The beat goes on
Lover and wife to American Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, CAROLYN CASSADY tells why she has helped bring the story of their love triangle to the stage. Words: Damien Love
THE DAY BEFORE cult writer William S. Burroughs dies, Carolyn Cassady is sitting in the dimly lit drawing room of a plush Edinburgh hotel, wondering whether or not it’s okay to smoke. l’vejust asked her whether she would have imagined that of the holy Beat quartet of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and Burroughs, the alien reptile genius most infamously responsible for The Naked Lunch, would be the last man standing.
‘Well. actually Neal did,’ says 7l-year-old Cassady. ‘l have this little tape — all that’s left of hundreds of tapes — this little scrap from when Jack and Neal were in their prime, and Neal is reading Proust and Jack is reading Dr Sax. Neal stops and starts talking to Jack, and they talk about Burroughs and he says, you know. nothing will ever happen to Burroughs, he‘ll just go on and on. Of course, he thought Burroughs would end up in the Tropics, but I suppose Kansas City could be considered the Tropics. in a way . . .’
To many thousands, Carolyn Cassady is better known as Camille, the sketched-in wife Dean Moriarty leaves behind to go on the road with Sal Paradise in Kerouac’s most widely read novel, first published 40 years ago.
Of course, Carolyn Cassady isn’t On The Road‘s Camille — she never really was, just as her husband Neal was never really Dean. Her autobiography Off The Road paints the more prosaic and painful, though at times eqtially beautiful, flip-side to Kerouac’s head- spinning Legends of Dulouz, charting the years she spent with and without Neal, when Kerouac was a frequent house guest.
A fortnight before appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival to discuss her autobiography. Cassady is in Edinburgh acting as advisor to City Light Productions‘ stage show The Kerouac Triangle. It tells the story of Kerouac, the two Cassadys and their three-way love affair. Tellingly, in his autobiographical sagas Kerouac himself never alluded to his affair with Carolyn, an affair which Neal seemingly instigated and then grew quietly fearful of.
‘lack wouldn’t write about our affair because, well, first of all, it just wasn’t done,’ says Cassady. ‘And he was aware that the children would be growing up and reading books about their naughty parents. He had a lot of consideration for Neal’s children.’
The short-lived me’nage a trois has long since been public knowledge. Cassady has been asked the same questions over the years
by a stream of interviewers and Beat fans, all
of whom feel they know what really
happened, but who sometimes appear interested only in the love triangle’s more superficial aspects. ‘There was a woman journalist in London,’ recalls Cassady, ‘and her first question, before she had her coat off, was “how big were they?” ’
Cassady praises the sincerity behind City
'Neal had this constant battle between his obsession with spiritual growth and his lust, but nobody wants to read about that, they
want him to be the Bad Man.’ Carolyn Cassady
Light’s production, written by BBC Scotland’s Vivien Devlin and directed by Morris Paton. She feels it has come about through a real love for the characters portrayed and that if any production is going to come close to capturing what really happened, this is it.
On the road: unhol
Carolyn Cassady: sole survivor of the Kerouac triangle
‘You know. Neal didn’t like the way he was portrayed in On The Road, but he would never say anything to Jack,’ she muses. ‘And Jack was sensitive and he felt guilty about it, but he didn‘t know why — because he admired the things in Neal that Neal didn’t.
‘That was probably the only thing they didn’t understand about each other. Neal had a definite problem with lust — he suffered so — he had this constant battle between his obsession with spiritual growth and his lust . . . but nobody wants to read about that, they want him to be the Bad Man.’
The Kerouac Triangle (Fringe) City Light Productions, Cafe Graffiti (Venue 90) Edinburgh, 0131 557 8330, until 30 Aug (not 11, 18, 23, 25) 10.40pm, £6 (£5). Carolyn Cassady (Book Festival) Thu 14 Aug, ESPC Studio Theatre, 5pm, free but ticketed. See review, page 84.
\"t- _ x s}: 3% “was.” \
y duo Neal Cssady (left) and Jack Kerouac
8—14 Aug 1997 THELIST 25