When I was a teenager, I discovered the “Beat Generation” comprised of writers like JACK KEROUAC, ALLEN GINSBERG, and GREGORY CORSO. The Beats believed in spontaneous prose, smoking pot and living free of the hangups of conventional modern society, much like the teenage me. Most of the Beat writers seemed to have been profoundly affected by someone from Denver named NEAL CASSADY, who only published one book in his lifetime, entitled The First Third, recounting his childhood and some of his teen years. Even CHARLES BUKOWSKI had a story about him (but he wasn’t really a Beat).
Though his time in New York City inspiring the Beat Generation into existence, his subsequent cross country zigzags with Jack Kerouac and his later years in parts West driving Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests bus are far better known, author and countercultural icon Neal Cassady spent the first third of his life right here in Denver. I bought a copy of Neal’s book as a teen Beat fan and retraced his route from the flophouse on Larimer Street where he acted as de facto ward and page to “a few score beaten men” – most of whom had drinking problems or were otherwise habitually unbalanced, one of whom was his father, Neal Sr. – past the church where he served as an altar boy (Holy Trinity, Broadway and 19th, I think, still standing) and the U.S. Post Office with its cryptic motto bench IF THOU DESIREST REST, DESIRE NOT TOO MUCH all the way to the elementary school he attended on 19th St and – oh, some street on the way to the Mercury Cafe, I can’t remember what’s the name – but the school is still there, it’s still called Ebert Elementary, also still “standing”, though the bricks have surely all been changed. Cassady is one of the most culturally impactive Americans of the last hundred years. Even after the Beat Generation had blossomed and been eclipsed by an emerging Acid Love Generation, Neal Cassady stayed in the heart of the storm, driving Ken Kesey’s magic bus “Furthur” (sic) from Acid Test to Acid Test. I remember feeling especially gratified when someone pointed out Neal’s face among the hundreds of notable local faces formerly adorning the 14th Street side of the Denver Center For Performing Arts, as there seemed a dearth of local memorials to this super-humanly influential native son.
HEATHER DALTON is about to change all that. Producer/Director/Editor of a forthcoming film entitled NEAL CASSADY: THE DENVER YEARS, Dalton has built a solid reputation as a creative producer of original programming for public television focusing on independent film, culture, politics and social issues. She currently produces a local music series, Sounds on 29th as well as a magazine format series, Out of Order for Colorado Public Television. Dalton also produced and directed the EMMY Nominated series Dropframe that focused on independent film in Colorado.
You’re invited to visit the Kickstarter page and chip in whatever you can spare for this long-absent worthy and wonderful tribute. While you’re at it, please dig this animated scene, art by Karl Christian Krumpholz, & Daniel Crosier. Animated by Norman Dillon.