Jamelah Earle: What kind of role do you think writing and connecting with a community of like-minded artists plays in shaping an artist's perspective and style? Is it important? Does it have a downside?
Robert Creeley: I think it's extremely important not just for fact of political action, say, but for all circumstances of a writer's literal life. Company is what keeps it all together -- those "few golden ears" Allen Ginsberg speaks of for whom, he says, "Howl" was written. It matters immensely that someone is listening, can hear, knows where you're coming from. The general audience, the wider audience as one says, comes years later, so, as in jazz, it's the people who work with you and give you the necessary feedback who matter. If this can have a downside, it's only in some sad possibility that what said company is after is not particular to writing itself. For example, a friend used to say of his first wife, "She said she wanted to be a singer but what she really wanted was to be famous ..." A company having that so-called goal in mind gets to be a distraction instantly.
JE: Your Day Book of a Virtual Poet uses writing originally produced in an online medium (e-mail) to offer its insights, yet it is published in book form. Though online publishing does not currently have the same validity as traditional print publishing, do you think it will someday? Should it have the same validity?
RC: In that case a small press (Spuyten Duyvil) asked me for something and I thought those accumulated "letters" would be apt. So they proved, and that book has had a remarkable and continuing life. The thing was that the work online depended on Buffalo's high school, City Honors, keeping the material up on its website, and just now checking, I see it's long gone. (All that I found was the note written when Allen Ginsberg had just died.) In any case, it's what simply and cheaply can keep texts and all the uses of them one can think of available, can get and keep work in print. In the 40s, when I was coming in, the absolute limit was letter press and it was awful. No cold press -- only ditto, mimeo and such as resource -- which one used as did Diane di Prima and Amiri Baraka's "Floating Bear" or as the Golden Goose Press did with its magazine and chapbooks for a time. What a relief to have both distribution AND initial "printing" now be so old time easy! Whatever "validity" constitutes, that has got to mean something in itself.
JE: In terms of poetry, can you think of an example of something the online medium made possible that would not have been possible in print?
RC: For me it's been the chance to have art specific to something I wrote be there so simply. Here's an instance:
This was done initially as a catalog for a show of Francesco Clemente's and so few people got to see it. This way at least some sense of it is easily available. Note too that it's been 'up there' since 1998 although the magazine it's in has since moved first to Florida and then to the west etc etc. (It began as an online journal out of Damien College in Buffalo.) Anyhow my use of the possibilities is obviously minimal. Think of hypertext -- or 'e-poetry' -- as you'll find it here:
I.e., look at the range and action! Really, it all goes on and on. Check out the ubu.com site, for example -- it's like a miracle, to be able to hear and see such a range of material -- click, click, click! Had anyone ever told me such would be possible in the 40s, it would have been almost impossible to believe.
JE: In the past couple of years, the weblog (or blog -- a frequently-updated journal that can focus on anything from politics to one's personal life) has become an important force on the internet, and due to its popularity, people who may never have written or shared writing otherwise are publishing their thoughts on the web for the world to see. It seems that everyone has a blog these days. What do you think of this phenomenon? How do you think it changes the notion of what it takes to be a writer?
RC: I much like the quickness of exchange (for which read "publication") it provides. I truly think the more, the merrier -- and let one's own perceptions and needs make the relevant connections. Pound said years ago, "Damn your taste! I want if possible to sharpen your perceptions after which your taste can take care of itself." It's as if someone has finally opened that bleak door of usual discretion and habit, and let in a great diversity of response, proposal, everything. Two blogs I value indeed:
And one could go on and on (eg., to Chris Leydon etc).
JE: Though poetry has always had a small audience, things like spoken word/performance poetry and hiphop are increasing poetry's reach, especially to the young. Do you see this as a positive thing? What do you think of the difference between spoken word and written poetry?
RC: For me sound -- Pound's "Listen to the sound that it makes" -- has always been a crucial factor. That's why jazz back then in the mid-forties was so useful -- it let me hear ways of linking, how 'serial order' might be played, what a rhythm could literally accomplish. I wasn't getting that from the usual discussions of poetry at all. Anyhow I write and read my own poems as sounds and rhythms -- and that is a crucial part of their fact. One gets phrasing from all manner of source, people talking in the street, Frank Sinatra, and so on. Jack Kerouac is a terrific instance albeit he hardly took to the stage with any pleasure. But anyhow I write poetry to be spoken, I speak it when I write it -- like Bud Powell playing piano.
The only question I'd ever have, then, about performance is whether or no it begins to drift to that earlier point of my friend, "She said she wanted to be a singer..." I have no interest in poetry imagined as a pure art, say, but I don't want it only so as to see one's name in lights either. It's it -- and that's the point. What one can do with it is always something else.
JE: What advice would you give to today's young writers (the self-published chapbook poets, the novelists who can't find publishers for the finished book sitting in their top desk drawer, the 18-year-old poet trying to decide if it's worth it to go to college) who want to reach an audience?
RC: It may well sound too easy to say, but I'll say it anyhow -- find your own "golden ears," your friends and locating company, and make your way as that interaction. The so-called world at large is just a lot of particular places and you begin where you happen to be. Being a writer is blessed in that one doesn't have huge canvasses to carry about or have need for ultimate equipment or other musicians so as to make the composite sounds in mind. You can also find simply an endless resource of what's been done, what's can be model, in libraries, online, you name it. Google ho!
Anyhow I think of Levi Asher and the initial LitKicks -- and many friends, Alex Trocchi, Cid Corman, way back then in the early 50s. Who can wait to be tapped? Onward -- and good luck!
Lyn Lifshin: Vision is one of those rather abstract lofty words I don't really connect with poetry. I write poems that I hope will move people, let the reader feel someone else feels as they do though they never realized that. I hope the reader will find the poems let them see things in a different way and also in ways they might have felt but never quite understood that. The idea of Horace's that literature should teach and delight is interesting,"teach" in the sense of revealing, showing, connecting in a way that is startling, stunning, delightful. Even more I like Emily Dickinson's quote, "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" As for feeling part of the 21st century that is something I never have thought much about. I suppose one is always a part of the time they are writing the events, values, words, the history of the time one moves through that makes one part of their times whether they rebel against it or elebrate it or ignore it.
AL: Lyn, could you explain your title "queen of the small press"?
LL: "Queen of the small press" is a rather strange title that was almost accidental. Black Apples was published first by The Crossing ress with a yellow cover and a drawing of a pumpkin or a pumpkin-like house, pale yellow, definitely not slick. It sold out quickly. The second edition was beautiful and had a shiny harder cover that also sold out. The 3rd edition had a papery cover with the same photograph as on the second edition but not shiny, not quite as beautiful. I suppose to jazz the 3rd edition up, John Gill took a line from a review by Warren Woessner the "Queen of the Small Press" for a little embellishment in the same way as he added 13 poems from earlier books and an introduction by John Gill as well as review statements from Warren Woessner, Victor Contoski, Alan Dugan, Richard Eberhart, and others. Later, one publisher wanted to make one book cover look like a romance novel. I said no as I did to another small press publisher who wanted to call a book Undressed and have me on the cover in bib overalls with nothing underneath. I nixed that too.
AL: Lyn, do you believe in inspiration? Or would you define the need to write as an instinctive, gut-driven process? Something born of the nerve-endings?
LL: I'm not sure about inspiration. Sometimes something will seem to demand to be written about. But often it takes several attempts to try to get it. Auden I think said if he had to choose whether to work with a student who felt driven to tell what he felt or someone who liked to play with words, he would pick the latter. I think poems, for me, come both ways. Recently I wrote series of poems because someone asked me to, about the adoption of a new baby, not something I would normally write about. Assignments often work well: the most unlikely subjects seem to lead to good poems, probably because they are new and fresh subjects I've never thought about. Several of my books came about in that way: Marilyn Monroe Poems came from poems I wrote for Rick Peabody's Mondo Marilyn, Jesus Alive and In the Flesh, from a request to submit to a Jesus as a pop icon anthology that came out just recently as Sweet Jesus. For another anthology, Dick for a Day I wrote a number of poems and many of them are sprinkled through my last two Black Sparrow books, Cold Comfort and Before It's Light, as well as my forthcoming Black Sparrow/David Godine book Another Woman Who Looks Like Me. Other "assignments" have led to poems as varied as The Daughter I Don't Have to poems about condoms. In my new book there are many poems based on paintings, also a request. I've often written poems about historic sites Shaker House Poems, The Old House on the Croton, The Old House Poems, Arizona Ruins Auddley End... so many that often I feel, in a new environment, a pull to try a poem based in that setting, that history. It's definitely a mix. When I go to teach I often do some exercises where the writers pick words and have to use them in a poem -- it frees the imagination at times to write about what you didn't really plan to.
AL: When you think of the word "hermetic" what immediately comes to mind?
LL: Probably because we have Hermes store nearby, when I hear "hermetic" I think of Hermes the god who the store must have also been thinking of: his elegance and eloquence and his being a leader of commerce. I think of how Hermes guided the dead on their way. And I think of Ira Herman who invited me once to read with Ken Kesey who was also eloquent, now dead, quite magnetic and magical when he wasn't. I think too of Emily Dickinson, not only for being separate but because of her poems, separated by fusion, air tight. And who could not think of cookies, hermit cookies, spicy, sweet or Emily's tropical birds, darting from petals to stamens to petals, alchemical. Writing this, I am also reading Millay's letters, how on March 4, 1926 from Steepletop (where I spent one September, feeling very isolated) she wrote to Edmund Wilson saying "we have been snowed in. I mean hermetically 4 weeks today, Five miles on snow shoes.... to fetch the mail or post a letter."
AL: What poets past or present have influenced your work the most and why? Also, what are your thoughts on surrealism, surrealist literature?
LL: I wrote my Master's Thesis on Dylan Thomas so I must have been somewhat influenced by him though I don't see it myself. I did an undergraduate thesis on Federico Garcia Lorca. My love of repetition, ominous beauty likely was influenced by his poems. And I worked on my PhD with a major in 15th, 16th and 17th century English (British) poetry. My PhD dissertation, which I wrote 100 pages of, dealt with Wyatt, Sidney and Donne. I know Wyatt's ragged, thought being thought-out style, breathless, not seeming to be polished and carefully written down, like the poems of Sidney, appealed much more to me. I think he as if I was just thinking the thought out, influenced my poems, often breathless. When I left SUNY at Albany, I had read very little contemporary poetry and plunged into writers like Sexton and Plath and probably Williams. I easily remember reading Sexton's " The Double Image" in a parked car in snow and being so taken by the emotion, that startling, personal quality that was so stunning, so moving. Not knowing that much about other contemporary writers, I took out many, many library books, discovered Paul Blackburn, Creeley, Wakoski, Piercy and began ordering small press books and magazines. There I discovered poets quite unlike Dryden, Pope, Donne and Herbert poets in the meat and mimeo school like Bukowski, DR Wagner, Steve Richmond, DA Levy. Every time I read a new magazine Wormwood, Goodly Company, El Corno Emplumado, I discovered wildly exciting poets. It was a wonderful and powerful set of discoveries for me. New York Times Book Review section had a cover photograph of many of the small and smallest press magazines. I found there was a program of poetry every Tuesday around noon on a PBS radio station and I always took the phone off the hook and listened. When I worked as an editor at a local PBS TV station I was fascinated by a series of programs called "USA Poetry" with write rs like Ed Sanders, Michael McClure, Anne Sexton I was enthralled. Soon I was included in an issue Rolling Stone did of 100 up and coming poets. I'm sure, too, I have been influenced by so much of the poetry by women I read in my several versions of Tangled Vines, a collection of mother and daughter poems, as well as women writing in two other of my anthologies, Ariadne's Thread and Lips Unsealed. I was a fine arts history minor in college and of course studied surrealism in art and a little in literature. I've certainly been influenced by their influence on American poets like Bly and the poets he published.
AL: Lyn, when did you start writing? What was the drive, the catalyst that made it inevitable that you write?
LL: I started writing when, at 6; I skipped from first grade to third grade because I read at an advanced level. As a result, I never learned long division, was always lost in math. But I loved to read and write. An excellent teacher, Mrs. Flag, read us Longfellow and Keats and had us write our own poems. She would bring apple blossoms and boughs in and have us look and touch, smell and taste and then write our own poems. I have blue thin notebooks of poems from then many but the poem that I had to write is the one I remember best. I grew up in a small town, Middlebury, Vermont and we lived on Main Street. One weekend I copied a poem of Blake's we were reading him at the time. I showed it to my mother, told her I wrote it. In a town of 3000 it wasn't surprising my mother ran into that teacher, excited, said what an inspiration she had been, how I used words she didn't even know I knew. By Monday, I had to write my own poem and it had to have "rill," "nigh" and "descending," in it.
AL: In terms of literature and psychology, do you believe that your subconscious leads you when you write? What are your thoughts on the psychological aspects of writing, literature?
LL: I do think the subconscious is connected to what i write. I used to say once I wrote something it became true, then it happened. In some workshops I have had students use dreams and dream exercises, day dreaming to let poems be triggered. And I've often written poems based on dreams. I suppose many images come from the sub- conscious, the strangeness in some poems, the stories I have no idea where they came from, the surreal. The title poem of Black Apples is a poem called "The�Dream of Black Apples, War". Somehow it came quickly, quietly from a dream and anticipated much that did happen later. The connection is one that is fascinating. I recently read that the predisposition to suicide can be determined by the use of some pronouns over others. I always want to read more about how memory works especially after editing my collection of women's memoirs, Lips Unsealed. I think it is very tangled with the subconscious I don't think any of the arts is separate from it.
