Once again, for the third year in a row, the Carwreck party went on the road for a full schedule of summer shows. Most venues were outdoors, the best place to see a show during summer in any reality. Let’s kick off the wrap up:
Primus and Mastodon, Blue Hills Pavilion Boston May 29
The summer kicked off early this year-May 29th actually-with the double headlining bill of Mastodon and Primus. I thought this an odd pairing, but it seemed like well over half the crowd was there for Mastodon. Mastodon is a band that has gone on a strange trajectory-from the heavier than hell Leviathan in 2004 this band has become downright peculiar. Prog tendencies in metal bands usually have mixed results. Coheed and Cambria sometimes can pull this off, and Mastodon has similar uneven results. The recent album Emperor of the Sand is a good example of this schizophrenic approach-they are capable of being dazzlingly brilliant and godawfully painful not only in the same set, but sometimes in the same song. Think REO Speedwagon trying to do Rush and you are close. Setlist here.
Primus hit the stage to Danny Elfman’s iconic Clown Dream from Pee Wee’s Playhouse fame, setting the vibrations to weird from the get go. Once the horn helmet hat came out, things phased from normal to delightfully surreal. The middle of the set featured their newest album, The Desaturating Seven, a quick 35 minute rundown based on an Italian children’s book. With Tim Alexander back in the fold, this band is now more telepathic than rehearsed. Somehow they have become considered a ‘jam band’, despite exhibiting few of the necessary Dead-like noodling characteristics. Primus has always sounded like a spastic version of early 1990’s King Crimson-precise when they need to be, and cacophonous spontaneously. Primus were consistently on point where Mastodon were a bit scattered. A solid evening. Setlist here.
Dead and Company, The Meadows Hartford June 13
The thought of John Mayer in the Dead has finally transitioned from horror to a tacit acceptance. Since the legendary Fenway Park 2016 show, Mayer has managed to quiet the critics with his palpable enthusiasm and toning down of his more annoying characteristics. (no more shoulder pads in his jacket, appropriately scruffy outfits). The ninth show of the tour saw them land in Hartford. For the first time, I had actually arrived in time for the parking lot scene. Illegal vending is always interesting, and the beer cooler guys were selling the holy grail of beer, Vermont’s Heady Topper. Unfortunately, this was one of the highlights of the day. The setlist trended towards ordinary following a ferocious Hell in a Bucket opener, but there were flashes in Viola Lee Blues and China->Rider. Two songs after drums and space and the show was over early. Still, an average Dead and Company show in 2018 is comparable to average Grateful Dead shows of the early 90’s, and light years beyond their sputterings of 2015
Roger Daltrey with the Boston Pops does Tommy, Tanglewood Lenox MA June 15th
Two nights later, a jaunt across the whole state of Massachusetts to Tanglewood, the home of the Boston Pops/BSO on the New York border. Last year this was the site for Pete Townhend’s orchestral version of Quadrophenia. But where Quadrophenia functioned as a fully formed classically arranged symphony, Daltrey brought a full solo band to back him up, resulting in more of a rock band playing Tommy with orchestral flourishes than a realized classical piece. Daltrey was in fine voice this evening on the lawn: a sea of blankets, wine bottles and dinners covered this jewel of Massachusetts al fresco venues. The familiar themes of Tommy are some of the Who’s strongest material, and Daltrey kept the energy high, and it was a headlong rush to the end with Who Are You and Baba O’Reilly (including an insane violin solo so often neglected) to cap the evening. Comparisons to Townshend’s performance last year are inevitable-one managed to shoehorn Quadrophenia into a genuine classical piece while Daltrey mainly used the orchestra as window dressing embellishment. However, Daltrey did get the rock vibe going much better. Who won? ‘Us’ would be the best answer.
Yes Hampton Beach Club Casino NH July 11th
This one is an interesting conundrum. Yes is on their 50th anniversary tour. Twice actually. For those unaware, there are actually two versions of Yes currently touring-first Howe, White, Downes and replacement parts. The second version with founding vocalist and face of the band Jon Anderson along with iconic Rick Wakeman and 80’s star guitarist Trevor Rabin. Club Casino has seen the version led by Howe take the stage in the past in this relatively small venue. This evening the lineup was again the former: Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison and replacement drummer Jay Schellen. Actually there was a surprise in store for us in the third set, founding keyboardist Tony Kaye showed up.
I’d popped tix for this on stubhub for $6.25 each. Cheaper than their 1970’s shows. Weird.
A quick thirty seconds or so of traditional taped warm up Firebird Suite led to Close to the Edge as the opener. Downes has some difficulty reproducing Wakeman’s more challenging lines from time to time, and it showed here. Howe’s acoustic solo guitar piece Mood for a Day showed that he is still a master of the fretboard, and his electric guitar work on set one closer Heart of the Sunrise carried the whole band on his shoulders. Billy Sheridan on bass sometimes had a challenge in mimicking Chris Squire’s dominant bass lines. Oddly he’s never once strapped on a Rickenbacker 4001 bass, the signature sound of Yes. (Anderson’s version relies heavily on the Rick for bass). For the second set, Alan White came out for the closer. He is now borderline infirm after several back surgeries, and only plays on the last four songs of the set. On Awaken, he was solid in his snare and cymbal work, but some of the trickier tom fills have to be omitted. Kaye came out for the final three songs of the encore. He still has the annoying habit of only playing with his right hand while the left hand waves in the air. Good Hammond work does require some mashing with both hands to create the proper effect. Very odd that he resolutely refuses to do this. At the end of the night I compared notes with friends and the consensus was that Yes is no longer able to accurately reproduce their own material. While this sounds harsh, one has to remember that Yes wrote some of the most challenging rock music in history. Downes and Sheridan, relatively capable musicians both, often give the impression that they are slurring their way through things that are too difficult to play precisely. I had the good fortune to meet the whole band after the show, and got to speak to each member one on one as they sat at the long autograph table. I had to bite my tongue several times, I had plenty to say-White appeared frail, Kaye affable, Sheridan offhanded but pleased, Schellen quietly ecstatic, Howe prickly and distracted. But in front of Jon Davison, the singer they had grabbed from a Yes cover band, I had to comment: “Do you ever wake up in the morning and think ‘I am the luckiest motherfucker on the planet?’ I mean seriously, you are not opening for your dream band, you are IN your dream band? Unreal” He nodded and said ‘Oh yes I know, I do know’. Great ending to an uneven but overall fun evening. In the end, which version of Yes you prefer is up to the reader. Setlist
Gov’t Mule, Avett Brothers, Magpie Salute Mansfield MA July 14th
Gov’t Mule brought their ‘Dark Side of the Mule’ set to Great Woods in Mansfield. Although one would think they were doing Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd in its entirety, only seven of the fifteen Floyd covers were from Dark Side. Echoes part two, The Nile Song and Pigs on the Wing were some highlights. Warren Haynes, who never seems to have an off day, was masterful on guitar. A dazzling light show complemented the set which contained only two actual Mule songs. Before this tour, Mule had only done this Floyd adventure twice-Boston for Halloween in 2008 and at their own festival Mountain Jam in 2015. Setlist here
Openers Magpie Salute featured the remnants of the Black Crowes, and rocked out old school. Harder and faster than the parent band, Rich Robinson, Sven Pipien and Marc Ford provide the core of something that has a rawness similar to 1987 Guns n Roses with elements of dangerous Rolling Stones and a strong heavy Crowes vibe. This is a band to watch. Needless to say, their set was far too short. The middle band, the Avett Brothers had a large contingent in the crowd. I was a bit dumbfounded-they sounded like the Jonas Brothers on a good day mixed with any generic Christian Rock band minus the Jesus lyrics. I was bored to tears. Fortunately Warren had lined up a memory cleansing set of Floyd to send the posers to wing. He did.
Blackmore’s Night Academy of Music Northampton MA July 21st
Ok this one is hard to believe for those who are unaware. Ritchie Blackmore, the notoriously difficult iconic guitarist for Deep Purple decided one day to start a band with his then girlfriend Candice Night. The band name is cleverly a play on both the names of the founders and one of Purple’s more iconic songs ‘Black Night’. Though they’ve been around since the late 90’s, many still don’t know that Blackmore has created an acoustic band that bears zero resemblance to Rainbow or Deep Purple. I was warned ahead of time that fans show up in renaissance costume. I wasn’t prepared for said fans gathering at the front of the hall and engaging in spirited group dances of Elizabethan times.
I’d have to say I was solidly impressed. I mean what the hell, Ritchie Blackmore, who is on a short list of rock guitarists who stand as the founders of heavy music as we know it comes to town? Townshend, Hendrix, Gilmour, Clapton, Page, Beck? Blackmore is right in there timeline-wise and talent-wise. This is a living legend. But as long as you don’t expect any Purple, you are in for a treat. The band sounds very close (nearly identical) to the Annie Haslam led band Renaissance who ruled the floorboards in the seventies. Night has a similar vocal range as the operatic Haslam, and the band is fluid on their plethora of acoustic instruments. Oddly, barely recognizable versions of Rainbow, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep obscurities dotted the set. On other nights Renaissance and Mike Oldfield songs will make appearances. I thought this night might be a disaster, but I would go again in a heartbeat.
Ween Waterfront Park Burlington VT July 29th
Ween end of summer tour show. Lake Champlain for the background? Are you kidding? You could smell that this would be a special one from a long way off. From the opening notes of Did You See Me? things were loose and fun. Claude bloodied from playing drums with his hands, a half assed cover of Black Sabbath by Sabbath, China Cat by the Dead, three of the five Stallions….holy crap this was perhaps the best Ween show I’d seen since 1999. The location was perfect. We are gonna keep this one light on words and heavy on ‘watch and see what the fuck they did’. See below for video evidence of the mayhem:
Many online agreed, this one was special. The band all switched instruments for a song. Multi Stallions-always the sign of a special show. No seats, just a field. One of the best days of the summer. Sun sets over the lake literally just behind us. For me, this was the best show of the summer by a longshot. Long live Boognish. Setlist here.
Slayer Albany Times Union Center Albany NY August 1st
You actually have to say their name three or four times in a row, or it doesn’t count. Somewhat like Bloody Mary. So Slayer announced that they are on their farewell tour and packing it in. To go out in style, they packed the bill with legends of thrash and death metal.
I was on the way into the arena very early in the bill when I saw a kid leaving the event in a Venom shirt. Kind of early. Clearly he’d only come for Napalm Death who’d replaced Behemoth a few days before the show. Once inside, I realized it had been a while since I had been at a show where I could be in genuine danger. (Venom last year in Boston but in reality Butthole Surfers in 1990 would take the cake for uncontrolled mayhem). I’d missed some of the opening acts, coming in towards the end of Anthrax. Wandering around looking at various concert T shirts was highly entertaining-beer bellies stretching vintage shirts of 80’s bands long forgotten: Exodus, Overkill, Carcass, Megadeth, Obituary, Kreator…I’d forgotten about some of these bands. This show was another one I’d popped on stubhub for dirt cheap, $7.00 for loge seats. Lamb of God had a large following there, yet I couldn’t really find anything in their set to grab on to. First, bands that spend much of their time onstage with members having an arm in the air at all times? Play yer damn guitar. Plus the singer standing on the monitors often, posing, posturing and yelling WWF style? The aluminum bleachers backdrop also lended to what could easily be confused with a choreographed wrestling match theme. I was bored.
And then came Slayer. (Slayer…Slayer…Slayer…). Very quickly these guys established why they are the kings of thrash and death metal. Precision riffs created large incisions in the sweaty air of the former Pepsi Center, drums spitting artillery shells at machine gun rates, flames bursting front and back and sideways. It was mayhem on the stage, and the mosh pit circled menacingly, taking up a large fraction of the floor. Violence was tangible in every turn. But somehow these songs showed a spirit and swing that Lamb of God couldn’t achieve. Hell Awaits, South of Heaven, Raining Blood, Chemical Warfare led to the finale of Angel of Death-all at impossibly loud volumes and impossibly fast tempos. Brutality and catchiness intersected in a tribute to all that is metal. Glorious. Hell awaits indeed.
Belly, The Royale Boston MA August 23rd
Don’t Get Too Close To My Fantasy-Still Coquettish After All These Years
I’d wanted to see Belly since their second album came out in 1995, never have. My time with them went back to the Throwing Muses era, when I’d seen that band a half a dozen times in Cambridge before they were signed and they only had a cassette out (to this day, still their best release by a long shot). Belly’s second album, King, was a masterpiece of perfection, musically and in the timing. It was sublimely different from much of the ‘chick rock’ that flooded the market in the 90’s. But Belly were different. The riot grrl movement, Liz Phair, L7, PJ Harvey, Hole, The Breeders, Kim Gordon? These girls were dangerous, could mess you up. Or even worse, ignore you completely. These were their themes-boys and love not needed here. Belly and Tanya Donelly were something very different. They sang about the things that concerned many hipster 90’s twenty somethings the most. Dating as a full time activity, and love….found and lost. Wistful and romantic in a good way, there is heartache and longing described in vivid terms–in poignant but easily understood terms-the spectrum is covered from highs to lows in impressionist wordplay. Emotionally closer to Emily Dickinson than Bikini Kill, Belly is able to cut to the heart of relationship gamesmanship. Twenty years later, this album still stands as a masterpiece. Yet somehow the band only existed for three years and two albums-packing it in by 1996. Here is them doing their signature song, Red, back in ’95:
At the Royale, the band looked like they hadn’t lost a step since 1996. Tanya, who has to be pushing 55, still looks every bit the indie rock goddess-Dorian Gray’ed by the Gods and Goddesses of rock n roll. But make no mistake, she has an ability to use her voice in ways few singers could. Whispers to shrieks to country trills to breathy entreaties to guarded dive bombs from soprano to zero-Donelly has a unique and powerful vocal presence that Kristin Hersh never let her show in the Muses. The band still prowls the stage like there is a threat in their missives. Who could forget this pose:
The band had their kids there. Their progeny hosted an onstage drawing for a raffle and hogged the stage in a fashion that would make the cynical cringe, but was slightly endearing and a dose of perhaps needed reality: ‘Hey we got kids and are not 22 anymore folks’. But the air of family that the Muses once nascently carried back in a long burned down club in Cambridge was now fully formed, a maturity has descended upon an era once innocent and adolescently hopeful on the love front. In some ways, their weighty and heady successes are frozen in time, along with any fans memories. It was a special time. ‘Don’t get too close to my fantasy’ a wise philosopher once said. Fair dinkum. Setlist here.
ZZ Top, Indian Ranch Webster MA August 26th
My first concert year (underage), I had seen Rick Derringer in Salisbury Frolics. I was way too close to a PA that would easily deafen Madison Square Garden in a room the size of a small lecture hall. They tuned the monstrous PA up with some radio tunes. ‘Heard it on the X’ was the first song. I was intrigued. ZZ Top they said. I waited decades without seeing them, grabbing a few of their early albums. Why? I knew they had had a Texas history that went back to the days of the 13th Floor Elevators. But somehow they never had they crossed my path, and too many lunkheads were into them. I filed them away.
I’d had tickets two years ago to see ZZ Top when the bass player Dusty Hill wiped out drunk on the tour bus and broke his hip, pooching the tour. I had then given up all hope in ever seeing them live. Scanning the concert calendar, I discovered a day ahead of time ZZ Top playing within 50 miles of home. I had no idea that the Indian Ranch is located on a rather famous lake, one made famous in the Guinness Book of Records as longest name for a lake ever: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. Or: ‘you fish on your side of the lake I’ll fish on my side of the lake and nobody fishes in the middle’. I’d memorized this in elementary school but never knew the damn lake was in Massachusetts. (a plaza with a convenience store has the name over it. It covers all of the stores from end to end.)
Top came out and delivered a perfunctory set-no surprises-some obvious omissions-that lasted perhaps 75 minutes to the predominantly biker crowd. Little time for jamming and mostly getting things done quickly was the order of the day. Some songs just fell apart at the end as if they were unwilling to let the song go another bar. Cheap Trick also operates this way lately, pre-programmed set that will not be deviated from under any circumstances, and an 80 minute target endtime. Bands on auto pilot that play the same set every night aren’t the best thing to see, but I was happy to finally witness these guys decades after I’d written them off with Eliminator. Setlist here Some footage:
Killing Joke and Pig, Paradise Theater Boston September 11th
The summer ended on the ominous day of September 11th. I’d seen Killing Joke 5 years ago at this exact venue. Unlike many long lived bands, Killing Joke is currently constituted by their original 1978 lineup: Jaz Coleman, Youth, Geordie Walker and Paul Ferguson. This alone should reap them accolades-seriously a punk band that still has the same lineup for this long? Unheard of. And this was their 40th reunion.
Most Americans have no idea who Killing Joke are. They made zero impression in America during their heyday. With a sound that could be categorized as ‘standard 1980 brit punk’ with a heady Hawkwind edge-well you can see why nobody in the States would get it. But Youth? Few know he is the god of bass in KJ, but even fewer know he is a producer of rather impressive stature. Paul McCartney? The Verve? Alien Sex Fiend? U2 and Depeche Mode? Yep, Youth.
Jaz Coleman is even more enigmatic. Often missing off planet, or perhaps in the Sahara, Coleman can be hard to pin down. He is famous for being an idealist, conspiracy theorist, truth teller and yet another famous producer. He rose to fame in 1995 with Symphonic Pink Floyd, a classical re-arrangement of Floyd classics.
With that in mind, seeing them in Boston was once again an amazing experience. They are so on top of their game that they could, like ZZ Top and Cheap Trick, phone one in. But they are made of sterner stuff. They briefly noted that it was September 11th and left the rest hanging, and quick comments on Trump were followed by ‘you guys watch out for us, so we are in it together’. For better or worse was politely left out. The set contained four songs from their debut lp from 1980. Setlist here
Pig, the opening band were entirely confusing. Seven musicians were coming out of the PA but only a guitarist, drummer, and engaging vocalist were onstage.
Raymond Watts, an integral member of KMFDM, is the central figure of <PIG>. One can be forgiven for thinking this is an offshoot of Pigface (the industrial rock scene is the most incestuous of any rock scene ever-everyone has been in each others band at some point). As a front man, he is hypnotic. Dazzling stage gestures can be hypnotic to engage a crowd at first. After a while though? Repetition grows stale when computers are actually playing most of the instruments and your band members aren’t. Notsogood. Would go down a storm in a NYC bondage bar though.
So, that brings us to the end of the summer run. Distance traveled to shows: 1,890 miles traveled. 11 shows: $373.00 total ticket cost.
Fans were wary when Hawkwind announced they would be doing an album with strings for their 30th lp release, Road to Utopia. I mean that when a rock band not known for any strings in their songs decides to do an orchestral album, it is usually a signal that it’s finally over. It is the musical equivalent of wearing sweatpants in public–you gave up. Which makes it so puzzling that Hawkwind, who had been riding a streak of victories with their last two studio albums would decide to engage in what is usually perceived to be a musical white flag of surrender. Then the album cover was released:
I was gobsmacked. Were they kidding? I canvassed long term Hawkfans, and most honestly thought this was a parody-couldn’t possibly be real, right? Cricket cartoons in a folk art style? Very ill advised was the kindest comment I heard. So what went wrong? First up, fingers must be pointed at Mike Batt of the Wombles, who orchestrated this collection of yet again more (all) Hawkwind remakes. The Wombles were a Brit children’s TV show featuring the band in fuzzy costumes (see above). Even odder was Eric Clapton guesting on The Watcher. This seemed like a confluence of bad decisions of epic proportions, like an acid trip that despite the best intentions, ends up spinning further out of control at every turn until there is an uncomfortable and painful thud.
First off, more covers of their older classic material is not what Hawkfans have been salivating for. Hey the first cover of Quark Strangeness and Charm in the 90’s was kind of cool, but little did we know that this was to be the blueprint for the next decade and a half. Their propensity for revisiting their older material has gone from eyebrow raising to a genuine problem. And their remakes never capture the magic of the originals, this is also the case here. Early statements tried to assuage fans by stressing that this was not an album of Hawkwind playing with an orchestra, but a Hawkwind album augmented by string and horn arrangements. True, it’s more variety show glitz arrangements than a full on orchestral treatment, but in the end this splitting of hairs matters little. The songs are sapped of whatever power they once contained and vary from semi-successful curios to downright look away embarrassing. Psi Power is vaguely interesting but Batt’s propensity for 1970’s over the top horn arrangements mar even this one slight success. The Age of the Micro Man is haunting but slowed tempos make it eventually sound like they are walking through viscous toffee. Some cool guitar from Brock manages to find its way past the wicket when Batt wasn’t looking in the grand finale. But by the end of the second pass through the album, I could no longer take the histrionic horn flashes intruding like a hamfisted attempt to insert some pep in their step but end up destroying everything-a Vegas inflected big band Hawkwind? Ugh. Things looked so bright when 2016’s The Machine Stops came out. Into the Woods kept the engine running smoothly. But this album pours sand into the oilpan and the whole colossus shudders to a frightening halt. We took the wrong step years ago? A bit more recent than years ago I’m afraid. Avoid.
This review is written for people who have seen a ton of analog synthesizers in their past. How does this thing SOUND? The lowdown on the Behringer Deepmind 12:
I don’t think more ink has been spilled over a synthesizer either before or after release than the Behringer Deepmind 12. Not the Moog Voyager, not Korg’s Arp Odyssey, not the Little Phatty. Much of this hand wringing has to do with the brand name on the case, Behringer. Known by some for their borderline patent infringement copies of some famous gear and questionable quality control, people had this thing written off before a prototype version had even hit the streets. The rumor that it was going to be a remake of the iconic Roland Juno 106 caused endless debates of skepticism. News then filtered out that it was to be manufactured in China-well this sealed it for many who verbally dug their heels in and posted final judgements without ever touching one in real life. It has polarized the synth community in opinion like no synth before ever has. Is this kind of judgement worthy or overblown hyperbole? Let’s take a look at this beast.
So Behringer lit up the synthesizer boards online with news that they had planned to clone the Juno 106 in August 2016. Folks were skeptical to say the least. Many online judged it and poured out missives without hearing a single note-“It’s a Behringer, it’s going to suck. I want no part of it” was a comment seen in many guises over and over. When it hit the shelves in January 2017, it was buggy. But it needed to be noted that this wasn’t a Juno 106 clone, it was a lot more. Another oscillator, arpeggiator, and most importantly, onboard high quality effects. Quick revisions of the OS (currently 1.1.2) have cleared up many of the quirks. Many will be surprised to hear that the Behringer is surprisingly solid.
First off, I am not one of those Behringer ‘haters’. I have had several Behringer mixers in the past, and still use one nearly two decades later. (ps: this mixer I gig with regularly: throw it in a milk crate uncased, throw it onstage and throw it back in the crate. And it has never failed) But Behringer has a reputation in some circles for gear that is only borderline acceptable. A full on analog polyphonic synthesizer? (these hadn’t really existed new anymore until he DSI Prophet 08 was released a decade ago.–I’m ignoring the Andromeda, no one could afford that—More expensive analog polys today trend towards $2,500. For a cheaper analog alternative today, outside of the mini keys Korg ‘minilogue? Not much out there.)
And for this to be your company’s first foray into synthesizers? This can be tricky ground. Look at Arturia’s Minibrute-another company that debuted an analog hardware synth as their first dipping of their toes into the musical instrument hardware water. The Arturia received mixed reviews (personally I thought it was too harsh sounding) and as a made in China provenance, few were surprised that it had a nearly series wide defect of a broken middle C key. The Microbrute revision released later was an improvement but sported mini keys, a deal breaker for many. People were wary of a brand new company making their first synth.
How Does It Sound?
Too many reviews of this thing are not much more than a recitation of the Deepmind 12 promo sheet of its specs. Few reviews get into what this thing has going for it: the unique sound. It sounds like a few synthesizers.
For a cliff note version, here is a starter formula for you to work with.
Some of the more astute will note that three digital virtual analogs are mentioned as close to how this sounds. Let’s get more specific.
The Korg Prophecy was designed in the mid 90’s as a bone to throw to the engineers who wanted a project mostly for themselves to be entertained-a digital synth that sounds like a monophonic analog synth of the 70’s. In reality, it didn’t sound much like an analog synth-you could hear this distinctive digital buzziness like fine sandpaper on wood in most sounds. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great–but it did have a fairly distinctive resonant nasally sound that would be the signpost for much virtual analog to follow. I had one for a while and it excelled in swirling soundscapes-but sketchy and scratchy outputs made it unreliable live.
The Waldorf Micro Q was a lower priced sequel to their flagship virtual analog monster, the Q. These guys had gotten down to brass tacks in synthesizer gestalt-buy a castle in Germany, move in, and create a company dedicated to making synthesizers Tangerine Dream would walk through burning buildings for. Not a bad original idea, and these guys are really good at what they do. The Micro Q was a very high end take on virtual analog-it has a very unique digital spin on analog. Crystalline high end bordering on…it’s hard to put in words, but it’s damn good. The micro Q still sports a sound today 18 years after release that is appealingly unique as well as easily identifiable. Waldorf digital synths have a certain something that makes the keen observer pick it out in a mix quickly. Great arpeggiation and clean and precise articulation are the hallmarks here. I have valued one of these in the rig since 2001.
The Alesis Ion was a latecomer to the game. It was all metal and solid feeling with a strength in a distinctly digital take on virtual analog. Formant sounds (a way of making a synth sound like it is vaguely talking) and very thin nasal swirling and sweeping resonant leads are the distinctive and easily identified signature sounds from this beast. The screen in the middle is able to show much information: BPMs, a pictorial of the envelopes, filters and knob setting numbers for starters. This was a ton of information in 2003, almost overwhelming for one weaned solely on 70’s and 80’s analog synths. I had one of these for a few years, but it had two live drawbacks, the labeling of knobs and buttons is literally invisible in most lighting situations, and it is much heavier to lug around than one would guess.
The Roland Juno 106 was the big analog polyphonic synth of the 1980’s. Hundreds of bands featured this thing-both pro and amateur. This keyboard was all over MTV styled euro bands-Most Duran Duran songs use the more expensive but very similar version of the 106, the 60. Pet Shop Boys and a-ha helped make this a staple of the airwaves while Tangerine Dream and Vangelis made wide use of the strings. It hit all the right notes for many synth enthusiasts-just old school enough, just modern enough, and affordable. DCOs instead of VCOs gave it a stability older synths lacked, but its single oscillator boosted by a sub oscillator limited what it could do. The lack of an arpeggiator or even the hold button from the SH-101 made for some complaints. This synth is widely considered to be a classic these days-it fetches around $1000 on the used market. I’ve had one for five or six years. The chorus on it can make some string sounds untouchable-hence its wide demand.
Let’s Put All the Pieces Together
First reaction (five minutes of scrolling through patches) – Holy shit!! This is the most AMAZING synth I’ve heard in thirty five years!!
Second reaction (twenty minutes, 40 patches)-Hmmm most of these patches seem to be awash in delay and echo…..
Third reaction (forty minutes-90 patches)– Wow a lot of these patches really sound alike. This thing is kind of samey. I don’t know….
Things changed. The second day, I had a similar reaction, but began to see deeper into the beast-reaction number one hung in there longer. By the end of day two, I had discovered something echoed by other commenters on various boards. I just started fiddling with sliders to see what I could do to the pre-set. At the end, I had not just created a cool new patch, I had created a fully vibrant evolving motion soundscape that could function as a full on song on its own. Remember this synth has no splitting the keyboard to have two sounds at hand, no layering and no ‘combis’ that push patches together as a single sound source. It is all one single patch. This is pretty amazing for any synthesizer (even my Prophet 10 monster has difficulty creating full blown soundscape pieces this easily). By day four this had happened several times-random sliding of parameters leading to that ‘oh yeah’ moment of multi dimensional sonic universes unlocking. I began to wonder if the perception that the patches were sounding samey was because the programmers had made soooo many amazing sounds-an overload of cool sounding shit that overloaded the senses? This seems to be the case.
How does this theoretical ingredients list play out? The Deepmind 12 sounds like a very clean Juno 106. It has essentially the same layout and many of the key and iconic pad sounds of a 106. It has the screen information display very similar to an Ion, with some of its formant sounds-albeit analog in source instead of digital. It also excels at the thin nasal resonant mono leads the Ion showcases. It has the clipped precision of the Micro Q in the arpeggiations, and many of the patches-even though this is an analog synth-have the distinctive character of the Prophecy’s evolving patches and more straightforward analog emulated leads. There are many patches on here I’d identify as digital virtual analog on first hearing. Most of that is a function of too many effects on a single patch, as when stripped of the reverbs, many patches revert to sounding clearly analog, if a bit vanilla. Overall, the percentage of sounds you’d pick as clearly analog matches roughly the original ingredients list-about 7 out of 10 would get the nod. (There are 1,024 patches in the beast). Perhaps “greater than the sum of its parts” would be an accurate quick take.
Oh My God The Fan
Some early and vocal reviews put the kibosh on this synth because it has a fan (actually two) in it. I couldn’t understand the fuss. I’d grown up with Kurzweils, both board and rack, and never thought of a fan as something to give a second glance to, except if it stopped making noise. All of our computers and laptops have had fans forever. For those who think this is an issue, there is a setting in Global to adjust fan speed. Is the fan audible at full speed? Yes. My version had the fan preset to 64, where it was nearly inaudible. Engineers at Behringer say that those who are freaked out and can’t handle the fan can set theirs as low as 34. You can even turn it off if your studio isn’t currently doubling as a sauna.
A Quick Rundown of Most Common Complaints
Build quality is excellent. All metal and wood, this thing is built like a brick shithouse. A sturdy gig bag would be recommended to protect the sliders, as the sliders are slightly wiggly. But so are the sliders on my Juno 106 (just went downstairs to check, the 106 faders wobble side to side, not as much as the Deepmind, but still wiggly). The revised Deepmind 6 has smaller sliders that feel tighter. The keybed is good, not great, but this would be a place to save a little money in the manufacturing. Me? I ain’t Keith Emerson going to town, but I had no beefs.
Unwanted clicking sounds. Yes this is true, there are some occasional quiet clicks and pops in the sounds. Some seem to be residue from the effects, but some do seem to be noise generated unintentionally. Not often enough to be noticed much on my unit, but they are there.
Noisy fan. As noted above, this isn’t really a problem at all.
Relies too much on effects. Well this one depends on your viewpoint. It is true that some patches are absolutely slathered in reverb, making the sound recede in a wash of repeating digital echoes. But remember, the Juno 106 made its name on a particular sound, a sound often generated by engaging its distinctive chorus. Somehow effects integral to the vintage inspiration get a pass but on the newer version are now a sticking point? Weird. Think of it this way-a patch has certain settings that build the architecture of the sound-envelopes, cutoff etc. The effects are just one more ingredient to the madness-another piece of the puzzle. What usually is never mentioned is that in a live setting, you no longer have to carry around an echo pedal, power supply for it, and two patch cords. This really streamlines setup time. Plus the effects are sourced from TC Electronics, known for their high end delay units and Klark Teknik, a high end British sound processing outfit. These aren’t cheap add on effects. (These companies have been absorbed into the Behringer family.)
The analog strings are too thinYou see this complaint a lot on various online boards. And if I only gave this a cursory run through, it is possible that one could get that impression. Many string patches (there are hundreds) do sound like they are missing something. But keep looking-you will find some massive string patches (about ten or so) that would make Juno 106 aficionados weep openly. There is one patch in the A bank I need to revisit (forgot to write it down stupidly). It is the most massive string sound I’ve heard in a while-Roland Jupiter/Yamaha CS in depth.
It has no low end for huge bassWell this is just straight up incorrect. Even the smaller six voice Deepmind 6 is capable of bowel loosening sub bass–foundation shaking bass.
In the end, this is more a synth you’ll play around with and discover things you’d never imagined more than something to sit down and willfully program. Subtle tweaks produce galactic results you’d never expect. At the new price point of $699, the Deepmind 12 is really a no brainer. It can do some things that even the Oberheim OB 6 and Prophet Rev2 cannot do. Are both of those famous and top shelf synthesizers inferior to the Deepmind? Of course not. But at $3,000 and $2,000 respectively, they require a serious financial commitment. If you are looking for a synth that does deep Moog soundalike patches, piano, orchestral instruments, and conventional style instruments, look elsewhere. If you are looking for something that oozes Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Cluster, Berlin school, Jean Michel Jarre and deep ambient vintage analog synth textures? Look no further. Hell this thing could also fit nicely in a Hip hop, funk, techno, prog metal or jam band. If you have experience getting sounds out of a Roland SH-101 (my first synth) then you will feel very much at home instantly programming this. The blinking LFO lights in particular are an invaluable guide for those who know where to go to find the exact sliders to fine tune weird sounds.
At $899 these were already worth it. Now? Well what are you waiting for? Open a new window and order one now. And get a Deepmind 6 while you are at it.
addendum: I’ve owned quite a few vintage and later era synths in my time and this thing hangs in there very well with all of them.
Gear list: Moog Voyager, Minimoog Model D, Moog Source, Micromoog, Moog Sub 37, Moog Sub Phatty, Moog Slim Phatty, vintage Arp Odyssey Rev 1 and Rev 3, Arp Axxe, Sequential Circuits Prophet 10, Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, DSI Prophet 08, DSI Evolver, DSI Mopho keyboard, Kurzweil K2000r, K2500r, K2000 keyboard, Korg Arp Odyssey, Korg Karma, Korg Monologue, Korg Ex-8000, Waldorf Streichfette, Waldorf Micro Q, Waldorf Pulse, Waldorf Pulse 2, Waldorf Microwave 1, Roland SH-101, Roland Juno 106, Roland Alpha Juno, Roland JX 10, Roland/Studio Electronics Se 02, Studio Electronics SE-1, Doepfer MS 404, Oberheim Matrix 6 and Matrix 6r, Oberheim Matrix 1000 and tons of gear traded in over the past two decades.And now, add in Behringer Deepmind 12 and Deepmind 6.
“This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid” – Sonny Rollins
So growing up, it seemed like Coltrane was the jazz counterpart to Jimi Hendrix in the record industry: a “new” album seemed to be discovered every two years or so. In reality, these albums consisted of outtakes, jams and experiments that usually never were intended to see the light of day. Which is why the new Coltrane album ‘Both Directions at Once’ is so surprising. For it appears that yes, this actually is a lost album that was intended to be released, and instead it got buried deeper and deeper in the archives until all traces of it were gone. Thankfully, that has been remedied with this release.
Let’s be honest, this is amazing that this could show up in 2018. This is one of the biggest finds in jazz history. The 2005 discovery of a Thelonious Monk concert with Coltrane from 1957-professionally recorded-had turned the jazz scene upside down. It was hailed then as the “musical equivalent of the discovery of a new Mount Everest”. In view of that, Sonny Rollins’ quote above might be a little overstated, but not by much. In the jazz world though? He is spot on. Vultures at ABC and Atlantic had long ago picked the vaults clean-releasing multiple outtakes and song fragments as ‘newly found’ material for decades. This is certainly not the case here-we are presented a full length album that literally everyone had forgotten about until a safety master was discovered in a house closet of a Coltrane family relative. But first, a little back story on 1963 Coltrane:
The quartet of John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones had been together for a full two years of recording and gigging. For a jazz scene that often traded out parts, to have a band with the same lineup for that long brought some unseen rewards. They were nearly telepathic with each other in their delicate improvisations. Combine that with a piano and drum section that re-defined jazz-the ability to support and lead simultaneously. Angular piano leads and sharp fills on drums do far more than accentuate-the band became a four headed monster with Garrison’s ability to underpin and never overwhelm on bass. Take a look at what these guys recorded in two short years from May 1961 up to March 1963 (new album slotted in where it was recorded)
This is a fairly fertile period for Coltrane, where he could literally show up for an evening in the studio and knock out a full album with multiple takes. So much material generated would pose a problem for record executives at the time. They would rightly point out that they couldn’t release four albums per year and promote them properly. This one fact would come back eventually to seal the vault on this album. Recorded the day before the Johnny Hartman sessions, and in only five hours, the label likely posed the question: ‘so you have two albums in the can in three days-one with a vocalist that is such a new direction we can commercially promote to a whole new audience, or one you recorded yesterday that is similar to your other recent things. We only can release one, so which one?’ This was a period of post My Favorite Things which pushed Coltrane out from top flight sideman and nascent national star status to genuine ‘jazz world’ and international star. Even the largest aficionados of Coltrane’s purest forms of jazz creation (Bob Thiele and studio owner Rudy Van Gelder) would have chosen the former-if the commercial success angle could be pushed further, well there were no losers in that scenario. If an album could double or triple his audience and his sales, everyone would be on board.
That dilemna covers the origins that triggered the eventual disappearance of this album. Luckily for us, Coltrane’s wife Naima found the mono safety master that had been created in the studio for Coltrane to take home and analyze. It had languished there for over half a century. But what of the master recordings? The masters were catalogued by Van Gelder, then stored in the voluminous Impulse archives until the label relocated from New York to Los Angeles. Any non released masters found in the tape archive in LA were eventually destroyed by the label to save storage space. It appeared this album was destined to be lost forever. Folks had now forgotten about the mono safety master 7″ tape. It lay undiscovered in a box for 55 years until their rediscovery.
Is This Actually a Real Album?
There is some fairly convincing evidence that this was intended to be an actual album. The biggest piece would be the four full takes in recording ‘Impressions’, one of his signature songs in his canon according to McCoy Tyner. This song eventually appeared the next year on the self same titled album, but in a live form recorded in December 1961, but this shows he was after something important. Chasing a perfect studio version of this song would indicate he was after something a little more than just jamming. The quartet also had not recorded in their ‘pushing the envelope’ style since July 1962’s Coltrane-opting for the commercial friendly Ballads and a collaboration with Duke Ellington to continue an expansion of his commercial exposure.
Shorter traditional tunes Nature Boy and Vilia, (which showed up on the subsequent Live at Birdland) contrast with a long slow blues and Impressions, this pair clocking in at nearly half an hour. One Up, One Down (from a conversation Coltrane had with Wayne Shorter before his death) and two untitled instrumentals (called Sun Ship and Triangles on the tape box in Coltrane’s handwriting-not clear on which one was which however) make up the album. Some traditional, some forward looking, this is a perfect picture of an artist in transition. With him flying at such a high level, one can almost see how this album would have been gauged as not quite perfect at the time. And with a glut of top flight Coltrane material in the can awaiting release? Well some hard choices had to be made, and this album was consigned to oblivion. Until now. But make no mistake, this album is amazing-a snapshot of what came before and what was to come that slots perfectly among his better works. Coltrane pushed the boundaries already tested in 1962’s Coltrane, and this album holds its own easily with the upcoming Live at Birdland recorded seven months later in 1963 and Crescent a year later in 1964. In some ways it is even more satisfying than both of those albums.
So yes, this is an actual real lost Coltrane album, and a damn good one to boot-comfortably sliding into his top studio releases. It is one of the biggest events in jazz history to discover any work from an artist like this, but one from his peak period of creativity? Holy shit! Go out and get one immediately.
Record Store Day. The somewhat benevolent creation of the record industry in 2007 to enervate the then fledgling recovering vinyl industry. Records had been considered dead and buried by the end of the 80’s, and vinyl pressings had dwindled to near nil from their hey day. In 1978, over 340 million albums were purchased, the peak year of album buying in America. With the advent of CDs, twenty years later, 1998 saw LP sales drop to 1% of 1978’s sales figures at just over 3 million units. By 2006, vinyl LP sales had plunged to under a million-900,000 units sold for that year. (CDs had shifted an amazing 800 million units in 1998-nearly 1,000 CDs sold for each LP sold) Records were proclaimed dead in every industry paper, folks dumped their decades long curated collections into landfills and Salvation Army bins, and the chore of lugging around hundreds or thousands of pounds of vinyl was solved.
Or so it seemed. Indie labels had never really given up on vinyl, and the cooler indie stores still stocked records by bands that most had never heard of, and sales were moderate. Albums were now pressed in the thousands (sometimes as low as 1000) per release. 2007 saw the innovation of a single day created for the indie record stores that had kept the faith through the lean years. Severely limited editions of some enticing titles were offered for sale on a single day in April, and only independent stores were allowed to order them. Soon, the buzz spread. As years went on, folks began lining up in the early morning hours to grab some genuine treasures, or get tricked into buying repackaged turds that they knew better than to drop another 40 bucks on. (the dreadful double A side 45s from WB with the original vintage single on one side and a cover by a modern band as the B side gets singled out here). Regardless, some real rarities spat out, and it became almost de riguer to jump to eBay to see what the sold out items were fetching.
The past few record store days (now doubled to twice a year-Black Friday in November joins the original April date) have shown an industry short on imagination. Flickers came here and there, but a trend towards reissuing albums at $30 a pop that are easily found across town in a vintage used record store for five bucks? No thanks. Rarely is a truly groundbreaking and definitive rarity released under the guises of Record Store Day. Until this year, where lightning struck not once, but twice.
Hawkwind – Dark Matter (The Alternative Liberty/UA Years 1970-1974) 2 lp
This one escaped almost EVERYONE’S radar. Even Hawkfans online had little idea how important a release this one is for fans of early Hawkwind (considered the definitive era by most). Sourced from the 2011 3 CD compilation Parallel Universe (in and of itself the single definitive Hawkwind collection) Somehow folks didn’t realize how important the gems contained in here were. The plethora of Hawkwind compilations-similar to Stooges releases-have made fans immune to most Hawk comps. Too many are the same things over and over in a new sleeve and a new title. For those who thought that about this release, please take a closer look.
First, this one is easy to miss on the shelf. The band name and title are nearly invisible on the cryptic alien manhole cover. Last years RSD Hawkwind release (Best of the UA Years 1971-1974) sank without a trace with zero track information on a poorly designed cover. . (both record stores in my town still have two copies each of this a year later. Many US record fans sadly would now just flip past any Hawk RSD title ) With this in mind, my early morning arrival to score what I knew to be one of the RSD treasures of the decade turned out to be unnecessary-they had plenty. Bringing this home immediately, I could not believe what was contained within. Basically this had things NEVER heard before by Hawkfans (excepting those who had been wise enough to grab Parallel Universe). And what things these were! The debut lineup of Brock, Turner, Harrison, Lloyd-Langton and Ollis doing In Search of Space material? What?? The In Search of Space lineup doing early Do Re Mi style material? Reworked versions of Hawkwind Zoo material that sound nothing like that EP? Studio versions of songs we’d only heard live? What was going on here? Was this one of the biggest Hawkwind releases in their career?
Digging a little deeper, that is exactly what we have going on here. The 1969-1970 lineup is represented on three tracks, You Know You’re Only Dreaming (which ended up on In Search Of Space) is a completely different take on the song, with only the lyrics as the common thread. It almost heads into a sound not unlike King Crimson of the same 1970 era. A fairly unique sound Hawkwind didn’t really show again. The Reason Is from their debut album is a different take, slightly scarier if that’s possible. Be Yourself is a different mix, very close to the original. Still, side A is an eye opener for a Hawkwind collection, with the Dreaming track being the real treasure. I was already blown away.
Side B kicks off with another unheard song, the instrumental Hog Farm. This contains riffs from the much later Hawklords album of 1978 and is something out of left field for a Hawkwind fan-completely unheard until today. The transition to the In Search of Space line up has happened, and vocalist/poet Robert Calvert has entered, and guitarist Lloyd-Langton has exited, with Dave Anderson from Amon Duul 2 now on bass. Rumblings of Brainstorm and Master of the Universe scuttle in and out of the jamming. Sweet Mistress of Pain (Kiss of the Velvet Whip) is another song from the same session from May 1971. Originally taken from the rare pre Hawkwind EP ‘Hawkwind Zoo’ from early 1969, this version has been pumped up several levels. Calvert carries this one along vocally, and the newly injected instrumental power makes one wonder why the band didn’t up the ante and just keep the melody and replace the puerile lyrics with something a bit more star/drug/cosmic oriented. (lyrics to this song are the low point in Brock’s canon, probably why this song never surfaced) Alas, this was a missed chance to create a truly classic Hawkwind song-still this version is heady. Seven by Seven, made famous on Space Ritual only had a studio version as the B side to the Silver Machine 45. This one here is a different version of the studio version and contains different lyrics. Again, this side is a strong argument as to why Hawkwind is a uniquely amazing musical experience. Brock and Turner are twin masters here; psychedelic voles burrowing into the deepest folds of your brain, and you are helpless in the sincerest sense of the word. The expansive wah wah use by Brock on guitar and Turner on sax create the essence of the Hawkwind sound-pounding bass and drums underneath, psychedelic warpings of guitar and sax, and wooshing chaotic underlay. This is the primordial heart of Hawkwind that perhaps even some of their hard core fans don’t know exists. The sound of In Search of Space has expanded to a more refined primordial puddle of brain bubbles than the studio album could quite aspire to.
Side three starts with another never before heard song, an outtake from Do Re Mi called Take What You Can-a fairly easy going standard Hawkwind type tune, it soon veers off into an instrumental section that features newly minted Lemmy endeavoring to tear holes in the universe before retreating back to home base and dwindling to a gentle two chord segue straight from Space Ritual (the song ends with the segue fading out). Elements of Master of the Universe are clearly evident in the riffing here. The rest of the side is taken up by the full studio version of Brainbox Pollution from August of 1973. Although this song is not unfamiliar to most Hawkfreaks, this version is. Stretched out to full length from the single edit that everyone knows, everything that makes Hawkwind special is contained in here (despite lacking the ‘horn of destiny’ call in the riff). Honestly, this version of the song would be what I’d consider what you’d come up with if you distilled the Hawkwind ethos into a single song. Side three has upped the ante, I can no longer believe that stuff of this quality has been undercover for so long-every song here would stand easily with the classics of the Hawkwind oeuvre.
Side four contains the unheard studio version of the B side It’s So Easy. (the more common version is a live one). A studio version of You Better Believe It (the Hall of the Mountain Grill version was likewise live) with the lyric ‘it’s so easy’ shows why the previous song was likely shelved from the album. Both come from the same January 1974 studio session. It’s So Easy ends with a sublime denouement you never hear from them, almost Grateful Dead-like in elegiac subtlety. A different take on Wind of Change closes out side four, a very Pink Floyd guitar attack that bring the proceedings to an end like watching the most sublime beach sunset close out a lysergic soaked day of adventure.
But make no mistake, these are powerful anthems to sheer lunacy, real howl at the moon kind of shit. The kind of stuff they don’t make anymore. This album already is insanely essential-a landmark of space rock. Nik Turner, who usually flies under the radar musically is shown to be a huge part of the sound–his carefully modulated and wah wah inflected sax sound like nothing on this earth, and provide a twisted musical continuity to most of the pieces. Brock’s likewise heavy wah use throughout most of this helps the call and response between two alien beings manning instruments not of this earth. It is not hyperbole to state that this is perhaps the best Hawkwind album since Space Ritual–the surfacing of a long lost treasure trove of relics we didn’t suspect existed, finally released a full forty plus years after being recorded. Pass the word on to your friends and Hawkfriends: “if you don’t have this album, you are missing a HUGE part of Hawkwind.”
The Residents- The Warner Brothers Album
The Holy Grail of Residents Lore Sees the Light of Day!
The second treasure of RSD 2018 is a doozy, something we were told we would never ever hear-the nearly mythical Warner Bros. Album that gave the band their name. But first, maybe we need a little background on this band.
The Residents are best known as the eyeball wearing quartet from perhaps San Francisco who make some of the most uncommercial, sanity threatening and mutation inducing music this side of a lunatic asylum orchestra. They had been kicking around the psychedelic scene as early as 1967, and though many collectives explored similar paths, none had the vision (or perhaps lack thereof), diligence, dedication to destroying established musical traditions and mores and the ability to excise the word ‘no’ from their vocabulary like the Residents. Getting sued by the Beatles label for their first album cover got them a smidgen of infamy (a trick later borrowed by conceptual cousins Negativland). They had to change the album cover.
