, and her own sense of humour about herself as a ‘minor character’. Because Jack says some kinda nasty things about Joyce in his books.’
But Kerouac’s attitude to women was always ambiguous. ‘People keep asking me to talk about Jack’s feelings about women, or various aspects of that. But what’s wrong with his books? ‘How about women?’ – most of them are exclusively ABOUT women. What on earth? You ought to be able to find out everything he ever thought about women from reading his books. Yet they somehow seem to feel that nobody knows about that. That’s perhaps because THEY never think about the women in his life. Because it’s all there, surely.’
Yet she describes Kerouac as ‘shy and introverted’. Allen Ginsberg suggests he was ‘inhibited’. When staying at Russian Hill he’d urinate out the attic window because he was too embarrassed to come down through her room to use the toilet! Carolyn even quotes a letter that Ginsberg wrote to her where he says ‘Jack likes you. But he’s afraid of you’. ‘MMMM. Yes – I ran into that again too when I was going through the book. I had to figure that out. Oh – I think it was only…’, she pauses a long pause. ‘It was only, like, women he admired that he was afraid of.’ Another dancing silence. ‘Afraid to make the wrong move as much as anything else. I just can’t think what else I could’ve done to make him afraid.’
He had difficulty treating women as equals? His biographer Gerald Nicosia says Kerouac was ‘never at ease’ with women (in ‘Memory Babe’, Viking 1985), while Joyce Johnson goes further, describing what she terms his ‘woman-hatred’. Carolyn says it’s all in his books! It isn’t.
No, the Jack they describe isn’t much in evidence at all. In the books, he’s romancing his situation, he’s writing from very exaggerated angles and perceptions. ‘Well, he did have the Madonna/Whore thing, y’know. He loved and respected all women, as women. But he wasn’t comfortable with those he admired. He was only really comfortable with the whores and the downtrodden. It made him feel better, because he had this Catholic guilt trip. He could never solve that dichotomy. He was ashamed and embarrassed and apologetic making love to women he respected. He wasn’t really all that wonderful. So he only felt worthy with girls who were worse then he was. Because of his terrible shyness he didn’t like it when women were aggressive. He was a real old-fashioned boy. He didn’t always sound like it. But he wasn’t always the man of Neal’s adventures. When he was writing privately in his attic he was a different person.’
Kerouac’s attitude to Carolyn noticeably develops, noticeably softens through the chronological linkage of his books. But even from the beginning a questioning empathy is there: ‘Camille finally went to sleep or spent the night staring blankly at the dark. I had no idea what was really wrong, except perhaps Dean had driven her mad after all…’
As I replay the interview cassette, a slow-motion airplane jet burns from speaker to speaker, circling in the skies outside her window. As Allen Ginsberg sneaks in, out, and around Carolyn’s narrative in guises. He’s a love-rival for Neal’s sexual and emotional attentions. And he’s a friend. She lies naked with Allen, ‘we lay about a foot or two apart on the rug in the living room like a couple of innocent children, enjoying the sensual soft breeze that flowed through the French doors and windows open to the starry summer night, the moonlight laying cool white banners across the floor. Allen bellowed poem after poem to infinity, and I found myself relaxing in the safety of being with a man intent only on his own body, not mine.’
‘I ALWAYS enjoyed Allens company. He was a wonderful guest. Gays are always enjoyable because there’s never any sexual threat. They’re usually very creative and artistic and make wonderful friends for women. I had such good times with him in Denver, and then – of course, later in San Jose, before that HORRIBLE day’ (when she unexpectedly discovers Allen giving Neal a blowjob in their bedroom). ‘But I remember him taking me to lunch in San Francisco to show me these murals. We went to this very nice restaurant. He’s wearing his old dirty torn T-shirt and everything, and I’m so embarrassed. All these squares are looking at him, and he’s saying ‘oh they’re just squares, they don’t know, they should LEARN’. And I said ‘Allen, you’re not going to bring them round to your point of view by offending them. You’re always talking about ‘being kind’ to everybody, and that’s very UNkind to dress like that to offend them’. Oh, he just couldn’t take that. ‘Ah na-na-na-na-na.’ So he was behaving like that before he got approval for his radical notions. So when the publication of ‘Howl’ (City Lights, 1956) brought him some recognition – WOW!, so many critics were really let loose and one thing led to a wonderful other. He just rose and rose. Allen was fulfilled by fame. Neal and Jack were destroyed by it. I don’t think Allen has the foggiest idea of what Hinduism or anything above the ground is about. He’s so earthy and materialistic. He never understood a word Neal was talking about. But he did all that meditating and stuff and it did calm down his excitability and defensiveness so he could be serene and calm. He was always kind. But he was much more benevolent after that. But yes – if he’s offended at all he can be just horrid. Yeuch! And very short and superior. Well, he used to be… if you were having an intellectual discussion of some kind and he was losing ground, you couldn’t pin him down or make him go one step further or analyse a little bit more. He’d just take out the finger-cymbals and start linga-linga-linga-ling. And everything stops. Allen just picks up… these…’ She moves to the bookshelves beneath Grandad. Holds up two five-inch copper-hued discs strung together by white tape. Allen Ginsberg’s finger-cymbals!!!
Then she confides that ‘I’m having a terrible time getting through his new biography though (‘Ginsberg: A Biography’ by Barry Miles. Viking). I’d rather think of ANYTHING to do than go back to that book. But I want to read it because I’m sure our memories are so selective in such different ways. But it’s so grisly. I’ve learned far more than I EVER want to know about homosexual love, and I’m only about THIS far through the book. It’s STOP ALREADY, one orgy after another…!'
In ‘Big Sur’ Kerouac writes most openly about his love for Carolyn Cassady, and the exact parameters that define their relationship. Neal Cassady is ‘Cody’. Carolyn is ‘Evelyn’. ‘Evelyn always maintaining that she and I were really made for each other but her karma was to serve Cody in this particular lifetime, which I really believe and I believe she loves him, too, but she’d say ‘I’ll get you, Jack, in another lifetime… and you’ll be very happy’ – ‘What?’ I’d yell to joke, ‘me running up the eternal halls of karma trying to get away from you hey?’ – ‘It’ll take you eternities to get rid of me’ she adds sadly, which makes me jealous, I want her to say I’ll never get rid of her – I wanta be chased for eternity till I catch her…’
Still at the bookshelf she reaches down a red hardbacked copy of Kerouac’s first novel – ‘The Town And The City’ (Harcourt Brace, 1950), old and heavy, limned with light dust. Inside the flyleaf is a dedication to Carolyn. Beneath it, an apology scribed in later – after another frantic Jack and Neal escapade. The inscription is in faded blue ink, large open lettering, although cramping down to the foot of the page, ‘with the deepest apologies I can offer for the fiasco, the foolish tragic Saturday of Neal’s birthday… all because I get drunk… please forgive me, Carolyn, it’ll never happen again…’
‘Jack was shy with everybody. So of course when the fame thing came and they dragged him out to the centre of the stage he was miserable. He had to drink just to get enough courage to even open his eyes. He ABHORRED the way the Hippies behaved, they didn’t have the same values he did anyway, but he got the credit for all those things. He was so misunderstood. He got the blame for all those things he hated. He was a good man. He never ADVOCATED Free Love and drugs and such. Writing in the attic, for friends, and writing letters was very private. But when it was published, it wasn’t private any more. That’s the only reason I can think why the columnists and critics felt so threatened. They couldn’t think of enough vile things to say about Jack. We’d keep saying ‘what are they AFRAID of?’ I suppose it was EXPOSURE. They had to realise that all the skeletons in the closet were about to come out. If he could write all THAT down…?, I guess. So it began all wrong. And that’s what upset him so, the media made it into this ‘Beat Generation’ thing. And then the Hippies acted it all out. It made him sick. That’s what killed poor Jack.’
Jack and Neal were twins. They were symbiotic. Neal lived it. Jack wrote it. Jack envied Neal’s spontaneity, his outrageous energy. Neal envied Jack’s literary and narrative skills. Neal produced ‘The First Third’ (published posthumously by City Lights, 1971), but largely his art lay in his living.
Jack Kerouac died 31 October 1969. A massive abdominal haemorrhage aggravated by alcohol and neglect. He survived Neal Cassady by just twenty months. Neal was found dead beside railroad tracks in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico 4 February 1968. A lethal cocktail of drugs thought to be responsible. In ‘Big Sur’ Jack wrote ‘at least you can write on his grave someday ‘HE LIVED. HE SWEATED’. No halfway house is Cody’s house.’
‘Neal’s father had been an alcoholic. So he wasn’t interested in alcohol. He was interested in marijuana, Benzedrine, and stuff like that, for the ‘highs’. I don’t think he foresaw what it would do. But a lot of that was for mental kicks. It was hard for him, because he was so brilliant, and there wasn’t any place to put it in that odd mind. So I think he felt that drugs were going to help bring him insight that he couldn’t be patient enough to go through himself. Neal was just tortured with guilt all his life because he couldn’t live up to his ideals. So to be glorified for the things he hated about himself was just awful. Poor guy. So in the end he just said ‘to hell with it. I won’t even play the game. I give up’, and he died while he was saying it. Because he was dead – as far as I could tell, when he went off with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. His life supports were removed. He was just trying to get killed as hard as he could. He just gave up trying. He’d worked so hard at self-improvement, spiritual growth, and all that. He was obsessed with it. And he failed and failed and failed. And he… gave up…’ Her voice so soft it hardly registers. ‘It was terrible. So I was hoping that we’d get maybe another little angle on it, and more understanding of Neal as a good man and not just a rowdy irresponsible playboy. I’ve tried to describe what was so impressive about him, the saintliness of him, but I just can’t. Ken Kesey gave up. It’s so obscure, but he gets closest to trying to explain what Neal’s effect was. Because he still had it, even when he was being an idiot and acting the complete clown. That charisma was still there. It affected everyone. It’s so hard to pin down in everyday terms. In the end, probably the only real love and security and sense of peace Neal ever had was with us. So it makes me feel good that maybe it makes up some for the HORROR of his early life. And I feel really good that we gave him that – with the kids and the home that was his. The home that he CHOSE to keep coming back to. His last words that I ever heard when he ‘phoned me from the border of Mexico were ‘I’m coming home…’
Carolyn has lived in London nearly ten years. ‘I keep wishing I didn’t have to think about it’ she smiles. She smiles a lot. ‘I’m so sick of the subject. Gosh, I was never very interested in all that degeneracy in the first place. I want to go to Plays and paint pictures and watch Movies and television, I want pleasant things and fun things. But every time there’s a new book or documentary or movie or something. I hear it coming…’
Before I go she hands me a pre-publication copy of ‘Off The Road’ in its saffron photo-spattered slip-cover. ‘Read the foot of page twenty-nine’ she urges.
