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TRIPPING WITH A VIPER – by Anne Marie Maxwell – review

Tripping with a Viper
By Anne Marie Maxwell
Mystic Boxing Commission
available at:

Reviewed by Marc Olmsted

Much has evolved around Neal’s long lost Joan Anderson letter as the key to Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous bop prosody. Rediscovered, the big surprise is that it has nothing to do with Kerouac’s streamlined stream-of-consciousness experimental prose. Instead, it moved Jack into writing first person and about actual events with the mad energy of the multiple pages Neal had produced with blazing enthusiasm.

Tripping with a Viper fills in some first-person Beat history that explains some more of the legend that is Neal Cassady. The viper of the title is actually also a “pot-head” as referenced in the song “When You’re a Viper,” written by Stuff Smith and first recorded by Rosetta Howard. Still, the ambiguity of this title can’t be merely shaken off. Anne Marie Maxwell (then Anne Murphy) writes an absolutely compelling page turner however you feel about Cassady. Anne promised Neal’s previous wife Carolyn Cassady not to publish the memoir until after Carolyn’s death. It’s been longer than that to be sure and the hold-up was probably legal.

Neal Cassady Anne Marie Maxwell Charles Plymell
Photo: Charles Plymell

Maybe surprisingly, Anne was already a wild woman before Neal met her, and in fact he discouraged her from a habit of shooting speed. She already had a son, Grant, whom she never regains custody of in the course of her life. Grant presents a heart-breaking portrait of a child visibly withdrawing, having seen Anne have sex and, very likely, shoot up. He eventually becomes a heroin addict and dies young of an overdose.

She also describes an absolute fondness for the deliciousness of acid, which certainly amps up her magical thinking of synchronicities and telepathy, especially with Neal, and with the Prankster “group mind,” though she never is formally considered a member. As for the bus itself, wives and main squeezes were generally not invited aboard. Beyond that, Anne’s habit of fighting with Neal over his continuous infidelities made her, well, kind of a buzz kill, man, ya dig? She does have superb(?) revenge with Neal looking on as she has a gang bang with the Hells Angels. When invited to climb on in the aftermath, it is the one time Neal couldn’t get hard.

Anne describes multiorgasmic experiences with Neal Cassady that are definitely tinged with Neal’s apparent S/M proclivities. We get the sense of the lover Neal could be if one was compatible with him, which meant straight and immediate fucking with no mention of him giving head. This is the hetero version of Allen Ginsberg’s “Please Master” poem. Off the Road is Carolyn Cassady’s account of life with Neal that includes this same time. In contrast, she said sex with Neal hurt, and that he was not much in the lover department despite Neal’s prodigious & near-eternally erect member. Furthermore, Anne describes receiving three black eyes from Neal and seems to have been smacked around regularly. I was reminded that these early 60s were not far from Jackie Gleason’s “To the moon, Alice” in The Honeymooners or Sean Connery’s embarrassing turn in A Fine Madness, given to clobbering Joanne Woodward like a comic strip caveman dragging his bonked mate home to the cave by her hair. There’s also a horrifying scene with Neal forcing Anne’s mouth down on his cock while they drive, and she gags and vomits all over him. Perhaps most disturbing, Anne gives an account of less-than-willing unnamed sexual conquest that almost certainly qualifies as a rape. Ladies and gentlemen, have you met Neal Cassady?

We don’t see any of the depressive side of Neal’s exhaustion that Carolyn talked about – Neal literally suicidal after a bout of entertaining the Pranksters as Sir Speed Limit, driver of the bus Further.

Anne does give a remarkable account of Neal driving city streets at what she says was 90 miles per hour with so effortless a grace one didn’t even notice while carrying on multiple conversations like Spock’s 3-dimensional chess game mind out of Star Trek.

Yes, that is Anne Murphy standing in the frame as Neal expounds to Allen Ginsberg in the basement of City Lights, one of the most frequently used black-and-white clips in documentaries. You can also be sure that any footage of Neal with a silent adoring (and striking) brunette is likely Anne as well.

Fans of the Beats invariably have their favorites, and the ones that favor Neal still seem to be stuck as teenage heterosexual boys who want to be James Bond.. Anne describes Neal as an angelic being, a teacher, and it is certain Neal was unbelievably charismatic and movie-star handsome. He definitely seems a magical being, a demigod, but hardly an enviable one. His ability to get over on women seems expertly predatory, easily spotting emotional need and a con of how only he could supply it to them.

Oh, and that Prankster footage of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test that was shot during the trips of the intrepid bus Further? Anne (with a slight edge of disdain) describes the Pranksters enjoying them with little discrimination. When finally revealed publicly, the footage proved that Andy Warhol’s movies had a great deal more to them that setting up a camera and switching it on. Warhol somehow grounded them in his presence, or even the presence of his absence. The Prankster movies are exactly what one would expect before mythologizing – amateur home movies tripping on acid.

Part of the Beat canon has described Neal’s enthusiasm for Edgar Cayce and how it drove Kerouac deeper into researching Buddhism in rebuttal. Anne does a great job of showing just how annoying Neal could be with his speed rants on the subject.

Eventually, Carolyn Cassady, now friends with Anne, calls with the news. “Neal is dead.” He mixed alcohol and barbiturates at a Mexican wedding party. He was not known as a drinker. He died walking the railroad tracks, supposedly counting the tithes (though how anyone would know this I’ve yet to discover). He passed out and died of exposure. It most certainly was not the unintentional mistake of a man who wanted to live. Amphetamine had ravaged him. Tapes of his final opening monologues for the Grateful Dead now sounded like gibberish.

Neal was done.

Again, a fascinating if not endearing portrait of a major Beat figure, while Anne Murphy Maxwell can now rightfully take her place in literary history.

{For more on Neal, check out my interview with Bob Branaman on YouTube…

–Marc Olmsted


2 thoughts on “TRIPPING WITH A VIPER – by Anne Marie Maxwell – review

  1. This review and commentary is certainly timely and even handed where Neal, Anne and other pivotal folks are concerned. And I concur that it is a compelling page turner. felt that when she brought it out to me years ago. She is honest about her own mistakes as well as bringing hose edgy times to life from a lover’s view.

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