The Joan Anderson Letter
Among the many letters Neal wrote to Jack Kerouac was one that was lauded by Kerouac as "the greatest piece of writing I ever saw..." Written in December 1950, the letter described the wild times Neal had with his lady friends, especially one named Joan Anderson. Thus, the letter is referred to as "The Joan Anderson Letter". Jack noted in a 1968 interview*, "I got the idea for the spontaneous style of On The Road from seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names." Of course, Jack's unique writing style is the reason he became renowned in literary circles around the world.
The story of the Joan Anderson Letter's journey from Neal's typewriter in 1950 to its final resting place at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library at Emory University in Atlanta is full of mystery and intrigue. The links below partially describe the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, but upcoming publications will provide further details. Stay tuned...
Regarding purchase by Emory University
Description of letter's significance (Note: the letter did not meet the minimum bid of $400,000 so did not sell at Christie's.)
*Ted Berrigan, published in the Summer 1968 issue of The Paris Review
Born: Feb 8, 1926
Died: Feb 4, 1968
Debunking the Myths....by Carolyn Cassady
News and Musings from Carolyn
Friends of Neal:
I have been reading the book of the unedited scroll of ON THE ROAD. I must say that in this book, Neal does come across as a demented nut case totally irresponsible and hedonistic. I am afraid this is the view many people hold of Neal, and they rarely allow for the amount of fiction and omissions Kerouac wrote. Much of what he writes about Neal is true, but there was a whole other side to his character nowhere revealed except in his book THE FIRST THIRD and in mine OFF THE ROAD (just expanded) and his many letters, which helps explain a lot more of the fascination so many people had for this unique man. Alas, it is impossible to express in words the exceptional aura he had that affected so many. As he, himself, wrote, "Some events are in the area of the soul where words cannot penetrate."
I have also seen the film NEAL CASSADY made by Noah Buschel. Alas, his research only went as far as the hated films Kesey and the Pranksters made of Neal after his soul was dead, and he was desperately trying to destroy his body and mind. He is here more like his character in ON THE ROAD, scroll enhanced. The film itself is based on false myths, disoriented, with no continuity, development, plot or purpose, as far as we can see. We had three children, not two, and the two chosen nor Carolyn are anything like ourselves. (Son John and I have been platinum blondes since birth--as all the photos show) No location suggests California. I hope no one will see it, but if you do, please don't take it as a portrait of Neal. as the title suggests--or any of us. Or Kerouac, except by then he was drunk all the time. None of what they say could we have said. I wish I could understand why people do this. Noah claimed he loved Neal so much, this is what he had to do. What a travesty, why?
I was deluged last summer (2008) by all kinds of media, all wanting a slice of the anniversary action. Some of it is rewarding if strenuous. I meet many nice people, but there is always the big problem of so many newspapers printing my photographs without permission or paying me the fees. To track down the responsible person takes far too much of my time, and the results minimal. They all know the rules, so this exercise is most unpleasant--well, shocking, actually. Otherwise, I hope it opens new avenues of interest in Kerouac and Cassady. Somebody's getting rich--not us. ha ha. There are a few more myths that have evolved from Kerouac's "fiction". For instance, Neal would never answer a door "stark naked". He could be naked, but his jeans were always nearby, and he held them in front of him. He was very modest personally, not an exhibitionist.Remember the scene Kerouac describes when a bunch of poets went swimming at Esalen in Big Sur? Here Jack was so amused that he and Neal were the only two men who wouldn't remove their shorts...the big Beat rebels.Then Kerouac wrote that when they were in Mexico together and he was sick, Neal abandoned him, and he said "what a rat he was." Neal did not want to leave him, but he had been called back to the railroad, and if he didn't go immediately, he would lose that lifetime job. He moaned for weeks after for having had to leave Jack ill. I am surprised Kerouac didn't realize the cause of Neal's leaving. More as I recall or ask anything you are curious about.