AL: What's your favorite curse-word?
LL: My favorite swear word is one I probably never used but would love to. In college my roommate, from Rochester, with a definite Rochester accent and knowledge of Yiddish was always trying to teach me phrases that were very stunning but I could never quite say them right I think. I loved one, it sounded like "Vergo Harvit" or something like that and it meant drop dead I think very piercing word sounded like what it meant. But I never quite got it right.
AL: Thank you very much for allowing me to conduct this interview. Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share before we conclude?
LL: Well one important thing to me is that everyone know if they don't that Black Sparrow Books now will be published by David Godine press as Black Sparrow/ David Godine Books their new spring catalogue is just out with their back list and my new book, Another Woman Who Looks Like Me, will be published by them soon. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com phone is 800-344-4771 and fax is 800- 226-0934 and published recently is my new book from March Street Press and you can order that through Amazon.com or contact the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org and still available is a documentary film about me called Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass distributed by Women Make Movies. Telephone is 1-212-925-0606 Fax is 1-212-925-7002 and e mail is email@example.com. And my web site with lots of everything is www.lynlifshin.com
This interview originally appeared in the literary webzine, Tin
If you're saying to yourself, "DiPrima?" you are one of the main reasons I wrote this article. Even if you have heard of Diane's work you have to admit, in a field that already has an amazing paucity of women, to overlook even one seems like a capital crime, especially this one. Diane DiPrima is a San Francisco writer and poet who works in healing, Magick, and Alchemy.Her more recent books are : Pieces of a Song -Collected Poems, City Lights, 1990, Zip Code, Coffee House Press,1992, and Seminary Poems, Floating Press, 1991.
I spoke to Diane on 9-22-93 in her cozy booklined SF apartment. We spoke of rebellion, liberty, conditioning, and on being a women in the beat generation.Joseph Matheny
JM: When you started out as a writer in the 50's, were there a lot of control systems set up to punish anyone who tried to break out the consensus mold?
DD: It was a weird time. Especially for women. Rebellion was kind of expected of men.
JM: When men rebelled they were romantic, free. Women who rebelled were categorized as being nuts.
DD:Yes. Nuts or a whore, or something. Yes.
JM:Do you feel it's any different now?
DD:Not much. I think there's been a lot of lip service paid to how much women have managed to advance. The younger women that I know are behaving pretty much like women have always behaved. Maybe they don't
have so much of the middle class housewife dream, but they'll still be the one to get a job, while the man does the writing or the painting or whatever. I can think of example after example of this. I think that the internal control systems that have been put in place for women haven't been dented. It's such a big step forward to single mom, but so much more could be going on besides that.
JM:That's where the most effective censorship and control systems reside, inside ourselves, our head!
DD:Yes! How it gets there is interesting too.
JM: How do you think they get there?
DD:I would guess that it starts in the womb. Getting imprinted with the language pattern that's around you. The way people move, the way they hold themselves.To break it you'd have to do some really deliberate debriefing, on every level. The place where I was lucky in my own life was that I had a grandfather who was an anarchist. I didn't see much of him after I was 7 because my parents thought he was bad for me, but from 3 to 7 I saw a lot of him. I was still malleable enough so some debriefing occurred there. He would tell me these really weird fables about the world. He would read Dante to me and take me to the old peoples anarchist rallies, and all this showed me these other possibilities...
JM:So you had an early imprint of a kind of...anti-authority, authority figure.(laughs)
DD:(laughing) Yes! Aside from being an anti-authority authority figure the imprint that I got from him and my grandmother as well , was of two people who weren't afraid, at least from my child's point of perspective. They would just go ahead and do what they believed in. In all the other years of my early life I never encountered anyone else who wasn't afraid. I think kids today may be a little better off in that they encounter a few people who either aren't afraid, or who will go ahead and try something anyway, whatever it is. There's a possibility of that model, but during my childhood that was a very unusual model. I was born in 1934, during the depression,and everyone seemed to be frozenwithterror. We.....will....do... what....we....are....told!(laughs) and I don't think it's changed that much. Every day people are told that they should be afraid of not having health insurance, they're going to die in the gutter and to be afraid of all these things that aren't threats at the moment. Of course there are present threats but nobody's paying attention to those.
JM:It seems to me that rebellion itself has become a commodity, the media has co-opted rebellions like rock-n-roll, Dada, Surrealism, poetry, the rebel figure. Do you feel that this co-option has succeeded in making rebellion somewhat ineffectual?
DD:No. What your seeing is an old problem in the arts. Everything is always co-opted, and as soon as possible. As Cocteau used to talk about,you have to be a kind of acrobat or a tightrope walker. Stay 3 jumps ahead of what they can figure out about what you're doing, so by the time the media figures out that your writing, say, women and wolves, you're on to not just a point of view of rebellion or outdoing them, or anything like that. It's more a point of view of how long can you stay with one thing. Where do you want to go? You don't want to do anything you already know or that you've already figured out. So it comes naturally to the artist to keep making those jumps, that is ,if they don't fall into the old "jeez, I still don't own a microwave" programs.
JM:Reminds me of a story about Aldous Huxley. When asked if he had read all the books in his quite impressive library he replied, "God no! Who would want a library full of books that they had already read?"
DD:(laughs)It is true that rebellion is co-opted, but then it always gets out of their hands, it slithers in some other direction. Then they go "oh,how can we make this part of the system?" Like rap. OK, they are co-opting all this regular rap, but now this surreal rap is starting, native tongue, surreal imagery, spiritual anarchism rap, it's not about girls or politics or race and it's starting to happen.
JM:Is this something your daughter brings to your attention?
DD:Yes, I go over once in awhile and catch up on whats going on. You see as soon as something is defined, it wiggles off in another direction. I don't think that it's such a big problem in the sense of reaching a lot of people. How does the artist reach a large audience? The people that know are always going to find the new edge, but the mainstream are not that smart or the guy making a top 40 record is not that smart. It often takes them a long time to figure it out. Now that is a problem, because we don't have the time. We need to reach everybody, right away,because we have to stop the system dead in it's tracks. It's no longer a question of dismantling the system. There isn't enough time to take it apart, we just have to stop it.
JM: Do you feel that there's a somewhat centralized or conscious attempt to defuse radical art or rebellion through cooption or is it just < "the nature of the beast", so to speak.
DD:I think it goes back and forth.There are times when it's conscious, but not a single hierarchical conspiracy but rather a hydra headed conspiracy. Then there are other times that it doesn't need to be conscious anymore,
because that 's the mold, that pattern has been set, so everyone goes right on doing things that way. I'm not quite sure which point we're at right now in history. It's so transitional and craz y that I wouldn't hazard a guess. Just check your COINTELPRO history to see an example of a conscious conspiracy to stop us. Other times it was just a repetition of what has gone on before. Like the ants going back to where the garbage used to be.(laughs)
DD:Yes, and it's all in place when the next so called conspiracy comes along, which is very handy isn't it? I Wonder how we've made this monster we have here?
JM:Ok. Say we stop it dead in it's tracks. What then?
DD:It would be nice to say it's unimaginable, wouldn't that be great. That would be my hope!(laughs) For one thing, we'd have to use the same tables, wear the same shoes longer, read a lot of the same books, maybe for the next few hundred years. Dumps would become valuable places to mine!
JM:They already are to me!
DD:To some people,yes, but not to enough people. Screeching to a halt seems like the only possible solution and I'm not even sure how you would go about it. Of course the good old general strike would be a nice start.
JM:As long as we're on the subject of deconstructing, how do you feel about the predominant intellectual fad of post modernism, deconstrution, and the nihilism implicit in these systems?
DD:Well, when I read that stuff, it's so frustrating. Western thought always keeps stopping on the brink. It never really makes that extra step. It could really do with an infusion of Buddhist logic. At least 4 fold logic and then what's beyond that. It seems that although it's dressed up in new language, nothing really new has happened in philosophy in the 20th century. Well, maybe not since Wittgenstein. It seems like the same old thing. You know, sometimes when people ask me for poems now, I'll send out poems that have been lying around for years, I don't always have new poems lying around everywhere, and these things that I wrote as cut-up stuff, cutting up each others dreams in workshops and such. I'll send these out. Everyone seems to be taking them very seriously and publishing them. They think I'm working off of some language theory when actually these are just things I did for fun.
JM: What are you doing now?
DD:I'm working on 2 prose books. One is called "Recollections of My Life as a Women". I'm 120 pages into it and I'm still 8 years old. I'm still dealing with how the conditioning happened. In my generation a lot of it happened with battering, you got hit a lot, and screaming. Your basic conditioning came through abuse, not really different from concentration camps or anything else. I think think someday we're going to look back on how we're handling kids at this point in history and wonder how we could treat them such. Like when people say "how could women stand it when people did such and such? We'll be saying that about the way children are treated.
JM:What's the other book?
DD:The other prose book is called "Not Quite Buffalo Stew". It's just a rollicking, fun, surreal novel about life in California. It's in the first person, and in the 2nd or 3rd chapter in I found out that the "I" that was the narrator was a man, so that breaks a lot of rules already. The "I" is a drug smuggler named Lynx. There isn't a whole lot of continuity, just whatever scenes wanted to write themselves.
JM:Are you using any kind or random/divination systems, ie, cut-ups, grab bag, I ching, Tarot, coin tossing, etc.?
DD: Not with this one. This one dictates itself. The system I guess I'm using is that I can't write it at home. It won't happen anywhere that's familiar turf and it likes to happen while I'm driving. So I'll probably head for Nevada at some point and finish it.
JM:What do you see in the future for poetry and literature?
DD:I would like to see authors really use Magick to reach themes. I'd like to see more work coming out of visioning and trance. I'm really tired of reading about human beings! There's all these other beings, I'd like to see a real dimensional jump and I'd like to see people working on the technical problems. Like when you come back from trance or visioning, or drugs and what you can write down about it at that moment. What you can make into an actual piece, we haven't figured it out yet. Yeats certainly didn't figure it out. It's more than needing a new language. There are actual forms we need to find or the forms have to find us, that will hold all that material without trying to make it reductive. The attempts at visionary painting in the 60's and Yeats' last poems show how vision didn't translate into these old artistic forms. Of course taking the raw material and presenting that as a piece doesn't work either. Maybe a blending of vision, word, and sounds can achieve something. We haven't really had time to think about what the computer is. Most of us still think of it as a typewriter, or a calculator. We don't think of it as it's own dimension. It has it's own medium, possibilities, to bring this kind of material across. I also think about deliberate invocation to find the plane or thing you want to write about.
JM:Do you see us as heading into a post literate society?
DD:Yes, we might be. I don't think that will stop poetry, in fact it won't stop any of the arts at all. Even if it's oral there may be a split like there was in Europe when there was the written literature in Latin and then there was the oral poems of the singers in the Vulgate. We have that to a degree already with the poetry of the great song writers. Really though, I don't think literate or post literate really matters. Were cave paintings literate or pre-literate? Did they read those paintings or just look at them?(laughs) Of course the only reason a completely literate society was developed was for thought control, and now that thought control can be done via T.V, etc. it's not really needed anymore. They don't want everyone reading Schopenhauer!
DD:Everyone needs to remember that they can buy a small press or laser writer, or copy machine, and go home and do what the fuck they please and it will take a very long time for anyone to catch up with them all! No one seems to remember about a few years ago in Czechoslovakia, without access to all this technology like we have here, even with every one of their typewriters registered to the police, they still managed to publish their work! In order to do this they would they would type it with 10 carbon papers to make 10 copies! We are in a situation here in the US where no one can register all the computers, no one can figure out where alll the copy machines are. Get one now! Remember we can do it without government money. Government money is poison, take it when you need it, but don't get hooked. We can say what we want. They can't possibly keep up with us all.Real decentralization!
JM:That's great, helping people to find their true desires, but do you think that we're so full of false, spectacle manufactured desires that we can no longer identify our true desires?
DD:I think it doesn't take that long to deprogram false desires. Anyone who knows that they have the desire to know that about themselves, what their true desires are, will find the tools to do it. Drugs, autohypnosis, you could also do it by following the false desires until they lead to a dead end like Blake recommended....
JM:Hmmm ... somehow that seems ... very American ...
DD:Hmmm ... You're right ...
9 April 1997
by Lee Ranaldo
In April 1997 I had the chance to connect via telephone with William Burroughs to ask him some questions about Morocco and the years he spent in Tanger. Having traveled there a few times myself recently, I was curious about the Maroc of the forties and fifties, when Tanger was classified an "International Zone" and the laws were famously lax. We spoke for about half an hour that afternoon;I got the impression William wasn't really up for much more than that; he was alert but sounding a bit weary.
It wasn't until some months later in a Kaatskill Mountain cabin that I dug out the cassette tape to transcribe. I spent the better part of that afternoon trying to decipher his gravelly drawl, and pondering his life's journey. On two occasions Sonic Youth had the opportunity to visit him at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, where he took great pleasure in showing us jewel-encrusted knives, gun catalogues, his beloved cats, and the Orgone box out back which he'd built himself, between the pond and garden. Two days later on August 2 I heard of his death. I felt I had just been conversing with him. Barely three months separated his death from that of his lifelong friend Allen Ginsberg.