They’re in Denver. And this is the way it begins. ‘At Jack’s suggestion, one evening Neal, Jack and I went to a tavern. There was a jukebox and a little space for dancing, and since Neal wouldn’t, Jack felt free to dance with me… Jack’s manner was tender without being suggestive, although he did betray some tension. As though he had read my thoughts, he said…’ The next line is missing. Printer’s error. Carolyn is laughing conspiratorially. ‘The line is there in the proof copies. Perhaps we should hold a competition? What DID Jack Kerouac say to me that night in Denver in 1947…?’
I check later with the spiral-bound review proof-copy.
The missing line.
Jack says to Carolyn ‘It’s too bad, but that’s how it is – Neal saw you first.’
After reading the above text Carolyn Cassady made certain suggested alterations, corrections, and re-interpretations. She writes – ‘if at all possible, there are some changes I would be ever so grateful if you could make. I know I nit-pick, but I’ve a few nerve-endings that have become raw, and anything I can do to soothe, I must try. Also make an effort to quash any mistaken rumours likely to sprout as has so often occurred. I’ll list my changes and objections for your information, and then leave ‘em to you to do whatever. I talk faster than I think, and I exaggerate a lot, so if taken verbatim… mea culpa. These spots were my fault from being so tired of telling the same old tale.’
Her points are as follows (her spellings and emphases):
(1) From the beginning: ‘Coming later to the flat…’ This even happened much later – on the day I was leaving for California – in a flat Neal and I had shared but I had abandoned the night before. This sounds as tho Allen, Neal and I cohabited, which we never did. Allen stayed awhile at my resident hotel room when he first arrived and before he found a place of his own. Then ‘…compulsively recurring pattern’ sounds as tho I frequently found Neal in bed with others!
(2) Neal and Diana married in New Jersey (Alan Harrington in attendance). She had sent Neal to Mexico to get a quickie divorce, but he spent the money on pot. Both of his other marriages were annulled – meaning null and void. He had only one WIFE.
(3) I really don’t ‘hate’ anything or anybody – here I go dramatising and exaggerating. Would it be possible to substitute ‘disagree’?
(4) ‘Heart Beat’ – two words. It amazes me so few people geddit! Barry’s idea with that title was ‘the heart of the beats’, see? The one word is meaningless.
(5) Bennington as ‘all my future problems’ was my parent’s diagnosis, not mine!
(6) All that about the men out roaring around and women waiting – I’ve tried to correct that very myth in my account. They only did that infrequently – Neal was home and working most of our time together.
(7) This about Jan really worries me. I have to say that her early life is hearsay or second-source, and I don’t think that should be spread by me in any case… I never know when a journalist will print what I say when I’m only trying to explain something to him. I’ll get blasted by both her mother and her, and I not only don’t need it, I want to stay on good terms, see? This also applies to the Ginsberg bit. Any chance you could delete ‘But yes – if he’s offended at all he can be just horrid. Yeuch. And very short and superior’. (I’ve told him, if he’s stop jumping to conclusions and TALK to me, these misunderstandings could be cleared up. Nope.) SO PLEASE, if you can cut these two gossipy parts which I have no right to broadcast.
I’ve been such a victim of this loose talk, I abhor the idea I perpetrate it, too.
(8) Back up a bit now: The ‘urinate out the window’ bit I run into all the time (example) I never said it as a fact but as a question to Neal. Yet over and over I’m quoted as telling it as truth.
(9) Jack and Neal never seen (by me) as twins! They were the opposites that attract. The rest of the paragraph bears this out, no? And ‘…to put it in that odd mind’ makes no sense, tho I probably said it, meaning there was no outlet for him to express his brilliant mind.
‘CAROLYN CASSADY: OFF THE ROAD’
Black Spring Press, 46 Rodwell Road, East Dulwich,
London SE22 9LE (Tel: 081-2991514)
(ISBN: 0-948238-05-4, 1990, £16.95)
republished by Penguin Books Ltd (4 July 1996)
Black Spring Press Ltd (12 July 2007)
This Interview Published in:
‘MOODY STREET IRREEGULARS: A JACK KEROUAC MAGAZINE 24-26 (1991)’