Debunking the myths:
Frequently I read comments by young fans or writers as to how intrigued they are by Neal's antics with Kesey and the Pranksters during the last five years of his life. The evidence is there in stories and films of his behavior; he did behave in the ways shown and described, it is true. (There is in the works another book by Paula Douglas, "Gretchen Fetchen", who was with them and on the bus. She gives glimpses of a different side of Neal at this time; let's hope it is published.)In my book OFF THE ROAD and in Jack Kerouac's many books about Neal, another man is revealed. as he is in the hundreds of letters he wrote long before these last years. Three books have been published of them, but the last one and still in print is one edited by Dave Moore, the ultimate expert on Kerouac and Cassady. His footnotes are a valuable source in themselves. Also, delightful are the stories his son, John, has written about his memories of his father, a few now available from the Beat Museum and John's website: johnallencassady.com. For those of you who have not read my book nor John's, I will summarize the true facts that lie behind this extraordinary behavior. The fascination for it is beyond me.From a childhood spent in the slums of Denver among the dregs of lost men, Neal was determined to better himself, to become someone respectable and worthy. He had a genius IQ and a photographic memory which impelled him to devour books...literature, philosophy and the sciences, all of which remained in his mind. He perfected his physique as well, training himself as best he could to excel in ballgames and dreamt of playing football with Notre Dame. He became obsessed with auto racing on all levels, and he made himself into the most skillful driver of cars anyone ever met. He had to be the best at anything he attempted or any job he took, and he prided himself he could work at anything. He also prided himself on his sexual prowess.On a honeymoon trip to New York when he was twenty and his bride sixteen, he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Here were two men who were formally educated, one a writer and the other a poet, and Kerouac was a football hero. Neal was a match for them intellectually, and they became lifelong friends. Here were the men he longed to emulate and rise above his usual pool hall friends in Denver. They recognized his brilliance and knowledge, but his energy and curiosity for life drew them even closer. You all know those stories.
Neal meets Carolyn:
Then Neal met me, an upper middle-class well-educated girl not too hard on the eyes. Here was his chance to invade a higher level on the social scale, and he went for it. He never really left his girl bride, although their marriage was annulled years later when Neal married me. These events you already know but perhaps not the driving motive behind them. With me Neal became passionate about a new way of looking at life: Metaphysics, and he tried desperately to absorb and live these new principles. He at last reached his goal: he became a respectable citizen. He was a home-owner and supported a family, and he had a good job for life. He'd made it. But, alas, his restless energy and his ingrained habits were not so easily dismissed. He needed excitement, challenges and approval.I think, perhaps, that since he'd never experienced mother-love (his mother died when he was ten, and he said he didn't remember her at all) he never got enough of that essential ingredient for every life. I think his need to continually conquer women was to not only receive more love but to prove himself worthy of it. He had been ingrained so early with the Catholic dogma of being a miserable sinner and guilty, no matter how much his mind told him that wasn't true, this was a concept he could never overcome, try as he might.So he had to live a double life, and he enjoyed all of it, but the urge for worthiness was constant.Two pillars supported his self-respect: his railroad job, at which he was the best they ever had, and his family. After he was falsely accused and imprisoned for two years he lost them both. First, the railroad wouldn't hire him back, and I, mistakenly thinking I was freeing him to live as he liked without the burden of a family to support, divorced him. In five years he was dead.
