Dead Drunk Poets
Neal Cassidy is THE icon for the mid-20th Century Counter Culture: the Beats of the 1950’s and the Hippies of 1960’s. His incredible energy inspired two generations of artists, writers, and musician’s from Jack Kerouac to the Grateful Dead. He has always been one of my outsider heroes. He was Dean Moriarity in “On The Road.” Ginsburg called him the secret hero of “Howl.” Recently, a comment online caught my attention. Later in the wild ride of his life, he expressed remorse that the way he lived had been unfair to his wife and children. His kids all speak affectingly about their dad and his remarkable influence. This made me go back and look at his life. I knew he was raised by a drunk father living in flophouses on Denver’s skid row. What I had missed is despite his terrible attendance record at school, (in detention for stealing cars) he read everything he could get his hands on. He had a photographic memory and could remember everything. Thus the ability to discuss any topic, on any level, with anybody. But he had something else, pure charm. He respected and liked everybody. Full of joy, always a big, sincere smile. He laughed a lot. He was born that way and never let the world dim the spark…at least on the outside. After he met and married Carolyn, he settled down, got a good job with the Southern Pacific Railroad, bought a house, started a family. He struggled with this. This wasn’t really in his DNA. Carolyn loved him. She understood him. She let him leave her and the kids so he could live his way. He became the bus driver for the Merry Pranksters in the Electric Cool Aid Acid test. Five years later, he was dead. Drugs and Alcohol. Towards the end, he freely talked about how unfair the way he lived was to Carolyn and the kids. He wished he had done things differently. He never (that I know of) said it was wrong, just that he wished he had been able to do things differently. So unlike other literary giants who drank themselves to death or near death: Kerouac, Capote, O’Hara, Poe, Hemingway, Bukowski. It’s a long line.