Who was actually in the Residents? No one knew. This was a more closely guarded secret than what Kiss looked like under their makeup. Unlike Kiss, few actually cared. Their debut registered minuscule sales. It was an unsettling maelstrom of music concrete, childish sing a longs, advanced modern classical riffs, homemade instruments and intentional mistakes that were the underpinning to some vocals that would disturb even Captain Beefheart. The band stayed the course for an album arc that everyone should dabble their little toes into:
The above five albums set a benchmark for weirdness that is hard to top. In fact, it’s never been topped. But as twisted as these releases are, nothing compares to the early years of the band. And so our tale begins:
Our heroes are ensconced somewhere in California. The sixties are coming to an end. This loose collective who now might include Philip Lithman (better known as Snakefinger) as a guest guitarist on top of Homer Flynn, Hardy Fox, Jay Clem and John Kennedy. (though all four claim they are managers of the Cryptic Corporation, not actual musicians) They start making serious music. Seriously damaged that is. Tapes slow down, instruments are primitively recorded: is it a kazoo? A fuzzed violin? a cat being tortured? No one knew. One never discussed item is that there was another early member of the band (often referred to as N. Senada- a pseudonym), someone classically trained on piano and composition. He became disenchanted with formal collegiate musical training and conservatory approaches, and decided to hitch his star to these acid soaked performance artists with pretty much zero musical talent. Perhaps he recognized flickers of Harry Partch, John Cage, Edgar Varese and Stockhausen in their childish dada clinking and clanking (and occasional transmission throwing out gears at 60 mph) But both factions were willing to make it a go, and the genesis of the Warner Bros. album was created. They recorded into 1971, hand painted the optimistically titled tape cover (see above) and mailed it to Hal Halverstadt, the guy at Warners who signed Captain Beefheart. (hey, if this guy signed Beefheart, he’ll LOVE us!) songlist below:
Strawberry Fields Forever (Lennon-McCartney)
The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany
Baby Skeletons & Dogs
Bop Bop (Shoo Bop Bop)
Every Day I Masturbate on A Merican Fag
Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy, Can’t You See that it’s True?
Baby Skeletons & Dogs (Reprise)
The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise)
Love & Peace
The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise 2)
Black Velvet Original
The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise 3)
Christmas Morning Foto
The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise 4)
In the Still of the Night
Maggie’s Farm (B. Dylan)
Snot and Feces: Live at the Grunt Festival
Oh Yeah Uhh Bop Shoo Bop
Ohm is Where the Art Is
Concerto in R Flat Minor
Love Theme from a Major Motion Picture
Prelude for Accordion, Sousaphone and French Horn
Oh God You’re a Pie in the Sky
Short Circuit Comes to Town
Marching Toward AEIOU Blues
In the Still of the Night Again
Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy, Can’t You See that it’s True Again
Art the White Elephant
Psychedelic and Orgasmic Finale
Unfortunately, Hal was not blown away. But with no information to go on, he was forced to mail the tape back to the return address c/o “Residents” since they had not included any names. Thus, the band was born.
But no one had ever actually heard the album outside their guarded inner circle. It went from history to legend to myth. A single play was allowed on the radio. KBOO in Portland Oregon broadcast the album once in 1977 during a tribute to the Residents. Many Residents fans (myself included) had a multi generation copy of this weirdness on cassette. But nobody thought we’d get to hear it ever again. That was certain.
How this thing got tabbed for a RSD release is beyond me. Nobody, even the most clued in and knowledgeable employees in any store I spoke with had heard of this holy grail of Residents history. I managed to grab the last copy in the 8 am scrum by the RSD release bin. By reaching through four people. Luckily I knew this one was all black, and took a chance by grabbing a jet black single lp–gawwdammmm that is it!!! That afternoon, this puppy was grabbing over $100 on eBay. Too many people found out too late what an important release this was, perhaps one of the most important releases in the whole history of Record Store Day. This record will crack your cranium open, plant little seeds of madness, then haphazardly super glue you back together. Below is a compendium of the ‘songs’ on this set of proto madness for your consumption. Country, blues, current pop music, children’s melodies, monsters under your bed and kitchen utensils get deconstructed, reassembled and collide nicely:
Addendum: Early 80’s, the band split in half at the conclusion of the Mole show tour. I seemed to be the only one to notice the band had dropped from a quartet to a duo. The band steadfastly refused to acknowledge anything of the sort. (Clues from the hard to find “Mole Comics’ printed at the time are very clear that two of the members are not happy at all cruising this mess around Europe). They returned for a 1985 tour with two members, Snakefinger and female dancers in eyeball heads. I’m pretty sure no members of the Residents had boobs. Oddly, one of my long term acquaintances managed to get a job in the periphery of the Cryptic Corporation. I confronted him one day:
‘why doesn’t the band admit they split in half and that two members disappeared in 1983?”
him: “I know nothing about that”
me: ‘mmm hmmm, I’m pretty sure in 1985 in concert in Boston I saw members in leotards with boobs dance and not play a single note.’
me: ‘I’ll take that as a confirmation’
So maybe it’s not news, but Jay Clem and John Kennedy scampered away at the end of 1982. Some of you might have figured it out, some of you might not have even thought to ask, but the Residents have been a duo since then, and in recent years, down to just Homer. (who in a recent cabaret style performance admitted he had recorded most of Donkey for the huge animated film Shrek, then gotten bounced by Eddie Murphy. The vicissitudes of stardom will smack you down, won’t they.)
Two definitive albums. Two acid soaked bands from opposite sides of the world who recorded these treasures at roughly the same time, and had the results sit unheard for 47 years. Sometimes they get it right, eh?
“When an inquisition increases in severity, it regularly throws up bands of visionaries.” -Vera Linhartova, 1961
“one of the highest aims of art has always been the creation of unrest.” -Ivan Jirous
“Plastic people, oh baby now, you’re such a drag” -Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention
Rock n Roll. It has been viewed over the years as a fad, a public nuisance, a social upheaval, something that needed to be watched, put down, suppressed-for the sake of the children don’t you know. Some view it as a party, some view it as a movement towards changing the way people think about life. This is a story about the latter.
On one hand, the Plastic People of the Universe (originally Plastic People of Universe-their English wasn’t so good) were like many bands popping up all across Europe-progressive leanings, improv jams, edgy jazz inflected takes on the Velvet Underground and the Mothers of Invention, lyrically challenging and lyrically absurd. But one thing set this Czechoslovakian band apart from their peers: they were literally outlaws. Like the government is after them, the secret police are after them, the national guard confiscates their equipment after them, the police burn their houses down after them, they end up doing hard time in prison after them. Their crime? Bombings? Bank robbery? No. Their unique crime that gathered so much attention was their ability to play rock n roll, pure and simple. And for some reason, that scared the shit out of the government.
The Prague Spring of 1968 saw the Iron Curtain country of Czechoslovakia in a weird place. Stalinism was gradually phased out by the new secretary of the Czech communist party, Alexander Dubcek. Newly found ideas like freedom of the press, literary guilds, freedom of speech and freedom of travel helped people shake off the malaise of being a Soviet colony, and things looked good. After eight months of relative freedom, the Soviet Union had seen enough. Nearly half a million Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks flooded the country to restore order and a more Soviet-like ruling system. Dubcek was shown the door in April of 1969 and a hard line party leader was installed. Slowly, all of the freedoms of the Prague Spring were reversed starting in August of 1968. Things looked grim. But a seed had been planted in the short time of relative freedom.
How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)
One thing that had snuck into the country during the short era of freedom was rock n roll albums. Once the curtain of totalitarianism had descended again, smuggling albums in was nearly the only way to hear western music. (the Beach Boys did manage to play Prague in early 1969). To be a band in the new era of Czechoslovakia, one had to follow some fairly strict rules. Bands had to register with the government and get a license, had to adhere to strict and conservative dress codes and hair styles, were rarely allowed out of the country, and had to submit their lyrics to censors for pre-approval before doing any recording. Concert appearances were likewise regulated. The state owned all of the band’s guitars, drums and amplifiers. Czech tastes in rock n roll had previously been limited to cover bands performing early and mid 60’s rock classics. But Czechoslovakia had been a bit more westernized than the average Iron Curtain country. Allen Ginsberg had visited (and been deported) in 1965, and he had laid the groundwork for a counterculture vibe across all forms of the arts. Hair got longer, and a beatnik vibe overtook the youth movement. But some folks went huge for rock n roll, and the weirder the better. The more offensive, the better. Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground, the Fugs, Captain Beefheart were the signpost of a galaxy of weird that resonated with the more artsy circles of proto hippies, drugballs, aspiring revolutionaries, dreamers and artists that were suddenly cut off from the faucet of a thirst quenching world of ideas and musical mayhem beyond their borders. The government had called a halt to the party. What were a bunch of furry freaks supposed to do?
New Potato Caboose
“What’s it like making rock n’ roll in a police state? The same as anywhere else, only harder. Much harder”-Paul Wilson, Plastic People
The flurry of activity in government didn’t affect the rock scene much in the initial months of 1969. Milan Hlavsa, Josef Brabek, Jiri Stevich and Michael Jernek formed an early version of the band called New Electric Potatoes. The name change to Plastic People in homage to the Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention song gave their audiences a clearer hint towards their intents. Things didn’t solidify until the band fused with some important members of another Czech band, the Primitives Group. Guitarist and keyboardist Josef Janicek and more importantly non musician and visionary Ivan Jirous brought a double dose of musical muscle and visionary influences. The Primitives had been one of the weirdest bands in the country: hanging dripping herrings from the ceiling for a “Fish Feast” concert, covering the band in feathers for a “Bird Feast” show-‘happenings’ these might be called-decidedly and purposefully not slick and designed to freak people out. (songs from Zappa’s Freak Out album were in their setlists) With the voluntary dissolution of the Primitives Group in April 1969, Jirous then latched on to the only other enfant terrible band in Prague, the Plastic People. He saw them as the only band who could serve as a vehicle for his version of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable-a multi-sensory performance art based rock experience (the band and Jirous were huge Velvet Underground fans-the Velvets were almost more popular in Czechoslovakia than America). While none of the band had been overseas to America, they cobbled together what they thought would be a good approximation of what they were hearing on albums: dada-ist vignettes, killing a live chicken as a sacrifice to the god Mars to begin a show, flying saucers hung from the ceiling, home made torches across the front of the stage, elements of circus (fire breathing clowns), homemade togas, liquid light shows, spaced out jams, face paint-you know, general psychedelic madness. The band played 13 shows in 1969, the most they managed in their 40 year history.
The band became a lightning rod for the freaks of Prague. However, the state had other ideas. ‘Normalization’ was the Kremlin’s word for what descended upon the arts scene. Censorship was the watchword. Bands were expected to clean up their acts, or else. The Plastic People stuck to their guns, refused to let government censors edit their lyrics and refused to get haircuts. The Czech government responded in January of 1970 by forcing them to audition for a professional musician’s license-then denying them for not cutting their hair short, and being a general menace to society. To reinforce their point, Czech officials seized their government owned instruments, denied them access to rehearsal spaces and performance halls, and put an end to the proceedings. Things looked dark.
“It was clear we weren’t going to pass the state audition to get our professional status,” says Paul Wilson, former lead singer of the Plastic People. “We wouldn’t cut our hair, we wouldn’t allow our lyrics to be vetted, so we were kicked out. We were on our own.”
“Our manager (the well-known pop impresario Pavel “Cassius” Kratochvíl) had good connections with the official music organization and arranged for us to be given free amplifiers and instruments. Around 1970 however we had to play an audition for the committee responsible for registering bands officially, and they decided that our music was too disturbing for young people and very soon they took our equipment back. At that time the easiest path would have been to stay with our manager, cut our hair and get some tidy clothes. We decided to go in the other direction.” Josef Janicek
Long-Haired, Neurotic Drug Addicts and Mental Cases
“Long-haired, neurotic drug addicts and mental cases who take delight in the grossest of perversions and deliberately sing vulgar, anti-social songs”-Plastic People of the Universe review by state sponsored newspaper at the time
The band vowed to soldier on, however. They scraped their meager cash reserves together, and got jobs as forest loggers to purchase their own used guitars and drums (drinking away most of the profits by their own admission), built their own amplifiers from scrap electronics and kept going. Jirous solved the performance problems by offering state approved and legal lectures on art: specifically the relationship between Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. As a member of the Union of Artists, Jirous could get the government to provide permits for large halls and professional sound systems to support the lectures. The Plastic People would be onstage behind a curtain-show a few slides and then pull the curtain to have the band give musical examples of what he was talking about. Eventually these ‘art lectures’ degenerated into a short introductions on Warhol and a couple of hours of Velvet Underground covers courtesy of the Plastics. It took a while, but the government figured out they were being tricked, and put an end to the ‘lectures’. Once again, things looked bleak.
Back To The Starting Line
Jirous had hired Canadian Paul Wilson to teach the band English so they could understand what madness was being spewed by the likes of the Fugs, Zappa and the Velvets, and pronounce things correctly in their slapdash cover versions. He eventually became the band’s lead singer for two years (eventually he was deported in 1977). But with their instruments confiscated once again, the band had been knocked back to square one. They were reduced to borrowing instruments when they could, never being able to rehearse, and playing at secret parties.
“They were pretty much chewing-gum-and-string-gigs,” remembers Wilson. “We had no instruments to practice on, so the only time we played amplified was in front of an audience – you could say we weren’t very polished.”
Wilson estimated the band performed roughly 15 times in the 1970 to 1972 period.
The Heat is ON: 1973 -1976
This is the era when the Plastic People legend was really born. Change was in the wind, and the wind blew in different directions. Musically, things got different in 1973 with the addition of saxophonist Vlatislav Brabenec, someone older and much more musically trained than the rest of the band. His addition brought two important changes. First, he demanded their set list contain only original material, and second that songs now only be sung in Czech. He brought in Czech lyrics by the surrealist writer and poet Egon Bondy. No more cover songs in their set pooched one of their last excuses of legitimacy to the government-‘we are just a band performing western rock because those bands aren’t allowed to visit here.’ Nevertheless, their newfound musical complexity led them to reapply for a ‘professional band’ status card. They were granted a license in 1973, but it was once again revoked within two weeks. Authorities claimed their music was “morbid” and would have a “negative social impact”, and once again they were banned from public concerts and had to retreat to the now familiar ‘underground’.
The band were not at a loss for creative ideas on how to get some illegal concerts going. House parties were the logical choice, but other ideas bubbled in: renting a riverboat for private tourist excursions, with the soundtrack on the boat provided by the Plastics. A Plastic People soccer team (with real uniforms) organized to play a village volunteer fire department. The after party? A Plastic People concert at the fire station of course. Then there were some large parties at weddings. The fact that the couples had already been married recently wasn’t shared with the officials. The wedding band? The Plastic People of the Universe of course. A new scene was growing larger as the Plastic People became the center of a second social and cultural revolution. Newer bands like DG307, the Midsummer’s Night Band and later the Dog Soldiers were drawn in, and writers, poets, singers and artists came into a scene that was developing organically-and exponentially. The band had relocated to obscure Bohemian villages, as the heat in Prague was too much. The government had less control in the boondocks, and perceived dissidents had to leave the city for the relative safety of the forests. Concerts were organized like American raves of the late 90’s-locations were kept secret until the final day, were generally very far out of town, and the exact location was spread by word of mouth only. People would walk for miles. You had to be literally clued into the scene. It wasn’t long until the freaks began to gather in force, and in numbers that would make it hard for the government to ignore.
The Merry Ghetto
“The Plastics really started to get attention from the secret police when they started singing in Czech,” says Wilson, who despite no longer featuring in the band’s line-up, continued to be involved. “Suddenly they became more than a minor annoyance.”
Shit started to get real in March 1974. What became known as the Ceske Budovice Massacre saw the government strike back in a fashion that they never had before. Over 1,500 fans descended on the Bohemian village of Budovice for one of the rare secret Plastic People concerts. By this time, these were more than concerts, they were gatherings of the cognoscenti, the cream of the dissident intellectual crop. (There was a vibe of ‘hey, we’re getting away with this” if the Plastics managed to play for an hour without the proceedings getting busted up.) This time, the police were wise to the game, and were waiting in force. Fans were intercepted as they decamped from the train into a tornado of billy club wielding secret police. Government officials were there to take names, check IDs, throw people back onto a waiting government train to Prague. Hundreds of kids got arrested. Beatings and interrogations were handed out indiscriminately. Those who were students got expelled from college (the government paid for college, remember). The band did not get to perform.
Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club, Banned
Rather than back off, Ivan Jirous wanted the band to be a focal point for a whole new way of life in the country. He organized what was known as the First Music Festival of the Second Culture. The Second Culture was the designation Jirous gave to the collection of (literally) Bohemian dissidents and freaks as the antithesis to the government sponsored ‘First Culture’. Held outside of Benesov in September 1974, it was disguised as a wedding, and hundreds managed to attend. The band was getting more polished, and sounded like a hybrid of some Velvets, but elements of early Mothers of Invention, Henry Cow and Van der Graaf Generator filtered through an early Hawkwind scruffy lens.
The band was recorded at the time by friends at Houska Castle, 30 miles north of Prague in 1974 and 1975. The intentions were to smuggle the master tapes out of the country and give the Plastic People a proper release-Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned. To ensure the success of the endeavor, this information was kept secret from even the band (who were notoriously prodigious drinkers, and might let the secret accidentally slip). The album was pressed in Ireland, the jacket printed in England, assembled in France and sent to the Netherlands for distribution (!). All benefits were listed for the Plastic People Defense Fund, London. They needed funds because the long expected day arrived. The band were all finally arrested.
Folsom Prison Blues
The First Music Festival of the Second Culture had not gone unnoticed by the government. It had grown legendary in the underground among those who could not attend. The police had focused on the most vocal part of the group, Ivan Jirous-now known as ‘Magor’ (short for phantasmagoric, translating better as loony or crazy). Starting in 1974, Jirous would spend many periods in and out of prison-actually spending over nine of the next SIXTEEN years in prison. Jirous organized the Second Music Festival of the Second Culture in Bojanovice in February 1976, disguised as his own wedding. ‘Magor’s Wedding’ attracted fans from all parts of the underground, and oddly, no police attention whatsoever. Or so it appeared.
Less than a month later, the government struck. On March 17, 1976 there was a general round up of the counterculture. Simultaneous raids across the country bagged the Plastic People, DG307, Jirous…in all 27 musicians were arrested, writers and artists were taken in, concert promoters and hundreds of fans of the scene were rounded up and charged with disturbing the peace among other things. Musical instruments were once again confiscated, houses were ransacked, all of the bands tapes, artwork and notebooks were seized. The Plastic People were left without any resources, instruments, spiritual leader and now worst of all-without freedom.
This event did not go unnoticed outside the borders of Czechoslovakia. International outrage led to several of the band being released after a few months in prison. Vlatislav Brabenec, the Plastic’s saxophonist and Jirous were held, along with DG307’s Pavel Zajicek and singer Svatopluk Karasek. Paul Wilson, the person who had organized their one album being smuggled out of the country was deported. The government demanded a large show trial, to put the Second Culture on trial, essentially trying to end the hippie vs. communist question. The velvet glove and the iron hand were about to collide.
“I would say I survived about 80 or 90 interrogations, which was sometimes very exhausting,” said Brabenec. “It was at its worst when they threatened to kidnap my two-year-old daughter,” concedes Brabenec. “But I pitied these people, he said of his interrogators, “I thought they wouldn’t find peace until the end of their days.” Others privy to the events were more specific: “They would beat them up, drown them… it was torture,”
While the charges were almost comical–‘vulgar lyrics’, ‘anti-social phenomenon’, corrupting Czech youth– the verdicts were not. It was a foregone conclusion to all watching how this would end up. Jirous was sentenced to 18 months, Zajicek to 12 months, and both Karasek and Brabenec to 8 months in prison. A simultaneous trial of three concert promoters in Plzen reinforced the government’s attack on the new culture.
This verdict had the opposite effect of what the government hoped for. Powerful forces in the both the underground and mainstream Czech circles were outraged at the massive overreaction. Vaclav Havel wrote some powerful essays on the nature of freedom, and the huge injustice that had been done to the country. He contacted other western intellectuals and kindred spirits, and the cause of the Czech underground became an international one. The remaining Plastic People regrouped with a purpose. Vaclav Havel offered his own house and barn for recording sessions and underground concerts. The dissidents dug their heels in and once again the Plastics were more determined than ever. From prison, Magor tried to direct proceedings, which he now saw as quite serious-a struggle between the future and the past.
Charter 77 was written in the wake of the trial, and published clandestinely in December 1976. It was a manifesto and a declaration of intent-the underground wasn’t about to go quietly. Nine prominent Czech intellectuals from all walks of life were signatories to it, virtually guaranteeing arrest. Soon over 200 important Czechs had signed it. Havel was arrested trying to bring it to the Federal Assembly, and the Charter was confiscated. Unsurprisingly, copies had been smuggled to the west, and it was published simultaneously in newspapers in France, England, Germany and the United States. The Charter was represented as a “loose, informal, and open association of people . . . united by the will to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world.” The Czech government did not react well, with random arrests, deportations, interrogations, expulsion from college, loss of driving permits-general harassments. The Plastic People were not forgotten by the government.
Midnight, a New Day?
“The teenagers in the boondocks had no idea the underground existed,” says Wilson. “Suddenly they did and it looked exciting as hell. More and more people found themselves drawn into the Plastics’ orbit.”
The band were followed wherever they went. Police were following everyone associated with the Plastics and the underground. They were once again forced to play parties in the woods. One uncomfortable consequence, though? Houses they played in tended to burn down after they played there. The police were immediately suspected, although there was little recourse. (the police did do it). Police surrounded Havel’s barn for a 1977 show, letting people pass (and taking down names), but not moving and letting the band play. (the barn was eventually burned down in retribution for hosting events)
Jirous was released but then arrested twice, once for ‘inappropriate comments at an art opening’ and then again for involvement with an underground magazine. He stayed in jail until the government fell in 1989. Brabenec had enough, and depending on who you listen to, was either forced into exile or petitioned to emigrate permanently in 1982.
According to Pepa Janiček, “Some secret policemen visited Brabenec’s home at night and said “so you play the saxophone? How will you play it after someone has knocked your teeth out?”.
In 1986, the Czech government allowed the first ever rock festival to be held-Rockfest 86. Bands who had been blacklisted for years were allowed to play for the first time. Things were starting to mellow.
In 1988 the government offered the remaining members : Janicek, Hlvasa, Kabes and Brabec a devil’s choice: reinstatement of their performance license, the one denied way back in 1970-with a catch. They could never use the name Plastic People of the Universe again. Brabec quit, refusing to perform without the name they had literally given up blood, teeth and years of their freedom for. The remaining band reformed as Pulnoc, which means ‘midnight’. They were signed to Arista Records in the States, and toured America, to ecstatic expat Czechs and those in the west who knew the tale.
After all of the better than two decades of harassment, imprisonment, confiscations, interrogations and beatings-one might expect the story would end with more of the same. But instead, quite the opposite resulted. The Plastic People of the Universe were asked to reform at the behest of new Czech president, Vaclav Havel. They performed legally for the first time since 1970. Fucking unbelievable.
What About Other Recordings?
Although there are enough people in the west who have heard of this band, fewer have actually heard their lone album-most people who know of them only have heard this single album. And even fewer know there are a dozen or so essential releases out there, lovingly curated by GLOBUS International label out of Prague. They put together a stunning 15 Cd compilation of their various eras (insanely rare, fetching up to $1,000 online). Single CDs are available from this set if one really looks around, and is willing to buy from overseas. The first CD in the set is one of the two treasures: Muz Bez Usi (Man With No Ears) 1969-1972. This one captures the band in the early days-some when they were still legal. Most of this is professionally recorded, something rarely afforded the band. The band is surprisingly tight and inventive-a hybrid of straight ahead Mothers of Invention with general psychedelic jamming. Overall, circa 1969 their blend of influences sounded not unlike early Amon Duul II (who were forming in Germany in the same months). The first eleven minutes of the album is a suite of a half dozen songs that gets the ethos across quickly, and is the best snapshot of what they were like in the chaotic early days-highly recommended :
Other pieces are harder to grab, but the next big one is the recordings they did once released from prison, Kolejnice duni (Railways rumble) 1977-1982. The Third Music Festival of the Second Culture held October 1, 1977 was their first reunion show for the public. Known as the 100 Points, the concert was held in Vaclav Havel’s barn, and this recording is the 28 minute centerpiece of this album. Here the band has evolved into a completely new sound-Magma, Henry Cow collide with darker sounds-early R.I.O. (if there ever was a band deserving of the title ‘Rock In Opposition, it surely is them). Here is 100 Points:
Their 1978 album, Pasijove hry velikonocni (Passion Play), is Vlatislav Brabenec’s masterwork-he wrote the whole album to tie up all of the threads of Plastic madness up to that point in one single statement. (In reality, these guys had to know that every day literally could be their last). Don’t be fooled by the religious implications of the title-the band was finally making an oblique and thinly veiled political statement-persecution ending in crucifixion? Legally plausible deniability? (“C’mon guys, we’re only singing about Jesus! Hey, hey put that guitar amp down!”). Strings from Jiri Kabes were now becoming one of the signature sounds of the band-the link to their earlier Velvets days. Early Magma vibes swirl in with some early Hawkwind, Van der Graaf and Popol Vuh sounds-lots of Christian Vander intonations combine with Peter Hammill angst throughout-alternating with hypnotic instrumental jams reminiscent of Gong or Nik Turner circa 1971. The sounds of the forests are out in full force-again an R.I.O vibe. Stark, harsh and ominous, this is as close to definitive as they got in a single album, with some great meditative playing in there as well. Wide ranging, not easy listening but sometimes confrontational stuff.
