by Jack Kerouac
Real Name:: Neal Cassady (photo)
Cody is the alter-ego of Neal Cassady, a good friend of Kerouac who is featured in many of his works. Neal was immortalized forever as the famous Dean Moriarty in On the Road, and Jack even wrote an entire book about him called Visions of Cody in the early 1950s.
By the time we get to 1960, Cody, like Jack, has slowed down quite a bit. By now he's married, has three kids, and is living a somewhat stable life in Los Gatos. "Stable" for Cody means living paycheck-to-paycheck and keeping at least one mistress on the side, but believe us when we say this is much more low-key than in the days of On the Road. Kerouac notes the differences in his friend, who has just gotten out of prison for marijuana charges:
I expect him to be all bitter and out of his head because of [prison] but strangely and magnificently he's become quieter, more radiant, more patient, manly, more friendly even – And tho the wild frenzies of his old road days with me have banked down he still has the same taut eager face and supple muscles and looks like he's ready to go anytime – But actually loves his home […], loves his wife […], loves his kids. (13.2)
Later, Jack adds to this thought: "Ever since he's come out of San Quentin there's been something hauntedly boyish about him as tho prison walls had taken all the adult dark tenseness out of him" (21.2). Cody is also more conscious, a change that shows in his concern for his good friend Jack. "If there's anything he hates," writes Jack, "it's to see me drink" (13.4). And of course later Perry will tell Jack, "Cody told me you're falling apart, man," yet another hint of his concern and awareness, and a far cry from the fast-paced, self-centered boy in On the Road (29.4).
And yet, in certain other ways, Cody hasn't changed a bit. The following passages hit familiar notes: Cody's fury, his passion, his energy, and the odd holiness Jack identities in his character.
Cody doesn't like to just sit around and lightly chat away, he's the kind of guy if he's going to talk he has to do all the talking himself for hours till everything is exhaustedly explained. (21.7)
Suddenly, boom, the door of the cabin is flung open with a loud crash and a burst of sunlight illuminates the room and I see an Angel standing arm outstretched in the door! – It's Cody! all dressed in his Sunday best in a suit! […] It's such an incredible sight and surprise that both Pat and I rise from our chairs involuntarily, like we've been lifted up in awe, or scared, tho I dont feel scared so much as ecstatically amazed as tho I've seen a vision […]. Cody's […] tiptoe sneak carries that strange apocalyptic burst of gold he somehow always manages to produce […], he's always seemed so golden like as I say in a davenport of some sort in Heaven in the golden top of Heaven. […] Not that he means to produce that effect. (23.4)
Mighty genius of the mind Cody whom I announce as the greatest writer the world will ever know if he ever gets down to writing. […] Besides I can see from glancing at him that becoming a writer holds no interest for him because life is so holy for him there's no need to do anything but live it, writing's just an afterthought or a scratch anyway at the surface – But if he could! if he would! (25.3)
Cody is still 'a great sex hero of his generation.' Evelyn and Billie are both madly in love with him. These women want to talk about his soul, and want to claim him for their own in karmic eternity. And apparently, all across the country, "Cody's women [are] always having transcontinental telephone conversations about his dong" (23.9). Cody loves his women the same way he does everything else, with incredible passion and energy.
He was always tremendously generated towards complete relationship with his women," writes Jack, 'to the point where they ended up in one convoluted octopus mess of souls and tears and fellatio and hotel room schemes and rushing in and out of cars and doors and great crises in the middle of the night, wow that madman you can at least write on his grave someday "He Lived, He Sweated." (23.10)
Perhaps one of the saddest elements of Big Sur is the way Jack and Cody's relationship has changed. Jack maintains that Cody is "always the major part of [his] reason for journeying to the west coast," yet the two of them barely speak during the course of the novel (12.1). When Jack first arrives in Los Gatos, he says the following about his changed relationship with Cody:
I'm bursting to explain everything to [Cody], not even Big Sur but the past several years, but there's no chance with everybody yakking – And in fact I can see in Cody's eyes that he can see in my own eyes the regret we both feel that recently we haven't had chances to talk whatever, like we used to do driving across America and back in the old road days, too many people now want to talk to us and tell us their stories, we've been hemmed in and surrounded and outnumbered – The circle's closed in on the old heroes of the night. (13.2)
Later, when they have some time alone in the car, they "pass the joint back and forth injutjawed silence both looking ahead with big private thoughts now so vast we cant communicate them any more and if we tried it would take a million years and a billion books – Too late, too late" (25.3). Where are the ten-hour conversations, the questions, the exchange of knowledge, and the curiosity that the two men once shared? Jack and Cody grew up or maybe just aged; they're too tired to even speak in the car on the way to the city.
Think, too, about the last scene of the novel featuring Cody:
I see that Cody is really very sick and tired of me bringing gangs arbitrarily to his place, running off with his mistress, getting drunk and thrown out of family plays, hundred dollars or no hundred dollars he probably feels I'm just a fool now anyway and hopelessly lost forever. (33.3)
At the end of the day, Jack is as confused about Cody as Jack is about himself, his writing, his spirituality, and his purpose. "[Cody] just looks at me out of the corner eye and says 'Ah, yah, hm,' ... I dont know and I never will know what he's up to anyway in the long run" (33.4).