The Blacklisted Journalist Picture The Blacklisted Journalistsm

(Copyright 1997 Al Aronowitz)


(Photo courtesy Harry Redl)
(Copyright 1994 Harry Redl)



In the Visitors' Room of the San Quentin Penitentiary, Inmate No. A47667, with a kid's What's next? anticipation, wiped the palms of two long, bony hands against his trousers before offering one of the hands in greeting.

"How are you?" he said, smiling. "I'm Neal Cassady."


"A western kinsman of the sun, Dean. . .." wrote Jack Kerouac, sitting at a typewriter, beginning his novel, On the Road. ". . .And his 'criminality' was not something that sulked and sneered; it was a wild yea-saying overburst of American joy; it was Western, the wild wind, an ode from the Plains, something new, long prophesied, long a-coming (he only stole cars for joy rides). . ."



He chuckled and, walking slightly hunched as if carrying too heavy a burden, he took a seat at a table near a window. With a bashful grin, he gazed for a moment at the bright sunlight, the blueness and the beauty of The Bay, just beyond the window sill.

"The rules say you get five to life for selling marijuana," he began, nodding his head in exclamation like a chain of !!!!!!s "That's the same as an armed robber gets or a hypo, ehhh? You know, a junkie who has to take his narcotics with a hypodermic needle. That's the same as what a man gets for going out on the street and threatening another man's life with a gun. So here I am in a cell with an Okie armed robber. He'll probably spend less time here than I will. . ."


"Neal," said the blonde, winsome beauty sitting in a house in Los Gatos, some 70 miles to the south, "well he turned to Edgar Cayce philosophy five years ago, and he was very intense about it.

"Edgar Cayce was a clairvoyant, you know, and reincarnation is one of the basic things about his philosophy. It's very Christian, purely Christian. It also give a lot of facts about life after death, life between lives and sojourns on other planets.

"Neal picked it up quite accidentally. He was working in a parking lot and someone left a book about it in a car. . .Oh, yes, he gave the book back. I was amazed, but he did. . ."

The woman was Carolyn Cassady, Neal Cassady's wife. "I became interested in Edgar Cayce, too," she added. "It's held me together, actually, through all this. . ."


"There's nothing wrong with smoking marijuana," Neal said, with his laughter light and full of pleasantness. "I mean it doesn't hurt anybody. . .I've smoked marijuana all the way from Nob Hill to Greenwich Village and never had an accident. I used to turn on hitchhikers. I was a brakeman with the Southern Pacific for ten years, and I never missed a run. I even drove President Eisenhower's train and it didn't seem to get off the track any. . ."

He chuckled and he slid his hand back and forth on the table.

"Oh," he said, "that was when he was campaigning in 1952. Well, I was rear brakeman, and the train stopped, so I walk out behind the train like I'm supposed to, and I was just waiting there and I had just had a big meal and, you know, just like a business man after dinner likes to have a martini, well I decided to light up.

"So just after I take my first inhale, 'crunch, crunch', I hear footsteps behind me and what I didn't know was that when the train stopped that the Secret Service men were supposed to walk out on the tracks behind it just like I was. So they come up and one of them says, 'Cold night out here tonight,' and there I am with a lungful of marijuana smoke and I couldn't answer. So I used a railroad man's prerogative and I acted grumpy and I didn't say anything. . ."


At a party in a West Side apartment, Leo Garen, 22, an off-Broadway producer, talks excitedly about adapting John Clellon Holmes' novel, Go, for a play to be staged on Broadway. . .

"Well, Hart Kennedy is the central figure in the play. . .He sets everything in motion---drives everyone into action. He's a catalyst who changes all the peoples' lives. He goes through the play like a whirlwind. . .Hart Kennedy. You know, actually he was a real person. His name was Neal Cassady. . ."


He quickly swallowed a piece of candy but a guard noticed it and warned against passing items to prisoners.

"I guess that's another mark against me," he said with a sigh, and then he chuckled, too. "There are six men in this state on the Adult Authority, uh, you see, that's what they call the parole board in California. And from the minute you get in here, you think day and night what to say to them when your turn comes up--you think what to say to them so that they'll set your time, so that you won't have an indefinite term hanging over your head. . ."


"Neal," said Allen Ginsberg, sitting in his flat on the third floor of New York's East Side, "Neal became a legend in San Francisco. He became famous up and down North Beach---I guess the publicity that Jack and I gave him had a lot to do with it. But the cops found out about it and began bugging him until he finally couldn't take it---so one night he just turned around and handed a stick of tea to a Federal man. . ."


He nodded again. !!!!!!!! And now his hand played with the empty candy wrapper.

"The doctor said,"---and he mimicked in a deep voice---"the doctor said, 'We've got to assume you men are sick. You wouldn't be here if you weren't sick.' So you go before the board and they say, 'You're still too sick to get out, so stay a year and we'll sick you up a little more'. . ."

His grin faded.

"They tear your life off. They allow you to sweep cotton off the floor for two years and that makes you ready to go back into society. You know, there's no more railroad for me, they don't take you back on the railroad. So what will I do, ehhh? Despite the safes I've learned to crack and the doors I've learned to open, I'm still going to do, you know, something right. . . A wife, three children. . .I'll just not have to smoke marijuana. . ."


In Los Gatos, beneath Castle Rock Ridge, Carolyn Cassady drew in on a cigarette. . ."Of course when I married him, he was married already to Lou Ann, which I didn't know, and then he supposedly had it annulled, but it wasn't annulled and, oh, nothing but fabrications. . .

"Lou Ann was Marylou in On the Road. I was Camille. Remember my one great line: 'You're a liar! You're a liar! You're a liar!' Then there was another one he married in New York before my divorce was final, and then he came back, and I didn't go through with the divorce. . .I believed every word he said and went merrily along, but it was one shock after another. . .

"We met in Denver and then there was Allen, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal swapped between living with me and living with Lou Ann, you see Neal was seeing both of us and each of us thought, well, Allen was the go-between between Neal and all his wives---always on the right side and actually a real good pal and very sympathetic to everybody involved, even though his own interests were, well, he wishes he were in our shoes. In fact, he convinced Neal to leave me the first time to go to Texas with him. . ."


"Beat?" he said, shifting in his chair with his legs angular, shifting sometimes to a different chair, looking always, out the window, at the sunlight, "beat means beatific---short for beatific vision, you know, the highest vision you can get. A shortcut is via marijuana. . .That's why I'm here, ehhh?

"You see, I'm a convict. That's the same as being a criminal. Am I depressed?---naturally. I feel like a bootlegger must have felt a quarter of a century ago when marijuana was legal and booze was illegal. . .well, what I'm trying to emphasize is that everyone in the country smokes marijuana, and yet they put you in just as if you were carrying a gun. . .They say, "---and again he mimicked---"'There's no excuse for you to smoke marijuana,' but that's like telling an alcoholic that if he doesn't stop drinking he'll get five to life. . .Marijuana, it's the mystical shortcut. Everyone is trying to get out of their mind one way or another, and marijuana is the best, the easiest, the least debilitating. . .It's the easiest way to get to the eternal now. . .

"You can see, obviously, I'm having a reaction. I have this fear, this punishment over my head all the time. My sentence is life. My violation is the worst---happiness. I smoked marijuana. . ."


In a drug store in Butte, Montana, or perhaps in a confectionery in Jackson, Mississippi, or perhaps in a book shop in Greenwich Village, a customer, browsing, picks a paperback edition off the rack and reads. . .

