In the actual (i.e., non-Bryan-Adams) summer of ’69, a satanically charismatic Death Valley firebrand named Charles Manson dispatched members of his hippie murder cult to splatter the Hollywood Hills blood red in hope that their savage transgressions would ignite a worldwide race war.
That didn’t happen.
The “Manson Family” slaughters that did go down, however, proved sufficiently horrific to the point that, nearly a half-century later, the manic babbling, spazzy dancing, demon-eyed Manson remains to this day America’s go-to boogeyman.
Thus, Charlie freaked out the entire planet as humanity’s first rock-and-roll psycho killer. It’s a role he’s cherished and played to the hilt ever since, because, in truth, Charles Manson really, really wanted to be a rock star.
With (so far) false rumors of Charles Manson’s death regularly cropping up online, and the hit NBC series Aquarius chronicling the cops who took down the Family at the height of L.A.’s late-’60s music revolution, time has come today to analyze Charlie’s rock-and-roll connections.
Here, now, are 6.66 of the creepiest such intertwinements—and that is saying something.
1. CHARLES MANSON, DEFINITIVE “BEATLEMANIAC”
While accusations of subliminal messages in rock music would become a flashpoint of the 1980s’ “Satanic Panic,” Charles Manson pioneered such loony paranoia back in 1968.
While addressing his followers around a campfire, Manson proclaimed that the Beatles’ 1968 proto-metal barnburner “Helter Skelter” was a prophecy tied in to the Biblical Book of Revelation about a global uprising of people of color against their white oppressors. Once the smoke cleared, Charlie said, the victorious minorities would be incapable of properly running society, whereupon the Manson Family would emerge from hiding and become full-on rulers of the planet Earth.
Ex-Family member Catherine Share elaborated on the scenario in the 2009 documentary, Manson. In fact, she said that Charlie crazily detected “guidance” on each individual track of The Beatles by the Beatles, aka “The White Album.”
“When the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ came out, Charlie listened to it over and over and over and over again,” Share said. “He was quite certain that the Beatles had tapped in to his spirit, the truth. It wasn’t that Charlie listened to the ‘White Album’ and started following what he thought the Beatles were saying. It was the other way around. He thought that the Beatles were talking about what he had been expounding for years. Every single song on the ‘White Album,’ he felt that they were singing about us.”
Manson’s track-by-track interpretations of the Beatles’ double LP, along with his thoughts on Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road , came up throughout his murder trial.
Later on, Charlie laid it out with his own crackpot version of clarity: “Look at songs: songs sung all over the world by the young love; it ain’t nothin’ new! It’s written in Revelation, all about the four angels programming the holocaust; the four angels looking for the fifth angel to lead the people into the pit of fire It’s all in black and white, in the ‘White Album’— white, so there ain’t no mistakin’ the color!”
What a creep. Infinitely creepier still is that during the Family’s massacre of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca on August 9, 1969, one of the killers scrawled (the incorrectly spelled) “Healter Skelter” on the household refrigerator in the victims’ blood.
2. CHARLIE, THE SIXTH BEACH BOY?
In 1968, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, the youngest and most adventurous member of the group, struck up a friendship with a couple of hippie chick hitchhikers he’d picked up. Such were the times.
After dropping the young women off at his Sunset Boulevard crash pad one afternoon and then departing for a recording session, Dennis returned to find the place crawling with longhairs, most of them similarly groovy females. One exception: an aspiring singer-songwriter whom the girls openly worshipped, Charles Manson.
Wilson and Charlie hit it off, and the Manson Family took up residence at Chez Dennis for a spell.
In an article Record Mirror article hilariously titled, “Dennis Wilson: I Live With 17 Girls,” the drummer explained the situation, stating: I told [the girls] about [the Beach Boys’] involvement with the Maharishi and they told me they too had a guru, a guy named Charlie who’d recently come out of jail after 12 years. … He drifted into crime, but when I met him I found he had great musical ideas. We’re writing together now. He’s dumb, in some ways, but I accept his approach and have learned from him.”
The Beach Boys reworked the Manson-penned song “Cease to Exist” into “Never Learn Not to Love” on their 1969 LP, 20/20. Alas, Dennis and Charlie’s shared slice of paradise came tumbling down shortly thereafter, when Manson presented a bullet to Wilson and said, “Every time you look at it, I want you to think how nice it is your kids are still safe.”
According to Beach Boys lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Dennis reacted strongly and unmistakably to Charlie’s gift: “He beat the sh-t out of him.”
3. CHARLIE’S ATTEMPTED RECORD EXEC MASSACRE
One tragic carryover from Charles Manson’s friendship with Dennis Wilson was that the Beach Boy introduced the crazed cult leader to music producer and Columbia Records staffer, Terry Melcher.
Melcher, the son of movie star Doris Day, oversaw the recording of the Beach Boys’ Manson redo, “Never Learn Not to Love,” and found Charlie and his family fascinating.
Nonetheless, when Manson auditioned to become a Columbia solo artist, Melcher passed. After seeing Charlie brutally pummel a drunk with whom he’d been arguing, Melcher joined Dennis Wilson in swiftly and permanently severing all ties with Manson.
Charlie, alas, was not through with Terry Melcher. The pair had originally hooked up at 10050 Cielo Drive, a Benedict Canyon mansion where Melcher lived with his girlfriend, movie starlet Candice Bergen, and rocker Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders.
On August 8, 1969, members of Manson’s Family cult descended on the residence and butchered all who were inside.
Many theorists believe Manson targeted the house to exact revenge for Melcher’s rejection, believing that Candice Bergen would have been there.
Fortunately for the future Murphy Brown, she, Melcher, and Lindsay had already moved. Unfortunately for pregnant actress Sharon Tate, the home’s new occupant and wife of filmmaker Roman Polanksi, she and four guests were on the premises when the Family arrived. “Helter Skelter” followed.
4. NINE INCH CHARLIE
In 1992, Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor moved in to 10050 Cielo Drive, the site where the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate and four others, to work on his upcoming album, The Downward Spiral.
Reznor even built a recording studio on the location, which he nicknamed “Pig” in homage to Manson follower Susan Atkins scrawling that word on the wall in blood during the carnage.
It was all ghoulish good fun, Reznor told Rolling Stone, until he received a sudden awakening.
“While I was working on Downward Spiral,” Reznor said, “I was living in the house where Sharon Tate was killed. Then one day I met her sister. It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she said: ‘Are you exploiting my sister’s death by living in her house?’ For the first time, the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face… I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don’t want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, ‘What if it was my sister?’ I thought, ‘F–k Charlie Manson.’ I don’t want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bullsh-t. I went home and cried that night. It made me see there’s another side to things, you know?”
5. YOU CAN TAKE THE “CHARLIE” OUT OF THE MANSON…
Not so similarly moved by the gravity of Charles Manson’s crimes was Trent Reznor’s premiere protégé, a Florida shock rocker Brian Hugh Warner famously remade himself as music’s Antichrist Superstar by combining the first name of the 1950s’ most iconic Hollywood bombshell with the last name of the ’60s most infamous counterculture death dealer: Marilyn Manson.
After a couple of decades since Marilyn’s debut, Charlie finally contacted his namesake via letter in 2012, writing:
To Marilyn Manson –
It’s taken me a long time to get there from where I could touch M. Manson. Now I got a card to play – you may look into my non-profit, ATWA, and give Manson what you think he’s got coming for Air, Trees, Water, and you. Or I will pay Manson what you think Manson got coming – the music has make Manson into Abraxas Devil, and I’m SURE you would want some of what I got from what I got. It’s a far out balance. Beyond good and bad, right, wrong. What you don’t do is what I will do – what you did a sing-along, and let it roll and said how you saved me a lot of steps – I don’t need, it’s not a need or a want. Couped – coup. Ghost dancers slay together and you’re just in my grave Sunstroker Corona-coronas-coronae – you seen me from under with it all standing on me. That’s 2 dump trucks – doing the same as CMF 000007
6. CHARLES MANSON, COVER BOY
Marilyn Manson, naturally, joined the Beach Boys as an interpreter of Charlie’s musical efforts. Check out Marilyn’s take on “Sick City.”
Other artists to cover Manson songs include Redd Cross (“Cease to Exist”), the Lemonheads (“Your Home Is Where You’re Happy”), the Brian Jonestown Massacre (“Arkansas Revisited”), and Crispin Glover (“Never Say Never to Always”).
The highest profile act to tackle the Manson canon also took the most heat for it. Guns N’ Roses recorded “Look at Your Game, Girl” for their 1993 covers collection, The Spaghetti Incident? It appears as a hidden track on the album, and it inspired the expected grumblings.
Other performers have created songs about Manson. Among the most notable are Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bloodbath in Paradise” (“There’s blood on the walls/when Charlie and the Family made house calls”) and System of a Down’s “ATWA,” named for Charlie’s environmental code of “Air, Trees, Water, and Animals.”
Neil Young’s apocalyptic “Revolution Blues” arose from his music-scene encounters with Manson. “Manson would sing a song and just make it up as he went along, for three or four minutes.” Young told NME, “He never would repeat one word, and it all made perfect sense and it shook you up to listen to it. It was so good that it scared you.”
6.66. CHARLIE, THE MONKEE?
The “fact” that Charles Manson showed up and belted out a few numbers at the famous 1966 Hollywood casting call for the Monkees endures as one of rock’s urban legends that simply will not die.
Yes, Stephen Stills really did do a screen test for the Monkees. So, too, did singer and composer Paul Williams. Through some combination of black humor and wishful thinking, though, the rumor of Manson’s try-out caught on early and has been passed around for decades.
Let us be clear: no, Charles Manson did not audition to become a member of the Monkees.
In 2014, one guy who actually made the group, drummer and vocalist Micky Dolenz, addressed the faux folktale on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast. ““I just made a joke! ‘Everybody auditioned for the Monkees, Stephen Stills, Paul Williams and Charlie Manson!’” Dolenz said. “Everybody took it as gospel, and now it’s an urban myth!”