Beat Street

“To have seen a specter isn’t everything, and there are deathmasks piled, one atop the other, clear to heaven. Commoner still are the wan visages of those returning from the shadow of the valley. This means little to those who have not lifted the veil.” So begins the “Joan Anderson Letter,” a long-lost eight-page document sent to Jack Kerouac by Neal Cassady in December 1950. It was written in the stream-of-consciousness style that Kerouac later refined in On the Road, and some say it was a major influence on the Beat novelist.

Now the subject of a three-way dispute over its ownership, the letter is among many examples of Cassady ephemera explored in the locally made documentary Neal Cassady: The Denver Years, directed by Heather Dalton and produced by Joshua Hassel for CPT12 public television.

“Neal Cassady’s influence on literary and pop culture is well documented,” Dalton says. “As the protagonist for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, driver of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters bus, and through his own writing and lifestyle, Neal exhibited a style and distinct ‘cool’ that cemented his stature as a true American original.”

The film, which premiered last summer at the Sie FilmCenter, will be televised tonight for the first time, laced with interviews with a Beat who’s-who that includes Carolyne Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Amram and Cassady’s children. Tune in to CPT12 at 8 p.m. or catch a second showing at midnight; the film will repeat at 10 p.m. December 27. Learn more at cpt12.org.
Mon., Dec. 22, 8 p.m. & midnight; Sat., Dec. 27, 10 p.m., 2014

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd