Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady: The Man Who Set The World Free

Neal Cassady grew up as a quasi-homeless wayfaring boy with his alcoholic, unemployed father in the projects of Denver. His unconventional upbringing led to adolescence rife with theft, drug use, and extreme sexual awakening at a young age. Cassady grew up quite quickly and led an overexposed life, which foreshadows his death at the age of 42 of exposure, next to railroad tracks in Mexico. His life, however, seems to be regarded by many as the eighth wonder of the world. He was full of an interminable curiosity and energy, and was considered by many as the herald angel of the Beat Movement. The oft-used term to describe Cassady, "Damaged Angel," has its source in Cassady?s childlike face and immortal physical appearance but with eyes and a soul that suggested he was somehow damaged. This man, in turn, would not suprisingly become one of the most influential individuals during the 1950s and 1960s.
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)
With him as not only the legendary driver of On The Road but also as the driver of the bus with the Merry Pranksters in tow, the two generations were symbolically connected by this great man, this damaged angel, Neal Cassady. His influence spanned over many different writers, artists, most notably the Grateful Dead, and prominent figures of the time. He tied the two movements together to make the fifties and sixties a time of complete revolution in America. He could be considered the bridge between the two generations, bringing the poetic and limit-pushing factors of the Beat Generation to the wild and unchained psychedelic era.
Cassady was a major part of and much of the inspiration for the Beat Generation. William Plummer characterizes the "Beats" best in his biography of Neal Cassady, "?Would be hipsters out to raise the ante of sensation by way of drugs, jazz, sex, petty criminality, by way of any attitude or activity that might be parlayed into a rush of exhilaration, into proof that they were pulsatingly alive." (Plummer 5). Cassady epitomizes these attitudes through his lifestyle, a lifestyle of limit pushing and rule breaking. From his childhood, he had always been testing boundaries. By the time he was 18, it is estimated he had stolen over 500 cars, just for fun.
Cassady, through a close friendship beginning at age 20 with Jack Kerouac and a twisted relationship with Allen Ginsberg, provided much of the inspiration for the quintessential Beat poems and texts. Even his correspondence with the two of them is considered Beat literature, for it encapsulates the ideals and attitudes of the counterculture and the Beat Generation. Cassady appears in Kerouac?s On the Road as the legendary Dean Moriarty and Cody in Visions of Cody. Cassady as Dean Moriarty in On the Road captured the spirit of Neal as the ultimate Beat.
Allen Ginsberg was introduced to Neal Cassady in 1946 in New York City and was instantly enamored. The young Jewish poet from Paterson, New Jersey saw Cassady as an ideal hero and mate. Their early sexual relationship and Cassady's later rejection of Ginsberg both had a significant effect on Ginsberg's writing. (Richman). Jack Kerouac (Sal) tells the story of when Dean (Neal) met Carlo (Allen Ginsberg) in On the Road, "Two keen minds that they are, they took to each other at the drop of a hat. Two piercing eyes glanced into two piercing eyes ? the holy con-man with the shining mind, and the sorrowful poetic con-man with the dark mind that is Carlo Marx?Their energies met head on?The whole mad swirl of everything that was to become began then?" (Kerouac 8). Kerouac and Cassady took many aimless, purposeless trips driving around the country. Cassady is famous for finding a purpose in all of these pointless trips. Just like Dean Moriarty taught