This man, who spoke of language as a virus, had become subliminal, a skewed organism, rooting under the cultural skin of our time. Imagine a world un-cut-up, without his bone-dry timing, without The Soft Machine or Dr. Benway. Imagine how much vital, challenging work from the last few decades, in so many fields, might not exist without him.
Later in the month, when the New Yorker published his final journal entries, it was clear that he could see the end coming. And what was he left with? Here is his final entry, day before he died: "Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller. What there is. LOVE." Those are the thoughts he leapt off with. Even before the words make sense, that voice is digging in. Listen to him speak yr mind, find rock power writ in his pages, let yr fingernails be left uncleaned.
(loud dial tone and faint "hello, hello?"
touch tone phone tones
ringing 5 or 6 times)
WSB: eh, Hello?
LR: Is this William?
LR: Hi William, this is Lee Ranaldo in New York City.
LR: How are ya?
WSB: Oh, okay.
LR: Well you sound pretty good.
LR: Okay, I wanted to talk to you, for just a few minutes this afternoon, about Morocco, if you would.
WSB: Just a moment, I gotta get my drink.
(25 sec silence)
LR: Okay, first off, William, I'd like to say that I was very sad to hear about Allen, I know you guys have been friends for the longest time.
WSB: Yes. Yes, well he knew, he knew it. He faced it.
LR: It seems like he faced it in a very dignified way, actually.
WSB: Yep, he told me, "I thought I'd be terrified but I'm not at all"
LR: He did?
WSB: Yes, "I'm exhilarated!" he said.
LR: Well, I suppose if anyone had the right, uh, frame about them to go out that way, it was probably him. I was hoping to get one more visit in with him before he passed on, but that was not meant to be. I'm sure a lot of people felt the same. When was the last time you saw him?
WSB: Los Angeles. At my show there.
LR: I wanted to talk to you about Morocco a little bit. I've recently been to the country, a few times, and done some exploring, and I know you spent quite a bit of time in Tanger. I just wanted to pick yr brain about that a little bit. You went to Tanger for the first time in 1953, 1954?
WSB: Nineteen-fifty-four, I believe.
LR: How did you end up in Morocco? What was it about the place that drew you there? I mean, today there are a lot of different romantic associations with the coast of North Africa.
WSB: There were a lot more then than there are now, I can tell you that. You'll notice more subdivisions now, as it's modernized and is no longer cheap. For one thing, it was very cheap then. Yeah, man, I lived like a king for $200 a month.
LR: Did it have the same sort of appeal, then, that Berlin had in the sixties and seventies, an international zone of sorts?
WSB: Pretty much so. It was an anything goes place, and that's another plus.
LR: And that was pretty available knowledge, when you went there?
WSB: Oh sure.
LR: Had you known Paul Bowles, or known about him, before you went there?
WSB: I'd read his books. I didn't know him.
LR: Did you meet him fairly quickly after you were there?
WSB: Mmm, I'd been there for some time, I'd met him very slightly. Later we became quite good friends, but that was some years afterwards.
LR: Do you enjoy his writing?
WSB: Very much, very much. Very particular style, particularly in the end of Let It Come Down, that's terrific, terrific, and The Sheltering Sky is almost a perfect novel. The end of that, oh man, that quote: "At the end of the Arab quarter the car stopped; it was the end of the line." great!
LR: Did you know Jane (Bowles)?
WSB: Oh yes, quite well.
LR: What'd you think of her?
WSB: Oh she was incredible
LR: I've heard incredible things about her, she lived quite an interesting life herself, although I guess in general women in Morocco were very much invisible, in a certain way. Native women, at least.
WSB: It's a very complicated situation, very complex, and I don't pretend to know much about it. Jane Bowles was sort of known for her strange behavior. In New York they invited her to some party where all these powerful ladies were, and they asked her, "Mrs. Bowles, what do you think of all this?", and she said "Oh" and fell to the floor in quite a genuine faint. That was her answer!
LR: Did you pretty much exist within an expatriate community there, or did you have a lot of contact with the local people? Was is easy to have contact?
WSB: The local people, umm, I don't speak a fuckin' word of Arabic, but I speak a little Spanish, y'know, they all spoke Spanish in the Northern Zone. My relations were mostly with the Spanish. Spanish boys. And, of course, otherwise in the expatriate side.
LR: Right, but you didn't frequent the Barbara Hutton crowd?
LR: There was a description, in Barry Miles book (El Hombre Invisible), where he said that you felt very lonely and cut off, being isolated in this corner of North Africa.
WSB: It wasn't being in a corner of North Africa that made it so, it was the fact that I hadn't made many friends there.
LR: Was that a strange time for you? Living there without really knowing anyone?
WSB: Not particularly, I've visited many places alone, many times.
LR: Do you think that the general tenor of life in Morocco influenced the way you were writing at that point? The daily life coming out in some of the routines?
WSB: Probably. The more I was in that surrounding the more I liked it. More and more. Yeah, it was cheap, and then, I met this guy Dave Ulmer (?), who was Barnaby Bliss (his nom de plume). He was at work writing society columns for the Tanger paper, an English (language) paper, the Morocco Courier, run by an old expatriate named Byrd, William Byrd, an old Paris expat. [Ulmer/Bliss, a character of some unsavory repute, supposedly introduced WSB to Tanger's young boy homo-sex scene, and also, more importantly, to Paul Bowles]
LR: Did you do much traveling around Morocco while you were there, or did you pretty much just stick in Tanger?
WSB: I'm ashamed to say, not much. I went to Fes, I went to Marrakech, and passed through Casablanca, some other places there, I forget the names of the coastal towns, and I've been to Jajouka!
LR: Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that, I'm friendly with Bachir Attar, and the last time we were there I went to Jajouka as well. I saw your inscriptions in his big scrapbook, and heard some stories.
LR: How did you end up there?
WSB: Through Brion Gysin, more or less.
LR: What did you make of the music?
WSB: Great, great. I loved it. Magic, it really has a magical quality that you can't find anymore, anywhere. It's dying out everywhere, that quality.
LR: It still seems to be in evidence when they play today, I don't know if you've heard them recently.
WSB: Not recently, but I've heard the recordings, some of the recordings. Ornette Coleman made some, you know. I was there when he made those.
LR: Excuse me?
WSB: I was there.
LR: You were there when he made those (Dancing in Your Head) recordings?
WSB: That's right.
LR: Oh, gee, wasn't that in the 70's? I didn't know you were there when those recordings were happening.
WSB: Yeah, it was, '72, I think.
LR: Are you still in touch with Bachir?
WSB: No, not really.
LR: You were in touch with his father, I suppose.
WSB: Yes, I knew the old man, sure, I remember him. He was the leader of the group back then.
LR: How many musicians would you say were in the group back then?
WSB: Oh, I don't know, it would vary, I'd say about 12, 15.
LR: That's about how many there are today as well. What about at the 1001 Nights (Gysin's restaurant in Tanger), were the Jajouka musicians playing in there?
WSB: Well, various musicians. They had dancing boys in there, too. But I didn't know Brion too well, I was only there a couple of times. I didn't know him then. I became friendly with him in Paris, later.
LR: Were you involved much with the music there, in Morocco, in Tanger? Did it make any strong impression on you?
WSB: Well, I like the Moroccan music very much, the music is omnipresent. I'd be sitting at my desk and hear it outside. It was all around you.
LR: I'd like to hear your impressions of the kif smoking there, and the majoun.
WSB: Sure. Well, the kif smoking was, y'know, anywhere and everywhere. There were no laws.
LR: They sort of smoke it the way people have a drink here, as a social relaxant?
WSB: Well, not exactly the same way. In the first place, it's pretty much confined to men, though I suppose the women get to smoke on their own. But anyway, of course majoun is just a candy made from kif,the kif, you see, is mixed with tobacco.
WSB: I can't smoke it.
WSB: So I'd always get those boys with the tobacco, I'd tell 'em: 'I don't want the tobacco in it.' So I rolled my own, and made my own majoun. It's just a candy, it's pretty much like a Christmas pudding, any sort of candy works good, fudge or whatever.
LR: And how did you find it? Was the high pretty pleasing?
WSB: Very very very much. It was stronger than pot.
LR: Were you smoking a lot of that, or taking a lot of that, when you were writing some of the routines?
WSB: Yeah, sure. It helped me a lot.
LR: The place where you spent a lot of your time there (in Tanger), the Muniria (the famed "Villa Delirium")?
WSB: The Hotel Muniria, yes.
LR: Was it a hotel or a boarding house?
WSB: It was a hotel.
LR: That's where you wrote a lot of the routines that became Naked Lunch?
WSB: Quite a few of them, yes.
LR: And is that where Kerouac, Ginsberg and Orlovsky, those guys, came to visit you?
WSB: I was living there at that time, yes. They didn't, there wasn't a place in the Muniria, but they found various cheap places around very near there.
LR: I heard Kerouac had nightmares from typing up your stuff at that time.
WSB: (pauses) Well, he said.
LR: Was he the first one to actually sit down and type a bunch of that stuff up?
WSB: No, he was by no means the first. Alan Ansen did a lot of typing, and of course Allen Ginsberg. I don't know who was first but it wasn't Jack.
LR: Those guys came and went pretty quickly, compared with the amount of time you spent in Morocco, I guess they weren't as enamored of the place.
WSB: Well they were settled somewhere else. Now for example, Jack didn't like any place outside of America, he hated Tanger.
LR: I wonder why?
WSB: He hated Paris because they couldn't understand his French.
LR: His French was a Canadian dialect.
WSB: Those French Canadians got themselves into a language ghetto. Even the French people don't speak their language! Anyway, he'd been to Mexico quite a lot, more than many other places. He liked it there fairly well.
LR: But he didn't like it very much in Tanger?
WSB: No no, not at all.
LR: Was Tanger a violent place then?
WSB: It was never a violent place that I know of, never! Good God, I walked around in Tanger at all hours of the day and night, never any trouble. There's this idea that you go into the native quarter you immediately get stabbed (laughs) it's nonsense!
LR: Well, people do bring back those stories now and again.
WSB: Well, occasionally it happens, but it is much less dangerous that certain areas of New York, my God!
LR: If you can navigate the streets of New York you're in pretty good stead just about anywhere, I guess.
WSB: Yeah, that's right, you're much safer in Tanger than in New York.
LR: Were there many travelers or tourists in Morocco at that time?
WSB: Not many at all. It was nice. In the summer of course you had sometimes quite a few Scandinavians, Germans(laughs). Brian Howard said about the Swedes, I think it was: 'You're all ugly, you're all queer, and none of you have any money!'
LR: There was another quote in Miles' book, you saying that you'd "never seen so many people in one place without any money or the prospect of any money."
WSB: You certainly could live cheaply there, yes.
LR: Did Americans have to register with the police to live there?
WSB: Of course not, nothing, they had to do nothing. Well, they put in various regulations in town, you had to get a card. By the time we got our goddamn cards and stood in line and had to take all that crap, I had to get one of those in France, too, well, anyway, by that time they had another idea (laughs), so your card that you had acquired was worthless.
LR: When was the last time you were back in Morocco?
WSB: When in the hell was it? I went there with, the last time I went with Jeremy Thomas and David Cronenberg, apropos of possibly getting some shots, y'know.
LR: Oh, for the movie (Naked Lunch)?
WSB: Yeah, for the sets. Well, we just were there a couple of days. It had changed, not incredibly but considerably. There's been a lot of building up, a lot of sort of sub-divisions, it's gotten more westernized. There used to be a lot of good restaurants there, now there's only one, and that's in the Hotel Minza. These people I was with were saying 'Oh show me to a little place in the native quarter where the food is good.' and I said: 'There aren't no such places! Right here in your best food in Morocco, or in Tanger anyway, right in the Hotel Minza!' Well, they went out and they ate in an awful, greasy Spanish restaurant. After that they believed me!
LR: (laughs) They had to find out the hard way.
LR: Okay William, I think that that's gonna be good, that about covers the subjects I'd wanted to get at you with, on there.
WSB: Well fine.
LR: I appreciate your talking to me, it's a great pleasure to talk to you.
WSB: Well, it's my pleasure too.
LR: Okay, I hope to get another chance to come out and say hello to you out there in Lawrence.
WSB: That'd be fine.
LR: Y'know, I have one last question for you, is that, uh, typewriter still growing out in your garden?
WSB: (puzzled) What typewriter?
LR: Last time we were out there to visit, you had a typewriter growing in your garden amongst all the plants and things.
WSB: Oh, just one I threw away I guess.
LR: Yeah, it was a very beautiful image there, with the weeds coming up through the keys.
WSB: (laughs) I guess so, I don't remember the typewriter, I've gone through so many typewriters, wear 'em out and throw 'em away.
LR: Do you generally write with a computer these days?
WSB: I have no idea how to do it. No, I don't.
LR: Typewriter or longhand?
WSB: Typewriter or longhand, yes. These modern inventions! James [Grauerholz] has one, but I just don't.
LR: Okay, well listen William, I thank you very much. Please tell both Jim and James thanks for their help as well.
