Friday, May 27, 2016

Missing Neal Cassady Letter Found! Gerd Stern Cleared of Beat Libel!

The real story behind the long-lost, drug-fuelled ‘Holy Grail’ letter that inspired On The Road

National Post (Canada)


Neal Cassady (left) with fellow Beat figure Jack Keourac. Cassady was a central character in the novel On the Road
Wikimedia Commons Neal Cassady (left) with fellow Beat figure Jack Keourac. Cassady was a central character in the novel On the Road.

Beat movement figure Gerd Stern carried the blame for 60 years for losing a 16,000-word typewritten letter, about to go up for auction, that inspired the revolutionary style of Jack Kerouac’s celebrated novel, On the Road.

The 1950 drug-fuelled letter, written by Beat legend Neal Cassady and valued at more than $500,000, was thrown overboard on Stern’s California houseboat.

Or at least that’s the story Kerouac told the press.

“It appeared in various literary journals and it was annoying,” says Stern, now 87.

“I never thought that I had destroyed it.”

Gerd Stern / The Beat Museum
Gerd Stern / The Beat Museum Stern in 1963. The Beat figure was blamed for over 60 years for losing Cassady's letter

Stern, a poet and artist who was connected to the writers known as the Beat Generation, was finally vindicated in 2012 when the long-lost letter was found in the home of a man unconnected to both Kerouac and Stern.

“The reason they are so interested in the letter is that it’s one of the few remaining artifacts that has been brooded about for all those years,” Stern said.

Christie’s recently announced the letter will be up for auction on June 16 in New York and estimates its value between $523,500 and $785,250.

Christie's / AP
Christie's / AP16,000-word typewritten letter from Cassady to Kerouac was thought to be lost for over 60 years

Cassady’s 18-page letter to Kerouac describes a drunken and sexually charged visit to his hometown of Denver, Colorado. The honest and fluid nature of the single-spaced, double-sided document directly influenced Kerouac’s prose.

“I got the idea for the spontaneous style of On the Road from seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters),” Kerouac told the Paris Review in 1968.

“I got the flash from his style.”

The novel-esque letter, known as the Joan Anderson Letter for its description of a brief romantic encounter with a woman, was apparently completed during a three-day writing binge while Cassady was high on Benzedrine.

“He was a speed freak,” Stern said of Cassady.

Kerouac told the Paris Review he passed the exceptional letter on to friend and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who then loaned it to Stern. Kerouac believed Stern lost the letter over the side of his boat, forever gone at sea.

“Allen shouldn’t have been so careless with it, nor the guy on the houseboat,” Kerouac told the Paris Review.

Tom Palumbo / Handout
Tom Palumbo / Handout Kerouac's writing style was directly influenced by the letter's honest and fluid nature.

But Stern says the story was a lie conjured up by Ginsberg.

“It was Allen’s conclusion. Allen was mischievous,” Stern said.

Ginsberg had mailed the letter to Golden Goose Press in San Francisco, with the hopes of getting it published. Instead, it sat unopened — buried among other unread submissions — until the publishing house closed down. It was about to be thrown out, until an operator of a music label, who shared an office with the publisher, took all the archived documents home with him. His daughter, Jean Spinosa, uncovered the letter while cleaning out her late father’s house in 2012.

Spinosa, a Los Angeles performance artist, took the letter to Joe Maddalena, owner of auction house Profiles in History, to authenticate it.
It’s just as significant as the original scroll version of Kerouac’s manuscript of On the Road
“I wasn’t terribly impressed with it when I read it; it’s about an affair that Neal had, and no one has ever been able to identify who the woman was,” Stern said of the letter.

“He had quite a few affairs.”

Jerry Cimino, founder and director of the Beat Museum in San Fransisco, said the letter is “literally the holy grail of the Beat Generation.”

“We’ve all been hearing about this thing for 60 years, and it was considered lost, it was considered destroyed, and nobody really ever read the whole thing,” Cimino said.

“It’s just as significant as the original scroll version of Kerouac’s manuscript of On the Road.”
AFPThe original scroll manuscript of Kerouac's On The Road. The scroll was bought for US$2.4 million by James Irsay in 2001

The letter was first put up for auction in 2014, but was taken off after both Cassady and Kerouac’s estates claimed ownership. The estates have since reached an amicable settlement, allowing the letter to once again go on the market.

Cassady’s influence on Kerouac and Ginsberg was perhaps his biggest contribution to the Beat movement, said Gord Beveridge, literary expert and professor at the University of Winnipeg.

“He was a muse. Allen Ginsberg refers to Cassady as ‘the hero of On the Road’,” he said.
On the Road character Dean Moriarty was based on Cassady, who died in 1968. Cassady’s travels with Beat figures including Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs was the basis of Kerouac’s 1957 novel.

“He is certainly important with his relationships to the Beat writers, but even at the end, he and Kerouac did not get on at all,” Beveridge said.

“They had nothing much to say to each other when they met again just before Kerouac died.”
Being such a critical document to Beat scholars and literary lovers, Cimino said he hopes the letter will eventually be on public display. Cimino has even spoken to a few potential donors about raising enough money to purchase the letter for the museum.

“We would love to have it here…. This is the type of thing people ought to visit.” Cimino said.
But despite the letter saga, Stern continued to be a part of the Beat scene and knew Allen for the rest of his life.

“I wasn’t fond of either Jack or Neal. I was a little bit fonder of Allen.”

Stern said he will be attending the auction in June. 

No comments: