Thursday, June 19, 2014

Neal Cassady -- The Man, The Myth, The Grandfather?

So here it is, the words Neal wrote to Allen back in '51, the words that I so readily can relate to, words that could have been mine written to a confidant that I do not know, someone who would understand and ooo and ahh accordingly, like Allen did for Neal, but just that and none of that other stuff, just someone who could and would offer suggestions in kind, perfect little priestly, pristine comments that would alter the trajectory of my life for the better.  Below Neal's words are my own, or would have been if I had the ability to write back then in the pre-formed, pre-embryonic state that I was in.  Perhaps a better way to say it is that these words resonate because they describe almost exactly how I think and thereafter compose.  I write like Neal, or more appropriately, I go through the same complex calculations that Neal went through, without the undiagnosed ADHD, all to come up with elegant prose that means something too.  This was an observation or something I made shortly after reading this letter and realizing how loudly his words rang true to my life.  Then I could self-importantly claim them and claim a bond or whatever, something that links us or maybe links all of us who have no way of really capturing all we want to say and must settle for the next best thing, a stream of long-winded thoughts and poignantly eloquent word combinations, manufacturing syntax and poise to fit our selfish, self-serving needs, to construct something that has everything.

"To put down these happenings gives me the original impetus for each line -- at best I write only from sentence to sentence and can't construct beyond this -- and I begin to write.  After the first statement is out, and often before, I get hopelessly involved in words to contain the increasing number of ideas.  As I progress this morass becomes larger and my head more and more deeply engulfed in recurrent themes which are unfolded in sickening profusion.  While on the paper, in attempting to snatch all I can before I forget, I am soon so over-extended -- stretched dramatically and logically to the point where any semblance of clarity is lost -- that I am forced to stop.  These bunched ideas cannot long be consciously retained as I write and are lost by being momentarily thrust back into the mind, each as they come except the immediate one pinpointed, and the sensitive things, once rejected for a second, shyly vanish in an unrelenting march of steady retreat into their Limbo while I'm floundering at sloppy deliberation in the choice of every new word, and thus damned up in my soul is left to rot.  The limit of my fore mind to tap and drain onto paper any flow from my residue of self-saturated thoughts is usually half a page at any one sitting.  Naturally, the shorter the space of time between each diving-in the less satisfaction I could weave for myself and each continuing made more oppressive the friction generated by rubbing so familiarly against my blocks.  When confronted with these boundaries I had once either often changed the subject upon which to think or didn't write at all, mostly the latter.  …  At last I come to the core of my writing faults, flaws in reasoning, windiness or too tight style, grammar troubles, triteness, etc, so shall put off for a minute any delving into our straitjacket problems per se, altho all is tied together I give you detailed example to show that most of my inability to get on with the book lies in my slowness in selecting words, more properly I mean my slowness in fitting into a sensible sentence the words that select themselves.  My primary weakness is that I try to crowd too much in, once a word has come to me, no matter how obviously poor, I am loath to leave it out of that sentence.  Seeing it won't fit I set out to manufacture another sentence for it, in doing so I create more, etc."

---From Letter to Allen Ginsberg, May 15, 1951

So recently I said to my mother, who was born in 1949 New York and adopted under the veil of secrecy, I said to her with an air of confidence and no nonsense, 'I'm pretty sure Neal Cassady was your bio-dad because I'm pretty sure Neal Cassady is my grandfather.'  I wasn't trying to be off-the-cuff or a little shit or anything, I was just thinking it and then I said it.  She shrugged, furrowed her eyebrows and retreated to the laundry room to mutter and putter around.   But later, maybe the next day, I checked the Internet history and found that she had googled the late great Neal Cassady, obviously curious about my unexpected proclamation and probably trying to see if there was any physical resemblance, thereby she could decipher the truth of my statement.   I'm not sure what she decided because I haven't broached the subject again, an obviously sensitive one given the history, and me not knowing how to be tactful or impressive I had no way of bringing it up again.  So I said nothing.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I told my sister the same thing and of course she found absolutely no credence in it, her being the skeptical sort and all, but I had been thinking about it ever since I read On the Road and learned about how Dean had a child out of wedlock in 1949 New York and then rushed off to Frisco on a mad adventure with all those other Beat guys.  That was only one puzzle piece.  Even I found no credence in the theory at that time.  However, it was verified when I read Cassady's 1951 letter to Ginsberg, much of which resonated in my own mind and had paralleled my own frustrations vis-à-vis writing over the course of these great years of the defining decade.  I now have little doubt.   It must be true.

It's not true.

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