WSB: I certainly will.
LR: Okay, you take care.
WSB: You too.
LR: Bye bye.
WSB: Bye bye.
1. Have you ever seen the famous 1965 photo of the crowd of Beat writers outside the City Lights bookstore? The photo was taken by Larry Keenan (here he is, with the photo, and his wife Lisa), and I was pleased to receive email from the photographer himself a few months ago. He actually wrote to me to ask me to please stop using his photos without permission, but instead of being nasty about it (as I've heard other copyright-holders sometimes are), he simply asked me to credit him whenever I used one of his pictures, which I was happy to do. We then corresponded a few times, and when I asked him to tell me the story behind his most famous photo he told me this:
To answer your question briefly, Yes I did know what I was doing was important. In fact, this is what I was telling my parents when they did not want me going over to the city to photograph "those dirty beatniks". I had the good fortune to meet Michael McClure at Calif. College of Arts and Crafts where he was/is teaching and I was a student. My friend Dale Smith and I approached McClure about helping us with a project we were doing. During the course of our meeting he said "would you guys like to photograph some of my friends"? We asked "who are your friends"? Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, etc. We were blown-away. So for the next year or so we went over to his house most Saturdays and hung out for an hour or so and then went over to a Beat's house or apartment and spent the day photographing him or them. It was always a good experience. They were very nice to us. We were nice too, we gave them mounted prints. Pretty soon we were being invited to parties that we were told not to bring any cameras to.
To make a long story short. My parents made me mow the lawn before I could go over to SF and shoot the Last Gathering photo and the McClure, Dylan, Ginsberg photo.Mowing the lawn ... pretty classic. Anyway, there's a longer interview with Larry Keenan up at The BitWeaver's Loom, an art-oriented site he's involved with. It shows some of Keenan's newer computer-generated artwork as well as a few Beat photographs. Well worth checking out. A book of Keenan's photos will also be out soon, and several will be on display in New York City at Great Modern Pictures, 48 E. 82nd Street from Sept. 12 through Nov. 30.
2. Once again, the folks in Jack Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts are putting on a big Kerouac festival in October. Here's what's going on there. An appearance by Ed Sanders will be one of this year's highlights.
3. Allen Ginsberg News: Here's a page about the new State Of The Union double CD, produced by Elliot Sharp. It features a piece by Ginsberg, along with 145 (!) other pieces. Profits go to the National Coalition Against Censorship, which sounds like a pretty good cause to me. Also, there's an interview with Ginsberg here. Finally, the word is out that Ginsberg has recorded a version of his "Ballad Of The Skeletons" with a pretty impressive group of musicians: Paul McCartney, Lenny Kaye, Philip Glass and Marc Ribot. Should be interesting!
4. The new Enterzone is out, and after a nine-month hiatus I'm in it again! It's nice to be back. Still my favorite zine.
"His Swiftian vision of a processed, pre-pakeaged life, of a kind of elctro-chemical totalitarianism, often evokes the black laughter of hilarious horror."
"Burroughs is the greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift."
"The only American writer possessed by genius."
"Burroughs shakes the reader as a dog shakes a rat."
"An integrity beyond corruption...Burroughs convinces us he has seen things beyond description."
"One of the most dazzling magicians of our time."
---John Rechy, "The Ticket is Exploding"
"With suffering comes humility and with it in the end, wisdom."
At 82, William Seward Burroughs II, El Hombre Invisible, Literary Outlaw, Commandeur de l'Ordre de Arts et des Lettres, is rapidly becoming the most respected, highly regarded writer in America, in the world.
"All at once I snapped my fingers a couple of times
and laughed. Hellfire and damnation! I suddenly
imagined I had discovered a new word! I sat up in
bed, and said: It is not in the language, I have
discovered it - Kuboaa. It has letters just like
a real word, by sweet Jesus, man, you have discovered
a word!...Kuboaa...of tremendous linguistic
significance. The word stood out clearly in front
of me in the dark."
Burroughs? No. Knut Hamsun. In 1890, with the publication of "Hunger," the first purely psychological novel(yes I'm ready to argue), Hamsun turned the literary world upside-down and spun it around. In 1959, 69 years after Hamsun's breakthrough, with the release of "Naked Lunch," William S. Burroughs, explorer in the most real mythological sense, whose search for The Word has, does and will take him anywhere outside and inside himself, did what only a small handful of "literari" have achieved in the history of writing: He forever redirected the course of literature in a way that permanently altered language, culture and seeing.
So, what the hell is Old Bull Lee up to? Retired and enjoying good health, does he rest on his arse? No. He is busy working his arts off, dreaming, seeing, reading and representing new and old visions on paper, canvas, vinyl,tape, disk, CD-Rom, your brain and mine.
Dream long and dream hard enough
But rumors abound: He's kept tied to his bed and forced to use a
chamber pot; he still takes heroin; he moved to central America (USA) because
land was cheap and he knows it's about to become beachfront property since
East and West coasts willbe falling into oceans any day now; he's dead; he
shoots obsessed, fatal-attraction European midnight visitors with a shotgun.
You will come to know
Dreaming can make it so
---William S. Burroughs
Come on people. Wake up. Sober down. William Burroughs is harassed day and night by folks from around the world showing up, without invitation, notice or warning, banging on doors and windows, camping in his yard, trying to get a glimpse of the legend.
The man is 82. Let's show respect for his privacy as we do for his work, as we would expect and demand given the good fortune of being in his position. He receives requests every day for interviews, visits, readings, recordings and films. He does what he can, and always, always in the friendliest manner. (And no, he hasn't shot or threatened anyone.)
William's latest books include "My Education: A Book of Dreams" and "Ghost of Chance." Recent audiowork includes "Naked Lunch,""X-Files CD," plus, he is now in studio recording "Junky" and enjoying it so much he may go right into "Queer."
Two historic Burroughs events are taking place this summer. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (you can contact them at 212-857-6522) is premiering the exhibition "Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts" on July 16 through October 6. The event, curated by Robert Sobieszek, is the first-ever retrospective surveying Burroughs' career, with 153 works, beginning with his 1960s and early 1970s photocollages, scrapbooks, and his collaborations with Brion Gysin on photomontage "cut-ups." The exhibition will also include Burroughs' later shotgun art and recent abstract painting, and will explore how his work has influenced today's cultural landscape, resulting in the absorption of his ideas and routines into newer art, advertising and current popular culture.
The second event is The New Orleans Voices Without Restraint INSOMNIACATHON at the Contemporary Arts Center and The Howlin' Wolf Club, the largest Beat gathering of the year, where Mayor Mark Morial, James Grauerholz, Doug Brinkley, and others will speak with Burroughs over the phone. (For more information contact Ron Whitehead at 502-568-4956.)
Yes, the ticket is exploding. The walls of the literary world, the world of culture, are crumbling, and through the gaping holes strides the drawling wordslinger with an attitude, William Seward Burroughs II.
William S. Burroughs: Hello?
Ron Whitehead: William?
Whitehead: Ron Whitehead.
WSB: Well, well, Ron Whitehead.
Whitehead: How the hell are you?
WSB: How what?
Whitehead: How are you?
WSB: Well, I'm fine, thank you.
Whitehead: As you recall, I produced your "Published in Heaven: Remembering Jack Kerouac poster and chapbook," plus I sent you my "Calling the Toads" poem & I'm right now producing the William S. Burroughs/Sonic Youth 7" vinyl recording for our audio series.
WSB: Oh, of course, yes, yes.
Whitehead: I just received letters from Rene in Amsterdam. He says that after my reading at the Meer den Woorden Festival in Goes, Holland he started having dreams in which you and I taught him how to save the world. I'm forwarding the letters to you.
WSB: How old is he? I think I remember him. What does he look like?
Whitehead: Early 20s. Blond. Handsome. Friendly. Intelligent. Knows the history of the Beats inside out. He writes from a mental hospital in Amsterdam.
WSB: Hmm. Not sure. Perhaps.
Whitehead: Reason I'm calling is that Doug Brinkley has asked me to produce an event in New Orleans in August. It will be the largest Beat gathering of the year. RANT for the literary renaissance and The Majic Bus will present the event, called Voices Without Restraint: 48-Hour Non-Stop Music & Poetry INSOMNIACATHON. As part of the event, we'll hold a City of New Orleans Presentation Ceremony, dedicating to you the historic marker which will be erected at your Algiers home, which was made famous by Jack Kerouac in "On the Road." And we'd like to have a live phone conversation with you during the presentation.
WSB: Why certainly. Yes, yes. I'm honored.
Whitehead: Good. Just a few questions.
WSB: Fine. Shoot.
Whitehead: Why did you decide to settle in Algiers, which at that time was home to various military bases, rather than in one of the traditional bohemian neighborhoods?
WSB: Yes. Because it was a hell of a lot cheaper. Real estate there was the cheapest. I got that house for $7,000 something.
Whitehead: Any memories of different New Orleans neighborhoods you visited, music, riding the ferry?
WSB: The Quarter, strange plays...Didn't get around too much.
Whitehead: The New Orleans Police have come under attack recently -- imagine that -- for corruption. A cop hired executioners to kill a woman who signed a brutality complaint against him. Louisiana police cars have "So no one will have to fear" inscribed on their sides. Do you have any observations about the New Orleans police, about the illegal search of your home there, or the firearms they confiscated?
WSB: No. They never laid a finger on me, as far as any brutality goes. They did lead me to believe that one of them was a federal agent when he wasn't. He was a city cop. So there was an illegal search. But I didn't know it at the time. The next day, I was arrested. There was someone with me I hardly knew. He was just introduced to me. He had one joint on him. He'd thrown out larger amounts but still had one, and they found it right away. Then the next day they went in and took my car and I never got it back, though I wasn't convicted of anything. See, they can confiscate your property even though you're not convicted of anything. And that's really scary sinister.
Whitehead: Both our political parties are looking like a bird with two right wings.
Whitehead: The police are gaining more powers daily as our personal freedoms are disappearing.
WSB: See, that's what I say. The whole drug war is nothing but a pretext to increase police power and personnel, and that, of course, is dead wrong. So many created imagined drug offenses.
Whitehead: New Orleans has North America's largest magic community. In recent years you've spoken bluntly about your interest in magic. In New Orleans did you encounter magic in any form?
WSB: No, I didn't.
Whitehead: There may be irony in having a literary marker commemorate your Algiers home, a place where you lived briefly, perhaps unhappily. Did you produce any writing there?
WSB: Oh yes, quite a bit. And I wouldn't say I was particularly unhappy there.
Whitehead: So it wasn't all that bad?
WSB: No, it wasn't. Not at all.
Whitehead: Jack Kerouac devoted a large section of "On the Road," on the New Orleans visit.
WSB: Oh well, Kerouac was writing fiction. What he did when he wrote about me...he made me out with Russian Countesses and Swiss accounts and other things I didn't have or didn't happen and so on. Yet...some truth, some fiction.
Whitehead: You have dramatically influenced music, literature, film, art, advertising and culture in general. Are you intrigued by that influence? How did you first become conscious of other people's perception of you as icon?
WSB: Well, slowly of course. Over time. Reading the paper, magazines, journals, that sort of thing.
Whitehead: The request for interviews becomes absurd after a while. This is the first and last one I intend to do. I feel uncomfortable in the position of interviewer.
WSB: Yes, it becomes absurd because interviewers generally ask the same questions, say the same things.
Whitehead: Recently you've been barraged with interview requests, especially in relation to the deaths of Timothy Leary and Jan Kerouac.
WSB: Yes, of course I knew Leary, but barely knew, didn't really know Jan. James knew her, was friends with her, but I didn't.
Whitehead: Hunter S. Thompson, who I like so much, is, like me, from Louisville and you're from just up the road in St. Louis. I recently visited Hunter at his home in Colorado. Hunter said he thought he was a pretty good shot until he went shooting with you.
WSB: I'll put it like this: Some days you're good and some you aren't.
Whitehead: You must have been good that day. Hunter was real impressed.
WSB: Well, he gave me a great pistol.
Whitehead: Like Hunter, some people would say that you're a Southern gentleman with a world literary reputation, but both you and Hunter have escaped the Southern-writer label. Any comments?
WSB: I escaped the label because I didn't and don't write about the South.
Whitehead: Do you have a personal favorite of your own readings? I know you've been in the studio recording "Junky."
WSB: No, I don't have any special favorite.
Whitehead: Other than Brion Gysin, is there anyone you miss the most?
WSB: When you get to be my age there are more and more people you have known that you miss. Brion, Antony Balch, Ian Summerville are ones I think of right away I was quite close to.
Whitehead: Diane di Prima is underrated, underappreciated in the world. Her autobiography will be released by Viking Penguin in April '97. I hope she'll finally receive credit that's long overdue.
WSB: Yes, I hope so too.
Whitehead: You've had much to say about Samuel Beckett. Beckett's mentor, James Joyce, was an anarchist who devoted his life work to undermining and deconstructing the dominant paradigm of patriarchy in government, religion, family and literature. I'm doing research asking The Beats what influence James Joyce had, if any, on their writing. How do you feel about Joyce?
WSB: Well he's great, a very great writer. Any modern writer is bound to be influenced by Joyce. Of course, by Beckett as well.
Whitehead: I had a long conversation with Allen Ginsberg about Bob Dylan. Allen talked about his personal feelings towards Dylan and also about Dylan's work. Allen said he felt like Dylan would be remembered long after The Beats and he added reasons why. This is a strong statement, especially coming from Allen Ginsberg. Do you have any comments on this?
WSB: No, I don't. Not in any cursory way. Of course, I've listened to and know his music and met him a couple of times, but I don't have any strong statements to make.
Whitehead: John Giorno is giving me an out-take from The Best of Bill CD box set he's producing. As part of White Fields Press' Published in Heaven series, I'm producing a 7" vinyl recording with you on one side and Sonic Youth on the other. Lee Ranaldo has stopped by to visit you. How much are you able to keep up with music today?
WSB: Some much more than others. I've worked with and am very good friends with Patti Smith and Jim Carroll.
Whitehead: How do you feel about this historic marker?
WSB: Fine. Fine. It's an honor like the French Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Commander of Arts and Letters. Commander of Arts and Letters.
CALLING THE TOADSHummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Calling the toads Calling the toads We shall come rejoicing Calling the toads one step out the door off the step goin down swingin in a peyote amphetamine benzedrine dream I'm five years old I am the messenger holdin William Burroughs' Bill Burroughs' Old Bull Lee's hand holdin Bill's hand on some lonely godforsakinuppermiddleclassSt.Louisstreet and we're hummin we're hummin we're hummin in tones we're hummin in tones callin the toads oh yeah we're callin the toads Bill's eyes twinklin glitterin a devilish grin crackin the corners of his mouth and I'm lookin him right smack in the eyes deep in the eyes I'm readin his heroined heart yes I'm readin his old heart but it ain't the story I expected as we move this way and that raisin and lowerin out heads our voices callin the toads and here they come marchin high and low from under the steps from under the shrooms of the front yard from round the corner of the house fallin from the trees rainin down here come the toads all sizes and shapes all swingin and swayin and dancin that magic Burroughs Beat yes here come the toads singin and swayin and swingin their hips now standin all round us hundreds thousands of toads eyes bulgin tongues stickin out hard dancin a strange happy vulgar rhythmed dance for Burroughs and me yes Burroughs yes Burroughs yes Burroughs I see his heart and I know his secret a secret no one has discovered til now but I'll never tell never reveal as I witness this sacred scene this holy ceremony this gathering this universal song and dance I witness through the eyes the heart of William S. Burroughs King of the Toads Calling the toads Calling the toads We shall come rejoicing Calling the toads hummmm
Pat Gallagher writes:
I'd been at Caere for about four months when I went out for drinks with the after-work party crowd at the Black Watch, a dirty, sleazy, scummy little bar which is for some reason wildly popular with the local yuppies and college crowd. People were astonished to see me as apparently my department doesn't get out much.
After about an hour in this packed crowd all chowing down beers and kamikazes and burritos, a guy with longish blond hair and a beard walked in. The whole crowd looked up and yelled, "John!" just like Cheers. He immediately got a bunch of drink offers. The only empty chair was next to me so he sat down, stuck out his hand, and said, "Hi. I'm John." "I know," I said, meaning I had just heard about 20 people shout his name. "I'm Pat."
Now we must cut to John's perspective. He said later he'd seen me around the halls and liked me, knew my name, wanted to get to know me better. When he came in he saw me and thought, "There's that woman! And there's a chair by her!" So when I said I knew who he was, naturally he thought, "Ah, she's up on the Cassady thing."
So he proceeded, after a few work questions, to launch into the story of his life: where he'd lived, how he moved into various great houses, how he got his job, the people he knew, all about his dad. I thought he was one of the friendliest guys I'd ever met. He told me a story about coming out in the kitchen when he was 12 and seeing his dad rolling up acid in his sleeves. "Your FATHER?" I said. "Oh yeah," he replied as if this were a normal everyday activity, which perhaps it was. "You sure had an interesting father," I said. "Yeah," he said with a shrug, as if he heard this a lot. This kind of puzzled me.
After more stories of his dad and life, he suddenly asked, "Do you know who Neal Cassady was?" (Later, he said I seemed a little lost in the conversation and just wanted to make sure we were on the same track.) "Sure," I said, surprised anyone could think I was so rampantly uncool as to NOT know, "he drove the bus!" John nodded and continued on with his tales. He was too polite to mention that period of time was one of his family's least favorite to recall about Neal.
Now, by this time I knew John's last name but did not make the connection because I thought the family name was spelled Cassidy, with an "I." I had assumed the Dead song of the same name was about the man--which it is, in many ways (read the Barlow posting). I had even seen John's name plate on his cube and hummed a few bars as I passed by.
Finally, wrapping up, John said, "Yeah, it's nice--I still get calls and letters from all over the world from fans of my father."
"Wait a second," I said. "WHO was your father?"
John looked at me in utter astonishment. "Neal Cassady!" he said. "I thought you knew!"
"No, I didn't know." I think I had a classic pop-eyed, slack-jawed expression. MAN, was I embarrassed.
John immediately apologized. He hates to see people uncomfortable. "I'm sorry--I thought you knew! I'm embarrassed! I've been rambling on ..."
"No, I'm embarrassed," I said and so we were both mutually embarrassed and jabbering at each other. This was quite amusing when we looked back at it months later. John got up to get a drink and I immediately moved to another seat, too mortified to speak to him and pretty stunned to think that I'd been merrily talking away to Neal Cassady's son about my own minor exploits. (Later that night John, in his kind way, thanked me for telling him such interesting stories.)
John had let me bum cigarettes from him during this time, and several people had bought me drinks cuz I'd come along with no money and no cigarettes, the perfect party guest. John was gone awhile, so I began offering his cigarettes to anyone who wanted one ("They're John's! Want one?"), with the result, I think, that we actually smoked them all. It was a pretty snockered crew of people. An ice cube fight broke out then so I said goodbye, staggered home, and told everyone I knew that I'd met Neal Cassady's son and that we worked in the same place. This impressed Beat/60's fans no end, especially my brother (who constantly reminds me, "I'm the one who first told you about Neal Cassady").
I woke up mortified and hungover the next day, thinking about what a jerk John must think I was and how I'd bummed all his cigarettes to boot. As it happened, he worked two cubes away (I never really knew this) and often came to the cube on the other side of the wall from me to talk to his coworker. I saw his neon blond head over the wall and he said, "Hey, Pat. That was fun last night." I agreed it was, apologized for bumming all his cigs ("No problem," he said) and for being dense and we talked over each other along these lines: Cassady assumptions, cigarettes, fun time, do it again sometime, etc.
A couple of days after making a fool of myself in the bar with John, I saw him in the company breakroom. "Hey John," I said. "I figured out why I didn't know who you were. See, your name is spelled with an "a" and I knew the song "Cassidy" was about your father so I thought that was how you spelled your name."
"Oh, yeah, I was talking to Weir once about that," said John, SO casually. "He said the song was actually written about a little girl named Cassidy."
Wow, I thought. If he meant to impress me by name-dropping, he did. (I'm easily impressed. I once snagged a guitar pick from the stage of NRBQ and was thrilled. I got two feet away from Jerry Garcia's sneakers above me on the stage at a Dead show and can still remember the toes of his shoes.) I asked John if he was going to the company picnic--there was a sign-up list in the room--and he signed up right away. "Man, in the old days, everyone would just get HAMMERED at these lunch picnics and then come back to work," he said, laughing. "It was great."
I thought this was pretty funny cuz everyone seemed rather staid at work. I did see John at the picnic and wanted to say hi, but he was off blabbing with bunches of people, many of whom were getting hammered. I was still rather in awe of the legend behind John at this point and didn't approach him though he came up to me later and complimented me on my frisbee playing.
Now I'm cutting out a lot of long blather and details that I told Levi. I didn't really want to print this story, telling him: "I'm not sure just how fascinating this would be to Beat fans who most likely wouldn't give a flying **** about JC's little girlfriend... " And Levi replied, "Maybe everybody won't care about "JC's little girlfriend" -- but people who come in to LitKicks are already used to my own rambling style, and if they don't mind me blabbing about my kids and my job and my favorite novels in a site that's supposed to be about Kerouac and Ginsberg, I'm sure they'd cut you some slack too."
I'm banking on this assurance..
Here's a side note about the picnic where I played frisbee: After John and I had been dating for a couple weeks at the end of the summer (about six months later), he went to a company function with his department on a Friday night. At the time, his coworker Pam was still with the company and they hung out a lot together that evening, talking. John kept calling her "Pat." Now Pam, who is very volatile and blunt, hates being called anything but Pam. Finally she screamed at him, "My name is PAM John! Stop calling me PAT!" John apologized and said, "I'm sorry Pat--Pam, I don't know why I keep calling you that."
Pam rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, JOHN. EVERYONE knows you're in love with Pat Gallagher. I saw you watching her at the PICNIC!" He was totally taken aback by this. He didn't think anyone knew we were dating and here Pam was talking about an incident that had happened six months before, when we had barely talked twice. I thought it was hysterical.
John and I rehash this and other meetings that led to the great romantic moment when we actually started dating; we go over each detail until it's secured in our minds, and then work it through again. Irish blood and a love of storytelling, I guess. I wish I remembered all the stories he told me in the bar that first night, but we all were pretty plowed and I've heard plenty of good ones since from both him and his family. They talk about Jack and Neal and Allen as if they're just old Uncle Bob and Aunt Martha, the interesting ones in the family, instead of these amazing legends that knock Beat fans silly with even a mention of their names.
Ah, but I rave on. John's got plenty to say, so go read him now. Enjoy.
Pat Gallagher went to Lowell recently, and took this photo of Jack Kerouac's grave. She'd placed Neal's two posthumous books, "The First Third" (his unfinished autobiography) and "Grace Beats Karma" (his letters from Prison) on the gravestone, and I found this reuniting of the two old friends, who'd died a year apart, pretty touching.
I enjoyed working on this interview very much. What I liked best was that none of the three of us, John or Pat or myself, knew what we wanted to get out of the project. Most of the time we even forgot that we were supposed to be conducting an interview, and just had a good time exchanging friendly insults (Pat was pretty good at this, though I am the champ) or chatting about our mundane and, sometimes, not-so-mundane lives.
What is here is only a sample of the conversations I saved -- many of them were interesting but not relevant enough to include in the "real" interview. Like this exchange, which took place after John and I discovered we were both into Marx Brothers movies:
John: Duck Soup is my favorite. A buddy and I opened an alternative cinema in a college town in '72 and showed all of them as well as W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, etc. Two shows per night for a week; I saw them all 14 times each and know every line.
Me: That's great. My favorite was prob. Horsefeathers, like when Groucho is in the canoe with Thelma Todd and she says "will big strong man give icky baby the bad little football signals?" and he says "Was that you or the duck? Because if it was you I'm going to finish the ride with the duck?"
John: And then he sings "Everyone Says 'I Love You'" while accompanying himself on guitar, at which he was quite proficient, a leftover from their old vaudeville acts. He used surprisingly sophisticated diminished chords as passing phrases in that arrangement (not that I studied it or anything) and of course finishes by throwing the guitar into the lake, argh! But showing future Pete Townshends how it's done. Chico's version of the song had a great line: "The great big mosquito and-a he sting you" (had to have been there). Zeppo turned it into a torch ballad, and of course Harpo ripped it up on the harp. Horsefeathers was indeed a classic I had (almost) forgotten.
I don't know if anybody will fully believe this, but I knew all about those diminished chords.
Anyway, here are some Neal and Neal-related links from the rest of my web pages.
"Cassidy's Tale" by John Perry Barlow
Ken Schumacher's Cassady Quest
John Cassady's Letter about Jerry Garcia
Yet another interview with John Cassady, this time with his two sisters, conducted by Bill Horbaly, who is also a member of the extended Cassady family.
"On The Road"
My Carolyn Cassady Page
My Jack Kerouac Page
My Ken Kesey Page
Another "Beat Child": Parrot Fever, a Story by Jan Kerouac
* * * * *
So what have you been up to lately? Where do you work, what do you do for fun, etc.?
Let's start at the beginning. First, the Earth cooled ...
No, we'll skip to my birth in San Francisco, 9/9/51. By about age three we had settled in Los Gatos, a small town in the foothills 50 miles south of SF, which I've gravitated back to ever since. While living in the coastal resort town of Santa Cruz for most of the '70's, what I lacked in career motivation I made up for in life experience and having fun. Along the way I harvested a son, Jamie Neal, born 8/18/75, who still lives with me while attending a local community college, and I also tried my hand at marriage on two occasions in different decades.
I moved back to Los Gatos and Silicon Valley in 1983 to pursue a career in (what else?) electronics and computers. The field wasn't my first choice, preferring to play guitar in rock bands, but, as they say, "when in Rome." My music career certainly couldn't be counted upon to pay the bills. So I've been fairly settled since then, having lived in the same house in south San Jose for the past seven years.
My '90s lifestyle is much more stable and less crazy than in years past. For the past 12 years I've been with Caere Corporation, producer of page-reading software and scanner systems, in (where else?) Los Gatos. It's a good gig and I'm reasonably comfortable.
And for fun? Sorry, no time. Actually, I like to hang out with my girlfriend Pat and read, watch flicks or whatnot. Occasionally I'll dust off the guitars to play with friends at open mike nights or recording sessions. Then there's always the unabashed self-promotion on the Net! (This is my first, honest). So that about sums it up in one, long paragraph. Pretty frigging boring, eh?
Tell me more about your music.
I listened to KEWB, Channel 91, out of San Francisco as a little kid. I dug stuff like Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash" and all the novelty songs like "The Flying Purple People Eater" and "Monster Mash." Everything by Ray Stevens and the Coasters. My parents were into cool jazz, of course, which was a great influence later. "Sketches of Spain" by Miles is permanently imprinted in my brain, after so many nights falling asleep to that album drifting in from the party in the living room.
At age 13, three pals and I bought Beatle wigs, put up posters around the neighborhood, and put on a "show." We set up a picnic table with Hi-fi speakers hidden underneath, and actually climbed up there and played tennis rackets (and a wash tub) while lip synching to the Beatles "Second Album". Dweeb city. The girls loved us. I had found my calling.
I met a blues-harp player in college, an ex-Marine just out of Vietnam named Matt Shaw. He learned blues harp by hiding in the ammo bunker under his fire base near Laos and playing Paul Butterfield's classic "East/West" album over and over. What a killer harmonica player Matt was by the time I met him. He lived in a little house out in the middle of this huge orchard where we made big noise without complaints.
We got pretty good and eventually quit college and moved to a little town called Felton in the San Lorenzo Valley of the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by redwood trees and hippies. We named our new band The Feltones. Actually, "Those" Fabulous Feltones is what we decided on because it had a more notorious ring to it. And notorious we were. The drummer was a madman. Triple Scorpio coke dealer; need I say more? The girls loved him. He even stole my old lady for a while, but we were all friends. We played venues like the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, the Chateau Liberte and the Town & Country Lodge in Ben Lomond, all legendary bars back when SC was wild. I could write volumes. Someday I will; "The Adventures of The Fabulous Feltones."
What were some of your favorite Dead songs?
I saw them a lot in the Sixties, and then our paths didn't cross for many years, so I missed most of their later albums. In fact, I couldn't win any trivia contests after "American Beauty," although I listened to "Europe '72" quite a bit at the time. I loved their first album, and figured out every Dexedrine-propelled Jerry lick on it that I could as a wanna-be guitarist. "Viola Lee Blues," etc. I loved Pig Pen's version of "Love Light." We'd stand under him stoned at the Avalon Ballroom in SF and not even notice that he'd drag it out to 45 minutes sometimes. Every track on "Workingman's Dead." Of course "Casey Jones." "Dire Wolf" especially reminds me of Jerry now (since August 9th). Dead standards like "Ripple," "Birdsong" and many I can't recall right now are great. I leaned toward the Garcia/Hunter compositions.
Do you have kids?
I'm a single parent with my twenty-year-old son living with me. I've been married and divorced twice. Pat and I have been an item for exactly one year now, the proverbial office romance. My son's name is Jamie, named for one of my sisters, and he is working and attending a local community college. He turned out pretty good, although I don't see much of him. He and his girlfriend come up for air every few days and I catch sight of him then. I was going to name him Cody, after the character Pomerey in Jack's Visions of. His middle name is Neal.
BEING NEAL'S SON
Do you get a lot of recognition in your everyday life for being Neal's son?
Naw. There's always been the occasional letter or call.
Has the interest increased recently, or not? And does it bug you?
I love it. Who else gets to garner attention and strokes for something they had nothing whatsoever to do with? The only thing that's a little scary is having to carry the torch someday. My mother's got so many stories and knowledge that hasn't been shared. I don't think I can adequately represent the legend with authority, so most of the good stuff will be lost with her passing.
I've bragged to all my friends about getting e-mail from you already
-- but I'm keeping your email address to myself, or else god knows what kind of weirdos you'd start hearing from (and that's just my friends ...)
But it must be a funny thing being Neal Cassady's son, because while he is so well-known and beloved in some circles, I would guess that most people in America have never heard of him. Just how much has being 'Neal's son' colored your identity in life?
Being the son of an infamous "legend" is a constant source of surprise, amazement and pride. Surprise and amazement because, to this day, I can't believe how many people HAVE heard of him. Pride because, although I had nothing to do with the legend's conception, I agree with those that regard the man as something special on this planet. Of course, my perspective is somewhat biased, having loved him as a father as well as a hip icon. I feel fortunate that I was in the unique position to do both.
I've been blessed with the opportunity to meet so many fascinating individuals who operate on levels of art and wisdom that I admire and to which I long to aspire. Doors of opportunity have been opened, most of which I haven't taken advantage of, I guess for fear of exploiting something intangible that I don't think is mine to abuse. But the outpouring of friends and fans has always been a pleasant surprise over the years and is something I still think is great.
Beat aficionados like me have heard 'Visions of Neal' from many people -- Jack Kerouac (of course), Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Charles Bukowski, John Perry Barlow, your mother, etc. How about your visions -- can you give us a memory or two we haven't heard before?
By far the number one question asked re: Neal is: "Did you ever know/see/remember your father?" And a good question it is, too, because he was everywhere else at once. The more I learn about his life from other sources, the more I'm amazed that I ever did see him, much less how much. It's simply astounding. He really was everywhere at the same time. How he pulled it off, we'll never know.
To me he was Dad, although admittedly he was absent more than I would have liked. But my memories are almost as plentiful as if I had been brought up by "normal" parents.
What was it like being a kid in the back seat with "the fastest man alive" behind the wheel?
Those are images I'll never forget. On Friday nights he would take me, and sometimes one or two of my best buddies, to the quarter-mile oval race track called San Jose Speedway out in the dusty fields about 10 miles from our home in Los Gatos. Driving there and back was most of the adventure, especially on the return trip, after he'd watch his heroes slide the midget racers sideways around the track all night. I can still smell the tire dust and fuel fumes that would drive Dad into a frenzy. He'd get so excited that he'd elbow me in the ribs and point till I was bruised, but I loved every minute of it. Of course, at the age of 10 or so, I was usually more interested in crawling around under the bleachers or going for an ice cream sandwich. I was always getting lost, especially when my friends came along.
While driving, he was fond of jerking the steering wheel to the beat of the rock and roll on the car radio. Chuck Berry was one of his favorites, and songs like "Maybelline" and "Nadine" fit him to a T. Two pals and I would be in the back seat and knock heads every time he jerked the car onto two wheels side to side going down the freeway, and we'd giggle uncontrollably and hold our sides. My friends thought he was about the coolest dad on the planet. Their parents probably didn't agree.
There was a guy named Roy who owned Los Gatos Tire Service who gave Dad a job when no one else would after he was released from San Quentin. Neal had the drug rap on his record which was, in 1960, tantamount to being an ax murderer. No one asked if he'd been sent up for two sticks of tea. Old Roy could have cared less.
Roy was known to have a drink or two, and died sometime in the '70s, but not before repeating some of his favorite Neal stories to a young man who worked there starting in about '72. I ran into this guy by coincidence when I had some tire work done at the present location of the shop, and after seeing my last name on the work order, he was glad to share some of Roy's stories with me. Roy's favorite was how Neal would drive his car down from our house, which was two miles up a hill from the tire shop, without the benefit of brakes, an almost obsessive pastime of Dad's. I believe this would have been the '49 Pontiac. Anyway, he would time it perfectly every morning so the car would bump up into the driveway (after having slowed it by rubbing curbs when necessary), he would then hop out in front of the garage doors, and the car would continue along the flat driveway, the door flapping shut, and on out to the back dirt parking lot, where it would nudge over a small mound so the front wheels would rock back and forth to settle into the dirt trough beyond. It never failed to amaze and delight Roy.
Another amazing story, which I can't verify but is great, has it that one night Roy passed Neal going the other way through town and waved. Neal threw the car into reverse and caught up with Roy, the transmission screaming, and chatted with him door to door while driving backwards, glancing back occasionally for oncoming traffic. Dad had a penchant for driving in reverse, probably because the steering is so squirrely, like driving a fork lift. He was proud of his downhill-in-reverse speed record on Lombard Street, the twisty tourist trap in SF.
You were Jack Kerouac's godson, and there are several references to you and your sisters in the Kerouac/Cassady letters. What do you remember of him?
My memories of Jack are few and sketchy; mostly just images of him rather than conversations. My sisters would remember more. The images are hazy from when he was around a lot at the new Los Gatos house because I was under five.
I better recall being around age ten and going to Big Sur when he was living in Ferlinghetti's cabin in Bixby Canyon, driving down in Dad's new (to us) Willys jeep wagon, what a ride! Jack took time to instruct me on the nuances of packing a proper rucksack and keeping my socks dry. I confused him with Jack London when he was in his plaid-wool-shirt-in-the-woods phase. We would wander down the creek trail to the beach and stand in front of the immense surf which seemed to tower over us like a wall of water as in "The Ten Commandments." He would yell into the din with arms outstretched; I'd explore an old wrecked car resting on its top at the foot of the cliff, looking for skeletons. I had no idea he was loaded on wine and/or pot the whole time, and wouldn't have cared less.
He was funny and kind and gentle and took a goofy interest in our kid stuff that parents might find tedious. At least that's my impression after all these years.
Ginsberg, of course, was around a lot more in years to come, and I still see him whenever possible.
What was the first Kerouac book that you read? What did you think of it, and what do you think of him as a writer now?
I first read "On the Road" at about age 15. I dug it but forgot most of it until just this year when I read it again and really enjoyed it. I also read "Dharma Bums" as a teenager and thought it pretty good, but I was never much of a reader, being too busy goofing off, which I now regret. I made a stab at the rest of Jack's stuff and couldn't make sense of it. I frankly think it reads like drunken ramblings that one must struggle to comprehend. Such blasphemy from his Godson!
Was it obvious to you as a child that Jack had romantic feelings for your mother?
I had no clue about an intimate relationship between Jack and my mom until I was grown. By that time I thought it was far out, to use the vernacular of the times. I was a baby when all this was going on, but I think Jack always carried the torch. Toward the end, he would call at like 3:00 AM drunk and ramble and rave, my mom trying to politely get him off the phone. I answered one night and only vaguely remember him crying "Johnny!" and "I have to speak to Carolyn!" I handed her the phone with a "whoa!" as she looked worried. We were more sad than surprised upon his demise.
(I asked John about the new Coppola movie of "On The Road," and this led to a discussion of a previous, less-than-satisfying attempt at translating the Kerouac/Cassady legend onto film. 'Heart Beat' was based on the book of the same title by John's mother, Carolyn Cassady. I mentioned that I'd never seen a copy of this book, though I'd read and enjoyed her later book, "Off The Road.")
"Heart Beat" has been out of print for twenty years, so don't bother. It's actually only an excerpt of "Off the Road," anyway. A publisher in Berkeley chopped the juicy chapters out of her original manuscript, the menage a trois parts, and sold that, a travesty taken out of context. Then, as you know, Orion picked up the movie rights and made an even worse film of it. Nolte, I thought, wasn't as bad as the script and director. We were disgusted, especially since they promised some creative control.
But did you think Nolte captured your father at all? Obviously you would know best ... as I said in my review of the movie in Literary Kicks, though, Nolte's schtick seems to be the surly, snarling kinda-deep-and-sad tough guy, which is not at all my image of your father.
An astute observation. Nolte's whole persona is the antithesis of Neal's. Every film Nick is in, that's Nick. He talks and acts the same off the set. He certainly tried hard on "Heart Beat", though. He told me he had studied Neal a lot and based his previous movie's character on him. It was a war flick called "Who'll Stop the Rain?" Looked like Nick to me. The only time he came at all close in HB was the last scene when he calls Carolyn from the phone booth burned out. He sounded sad enough for that stage of life.
I flew down to watch them film, and fell in love with Sissy Spacek, what a doll she was. (Her husband agrees.) I was also very fond of Nick and his party materials, especially at the all-night wrap party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where we hid at a corner table and blabbed for hours. We're both clean nowadays (this was 1977), but that was way fun. He wanted me to come up to his ranch in Malibu and ride dirt bikes and play some more, and like an idiot I declined and flew home, fool. I think I hurt his feelings. Never heard from him again. Well, we all have regrets. I just have more than others! I could write volumes.
Sissy also did her best to save the rotten script, and read the entire 1100-page manuscript of my mother's book to get into the role. Those two really hit it off, and during filming Sissy used the same approach with Loretta Lynn, studying for her next film, "Coal Miner's Daughter." She's a pro. The thing about "Heart Beat" was they just bought the names and made up their own story, with just some highlights based in fact. John Byrum (writer/director) didn't do his homework and it showed. They could have made it authentic, almost a documentary, and still had all the stuff that sells: sex, drugs, violence, and it would have been the real thing. Stupid waste. My mother was so disappointed in the script that she wrote her own screenplay. Of course they didn't use it because they had already paid off Byrum. Oh well.
Who would be the ideal movie "Neal"?
The only actor I've seen that came close was Paul Newman in 1957's "Somebody Up There Likes Me," the Rocky Marciano bio. When he wore a tight t-shirt and smiled, he was a dead ringer. Too bad he's too old for the part now. There's a couple unknowns that my mother likes.
(John told me about a business trip to Denver, the city where Neal grew up.)
