Collected Letters, 1944-1967 (Anglais) Broché – 25 janvier 2005
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Neal Cassady is best remembered today as Jack Kerouac’s muse and the basis for the character “Dean Moriarty” in Kerouac’s classic On The Road, and as one of Ken Kesey’s merriest of Merry Pranksters, the driver of the psychedelic bus “Further,” immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. This collection brings together more than two hundred letters to Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, and other Beat generation luminaries, as well as correspondence between Neal and his wife, Carolyn. These amazing letters cover Cassady’s life between the ages of 18 and 41 and finish just months before his death in February 1968. Brilliantly edited by Dave Moore, this unique collection presents the “Soul of the Beat Generation” in his own words—sometimes touching and tender, sometimes bawdy and hilarious. Here is the real Neal Cassady—raw and uncut.
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Not always inspired, sometimes pedestrian, Cassady's voice is always compelling. This book is essential reading for fan's of the beats and should be on the bookshelf along with the letters of Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg. Fans of Ken Kesey, Ed McClanahan, Larry McMurtry, Gurney Norman, the Grateful Dead, etc. will appreciate this book as well.
It is sad to read how often Cassady talks of writing a new book when you know that he never really get around to doing it but, in a sense, he lived a life which became a part of many books. In that sense, as an inspiration, a many faceted character he is very much a part of literature and this will add deservingly to this recognition.
Tom Wolfe is another great writer, who wrote the amazing "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," in which Neal is also a prominent character, this time the driver of a psychedelic busful of hippies.
In these books, and in others, Neal Cassady stands out distinctly as a fascinating character worthy of study--a man with an almost bottomless manic energy, the sex drive of a large crowd, and a penchant for joyriding in stolen cars.
This book here, however, goes a little deeper, is a little more personal, and as a result, damages many of the romantic illusions that have been built around his character.
This is Neal's life in his own words, in words from letters meant only for his friends and lovers and family, not for the public. There is some dishonesty here, but still it's very intimate, and very disclosing.
This book shows the sides of Neal that were often downplayed in books about him, sides that would have made him a much less sympathetic character: the neglectful way he treated and cast aside his wives and children, the almost psychopathic detachment from the crimes he committed and the women he used, the anger and the bitterness over his lot in life, the general disloyalty, the pathetically unsuccessful attempts at trying to be a writer, and the transparent tries to make his often empty life seem more significant than it was and his often horrible choices seem less like choices and more like fate.
All that would be fine however, if he had only been a better writer. As it is, the book is still a fairly compelling read that will keep you turning the pages and keep you interested. But the writing is typical. Average. Drug-addled. Bland.
He never had the discpline to cultivate what talent he may have had, and it shows.
This is a book to read to acquaint yourself better with Neal Cassady the character...if you want to. Unfortunately, along the way, you'll have to get a bit involved with Neal Cassady the writer.
He's certainly no Kerouac, even if he did help to inspire his style.
Now's your chance.......
Read between the lines of what Jack Kerouac
was saying in On the Road, or at least get closer
to his hero Dean Moriarty (real name Neal Cassady).
This book officially published this winter in the
USA and available on import in the UK is a
CAUSE CELEBRE of the Beat World. Possibly
the best Beat read you'll have had since On the Road.
Neal Cassady's Letters - produced by Carolyn
Cassady and others, brilliantly edited (and that
doesn't mean cut) by Beat authority Dave Moore.
Having read On the Road we think we know it all?
We don't know half of it. Neal's Letters flesh out
the legend. For instance they show the married side
of Neal with intimate letters between himself and
Carolyn, something On the Road barely touches on.
They reveal the extent of the 'manage a trois' which
existed between Neal, Carolyn and Jack.
You want something even spicier? Try the long letter
to Alan Ginsberg starting on p.199 ...or Diana's note
on Neal p.142-143, or Neal's outrageous letter starting
p.327 and you'll see why Neal Cassady joins The
Marquis de Sade, Casanova, and Rasputin as
a sexual enchanter.
Bristolian Dave Moore's meticulous annotation and footnotes
link the letters, explain them, and make a narrative of them.
They prove Neal an engaging writer who's free-form
style inspired Kerouac in his genius to make
a prose-poem of the tale.
It's not difficult to see why Kerouac and his muse have
been down-graded over the years, and even vilified.
There's enough work here for a thousand sociologists.
At a time when, here in Britain, Jamaican men are
being persuaded to change their `out husband' lifestyle
and settle down with their wives and the children they
father, Neal Cassady epitomised the very life style
they're eschewing becoming the `white negro' of
Kerouac's classic, not only in terms of jazz music
and pot, but also adopting the black male role of
sex-object and stud.
No wonder the media wants to play him down - the
man who hitched a train and threw a generation off the rails.
As Joe Strummer said: "When we first read On
the Road we weren't digging Kerouac's prose - we
wanted to be like Dean Moriarty". He ended his life
as only a man like that can - broken and crying on
a railway line in Mexico.
Saint or sinner? Looser or winner? As the man who
straddled 100 women and Kerouac's prose makes
his literary debut - you make up your mind!
The two aspects I enjoyed most about this book were his hopes to be a family man and his desire to be an author, favorite aspects I suppose because that's not how I saw him previously. He tried hard to be a good husband and father but his muse wouldn't let him. And in these letters you see the creative, free-wheeling writing ability he was capable of but just couldn't get together in book form. Kerouac credits Neal for inspiring the style he'd develope for "On the Road" and on, and throughout the 50's encourages him to continue his writing.
The bulk of this collection dates before 1957, before the publication of "On the Road" and the whole beat sensation. In that regard it's very special to have the inside look at these letters which at the time of their composition no one would have had the faintest clue would be published. These are letters between friends, aspiring artists and lovers when there was no email and long distance phone calls were a luxury. Neal's writing was sometimes pedestrian but at other times it would soar, making clear why Ginsburg, Kerouac, etc argued he was the greatest writer of the group.
The editor Dave Moore does a wonderful job bringing continuity to the letters with his commentary throughout the book. He connects the dots where needed providing necessary back-story in an unabtrusive manner.
One complaint I do have about the book is that during the 60's the quantity of letters seriously drops off. He wrote less and less or the letters are lost or both, but it does leave a hole in Neal's story. As a result we miss out, in his words, on his life as he transitions from the beat generation to the hippie generation.
I have come to some new conclusions of my own about Neal, as will any reader. There is room for more writing on this most facsinating subject (esp his life in the 60's--why, he even lived with the Grateful Dead at their famed 710 Ashbury residence during the Haight's blossoming) but "Selected Letters" fills a huge void.