Monday, April 09, 2012

Review,One And Only,The Untold Story Of On The Road.

I have made some wonderful friends on the internet in the last ten years or so.One of my best friends is Colleen who lives in San Diego.Colleen's generosity and kindness is legendary amongst my friends.Recently Colleen sent me a book she had just finished called 'One And Only',The untold story of On The Road by Gerald Nicosia & Anne Marie Santos.That is because Colleen knows that i am a big fan of Jack Kerouac and The Beat Generation writers.
I have met Gerald Nicosia before,well i haven't actually met him but i was at a Beat Conference in Plymouth in 1987 when he gave a talk about his book Memory Babe which at the time was the definitive biography of Jack Kerouac.Carolyn Cassady was at that conference as well.It was a great weekend (See story below).The book 'One And Only' is the story of Lu Anne Henderson who was the first wife of Neal Cassady who was Dean Moriarty the hero of 'On The Road' one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century.In 'On The Road' Lu Anne is Marylou.
The book is based on interviews and recordings that Gerald Nicosia made with Lu Anne in the late 1970's.He transcripts the interviews exactly as Lu Anne spoke to him in an easy conversational way.One thing i don't like about the book is the anti-Carolyn Cassady tone of it.Carolyn was Neal's second wife.It is obvious that Lu Anne and Carolyn would be rivals because they were both married to Neal Cassady and they are both entitled to their own opinion but i don't think Nicosia should have taken sides and put in his own two cents worth such as on page 21 when he says Carolyn could be a bit pompous and ponderous and didn't have the quick humour of Lu Anne.I met Carolyn briefly in 87 and i found her most charming,friendly and not at all pompous or ponderous.She was also very beautiful as was Lu Anne (See Pictures)
Having said that,i think this is a great book because it gives Lu Anne the important position in the Beat Generation that she deserves.As Nicosia points out if Jack had never met Neal there would have not have been a Beat Generation.When they met they were very wary of each other but Lu Anne was the catylyst that brought them together.Also the Beats were basically a boys club of Jack,Neal, Gingsy,Gregory Corso, and several others.The women were reduced to 'minor characters' as one of Jack's girlfriends Joyce Johnson described them in her memoir.The women for the most part were left at home to look after the kids or earn some money Lu Anne actually lived it though from the moment she first met Neal at the age of 15.She set off on the crazy car journeys across the great continent, through blizzards and stealing gas and picking up hitchhikers to get a couple of dollars.Women in the 1940's and 50's didn't behave like that.Without realizing it she was an early feminist.The book also gives some insights into Jack and Neal.Cassady comes over as very selfish such as when he dumps Jack and Lu Anne on the sidewalk in San Francisco penniless and with no idea where to go.Jack comes over as a shy kind person but unable to cope with difficult situations.Jack and Lu Anne used to lie on the grass and look at the sky and describe what they could see in the clouds.One of the saddest parts of the book is when Lu Anne met Jack after On The Road was published and Jack said,"I can't see anything in the clouds any more".Neither Jack or Neal could handle fame.Jack wrote about twelve books in total obscurity and was happy but when fame came it was like old papers blowing down Bleeker Street and he began to drink heavily and it destroyed him.Gone in October 69 at 47.It was the same for Neal who just became a performing Dean Moriaty the hero of On The Road.It must have been very upsetting for Lu Anne to see them both self destruct.
There is also a chapter of the memories of Al Hinkle who was best friends with Neal and Lu Anne which fills in details of Lu Annes story after she gave the interviews to Nicosia.He was Big Ed Dunkel in On The Road.There is also a letter which Lu Anne wrote to Neal in 57.Finally there is a chapter called 'A Daughters Recollections' which is by Lu Anne's daughter Anne Marie Santos.One of the saddest things is that On The Road is finally being made into a film and Lu Anne died in 2010 and didn't live to see the film and how it portrays her position in the Beat Generation and hopefully gives her the credit she deserves.Anne Marie recounts meeting Kristen Stewart who portrays her mother in the film.Kristen listened to the tape of Lu Anne's interview with Gerald Nicosia which must have been very moving for her.I am really looking forward to seeing the film and thank you very much Colleen for sending me this excellent book which is a very important contribution to our understanding of a movement which brought about a very beneficial change to our western society.


No comments: