Highway 101

In a recent post (The Day JFK Was Shot) I mentioned an interview on RTÉ radio (Highway 101) in August 2007, in which Myles Dungan talks to Daniel Cassidy, fake scholar and fake etymologist, about his life and works. In that post, I pointed to several factual inconsistencies. However, they weren’t the only problems with Cassidy’s account of his life, so I decided to listen to the podcast again and make a few notes.

First off, it is amazing what Cassidy leaves out. He makes no mention of his association with Andy Warhol, one of the few genuinely impressive parts of his CV. He talks about ‘when I got out of Cornell’, but makes no mention of the fact that he flunked his degree. Indeed, he even says ‘I was reasonably good at academics … you know … I just took to it …’ Really?

Later, he talks about being in ‘graduate school’ in Columbia. Obviously, as a non-graduate, he couldn’t have been in graduate school, though he may well have taken some evening classes.

One of the most dishonest bits is in relation to his career as a merchant seaman. In some descriptions of Cassidy, this is almost used to define him – he is ‘the former merchant marine’. I have expressed doubt before about this episode of his life, which I think didn’t happen, or was very short, or took place later, in the late seventies. This interview confirms that there is something very suspect about his claim to have been a merchant seaman in the 1960s. When Dungan says, ‘you became a seaman’, you would expect a natural storyteller like Cassidy to really give it his all. However, you would be disappointed. There are no tall tales about being lashed to the wheel with a marlin spike pondering the nature of the stars, or doing the horizontal hornpipe in a cathouse in Surabaya, or listening to the mermaids and merrows singing songs to the dog-headed men at the edge of the world where cartographers fear to tread. Cassidy simply says ‘I hit the road’ and tells an anecdote about hitching a ride to California in 1967, the Summer of Love. Then he talks about playing in a bar in the Mission District in San Francisco. Then the narrative moves on to getting in with musicians and releasing an album. His career as a salty seadog is ignored and forgotten, as is the 23 months he spent in rehab in New York, at some time between 1967 and 1972. In other words, he might have spent slightly longer as a seaman than Malcolm Lowry, but he was no Joseph Conrad.

There is also a problem with the idea that he played R and B in bars in the Mission District. According to other sources, he learned guitar in Phoenix House, the rehab centre, at the end of the sixties or in the early seventies. Before that, he played the saxophone. Now, the guitar is an R and B instrument. One person can be a modern troubadour, singing songs of love and protest and accompanying themselves on the guitar. But it’s hard to imagine anyone doing solo gigs on the saxophone. So did this happen? And if it did, when? Was it later, after his music career was on the skids, when his album failed to sell?

Dungan seems to regard Cassidy as a harmless crank, and gives him an easy ride, even when it becomes obvious that Cassidy can’t pronounce Irish and knows nothing about the language. Dungan challenges him over spiel, which he rightly says is German or Yiddish, but he doesn’t challenge Cassidy when he claims that speal (which he mispronounces to make it sound more like spiel) is Scottish Gaelic and Irish for a hoe. (It’s a scythe, or course.) However, Dungan does say: ‘Are you not letting your imagination run away with you and claiming far too much for the Irish language?’ Cassidy blethers his way round this one, claiming that in fact he is being conservative and that the Irish influence is even greater than he claims.

However, the thing that really shocked me was his spiel about how New College of California was founded by a Jesuit called Father Jack Leary, who came from Gonzaga University. The thing he doesn’t mention at all is that Leary had already been exposed as a predatory paedophile by (amongst others) Matt Smith in SF Weekly in October 2006 (http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-double-life-of-john-leary/Content?oid=2161211).

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