I flew to Denver on the 7th on business and wound up on Larimer Street among the gloomy brick ruins of my father's past, hoping for a glimpse of the ghosts of little Neal and Neal Sr. down an alley off the dark street. We took some clients to a downtown restaurant for dinner, one of whom was a Kerouac fan, and my colleague and I took a wrong turn trying to find the freeway out of town and to the airport. Suddenly we were in the worst part of town, amid old abandoned buildings and railway depots, but with rickety wood houses, shops and bars wedged in-between, still occupied. Then there it was, Larimer Street, as well as several other street names familiar from "On the Road" and "The First Third." Unlike the modern Larimer Square and other tourist traps up the road, this section didn't invite exploration that late at night, but I finally got to see it and get its feel, even from behind a rental car window. It was an unexpected treat.
THE HAMMER, AND SILLY STUFF IN GENERAL
(During the period that John and I were conducting this interview I received an e-mail asking if I knew anything about the myth about "Cassidy's" habit of flipping a hammer and catching it, which Tom Wolfe wrote about in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." The person wrote: "Somewhere, sometime, somebody said that Cassidy used the hammer as a practice to sharpen his perseption. Something about that it took about 1/30 th of a second to percieve something happpening in the world and that he used the hammer as an exercise to shorten the recognition time." I thought this seemed a bit silly, but forwarded the mail to John to see what he'd say, asking if he wanted me to keep sending him stuff like this.)
Sure, I like to be bothered by silly stuff. Keeps me current.
As far as this guy's search, why anyone would look for meaning in this hammer thing is beyond me, but that theory sounds vaguely familiar. First we must correct his spelling on "Cassady" and "perception." I guess you receive mail from scholars and otherwise.
My take on the hammer is that by that stage of the game Neal was, sadly, so loaded up on crank that he simply needed something to fiddle with. He retained massive arm strength, and the hammer suited his ancient wheel karma railroad/car/tool trip. Tim Allen on steroids.
Also, he always had a penchant for juggling and sight gags a la W.C. Fields. Inept at real juggling, he would flip objects (pencils, etc.) and catch them on the same "handle" end. The game was to count how many flips he could go before missing and starting over at "1." He would frequently get into double digits, to the delight of us kids (we were easily entertained). He would also do this trick, a lot when we were young, where he'd balance on one leg, grab his ankle and leap over his other leg, nearly knocking his chin with his knee, and land upright again on one foot. He couldn't do it as well after his various railroad accidents stiffened his legs, so he'd go careening across the room on landing, YAAAA, and we'd giggle all the more.
But I guess this stuff isn't nearly as mystically legendary or mysterious as his trying to shorten his recognition time to 1/30th of a second or whatever. People can believe whatever they like if it helps get them through the night, right?
(Pat, who was on the cc: list for much of these conversations, chimes in here)
PAT: Hey, at the least the guy has something to keep him busy. Kesey rambled on and on in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test about 1/30 of a second being the least amount of time in which a human could perceive something. He said most humans took much longer with the exception of Neal Cassady, the fastest man alive. It's something along those lines. He also said that Cassady never dropped the hammer unless he wanted to make a point that something was happening and that people should pay attention to it. 'Course, Kesey was tripping his ass off quite a lot then and that's conducive to theories. I had friends who believed Jerry Garcia communicated with them at concerts by reflecting the light off his glasses into their eyes.
JOHN: Would that we all could make mistakes and have people go "oooh, aaaah, it's cosmic!"
KESEY AND BABBS
(The above led me to ask about Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs, the leaders (if there was any such thing) as The Merry Pranksters.)
I consider Kesey and Babbs friends. I saw neither of them for about 15 years, although I kept track of them. Kesey was at my first wedding in 1975, then I didn't run into him again until around 1990. I've seen them both at various functions quite a bit since then. They're being more visible as of late. I took 8mm movies of Kesey and Neal, along with Ginsberg and others, when they'd visit our house in Los Gatos. They were an already infamous bunch that I wanted to record for posterity. Alas, those films have been lost. I next went to visit Ken on his farm in Eugene in '72 with another 8mm camera. Those films I still have and plan to transfer them to video someday.
THE KEROUAC CD-ROM
Penguin sent me the new Kerouac CD-Rom last night (free stuff, about the only perk I get for doing LitKicks) and in the Gallery section I was pleased to see a photo of a bearded Neal surrounded by three nice-looking kids including a cute and pudgy tousle-haired tyke ... John, that was you!
I haven't seen this CD-Rom yet, although it's all I heard about for months from my mother while they were working on it. They solicited a lot of material from her, and she was enthusiastic about helping them because they seemed genuine and they paid well for pictures and stuff. But in the end they used only a fraction of the stuff she'd sent, a typical disappointment.
"Pops" grew the beard after one of his railroad accidents when he was home for months recuperating. If it's the picture I'm thinking of, I was only months old. That picture has been in several books. I was so "pudgy" (read: fat) that it looks like they have rubber bands around the joints on my arms and legs, and I'm puffing my cheeks out. There's a later one with beard in our back yard in San Jose where I'm about two and have a buzz cut on my massive head. So flattering.
Neal looks great in a beard -- how the hell did he stay so fit? Did he ever eat? Did he work out? Somehow I can't picture him in a Soloflex, so it must have been his work and all that legendary hammer-flipping -- but then I know a lot of people who do physical work, and they don't look so great.
He worked out on free weights a lot as a teenager, probably at reform school and in Denver skid row gyms. He was born with a great physique and developed it early. Later it was work that kept it tight, sprinting in parking lots, walking miles in the rail yards, tossing truck tires in and out of the retreader. He didn't start the hammer schtick until shortly before his death.
JAMMING WITH ALLEN GINSBERG
(One day John wrote me about an event in England.)
I called mum Tuesday, October 17, to ask how the big poetry festival at the Albert Hall went the night before at which Ginsberg was supposed to perform. She said he called her that day and was really chummy but had declined comp tickets because it was a benefit (jeez), but luckily a couple of her fans insisted on escorting her and bought seats at seventh row center. Allen comes out and after some "one-liners," one about Neal, he introduces his accompanist for the evening, a job I used to do on guitar when he'd be in the Bay Area. Out walks Paul McCartney, as you may have heard by now, and of course everyone is shocked that there was no media leaks beforehand and the place was half empty (only holds 4500). Did she go backstage afterwards to snarf an autograph for her Beatle-fan son? Noooooooooo! Oh well. "I told Allen I'd go to a book signing of his later in the week, so I left early, knowing I'd see him then." Christ. Anyway, she said they rocked the house and that I was in good company as one of Allen's accompanists. I wish I shared Paul's bank balance as well!
So you jammed with Allen Ginsberg? Believe it or not, I actually find his music very pleasant. He has a voice like an operatic frog, but there's some strange lilting-ness to it that I find very contradictory and interesting. When did you play with him, and what did you play?
Allen was kind enough to invite me along on gigs he did during the seventies while visiting the Bay Area. I was living in Santa Cruz at the time. We only performed together a few times, but a couple shows stand out in my memory.
The first was when my rock band at the time was playing as house band at a nightclub called the Sail Inn near the Portola Avenue beach. Ginsberg somehow found us and showed up unannounced with Peter Orlovsky and others in tow. I convinced the band to take a break so I could get Allen up there to do his thing, and I joined him on electric guitar. He played his harmonium and Peter played banjo. I was used to Allen simply reading his poetry and wailing on finger cymbals, so this configuration was new to me. He told me he had learned the blues and jammed with Dylan on three-chord progressions, mostly in the key of "C." He had recently done local shows accompanied on guitar by Barry Melton of the Fish, and he now needed a new sideman as Barry was busy somewhere else. I said I'd be honored.
That first night we played about a half hour on slow, dirge-like blues chords over which he sang poems. I peered into the audience to see the club's owner and the few patrons that were left in attendance staring with their mouths agape. They hadn't a clue and we nearly lost our cush gig there, but Allen liked it and soon called me for others. The best was a benefit for Chet Helms and the Family Dog called the Tribal Stomp held at the Greek Theater in Berkeley in 1978. It was a big thrill for me because I got to meet all my hero bands from the sixties backstage. Allen even paid me; what a deal.
I'm a pretty big Beatles fan too. My favorite is Lennon's solo albums. I like Yoko's albums quite a bit as well. McCartney is sometimes good ... he had good taste in partners.
I've never listened to Yoko's stuff, but if it's anything like "Two Virgins," I'll pass. I was caught by the Beatles at the perfect age to experience the mania, and I confess that I never got over it. Paul, although more traditional in style, was a great songwriter when with John, but lost it without him. I don't think Lennon did as well on his own, either. I think as I did in the sixties: Lennon = God.
THE REST OF THE FAMILY
What are your siblings up to?
My two older sisters still live in California and we get together whenever possible.
Cathy, 47, and her husband George live near Sacramento. Their three kids are now grown and off on their own. Cathy's a health care professional and teacher who moved out of the house as a teenager and got married so I didn't hang out with her as much as I would have liked as an adult. We're very close but only see each other on rare visits a couple times a year because of the distance between our homes. She's got a lot of Neal stories of her own of which I only catch glimpses when we're able to meet. She's happy to stay more out of the mainstream Beat lore network.
Jami, 45, and her husband Randy live near Santa Cruz. They have a daughter, Becky, 14. They lived in Los Gatos up until a year ago, so I've kept in fairly close contact with Jami over the years. "How's my sweet little Jami?" Jack would write to Carolyn in the early '50s. Cathy and I weren't exactly treated like chopped liver, mind you, but Jami was such a doll and everyone's favorite. They're both in Jack's books a lot (I was the runt of the litter and too young). Jami works in a dental office, and often wonders why she and Cathy rarely get mentioned in these Neal articles (thanks for asking, Levi). Jami has shared some amazing memories of Dad with me on occasion, like the time her boyfriend's band was playing The Barn in Scotts Valley (infamous psychedelic dance hall/Prankster hangout) and Neal was so high she had to look after him all night in the black-lit, postered catacombs of the place. Someday I'll record her tales.
Curt Hansen is my half brother by Dad's short-lived marriage to Diana in New York. Although I've only met him twice in person, he's a great guy and we keep in touch. He and his wife Debbie came out for a weekend visit in '94 and we had good talks. I couldn't recall our first meeting at Carolyn's in 1969, but then again I can't recall most of that year anyway. Curt is the program manager at radio station WEBE in Connecticut.
Jack and Allen Ginsberg seemed to have felt alienated when your parents become devotees of Edgar Cayce's mystical philosophy. At the same time, Cayce's influence seems to have been a good one for Neal, and for your parent's marriage. What do you think of all this? Did they teach much of it to you? Is your mother still influenced by it, and are you? It almost seems, from what I've read, to have been your family "religion."
Edgar Cayce represented a great alternative to the dogmatic Catholicism in which Neal was raised, and my parents shared his philosophy with us kids at a young age. My mother insists it was not the man, but his "channeled information" that is important. Apparently he was just a farmer from Alabama or somewhere.
They didn't raise us to be ignorant of the basics, though, and sent us to Sunday school first. That's us on the way to church on Easter Sunday, 1957, on the cover of "Grace Beats Karma." I wasn't fond of going to church, except for getting ice cream cones at Foster's Freeze next door after the ordeal. After about a year of that they announced they would keep us home Sunday mornings, but we had to listen to them for an hour as if it were school. This news was like being let out of jail when you're seven years old, and we heartily approved. They would read from different alternative books including Cayce and other metaphysical stuff, and in that context it didn't seem way out at all. Also, they weren't fanatics by then on Cayce or anything else, as described earlier by Kerouac when it was fresh.
We grew up with an understanding of Karma and reincarnation that I took for granted until I went to public schools and realized this knowledge wasn't normal among my peers. In that regard it was somewhat of a cruel shock to learn that everyone didn't believe this stuff, and I had to adjust to other points of view. Still, I don't regret adopting their perspective. They thought much in organized religion was distorted, except for the basic concepts that started them, like the Golden Rule. My experience since then has resulted in similar thinking.
My mother hasn't changed her outlook much over the years, but doesn't "preach" it much anymore. She seems secure in her knowledge of how the universe works. Her basic beliefs remain unchanged, which is comforting, and they still ring true for me.
I think after Jack had embraced Buddhism so desperately he was unwilling to shift gears again when confronted with Neal's Cayce rap and tuned it out. Just a theory; I was awfully young.
"CHILDREN OF THE BEATS"
(On November 5, the New York Times Magazine printed an article called "Children of the Beats." Written by Daniel Pinchbeck (son of Jack Kerouac's one-time girlfriend Joyce Johnson), it featured profiles of John, Neal's other son (by a different woman, Diana Hansen) Curt Hansen, Jan Kerouac, Parker Kaufman, Lisa Jones and others. This article caused a bit of a stir with its tragic overtones -- the thesis seemed to be that all the Beat writers had been despicable parents. I wrote to John that I didn't think the article captured what I saw as the positive side of his life.)
I agree with you about the article's overall negative tone. Even I came off sounding like I thought the whole era was trivial. My biggest beefs were that he only mentioned the book "Heart Beat," not "Off the Road," as my mother's principal work. Christ, it's been out of print for twenty years, and sales of "Off The Road" could have been helped by a mention in a piece with this kind of circulation. Also, no mention of my sisters, who, last I checked, were Neal's kids as well. And what's up with this "John Allen?" I don't recall calling myself that when we talked. I suspect he was trying to allude to the Kerouac/Ginsberg namesakes, but he never mentioned them! And shouldn't one say "His mother IS Carolyn Cassady," not "WAS?" At least his spelling was correct.