I saw him often during those years. He lived with Kesey and the Pranksters, and I was grateful they took him in. He, however, felt now he had utterly failed in his mission, and he knew he could never go back. He died inside; only his body survived. This he did his best to destroy. He no longer believed in suicide, but he did all he could to be killed. Once a driver who never scratched paint on a car or dented a fender was now rolling buses sideways and VW bugs. He told me he swallowed handfuls of pills anyone offered, even not knowing what they were. Is this not an obvious death-wish? He admitted it was. He told me how he loathed himself for the way he was behaving, but his will wasn't strong enough not to when everyone expected it of him.I have better understood why Neal so wished to die from reading the excellent essay about how writers viewed Neal. The essay is called The Friendly and Flowing Savage, and it is probably the best book to analyze the writers of the Beat Generation: The Daybreak Boys by Gregory Stephenson. I highly recommend it. Neal is frequently accused of drinking. He would be described as a user of alcohol and drugs. Many times I've read that he died because he had chug-a-lugged Pulque at a Mexican wedding after taking Nembutal. He did swallow Nembutal that day, but he would never have had too much to drink, then or previously--if he could help it. He had a very delicate stomach, and anything more than a couple of beers made him terribly sick. He was so kind, when he was stuck with some alcoholic conductor on a freight run who, when they rested in the "crummy" (caboose) and the man would ask Neal to share his flask, Neal would oblige him. After one of these he came home so sick, so miserable, I knew he'd never touch another drop. Once, too, he was forced to drink too much Hamm's beer, and again, he writhed on the floor holding his stomach and cursing Hamm. He never drank wine, except a sip or two to again be polite, but his early years with a wino father put him off wine. He had great difficulty controlling his disgust with Jack's indulgence in wine, but he never condemned him to his face; he'd just leave the room at such times. Many years later I asked Ken Kesey if he agreed with my suspicion as to the possibility that had Neal really attended a wedding (no one knows this for sure) and he had been asked to toast the bride, Neal would have done so, even knowing what the combination of the drug and alcohol might do; he would never be rude and refuse. Ken agreed with me. We will never know. I have all the papers relating to his death. I also have letters of testimony by men who went back to research those events. They could learn no more, except that the autopsy was not reported in full, because, said the doctor in charge, it was a matter of drugs and a foreigner. The cause of death on the certificate is "all systems congested", and that is all. Please take note: Other things can cause this, such as renal failure, also likely. The cause was NOT exposure, as often said. There is also a common belief that Neal was counting railroad ties when he died. This false idea came from a moving story Ken Kesey wrote called The Day Superman Died about his fictional name for Neal, "Houlihan". In that story Houlihan dies as he is counting ties while walking to the next Mexican village, his last words being the number he had so far counted. This was not true; he died a few yards outside of San Miguel. Robert Stone also used this image of one of his characters based on Neal in his book and film Dog Soldiers. I hope you all will help us celebrate this unique man as a whole individual if not perfect yet.I recently heard a quote in a play, the source I forget: "A man's measure is not from the amount of love he gives to others but the amount he is loved." I have to think about that, but Neal was/is certainly loved.
Thanks for listening,
dedicated his landmark poem Howl, and the man who motivated and inspired William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead…and untold numbers of others.
Who was this man? To the world, he was an icon of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s, the Holy Goof, Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus Furthur on the road to Nevereverland. To us, he was husband, father, and friend. We are the Cassady family, dedicated to bringing you the real Neal, the Neal we knew. Neal’s wife Carolyn Cassady and their children; Cathy Cassady Sylvia, Jami Cassady Ratto and John Allen Cassady wanted to bring the world the truth about the man, the myth, the one and only Neal Cassady. So join us in this odyssey of discovery, learn the truth behind the myth as we memorialize not the legend, but the man, Neal Cassady.
Articles on this page:
1- Joan Anderson Letter
2- Neal documentary on Colorado Public Television
3- Carolyn Cassady debunks the myths
Neal on Colorado Public Television
1- Below is a link to view the trailer for the PBS documentary "Neal Cassady, the Denver Years", produced by Colorado Public Television 12. This DVD chronicles Neal's life from his childhood years in Denver to his death in Mexico. Learn how Neal grew up on the streets of Denver, living in flophouses and caring for himself; his successful years working for the Southern Pacific Railroad and his struggles being a responsible husband and father. The DVD includes interviews with Carolyn and the Cassady children. This documentary will soon be released to public television.
2- We now have copies of "Neal Cassady: The Denver Years".
See our Shop page for more info.
Neal Cassady was undeniably the real genius behind the Beat movement. He was a force of nature. He was the inspiration behind Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, the man to whom Allen Ginsberg