Co znamena vesti kone (Leading Horses), was smuggled out to Canada for release in 1981, and is probably their easiest to find release. Poppier and less confrontational than Passion Play, it is the last to feature Brabenec.
An album was recorded in 1983, Horezi porazka (Beef slaughter), to be smuggled to Canada for release, but it had to wait 20 years until it saw the light of day. Here the band continues to develop the heavy strings arrangements that defined their later sound in Pulnoc. Univers Zero with Zeuhl undertones is a good description, but the band is starting to really carve out their own unique Bohemian dark sound-the sounds of the gypsy forests and of villages of centuries past weave seamlessly into one now coherent whole. Those paying close attention might notice that some of their more important riffs get recycled on future albums-the conceptual continuity that Zappa referred to in his own work.
The musical perception of this band as only the snapshot of Egon Bondy’s era recordings is really a crime. This band danced from psych rockers to Amon Duul-ish space rock to darker Velvet Underground to Zeuhl sounds of Magma and Henry Cow to flirtations with quirky Cardiacs and Devo inflected 80’s sounds to a final restrained dark ‘Univers Zero as a pop band’ sound that morphed into the above ground Pulnoc. That is quite a musical history journey for a single band, especially one so hassled on a daily basis, an amazing feat in retrospect.
The Power of Music-Never Underestimate a Hippie
America had a handful of bands that tried to stick it to the government and preached some borderline seditious vibes: the Jefferson Airplane, MC5 are two of the better known examples, with some singular examples like Steppenwolf’s Monster album also lurking in the background. But an important difference is that while American bands consciously tried to foment some level of rebellion, the Plastics were just going about their business, making music as art and being generally weird. But while hippies in America had vague aspirations to some formless change, the Plastic People helped literally overthrow the government, and one of their prominent literary advisers, Vaclav Havel (who had done time in prison for being a dissident) was now president of Czechoslovakia. Frank Zappa was an adviser to Havel, and flew into Prague and found a crowd of 5,000 awaiting him. Lou Reed came in for the extended inauguration proceedings in early 1990 to meet Havel, where Reed gave the president his new album, and Havel told Reed the story of his rise to power and the band that had provided the secret soundtrack-the Plastic People. Havel took Reed to a small club that night to see a band, and Reed realized they were playing a song from the first Velvet Underground album. Fans went wild when they realized that Lou Reed AND the president of Czechoslovakia were in attendance. Long term dissidents came to greet them and regaled Reed with tales of the days of repression-where they had recited Velvet Underground lyrics to each other while in jail to help stay strong. Things had come full circle as the members of the Plastic People wailed away on stage.
American hippies fantasized the dream-change the world and get enough power to start making the rules. Czech hippies didn’t fantasize, and it was no hyperbolic hippie hallucination: they were ones who actually went out and fucking DID it-they changed the rules, dumped the government on its ass, and installed one of their own as president-a president that has Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa albums in his collection. Can’t think of any countries who can say that. And that my friends…is the real power of rock n roll.
“All of the stupid brains are out in the sun: our powerful nation lives in a velvet underground” -The Sun, by the Plastic People of the Universe
“We weren’t political, we were dissidents against our will’‘ -Milan Hlavsa 1988
“I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole” -the Grateful Dead
“We can go where we want to, places they will never find” – Men Without Hats
Charles Manson passed away this week on November 20, 2017. For most, this was a good thing-the pied piper of wayward children, the evil mastermind of several horrific killings, the guy that killed the sixties-well you pick your label. For others he remained a fascination throughout his life-a twisted hero to the Weathermen and other edgy counter culture figures,; misunderstood musician; a government patsy to kill the sixties vibe; a forgotten icon famously promoted by Axl Rose in 1993 with his ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’ shirt worn on tour and the band’s remake of one of Manson’s songs on the Spaghetti Incident album of strange cover versions. Charlie took the secret of the motive of the slayings of the Summer of 1969 to the grave with him, as promised. “I ain’t no snitch”. Wherever you fall on the Manson spectrum, what remains true are the inordinate amount of unanswered questions and anomalies plaguing the case against him and the Family, and that one key question: ‘Why did this happen?’
For most out there, knowledge of Charles Manson comes from a single source: Vince Bugliosi’s 1974 best seller Helter Skelter. This is the book that wove the tale and the myth together for public consumption (and was the source of the powerful 1976 television docudrama of the same name). This sensationalized version of what happened leaves much of the information surrounding the events off the table, yet it is usually the basis for any media storyline about Charles Manson and the Family whenever they pop up in the news, and is accepted as the bible of facts for those who want to know the who’s and the why’s of the horrific killings-and seems to be considered definitive by nearly 100% of the mainstream media. It goes pretty much like this:
Manson is released in 1967 into San Francisco while Haight-Ashbury was spasming in the throes of hippiedom. He’d been in prison most of his life since a very young age. He played guitar in the park and parties and gathered runaway girls. They bought a bus and traveled. He fed them drugs and performed wanton acts upon them. They performed wanton acts upon him in return. They may have thought he was Jesus. He may have insinuated same. They became a family. They take lots of LSD and live a utopian sex filled and very stoned idyllic life on the road. They moved to the outskirts of Los Angeles and lived on an old movie set/cowboy ranch. They go dumpster diving in Hollywood restaurants and grocery stores and live off garbage for family meals. They gathered dune buggies to move further into the desert. Something called Helter Skelter, which they got from the Beatles White Album was more than a song, it was a rally cry. It was a philosophy of chaos-an imminent black vs white race war preached by Manson. The Family would avoid Helter Skelter by finding paradise in the desert while the cities burned. To trigger the war, Manson orders his minions to pick random strangers to kill-first actress Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger the coffee heiress at their Cielo Drive house in Benedict Canyon. They either chose a house of famous people to grab headlines or got ‘lucky’ in picking a random house that had occupants whose deaths got the attention of everyone. Sharon’s unborn 8 1/2 month baby was also a casualty. Teenage girls were the knife wielding killers. The next night they picked other random people-Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. Charlie tied them up, and sent his brainwashed drug crazed teen girl killers in to finish them off. Both murder scenes had words written in the victim’s blood on the walls. The Family gets arrested a few times for auto theft, but are not suspects in the murder. Susan Atkins is picked up and put in jail for something unspecified, and confesses the murders to two different cell mates. This implicates Manson and the Family, who are promptly arrested, and a huge trial takes up a year. Charlie puts an x into his forehead. The girls who aren’t under arrest sit on the curb outside the court full time. They carve x’s into their foreheads. Charlie shaves his head. The girls shave their heads. The prosecution accuses Manson of using Helter Skelter as the motive to kill the seven victims. Middle class America is suddenly shit scared of both drugs and hippies. Charlie and the three knife wielding girls-Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins and Leslie Van Houten are all convicted for murder and given life in prison. Linda Kasabian, who turned state’s evidence, is set free. Tex Watson, rarely mentioned in stories, is convicted in a separate trial of all of the murders, he likely killed almost all of the victims. One of the girls may not have stabbed anyone living but still got convicted. Charlie didn’t kill anyone but is convicted for ‘ordering them to do it.’ He is the epitome of evil, brainwashing teenage girls with drugs to go kill for him. They are in prison forever, the end.
Honestly, that is probably more detail than the average man on the street would have about the murders. But this covers the more common facts generally known, and is the narrative that has fueled every newspaper article, made for TV documentary, Geraldo interview, movie, magazine article and television news report from 1970 until today, November 2017, when Charles Manson passed away in prison. For a full 47 years this has been the only tale. You have to admit that is a pretty weird script of history above, but in reality things are exponentially far wider and far weirder in scope. And there are more stories either unwritten, untold or barely hinted at that indicate the so called ‘Manson Murders’ as told above are not really quite that cut and dried, but only the tip of a reality bending iceberg, a confluence of weirdness, pre-meditation, mysticism, people behind the scenes with multiple of motives, cover ups, intentional muddying of the waters-well shit isn’t even close to what it seems. Does anyone really know what went down? Let’s take a closer look at some possibilities and try to unravel the threads both known and ignored and see if there is an answer in there anywhere:
The Music part one
Charlie had long ambitions to be a rock star. Few know that he came much closer to realizing his dream than anyone would imagine. He had heard the Beatles in prison, and practiced his act while in prison, loudly proclaiming ‘I can do better’. Taught guitar by Alvin Karpis of Ma Barker’s gang, Charlie put together a fairly unique act-able to riff rudimentarily on guitar while improvising twisting lyrics that were clever commentaries on society, people in front of him, current events, hippie mores, drug trips, idiosyncrasies of social situations developing in the room right as he sang-Charlie had a definite talent for capturing an audience and holding their attention. Touring the neighborhood as ‘Chuck Summers’ he caught on in some coffee houses, but his scruffy and indigent fans weren’t filling the cash register enough. People did think he had talent, but unfortunately for him, even his music business supporters thought he was much more appropriate as a live act rather than someone who could put an album out. His one album was cobbled together quickly by his jail buddy Phil Kaufman in 1970 to raise some funds for his legal defense. (Kaufman was famous for later being a Flying Burrito Brothers and Rolling Stones road manager and then for stealing his friend Gram Parsons’ body and burning it at the Joshua Tree memorial per their pre-death agreement). The album is fascinatingly uneven in quality but is a must hear for anyone curious about the supposed magic of Manson the musician (the studio sessions recorded professionally at Brian Wilson’s studio have still yet to be released, though Brian has let friends hear them). Most of this brush with fame started with the Beach Boys. Or more specifically, one Beach Boy.
Somehow Charlie managed to keep up a constantly evolving verbally fueled mystical image while he was rubbing elbows with LA music elite for a year. He partied with Frank Zappa at his log cabin trying to get recorded (Gary Hinman murderer Bob Beausoleil is on the debut Zappa album Freak Out, and he later unsuccessfully went to Zappa in 1969 to try to get Frank to do some recordings of the Family). Manson was a guest at John Phillips and Mama Cass parties in the Laurel Canyon area, working them for a music connection. (more on that later) Finally, he had a willing target in his sights: he moved in on Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, (two Manson girls had been picked up by Dennis while they were hitchhiking, and called up the ranch to have ‘everyone’ come over to Dennis’ house for a party-a months long party) Manson and the family lived with him in a 20 room house, and Charlie moved his harem in for Dennis and his friends enjoyment. The party eventually ended as the Family ate Dennis out of house and home, stole all of his clothes, crashed his expensive cars, stole his presentation gold record awards, did all his drugs-the kind of things that get you thrown out of even the most patient person’s house. But Wilson thought Manson had something special:
“We’re writing together now,” he said of the man he called the Wizard. “He’s dumb, in some ways, but I accept his approach and have learnt from him.”
During this period, Wilson used one of Manson’s songs ‘Cease to Exist’ as a B Side on a 1968 Beach Boys 45. It also appeared on the 20/20 album in February 1969. Wilson had taken the unforgivable step of cleaning up the lyrics to be less death-like and changed the title to a more Beach Boy friendly ‘Never Learn Not to Love’. Manson freaked, nobody should tamper with his genius. (Oddly, Mel Lyman, guru of the Fort Hill Community, a Boston commune predating but with much overlap with the Family, had an identical hysterical reaction when someone tampered with his writing-more on him later). Manson grew disenchanted with Wilson’s inability to get him signed, famously leaving a bullet in Wilson’s house while he was out as a fairly easy to understand threat. (Charlie said “I just had a pocket full bullets in my pocket so I gave him one”). Still, Charlie felt that the brass ring was right around the corner with this little taste of real record company and chart success. Wilson had had enough though, figured Charlie owed him nearly $100,000 so far, so he kept the publishing royalties from the Manson song on the album, gave himself songwriting credit for it, and kicked Charlie to the curb, and started sleeping with a gun under his pillow.
Wilson passed Manson on to the next level up of music stardom, producer Terry Melcher. He was the son of TV icon Doris Day, and a highly touted up and coming producer at Columbia Records. He had a lot of clout in the LA music scene, having produced the first Byrds records, gotten Paul Revere and the Raiders on their horse, signed a band fronted by Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, and helped organize 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival. Clearly this guy had clout, and Charlie was besotted. But auditions did not go well. Sessions in the studio went poorly when Charlie couldn’t take directions from the recording engineers. Another audition at Spahn ranch with the girls carefully arranged around him singing harmonies was ‘weird’. Terry dropped some cash on Manson and promised to return. In Charlie’s mind, this was a down payment on future stardom. Alas, ’twas not to be. Melcher passed.
Terry Melcher passed the buck to an associate who thought the family was perfect for a documentary movie, and that Charlie’s music could be the soundtrack to the film. Somehow Manson didn’t vibe with this aspect, since this plan required a bit of time to come to fruition. He didn’t want a movie (one with the focus on everyone not just him, diluting the message), he wanted an album and a promotion so his message could get out to the world in the purest form. (dosing the producer with acid on his last visit to the ranch definitely did not help things) The family began to develop an unhealthy grudge-like attitude towards Melcher. He’d made promises, and now they weren’t happening. (perhaps prison had kept Charlie from being aware of the long trip it is to the top of the rock scene, unless you are tapped by the magic king-maker wand. He likely felt the Beach Boys and Melcher had such wand, and were refusing to use it for his benefit) . Foreshadowing enters when one day Wilson had once dropped off Melcher at the Cielo Drive address, his house with Candice Bergen and other girlfriends, while Manson was in the car. Charlie had several other visits to the future home of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski while Melcher lived there, then when (this time period is very rarely spoken of) the guest house was briefly rented to a former pastor then Manson associate, guru Dean Moorehouse, father of underaged Manson girl Ruth Ann (one of Melcher’s favorites), and then next when Sharon was living there immediately after Moorehouse had moved out-even crossing her path once on site. Charlie and Tex had been there multiple times in the lead up to August 1969. But now the Cielo Drive house was now seen to be symbolic of the duplicitous enemy-Melcher. Melcher had been warned by phone and letter that he had failed to keep his promises to Manson, and that there would be repercussions. Manson knew that Melcher had moved out of Cielo. But the commonly held myth that Manson and the Family had never been there before isn’t true.
Not everyone thought Manson was of dubious musical quality. Manson had moved the family into Iron Butterfly’s mansion for a few weeks while they were on tour, utilizing the full pro musical set up there. Others championed Manson’s musical talents, viewing him as a philosophical guru with a guitar and a message. Buffalo Springfield were fans. Neil Young gave him a motorcycle. Young pushed hard for Manson to get signed, even begging record mogul Mo Austin to sign him. Young has been the most forthcoming about what effect Manson had musically: “He was great. He was unreal – really, really good. He had this kind of music that nobody else was doing. I thought he really had something great. He was like a living poet.”
“This guy, you know, he’s good, he’s just a little out of control.”
Manson once grabbed one of Young’s guitars and started an impromptu audition “His songs were off-the-cuff things he made up as he went along,” Young wrote later, “and they were never the same twice in a row. Kind of like Dylan, but different because it was hard to glimpse a true message in them, but the songs were fascinating. He was quite good.”
Manson started to think he was getting the runaround by music people (he was), and began to think he was being taken advantage of by the industry. Perhaps he was correct. A little seen quote related to this from Charlie: I wrote a song: “I know I know I know I know I know I know I know; I know I know I know I know I know I know I know…” It’s a meditation song. I send a tape to someone. They send the tape to the brother’s recording company, and then you hear the song, “Ain’t No Sunshine (When She’s Gone).” Charlie is a serial prevaricator, but this blast from ‘unlikely-land’ is likely true, as it is documented in a 1969 article mentioning the song’s lyrics at the time, and then the song itself was released in 1971. So this may not be the only time this happened-Charlie threw out some cleverness and it got stolen. There’s probably more stories like this lurking just under the rug. But hell, people stole from each other all the time in the music world, right? Honor among thieves and jail house codes are unknown in the music biz.
The Music part two: Esalen Institute-Big Sur
Who did Charlie meet at the exclusive Esalen Institute in Big Sur a few days before the murders? Esalen was an important gathering spot/spa/think tank for the rock stars and also the political elite (read: CIA) of California. Musicians and government officials rubbed elbows and other appendages, and traded ideas. Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger were frequent visitors to the institute. Little spoken of is that they were reported to have called there on August 1, 1969, something they usually did before heading up there. Manson left for Big Sur on August 3, 1969. There is a good chance Folger and Tate were there at the institute when Manson arrived, and with the way the institute operated, crossed paths with him. Given what is known and what is even less discussed, the secret that Manson, Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger were all at Esalen together, then Tate and Folger were murdered at Manson’s behest within the week would be fairly mind blowing to all involved, and raise questions about the trial that would only multiply exponentially. If Sharon and Abigail were seen as complicit in getting Charlie bounced off the grounds in Big Sur, then everything is turned on its head. Esalen quietly issued death threats to several reporters investigating the Manson angle, including author of the definitive book on the Family, Ed Sanders. (the usually detail oriented Sanders get uncharacteristically vague in his timeline regarding Manson’s visit, likely due to the aforementioned snuff threat) Two things are for sure, Manson wouldn’t talk about what happened, and he was pissed. Nobody has ever come up with any clue as to what transpired there. People got the impression that Manson had gotten the ‘big brush off’-whether it was a badly failed audition in front of important industry people or trawling the seas for financial support-people clammed up. If it was an audition of sorts, then in the complicated psyche of the easily offended and revenge oriented, it makes Patricia Krenwinkel’s comment at a 2011 parole hearing about the Cielo Drive murders much more interesting ““Because there was no doubt that I knew that what was ever going to happen here was not going to be good. I did know that that was, the plan was to murder two women inside the house. That was given, that was a given.” It is odd that no one has asked her to explain this very specific detail in light of the Esalen connection, but it makes one ask: “when Charlie said ‘now is the time for Helter skelter’, was he simply trying to get revenge on two of the women who had gotten him thrown out once and for all from the royal ball? Woah.
An even darker possibility (see below) is that this is where Charlie hooked up with his supposed ‘handlers’ and was given his marching orders. No matter what the cause, Charlie seemed positive that NOW was the time.
One thing is certain though, people underestimate the music business angle as being a huge part of the whole thing. If Charlie had gotten signed, it is very likely the course of events would have taken a dramatically different tack.
“Look down at me and you see a fool, Look up at me and you see a god, Look straight at me and you see yourself.”
Manson was considered a guru at the time, (Dean Moorehouse as well), like hundreds of bearded dispensers of hodge-podge mysticism. Every town had one in California. But what made Manson stand out? Where did Charlie’s ideas come from? It takes a lot of digging into sources and interviews, but after… decades or so of reading…..there are some very clear sources for Charlie and the Family’s philosophy. Charlies insinuated he was Christ reincarnated. He also taught that he was both Jesus and Satan simultaneously. He taught that awareness and being in ‘the NOW’ was a path to enlightenment. That there was no wrong if an act was done with love. Fear brings awareness which then brings love. Possession should be temporary. ‘Possessions were freely given and taken. Manson once was listening to a studio owner express trepidation saying that Manson and his followers wouldn’t be able to pay the studio session recording fee. Manson then left everything there at the end of the session: thousands of dollars in expensive electric guitars, acoustic guitars, amps, sitars, miscellaneous instruments-“Have ’em”‘. Sports cars, motorcycles, jewelry-Charlie was given many things and turned around and usually gave them away pretty quickly (as an example: the Harley motorcycle he was given as payment for ‘Cease to Exist’ was given away shortly after). Other beliefs: people needed to be triggered to escape their prisons (of their conditioning and mindset)-challenged in the beliefs-such as child rearing. Children should be exposed to cold, hunger and privation to make them stronger beings. And so on… Let’s see where he came up with these ideas:
1. Scientology-Terminal Island Prison, Los Angeles
2. The Process Church of the Final Judgement/London, San Francisco, Los Angeles
3. Georgina Brayton and the Solar Lodge of the O.T.O./Blythe, California
4. Fountain of the World/Krishna Venta-Chatsworth, California
5. Mel Lyman and the Family/Fort Hill Community-Boston
6. The Book of Revelations
7. and to a lesser extent, the Beatles White Album and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlen
Manson studied Scientology heavily in California prison, as Dianetics was getting huge, and supposedly reached the level of ‘clear’. (Clear means someone who no longer has his own reactive mind, the hidden source of irrational behavior, unreasonable fears, upsets and insecurities-something that figured heavily in Manson’s deprogramming of his new recruits) Once released, he went to the Scientology center in San Francisco, and said “I am clear”, but they set him to sweeping floors. “Done that in prison already, no thanks” and he hit the bricks into the scented San Francisco air. Meeting literally hundreds of young female runaways in the midst of a sexual revolution-Charlie must have thought he’d died and gone to heaven. (sure he was a homosexual by circumstance while in prison, but platoons of unattended half naked teenage girls willing to ‘try anything’ on the streets?) Once out, Charlie slowly tried the tricks he had learned in prison-the pimp hustle rap, some basic Scientology by using their auditing techniques on the prospective members for his family for control over them. “tell me your deepest secrets and hang ups to release yourself. Oh and by the way I will hold this over you forever”. Charlie knew how to read people very well, and reflect what the person (usually lost in life) in front of him needed the most, and then tell them exactly that. He usually dealt out the idea that the person was respected, and was perfect at they were, just misunderstood. He gave them exactly what they wanted to hear. Like Charlie often said “I am a mirror, I reflect you, you will see in me what you see in yourself”. Oblique but effective, and much of it cribbed from basic Scientology. Many lost souls looking for something, any kind of validation in the sixties…fell for this doe eyed guru and his burgeoning philosophical rap hook, line and sinker. While in prison, Charlie said: “I was in prison when Dianetics first started in 1950. A lot of the guys were interested in studying ways to process the mind [in order] to clear it from past confusion – to resurrect the soul and be reborn within yourself. That’s where Scientology started. Then, they started selling it. Then it got to be The Process Church of the Final Judgment [in England]. I couldn’t go myself, but I sent some people there to do certain things – to [create] an effect. To cause an awakening – an awareness in death… ” (seems like a Bruce Davis reference in that end part-someone closely tied to Scientology and the Process who was in London at the time. Charlie is able to send representatives overseas to meet and influence Scientology and the Process leaders? Who helped with that? More later)
According to Bugliosi, part of Manson’s charismatic appeal was “his ability to utter basic truisms to the right person at the right time.” Bugliosi had failed to see some of where exactly Charlie’s truisms originated.
The Bible and the Book of Revelations and the Beatles.
One thing Manson was good at, it was knowing the story of Jesus like the back of his hand. He had been hired as a ‘Jesus Christ consultant’ by Universal Studios in 1968 for a movie under development where Jesus returns, but is black. (it stalled in pre-production). Knowing the Book of Revelations, that weird acid trip that closes out the New Testament portion of the Bible made his rap darker than most Jesus freak gurus. But Charlie knew his stuff-his deep knowledge of parables and his ability to twist them into relevant metaphors about current life. Charlie was able to rap about being up on the cross, would often strike a crucifixion pose, would talk about the last time he was here and how society rejected him then and killed him. Manson = Man’s son, dig? Family members genuinely thought Charlie was Jesus, some of them anyway. But the biggest part of his rap was the last chapter of the Bible, the Book of Revelations, with a focus on Chapter 9. This was triggered by the White Album by the Beatles. The family had been originally inspired by the good time acid trip sing-alongs of Magical Mystery Tour bus adventures, but the dark underside of the White Album soon spawned a dark underside to the family. The White Album pointed to the Book of Revelations as something far more important to the plan than perhaps Charlie had even noticed at first, dovetailing with the nascent Helter Skelter philosophy. Some said Charlie thought the Beatles were speaking directly to him. When Charlie was asked, here’s what he had to offer:
Can you explain the meaning of Revelations, Chapter 9?
What do you think it means? It’s the battle of Armageddon. It’s the end of the world. It was the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” that turned me on to it. (one can see how the lyric in Revolution 9 “Take this brother, may it serve you well” would have got Charlie’s attention very quickly). It predicts the overthrow of the Establishment. The pit will be opened, and that’s when it will all come down. A third of all mankind will die. The only people who escape will be those who have the seal of God on their foreheads. You know that part, “They will seek death but they will not find it.”
From an interview with Leslie Van Houten in December of 1969:
MISS VAN HOUTEN: You’re going to really think I’m nuts, but, yeah, I do. I think I’m an angel, so to speak. Not with wings, you know. Naturally I know I don’t have wings.
But, I mean, in other words, I believe I’m one of the disciples. I’m one of the people spoken about in the Bible. Maybe not mentioned, you know, like names, but I know I’m —
Drugs Part One
The importance of drugs in this tale cannot be understated. Even the police were firmly convinced the Cielo Drive murders were a drug burn gone wrong. What kind of drugs? Pick your poison: marijuana, LSD, mescaline, cocaine, MDA, methamphetamine…a rainbow of profitable illegality. Only heroin seems to be not part of the equation. One thing rarely discussed in all this is the misunderstood huge effect that telache or belladonna (actually more likely Datura root-aka Jimson weed, a kissing cousin of belladonna) had on this whole thing. It was the inadvertent key ingredient to the dissolution of reality into fantasy, in particular with key members of the family. This mind bending plant made an LSD trip look like a bowl of ice cream in comparison-you left the planet for days, and reality became quite different. It grew wild behind Spahn ranch. Tex once ate a piece, hitch hiked into Hollywood to get his motorcycle. He was found hours later gibbering on all fours crawling up the sidewalk. He was beaten up in jail for being ‘too weird and making weird animal sounds.’ His famous photo used every time he is in the news is his mug shot from that day-yet nobody knows he is completely out of his mind on belladonna in that pic. Check out that smile:
He had the shit beaten out of him by other prisoners in lock up right after this photo for trying to talk to space people he kept seeing in their own bleep bllllip language. Biker Danny DeCarlo also confirmed the power of this stuff, saying it made you see strange creatures and hallucinate wildly for days. Quotes from Paul Watkins and Tex also told of how this shit fucked you up for days at a time are both enlightening and frightening. It took a week until you recovered-and left you in a zombie-like state for days, flicking in and out of a zoned out state of reality. Charlie had suggested poisoning the water supply of LA with pounds of the root, though this may be an apocryphal tale told by Watkins in his book. Tex and others had dabbled quite a bit with this sanity challenging root in the summer of 1969-Paul owned up to about 20 trips just that summer. Tex was coming off a belladonna trip he’d taken the day before the Cielo Drive Sharon Tate house murder happened-coming to consciousness in the very late afternoon of the murder evening. According to Tex’s trial testimony, he was not only still tripping on jimson weed, but had been given a hit of acid before leaving the ranch. Others say he and Sadie were also speeding on meth to have ‘super energy’. Whatever the truth, Tex’s memory of the evening comes to him in a haze during the trial, and he asserts he was half awake and half in a dream, and not quite aware that these were people he was chasing around and stabbing. The mind zapping qualities this root has are never spoken of as something more closely related to the events than they likely were.
On the other side of the coin, folks at Cielo Drive were doing a little more than dabbling in recreational drugs, they were setting up as medium to large scale dealers. Frykowski was being set up in business by Canadian MDA dealers to be the main US distributor of the brand new drug, later versions more famously known as Ecstasy. (Folger and Frykowski were on MDA when killed). A large shipment had already been delivered and was dispersing to the heads of LA. Family members had allegedly purchased bad MDA from Frykowski at the Cielo Drive house in July 1969, according to Linda Kasabian-perhaps a desperate story made up by the girls to discredit her testimony against them. A second large shipment was due at Cielo from Canada the day of the murders. Frykowski was slated to pick the dealers up at the airport. Jay Sebring was heard grumbling about being burned for $2,000 worth of coke a couple of days before the murders-likely triggering the famous ‘buggering of Billy Doyle incident’. Sebring not only a heavy consumer, but was spoken of as a known coke dealer to the stars, with his traveling hairstyling house call service as a perfect cover for deliveries to the stars who could afford his services. These guys were what would be called today “players”.
To be clear, this isn’t drugs for personal use level here, this would be around…well $2k would be $13,000 in today’s money. There was some little discussed but fairly high level drug trafficking going on in the Polanski/Tate house in the summer of 1969. Worryingly, there was a nexus of activity in the days leading up to the murders at Cielo. Parties were frequent as Frykowski invited one and all to party at Sharon’s house that summer, with drugs as the focus. Neighbors said that scruffy looking hippies often roamed the neighborhood looking for the Polanski place-or more correctly, looking for the house they could score from. Worlds of Manson type exiles from society and the glitterati of high society rubbed elbows out of convenience. They bought and sold to each other, a symbiotic liaison that would come to a dark denouement.
As mentioned, the Polanski house (some say it was Cass Elliot’s house) was the scene of the buggery party (see below). Black robes and black hoods? ‘Oo-ee-oo’.
Drugs Part Two
The origins of much of the violence associated with the Manson murders can be traced to Tex trying burn a high level weed dealer known as Lotsapoppa or Bernard Crowe. This guy entering the tale is the catalyst for all the shit that went down in the summer of 1969, that much is very clear. The apparent murder (only a wounding) of a supposed Black Panther nicknamed Lotsapoppa after a ripoff by Tex on August 1, 1969 set off a chain of events that ended in such chaos a month later. Ripoffs and drug burns were commonplace in 1960’s LA circles. Tex planned a five thousand dollar burn on Crowe. A couple of pounds were initially agreed upon. Crowe had the cash, Tex had no weed, and ran with the money. Crowe unexpectedly kept Tex’s girlfriend Rosina Kroner as a hostage and insurance against ripoffs while Tex went off to get the non existent weed. Crowe had connections with Dennis Wilson, so had had business with Manson’s folks before. One of his heavies was a bodyguard for Dennis Wilson as well. Tex freaks out, doesn’t know what to do, and asks Charlie for help. After waiting for a bit, Crowe called the ranch and said if he didn’t get his money he would a. kill the hostage b. come over there with a carload of heavily armed Negroes c. rape all Charlie’s bitches and d. burn the motherfucking ranch down. Charlie shows up to negotiate, and after one of his usual “here’s the gun, kill me. ok, no? well then I will kill you” scenes that had been acted out over and over at the ranch in recent weeks, he shoots Crowe in the gut, thinking he killed him. He is sure that Crowe is very connected (he was) and was a Black Panther (he wasn’t). News the next day talks of an anonymous Black Panther body being dumped on a lawn dead scares the shit out of the Family, and Charlie is convinced it has to be Crowe, and that the Panthers will come and wipe them out. The Family starts to arm themselves heavily and practice military style living. Carloads of black visitors to the ranch also heighten tensions. Helter Skelter seems to be coming true, and the Family is not ready yet. Tex had triggered, perhaps inadvertently, Helter Skelter. Charlie was pissed.
Drugs figure heavily throughout the oncoming darkness, and in the tale of the murder of Gary Hinman in late July 1969 that started things off in a really wrong direction. Once a friend of the Family, and roommate of Bobby Beausoleil for a while, he was rumored to have sold bad mescaline to Beausoleil, who sold it to a biker gang who claimed it bunk and wanted their money back. Beausoleil was in a bind, and he was in danger of a beating or worse, and needed to fix it. Hinman had been manufacturing mescaline with a couple that lived in his downstairs apartment, and using basic chemistry to extract the active ingredient in readily available peyote, one can see how too much strychnine (which lives in the protrusions of the cactus) could accidentally have gotten into the final batch. This is the explanation for the bikers getting sick and wanting their money back. Though this tale is often told, less heard is that the supposed mescaline was MDA from Frykowski’s batch. Anyone expecting mescaline would think MDA was shitty mescaline, and demand a refund-especially if they were drinking a ton of beer and whiskey on top of it, as MDA can be subtle. Scales found at Hinman’s house had an unidentified white powder on them, which according to police tested negative for narcotics. MDA would have been so new at the time, police would never have even heard of it, never mind be able to test for it, so the part of the tale remains difficult to dismiss. Testing for mescaline also would not be on the police radar. Other versions told relate that Gary had inherited $20,000 and Charlie wanted a piece. (Actually, Linda Kasabian’s husband Bob’s traveling partner Charles Melton had inherited $20,000, so someone either altered the facts of Hinman’s murder to keep the plot intact for Helter Skelter, or folks were so addled they couldn’t keep their story straight). In the end, Hinman was murdered by Beausoleil for ‘not making it right’. Words written in blood on the wall show up for the first time, trying to shift blame on to the Panthers.
Other notable drug connections: Joel Rostau, a well connected high level drug dealer was said to have gone to Cielo Drive the day of the murders to bring mescaline and cocaine to Sebring and Frykowski, according to Sebring’s secretary in her testimony to LAPD. Sebring’s secretary was dating Rostau at the time, so she would know. Tex bragged on more than one occasion that his drug connection was a mob guy who used vending machines as a front for his real business. In addition to Rostau as the main drug dealer to Sebring and Frykowski-another character enters the tale: Eugene Massaro, Rostau’s business and drug partner, known mob guy, and someone who used a vending machine business to cover his drug smuggling business, according to FBI files. Rostau ended up found in May 1970 in a trunk with his skull caved in right before testifying. Rostau was dating Jay Sebring’s secretary, Charlene McCaffrey. Rostau and McCaffrey had been robbed in April 1969 and relieved of unknown amounts of cash and drugs by…some claim it was Tex Watson. Though masked, the unknown robber fit a profile: Tex lived close by in the neighborhood, was swinging large amounts of drugs, would have been aware of Rostau’s source of income, was called Charles by his accomplice, and he fit the physical description of the robber. Not exact proof, but another thread tying the players together may exist here (and one that points to Tex as far more connected than he has been portrayed.) Other researchers have concluded the masked man was Tex. And what of Tex’s mob drug connection and Rostau’s partner? Massaro had been arrested dressed up as a policeman trying to rob dealers of tens of thousands of dollars worth of coke. Massaro’s partner was killed in the attempt. Drug burn once again. But Massaro and Rostau show up as a dealers connected to both the Manson Family and Sebring and Frykowski. Hmm.
Stranger In a Strange Land
The similarity of the Manson Family to Valentine Michael Smith family in the Robert Heinlen’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land is hard to ignore. Despite strongly referenced evidence to the contrary (coming from a single source ) repeatedly quoted on the internet to distance Heinlen from Manson that Manson ‘hadn’t read it’– this denial of any connection is false. J. Schulman’s printed references in 1991 asking Manson in an interview if he had read the book and based the family on it was met with a ‘no’ from Charlie. But one must remember that Manson did not suffer fools, and an unschooled and distracted reporter champing at the bit for any answers would usually get the opposite of the truth from Charlie, So this one source certainly is not gospel. Let’s see: Charlie’s first kid was named Valentine Michael Manson-same name as main character (V. M. Smith instead of Manson), the protagonist was surrounded by young promiscuous women who he used to recruit members, was seen as the second coming of Christ, set up shop in San Francisco and gathered women, moved to LA, (disguised as Florida in the book) and then they all lived away from society to have their own thing. They also had weird ideas about death and killing. Discorporation as a euphemism for death is in the book and was used by the Family. That’s plenty of consonance there. Sure, let’s take Charlie’s word that he never heard of the book, and then ask where the hell Valentine Michael Manson came from? Why did they refer to Charlie’s parole officer as ‘Jubal’, the parole officer in the novel? Any search of the internet will always throw up that interview as solid evidence to claim no relation. It is hard to see how, considering the plethora of contradictory primary sourced information if one digs a little bit.
Eyewitnesses and close associates think the connection is much closer than suspected today. According to a 1970 LA Times article by Robert Gillette, people close to the family at the time knew they were acting out themes from the novel. “In the opinion of a close acquaintance of Manson’s, these and numerous other parallels between the book and reality are not coincidental for it appears that Charles Manson has spent the past two years acting the key elements of the plot.” Dr. David Smith had been working with the Family in the early days of San Francisco, and his associate lived with the Family in order to gather data for a paper for the Psychedelic Journal on communal living. “The drug researcher who knew Manson well says he read the book “over and over”and seemingly integrated his life with that of the book’s main character—a young man named Valentine Michael Smith whose description is strikingly Mansonesque: Small, notable for his sexual prowess, a gleam in his eye, and a hypnotic collector of women.” The drug researcher was Al Rose, who had lived for weeks with the Family at Spahn Ranch to gather data. These are clearly more reliable sources on the Heinlen angle than the 1991 Schulman article claiming an interview with Manson. Perhaps Manson is correct in claiming he never read the book fully cover to cover, but the Family certainly seemed to be acting out threads of this plot with Charlie clearly aware of where this came from (as the family often play acted many scenarios), and people were sure Charlie actually had read the book more than once. (a copy of it was found in a back pack during a Spahn ranch raid and booked into evidence in 1969). Finally, while in jail, Gypsy had written a letter to Heinlen asking for help, pointing out they were being persecuted for living out ideals in the novel. Heinlen actually wrote back, saying there wasn’t much he could do. This essentially dispels the myth promoted by Schulman, and proves that he is incorrect. In reality, far from there being no connection, there is pretty strong evidence that the connection of the Family to the book was very real and important to the early mores of the group. In addition, Heinlen had laid out the first pop ideas of what would be later called communes.
Communes Part One: Mel Lyman and the Fort Hill Community
“I tell you I am the greatest man in the world and it doesn’t trouble me in the least.”-Mel Lyman
Communes were everywhere in the area of LA, and were a common way of life in the 1968-1969 time period, taking the load off the faltering Haight-Ashbury San Francisco community, and Manson’s family was not different than many other better organized communes in the area. On the opposite coast, the Manson Family had a Boston counter part. This group is something that is little discussed as an influence on the Manson family — the Fort Hill Community, a Roxbury area, overtly hippie, but in reality a well off (and anti black) and internally borderline nearly fascist commune organized around guru Mel Lyman, someone who like Manson led his believers to believe he was Jesus Christ incarnated. And like Manson, he didn’t hint at it, he told them point blank that he was. Lynette Squeaky Fromme had reportedly stayed with Lyman at one of the Fort Hill houses they owned in the Los Angeles area, while Manson and Lyman wrote to each other exchanging ideas communicating their ideas-many of which were derived from both leaders late 1950’s brushes with Scientology. Much of this tale is understandably vehemently denied by the Fort Hill family, yet according to Curt Rowlett in SteamShovelPress:
Members of the Lyman commune, like the Process Church before them, did little at the time to quash the sordid speculation (of Manson Family involvement): it was reported by several people that the group paid homage to Charles Manson by keeping a poster of him hung on the wall under which they placed a vase full of fresh flowers daily. And according to another source, Manson family member Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme used to visit and occasionally stay with Lyman in a home he owned in Los Angeles and that Manson and Lyman corresponded with each other for a brief period. Jim Kweskin (famous folk era musician), a member of the Lyman family, who, upon learning that his group had been compared to Manson’s, jokingly quipped that:
The Manson family preached peace and love and went around killing people. We don’t preach peace and love.”
There are many similarities between these two camps, and people at the time thought the Manson family was heavily influenced by their older East Coast brethren (the Lyman family had started in 1966). Like Manson, Lyman used regular LSD sessions to reprogram his followers. Unlike Manson, he used some skull cracking heroic doses-in the range of well over 1000 micrograms per dose (a 250 mic dose in the 60’s was considered ‘very strong’) Both Manson and Mel’s family members believed:
using the music business and record companies to promote their message
reprogramming initiates to have new identities and leave their former family
give all of their money and possessions to the family and guru
were encouraged to leave their children to be raised not by the mother, but by the community
believed children should be exposed to cold and hunger to make them stronger
used massive amounts of LSD to brainwash away former belief systems
used fear and violence to get people into the ‘NOW’
followers devoted their whole lives to their guru
followers believed their guru to be Jesus reincarnated
guru stated specifically that they were Jesus reincarnated
Had gurus that would publicly freak out if anyone changed any tiny bits of their writings
Followers intimidated and roughed up people who they disagreed with, and definitely didn’t always espouse hippie ideals–especially while toting guns.
were not allowed to leave the family willingly
These two groups knew each other. They had a very specific overlap. It is interesting they used similar tactics in trying to attract famous figureheads as the Process (Jagger, Marianne Faithful) and Scientology (insert Scientologist film star here) in trying to get celebrities involved as a draw for more membership. Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin, stars of the counterculture film Zabriskie Point were inner circle members of the community. Halprin managed to extract herself, but Frechette was caught robbing a bank (strangely, not for the money, but for a violent thrill to come into the ‘NOW’) and died a few years later in prison under mysterious circumstance. The same author from Rolling Stone that did the expansive Manson piece in June 1970, David Felton, did an expose on the inner workings of Lyman and the Fort Hill community. A rarely read and highly recommended piece detailing the Zabriskie Point actors and the madness associated with Mel Lyman can be read here.
Communes Part Two: The Fountain of the World
The Fountain of the World, the true source of Manson’s philosophy. Yet it is something rarely written about. They were crumbling in 1968 when Manson and his girls crashed their Box Canyon digs in their schoolbus. Their guru had been wiped out in a horrific suicide bombing in 1958, and Manson may even grokked enough to have intimated he was the same guy returned-something the hardcore members were still waiting for. They wanted their guru to reappear as he had promised he would do. Alas, very quickly the remaining members realized this wasn’t true, Charlie wasn’t Krishna Venta, and they decided that they had seen enough. The girls were allowed on site and stayed in the commune dormitories, and Charlie was relegated to the commune parking lot where the bus was parked. Who were these guys and how did nobody on the prosecution team notice that Helter Skelter as a philosophy came verbatim from this 1950’s Jesus freak group?
According to the LA Weekly in 2016: “The W.K.F.L. Fountain of the World was founded in 1948. Its leader was a man who called himself Krishna Venta. Venta, who was called “the Master” by his 100-odd followers, was a handsome charismatic. His long hair and beard, yellow robes and dirty, bare-feet were used by his followers as proof that he was, as he said, the reincarnation of Christ. On the surface, Venta was a proto-new-age hippie who preached equality, service and tolerance. But in reality, he was a far more nefarious figure, both in his doctrines and in his actions.” Sound like Manson? In the imminent era of international gurus, this guy was far ahead of the curve. His followers were likewise barefoot and robed, calling each other brother and sister. They preached the eleven commandments of Venta:
1. To forget the outside world.
2. To become familiar with the inside workings of one’s self.
3. To become unified with one another spiritually, mentally and physically.
4. To forget self.
5. To create a desire within one’s self toward higher spiritual equality.
6. To obtain wisdom.
7. To search for understanding in all things.
8. To face problems without thought of escape.
9. To become absorbed in love toward all things, seen and unseen, and so fulfill the laws of God.
10. To let the spirit descend upon you.
11. To become a teacher, not in the world, but in the Fountain, that all men who come out of the world shall find comfort in our midst.
Not all that creepy on the surface, but echoing strongly things either eventually or simultaneously taught by many sources from Scientology to the Process to the O.T.O.—finally ending up in Manson’s lap. But it gets weirder for those who are acquainted with some of Manson’s deeper preachings. The LA Weekly continues:
“But all was not as it appeared. When Venta was home, he spent countless hours lecturing his disciples on the darker parts of his doctrine. Venta, like many cult leaders, ardently believed that the end of days was fast approaching, and that only his followers would be spared its horrors.
Using the book of Revelations as a loose template, Venta preached that it was his duty to gather 144,000 men, women and children before World War III, which would be fought between communist Russia and capitalistic America, engulfed the planet. He claimed that a race war between blacks and whites would ignite America in 1965. At this point, he and his followers would go to a secret location, perhaps in the desert, to wait out the war.”
Venta never got the chance to meet Manson. In 1958, two former members of the cult-in what is one of the first modern suicide bombings in history-strapped 20 sticks of dynamite on, walked into the main building and detonated, vaporizing the building while killing Krishna Venta and nine others. It’s not hard to picture Manson grooving on the weirdness of this, and looking back-the Family did spectacularly but not literally explode in a ball of flame.
Yet somehow nobody noticed this stuff is almost word for word what Charlie preached. Venta was correct in predicting Black/White riots happening in 1965 several years before the event-so he gets points for being weirdly right there. In the aftermath of the bombing, The Fountain of the World was low key and just up the road in Box Canyon near the California desert. In 1968, the remnants of the guru-less organization was where Manson and his harem landed. Over the next year, the Fountain of the World was viewed as a second home location by many Manson-ites. Manson lived there for months until he was caught giving drugs to the brethren and sisters of the Fountain-eventually banished to sleep on the bus until his family found housing. Once they relocated literally over the hill at Spahn some of the girls still lived at the Fountain for extended periods of time-either needing a break from Charlie or temporarily exiled by him. The specificity of guru Venta’s belief system was stolen lock stock and barrel in its entirety, and one can see how some would even believe Charlie was Venta returned. But it is the brilliant twist Manson put on this…. ‘ok, here, we have the tenets, but let’s exclude puritan sensibilities about sex, and rather than banish folks for drugs, let’s celebrate them as a sacrament, like the disciples that lived with Jesus in the desert.’ Hell let’s go to the desert, because we are disciples ourselves, just like them. We came back. 2,000 or so years later. Disciples, Message, Jesus. Let’s tweak it a little bit so it is more late 60’s than late 50’s vibrations.’ Even today, you can see how some would be unable to disagree with this philosophy. One thing is certain, the Fountain of the World is the single most consistent source of Manson philosophy in anything that people decided to call….
To be fair, shit was going down, not only in LA, but all over America. Hell, all over the world. Mexico, Czechoslovakia and France had almost fallen in 1968 to hippie forces, and chaos reigned in many countries. Black Panthers, the Black vs White race war wasn’t just a fantasy of Charlie, many mainstream people also ascribed to this. Little told stories from the family always make mention of black muslims, a phrase carefully deleted at the time and never mentioned since. The Watts riots of 1965 were world news. Black vs. white was a theme for the two years before Charlie got out. LA riots in 1969, murders of Black Panthers by police in 1969, well this gave direct evidence this was no Manson past fantasy, but coming true right in front of everyone’s eyes. People would have thought this wasn’t so far fetched at all. “Charlie may be crazy, but he isn’t stupid” was a quote at the time.
Interview with Charlie, 1970 Rolling Stone:
Q: What does Helter Skelter mean?
A: What do you think it means? It’s the battle of Armageddon. It’s the end of the world. It was the Beatles’ Revolution 9 that turned me on to it. It predicts the overthrow of the establishment. The pit will be opened and that’s when it will all come down. A third of all mankind will die. Charles Manson–May 1970
There was no such thing in my mind as helter skelter. Helter skelter was a song and it was a nightclub – we opened up a little after-hours nightclub to make some money and play some music and do some dancing and singing and play some stuff to make some money for dune buggies to go out in the desert. And we called the club Helter Skelter. It was a helter skelter club because we would be there and when the cops would come, we’d all melt into other dimensions because it wasn’t licensed to be anything in particular. And that was kind of like a speakeasy back in the moonshine days behind the movie set.” Charles Manson- 1992 Parole Hearing
This nightclub part of the story is true. And the famous door taken from Spahn Ranch with the words Helter Skelter on it was used prominently in the trial to support the whole Helter Skelter hypothesis. But anyone who has been in illegal clubs before can attest to signage tending towards oblique. What if this supposed smoking gun piece of evidence was only the entrance to the illegal club with the name disguised graffiti style on it? (this joint got George Spahn ‘a healthy fine’ for operating an illegal nightclub-Manson covered the fine)
Murder for Hire and the Mob
Little discussed is the possibility that some of this mayhem were paid hits. Charlie once offered a new family male member some cash for a hit on an unnamed someone. In early June 1969 ‘Sunshine Pierce’ was another hanger on who just wanted to hang for a month, but then became closer to the inner circle. Eventually Manson took him under his wing and made some offers and Sunshine thought he was being offered a share of the loot: drugs, robberies, travelers checks etc–when Charlie said he needed help in killing someone who had screwed them (Terry Melcher), and that the pay would be good. From Sanders book, Sunshine related: “He said that he had one person in particular that he wanted me to help him kill, and he said there might have to be some other people killed” Charlie said he could scrape together around $5,000 for the job, and a motorcycle. Pierce said “no thanks” and he quit the family that day and left for Texas. Was Manson taking side contracts to do hits, not telling the family and making up stories to cover it up? Was the LaBianca murder a contracted mafia hit? Their neighbors thought so. Ask why the mob bookie up the street from the LaBianca’s moved out the week after those murders? Was there a $25,000 for a hit on Sharon Tate as told below? Some think Charlie was taking contracts and not telling even his closest associates-far fetched but with his ability to keep his actual dealings secret from everyone, not impossible.
According to Paul Watkins, (one of Manson’s original right hand men and recruiter) in his ghostwritten book, Watkins had two separate encounters with the Mob during the trial that is rarely mentioned and also troubling:
Later that same week I was coming out of the court building when a dapper little guy sporting a goatee and dressed in a double-breasted suit approached me, saying he was a lawyer and wanted to ask me a few questions. I walked with him to a chauffeured limousine and we drove up to Hollywood. He introduced himself as Jake Friedberg, saying he just wanted some information about the Family and that he’d make it worth my while to provide it. He asked if I’d mind staying at the Continental Hyatt House for a couple of days, and when I said no, he made a reservation for me in the penthouse. I spent two days there telling him what I knew; on the morning of the third day, as I was leaving the hotel, I was paged to the phone. It was Crockett; I’d called him the day I arrived and left my number.
His voice was hard and clear, like a pick against granite.
“Where the hell you been?”
“I been tryin’ to get you. D.A.’s office called us up and said that guy Friedberg is a Mafia man… somethin’ about La Bianca’s connection with the syndicate… he say anything about it?”
There was a long pause. Then Crockett spoke. “Where you tryin’ to take yourself anyway, oblivion?”
I didn’t answer.I didn’t know.
“When you comin’ out to the desert?”
“It won’t be long.”
I waited to Friedberg to come back, but he didn’t. And I never saw him again.
Then a few days later at Spahn Ranch, there was a second Mob encounter:
A couple of days later, we moved out of the Chandler Street house and back to Spahn’s. George had mellowed enough to allow us to move in again on a permanent basis….The day we moved in, I was standing on the boardwalk with Sandy when a car with two men in it pulled up beside me and stopped.
“You Watkins?” the driver asked.
I nodded. Both men got out of the car. Both wore baggy sports jackets and gray fedoras. One of them had on sunglasses. They asked if we could talk, and I led them into the saloon, where Squeaky and Brenda were sitting on the floor working on Charlie’s vest.
“We’ll make it fast,” the shorter of the two men said. “We hear Charlie wants to be sprung.”
“Huh?” Brenda stood up.
“We don’t know nothin’ about that,” Squeaky said. “Where’d you hear that?”
The man didn’t look at Squeaky. His eyes were on mine. “So what’s the deal?”
“I don’t know anything about it.” I didn’t.
The two looked at each other. Then the short one grinned. “Well, that’s cool… just forget it ever happened.” They walked out, climbed in their car, and drove away. To this day I have no idea what their visit was all about.
Hmmm. One thing this shows is there was a side to the family that Charlie and Charlie alone was privy to. With Paul Watkins as the nominal head of the Family with Charlie inside (or perhaps a well placed police plant), the Mob was making sure that their side stayed out of the story. Clearly two Mob incidents on record with LaBianca mentioned as tied to them point towards the Waverly drive murders as being murder for hire. But nobody ever bothered to ask any questions about Mob angles. It would conflict with the Helter Skelter motive for certain.
The Process Church of the Final Judgement, the Church of Satan, the Solar Lodge of the O.T.O. and Black Magick–High Weirdness in Extremis
The Process Church of the Final Judgement was a splinter group of Scientology that came to America in the 60’s to branch out their seemingly neo-Satanic organization. One must remember that Satan was pretty hip in the 60’s in California. Anton LaVey was sought out by the Hollywood elite, Michael Aquino of the US Army Intelligence was a highly visible and was oddly a frequent public media speaker for the Temple of Set, often on network television talk shows (Sharon’s dad Colonel Paul Tate worked in intelligence at the Presidio military base with Aquino at the time). Rosemary’s Baby was huge (and directed by Roman Polanski-Sharon Tate had been considered for the role of Rosemary originally). Jayne Mansfield and Sammy Davis Jr. had been initiated into the Church of Satan by LaVey personally. Sharon had been initiated by Alex Saunders, the notorious king of the witches, while in England in 1967. Saunders later claimed that he befriended Tate on the set and initiated her into witchcraft. He said he had photos showing her inside a consecrated magic circle.
The coincidences start to spiral out of control on the occult end of things. Here is where the play acting and real magick may have started to intersect. (aside: no one seems to have noticed that the strange ‘W’ in the word war carved into Leno LaBianca’s stomach bears an uncanny resemblance to Aleister Crowley’s symbol for chaos) Polanski’s history of occult films with invocations, Satan, conjuring, sacrifices, witchcraft, sadism, vampirism-with Sharon in the background and foreground surrounded by real occult personages-well things could be expected to not go perfectly. Other things (read: forces)-magickally induced- may have either consciously or unconsciously blorted into some form of half reality as a result of this activity in Hollywood-on camera and behind the scenes, that could have dangled into the scene, a negative paranormal influencing the background of events, real but unnoticed.
The Process had set up in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1968, and began proselytizing. Their San Francisco headquarters on Cole Street was just up the street from where Charles Manson was living in early 1968. Brother Ely of the Process was an early close Manson Family associate. Under his real name, Victor Wild, he was a leather goods manufacturer who made goods for the Family., and was a close and reliable ally for a while. The Process had set up in LA, where they were helped by Papa John Phillips in getting local rental property on his recommendation. It was down the street from Cielo Drive where their large pack of Process Alsatian dogs terrorized Roman Polanski, forcing him to hide in a garage. The Process beliefs are oddly in consonance with what Manson later preached. According to historian Adam Gorightly:
Some observers have described The Process as a society dedicated to aiding and abetting the end of the world by stirring up murder, violence and chaos. In The Process’ End Times scenario, they would survive the wrath of the apocalypse as the chosen people, which was identical to the Manson Family worldview. The Process philosophy was summed up in Robert DeGrimston’s 1967 book As It Is:
Christ said: Love thine enemy. Christ’s enemy was Satan and Satan’s Enemy was Christ. Through love, enmity is destroyed. Through love, saint and sinner destroy the enmity between them. Through love, Christ and Satan have destroyed their enmity and come together for the End. Christ to judge, Satan to execute judgment.
It was this marriage of Heaven and Hell that Charles Manson grooved with. Manson’s cosmology—though similar to The Process—projected a more simplistic dualism, as he was known to his followers as both Satan and Christ. Like The Process, Manson preached the Second Coming, and that when Christ returned this time, it would be the Romans (i.e., the Establishment) who went up on the cross in his place. Following is a list of other similarities shared by the Manson Family and The Process:
Manson spoke frequently of the bottomless pit; The Process, of the bottomless void.
Within its organization, The Process called itself “the family,” and referred to its members as brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
Fear was a focal point for both The Process and Manson. A special issue of Process magazine dealt exclusively with the topic. “Fear is beneficial,” wrote the author of one article. “Fear is the catalyst of action. It is the energizer, the weapon built into the game in the beginning, enabling a being to create an effect upon himself, to spur himself on to new heights and to brush aside the bitterness of failure.”
The Process Church symbol was that of an inverted swastika, the very same symbol Manson later carved into his forehead.
Both The Process and Manson recruited biker groups. The two biker gangs closest to the Manson Family and The Process were the Satan Slaves and the Straight Satans.
The Process Church opened a chapter in Los Angeles in early 1968. They stayed in public view until a few days after Robert Kennedy’s assassination on June 5, 1968, after which they dropped mysteriously from sight.
The Process went underground. This group caused no end of trouble trying to distance themselves from Manson in the wake of the murders. Yet they contradicted this stance by having Manson write an article from jail for their 1971 Death issue. This wasn’t going to convince anyone they weren’t simpatico brethren. Reports that a Process member had been working with Sirhan Sirhan the night of RFKs murder didn’t help, and neither did their bug out immediately after the RFK’s assassination. Lawsuits flew, publishers lawyered up, and damage control units were sent out to both explain and silence the inquisitive and the talkative.
In Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi recounted how Manson had been bragging about a relationship with The Process, until one day he was paid a visit in jail by two brethren of the church, “Father John” and “Brother Matthew.” After their departure, Manson seems to have clammed up for good about The Process, and since then has made no further comments. Prior to the visit by these two mysterious Processean MIB’s, Manson was asked by Bugliosi if he knew Robert DeGrimston, and his reply was to the effect, “He and I are one and the same.” After their visit with Manson, the two Process members met with Bugliosi and assured him that Manson and DeGrimston had never met.
Despite their denials, there is quite a bit of Process philosophy dancing through the main tenets of Manson’s belief structures. When Manson started preaching getting ‘the Fear’ to the Family in the summer of 1969, it is perhaps not coincidental that the Process were actively researching and preparing their ‘Fear’ issue, published in late summer 1969 after most of the Process had left the States and returned to London. It is clear that despite their denials, Manson had some considerable contact with them. Bruce Davis had gone to England to stay at Process headquarters in London. The Process sued Ed Sanders for a chapter in the first edition of his book The Family and forced subsequent editions to remove all mentions of them within it. One particularly troubling story in that edition showed Manson to be part of the inner circle of the San Francisco chapter. But it is clear that the ideas Manson espoused, such as being Jesus and Satan at the same time is heavily derived from the Process and their ideas of Lucifer, Jesus, Jehovah and Satan existing as four parts of a single unit.
Rumors at the time said that the Process offered $25,000 to take out Sharon for what she had learned about the RFK assassination via the Sirhan Sirhan connection. Supposedly, she had overheard some things while at a dinner party and had started asking questions. Whether that is true or not, it is an unsettling fact that Roman and Sharon had dinner with RFK the night he was assassinated.
Combine the Manson family’s death squads with the Zodiac killer and Los Angeles was a scary place to be indeed in 1969 (140 or so murders). Sanders reported that at least five separate sources informed him that Manson was involved with the Solar Temple Lodge of the O.T.O., both at the Lodge’s desert ranch, and at one of their houses in L.A., located near the USC campus. Sander’s also claimed that a house owned by Jean Brayton at 1251 West Thirtieth Street in Los Angeles was supposedly frequented by Manson. Some say it was Tex Watson, not Charlie. (Much of this information is only contained in the first edition of Ed Sander’s book on the Family, and is now deleted from subsequent editions). Ed Sanders’ book has a large section on Jean Brayton and the O.T.O, an Aleister Crowley organization. Her group was considered ‘renegade’, but had most of the trappings of an O.T.O. lodge. Brayton had many similar beliefs as Manson regarding imminent black vs white race wars, and believed it was going to get real in LA in the summer of 1969. She predicted chaos would break out and her followers should leave the area before the summer started.
Bikers as the army: Jean Brayton and the O.T.O. intersect with Manson on one big idea-bikers will be the army of the future. The O.T.O. thought a huge black/white war was coming to LA in the summer of 1969, much like Manson, and had tried to get motorcycle gangs to be their muscle and advocated getting out of LA before the summer of 1969 before it went down. Manson hung out there with them, and according to insiders was a member of the O.T.O. Member or not, Charlie absorbed much from them.
So the Process moved into LA in 1968, and Manson has already consorted with them in San Franscisco. They preached that Jesus and Satan were the same thing, a thing central to Manson’s beliefs and frequent topic of his sermons. With Manson mingling in these circles, the knowledge of black magick rituals for power would not be unknown to him. Manson was said to have ‘postulated’ things they needed-wishcraft of a sort-and got results. The post Fountain of the World time is when the Family really started to believe Charlie was Jesus, because he’d made some unlikely things show up out of thin air after his ‘postulating’: large cash donations, professional musical instrument donations, free studio time in expensive LA recording studios, free use of a fully funded and huge waterfront mansion, a variety of foreign sports cars and a full on Hollywood lifestyle for a few months-even Manson probably believed he had the magic touch.
But if he upped the ante and tried some spells he’d acquired in his travels, then what the hell, you could see him saying: ‘I want to be more famous than the Beatles. I want to be remembered forever” Tempting thoughts when one is presented with a methodology to make them come true. Take a look at the results: Charlie wanted to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. That happened. Charlie wanted a TV special on ABC to reach millions of people at once with the message–that happened. But like many Black Magick spells, they never come out quite like one would intend, especially when launched by magickal novices. And the fact that these wishes did come true, albeit not in the way he wanted, just as this kind of magick often can backfire and seem to work simultaneously, is a bit creepy. (check out the creepiness of 90’s era Manson obsessed author and practicing magician Nikolas Schrek randomly getting his ear cut off in a public scuffle while he was researching Gary Hinman getting his ear cut off (before/during his 1969 murder)? That’s the kind of beyond fucked up, yet it happened-even for the most hardened reader, you have to admit that is another quantum level of coincidence.)
The Church of Satan
Satanic trappings had started to intersect the family early on in late 1967 at the famed Spiral Staircase house in Topanga canyon. A woman named Gina held increasingly frequent and increasingly weird parties there, and Manson and his small troupe of girls parked their ‘Holywood Productions’ black bus there and set up shop until the scene got uneasy. Manson himself had said that dark magical practices started to be commonplace there at a time when celebrities were starting to roll through the house, and it got too weird, even for him. (this is where Bobby Beausoleil enters the tale, and his association with Kenneth Anger and his starring role in Lucifer’s Rising being filmed at the time is perhaps one of the ‘dark practices’ being referred to.) In the mid 1960’s people were getting intrigued by the dark side of spirituality across California. The head of the Church of Satan Anton LaVey had made Satanism fashionable in the Hollywood scene. He was an adviser and played the Devil in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby film. With Jayne Mansfield and Sammy Davis Jr openly preaching Satanism, it was easy to see Hollywood folks getting drawn deeper into weirdness they didn’t really understand. Oh, and Susan Atkins worked with Anton LaVey in a sensationalist Satan showpiece playing a topless blood drinking vampire before she met Manson. Pieces of the puzzle were beginning to draw together in an eerie fashion, and with occult themes as the glue binding them.
Secret Hollywood sex parties and Roman Polanski
“They [at the Tate house] had fallen into sadism and masochism and bestiality—and they recorded it all on videotape, too. The L.A. police told me this. I know that three days before they were killed twenty-five people were invited to that house for a mass-whipping of a dealer from Sunset Strip who’d given them bad dope”–Dennis Hopper
“They were fucking pedophiles, they weren’t innocent.” -Manson about Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski and Jay Sebring.
She was Sharon Tate’s best friend and Sharon had told her that Polanski was in the habit of making home movies of himself having sex with young girls and then showing them to Sharon Tate while they were making love. Jay Sebring, she said, was into some very kinky stuff. It was that kind of scene.
Tate had been filmed in threesomes with famous Hollywood elite, and in a certain sense, was passed around as a treat by Roman Polanski. Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers and Warren Beatty famously offered a $25,000 reward for the solving of the murder. Those three also happened to be on film with Cass Elliot in a porn film found at the Cielo Drive house, and other recognizable Hollywood faces were have said to be among the ones filmed having sex with Sharon. Investigator Hal Lipset discussed some of the films confiscated and returned back to Cielo Drive, things hitting underground circles- things that those who knew spoke of quietly: Sharon Tate with Dean Martin. There was Sharon with Steve McQueen. There was Sharon with two black bisexual men. (Oddly, McQueen was on the Manson Family’s alleged celebrity snuff list.) Charlie had said in one interview that Susan Atkins had consorted with Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers and dallied up Jay Sebring. It’s sometimes hard to tell if Charlie is blowing smoke or dropping hints, but it is interesting to note he picked two of the guys on the Cass video. Knowledge of this would be a nightmare, so things were sent to the press referring only to ‘private films returned to the Polanski home’. An aspiring starlet nervously asked LAPD for some undeveloped film that had been taken into evidence, not wanting lurid scenes to be splashed across tabloids. Brynner, Sellers and Beatty likely had similar thoughts.
A bit of silence instantly descended on sex parties where Manson girls and Charlie intermingled with the famous at some weird parties. Nuel Emmons published this likely true tale in his book:
“We had long ago chucked our inhibitions about sex,” Mr. Manson supposedly said. “But chains, whips, torture and other weirdness were not part of our routine.” The book also recounts a supposed ménage à trois with Mr. Manson, a male movie star and his television actress wife, after which the man, one “Mr. B,” “slipped five one-hundred-dollar bills in my pocket.”
That’d be three grand in today’s money.
Manson had corroborated tales of large scale sex parties at Dennis Wilson’s house (ask Mike Love, he has spoken of these events) and the Family were getting known on the Hollywood scene as ‘people to invite’.
Angela Lansbury’s kid Didi was in the family, with a note from mom approving this arrangement. A huge scandal almost ensued. She was 14. Do you need a famous Hollywood daughter getting fucked up with the Manson Family? Cops were now wary of the Family and noted the underage membership. Deidre spent a while with them before being recaptured and drying out. But wherever you turned, orgies including underaged girls were a common lane where these two circles (Manson and Polanski) had privately also run across each other. But publicly? Only cryptically referred to.
Interlude 1: Weird Premonitions-Jean Harlow, Jay Sebring and Visions of Slaughter
Jean Harlow, sex kitten of original Hollywood, had her husband Paul Bern die under mysterious circumstances in their Benedict Canyon mansion in the early 1930’s. This house was said in the intervening decades to be decidedly creepy. Which made the following even weirder:
Harlow’s Benedict Canyon mansion at Easton Drive had ended up three decades later as home to Jay Sebring, the “hairstylist to stars”, the ex-boyfriend of Sharon Tate’s and one of Cielo Drive’s 1969 fellow murder victims. Tate was house-sitting at this very same residence one night while Sebring was away for business. She was awakened by an intruder in the bedroom.
In August 1968, Tate told columnist Dick Kleinerabout a dream she had in 1966: “I saw this creepy little man. He looked like all the descriptions I have ever read of Paul Bern.” The ghost began to run around the room haphazardly, clumsily bumping into furniture and cursing loudly, while blood spurted from the hole in his head. Frightened, Tate hurried downstairs only to be confronted by the horrifying apparition of someone bound to the newel post, with his throat slashed. Tate later said that she somehow knew that the mutilated figure was Sebring. Then, the apparition vanished. In view of what happened exactly one year after this interview, one has to wonder about the details of this dream, and how they bear more than a casual resemblance to what transpired in Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, up the street from the Sebring house. Did Sharon see the future?
Interlude 2: Weird Murders Abound
Laurence Merrick worked with Sharon Tate before her death in his acting school. He had non-US military connections. He became involved filming a movie just up the road from Spahn Ranch that mimicked Charlie’s Helter Skelter theme, and employed Manson family members. Later, with Robert Hendrickson, he moved from the biker war film to Spahn Ranch and began filming the Manson family for a documentary-one famously banned in California in 1973. According to Bryan Thomas:
“It’s interesting to note that this film’s concept of pitting white against black in a race war, in the year 1969, is very similar in some respects to Manson’s concept which he called “Helter Skelter”, an apocalyptic war arising from racial tensions between blacks and white, which he believed was foretold in Chapter 9 of the book of Revelations in the bible (as well as hidden messages he believed he heard in the Beatles’ “Revolution #9”).
Makes you wonder what kinds of conversations they were having at Paramount Ranch between members of the cast and crew and some of Manson’s followers. There were also many interesting cameo appearances, including a real member of Charles Manson’s gang, Mark Ross (he plays “Singer”), who later claimed to write a theme song for the film that was never used […]”
How much of the philosophy was cribbed from this film alone? The timing coincides with uptick in Helter Skelter talk. This story is already odd, but Merrick’s 1977 murder in public by a failed musician who may have not actually been responsible just adds to the weirdness factor in this one. Oh, and Merrick was getting documented government subsidies to sponsor his studio training and film making endeavors. Hmmm.
Interlude 3: Weird Vibrations: The Beatles took LSD in Sharon Tate’s future house on Cielo Drive
.John Lennon spoke to Rolling Stone in 1974 in one of his most candid interviews ever. When the tale of LSD comes up, he recounts their first time in London. Then he continues:
“The second time we had it was in L.A. We were on tour in one of those houses, Doris Day’s house or wherever it was we used to stay, and the three of us took it, Ringo, George and I. Maybe Neil and a couple of the Byrds – what’s his name, the one in the Stills and Nash thing, Crosby and the other guy, who used to do the lead. McGuinn. I think they came, I’m not sure, on a few trips. But there was a reporter, Don Short. We were in the garden, it was only our second one and we still didn’t know anything about doing it in a nice place and cool it. Then they saw the reporter and thought “How do we act?” We were terrified waiting for him to go, and he wondered why we couldn’t come over. Neil, who never had acid either, had taken it and he would have to play road manager, and we said go get rid of Don Short, and he didn’t know what to do.
Peter Fonda came, and that was another thing. He kept saying [in a whisper] “I know what it’s like to be dead,” and we said “What?” and he kept saying it. We were saying “For Christ’s sake, shut up, we don’t care, we don’t want to know,” and he kept going on about it. That’s how I wrote “She Said, She Said” – “I know what’s it’s like to be dead.” It was a sad song, an acidy song I suppose.”
Though it isn’t exactly clear in Lennon’s mind where it happened, the mention of Doris Day’s house would lead one quickly to Terry Melcher’s property at Cielo Drive, the future home of Roman Polanksi and Sharon Tate. It was a well know short term rental property. The idea that Manson and the Beatles had been in the same house (separated by three years) and then the house door later bore words from Beatles songs (yet to be written) painted in the murder victims blood is a temporal mind fuck beyond description.
Interlude 4: Weird Confluence-President Gerald Ford, Squeaky, Tex and Bruce Davis
Squeaky Fromme had tried to shoot President Gerald Ford in 1975, famously proclaiming “Can you believe it? It didn’t go off!”. Why she did it wasn’t really clear. Something far weirder is the tale of Bruce Davis while he was in prison. In 1984, he met Beth Wilson through his born again Christian work, and they became very taken with each other. So taken, that Beth broke up with her fiance, Steven Ford, son of former President Gerald Ford. She broke up with Ford, and married Davis in 1985. How Gerald Ford shows up twice in a Manson Family tale is beyond me.
In one of the more ill advised prison decisions of the 70’s, Bruce Davis was assigned to California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, where Tex Watson was already incarcerated. As born again Christians, they worked in the prison ministry together, and began preaching. Soon they had run of the prison, their own offices and telephones and acted like they owned the joint. Inmates complained that they together were preaching a rather weird version of Christianity-one that singled people out and sounded very much like Charlie’s neo-hippie Jesus rants from 1969. Finally cooler heads prevailed, Tex and Davis were bounced from the ministry, and the weirdness dissipated. But seriously, who thought letting Tex and Davis preach Mansonite Christianity together was a good idea? Back to the tale:
The Government Project
Some researchers see some behind the scenes manipulation of events-government manipulation. There are ideas that Manson was used to help pillory the nascent hippie movement. Far fetched? Yes and no. The guardian angel that Charlie had somewhere kept him on the streets when anyone else would have been back in the joint quickly. Leslie Van Houten’s initial interview with police mentions meetings with black leaders, and a man she was certain was government connected.
MISS VAN HOUTEN: Well, it seemed like after we knew what was going to come down we tried talking to leaders, you know, black leaders, and we saw that they were stalling.
And it was almost as though we had to make the first move for it to continue to develop, to get bigger so that it would happen because the black man loves us so much that he would be our slave and do everything we said, let us beat him and mistreat him for so many years that he almost doesn’t want to do what he has to do, but he sees that he has to do it.