I think he was out for sensationalism in the Neal stories he recorded, similar to the Beats-suck-as-parents theme in the other interviews. The only story he bothered to print was about Neal's decline, although I gave him two hours worth of upbeat, funny ones. Pat noticed he wasn't writing in his notebook during these. Possibly because when he would earlier ask things like "what did you learn from all this?" or "how were you affected?", I'd blow him off and continue with stories (similar to our interview?) and he might have felt slighted. At least you were compassionate and let me ramble.
All things considered, I'd say it's about a C+. I've had worse showings, but certainly better. The piece in the Metro (San Jose) from about '88 comes to mind as more accurate (and pages longer). Too bad it was not as widely read.
One other thought I had -- since some of the other "children of the Beats" don't seem like the type to have kids, it would have been nice to mention that you have a son. Speaking of which, what does he think of all this Neal publicity? Did he like the article?
Yeah, that would have been nice if the article had mentioned Neal's grandson. His name's Jamie, after my sister, cruel parents that we were. I came home last night and said his picture is in the NY Times so he's famous. That's a chalk portrait of him above my head [in the photo of John that accompanies the article] which my mom drew in London in '92. Jamie hasn't read much Beat stuff and probably doesn't understand what the big deal is, but he thinks it's bitchin' to have a famous grandfather and to see our name in stuff all the time.
I think Pat early on sent you a description of when I spoke at Jan's benefit show in SF earlier this year. I got loaded and lost my wallet, which Kesey found and gave to Nicosia to return to me, Jeez. I was given a pretty cool photograph taken of Jan and I sitting together while giving interviews earlier that day which I can try to send to you somehow. An historic meeting. It's too bad her life's been rough lately. Makes me not feel so bad about my own life, though. We all have demons to exorcise.
I proposed to her at our first meeting in North Beach in the early '70s. She was lookin' good back then, and I thought, "what a perfect match-up!", historically speaking, at least. What would Jack and Neal have thought? I forget what her response was, but we never married, as I recall.
BILL BURROUGHS JR.
Bill showed up at my mother's house in Los Gatos around 1973. At that time her place was party central, and I recall some crazy times during that era. I had just returned from a year's travel across the US, and my sister Jami and her husband Randy were living with Carolyn. I had been home about a week, sleeping on the couch because J&R had claimed my old room in my absence, when they threw a giant party in the half-acre dirt back yard. It was a Memorial day party, to celebrate all our gone "gone" friends.
We built a big stage at the back of the lot on a hill. There were three rock bands and Allen Ginsberg did a long set, singing, chanting, and reading poetry. He had a broken leg from slipping on the ice at his place in Cherry Valley, NY, and sat cross-legged on a rug with his cast sticking out in front and incense burning. The police were mellow about the crowds and a good time was had by all. Wait a minute, what does this have to do with Burroughs? He wasn't even there yet. I know, background color about my mom's house in those days. I soon moved to Santa Cruz, but the next spring I found they had built a huge vegetable garden in the back yard complete with grass trails through it with benches and bird baths and stuff.
There under a tree toward the back was this short, stocky guy with long hair and a scruffy beard with a gallon of red wine in his lap talking to Jami. They were half lit and laughing a lot, so naturally I joined them. Bill Jr. was only working on his first liver in those days and was quite lucid and witty. Everyone seemed to migrate to Carolyn's at one time or another. We would have wild all-night discussions in the living room. My mother recently sent me an audio tape she found of one of those nights, but I was so high that poor Bill couldn't get a word in edgewise, I was talking so much. It's an embarrassment, except for one stretch where we're all talking at once, Mom included, while completely ignoring the others. That part's funny.
Anyway, I didn't see Bill for a year or two. When he arrived at my house in Santa Cruz he looked thin and wasted. The first thing he did was lift up his shirt to show me the scar, more like a hole, left from his recent liver transplant, a new procedure at the time which he had just received in Denver. I nearly hurled, but helped myself to the jars full of Valium which he spread on the kitchen table. He was understandably tired and our subsequent discussions weren't nearly as lively as in the past. The great local writer William J. Craddock sought him out and had us over for dinner. Craddock was a big fan of Neal's and seemed to enjoy having the second generation converge at his house.
The sad day came when Bill was feeling so poorly that I insisted on driving him to the ER at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz. They immediately whisked him back to Denver and within days he was dead. Although his father's money gave him a second chance with a transplant, I think it was too little, too late. He was one of the casualties of the tragic side of these lost artist types. Daniel Pinchbeck was just twenty years too late to interview Bill Jr.
(Ed and Galatea Dunkel were two of the more colorful characters in "On The Road." Like most of Kerouac's characters they had their real life equivalents, and Al and Helen Hinkle were still close friends of Carolyn Cassady's when Helen died last year.)
I ran into Al Hinkle in the supermarket last night. On the way home I flashed on the fact that the suburban ladies pushing shopping carts around us had no clue that Big Ed Dunkel from "On the Road" was chatting with Dean Moriarty Jr. in the frozen food isle (nor would they have cared). He's in his late 60's and looks great; just got back from a month in Denver visiting an older sister in Neal's old neighborhood. He lost his wife Helen to cancer last year which was heavy for all of us.
That blows my mind about Big Ed Dunkel ... I didn't know "Galatea" had died, either. I always enjoyed that part in the book where she chews your father out and he goes and sits on the stoop for a few minutes considering it, then, without a word, gets up and continues with his life. Sometimes you gotta just do that ...
Helen Hinkle was an extremely wise woman. I liked that scene, too. It's almost excruciating to read because she's so right and Dean is so foolish. Helen called it like it is. I was so grateful that I looked her up in recent years and had long talks with her about them all in the days, not knowing her time would be short. I almost missed her altogether. They've lived in the same house for over forty years, and just a few miles from my current address, but I just never got around to seeing them much until about three years ago. The Metro also did an excellent piece on the Hinkles a couple years ago. They were a big part of it all and no one knows. Helen was so funny. She liked to remind me that she used to change my diapers when I was a baby, jeez. She'd sit there and smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and curse during her stories; what a character. Al is more of a mellow talker and a bit long-winded, but has some great stuff from the Denver days.
(I told John I was going to illustrate this interview with a photo his girlfriend Pat had sent me, showing John in a "far-out" Greg-Brady-style shirt at a party. )
Jeez, I look like a dork-o-rama, but go ahead.
I think it had something to do with Jerry Garcia dying. It was in the days following that, anyway, that I received an e-mail from a stranger named Pat Gallagher. I get lots of e-mail about my Literary Kicks web site, sometimes too much, and often I have to remind myself not to skim, because I might miss something important. This was a case in point:
Well, I finally got Netscape software and started searching the Web immediately for Beat news. Looks like you've cornered the market on it. I'm sure you've heard this already, but in your On the Road list of stars to play people you named Carolyn Cassady as the character Diana Hansen. Hansen was Cassady's third wife and second annulment; her son Curt still lives in Bridgeport CT. Her name in Road was Inez. Carolyn's was Camille. I guess Kerouac went for those exotic names.
Last we heard, the movie was on hold because Coppola said it had no plot. Well, really. They started in one place, went to a bunch of other places, and ended up somewhere else. That's more plot than, say, Dazed and Confused had. I've been reading your postings with my friend John Cassady (Neal's son); we like Brad Pitt but are not so sure about Sean Penn. I heard Johnny Depp was a contender--we're now big fans of his especially after the movie Ed Wood.
OK, it's the weekend. Just wanted to let you know I liked your site and will log in regularly.
I could have easily missed the second-to-last sentence in the second paragraph. John who? In fact, I think Pat had hidden the name as a test, to see if I'd be paying attention. Luckily, I was.
I knew that Neal Cassady had had several children, but I had no idea where any of them were, or how they were doing. I also had no idea what it would be like to be the adult child of a figure as enigmatic and legendary as Neal Cassady, and I didn't expect I'd ever find out.
Neal Cassady was novelist Jack Kerouac's best friend in the 40's and 50's. He took Jack, then a frustrated and complex former Columbia student who wanted to be a writer, on a series of cross-country trips that Kerouac later wrote about in his most famous book, "On The Road." Neal was the star of the book: Dean Moriarty, the wild one with all the girls , the one who loved jazz and couldn't stop driving.
Neal Cassady had another side, though. Unlike most of the other figureheads of the Beat Generation, he enjoyed raising a family and holding down a job. He settled with his wife Carolyn and his three kids, Cathy, Jami and John, in the quiet suburb of Los Gatos, near San Jose. During much of the 1950's, he veered dangerously back and forth between the crazed activities of his newly-famous Beat friends and the thoroughly normal suburban family life that seemed to energize him in a different but equally important way.
The balance was thrown off when he was sent to prison for two years on a marijuana charge. Returning to the San Jose area at the dawn of the 1960's, he fell in with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and became a legend a second time for driving the psychedelic bus, "Furthur," on yet another cross-country trip, this one with Kesey at the helm. He participated in Ken Kesey's Acid Tests and hung out with the band that provided the music for the events, who would soon crystallize themselves into the Grateful Dead. This scene was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", and to this day more people probably know of Neal Cassady as "the guy who drove the bus" (and as the inspiration for Dead songs like "The Other One" and "Cassidy") than as Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's book.
In any case, the wild life took its toll on Neal, and he died in Mexico in 1968.
Fast forward now to August 1995. I wrote back to Pat Gallagher, and found out some more details about Neal's son:
John and I both work at Caere Corp. in Los Gatos CA. OCR and bar coding software/hardware. He's senior tech support for the bar code division and I'm a technical writer for the office products line. Not bad work at all. Los Gatos is a nice little town at the beginning of the whole festering, uglydog, overcrowded, vastly polluted Silicon Valley.
I found it interesting that John still lived in Los Gatos, which had been a suburban outpost in Neal's time but was now a part of the thriving "Silicon Valley." Pat seemed to know John very well; the two apparently palled around together. I enjoyed some of the tales Pat told me about meeting people like Ken Kesey:
John and I went to the Jan Kerouac benefit in SF a couple months ago ... I tagged around after John and met Kesey and Babbs. Kesey kept calling me "Giloohly." That's my only claim to fame at this moment; I was just hanger-on flotsam otherwise.
And as I often do after I began corresponding regularly with someone, I began to form a mental picture of Pat as a ruddy-haired Irish guy, a rugby player-type with a beer belly and a tan sweater. A few more mails went by, including one in which Pat attached a photo taken at a party, and I discovered that my mental image of Pat was way, way off -- it was Patricia, and after some further digging I discovered that Pat and John were a couple, a long-term "office romance" in fact.
Being the type of person who always blows chances to get to know people I want to know, I didn't write to John, even though Pat sent me his address. Finally, though, a note from him showed up in my mailbox:
A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I understand my friend Pat Gallagher has been writing often since discovering your website about the Beats. I've enjoyed your postings as well, and thought I'd finally write to you myself.
I'm also somewhat of a musician. Is that a Fender "P" bass you're playing in the photo with your daughter? I guess it could be a Strat, the shadow made it look like large tuning pegs at first. Anyway, let's jam sometime.
I agree with your book choice of "Thank You, Jeeves" by P.G. Years ago my pals and I were Wodehouse fanatics, and would go around quoting him as if at Blandings or at the Drones or on the golf course: "Wot ho, old face, it's a bit thick, wot?!", etc. A mystery to listeners.
Too bad about Jerry last week. A couple local rags solicited me for Jerry stories to print. I only wish I had more; who knew?
Good piece on the "OTR" audition. I think Pat may have mentioned, I'm sending a wad of your print-outs to Mum in London next week. She should keep up with what's on the Net, don't you think?
Gotta go. Write if so inclined.
A P.G. Wodehouse fan! Incredible. And "Mum" could only be Neal's wife Carolyn Cassady, now author of the popular recent Beat memoir "Off The Road" and, incidentally, a woman Jack Kerouac loved, despite (or because of) the fact that she was his best friend's wife.
John and I exchanged several messages, and I found him to be a wonderful e-mail writer and a warm, funny person. He sent me a letter he'd sent to the San Jose Mercury News about Jerry Garcia -- seeing that letter in print, he told me, made him feel inspired to share some more stories and thoughts he'd been keeping to himself. I suggested we do an in-depth e-mail interview for Literary Kicks, and he thought this was a good idea.
I've never interviewed anyone before, and may never do so again. I could probably use lessons from Barbara Walters ("Tell me ... just who is the real Tori Spelling? What do you dream of at night?"). My style is more like this: "Uh, John, do you think you could maybe tell me something interesting so I could use it in this interview?" But anyway, I had fun, and I think John did too. We cc'd some of our e-mail to Pat, who occasionally stuck in her own $.02. Pat also committed the story of how she and John met to electrons, and that forms the third part of this interview.
In the fourth section, I link to some other material about Neal Cassady and related topics.
Enjoy! John does not want to make his e-mail address public, but I will forward any messages to him that I deem interesting, worthwhile or amusingly rude.
The photo at the top of this page was taken by John at the Jerry Garcia Memorial in Golden Gate Park on August 20, 1995.
This is the first part of the four-part John Cassady Interview.