Tag Archives: LuAnne Henderson

Happy 88th Birthday, Neal Cassady!

8 Feb

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Neal Leon Cassady was born on this day in 1926 in Salt Lake City, Utah. His mother, Maude Jean (Scheuer), passed away when he was just ten years old, and his father, Neal Marshall Cassady, went on to raise him on the mean streets of skid row in Denver, Colorado. With an alcoholic father, Cassady soon turned to a life of crime, and was arrested when he was only fourteen years old. At nineteen years old, and fresh out of prison, Cassady married a vivacious fifteen year old by the name of LuAnne Henderson. Together they set out for New York City in 1947 to meet up with a Denver friend who had gone on to study at Columbia. It was through Hal Chase that Cassady met two other young guys who studied at Columbia: Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. His life would forever change.

Returning to Denver, Cassady met Carolyn Robinson, a young teaching assistant at the theater arts department of the Denver Art Museum, whom he married, after divorcing LuAnne. By 1950 he was in a bigamous relationship with Diane Hansen. Cassady’s romances, command of a steering wheel, and zeal for life inspired Kerouac’s writing, and he became Dean Moriarty in On the Road and the title character of Visions of Cody.

What is sometimes overlooked, though, and which I want to celebrate on his birthday is Cassady’s own writing. It was Cassady’s great “Joan Anderson letter” that took Kerouac’s writing to the next level, inspiring him to become more confessional and spontaneous. Although he died in 1968, Cassady also left us with his own memoir, The First Third. Here’s how it’s described on Barnes & Noble:

Immortalized as Dean Moriarty by Jack Kerouac in his epic novel, On the Road, Neal Cassady was infamous for his unstoppable energy and his overwhelming charm, his savvy hustle and his devil-may-care attitude. A treasured friend and traveling companion of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Ken Kesey, to name just some of his cohorts on the beatnik path, Cassady lived life to the fullest, ready for inspiration at any turn.

Before he died in Mexico in 1968, just four days shy of his forty-second birthday, Cassady had written the jacket blurb for this book: “Seldom has there been a story of a man so balled up. No doubt many readers will not believe the veracity of the author, but I assure these doubting Thomases that every incident, as such, is true.”

As Ferlingetti writes in his editor’s note, Cassady was “an early prototype of the urban cowboy who a hundred years ago might have been an outlaw on the range.” Here are his autobiographical writings, the rambling American saga of a truly free individual.

For a critical analysis on the “facts” of The First Third, check out David Sandison and Graham Vickers’ Neal Cassady.

While the salacious details of his personal biography are important perhaps to understanding where he came from and his perspective on life, they should not be confused for the totality of who he is and what he offered the world. Contrary to his wild persona, his prose is tame. He methodically plots out his lineage, trying his best to adhere to some intangible idea of what it means to sound literary. Yet it’s also raw. Cassady refuses to conform to the standard rules of grammar, instead allowing his words to gush over the page.

In honor of Cassady’s birthday, read some of his work! It’s the best way to understand the man behind the myth.

What do you think of Neal Cassady’s writing style? Do you have a favorite biography about Cassady?

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“On the Road” Review

18 Dec


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On Friday, December 14, I attended a special sneak preview of On the Road at IFC Center in Greenwich Village. It was history in the making. At long last, Jack Kerouac’s seminal road novel had made its way to the silver screen. Kerouac himself wrote a lot about going to the movies, and he wanted his novel turned into a film. In fact, he even wrote to Marlon Brando, asking him to buy it and star in it.

Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights decades ago. I have a friend who wrote a screenplay that he showed to Coppola, and there have been numerous actors associated with the film adaptation, but the project always seemed to stall. Finally, Walter Salles came on as director and Jose Rivera as screenwriter, and soon after an impressive cast lined up, and the film looked like it would finally take off. And it did! It debuted at Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the film showed at theatres across Europe and South America. Those of us in the States read reviews, watched clips, argued about whether the novel could be adapted for film in a successful way, and debated the choices for the cast while we waited for the quintessential American story to come to us. At long last, when it was announced that a sneak preview of On the Road was taking place in the neighborhood Kerouac used to hang out in, people lined up on the Avenue of Americas for a chance to see it. As my good friend Elizabeth and I waited in line, an older man offered us $50 for our movie tickets. Considering we were so excited we were taking photos to commemorate the event, we probably weren’t the best people to try to scalp from. Needless to say, I watched the film, and, for whatever it’s worth, I can now give you my review of On the Road, which opens in New York and LA on December 21 and the rest of the country in January.

Let me start with a caveat: I am perhaps a bit too close to the subject matter to review On the Road objectively. After all, I am writing a book about the true story of On the Road. I have also heard and read reviews by a few other Beat scholars and fans and watched many Youtube clips from the film. I came in with lots of preconceived notions, and I watched the film more as a critic than as your average moviegoer. That said, I did not go into it as a literary snob wanting it to fail. I came into it wanting to see Kerouac’s work done justice.