"Only a guy who's spent five years in jail can go to such maniacal helpless extremes; beseeching at the portals of the soft source, mad with a completely physical realization of the origins of life-bliss, blindly seeking to return the way he came. This is the result of years looking at sexy pictures behind bars; looking at the legs and breasts of women in popular magazines; evaluating the hardness of the steel halls and the softness of the woman who is not there. Prison is where you promise yourself the right to live. Dean had never seen his mother's face. . ."

The name of the book is On the Road.


His hair, light, was cut short but still he looked much like his photographs, handsome, even in his prison uniform. But now there was a blood spot in his left eye.

"In the 12,035 days I've lived," he said, "not four or five of them have I had bloodshot eyes. So today I wake up and here's this red spot. Are you going to take pictures?"

"No, heh heh, they say I sold marijuana for gain, but I didn't sell it to make money, I had a good paying job with the SP. It was more like a social thing. You go over to a friend's house and he's just got a new supply and you're fresh out, so you ask him for some, and he gives you some, and naturally, uh, you pay him for it, because it cost him money, so that makes him a seller. Me, I used to give it away---I've turned on everyone in San Francisco. . ."


"When Neal got out of the reformatory," said Carolyn Cassady, "there was one thing that he swore to. He promised that no matter what happened, he would never go to prison again. . ."


He grinned and went on in that halting, Marlboro Man tenor that he had, filled with uhs and you sees and ehhhs and yeses and filled especially with pleasantness:

"You see, the thing with marijuana is that you don't utilize the opening you get---it's not a permanent thing. The trouble with most people is, like me, I'm living on the four lower glands---I haven't opened the three upper ones. You see the pituitary and the endocrine glands are the centers of the force. . .It's all in the book---it's part of the Cayce philosophy.

"In the Third Dimension, see, we're under stress here---we're all being pressured beyond the limit of our endurance. . .If you surrender your will enough through the thymus---Dutch doctors, see they've shown that the pineal glands in certain heads are fossilized at adolescence. . .

"But if you can get the top three glands working---they work now, of course, but they work through the self will. Each individual is his own law. If you surrender the law then you can be a channel of service. That's why we're all here---to be of service. Self is the great sin. The thing is to get Kundalini Fire to come up the spine to the pineal. . ."


"I tried to go along with it," said Carolyn Cassady, "but that was years ago. Be one of the boys, you know, smoke marijuana. But then I decided for myself that it wasn't any good, that it was a shortcut to awareness, and that it could become a trap and that everything would be pretty dull and dismal the rest of the time---which was what it became for Neal because he finally got so he had to have it all the time.

"It got so that he wasn't even civil when he wasn't smoking it, and so I was kind of relieved when he was. He wasn't mercenary, he used to give it away, he wanted everyone to enjoy what he enjoyed. He shared everything he had---even his wives!"


He chuckled, refused a cigarette---because the guard was watching---and then explained how money for cigarettes could be left at the warden's office.

"You see," he said, "we only get paid a dollar and thirty cents a month, ehhh". . .But I'm taking some courses here in prison and, well, in one I saw the teacher with Jack's book on his desk, so I mosey up and I look at it and I ask him if he liked it, and he says, fine, fine, and I say---and he mimicked even himself, with his shoulders back and his chest out---"I say, 'Well, I happen to be Dean Moriarty, and so got an 'A' for the course. . .

"But the thing I'd really like to have here is a typewriter, a portable typewriter, any kind of typewriter. If you see Jack, you'll tell him that, ehhh". . .But when I write, it's too much ego stuff. As soon as I start to write, I know I'm just trying to satisfy the ego, rather then be of service. But I've got a tin ear, so I'm no good at music, I'm color blind, so I can't paint. Guess I just have to write.

"I don't want to write to publish. I just want to write by myself. I'd like to retire to a little house and write, just to cultivate myself. It would be just like working in a garden---cultivate myself and cultivate the garden. . .cultivate marijuana plant. . .But no, I've got to become one of the masses. All I want to be is a nice slob. All this rebellion is not justified. . ."


