Another Brick in the Wall: 1968 and Neal Cassady

I cannot explain why Neal Cassady has been on my mind lately, Dean Moriarity in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Makes no difference. He is always welcome to wander into my mind.

My aunt said I was wasting my time hanging around with Dean and his gang. I knew that was wrong, too. Life is life, and kind is kind. What I wanted was to take one more magnificent trip to the West Coast and get back in time for the spring semester in school. And what a trip it turned out to be!

Also the bus driver—the bus was named Further–among Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, friend of The Beats, pal of The Grateful Dead, the “Neal” in the Doobie Brothers’ Neal’s Fandango and Tom Waits’ Jack and Neal, drunk at a party with the Hells Angels at Kesey’s place in Hunter Thompson’s book and in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the “secret hero of these poems” in Alan Ginsburg’s Howl.

He wrote nothing except letters. He only lived and taught others to live. The dancing bear.

Novelist Peter Ferry has documented his investigation of Neal Cassady’s final days in Searching for Neal Cassady in San Miguel de Allende.

In an extended comment below that piece, local Harry Burrus impressively debunks the myth, held dear by so many other locals, that Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsburg spent time here together between 1958 and 1961, although they all spent time in Mexico as did the Merry Pranksters. Mexico was the laid back alternative to the repressed United States of that era.

”Cheap rent and eats, whores, boys, and drugs . . . ” and everyone else minding their own business.

For me Neal Cassady’s death out on the railroad tracks south of the old station at the edge of town has now become just another brick in the wall of 1968:

  • 31 January: The beginning of the Tet Offensive.
  • 7 February: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
  • 12 March: Eugene McCarthy comes within 230 votes of defeating Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary.
  • 16 March: Bobby Kennedy enters the race for the Democratic nomination.
  • 16 March: Though not reported until a year later, the My Lai Massacre occurs. (When you find out later that it happened in 1968 on the same day that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, you can only say, “That figures.”)
  • 31 March: Lyndon Johnson announces in a nationally televised address that he will not seek nor will he accept his party’s nomination for re-election as President.
  • 4 April: Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis.
  • 23 April: Students occupy the administative building at Columbia University.
  • 6 May: “Bloody Monday” of the student revolt in Paris after 5,000 students march through the Latin Quarter.
  • 3 June: Andy Warhol is shot.
  • 5 June: Bobby Kennedy is assassinated in L.A.
  • 24 July: July has been relatively quiet thus allowing Arlo Guthrie to complete his 20-minute rendition of “Alice’s Restaurant” at the Newport Folk Festival.
  • 20 August: Soviet tanks invade Czechoslovakia putting an end to “Prague Spring.”
  • 28 August: Police riot in the streets of Chicago beating demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.
  • 7 September: Feminist activists toss their bras into a trash can outside the Miss America Beauty Pageant.
  • 2 October: And this is the one few people up north know anything about–Government soldiers kill hundreds of students in Tlatelolco Square in Mexico City to restore order before the Olympics open there on 12 October.
  • 18 October: Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” during their medal ceremony at the Olympics in Mexico City.
  • 5 November: Richard Nixon defeats Hubert Humphrey and becomes President-Elect.
  • 14 November: National “Turn In Your Draft Card Day” on campuses across the country.
  • 26 November: The South Vietnamese government finally agrees to participate in the Paris Peace Talks.
  • 21 December: Apollo 8 launches, the first mission to orbit the Moon.

So then, two more bullets:

  • 4 February: Neal Cassady dies at age 41 in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, after attending a wedding party.
  • 23 March: Brassawe attains the age of 21 and purchases his first legal draw of beer for 25¢ at Joe’s Place in Iowa City, one year before being commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry, Airborne, Ranger, the whole catastrophe.

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