Here’s Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, remembering Neal Cassady
JG: Well, Cassady was one of those kinds of people who.. well, he’s so… he was such an overwhelming.. trip! Cassady? I don’t know. It’s hard to even know what say about Cassady, he was so singular.. I mean he was just.. Well, for one thing, he was like the best, the ultimate sight-gag person – you know what I mean? – physical comedy person. Plus he was also the world’s best stand-up comic too. He had an incredible mind, so that he would do this thing – he did this to everybody, everybody has reported on this, he did it to everybody – you might not see him for months, you know, and he would pick up exactly where he left off the last time he saw you! – like, in the middle of a sentence! – he would pick up, and first you’d go, “What?..What the hell?”, and then you’d realize, “Ah, yeah, this is that story he was telling me last time”, and… It was like so mind-boggling, you couldn’t believe that he was doing it. He used to do this thing tho’ – (this was something that used to kill me, and I saw him do it a lot of times) – he’d take out a dollar bill (from anybody, take a dollar bill) and he’d put his hands on it, like this, and he’d.. and he’d say the numbers, you know – the serial number? – and, you know, I saw him get it right, like two or three times – the serial numbers, you know what I mean?. He just had this.. He had this thing, you know..
And his driving! – If you go for a drive with him it was like the ultimate fear-experience, you know – that you knew you were going to die, there was no question about it – and it was something so unbelievable. He loved big Detroit Irons, you know, big cars, he… And, like, driving to San Francisco, he would go down those hills, at, like, fifty miles, sixty miles, an hour, and do corners, blind corners, going down those hills, if you can imagine. Like going down Franklin, like, top speed, you know what I mean? Like, you know, disregarding anything, (stop signs, signals), all the time talking to you, and maybe fumbling around with a little tiny roach, trying to put it in a matchbook, and also tuning the radio maybe, and also talking to whoever else is in the car – and it never seemed that he ever.. (that) he put his eyes on the road, ever! – And this is like.. You’d be just dying, you know, you’d be dying, and he would just.. He would effectively take you past that whole fear-of-death thing, you know. It’s, like, a difficult experience, because there’s nothing else like it, apart from like.. almost.. like surviving (an) airplane crash possibly, or something, I don’t know what.
But, I mean, it was just so incredible, you know, his output, you know what I mean?. And he.. he was.. He was the first person I met who he himself was the art. He was an artist and he was the art also. And he was doing it consciously as well. So he had… he did things, he worked with the world. I remember one time after a party – well, after the Watts Acid Test, which was particularly strange – and we drove the bus over to the Watts Towers, for a minute or two, and got out and looked at them. We’re.. you know.. it’s dawn.. We went over to Wavy Gravy‘s house, which was down the way.. (oh, off of Western, you know, way the hell off somewhere funny, into Los Angeles), and he had a little house, and we had the bus there, and a bunch of us were sitting on the lawn, and we were all kind of crunched from being up all night, stoned on acid, you know. It’s, like, the dawn, it’s Sunday morning now, the dawn.. and the bus is parked across the street, from our point of view, (we’re on the lawn), and Sunday morning, early early. And here’s Neal, you know, and he’s ripped his shirt off, he has no shirt on now – and now he has no shirt, no shoes – and he has these funky old chinos on that are always just about to fall off, and he’s… First of all, George Walker‘s driving the bus. So George is driving the bus, and Neal is, like, the guy directing him into the parking place, you know “a little to the left, a little to the right” – he’s doing all these signals, and redirects him right into a stop sign, an arterial stop sign, and shears it off! Boom! the stop sign falls down! So then Neal gets… (and the bus is parked) – and he’s got the stop sign, and he’s trying to put it, you know, make it stand up. And so he’s there with this stop sign, and down the street come two really straight little old ladies, and they’re on their way to church, Sunday morning, you know. And here’s Neal – he’s like the cosmic village drunk, you know what I mean?, like.. and he’s got the stop sign there. They’re trying not to see him. And he was… he was doing this whole series of kind of like “Good morning M’am”, you know, this kind of pantomime, you know, this extravagant thing, all the time. He would kind of stand up with the stop sign and walk away from it, and it would start to fall, and he’d grab it just as it was about to hit. And, like, all this stuff happening. It was amazingly great, it was just beautiful, perfect timing, and it was just extraordinarily beautiful. He… the way his body moved, the way he looked and everything like that was just absolutely… His face was so expressive. Hhe would go through millions of expressions, just millions of them. And just his whole body-language and everything.. It was so communicative, it was amazing.
I was just.. I was dying, I thought I was going to die, it was so hilarious. And it was absolutely perfect. It was like a silent movie, a little silent ballet. And.. (for) no more.. It lasted about maybe a minute-and-a-half, two minutes. It was the perfect, you know.. It was like a perfect moment. It was just great.
And I mean, Neal, Neal was that guy. He.. he just could do that, you know, That’s who he was. He was that guy in the real world, you know, this…something.
He was… He scared a lot of people. A lot of people thought he was crazy, a lot of people were afraid of him. And most people I know didn’t understand him at all, you know. But he was like a musician in a way. I mean, if you’re a.. He liked musicians, he liked hanging out with musicians, that’s why he sort of picked up on us and me (we hung out together a lot) and he liked, he liked the company of musicians.
Q: When you were living in the Haight, was he around during that time?
JG: Yes he was, off and on. He stayed up in our attic at 710 (Ashbury). He had a little camp up there, you know, and a mattress, and his old chinos, jeans, and stuff like that were up there, and he would come and hang out for a week or so, every month or so, and, every couple of months maybe, he’d come in – yeah…
For more of this Jerry Garcia interview – see here