And so it was up to us to start it.
MR. PART: Now, you say that you talked to some black leaders.
Who were these black leaders?
And you say it was up to us to start it.
Now, what do you mean by starting it?
MISS VAN HOUTEN: I don’t know. All I know is his name is John and he — he’s pretty big in government.
And I don’t know. He may not be, you know. But we thought he was.
And starting — starting it was that — to just start killing people. Because it’s going to be blood for blood.
Odd that nobody followed up on that tidbit. Who is this John? Why was she so convinced he was in the government? Had Charlie told her that or was it just evident? Van Houten also uses the term Black muslims frequently, interchangeable with the term Black Panthers. Either way, Black militants are expected to invade the ranch, and the family went from from peace and love to military footing.
What is one to make of this 1994 interview, with something only spoken of once:
CM: The [Oriental] came up to me and said, “You must be [the leader of The Family].” I said, “Get away from me with that.”
Q: Who’s The Oriental? Do you remember his name?
CM: A blond-haired, blue-eyed Oriental came to me and [said] “This music is mine, you little bitch. I’ll take your heart out of your chest, tramp.” Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son) had sent this clown over to me. To Terry Melcher, Rev. Moon was “the man.” He’s not the man to me.
Q: So, it’s got something to do with Terry Melcher…
CM: The Oriental came there wanting to fight. I told him I didn’t want to fight. I ducked him and ran out behind the barn. Somebody else fought him. I [ended up] putting [a canvas bag] over his head. I laid him down and asked, “Do you want me to cut your head off? I [can] take your life right now.” I got him right up to the point of taking his life then said, “Look man, I don’t want to go to Death Row for you. I don’t want to go to San Quentin for you.” He said, “Stay out of the music or cut my head off.” I said, “Go back to your wife and get under her bed and beg her for forgiveness. Because if I take your head, it won’t be where anybody will know it.” And I said, “Now get.” I ran him off. But when I ran him off, the war didn’t end.
People at that ranch were mad at Terry Melcher because he didn’t [sign us to a music contract, and because] he sent somebody over there to fight. He caused some trouble. He almost got some other people killed. Some people put their life on the line because of Terry Melcher. Terry Melcher didn’t even know about it. No one ever told him about it. This is the first time I’ve ever even brought it up. A lot of that poison goes under the bridge. I just forget it, and let it go. Because it doesn’t matter… To dig it up only brings up more negativity. The time is done. The crimes are over. It went through the changes.
I honestly do not know what he is referring to there, but the details seem too specific for Charlie to be talking off the cuff about nothing. Who is this ‘Oriental’? Some of this sounds like Manson could be speaking allegorically, speaking of Melcher. Yet the mention of Melcher specifically in the story seems to contradict this argument, and it honestly seems like he is speaking about something that did happen. It remains something little discussed, like many details of this tale.
Legendary researcher Mae Brussell immediately suspected we were not told the truth about the Manson story, and immediately started investigating. Her unerring ability to ferret out government involvement suspicious events led her down some interesting avenues. She knew deep down that the expanding hippie movement was on someone’s radar, and something would be happening soon. She asked some important initial questions in an October 1971 radio interview:
“Who recognizes something good in this movement?
Who was putting it down?
What is their philosophy?
Hippies that were interviewed in magazines like Ramparts or New York Times.
What are they saying about themselves?
What are people saying about them?
I realized that it was going to be stopped in some way, because it was taking hold; It captured the basic good that is in people. Somebody was going to have to get them”
What happened was that the police had to go to where the Manson Family lived. And what did they find there? They found what the newspaper described as a ritualistic killing done by self-confessed hippies, in what they called a military-style commune.
First, the news media should define the word hippie. Because the hippies that I knew from ’67 to ’69 didn’t mean a military operation in any sense of the word, nor in anybody else’s mind in the world. Nor did it to the Rand Corporation, or the President of the United States, or John Mitchell. Hippie did not mean military; it was anti-military; it was anti-war; it was the let’s get it together generation.
So when they found the real killer and he has this beard and guitar, we just can’t call him an ex-convict. They have to call it a military-style commune. We must have military-style communes in Vietnam if a commune is where people all live together and you are military; it’s a military commune. It certainly isn’t a hippie commune, but they have to make it a hippie thing.
Now what did they have in the commune? They had shacks with lookout points; they had telescopes; they had walkie-talkies; they had military field telephones; they had collections of knives and shotguns; they had four-wheel drive [dune buggies]. The neighbors turned them in for threatening them. They drove all night and made so much noise that the neighbors said, “You know, you keep us awake.” And they said, “Oh, we’ll kill you if you don’t shut up.” They threatened their lives.
Now we go to Charles Watson: This was a clean-cut boy who did these murders. He came from Texas. And the questions are:Where was he approached? How did he get into this case? Was it of his own volition?
Last week on the Monterey Peninsula there was an article in the paper that a boy was picked up as a hitch-hiker in Santa Cruz. He was thrown out of the car near the highlands, and we talked about that a littler bit on this show. He was almost killed. And the subject of the conversation was that one of the four men who just about killed him said, “I’m from the Manson Family in Texas.” That caught my interest because something very big in the planning stage of this particular massacre took place in the state of Texas.
So I went to Community Hospital to discuss with this boy. This boy attended five years of College and the American system of education. He was about to go into the Peace Corp and go to the Philippines the next week. He was almost dead out at Community Hospital after just going down our beautiful coast and being picked up and roughed up by somebody who claimed to be from the Manson Family in Texas.
Let us pause to remember Sunshine Pierce had headed back to Texas, and that the Family had taken the bus to Texas before. But seriously, a Manson Family in Texas? Likely this would be street kid bravado to freak out someone during a bit of ultra-violence, but with Charles Watson being so Texas connected, it does leave it to interesting speculation as to who the hell those people were. If it was something real, one can see how that had to be NEVER repeated by anyone in the news media. Tex was noticeably kept out of the murder tale, but Brussell had actually noticed that considerable efforts were made to keep him away from Manson and his image:
We don’t know much—because it’s never brought out at these trials—about the background of Charles Watson, except that he did appear with a beard and became part of the Manson Family. When Charles Manson was arrested, a law firm sent two lawyers who went to Texas to see this particular boy, Charles Watson. Judge David Brown said to the lawyers from Beverly Hills, California, “You take the next plane back to California. I will put you in jail for seventy-two hours or fine you if you don’t get back to California.” And the lawyers said, “Well, wait a minute, that’s our client. We want to see him.” The lawyer that wanted to see Charles Watson was named Mr. DeLoach. He called a press conference at a Dallas Hotel, and DeLoach said this at the press conference: “I came to see my client.” Charles Watson had been in his office in Los Angeles, California thirty or forty times prior to the killing of Sharon Tate and the other six people in Los Angeles. DeLoach said his own background was that he was a Republican candidate for the State Assembly in 1964, and he was chairman for the Young Republicans. He belonged to a law firm on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. At the jail to keep Mr. DeLoach from seeing Charles Watson were twenty Texas highway patrolmen and sheriff’s deputies guarding him. And they fought the extradition for eight months.
When you’re talking about conspiracies, Watson’s defense has to go into every avenue to develop his claim that Charlie Manson masterminded him and programmed the group; that the hippie-youth-magic, Satan kind of thing, controlled him to use his knife to kill these people. Prior to meeting Manson, he was not involved in any kind of violence or altercation.
I have seen no record, publicly, that Mr. Watson had a traffic violation or any kind of problem (he had a single marijuana conviction in actuality). This twenty year-old boy needed an attorney from the Young Republican Committee forty times. I know what the expenses are to meet with any attorney, even for one hour. People use attorneys or public defenders if they have small altercations. But to go to a prominent law office of a man named Mr. DeLoach thirty to forty times prior to the time that you’re going to kill seven people is worth investigating. And it’s particularly worth investigating because the boy isn’t even really considered a criminal or a murderer. When the trial for Charlie Manson took place this boy was in Texas, and they fought the extradition, and he later wouldn’t be associated as part of that clan but as the robot or the product of that society.
When you study this, it is intriguing how much Tex Watson shows up-not in the headlines-but consistently in the background of too many tales. He came and went freely, owned his own wig shop, and was well funded and well connected as soon as he arrived in California. His final return in spring 1969 seems to coincide with the sudden paramilitary training the family went under. Prosecutors automatically assumed this was Manson driven, but there’s evidence that Tex played a larger part in all events than has ever been discussed. (such as his sudden departure before the massive August 16 Spahn Ranch raid and his setting up in Hawaii with unknown friends months later-even getting a job) In news reports, there was a careful divide, Watson was always referred to as a ‘man’, while any references to Charles Manson were ‘hippie’. If one doesn’t always trust the media, like Brussell, then this verbiage combined with the cascade of national headlines were meant to defuse and discredit the hippie movement, and the hallucinogenic aspect of it as collateral damage. Then the thesis that this was intentionally done, and the plan would to be to kill the hippie movement begins to make sense. Brussell collected headlines at the time:
December 2nd: Nomadic hippies in the Tate murders.
December the 3rd: 3 Suspects in Tate Case Tied to Guru.
December the 4th: Accused Killers Live Nomad Life with Magnetic Guru
December the 4th: Hypnotic Killers – Hippie Bands, They’re Controlled by an Evil Genius
Father Became a Hippie, Looking for Sharon Tate Clues
A Move to Indict God
The D.A. Asks Hippie-cult Indictment
Inside the Desert-cult Hideout – Family Members Talk of Black Magic, Sex, Murder
Hippie Family Member Describes the Murder
Cult Leader Plotted the War Between the Races
Hippie Satan Clan is Indicted.
Talk of Cult Leader Arraigned in Slayings
The Love and Terror Cult, The Dark Edge of Hippie Life
Check out the verbiage there. And these are headlines, mind you, not pieces or quotes from articles. Middle America would be strongly influenced by this, and hitchhiking hippies would no longer be flower children, they would be potential knife wielding psychotics. In the bigger picture, yes these kids were dangerous, but not in any way that is portrayed above. They had learned that the system they’d been taught was a lie, a huge shuck. No need to save up to buy a house and keep the real estate industry afloat. No need to buy a car and keep the automotive industry afloat. No need to buy a washer and dryer to keep the aluminum industry afloat. Hell, no need for money. We can live together in crappy housing or even the desert, we can wash our clothes in streams. We can hitchhike anywhere across the whole country for free. We can grow weed and trade it for things.
This would be considered a very real social threat to the powers that be, and would be the beginnings of not only the destruction of the economy, but the whole monetary system itself. If you think that didn’t make people sit up and take notice, you’d really have to be fooling yourself. Mae Brussell was on top of it right away. Now whether Manson was set up to mastermind this thing? Yes there is evidence this could be true. COINTELPRO was a secret FBI program designed to infiltrate and neutralize counter culture groups. Mae Brussell had smelled a rat, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the Church Committee finally exposed this domestic spying and countermeasures operation as illegal. Manson an operative? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, random acts of violence and madness or premeditated chaos with some government hand pulling strings-the folks in the media at the behest of the powers that be knew how to take advantage of the situation and got maximum mileage from the tragedy, and essentially killed the flower power ideal of the utopian hippy movement. The little discussed mutiny at the Presidio San Francisco military base in October 1968 certainly got attention within the upper circles of the government-soldiers turning hippie and refusing to obey orders? This stuff needed to be stopped before the government was swept out of power, like the waves of youth dissent flowing though Europe that summer. There certainly were many reasons to actively discredit the hippie movement. With Altamont right around the corner, that concert and the Manson murders are always spoken of as ‘the death of the hippie’.
How Did They Get Caught?
Ironically, it was moving to the Barker Ranch deep in the desert trying to avoid unwanted attention that got them caught. Burning a new and expensive Michigan Loader on Federal land got some police attention right away. (Charlie incorrectly thought it was there to dig trenches in the ground as traps to get him to crash his dune buggy and demanded it be zapped.) Roaring across the desert in dune buggies pretending to play a Rommel/Rat Patrol desert wargame…swooping in on unsuspecting supply depots, blowing things up, and swooping away-almost the perfect childlike game but acted out with real sub-machine guns, knives and jacked up dune buggies. The peace and love group had been overtaken by elements that were coming in larger numbers: bikers, car thieves and gun runners. With obvious car stripping workshops in the desert, there was law enforcement attention, which should have been expected. Cops had finally had enough with their unwanted and almost intentional hell raising going on, and went out to get them. They bagged some Manson Family members little mentioned: in the raid they got Charles Manson, Kenneth Brown, David Hammock, Lawrence Bailey and Bruce Davis. Brown was Zero’s friend from Ohio, and is never mentioned in any story, and David Hammock who shows up only this once in relation to the family and is likewise never mentioned in the tales. Ten women were found with sheath knives strapped to them: Beth Tracey, Diane Bluestein, Sherry Andrews, Patty Sue Jardin, and Sue Martel. (or in real life: Collie Sinclair, Diane Snake Lake, Claudia Smith and Cathy Gillies).
In reality, all of the evidence in the trial used by the prosecution originally stemmed from a muddled confession by Susan Atkins, a confession that was recorded without her knowledge by her lawyers Paul Caruso (an expensive Hollywood lawyer to the stars ‘Better call Paul’) and Richard Caballero (a close associate of prosecution), then quickly shared in detail with prosecutor Bugliosi, and then sold for profit to be published as a quicky paperback followed by headline grabbing huge articles across newspapers of America-(it was only supposed to be published in Europe). She sensed the underhanded way she had been treated by a legal team assigned to defend her, and sued for $2 million for these legal indiscretions in 1972 (but lost). Other things that didn’t sit right-Caballero had replaced Atkin’s original court appointed lawyer, and was a former deputy DA (read: high level prosecution lawyer now appointed for defense). According to a little discussed expose written at the time in the LA Free Press, this confession was colluded in for profit by Susan Atkins, her two attorneys, someone from the district attorney’s office and a multi careered man named Lawrence Schiller (one of whose previous works is a book whitewashing the Warren Commission’s report on the murder of President John F. Kennedy). In a television interview Schiller is alleged to have acknowledged that the sum of $150.000 “had already been paid, received and divided up”. Those who smelled a rat needed to look into this one a little deeper. On a quick read, this could be interpreted as a case of a defendant getting lied to and misdirected by someone assigned from the prosecution team to suddenly be asked to defend them, a seeming conflict as the whole case hinged on her statement. The large legal fees that high power attorneys like Caruso would incur make one doubt that he and Caballero were doing pro bono work-the book deal money would seem to have lined their pockets in the main. Her confession was splashed all over the headlines before the trial, including the LA Times. Only Rolling Stone magazine seemed to notice this powerful conflict of interest between Atkins legal team and the $150,000 they received for spreading the story before the trial began:
‘What possible justification could the Times editors have had in running the confessions? Where were their heads? Can an individual’s right to a fair trial, free of damaging pretrial publicity, be so relative? Can it be compromised so easily by the fictitious right of the public to be entertained? … If Miss Atkins’ confession does not constitute damaging pretrial publicity, what does? What does the phrase mean? Even if the Times could somehow prove that its confession did Manson absolutely no harm, what right did they have to take the risk? The moral decision must be made before, not after, the fact if a man’s right to an impartial trial is to be taken seriously.’
Don’t forget Nixon had already said Manson was guilty, and with this kind of information splashed across headlines in the form of such a detailed and gor-ific account of unprecedented hippie horror–most of America thought he was guilty as well. An impartial trial was going to be difficult. The prosecution had lined up Linda Kasabian, a recent Family addition to turn states evidence and Paul Watkins, someone who’d been out of the Family for a while to tell the tale as inside Manson members privy to supposed secrets. Another new Family member, Barbara Hoyt is someone else who also was instrumental in turning states witness against the Family. She was a short term fringe member of the family, but was one of the few willing to testify (especially after the Family had tried to kill her with an LSD laden burger in Hawaii), so she was also presented as an insider. (This time coincides with Tex being in Hawaii, something never mentioned anywhere.) Her stories mirror the tale of Helter Skelter as presented by Bugliosi, and there are some marks of coaching in her statements. Her testimony in the Shorty Shea murder was demonstrably incorrect, yet was accepted at face value, and was one of the key components in the conviction. She continues to speak against any consideration of parole at all Manson family hearings to this day. (edit: she passed away less than two weeks after Manson)
In view of what had been written across the country, the verdict was a foregone conclusion even before it started. Not without some interesting moments that Rolling Stone was witness to:
‘Manson in court today put on an act that you would not believe. Threw the Constitution in the trash can. Said to the judge, “I was going to throw it at you, but I didn’t want to hit you and I was afraid I’d miss and hit you by accident. But you don’t know what the Constitution is. I wish I could throw it at you like you’ve been throwing things at me.”
All he was asking for was a simple answer to whether or not he would agree to the substitution of attorneys for Susan Atkins.’
“Don’t I get to put on a defense? Isn’t it unusual that you won’t let the defendant even defend himself?” Manson to Judge
Despite the narrative of Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter being fairly burned into society’s collective subconscious, it is a frightening thought that large parts of the story were hidden from view, apparently deliberately, some parts were closer to fabrication, leading one to wonder if the Helter Skelter story is designed to obscure something else. One thing that clearly had to be hidden was….
Who Knew Who?
In reality, nobody was really unknown to each other in this case. This is usually little discussed. Hollywood film people knew Manson. He’d been on the payroll for Universal Studios as a consultant (Jesus expert), and knew some movers and shakers there. Rock stars certainly knew Manson, he rubbed elbows and partied frequently with many of them. He lived near them. He was a regular at Mama Cass and John Philips of the Mamas and the Papas parties. He supplied drugs to many of them. (Across the street from Mama Cass and a scene for even more parties lived Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, frequent guests at Mama Cass parties–Manson had crossed paths with four of the five victims who ended murdered at Cielo Drive) Dean Martin’s daughter Deanna was given a ring by Manson and was asked to join the family (she kept the ring but declined the invitation). Buffalo Springfield’s Neil Young pushed hard for Manson to get signed, even begging record mogul Mo Austin to sign him. Young gave Manson a motorcycle as a gift. Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys worked hard to get Manson signed, and used one of his songs on a Beach Boys album. They partied at the Frank Zappa mansion, the Log Cabin. GTO’s and Manson girls interacted. Manson and Tex Watson had been to the Cielo Drive before multiple times. Roman Polanski’s phone number was found in Tex’s little black book when he was arrested. Manson follower Dean Moorehouse, Ruth Ann’s father, lived in the guest house by the pool on the property of Cielo Drive immediately before Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski moved in. Dean had introduced Tex Watson to the family, and Tex was a frequent visitor to Cielo Drive. Manson had said that he had been to the Cielo Drive house at least five times. Manson girls came over to party at the main house and use the pool there right before Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski moved in, and after. After Polanski moved in, Frykowksi was seen filming two naked women in the pool, one of whom was Susan Atkins (later confirmed by Atkins and others). Members of the family were very familiar with the guest house, main house and layout of the whole property. Trial prosecutor Steven Kay had dated Manson girl Sandy Good. Manson and most of the girls had partied extensively at their friend Harold True’s house right next door to Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Although it was unoccupied by the couple at that point, it was furnished and was broken into many times as a temporary crash location for couples from next door looking to hook up away from prying eyes. The LaBiancas came and went during this time, but didn’t live there. (Eventually the True house was empty after all the party crew had moved out, leaving an abandoned Manson-known party house next door to Leno and Rosemary at the time of the murders.) It was difficult for the prosecution to dance around the fact that the victims and the suspects were more than well aware of each other.
Two people who rarely get mentioned were the initial suspects in the Cielo Drive murders. Pic Dawson (on and off boyfriend of Mama Cass) and Billie Doyle (once engaged to Cass in 1969) were fairly high level drug dealers (and partners dealing to both Cielo Drive and Manson Family) who were forcibly ejected a week before the murders from a party at Sharon Tate’s house in spring 1969. Billie Doyle was the dealer that was subjected to the whipping and buggering at Cielo Drive only days before the murders. ‘Pig’ written in blood on the door was originally interpreted as ‘Pic’ and he was promptly arrested. His dad was an ‘agency associate’, and he was suspected by several researchers of being a dealer with some CIA connections. Mama Cass expired in London in 1974, and the supposed ‘ham sandwich’ story certainly isn’t true, and there are many unanswered questions about her death. If anyone knew ‘where the bodies were buried’ in the drug trade, including suspected government connections, Mama Cass would be one of them. The results of the autopsy were muddled and contradictory-you can read up on her strange death here. Right before her death, she told a friend that she had overheard that her new boyfriend had been paid to be with her. This enigmatic and troubling comment has never been explained, nor was the new boyfriend ever identified.
Michael Caine recalls attending a party in Hollywood with Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate, where Mama Cass introduced him to a ‘scruffy little man’. His name was Charles Manson. Oh, and Mama Cass had thrown Manson girls out of her parties at her house before. Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski were frequent guests at Mama Cass’. Abigail Folger’s association with the Free Clinic in San Francisco put her in close contact with the Manson Family from the early days of 1967-the two circles had swirled together many times over the years. One final example would be Mrs. Charlene Cafritz, frequent friend and lavish benefactor of Manson and his brood–she was friends with Sharon Tate and Terry Melcher. Strangers these circles were not.
Who Killed Who?
Did Susan Atkins kill Sharon Tate as she originally said? She recanted that part later. Did Beausoleil kill Hinman? Did Charlie? Bruce Davis certainly left fingerprints on the gun that killed Zero, despite the ‘russian roulette’ suicide conclusion, but never was convicted. Who killed Shorty Shea? (Shorty had beaten the living shit out of Manson in the Gresham street days, and his supposed snitching might not have been the only reason for his murder). Did Tex kill everyone at the Polanksi house and LaBianca house? (Yes. and no matter where you turn online, you will read people that think that Charles Manson killed Sharon Tate.)
William Garretson and Steven Parent
Steve Parent was the first one killed at the Polanski house. He is often never mentioned in stories about the massacres, which is consistently odd. He had been visiting Garretson, the lone survivor, in the caretaker house. He was shot by Tex Watson as he was leaving in his car and Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel were entering the property. He was unlucky by a matter of mere minutes in timing his exit.
William Garretson is a tale all by himself. Another teenager like Parent, he was the only survivor of the Cielo Drive massacre and was the first and most obvious suspect. He claimed he had the stereo on and heard nothing. When questioned a little deeper, he mentioned that he saw the handle on the front door had been tried. His initial testimony was puzzling and it seemed like he was on some kind of drug, but results were inconclusive. His lie detector test was also inconclusive, especially on the point of what he had heard and whether he had left the guest house at any point. Gunshots literally outside the door, horrifying screams on the lawn outside his window? Later, Bill eventually admits that despite his original testimony, he saw and heard plenty. He admitted that he had looked out and had seen one of the victims on the lawn getting stabbed, and that he might have left the guest house and hid in the bushes to avoid detection by the invaders. And then some very weird stuff too-read his initial police interview here and listen to his very strange 2016 interview here. (The interview is in four parts, and are podcasts numbers 38-41 in the menu at the top of the page).
Re reading this, his general demeanor with the police when arrested at the time, and the honestly fantastical events he relates in his last interview make me wonder if belladonna was involved. Many of the things he said and said he saw are not inconsistent with the drug. In one interview, Garrettson mentions some girls who have come around before, including someone using one of Patricia Krenwinkel’s known aliases. Did she know Bill, and when she was sent out there to check his cottage-did they drug Garrettson with this stuff, knowing from first hand experience that he wouldn’t be able to testify to anything accurate? It does go a long way to explaining the ‘mutant baby’ he says he saw among other things. On the other hand, why not just kill him?
This is something that Bugliosi entertained as a motive, but pressed forward with Helter Skelter instead. According to this, as soon as Bobby Beausoleil called the ranch and said he was under arrest for the Hinman murder, the girls formed a plan to commit copycat murders (Tate.LaBianca) to prove Bobby wasn’t guilty since he was locked up while the new murders happened. This is also what Charlie said happened in the Nuel Emmons book-he’d arrived home from Esalen, Beausoleil was under arrest and the girls had a plan. According to Manson, his only concern was that these whacked out chicks were going to get him sent back to jail with hare brained schemes like this. Some problems with this angle, Beausoleil had returned to the Hinman house days after the murder to scrub ‘Political Piggy’ off the wall (cops agreed this happened) for some reason. (an aside: Beausoleil had kept the murder knife on his belt sheath, every day after, horrifying biker Danny DeCarlo, who was privy to the murder details-and was ordered while fleeing north at a rest stop to remove the knife by a local policeman, putting it in the trunk where it was found later. Seriously?). Elements of copycat are definitely in later events, but disregarding the Bugliosi narrative, once one looks at all of the weirdness surrounding this tale, it is hard to see how Cielo Drive and the LaBiancas weren’t both targeted intentionally.
