LET IT BLEED
Forty years ago, a wannabe rock star, Charles Manson, dispatched his groupies on a murderous rampage. The carnage occurred at a Los Angeles house rented by rock producer, Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son and Candice Bergen’s boyfriend.
Manson had met the producer through mutual friend, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Wilson and Melcher had promised to record Charlie’s music but had recently gotten cold feet. Charlie sent Dennis a silver bullet. The Beach Boy bought a gun and slept with it. The producer made himself scarce. When the Manson Family arrived at his house, they found that Melcher had fled and that Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, had moved in.
The butchery of Tate and her houseguests was the beginning of what Manson called “Helter Skelter,” an apocalyptic race war which he preached had been predicted in the Beatles’ White Album song. He believed that the John, Paul, George and Ringo were the four angels in the apocalyptic book of Revelations. He himself was the fifth, Abedon.
The career felon and his group had recently moved from their Death Valley camp to a canary-colored house which he called “The Yellow Submarine.” Here they would stay “submerged beneath the awareness of the outside world” while the race war raged. And here Manson worked on his Armageddon soundtrack, LIE – LIFE with the “F” removed –the album which he believed would, with Melcher’s help, eclipse the Beatles. (The Beach Boys would release one of its songs Cease to Exist as Never Learn Not to Love. Years later, Guns and Roses would record another Look at Your Game, Girl.)
Manson, the abused son of a 16-year-old prostitute, had spent nearly half his life in prison for multiple felonies. Before being released (against his wishes) in 1967, he had told his mentor and fellow con, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis – the leader of the murderous Ma Barker gang – that he would be “bigger than the Beatles.” Creepy, finding that the young man had “a pleasant voice and a pleasing personality,” taught him how to play guitar.
Later, in his 1980 memoir, Ma Barker’s hitman wrote: “The history of crime in the United States might have been considerably altered if Little Charlie had been given the opportunity to find fame and fortune in the music industry.”
Indeed, the prison psychiatrist noted that Manson, “has come to worship his guitar and music,” and that he had “a tremendous drive to call attention to himself.”
After release from Terminal Island, the aspiring star moved to Los Angeles following a Summer of Love in San Francisco where he established himself as “The God of Fuck.” He considered this an auspicious start.
In the sixties L.A. rock scene everybody knew everybody. The Doors, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, Love, the Mothers of Invention, the Mamas and Papas, etc: all the stars and their satellites hung out with each other.
With his guitar, his mesmerizing guru speak, and his bevy of hippie chick admirers, the Fifth Beatle of Revelations began to network immediately. His first score was Dennis Wilson and Terry Melcher. While waiting for the Beach Boy and his producer to buy studio time and draw up a contract, Charlie and his groupies lobbied others in the business.
First came Frank Zappa. The Mother declined to become a Manson sponsor after hearing about Helter Skelter, and the Family’s plan to dig a tunnel to a Death Valley bunker. Next came the Mamas and Papas’ Cass Elliot and Michelle and John Phillips. Phillips, the organizer of Monterey Pop two years before, found Charlie a little too far out as well. Then came the Doors’ producer, Paul Rothchild. Everybody in L.A. had rejected the Doors first demos too – except, finally, the ultra-hip, Rothchild. So Charlie had high hopes. But Rothchild shot him down too: he simply didn’t find anything compelling about Charlie’s clichéd, folksy sound.
So, in his quest to eclipse the Beatles, Manson was now back to square one: Wilson and Melcher. He had totaled Wilson’s Ferrari, trashed his mansion, and his girls had given the drummer the clap, but Wilson was still calling him “The Wizard” so Charlie remained optimistic. Until Dennis and Terry came out to his desert commune one day long-faced and jumpy.
“Look, Charlie, there’s mixed emotions about promoting you,” Doris Day’s son told him. “You’re unpredictable. You amaze me at times, and at other times, disappoint the hell out of me.”
That’s when Dennis got the silver bullet. And Terry moved to Malibu with his mother, the star of Pillow Talk and Something’s Got to Give.
So, all his other L.A. contacts exhausted, Manson, decided to contact his fellow apocalyptic angel directly. Hoping to involve him in Helter Skelter, if not a record deal, Manson wrote, phoned and telegrammed Lennon numerous times.
Finally giving up, the former psychiatric patient sent the Beatle a blood-soaked letter. Elvis and Hendrix were also on his hit list. But, by this time, these two stars, as well as Lennon, were no strangers to death threats.
Elvis, who was in L.A. at the time of the Tate and LaBianca murders, fled with his entourage for Vegas. “It was a serious as a six-car pile-up,” wrote the King’s handler, Lamar Fike. Elvis hadn’t taken such threats too seriously until the JFK assassination. Then he began collecting guns. After the Manson murders, he had assembled an armory at Graceland rivaling Ford Dix, and his employees – the Memphis Mafia – had become his Secret Service. “Goddammit,” the King told them, “if anybody ever assassinates me, I want you guys to get to him before the police do. I want you to pull his eyes out, rip his throat apart, and kill that son of a bitch!”
As for Lennon, he didn’t become aware of being on Manson’s list until after the cult leader had been taken into custody. When Charlie sent his first Helter Skelter invitation, the Beatle was in Toronto with Yoko doing an 8-day bed in for peace. Weeks later, he was nearly killed in a car accident in Scotland. Then he returned to London for the Abbey Road recording sessions. When the Manson Family slaughtered Tate and the others, he and the Beatles were finishing The End. A month later, he announced that he was leaving the Beatles.
Lennon’s days with the Fab Four had first begun to sour in 1966 during what he called “The Jesus Christ Tour.” Huge album-burning protests were staged in the U.S. over his remark that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus Christ.” He received numerous death threats and, before departing for the tour, was told by a psychic that he would be shot.
“I was totally paranoid the whole time,” he later confessed. “Everywhere we played I was just waiting for something dreadful to happen.” On stage in Memphis, he heard a firecracker go off which he mistook for a gunshot. “My immediate reaction was to check meself to see if I’d been hit,” he recalled. ‘”Fucking hell,’ I thought. ‘At least they haven’t gotten me!’” He was gunned down by a reborn Christian and estranged fan fourteen years later.
Oddly, Lennon, like Manson, had one thing in common: he had been abandoned as a child by his mother and his father, and the wound had never healed. According to biographer, Geoffrey Giuliano, John had confided to a friend: “After my mother was killed I felt betrayed by all womankind… I’ve always wondered what it would be like to kill a woman, many women! It was only becoming a Beatle that saved me from actually doing it. Can you imagine, a Beatle serial killer?”
If 1969 was a schizophrenic juncture in cultural and political history, rock music was the canary in the coalmine. Woodstock, the historic love and peace rock festival, occurred a week after the Manson murders. Three months later came the murder and mayhem of Altamont, headlined by rock’s dark princes: The Rolling Stones. All You Need Is Love and Let It Be had been buried by Sympathy for the Devil and Let It Bleed.
“I’ll stick my knife right down your throat, baby. And it hurts!” sang Jagger in his Mansoneque Midnight Rambler for the crowd of 80,000.
“I shouted out, Who killed the Kennedys? When after all it was you and me!” he pouted and postured. “Just call me Lucifer ‘cause I’m in need of some restraint.”
But for the Stones’ wired and wasted Hells Angels “securitymen,” as with Manson himself, there was no restraint
“When I think about that kid getting murdered at Altamont,” Sir Mick later said, “I think, It could have been me.” And indeed it nearly was. Blaming the Stones’ frontman for selling them out, the Angels put a contract out on his life. During his next tour, he surrounded himself with bodyguards and carried a loaded .38. At the end of the tour, echoing Lennon in ’66, he declared, “Don’t say I wasn’t scared, man. I was scared shitless.”
But it was only rock and roll. And Mick liked it. Just as long as his fans (and, later, Alice Cooper’s, Ozzy Osbourne’s, Guns’n’Roses, et al.; and, later still, Psychorockers, Death Medalists, Horror Punks, etc.) didn’t forget that that his pioneering killer songs were just eye shadow and show business.
But not all classic rock stars considered their murder anthems entertainment. “For me, it was never really an ‘act’, those so called performances. It was a life and death thing,” said Jim Morrison, famous for announcing to his audiences: “Nobody gets out of here alive!”