On the fourth floor of San Francisco's Hall of Justice, Lieutenant Leslie Dolan of the narcotics squad looked through the file.

"It was a routine case," he said, "a routine arrest. He was just one of a group, there were ten in all, going down to Mexico, LA, buying bulk marijuana, five, six pounds at a time,

The cops didn't know anything about him being a literary character until they busted him

coming back and selling it. There was no class to the organization. It was just possession, sale, transportation and use.

"We didn't know anything about him being a literary character until after we busted him," added Sergeant William Logan, who led the squad that investigated the case. "Then we had to look into his background and dig up information on who he was. This guy Ginsberg dedicated a book of poetry to him. Listen "---and he reached into his drawer and pulled out a copy of Howl, written by Allen Ginsberg---"Right here in the beginning, it says 'To Neal Cassady, author of The First Third, an autobiography (1949) which enlightened Buddha. . .'

"And then back here it says, 'Who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C.' ---you see, that stands for Neal Cassady---'N.C., secret hero of these poems. . . Adonis of Denver,' and then it uses a lot of words I'm surprised anybody would print. On the Road" Kerouac? Gosh, I never heard of them, I'll have to read it. . ."


He shifted in his chair again and was silent in his thoughts and then he said: "See, here in the Q you have to meet the system. First you have to convince yourself that you're a criminal. I mean you can't face the yard every day unless you think you're as bad as they are. . .No, I don't think that, but you've got to meet the system if you want to get out. The thing I'm thinking about, what I want to see done, is a separation---separate marijuana from the habit-forming narcotics under the law. . ."1


"I guess," said Allen Ginsberg, "that I had a pretty romanticized idea of how Neal got arrested. . .."


"Now," he continued, turning around and looking at the clock on the big wall, "I pray all the time. It's part of wanting to feel all the different reactions, but after a while you become as dependent on prayer as you do on marijuana, ehhh?

"You see, first I don't feel guilty and second I go along with the program. That's why I'm not going to mess with marijuana anymore. They said"---and he mimicked again---'Why do you smoke marijuana?' I said 'To find spiritual enlightenment. This is slower and better---like an apple growing."


Robert LaVigne, painter, looked through a drawer in his San Francisco room for photographs. He found one showing Neal Cassady embracing a girl with one hand and reaching beneath her dress with another.

"Natalie. . .Natalie Jackson," said LaVigne. "I always had the feeling that there was something more to it, something very deep, something very tragic. She was living with Neal here in San Francisco and then she cut her wrists and then fell, or jumped, off the roof. It may have been an accident. The newspapers had an article about it --- 'Unidentified Blonde Leaps to Death'.

"Jack even had a part about it in his book Dharma Bums. She used to pose for me---I have several portraits. But Jack and Allen, they put the whole thing down. I mean they say she was just insane. . ."


The tide was out and below the short cliff under San Quentin there were flats in the bay and flocks of white birds were skimming low, looking for what the water had left behind.

"I was too late to catch a train, see," he said. "Ten years and I didn't miss a run, and there were three guys, and I say, 'Hey, I'll give you a couple of joints,' so I gave three joints to the police officers in exchange for a ride downtown to the station---only I didn't know they were police officers.

"But then I got suspicious, see, because they didn't smoke it, they didn't light up, they just exchanged significant glances. So right away the thought goes through my mind, humm, if they're police officers, I'll try to head them off, I'll try to give them a big story so they won't arrest me right then and there, because, see, they didn't know my name and I thought I would just take off.

"So I say, real cagey, see, 'Wanta buy another five hundred dollar's worth?' and then I say, 'I don't use the stuff anymore. . .' So on the one hand I tried to tell them I was quitting and on the other hand I tried to make them think I was a big dealer---which was what they believed and which was what the judge believed. . . "


"The biggest attraction," said Carolyn Cassady, "was that he was so considerate and interested. He used to help me with my homework---I was going for a master's degree. You see, my father is a professor of biochemistry and education runs in the family. But Neal was always very kind and a perfect companion and gentleman. He's always been an expert con man. . .

