Rock’s Sick Obsession With Charles Manson And His Creepy Musical Connections

Before he ordered members of his cult to kill he wanted to be a rock star, and even lived with one of the Beach Boys.

By Benjamin H. Smith

Bloodthirsty Cult leader Charles Manson will forever be tied to the 1960’s rock counter culture. Manson looked like a hippie, wanted to be a rock star, and had a retinue of young women following him around as if he already was one. But behind the shaggy hair and buckskin clothes was a small time criminal, who used the skills he had learned as a pimp to manipulate a collection of drug-addled runaways to first support him and later kill on his orders.

Manson was born in 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a 16-year-old unwed mother who often turned to petty crime to support herself and her children. Charles followed in her foosteps and was in and out of jail as early as his teenage years. While doing time in 1961 at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary outside Seattle, he took guitar lessons from Depression-era gangster and former “Public Enemy # 1" Alvin "Creepy" Karpis of the infamous Barker–Karpis gang. Upon his release from prison in 1967, Manson moved to San Francisco during the “Summer Of Love,” and soaked up the hippie lifestyle, busking on the street with his acoustic guitar and attracting a gaggle of young female followers who answered his every need.

Manson and The Beach Boys

In 1968 Manson and his followers moved to Los Angeles. They soon entered the orbit of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, who had picked up two girls, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey, who were members of the Manson Family. They soon took over Wilson’s home, as Manson pressured him to help get his recording career off the ground. The Beach Boys eventually recorded the song “Never Learn Not to Love,” which was a re-worked version of the Manson original "Cease to Exist." He was reportedly furious when he was uncredited on its release and Wilson threw The Family out after they stole some of his belongings, costing him a reported $100,000 according to the Los Angeles Times.

Manson and The Beatles

In November 1968 Charles Manson became obsessed with The Beatles new eponymous ninth album, more commonly known as “The White Album.” In songs like “Helter Skelter,” “Revolution” and “Piggies,” he believed The Beatles were singing about The Family and the role they would play in a apocalyptic race war, after which The Family would rule over the victorious black population. "This music is bringing on the revolution, the unorganized overthrow of the establishment," Manson later told Rolling Stone magazine following his arrest. "The Beatles know [what's happening] in the sense that the subconscious knows."

Charles Manson Lie: The Love and Terror Cult (1970)

Released in 1970, mere months before Manson went on trial for the Tate – LaBianca murders, Lie: The Love and Terror Cult was a full-length album’s worth of acoustic demos the aspiring singer-songwriter recorded in 1967 and 1968. The album’s cover is a parody of Life magazine’s Manson cover story from December, 1969, changing the magazine name to “LIE.” Phil Kaufman, a friend of Manson’s from Terminal Island Prison and a road manager for rock bands including The Rolling Stones, oversaw the release, pressing up 2,000 copies, but had trouble selling them. The record has been reissued several times over the years and used copies of the original pressing sell for an average price of $200.

Bobby Beausoleil 

Before joining The Family in 1969, Robert “Bobby” Beausoleil had been a fixture of the Los Angeles music scene, playing in numerous bands, most famously an early version of critically acclaimed rockers Love. Beausoleil was later sentenced to death for the July 1969 Manson-ordered murder of Family associate Gary Hinman, which was subsequently commuted to life in prison. Beausoleil continued to create and perform music in jail and in the late ‘70s actually recorded the soundtrack to Lucifer Rising, a short film by experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, parts of which he appears in as it was filmed before his incarceration. Beausoleil, or someone on his behalf, runs a YouTube channel which features live performances of Beausoleil and various music groups filmed in prison.

Charles Manson: Punk Rock Icon

While punk rock espoused its hatred for hippie complacency and tired peace and love posturing, it celebrated the man who for many symbolized the death of the hippie dream. The Ramones sang about how they would "get the glory like Charles Manson" on their second album, he was a mainstay on flyers by seminal hardcore punk band Black Flag and adorned the album cover of belligerent Boston thrashers Negative FX. Los Angeles punk pranksters Redd Kross took things one step further, covering Manson’s “Cease To Exist” on their debut album, 1982’s Born Innocent. “We did it just because it was funny and irresponsible,” vocalist-guitarist Jeff McDonald told MTV News in 2012. “We used to just tell our parents we were into Charles Manson just to drive them crazy.”

Sonic Youth Revisit “Death Valley ‘69”

The influential New York noise rockers closed out their 1985 album Bad Moon Rising to this homage to The Manson Family’s final days of freedom at Barker Ranch inside Death Valley National Park, where they retreated after the bloody killings of August 1969. Referencing Susan “Sexy Sadie” Atkins, and various Manson locales, the gravity of the subject matter was hammered home by a bloody video by legendary underground filmmaker Richard Kern. “In a lot of ways, what America is ultimately about is death," bassist Kim Gordan told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. "California is supposed to be the last frontier, this paradise, so it's symbolic that the whole Manson thing happened here."

Guns N’ Roses Controversial Manson Cover

Never ones to shy away from controversy, Guns N’ Roses ended up pissing off victim’s family advocates, members of law enforcement and the head of their record label by including Charles Manson's "Look At Your Game, Girl" as a hidden bonus track on their 1993 covers collection, "The Spaghetti Incident?" Lead singer Axl Rose eventually released a statement, saying, “It's my opinion that the media are enjoying making a big deal out of Guns N' Roses covering a song that Charles Manson recorded, but if another band had recorded that song, it probably wouldn't have been of interest.” The New York Times later reported all of Manson’s publishing royalties went to the son of Wojciech Frykowski, who was killed by members of The Family in August 1969.

Marilyn Manson Resurrects An Infamous Name

No artist has been quite so blatant in his admiration of Charles Manson as shock rocker Brian Hugh Warner, better known by his stage name, Marilyn Manson. Besides his name, which pays tribute to the cult leader, Manson had originally wanted to title his debut record The Manson Family Album, but bowing to pressure form his record company renamed it Portrait Of An American Family. The album contains the song “My Monkey,” which includes samples of Manson speaking and borrows lyrics from the Manson composition “Mechanical Man.” Upon hearing of his death, Marilyn Manson posted a link to his-long rumored acoustic cover of the Charles Manson original “Sick City” on his Twitter account.

 [Photo: ESP-Disk]



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