The Doors were celebrated as “America’s Rolling Stones.” But with a difference. “The Stones are for blowing your mind; the Doors are for afterward when your mind is already gone,” wrote LA Times critic, Gene Youngblood. Or as novelist, Tom Robbins, put it: “The Doors are musical carnivores in a land of musical vegetarians.”
Morrison had more than a little in common with Manson: he had a thing about Authority. The Establishment. “The Man.” He hated him. For Jim, the Man – aside from the military/industrial martinets, and the capitalists who leached off him –was his father, the youngest admiral in the history of the Navy, who had abused him as a boy. Jim’s signature song, The End, was about killing him. For Charlie, the Man – aside from the step-fathers who had raped him, his jailors, and now Melcher and the rest of the Judases – was his own father whom he had never met: Colonel Scott.
But there was one big difference between Morrison and Manson. Morrison was rich star. Manson was a penniless hustler. Might this have been the other way around, had Charlie been the chiseled Adonis with the college vocabulary, and Jim the unkempt, wild eyed dwarf?
In any case, being the same fickle, outlaw business, Jim Morrison and Charlie Manson traveled in the same circles.
Both were friends of Dennis Wilson. Both were acquaintances of Arthur Lee, too. The genius junkie outlaw, a close buddy of Jimi Hendrix as well, lived with his group, Love, in Bela Legosi’s, Dracula’s, haunt — The Castle. The Castle was a trysting place for L.A.’s alpha rock crazies. Jim dropped by regularly. So, reportedly, did Charlie.
Manson was heavily into Satanism. Morrison, like other noire rockers (Jagger, Richards, Jimi Page, to name a few) was a dabbler. The Doors’ singer visited L.A.’s Church of Satan, founded by Kenneth Anger’s close friend, Anton Szandor LaVey. Manson Family member, Susan Atkins, Sharon Tate’s murderer, was a member.
Manson pimped out all his girls. Morrison, a regular patron of hippie hookers, allegedly had a thing for another Charlie’s Angel, Collie Leigh Smith. Some say he wrote LA Woman in her honor: Are you a lucky little lady in the city of light? Or just another lost angel…city of night?
An early resident of The Castle was Bobby “Cupid” Beausoliel, a member of the Grass Roots which was renamed Love (ironic since the volatile Lee had a fondness, like Morrison and Manson, for assaulting people.) In 1966, Cupid left Love to join Manson’s fledgling rock band, The Milky Way. The group played only one gig. The venue: The Corral in Topanga Canyon where Canned Heat, Spirit, Little Feat, Neil Young and other locals jammed. Morrison was a regular here too and was said to have written Roadhouse Blues in its honor.
Two years later, the Milky Way band members reunited for a different kind of gig: ripping off and murdering a musician friend. The Tate/LaBianca helter skelter occurred shortly afterwards. The great guitar for gun swap hit the City of Angels. Joining Wilson, Melcher, and Phillips — from Topanga all the way out to Zuma — everybody was hunkered down and packing heat. For once even the L.A. swingers were sleeping with a single monogamous partner: a .38. loaded with hollowpoints.
“They’re killing everybody with property!” declared David Crosby, a peacenik but new Second Amendment advocate.
The idea of exterminating property owners might have appealed to Manson’s idol, the imagine-no-possessions Lennon — if the ex-Beatle hadn’t been a capitalist and estate dweller himself.
As for Morrison, he had always crashed at cheap motels, in back alleys, or desert ravines. After the Tate/LaBianca carnage, the LAPD investigators called him in for questioning. This was certainly not the first time, or the last, the star had been hassled by “the pigs,” as both he and Manson fondly knew them.
Touring with the Doors, Morrison had become infamous for his “Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive” performances inspired by Antonin Artaud’s, Theater of Cruelty.
Ray Manzarek wrote that his bandmate soon developed an “evil doppelganger” – “Jimbo.” The Doors keyboardist described this alter-ego as “a Frankenstein monster, the destructive golem… on a quest for domination, power, and kicks.”
Added Jimbo’s producer, Paul Rothchild: “You just never knew, Was he going to be Dr. Jekyll, or was he going to be Mr. Hyde?”
As for Jim, he called himself The Lizard King. “The lizard,” he explained, “is identified with the unconscious and with the forces of evil.”
