Ginsberg on Kerouac and Kesey and Cassady

1973 Salem State College’s Jack Kerouac Festival – here and here. (We’ve even previously featured an “out-take” here),. Here’s another one, (similarly focusing on the poignancy and tragedy of late Jack Kerouac (and on late Neal Cassady). An audience member asks about Cassady and his legendary cross-country drive, Allen responds.

[This particular tape begins in media res with Peter Orlovsky, having just finished his presentation, and a (more-than-usually) offensive/provocative/drunken Gregory Corso, meditating/theorizing.. on sudden death! – but then, thirty-five seconds in, is the question, and fifty-five seconds in, Allen’s answer]

AG: I can only talk, I would rather only talk, in relation to Kerouac on that. They, Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady, came across country, during the (19)64 election, with “A Vote For Goldwater Is A Vote For Fun” sign on the side of the bus, and this was their first pilgrimage to New York, as a gang, together, and Kesey felt very strong love for Kerouac (as well as Burroughs) and so Neal said that he would drive a car out to Northport to get Jack to bring him in to see Kesey, and the Merry Pranksters, who were all at that moment, that evening, high on acid, in an apartment on Park Avenue, which was heavily illuminated with electric..electronic bright lights, cameras going, many tape-machines going, wires snaking all over the room – an.. ethereal scene, actually, with a lot of heavy metal, and a lot of electronics around (so, giving a sense of robot re-echoing, robot re-duplications, and mirror images receding past into infinity), and Neal arrived with Jack, who was brought in from Northport, who was already sick, who didn’t want to come out, who didn’t want to leave the house (because he knew that if he went to the city he’d be drinking and he’d wind up in pain), brought Jack in the room – and me (he sent someone downtown to get me from East 2nd Street and bring me up to Park Avenue, so I sat quiet and watched) – and everybody was eager to see what Kerouac would do in appreciation, or how Kerouac would react to this transposition of On The Road into celestial, day-glo, cosmic, electronic, environment.

Jack was very shy, sat down on the couch, which was covered in American flags, but shyly – he removed the flag and folded it up first – he didn’t want to sit on the flag of Joe McCarthy, it boiled down to! – but he wasn’t sure who everybody was and why they were all there, what they were coming on, so there was an element of bewilderment and confusion in Kerouac but, more than that, like, a very deep sorrow, realizing that all of these eager-beaver Pranksters were going through another stage of dumb-show, another stage of idealistic nonsense, another attempt to make themselves real (though they were all made of phantom-stuff and they hadn’t yet realized it, and in the course of that they were poisoning Cassady with amphetamine, as Jack was poisoning himself with alcohol). So Jack was down-mouthed, sad, reflective, unresponsive to all their enthusiasm and, actually forced, electrical gaiety, (visual) gaiety.

Kesey was, like, a very very beautiful musing angel on the scene, because he was observant, and trying to understand where Kerouac was. Some of the younger Pranksters were mocking of Kerouac – “What’s the matter with him? Why isn’t he jumping? Why isn’t he enthusiastic? Why isn’t he excited? Why isn’t he ecstatic? Well, his ecstacy was in the realization that they were all dead, right there on the scene.

The scene is still preserved on a tape (though so ecstatic were the Pranksters that they probably didn’t get any of the film in focus and it was probably all jarred and jumping, so the visual phenomenon might have been denied to later generations, but it’s all recorded on sound tape and could (should) be edited… except they have all the sound-tapes jumbled up, and it’s never been edited after ten years already, it still hasn’t been edited. [1973 – so, almost 30 years later, the footage was, finally preserved and edited, by Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney, part of the extraordinary preparation for the 2011 documentary, Magic Trip].

So there was that one great meeting, lasting that evening and then Neal drove Jack back out to Northport. But Neal at that point was so jagged up with amphetamine that he wasn’t really capable of carrying on a heart-tender, mellow, conversation with Kerouac. He was laying on Kerouac the story of the cross-country trip. Kerouac was pained and so, because drinking, not able to sit comfortably in the car, and was sweating, in body So he wasn’t able to attend with complete tenderness to Neal’s condition, and they all arrived in this electronic nightmare together.

Jack Kerouac, the last time he visited my apartment, 704 East 5th Street, NYC, he looked like his late father, red-faced corpulent W.C.Fields shuddering with mortal horror grimacing on DMT I’d brought back from visiting Timothy Leary at Millbrook Psychedelic Community, Fall 1964 – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg – copyright Allen Ginsberg Estate

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