***

On the Road is wonderfully nuanced. And to me, it’s the nuances in the acting, directing, and screenwriting that make On the Road a worthwhile adaptation of the novel. Everyone involved in the film understood that Kerouac’s novel is not just about some crazy kids driving at high speeds across the country, getting high, and getting laid. They understood that depicting this wild behavior — the film does not censor anything — was necessary not for shock value but because it underscores the complexity of the characters. In particular, the film does justice to the theme of the loss of fathers. Burning Furiously Beautiful, the book I’m coauthoring, delves into the personal life stories of the real-life people the characters are based on, giving further insight into their behavior and lifestyle. Understanding the characters’ back story elucidates their desires and actions, and the film adaptation neither glorifies nor critiques the characters. It gives them space to reveal themselves to the viewer.

Interestingly, the character that fell flat to me was the character of Sal Paradise, based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley. The actor, screenwriter, and director did a great job showing him to be an observer, which was true to Kerouac’s nature. However, the film itself was not seen through Sal’s eyes. He seemed like just another character. The landscape, the jazz shows, the parties were depicted through a neutral perspective. Not only did this make it difficult to understand Sal’s motivations and character — this is most evident in the scene with Terry (“the Mexican girl”), which isn’t developed enough for us to understand why it’s included — it meant we lost his voice. While critics over the years have focused on the road trip antics, for me, the strength of the novel was its insanely beautiful poetry. The film adaptation was more about the story and less about the literature.

Overall, though, the dialogue for the characters and the acting was phenomenal. Viggo Mortensen needs to star in a biopic on William S. Burroughs. Amy Adams took on the persona of Jane. Kristen Stewart brought a depth to Marylou that Kerouac himself didn’t. Kirsten Dunst showed great emotion in her scenes. Tom Sturridge played Carlo Marx with intensity but also surprising humor; his dialogue was quintessential Ginsberg: dramatic and over the top. Elisabeth Moss’ Galatea was a nice contrast to the other characters, while Danny Morgan’s Ed was a bit too goofy; these two characters are the reason the characters end up at Old Bull Lee and Janes’s place, but if it weren’t for that they could’ve been edited out for the film. Garrett Hedlund was charismatic. He lit up the screen.

My most pressing criticism of the film is that it felt a bit too much like a period piece for my personal preference.  I was impressed that the film was historically accurate, and yet I found myself distracted by those details. For example, when the focus was on the exterior of the Hudson, it made the story feel removed instead of vibrant; yet the shots within the car or from the viewpoint of the passenger were beautiful. Likewise, there were times when the wallpaper in a room jumped out at me more than it probably should have. I’m by no means suggesting the story should have been modernized, but the setting and props should not overpower the story. There were also scenes like the one at the jazz club which felt staged, almost cartoonish. I would’ve liked something a bit more raw, a bit grittier or impressionist.

In contrast, the New Year’s Eve party was sheer brilliance. Here were fast cuts and disorienting angles. Here were sweat and thrashing limbs. Here was jazz you wanted to dance to. Here was the energy that made you want to shout go, go, go! There were also beautiful quiet moments laced throughout the film. Poetic landscape. Honest heart-to-hearts. Subtle glances. Almost any time the characters were on the road, the dialogue, the filmography, and the acting were spot on.

The film adaptation of On the Road may enlighten some people’s perception of Jack Kerouac.

14 Road Trip Movies for Every Personality

17 Aug

When I was an arts & entertainment editor for an indie paper in LA county, I used to work a lot with the big Hollywood studios to promote their films.  At the time, the American Pie franchise was all the rage, and the PR execs in Hollywood contacted me about coordinating a free screening for my readers of the similarly raunchy teen comedy Road Trip.  Not exactly the highest form of entertainment, but it just went to prove that there’s a road trip movie for everyone.

As I’ve been working with Paul Maher Jr. on Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I’ve been thinking about the upcoming film of On the Road and wondering who it will appeal to.  Will it be the die-hard Beat fans that pilgrimage out to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac?  Will it be a new crop of hipsters in the making?  Will it be a bunch of fanged teenyboppers brought in by Twilight’sKristen Stewart, who’s playing LuAnne?  Will it be the social justice league brought in by Walter Salles, of The Motorcycle Diaries?

For the wine lover: Sideways

For the BFFs (emphasis on the last F): Thelma & Louise

For the quirky, dysfunctional family: Little Miss Sunshine

For remembering your own family road trips gone awry: National Lampoon’s Vacation

For brothers: The Darjeeling Limited

For the beer-lovin’, truck-drivin’, betting type: Smokey and the Bandit

For the hippie: Easy Rider

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For the revolutionary: The Motorcycle Diaries

For the reader who shuns conventional life and his family: Into the Wild

For the scamming father-daughter team: Paper Moon

For fashionable gangsters in love: Bonnie and Clyde

For bored, hormonal teens whose girlfriends are on vacation: Y Tu Mama Tambien

For quirky con artists and an heiress who like their trips European: The Brothers Bloom

For the spoiled heiress and the desperate journalist: It Happened One Night

There are so many other road trip movies.  Which are your favorites?