Charles Manson, Unplugged
Forty years ago, a wannabe rock star, Charles Manson, dispatched his groupies on a special mission. The housecall occurred at a Los Angeles residence 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 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 split and that Knife in the Water director 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 that he preached had been predicted in the Beatles’ White Album song. He believed that John, Paul, George and Ringo were the Book of Revelations four angels. He was the fifth, Abedon.
The career felon and his followers had just moved from their Death Valley camp to a canary-colored house 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 without the “F” – the album 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 half his life in prison for serial felonies. Before being released against his wishes in 1967, he had told his mentor and fellow con, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis – the Ma Barker gang leader – that he would be “bigger than the Beatles.” Creepy, finding that the young man had “a pleasant voice and a pleasing personality,” taught him slide guitar. In his 1980 memoir, Ma’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.”
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 musician moved to Los Angeles following a Summer of Love in San Francisco where he established himself as “The God of Fuck.”
In the sixties L.A. rock scene everybody knew everybody. The Doors, Byrds, Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, Love, Mothers of Invention, Mamas and Papas, and other stars hung with each other.
With his cosmic hand-painted guitar, his guru speak, and his hippie chick harem, 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 finalize a contract, Charlie and his groupies lobbied other space cadets in the business.
First came Frank Zappa. The Mother declined to become a Manson sponsor after hearing about the Family’s plan to dig a tunnel to a Death Valley bunker. Next came the Mamas and Papas’ Cass Elliot, Michelle and John Phillips. Phillips, the organizer of Monterey Pop two years before, found Charlie a bit too far out as well. Then came the Doors’ producer, Paul Rothchild. Everybody in L.A. had rejected the Doors’ first demos too except Rothchild. But in the end, the ultra-hip producer found Charlie’s sound folksy and clichéd.
In his quest to best the Beatles, Manson was now back to square one: Wilson and Melcher. He‘d 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 upbeat. Until Dennis and Terry arrived at his desert retreat 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 .38 slug. And Terry moved to Malibu with his mother, the star of Pillow Talk and Something’s Got to Give.
All his other contacts exhausted, Manson now decided to get in touch with his fellow apocalyptic angel directly. Hoping to involve him in Helter Skelter, if not an Apple record deal, Manson wrote, phoned and telegrammed John Lennon repeatedly. 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 wackos.
Elvis, in L.A. at the time of the Tate and LaBianca murders, fled to Vegas with his heavily armed entourage. “It was as serious as a six-car pile-up,” wrote the King’s handler, Lamar Fike.
Lennon didn’t learn of Manson’s list until after the cult leader’s arrest. When Charlie sent his first Helter Skelter RSVP, John and Yoko were bedded down in Toronto for world peace. Weeks later, in the Scottish countryside, John nearly killed himself in a car accident. On the mend, he returned to London for the Abbey Road recording sessions. When the Manson Family dropped in on Tate and the others, the Beatles were finishing The End. A month later, Lennon announced that he was leaving the group.
John’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 observation that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus Christ.” He received death threats and, before leaving for the tour, was told by a psychic that he would be shot.
Like Manson, Lennon 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 Altamont, aka Woodstock West, 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 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, restraint was in short supply at the speedway that night.
“When I think about that kid getting murdered at Altamont,” Sir Mick later said, “I think, It could have been me.” And it nearly was. Blaming the Stones’ frontman for selling them out, the Angels put a contract out on him. During his next tour, he surrounded himself with bodyguards and packed heat. At the tour’s end, 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 still liked it. Just as long as his fans (and, later, Alice Cooper’s, Ozzy Osbourne’s, Guns’n’Roses, MegaDeath’s, et al) didn’t forget that his pioneering killer songs were just eye shadow, crimson scarves, and show business.
But not all classic rock stars considered their violent 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 kicking off his shows and energizing his fans with: “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.”
Like Manson, Morrison had a thing about Authority. The Establishment. “The Man.” He hated him. For Jim, the Man – aside from the capitalists who leached off him — was his father, the Navy’s youngest admiral, who had abused him as a boy. Jim’s signature song, The End, was about offing him. For Charlie, the Man was many: the step-fathers who had raped him, his jailors, and now Melcher and the other Judases.
But, between the two, there was one big difference: Morrison was rich star, Manson 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?
But being in the same fickle, outlaw business, Jim Morrison and Charlie Manson traveled in intersecting circles. Both were friends of Dennis Wilson. And of Arthur Lee, too. The genius junkie outlaw, a close buddy of Jimi Hendrix as well, lived with his group, Love, in Dracula Bela Legosi’s haunt — The Castle, a trysting place for L.A.’s alpha rock crazies. Jim dropped by regularly. So did Charlie.
Manson was serious about Satanism. Morrison was a dabbler. The Doors’ singer frequented L.A.’s Church of Satan, founded by Kenneth Anger’s friend, Anton Szandor LaVey. Manson Family member, Susan Atkins, Sharon Tate’s murderer, was also a parishioner.
Manson pimped out all his girls. Morrison, a regular hippie hooker patron, 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 Castle resident was Bobby “Cupid” Beausoliel, a member of the Grass Roots, later renamed Love (despite Lee’s fondness 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, a regular here too, wrote Roadhouse Blues in its honor.
Two years later, the Milky Way band members reunited for a different kind of gig: ripping off and wasting a musician friend. The Tate/LaBianca helter skelter went down soon afterward, triggering the great guitar-for-gun swap in the city of night. Joining Wilson, Melcher, and Phillips — from Topanga all the way out to Zuma — everybody was hunkered down. Even L.A. swingers were sleeping with a single monogamous partner: a .38. or .12 gauge.
“They’re killing everybody with property!” said David Crosby, a peacenik but new Second Amendment champion.
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 an estate dweller himself, a fact that later motivated his fan, Mark David Chapman, to travel to the posh Dakota Hotel for a reckoning.
As for Morrison, disdaining luxuries, 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 based on the Theater of Cruelty created by dramatist/poet, Antonin Artaud, who died in a French insane asylum where “I spent 9 years… and longed to hang myself because I could not slit [my psychiatrist’s ] throat.”
Ray Manzarek wrote that his bandmate 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 gonna be Dr. Jekyll, or Mr. Hyde?”
Jim 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 in the desert on shamanic “vision quests.” Or, on what Manzarek called his “Manson trip,” he wandered the Spahn Ranch area, wasted and playing with guns. Like Manson, Morrison was no flower-in-the-barrel love child. “Hate is a very underestimated emotion,” said 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, and I hated them,” said Jim. “I wanted to kill them.”
By 1969, Morrison was running out of shock & awe theatrics on Blake’s “road of excess which leads 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? You’re 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 Spahn Ranch. Years before, Duel in the Sun, The Lone Ranger and other classic westerns had been shot there. More recently, Satanist, Kenneth Anger, had chosen it as the site for Lucifer Rising, staring Bobby Beausoliel. But, due to money hassles, the production was delayed and Cupid laid off.
Moonlighting as a Manson dealer, Beausoliel sold a bad batch of mescaline to The Straight Satans. When the L.A. motorcyle gang demanded a refund, Beausoliel personally transferred the request to his own supplier, Gary Hinman. To keep the wolf from the door, Hinman, a PhD in Music, ran a psychedelic concession out of his Topanga shack. Rumor also had it that he’d just run into a family inheritance. But Hinman insisted he was broke even after Cupid tortured him all night and Manson relieved him of his ear with a bayonet. His body was found days later.
In bloody clothing, Cupid was arrested in Hinman’s car, convicted of first-degree and sentenced to death (later commuted to Life). While paying his debt to society, 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 reportedly spent his time at home – Satanist Alistair Crowley’s castle near Loch Ness, Scotland – doing smack.)
Soon after Beausoliel was captured, Manson gave acid and belladonna (Devil’s Weed) to his Family and sent them out to Melcher’s old place to do something “gruesome” and “witchy.” The team included three women and Charlie’s Man Friday, Tex Watson. After the tripping Tex got Sharon Tate and the others (some 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 Texas football star and straight-A student — now head of Christian Abounding Love Ministry in Mule Creek State Prison — hadn’t always been in this line of business. When arriving in Hollywood a few years before, he’d been a doorman at the famed Whisky a Go Go on Sunset. The Doors became an overnight sensation at Tex’s place of employment after Jim performed The End, about offing his family.
Tex did five people that night, including Sharon Tate’s former fiancée, Jay Sebring. Sebring was the Lizard King’s coke connection and hairdresser. The inspiration for Warren Beatty’s Shampoo character, he did all the famous heads in town. His Alexander the Great mane for Morrison had helped put him on the glitterati speed-dial.
Tex got a haircut, fled back home to Texas where his parents ran a convenience store, and locked himself in his room. Meanwhile, his mentor got arrested, registering himself as “Manson, Charles M., aka Jesus Christ, God,” at the L.A. jail. His defense lawyer – whom he chose from a pool of 159, all dying to represent him – wrote the Beatles, asking for their support. Though they declined, Charlie was buoyed when Life magazine released a December cover story – The Love and Terror Cult, The Dark Edge of Hippie Life – with his crazy-eyed portrait.
Certain his train had finally arrived, Charlie called his old Terminal Island prison buddy and jamming partner, Phil Kaufman. “You gotta get my music out!” Kaufman pressed 2000 LIE vinyls while Squeaky Fromme – President Ford’s failed future assassin – composed the liner notes: “Charlie is your brother – and we are him. He’s shown us the door to love.”
Kaufman tried to unload LIE in L.A. head shops, but had no takers. Convinced his sales rep was ripping him off, Manson sent a collection party to his house. “Give us the music!” chanted Squeaky and the Family, while brandishing knives. Phil stepped onto his front stoop with a .357 and encouraged the Helter Skelter groupies to split musicless.
At this time, the Lizard King’s own personal and professional fortunes also seemed to be heading south. After his arrest at a New Haven concert, he and his band had scored their own Life piece in ’68: Wicked Go the Doors. The next year in Miami, Morrison faced his first Obscenity trial. During a break in the proceedings, he read the L.A. Times front page story about the indictment of Charles Manson and the Family for the murder of his barber and the others. Dropping the paper, closing his eyes, he told the Doors in their office, “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.”
Convicted on all Indecency counts the following September, Morrison considered fleeing the country for fear of serious jail time. While awaiting sentencing, a wasted Jim closed out the Doors in their last concert. Dropping his pants during the “Light My Fire!” intro, he shouted: “No limits, NO LAWS . Com’on anything you want goes. Let’s do it!”
Drummer, John Densmore, would later recall: “It seemed that Jim’s life force was gone. I saw the psychic energy go out the top of his head.”
At the outset of his career, Morrison had 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.” Seven months after New Orleans, the star joined his friend at the Rock’n’Roll Circus in Paris.
When the Doors staged their last apocalyptic performance, the marathon Manson trial was finally drawing to a close. During the course of it, the suspects carved Xs in their foreheads, showing how they’d been Xed from society. Having a change of heart about his identity as Jesus, Manson shaved his head and informed the court: “I am the Devil, and the Devil always has a bald head.” Often playful during the proceedings, he told the judge: “You want to kill me? Ha – I’m already dead, have been all my life!”
In the end, after the press had gone, the convict with big dreams of rock fame and fortune told a journalist outside his isolation cell that he wished his sentence had not been commuted to Life because he too considered The End “a friend.”
“Living is what scares me,” said the rejected singer. “Dying is easy. Death is permanent solitary confinement, and there is nothing I would like more than that.”
 Copies are currently available on the web for as little as $33.
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Hopkins, Jerry, and Danny Sugerman. No One Here Gets Out Alive. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006
Riordan, James, and Jerry Prochnicky. Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison. New York: Morrow, 1991
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Norman, Phillip. John Lennon: The Life. New York: Ecco, 2008
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