Tag Archives: neal cassady

Discovery: The letter Jack Kerouac described as ‘The greatest piece of writing I ever saw’

Discovery: The letter Jack Kerouac described as ‘The greatest piece of writing I ever saw’

Considered ‘lost’ for 66 years, Neal Cassady’s visionary ‘Joan Anderson letter’ is a foundational document of the Beat era and the inspiration for Kerouac’s literary revolutions, beginning withOn the Road

Neal Cassady’s long-lost letter to Jack Kerouac, dated 17 December 1950, has permeated virtually every conversation about the Beat era. Referenced not only by Kerouac but by Allen Ginsberg, Laurence Ferlinghetti, Herbert Hunke, and a host of their contemporaries, Cassady’s fluid, incantatory, and deeply revealing prose influenced the entire generation of Beat writers.

The letter was written on a three-day Benzedrine high, Cassady later confessed. It contained, by Kerouac’s first calculation, at least 13,000 words and ran to 40 pages, offering a compelling, unaffected and discursive account of Cassady’s frenetic love life in 1946, particularly with Joan Anderson (whom he visited in a hospital after a failed suicide), and ‘Cherry Mary’, recounting an acrobatic escape through a bathroom window when they were surprised by Mary’s aunt. The uninhibited, non-literary narrative pointed the way to the free, truthful style to which Kerouac aspired.

Overwhelmed by what he read, Kerouac wrote ecstatically to Cassady on 27 December: ‘I thought it ranked among the best things ever written in America… it was almost as good as the unbelievably good ‘Notes from the Underground’ of Dostoevsky… You gather together all the best styles… of Joyce, Céline, Dosy… and utilize them in the muscular rush of your own narrative style & excitement. I say truly, no Dreiser, no Wolfe has come close to it; Melville was never truer.’

Cassady, Neal (1926-1968). Typed letter completed in autograph and with autograph additions, corrections, and deletions in pencil and pen, to Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), Denver, 17 December 1950. 18 pages, comprising nearly 16,000 words, some pale browning and minor marginal chipping. Estimate $400,000-600,000. This lot is offered in the Books & Manuscripts sale on 16 June at Christie’s

Cassady, Neal (1926-1968). Typed letter completed in autograph and with autograph additions, corrections, and deletions in pencil and pen, to Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), Denver, 17 December 1950. 18 pages, comprising nearly 16,000 words, some pale browning and minor marginal chipping. Estimate: $400,000-600,000. This lot is offered in the Books & Manuscripts sale on 16 June at Christie’s New York. © Cathy Sylvia Cassady, Jami Cassady and John Cassady

© Cathy Sylvia Cassady, Jami Cassady and John Cassady
© Cathy Sylvia Cassady, Jami Cassady and John Cassady

In an interview published in the Summer 1968 issue of The Paris Review, Kerouac famously hailed the letter’s impact: ‘I got the idea for the spontaneous style of On the Road from seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters).’

Nearly everyone who knew Cassady was struck by his natural verbal virtuosity as a monologist. Kerouac’s first wife, Joan Haverty Kerouac, recounted his tales of ‘cares and escapades, jail memories and women and nights and blues’, though she was certain that no writing ‘could… capture the vitality and intensity of the voice I now heard, describing everything in such a way that lived it just by listening.’

Never read, or merely neglected, the letter remained untended until its discovery in 2012

As with many documents of the era, the ‘Joan Anderson’ letter travelled a complex path through many hands, and for the majority of the last 66 years was considered lost. After being entranced by it and responding, Kerouac gave the letter to Allen Ginsberg to read and offer to publishers.

Ginsberg then took the letter to his friend Gerd Stern, who was living in Sausalito in California on a houseboat and working as a West Coast rep for Ace Books. Within the tight Beat nexus, Ginsberg and Stern formed a bond after meeting at the mental facility where they were both introduced to (Howl-dedicatee) Carl Solomon. Solomon’s uncle owned Ace Books, and it was Ace that had published William S. Burroughs’ Junkie in 1953.

Despite their enthusiasm, Ace rejected publication of Cassady’s typescript and it was returned by Stern to Ginsberg. The letter then went missing and the story was born — perpetuated most emphatically by Kerouac — that it had been lost over the side of Stern’s boat.

In fact, Cassady’s letter had been preserved in the files of the Golden Goose Press. Owned by Ginsberg and Stern’s friend R.W. ‘Dick’ Emerson, the Golden Goose Press was known for publishing some of the finest poets of the period, and for making audio recordings of their readings. Emerson placed the envelope containing the letter on his ‘to read’ pile. Never read, or merely neglected, it remained untended until its discovery in 2012 by Jean Spinosa.

No records of any sales are recorded in the online databases for any Cassady material, let alone for material of this literary consequence

Ginsberg later had no memory of giving the Joan Anderson Letter to Stern, and when Emerson closed the Golden Goose Press the letter was packed further into obscurity. It may have been lost for ever had not John ‘Jack’ Spinosa, Emerson’s officemate at 40 Gold Street in San Francisco, insisted on preserving the press’s archives when they were forced to vacate their rental space.

Spinosa recognized that literary history was preserved in those files, and saved them from being thrown away as Emerson cleared the office. The boxes remained with Spinosa and his wife Kathleen Cohan until after his death on 29 November 2011. On the following 15 May, Jack’s daughter Jean discovered this long-lost treasure of post-war American literature, buried among the files of the Golden Goose Press.

Only a fragment of the letter has ever been published — 14 years after it was written, and after the great works it influenced had come out. A portion of the letter, apparently copied by Kerouac before he passed it on to Ginsberg, was published in 1964 by John Bryan in his Notes from Underground #1, where it was called ‘The First Third’. Bryan claimed that Cassady himself came to help print it, while the title suggests that Cassady was by this time considering it as the first portion of his ongoing autobiography.

The same extract was published by City Lights in 1971 as an addendum to Cassady’s book The First Third, and later formed the basis of the 1997 film The Last Time I Committed Suicide, directed by Stephen T. Kay, and starring Thomas Jane and Keanu Reeves.

It is an understatement to remark that Neal Cassady material is scarce at auction: it is unprecedented. No records of any sales are recorded in the online databases for any Cassady material, let alone for material of this literary significance. The circumstances of its preservation and appearance at auction constitute a unique opportunity to acquire a foundational post-war literary manuscript that transcends its humble origins as a ‘letter’.

The complete extant archive of the Golden Goose Press, in which was discovered Neal Cassady’s groundbreaking ‘Joan Anderson Letter.’ Sausalito, California, 1950s-60s. Together nearly 200 pamphlets, letters, pieces of ephemera, and related material. A complete list is available on request. Estimate $10,000-15,000. This lot is offered in the Books & Manuscripts sale on 16 June

Ramble on to New Orleans ~ Choogle On! #102

Just back from New Orleans, Uncle Weed shares anecdotes from a stop on hi-jinks-laden drive-away car delivery journey from Miami to Dallas and recounts recent culinary forays including turtle soup, Po’boy sandies and crawfish ettouffee, along with social observations about the French Quarter and Frenchmen’s street including the joy of brass bands and convenience of “go” cups. Recorded on a backyard in Squamish, BC on the late Jerry Garcia’s birthday.

Hop in the back and Ramble on to New Orleans ~ Choogle On! #102 ~  (.mp3, 47:27, 43MB)

Ramble on to New Orleans

Music

Bocephus King “Cowboy Neal” from Willie Dixon Goddamn (CBC R3)

Street music ambient noise from the French Quarter

Continue reading Ramble on to New Orleans ~ Choogle On! #102

Kerouac & Snyder at Mavericks via Mill Valley Historical Society

Wanna travel in Kerouac’s steps without all the mountain-y work? The house he and Gary Snyder lived in (as detailed in Dharma Bums) is gone but the folks around suggest the ghosts are there, hanging out, waiting for a yabyum.

Keep reading…

The Mill Valley Historical Society 
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Jack Kerouac – A Homestead Headlines Article by Chuck Oldenburg, March, 2002

Now and then, strangers knock on Maverick’s door at 370 Montford. They want to see where Jack Kerouac used to live. The house is on Homestead’s open space land which Maverick maintains. He has lived there since 1966.

A 1916 map shows that Anton S. Perry owned the 1.07 acre lot at 370 Montford. He lived in the existing house and milked cows twice a day on the Dias ranch across the valley. In the 1930’s, Tony also worked part-time maintaining Three Groves and Stolte Grove just as Maverick does today. Tony built a shack up the hill near the back of the lot close to Pixie Trail.

In 1956, the old Perry house was occupied by Locke McCorckle, a poet/carpenter. He and his family lived frugally, considering themselves refugees from American consumerism. Locke’s brother-in-law, also a carpenter, converted the shack into a habitable cabin. Locke invited Gary Snyder to stay there. Gary named it Marin-An.

Gary and Locke were beat generation poets and writers who hung out with Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Kenneth Rexroth, William Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac.

In the spring of 1956, Gary invited Jack to join him at Marin-An for rent-free peaceful living. They both took Buddhism seriously. Jack Kerouac describes the site and his experiences there in “The Dharma Bums.” Poetry readings, meditations, serious discussions and co-educational picnics and parties, always with lots of wine and sometimes with nudity. Gary left on May 15, 1956 for a monastery in Japan. His going away party, which lasted three days, was pretty wild. It is described in “The Dharma Bums.”

Jack wrote “The Scripture of the Golden Eternity ” before he left Marin-An on June 18, 1956 to take a fire lookout job in northwest Washington. In December 1956, “On the Road” was accepted for publication, almost six years after he wrote it. In 1957 he wrote “The Dharma Bums.”

The cabin was condemned in 1961 as a fire hazard and demolished. Maverick rehabilitated the house to accommodate his family. In the early 1970’s, the property became part of Homestead’s open space. Some consider it a sacred site with ghosts of the beat generation and Jack Kerouac.