Neal Cassady died on the railroad tracks near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on February 4, 1968, exactly 55 years ago.
Diane Sward Rapaport, a remarkable woman, who packed in plenty in her eighty years of life, (a best-selling author, her first book, How To Make and Sell Your Own Record sold over 200,000 copies, a pioneer in the development of independent music distribution, a teacher, historian, environmentalist, community activist), passed away, January 9, 2020, from a fast-acting pancreatic cancer, lovingly surrounded by family and friends.
For more on Diane (her life revolved around more than just music but was itself a kind of music) – see her obituary notice- here – and further memorial reflections from her close friend C.J.Grace – here
Diane, in her younger days, knew Cassady from time spent in San Miguel.. She knew him better than most and left a deep and affecting memoir.
That memoir, along with other revealing and entertaining blog posts, can be found here,
From her memoir:
On first meeting Cassady (at a wild hippie party at Taboada, a local hot springs, just out of town) – a familiar Cassady?:
“Neal was hanging out on the outskirts of the group with his back turned on them. He was easily the handsomest man there—early forties and dressed in khaki pants and clean shirt. No beard. No long-hair. As I moved closer, I heard him delivering a rapid-fire monologue to the full moon, describing everyone at the party with what seemed unusual canniness, acerbity, wit and accuracy. As the party got wilder and wilder, Neal kept throwing pills down his throat, lucid as the brilliant light that etched him into that surreal scene. When we drove away, he was still talking to the moon, the last man standing…I was pulled into Neal’s orbit and became one of the satellites that circled around the brilliance of his sun.”
“Neal arrived in San Miguel Allende in 1964 in George Walker’s red Lotus convertible to a huge fanfare among the hippies. It was easily the most exotic car anyone had ever seen on these narrow streets.”
Rapaport notes immediately the adulation ( what she regarded perceptively as the disproportionate adulation) afforded Cassady:
“The hippies had a large reverence for Neal. Each told me he was their newest best friend and emphasized his assured place in history (how Kerouac worshipped him, how he was the LSD acid king, how he spent two years in prison, how he was addicted to bennies (speed) and could out drink and out drug them all. I was struck by what seemed like hero worship from young down and outers who venerated this collection of odd accomplishments.”
“What his friends considered heroic, I considered sad. As I came to know Neal, I understood that he too considered his life sad – he was a legend for all the wrong reasons. As I would later find, sadness and isolation often accompany fame, and these can warp into addiction and a self-destruct that finally destroys the talent that spawned it.”
“Neal and I did become lovers, but only for a short while. The chemistry was off. Instead, we became close friends. We shared a spacious home in the center of town, the Murillo house we called it, with a large interior patio with two trees. It belonged to some middle class people who mysteriously fled and disappeared. The house was rented to us for $40 a month by Rosendo, an old and odd Mexican, who had a drooping red eyeball that always seemed ready to fall out. Every morning, the roosters would start crowing at 4 a.m., then the dogs howled starting from far up town, and on Sundays, the bells of twenty-seven Catholic churches tolled, not all in perfect pitch -a splendid cacophony.”
“Some of the time that Neal was in San Miguel, he would stay with his girlfriend JB and take a lot of speed. He’d show up at my house when he needed to come down off of eight or ten days of speed and little sleep. I would immediately boil up a dozen soft-boiled eggs, which he drank in one big gulp. He told me that protein helped restore his dopamine. Then he’d sleep for twelve to sixteen hours. When he woke up, he had a different lucidity, one that enabled us to become solid friends, He’d stick around my house unstoned for many days, and we were easy and comfortable with each other. He liked that I didn’t relate to him as an icon.”
“For the next four years, Neal came to San Miguel about once a year, always leaving abruptly. Our lives would intersect, and then we’d go our separate ways…The last time Neal was in San Miguel was early 1968. He told me, “Look, I’m becoming all my worst images. I’ve got no work, and I’m a lousy lover. What else is there, I mean?” He professed wanting to quit speed, hoped that Allen Ginsberg would come down and somehow save him. He told me how tortured he was by the menagerie that flocked around him and clung like leeches. I would talk to him, about what it might be like to live.”
“He was the first addict I knew with any specificity. What I came to realize was that his hatred of himself and his addiction, and the love many had for him, could not help him from derailing his life.
The night before he died, I had a dream. Neal was spinning and breaking up in front of my eyes. He became a shooting star dropping into a small smiling crescent moon that has just emerged from the horizon.
I woke up to a tapping at my door. A policeman had come to tell that me Neal was dead. He was found some twenty miles outside of town, near the railroad tracks. He had fallen in with a party of Mexicans and rode his life out on speed and tequila, a runaway train bound for destruction.
Later that day, I learned that Neal had written his own epitaph. Scrawled in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror of his girlfriend’s house was: “Just a gigolo, wherever I go.”
Neal Cassady (1926-1968) rest in peace