Off tour, the singer would disappear in the underbelly of L.A. or out in the desert on shamanic “vision quests.” Or, on his “Manson trip,” as Manzarek called it, he would go out near Spahn Ranch, get loaded and play with guns.
Like Manson, Morrison was no flower-in-the-barrel love child. “Hate is a very underestimated emotion,” said the rock’s anti-hippie. “If I had an ax,” he went on, “Man, I’d kill everybody.” Or, at least Simon and Garfunkel. “Those fuckers hated me, A and I hated them,” said Jim. “I wanted to kill them.”
By 1969, Morrison was running out of violent theatrics on his “road of excess which led to the palace of wisdom.” There was only one thing left to do. “I wanna change the world. No limits. No LAWS!” he roared to the crowd of 13,000 in Miami. “I’m not NORMAL, can’t you fuckers see? Your all a buncha fuckin idiots. You’re all a bunch of slaves, man!”
The Lizard King was arrested for Lewd and Lascivious Behavior, Indecent Exposure, and Drunkenness. The Doors tour was cancelled. And their music was banned on most radio stations.
Returning to L.A. for a sabbatical, Morrison began filming his noire cinema verite, HWY. He played the lead: a homicidal hitcher, “The Kid.” Co-producer, Frank Lisciandro described the hero as “an archetypical character of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and Jack the Ripper.”
Morrison filmed HWY in Manson’s neck of the woods, near the Spahn Ranch commune. Years before, Duel in the Sun, The Lone Ranger, and other classic westerns had been shot here. More recently, Satanist, Kenneth Anger, had chosen it as the site for Lucifer Rising, staring Bobby Beausoliel. But, due to money problems, the production was delayed and Cupid laid off.
Beausoliel began moonlighting as a dealer for Manson. He soon sold a bad batch of mescaline to The Straight Satans, an L.A. motorcyle gang. When the Satans demanded a refund, Beausoliel personally transferred the request to his own supplier, Gary Hinman. A PhD in Music, Hinman ran a psychedelic concession out of his Topanga bungalow. Rumor also had it that he’d just run into a family inheritance. But Hinman insisted he was broke even after Cupid tied him up and Manson sliced off his ear with a bayonet. His body was found days later.
Cupid was arrested in Hinman’s car, still wearing bloody clothing. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death (later commuted to Life). While serving his time, he composed the soundtrack for Anger’s revived Lucifer Rising. (Jimmy Page had been hired for the job originally. But rather than composing, the Zeppelin guitarist allegedly spent all his time at home – Satanist Alistair Crowley’s castle near Loch Ness, Scotland – shooting smack. )
Three days after Beausoliel was captured, Manson gave acid and belladonna (Devil’s Weed) to the Family and sent them out to rock producer, Terry Melcher’s house, to do something “gruesome” and “witchy.” The team included three women and Charlie’s Man Friday, Tex Watson (who now leads his own Christian ministry from prison). After the hallucinating Tex got Sharon Tate and the others (high on coke and MDA) on the floor, he told them: “I am the devil. And I am here to do the devil’s business.”
The straight-A student and football star from Texas hadn’t always been in this line of business. When arriving in Hollywood a few years before, he had been a doorman at the Whisky, the premiere rock club on Sunset. Morrison likely met him there. The Doors became an overnight sensation at Tex’s place of employment after Morrison performed The End, about offing his family.
Tex butchered five people that night, including Sharon Tate’s former fiancée, Jay Sebring. Sebring was Morrison’s coke and MDA connection. He was better known as the Lizard King’s hairdresser. He did all the famous heads in town. Warren Beatty’s Shampoo was based on him. His famous long-locked Alexander the Great coif for Morrison had helped put him on the glitterati speed-dial.
On the day after his 26th birthday, Jim read the LA Times front page story about the indictment of Charles Manson and the Family for the murder of his barber/dealer, Jay Sebring, and the others. Laying down the paper, closing his eyes, he told the Doors and the others in their office, “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.”
Before this, the star had always been affectionately philosophical about death. Referring to his song The End, he had told an interviewer: “Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Yeah, I guess it is a friend.”
Manson agreed. “Living is what scares me,” the cult leader and rejected singer said. “Dying is easy.” Then, when asked about the possibility of being executed, he shrugged, “Death is permanent solitary confinement, and there is nothing I would like more than that.”