The Relatives

NealThe 9th Annual Neal Cassady Birthday Bash took place upstairs at Denver’s Mercury Café in a large room hung with lights and hearts for Valentine season on February 9th, one day after its namesake’s birthday 92 years ago in 1926. I read a mash of spontaneous stuff ending with a sample of Market Man. Neal’s son, 73-year-old Robert Hyatt of Arvada read a gritty excerpt from his memoir, Beat Bastard, Neal’s daughter Jami cringing on one side of me, Cannabis Maven Susan Squibb doing the same on the other. That passage, about excising a friend’s tattoo by knife while both were drunk, was probably intended to teach Bob’s kids about the erroneous whimsy of drunkards, himself being a recovered alcoholic who never intended to leave anything but a legacy for his own kids with that book, until I talked him into publishing it.  Michael McQuate, discoverer of Neal’s lost Joan Anderson Letter to Jack, the one that inspired Kerouac to write spontaneously, spoke at length on the ensuing legal contest, only recently resolved. Second wave Denver Beat Edwin Forrest Ward read a piece on his late friend Billy Burroughs, accompanied by Justin Anderson on guitar and incidental vocals—“Schlitz malt liquor, please.” Ed Dorn’s widow Jennifer Dunbar Dorm read some poems in her dry English accent, remarking in calm surprise, “They all seem to be about death.” The David Amram Quintet played masterful bebop jazz interspersed with informative spoken interludes by the Pull My Daisy co-creator and lifelong hip scene veteran, spry as a daisy himself, shifting from an interactive clapping session into a rendition of avowed anti-fascist Woody Guthrie’s song “Pastures of Plenty.” “My pastures of plenty must always be free,” Guthrie sang through Amram, which nearly brought a tear to think of all the laws and rules and walls been on parade lately.

In 2015, I wrote a book about Denver’s ongoing connection with the Beat Generation of American writers inspired into being by Cassady’s 1946 visit to the Columbia University campus with his then-bride Lu Anne Henderson, daughter of a Denver police officer, meeting Kerouac, Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, and others and amazing them all with his natural effusiveness. I’m glad to say Bob Hyatt has become a friend, as has Jami Cassady Ratto, who invited me to meet her and husband Randy at Charlie Brown’s on 10th and Grant as they passed through Denver last summer on their way back to San Jose. “This is where my parents met,” she said. “We’re reliving Beat history.” Carolyn Robinson rented a room on the second floor of the Colburn Hotel while studying theater arts and set design at Denver University. It was in this room that the iconic scene from On the Road of her walking in and finding Neal in bed with Lu Anne and Allen happened. I told Jami and Randy there would be peripheral references to Neal in my new book, “like when I mention Bob’s book, to say whose son he is, but I’ve changed all the names.” “That’s all we ask,” said Randy. “Which is only fair,” I agreed.

Bob and I went to a burger joint a couple of weeks before the Bash. He let me know Bash founder, host and organizer Mark Bliesener was paying for Jami and Randy’s airfare, and possibly Amram’s too. “So that’s why tickets are $20 this year! That poor guy.” “If you know any musicians with their own fan base,” Bob suggested. “that would bring in more of an audience.” “Well, I know a lot of anti-folkers who are always touring. Cindy Lee Berryhill, Ed Hammel, Jeffrey Lewis, David Ivar Herman Dune. They would seem to have an affinity. Not only that, Charles Bukowski’s friend and colleague Neeli Cherkovski, son of poet Sam Cherry, just published a new one called Elegy For My Beat Generation, bridging the gap between all my Bukowski-Fante-Saroyan connections and my Beats and Cassady ones!” “What?” “I mean the Bash has always been limited to strictly Beat stuff, with few exceptions. Bliesener once told me, ‘Whatever you read has to be Beat-related.’ and now there’s a bridge.”

BGI befriended Neeli on Facebook, impressed daily by the poems he posted during a recent Malaysian sally, and he referred me to Lithic Press of Fruta, CO. for a copy of Elegy For My Beat Generation It’s a beautiful book, finely put together, sleekly black with a big white eye on the cover. Cherlovsi’s manifold tribute to all the legends that led his life, including Bukowski, Bob Kaufman, Andy Clausen, Gregory Corso, Harold Norse, and others, commemorating the multiple branches of his family relationship and yours and mine and America’s with the Beat Generation, is an expression of sorrow for a great dream passed, not an apology but an assurance, a wisely respectful embodiment of everything great about that dream that never dies, nor could. I recognized lots of names in Neeli’s book about his crush on that hallowed gone dream. Art Goodtimes, who crashed my Coffee Grounds reading years ago while visiting Mary Love, even made an appearance. I guess Cherkovski met Bukowski through his own poet father before they became drinking fellows. What a poet, lines like “we screw people into light sockets/ so they’ll burn in a matter of minutes” or “endless lunch, endless fire” or “Languages are real/they have spines and elbows.” Living language that leaps from the page in a style neither Whitmanesque, Bukowskian, nor imitative of Pound, Ginsberg, Corso, others, rather a distinct arabesque combining parts of everything. I don’t like to criticize, but the brand-new stuff I’ve seen on Facebook has me expecting the best from anything forthcoming. I’ll be reading In the Odes, an homage to Confucius and Ezra Pound, and other of his poetic works, like Animal, Elegy for Bob Kufman, and Leaning Against Time. Cherkovski has also written a biography of Charles Bukowski and one of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, at whose City Lights Books in San Francisco he recently held a release party for Elegy on March 22nd.

I sent Bash organizer Mark Bliesener an email detailing my thoughts on revamping that event, but who knows what will happen. He’s in Mexico now, but he’ll be getting back soon, and next year’s Bash will be in part affected by our conversation. Maybe Neeli will show up next year. Mark SaFranko has already expressed interest in visiting Denver. I know a lot of independent musicians, locally-based and touring. Something could be worked out benefiting all parties and elevating the Cassady Bash from cherished local chestnut to an annual celebration of the creative spirit in tribute to Neal but not limited by geography or content beyond common spirit. I guess Mark Bliesener knows a lot of bands himself, having been the one to give the Dead Kennedys their name a million years ago, showing a penchant for trail blazing. The Cassady Estate has won the rights to the content of Neal’s Joan Anderson letter as intellectual property and will publish. Jami and Randy have started a GoFundMe link toward the responsible cataloguing of their late mother Carolyn Cassady’s archives, including correspondence with Neal, authors Kerouac, Ginsberg, Peter Ackroyd and others. Market Man will be published sometime in 2018 by Boston’s Big Table Publishing, inspired by Alan R. Graham saying, “What about a sequel? That’s what you need is a sequel,” the last time I thought I had finished a book.

by permission of Alan Graham

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