Feb 29, 2024, 09:41AM

Neal and Jack

Further on the road.

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The Beat Generation’s legacy isn’t easy to pinpoint. It’s amazing how they endured from one generation to the next. Passing the Beat torch of aesthetic lifestyles from its inception up to the present resurgence in Beat literature and counterculture. True homage and badge of honor to the colorful characters who made the Beats so influential. Beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1950s and beyond to present-day nostalgia, a group of ragtag literary loners and anti-social outsiders began a counterculture movement. That still resonates strongly today with young writers and artists who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Since then, the original group of poets who began at ground zero of the Cultural Revolution have made their mark hustling through literary history. 

Jack Kerouac is the aspiring young writer of On the Road fame. A travelogue about constant companions, two young men wandering, Sal Paradise (Kerouac) and his bromance buddy Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady). The gist of the story centers around the anti-hero duo in search of Neal’s father, along with discovering the American soul along neon nights in big cities and dark, desolate highways, detours, dead ends, and one-lane back roads. Back then, there were few roadside attractions, fast-food joints, or civilization at large. Lucky to find a combo gas station general store between vast stretches of farmland and countryside amid the lush vastness. A King Crimson song, called “Neal and Jack and Me,” equates the band's life on the road with Neal and Jack’s odyssey. An endless series of highways and hotels. It sums it up in a surreal roundabout byway's manner, sort of.

“I'm wheels; I am moving wheels.
I am a 1952 Studebaker coupe
I'm wheels; I am moving wheels, moving wheels.
I am a 1952 Star Lite coupe.

No sleep, no sleep, no sleep, no sleep, no sleep 
And no mad video machine to eat time
A city scene; I can't explain the Seine alone at four a.m.
En route, Les Sou terrains
Des visions do Cody, Sartori a Paris
Strange spaghetti in this solemn city
There's a postcard we’ve all seen before

Buck wild-haired teens in dark clothing
with a handful of autographed napkins.

We eat apples in vans with sandwiches.
Rush into the lobby life of hurry up and wait
Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait.
For all the odd-shaped keys
Which lead to new soap and envelopes.

New soap and envelopes

Hotel room homesickness on a fresh blue bed
and the longest-ever phone call home

The Seine alone at four AM, the insane alone at four AM
Neal and Jack and me
Absent lovers, absent lovers”

Exactly who the absent lovers are is uncertain. They could refer to women left behind, wives at home, stuck with kids and unpaid bills. Injecting the tedium of life on the road passing by the landscape at breakneck speeds of endless hotel rooms and smelly vans full of stinky guys with nothing to do but sleep, eat, and take turns driving. It’s not a romantic vision of life on the road. An impossible visage of Dean Moriarty at the helm, steering his way to glory. Neal Cassady, the holy goof, whacked out on the hallucinogenic amphetamine rush of adrenaline-soaked words pouring out of his mile-a-minute mouth. Profusely sweating in the driver's seat of an old school bus. At the wheel of a full load of hippie freaks to Nirvana. Or at least the next Grateful Dead concert.

The bus sign destination reads FURTHER, the letters emblazoned on the front of a multi-colored florescent painted flower power peace sign of love everything, and everyone tripping in the mobile head trip. The ultimate party wagon caravan of hippie-dippy types. Captain Neal, flipping his ball peen hammer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, incessantly babbling; did Cassady find his true calling as official bus driver for the Merry Pranksters? The traveling band of oddballs was conceived by author, Ken Kesey. A brief description of its origins is told by one of the founding pranksters: “Kesey and George Walker, and I were out wandering around. The rest of the gang were sitting around a fire in Kesey's house in La Honda, and when we came back, it was dark, and Mike Hagen called out, Halt! Who goes there? And just out of the blue, I said, “'Tis I, the intrepid traveler, come to lead his merry band of pranksters across the nation, in the reverse order of the pioneers! And our motto will be 'the obliteration of the entire nation', not taken literally; of course, we won't blow up their buildings; we'll blow their minds!”

By the late-1960s, the trippy peace and love pipe dream visions were over. Minds were blown away left and right. Meanwhile, old, lonely Jack Kerouac sadly became a victim of his success. He was a fiercely patriotic, drunk Catholic who lived with his mother. He spent his last days painting religious images and knocking back shots of whiskey his mother doled out like medicine. In his melancholy, he lamented the deluge of youthful followers who used his words out of context as the roadmap to their own journey to total freedom in America. If Kerouac were around today, would he be a MAGA follower? It’s difficult to tell, although Jack's Catholic guilt and homophobia possibly contributed to confused feelings of attraction toward his traveling partner, Neal. That’s one way to look at it.

After his divorce, Neal shared an apartment with poets Allen Ginsberg and Charley Plymell. Cassady was open-minded and in control of his bisexuality, unlike Kerouac. The epitome of cool. More bravado than James Dean. They had their own rat pack of smooth hipsters, junkies, hangers-on wannabes, jailbirds, beatnik chicks, and drunken poets. After Cassady was discovered dead on the railroad tracks, Ken Kesey wrote a short eulogy called, “The Day Superman Died.” The inspiration for generations, the imperfect Beat, Neal Cassady, found himself counting railroad ties from somewhere in the middle of nowhere, going further on the road. He was 41.


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