Literary Daybook, Feb. 4

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
February 5, 2002 1:00AM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 4, 1882, Ivan Ilyich dies.
-- "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" (1886)
by Leo Tolstoy

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1968 Neal Cassady died, at the age of 41. Cassady was not only Jack Kerouacs wheelman on the cross-country trips that inspired "On the Road" but a direct influence on Kerouac's style. His rambling, benzedrine-and-booze letters to Kerouac aimed for "a continuous chain of undisciplined thought," and invited his friend to "fall into a spontaneous groove" with him by mail. Only after getting this advice (and his own pile of bennies and his 120 ft. roll of paper) did Kerouac move beyond the "phony architectures" (i.e., traditional prose) of his rough draft into "innocent go-ahead confession, the discipline of making the mind the slave of the tongue." By the early '60s Kerouac was famous, Cassady was an ex-con (drug convictions) and the two rarely spoke. By the mid-'60s, Kerouac was an outspoken conservative, retreated to alcohol and his Massachusetts hometown for good; Cassady was now wheelman for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, in the bus that had "FURTHUR" as its destination sign. When Kerouac got the phone call that Cassady had died -- found unconscious in the Mexican mountains, from a pulque and speed overdose, while on a 15-mile walk along the train tracks to retrieve the "magic bag" that contained his Bible and his old letters from Ginsberg and Kerouac, and to count the ties between stations (legend has it that he got to 64,928) -- he began to talk about how "there's nothing more to say or do" now that the man who "inspired every word I wrote" was gone. Among those who have elegized Cassady and his impact on the Beat era is the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia: "Neal was an authority on subjects that hadn't been invented yet." Cassady's dust jacket blurb for his unfinished biography conveys something of the same message:

"Seldom had there been 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 ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.


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