"Now I think his going to prison is a purposeful thing. You see, we've tried to separate for many years and years and years, and we've never been able to--something would happen so that one of us would have nothing else to turn to but the other. Hugh Lynn Cayce---he's Edgar Cayce's son---he's been very interested in Neal. Spiritual counselors are always more interested in Neal than they are in me---the greater the sinner the greater the sufferer.

"You see, Neal never really was able to feel a part of this---the family and home. He's never known a family and home, and he feels he doesn't fit in. You remember in On the Road, they were always searching for his father, a tinsmith who had become a drifter---well, his family has found the father now---he's in Denver.

"Anyway, Hugh Lynn Cayce told me, 'All you have to do is keep still.' And now I know he was right. Neal and I are closer than ever now."


The clock moved toward the end of the visiting period, and he smiled at a happy but distant, so distant thought. "Ah, yess," he said, "Natalie. . .Well, you know, she was the great love, the great love. . .She came from Newark---Newark, New Jersey Yes, Natalie, the great love of my life. . .She wanted to be an actress, you know. . .It's a funny thing, but the day before she died, her face turned black---all those chemicals rushing into her head. . ."


In the Narcotics Squad office on the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice, they sat talking about Neal Cassady, some of them, surprised, that they could remember but even more surprised that they should be asked to.

"Oh there's no question," said Sergeant William Logan, that he was making a buck selling tea. He needed it for the horses. Every day, he was down the track---he loved those ponies. And then he had another girlfriend to support, a cute little babe, really a knockout. I think he and another guy were taking turns living with her."

A young detective nodded his head. He wore a zippered jacket and dungarees, the way undercover agents dress on television, the way he dressed, in fact, when they arrested Neal. His name was Charles Wetstein and he was on another case.

"To me, he was just an oddball," Wetstein said. "Playing horses, smoking tea---they tell me he emptied out his bank account playing the horses. In a way I guess he was looking to get busted---I understand he used to drive up from LA at ninety miles an hour with a carload of marijuana.

"He was a better than average narco violator, but he was always talking, often incoherently, changing the subject, never finishing what he said. He was one of the most far-gone as far as smoking is concerned. Most teaheads take it or leave it---he seemed as if he really had to have it. Marijuana is supposed to be non-habit forming, but he seemed as if he was really an addict."


It was almost time to go back to the textile mill and sweep the floor and Neal Cassady continued talking.

". . ..I'm not interested in Jack's book or all the phoney beat stuff or kicks. Oh, yeah, Jack and I, we've had some excitement, but I've reached an age where I've had all that. Jack and I, we drifted apart over the years. He became a Buddhist and I became a Cayceite. Yeah, he was impressed with me. Let's see if he was impressed enough to send me a typewriter."2


"So in America when the sun goes down," wrote Jack Kerouac at the end of his novel, On the Road, "and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is a Pooh Bear? The evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty."3 ## NEXT: PART 4: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ: CHAPTER 4: A CERTAIN PARTY


1"According to Kerouac 'Marijuana is a muscarine alkaloid and coffee is a caffeine alkaloid. According to chemical logic we should ban coffee next." (Note on manuscript, Jack Kerouac, January, 1960)

2 "Kerouac did, but Cassady can't take out anything he's written in prison." Jack Kerouac, Note on Manuscript, January 1960.

3 "Kerouac read this passage before millions of viewers on the Steve Allen show in November 1959 and drove back to new York in a car with two more beatniks, writing more poems and swigging out of more bottles. What else? For when Rembrandt and Van Beethoven were themselves, none of the burghers liked them, yet the painting and the music was accomplished under heaven." Jack Kerouac note on manuscript, January 1960. See also his remarks in letter of January 22, 1960, in Appendix --ed. ##



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