Follow the Money
On the surface, the Family was dirt poor, eating garbage. But they spent money like it was going out of style. Dune buggies purchased. Radios purchased. Rent on Gresham street. Drugs aren’t cheap. Where did the funds come from? Acid just seemed to show up in bulk. (researchers suspect the The Brotherhood of Eternal Love..a tale of their own..shows up here). Hell, let’s roll back the clock to Manson getting out in 1967. Soon he had a schoolbus and access to gasoline credit cards to travel thousands of miles. One wonders whether there was some funding from unnamed sources at the outset. Some members brought money in. Juanita brought a large chunk of her inheritance in (it was used to pay off George Spahn’s tax debts) Linda Kasabian contributed $5k she stole. Manson had given thousands of dollars to George Spahn for various reasons, mostly associated with keeping the Family safely living at the ranch. Manson had a more than one rich patroness donates who donated mucho moola. One tale out there is of a mountain plane crash near the desert ranch of Vegas gambling junket-when found, the occupants were in the plane, but someone had stripped Vegas plane of all cash and valuables. Was this crash a large source? Fancy cars, fancy motorcycles. One noted rich benefactor-Charlene Cafritz in particular-unloaded a ton of cash on the Family through Manson. Charlie was a beneficiary of her ministrations, and she turned over close to $100,000 to various friends, including much to Manson. When Charlie visited her in Reno Nevada where she was setting up residence for a divorce for a couple of weeks, she took several motion pictures of Charlie and his girls, yet another thing that was immediately hushed up and not discussed or seen by anyone. One strong reason would be that Cafritz was a friend of Sharon Tate, Terry Melcher and other main players on the Polanski side of the tale, so there may be films of Polanski, Tate, Manson and the girls together out there still. Oh and in December 1969, right after the Family was busted, Cafritz was arrested for selling heroin to undercover police in September 1969. Was this a set up, or was this 23 year old lady just falling apart at the seams? The date of arrest is convenient in that she would be essentially silenced in the upcoming trial. Going even further back into 1967, several sources say Abigail Folger was kicking in money towards the Family in the early days.
One thing you never see discussed is where did the Manson family get two semis? Semi like tractor trailer 18 wheelers. One was used to haul equipment, one was used as headquarters at Spahn as they prepared to move into the desert permanently. Paul Watkins is very clear in his book that they had two of these, yet they seem to appear out of nowhere. This would not be an easy purchase, but no one seems to have mentioned them or have asked where these came from?
Here is a sampling of a few of the dozen or so murders alluded to by the family that have not been solved. There are more if you dig:
John Phillip Haught, aka Zero, a Manson family member suspected of ‘loose lips’ killed in the presence of Manson family members Catherine Gillies, Bruce Davis, Susan Bartell, and Little Patty. Despite the gun being completely full, police accepted the Russian roulette story and ruled the death a suicide. November 5, 1969.
James and Lauren Willet- murdered living in a house with Squeaky, Nancy Pittman and Priscilla Cooper. Pittman and Cooper got five years for the murders. Lauren was buried under the house and had supposedly died playing Russian roulette. Shades of Zero? November 8, 1972
James Sharp and Doreen Gaul, age 15 and 19 were young Scientology students. Doreen was said to be girlfriend of Bruce Davis. Some said they also ran with members of the Process. They were stabbed over 40 times, November 7, 1969, and their murders were never solved. The much traveled Bruce Davis had gone to London to investigate something, unload a coin collection and stay with both Scientologists and the Process at their London headquarters. Charlie supposedly had sent him on a mission never spoken of. He may have been there to infiltrate the Process for Manson…He also may have gone to eliminate…
Joel Pugh, long time prospective fiancee of Manson girl Sandra Good. Bruce Davis was in London and so was Joel. His wrists and throat were cut, and there were strange and cryptic writings in mirror writing around him, but not well recorded in the police report. November 30, 1969. If Pugh had successfully married Sandy, the cash flow was over, and he could have been murdered to keep Sandy Good’s trust fund intact and not absorbed or abrogated by marriage. ‘I would not want what happened to Joel to happen to me.’ was found in a letter in Sandra Good’s apartment. LAPD strongly suspected Davis of this murder, but to this day it remains a suicide on the books.
Four murders in three weeks. Manson family members present for three of them, and one where a known Manson murderer was ‘on site’ in London. The timeline makes it seem like there was a concerted effort at silencing anyone who knew some of the truth, with the family as the prime movers and shakers in the effort.
Manson’s uncle Darwin Scott of Kentucky was murdered overkill style with multiple stab wounds in May 1969. Manson’s whereabouts was unclear at the time, but he was out of touch with his parole officer. He had asked to go to Texas with the Beach Boys as an adviser. An acid dispensing hippie guru going by the name of the Preacher with a carload of hippie girls had rolled into town just before the murder. Sure, there were plenty of preacher type hippies rolling through the backroads of America, but this one is a little weird.
Tex and the Tale of the Tapes
The tapes of Tex Watson’s initial police interviews in Texas in 1969 are still sealed today. Some claim attorney client privilege keep them sealed. This is not true as that expired long ago. The only reason given is they are evidence of unsolved murders under investigation. Yet LAPD admit that no Manson associated crimes are under investigation still. Many suspect that his version of the tale as told on tape explodes the Helter Skelter myth, exonerates Manson and some of the girls and would result in a mistrial of everyone involved, allowing their immediate release. The fight to get these tapes released is ongoing to this day.
Susan Struthers (LaBerge) and Charles Watson and the LaBiancas
This is a weird one. Susan Struthers, daughter of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and Tex Watson lived across from each other in an apartment complex in 1968. Were they long time friends? Did she set up her parents to get their inheritance? Why was she seen with a moving truck cleaning out her parents house before police arrived? The tale of her moving to California after befriending Tex in prison, then moving into the exact town where Sharon Tate’s sister lived and enroll her daughter in Patti Tate’s daughter’s school where the children became friends until Patti uncovered the creepy connection….now that is another really hard to fathom thread. Was Susan hoping to knock off Patti and keep attention away from Tex’s upcoming parole hearing? Weirdness abounds on the little told LaBianca side of the murder tale. Was the whole LaBianca murder a set up by Susan and Tex so she could grab what she could and inherit the rest? Also, Susan’s boyfriend at the time was aspiring Straight Satan Joe Dorgan-the same biker club that Beausoleil was in trouble with, the same biker gang that had been courted by Manson to hang around the ranch all the time-with Straight Satan Danny DeCarlo as a full time Manson Family resident. It is not a large leap of logic to see the likeliness that Struthers and Dorgan had crossed paths with some elements of the family before, and the LaBiancas and the Manson crew through Struthers were not the complete strangers portrayed in the media. Dorgan was on the first list of suspects compiled by the police.
Did the Family even exist? Or was it ‘family’? Or was it ‘cult’?
Charlie had a list in his head of real Family members-who was in and who was not. People came and went. The inner circle of girls knew who was in. Tex and Bobby Beausoleil are always written about as members, but were absent from the family far more than they were there. Plenty of people came and went in the early days, but as the summer of 1969 wore on, the family became reluctant to let people leave. Especially people who knew some of the secrets.
But like many communes in the late 1960’s, they did function as a surrogate family for each other. They looked out for each other, pitched in to feed each other, and considered each other to be brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters who slept in connubial bliss that is.
Lets be real-there were hundreds of ‘Family’s’ in California. Communes by definition were large extended families. From the more famous like the Hog Farm (home to Family member Diane Lake until she was kicked out at 14 for on site jailbait nookie to protect Wavy Gravy et al) to like minded smaller ones located within a few miles of Charlie’s family.
Look at Mel Lyman’s family and the cross fertilization of ideas. Read up on the Fort Hill Community, and despite their protestations, they sound like a cult. Charlie’s group, although not a cult in name, do bear some of the hallmarks.
Who were the Informants? The Hidden Power Brokers? Did the government really know what was going on?
Yes, there were stand down orders from ‘someone above’ documented. How did Manson get arrested and let go so many times when he was out on bail unless he had a guardian angel somewhere fairly high up in the system watching over him? Charlie had meetings in Terminal Island with a lawyer before he got out. But for a career low level hoodlum, it was a very odd choice for a lawyer that wanted to meet with him. George Shibley. According to Mae Brassell– A prominent attorney by the name of George Shibley who works with groups in the Middle East (and Sirhan Sirhan)—in Beverly Hills he has powerful connections—met with Charles Manson just before he got out of jail in (Terminal) Island. No one will know what conversation transpired between Mr. Shibley [and Manson], or why he was up there. If this is accurate, why would Shibley have gone to see him? Did Manson have need for legal representation at that time? Was this a sign of some master plan for Charlie once he was out? Charlie’s original probation officer Roger Smith was connected to the Family early on and also to Abigail Folger through the Free Clinic. Dr. Roger Smith, was a research criminologist who had launched the drug treatment program at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. Dr. David Smith had founded the Free Clinic, and in 1969 clinic administrator Al Rose spent months living/infiltrating the Manson Family before things grew dark. He brought his data back and with Smith, and together published a fairly famous paper on the Family: “The Group Marriage Commune: A Case Study,”. Their probation officer and his wife were somehow allowed to be foster parents to Manson family toddlers whenever they were busted, often, then give the kids back. That seems a bit ill advised for a hippie group with so many lingering negative associations.
Did Al Springer or Bill Vance refuse some of the reward money because they had been directed/sent to infiltrate and be an informant? Who were later little discussed male members who took over once Manson was in jail-Dennis Rice being the best known? Who was the mysterious Manson member around the same time, Mark Ross-the guy who showed up out of nowhere and seemed to have as many big connections as he had aliases? Even the Family wasn’t quite sure who he was or where he’d really come from. He was in charge of the Family once Charlie was in jail. Why did supposed government stooge Cinque, or Donald DeFreeze of the 1975 SLA have in his record that he was assigned to monitor the Manson family’s gun transactions in 1969? Why did Charlie twice say in interviews early that he was in ‘Witness Protection’ upon release from Terminal Island in 1967? Has anyone asked questions around these topics? No one on record, that’s for sure.
How did the LaBianca hit team really get home? Who was the black guy that drove them to Griffith Park before they hitched their second ride back? Did they stop and buy their ride breakfast on the way home? Who was in the peach colored car that brought Leslie Van Houten back to the ranch after she hitched a second ride from the LaBianca murder house? (three people were in the car) Per Snake’s interview, the guy had cut their field telephone lines from the ranch to the back house, and Leslie was scared shitless of him when he came back looking for her hours later. (side note: Van Houten had returned alone after dawn. Her hitchhike driver supposedly showed up later in the afternoon)
Seriously, how did Charlie dodge all of this:
In 1967 Charlie was arrested in Ukiah for interfering with an officer
in 1968 in Ventura for having a false driver’s license.
In 1969 his Los Angeles arrests included possession of marijuana; assault with intent to commit bodily harm, later changed to forcible rape; auto theft; burglary; cultivation and possession of marijuana, and the final charges for which he is currently in jail (murder); also contributing to the delinquency of a minor, firearm theft, receiving stolen property and auto theft.
How could a guy on probation get popped that many times, and for some serious charges, and not get hauled back to jail? Was Charlie protected by someone higher up, some legal/political heavy who served as his guardian angel? This has been posited before, and below is fairly thought provoking corroboration of that idea, coming from one of the officers there, not some armchair hypothesist.
From an interview with Paul Krassner, he mentioned he had spoken with Preston Guillory, a police officer that participated in both the investigation and raid on Spahn Ranch in October 1969. Here’s what Guillory had to say:
We had been briefed for a few weeks prior to the actual raiding of Spahn Ranch. We had a sheaf of memos on Manson, that they had automatic weapons at the ranch, that citizens had complained about hearing machine-guns fired at night, that firemen from the local fire station had been accosted by armed members of Manson’s band and told to get out of the area, all sorts of complaints like this.
We had been advised to put anything relating to Manson on a memo submitted to the station, because they were supposedly gathering information for the raid we were going to make. Deputies at the station of course started asking, “Why aren’t we going to make the raid sooner?” I mean, Manson’s a parole violator, machine-guns have been heard, we know there’s narcotics and we know there’s booze. He’s living at the Spahn Ranch with a bunch of minor girls in complete violation of his parole.
Deputies at the station quite frankly became very annoyed that no action was being taken about Manson. My contention is this — the reason Manson was left on the street was because our department thought that he was going to attack the Black Panthers. We were getting intelligence briefings that Manson was anti-black and he had supposedly killed a Black Panther, the body of which could not be found, and the department thought that he was going to launch an attack on the Black Panthers.
Manson was a very ready tool, apparently, because he did have some racial hatred and he wanted to vent it. But they hadn’t anticipated him attacking someone other than the Panthers, which he did. Manson changed his score. Changed the program at the last moment and attacked the Tates and then went over to the LaBiancas and killed them. And here was the Sheriff’s Department suddenly wondering, “Jesus Christ, what are we gonna do about this? We can’t cover this up. Well, maybe we can.”
I bet those memos are no longer in existence. The memos about what Manson was doing. Citizens’ complaints. All those things I’m sure have disappeared by now. It shows the police were conscious of the fact that he had these weapons in violation of his parole. You’ve got at least involvement here on the part of Manson’s parole officer, on the part of the Sheriff’s Department, probably the sheriff himself, and whoever gave him his orders. Manson should have been [imprisoned] long before the killings, because he was on parole, period. He was living at the Spahn Ranch with an outlaw motorcycle gang. I feel that, to say the least, the sheriff of Los Angeles County is an accessory to murder.
The raid was a week after the Sharon Tate thing, and the intelligence information was coming in for about three weeks prior to the raid. They just didn’t want any arrests made. It was obvious they wanted the intelligence information we were gathering for some other reason. Three days after they were arrested, 72 hours later, they were all released — lack of evidence — after this mammoth raid. This raid involved two helicopters, 102 deputies and about 25 radio cars, and all the charges were dropped against everyone.
It appeared to me that the raid was more or less staged as an afterthought. It was like a scenario that we were going through. There was some kind of a grand plan that we were participating in, but I never had the feeling the raid was necessary or that it required so many personnel. Now, if you were a police official and you were planning a raid on the Spahn Ranch, utilizing 102 deputies and helicopters and all that, one would think that with all the information coming out a month prior to the raid, wouldn’t you have them under fairly close surveillance? If you did have them under fairly close surveillance, wouldn’t you see them leave the Spahn Ranch to go over and kill seven people and then come back?
So the hypothesis I put forward is, either we didn’t have them under surveillance for grand-theft-auto because it was a big farce, or else they were under surveillance by somebody much higher than the Sheriff’s Department, and they did go through this scenario of killing at the Tate house and then come back, and then we went through the motions to do our raid. Either they were under surveillance at the time, which means somebody must have seen them go to the Tate house and commit the killings, or else they weren’t under surveillance.
You have to remember that Charlie was on federal parole all this time from ‘67 to ‘69. Do you realize all the shit he was getting away with while he was on parole? Now here’s the kicker. Before the Tate killings, he had been arrested at Malibu twice for statutory rape. Never got [imprisoned for parole violation]. During the Tate killings and the Spahn Ranch raid, Manson’s parole officer was on vacation, so he had no knowledge of Manson being incarcerated, so naturally Manson was released, but why wasn’t a parole hold put on him?
It’s like Manson had God on his side when all these things are going down, or else somebody was watching every move he made, somebody was controlling from behind the scenes. Somebody saw that no parole hold was placed. Manson liked to ball young girls, so he just did his thing and he was released and they didn’t put any hold on him. But somebody very high up was controlling everything that was going on and was seeing to it that we didn’t bust Manson.
Prior to the Spahn Ranch raid, there was a memo — it was verbal, I would have loved to Xerox some things but there wasn’t anything to Xerox — that we weren’t to arrest Manson or any of his followers prior to the raid. It was intimated to us that we were going to make a raid on the Spahn ranch, but the captain came out briefly and said, “No action is to be taken on anybody at the Spahn ranch. I want memos submitted directly to me with a cover sheet so nobody else can read them.”
So deputies were submitting memos on information about the Spahn Ranch that other deputies weren’t even allowed to see. We were to submit intelligence information but not to make any arrests. Manson was in a free fire zone, so to speak. He was living a divine existence. We couldn’t touch him….
Ed Sanders had noticed some anomalies with this raid, and felt it had been staged. His attention was specifically drawn to the admixture of uniforms both official and unofficial, sometimes on the same officer-it looked like costumes from a studio lot collection in some instances. Things photographed on the site make it look like it was some training exercise. Perhaps it was. The end result was that although 102 law officers with helicopter and vehicle support managed to coordinate a perfect dawn raid, the search warrant was already 3 days out of date. The people commanding this operation would certainly have known that. Did they think the judge would ‘get their back’ and issue some new paper? Or did they know full well that none of the arrests would stick, it was only for show, but it would put the Manson thing on the public radar–for some time in the future.
So it seems that someone was protecting Manson, and those in law enforcement were aware of it. Who and why would be the question?
Some important lingering questions about the Manson Family
Who was the Candy Man, a mysterious guy that Charlie spent a few undocumented weeks at the end of 1968 on the bus in Sacramento looking for? He is rarely mentioned, and if Charlie shared who this guy was and why they were looking for him, well no one is talking to this day. A few weeks is a long time to be wandering around looking for something that was clearly important. Who was Kim, the blonde guy who is only mentioned in Paul Watkin’s book, but is evidently one of the important male inner circle members along with Tex, TJ, Clem, Paul and Bruce? He is integral to most of the Family stories until he freaks out at the legendary ‘nobody caught fire when we fell into the fireplace’ tale. He left the family permanently in 1968 after this. Who were the full time members and full time mechanics and members of Bill Vance’s crew: Karate Dave, the Turk and others? (Dave walked away from jail untouched in summer 1969, much like Clem did the same summer) Beasoleil’s girlfriend Sweet Cindy, never mentioned and one of the few immune to Manson’s raps who showed up at Barker, where’d she come from, and what happened after Charlie made her walk 20 miles to the highway? Which Family members did Tex stay with in Hawaii when he went off long enough to get a job there after the murders? Who is ‘the Oriental’ Charlie referred to in his interview? Who paid for Hendrickson’s film work in documenting the Family? Film isn’t cheap, and they spent hours in front of the camera. (Combine this with the detailed study done on the Family in 1967 in the Psychedelic Journal of Medicine and you have some quite specific documentation of a single rag tag bunch of hippies while hundreds of other groups didn’t get a mention anywhere, and you might get some people to think this was a group being monitored from the get go). How did Mark Ross roll up in a brand new car and take over the family (as is clear in the Rolling Stone 1970 article where he negotiates a $50,000 network deal for the family with Gypsy-he is the point person on this with Gypsy and the rest of the Family is out of the loop). This is the same Mark Ross that turned Hendrickson on to the Family for the documentary-one might ask where this guy came from out of the blue? Why did Manson tell the Family as he left for Esalen that he might be gone for months? If the plan was to audition, one would assume he’d first come back to report he was off to the studio if successful.
Some important questions: Inconsistencies in the LaBianca Murders
Who drops off and let’s a murder squad hitch hike home without a ride from a messy murder scene? Why did Charlie drive around aimlessly going there as if killing time, then stop where he was said to have made a call, then suddenly drive very deliberately to the LaBianca house. Was he told that they were finally home from vacation? How well did Tex know Susan LaBerge, the LaBianca’s daughter? What murder squad takes the time in the house to take a shower, have a watermelon and chocolate milk snack before departing? What time did the murders at the LaBianca house actually happen? Why did the coroner place the LaBiancas death at 3:30 Sunday afternoon, over 12 hours after their supposed deaths? Why did neighbors witness people arguing on the LaBiancas front lawn the morning after the supposed midnight murder? Why did a security guard working next door hear furniture being knocked over between 4:30 and 5:00 pm in the house the next day? Why was Rosemary in a hastily put on house dress as if she went out at some point? Why were the keys still in the ignition of the LaBianca vehicle? Who leaves the door of their car wide open with the keys in it when they get home at 1 am from a long vacation? Or water skis leaning against the bumper? Did the family take a ride to either Rosemary’s store or Leno’s store to empty the safe of cash and or drugs? Why did a known mafia bookie Ed Pierce (or the Phantom) living on the LaBianca’s street have a rare coin collection in his possession (Leno was a rare coin collector and known heavy gambler). Why did that bookie skip town that week and never show up on the radar again? Why was Rosemary considered a millionaire in the disposition of their affairs? She owned a modest dress shop, Leno was paying back thousands of dollars to the grocery store that he owned and had skimmed from and been caught, and was not overflowing with ready funds. Why did the LaBianca’s complain about their house continually being broken into-things moved around, dogs let out when they were in, furniture rearranged, but few things stolen, as if someone was fucking with them. Who was coming in and out? Had they been creepy-crawled ahead of time, or was Susan LaBerge fucking with them? They told their family they had little hope the police would ever find out who was responsible. Why didn’t anyone look at Susan LaBerge’s boyfriend, a member of the Satan Slaves, a biker gang associated with Manson? Author Maury Terry in his book Ultimate Evil wrote a rarely discussed idea that Rosemary was dealing large quantities of LSD, the source of her wealth.
Some important questions part 2: Inconsistencies in theCielo Drive Murders
Why wasn’t the whipping of the dealer, Billy Doyle, who ripped off Sebring which happened a few nights before the murders looked at more closely? Black robes, black hoods straight out of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby film, party goers in a circle on the lawn around the disgraced drug dealer who was publicly whipped and then ceremonially buggered up the ass with a large dildo by Frykowski and Sebring as punishment for selling them bad drugs. Dennis Hopper was there as a witness and said there were several other Hollywood luminaries there, including Sharon Tate. When Frykowski was found, dead on the lawn, his pants were around his ankles. Some saw this is an odd coincidence at the very least, and a strong hint of revenge killing at the most. This is one of the freakier stories that have been corroborated in the whole tale, and one of the weirdest tales in the week of the murders. One can be forgiven for seeing some cause and effect with this event and events later the same week.
Why were there uncorrelated bloody footprints (boot heel) on the porch-hell why was there so much of Sharon’s blood on the porch if she was only in the living room? Did Manson return after the murders to see what had happened, and if so did he try to hang butchered bodies on the porch? Why was there a blood stain on another beam in the house from a rope being hung over it – never mentioned later but caught in initial police photos? Police said there was evidence of the bodies being moved after death. Who left the eyeglasses in the entry way that didn’t belong to anyone known to be associated to the house? Most of these questions went unasked and unanswered.
Straight From the Horse’s Mouth-Charlie in His Own Words
Charlie’s rap is super acid rap – symbols, parables, gestures, nothing literal, everything enigmatic, resting nowhere, stopping briefly to overturn an idea, stand it on its head, and then exploit the paradox. -Rolling Stone June 25, 1970
To really understand some of this, one needs to hear Charlie in his own words. Sometimes, he isn’t quite as crazy as he is portrayed in the media, sometimes he is really on beyond zebra. (Don’t forget his instructions to his followers given presciently in summer 1969: ‘If I ever get taken in by the cops, I will play the Crazy Charlie persona. I will act insane, but remember it’s an act to keep from being questioned too closely.’) He’d planned this out in advance.
Here is an excerpt from an interview by David Felton in June of 1970 for Rolling Stone, when the trial occupied headlines across the world. (Oddly, Felton also wrote a voluminous expose of the Mel Lyman and the Fort Hill Community for Rolling Stone a year later)
What did you mean when you once said God and Satan are the same person?
If God is One, what is bad? Satan is just God’s imagination. Everything I’ve done for these nineteen hundred and seventy years is now in the open. I went into the desert to confess to God about the crime, I, you, Man has committed for 2,000 years. And that is why I’m here. As a witness.
I have been avoiding the cross for nineteen hundred and seventy years. Nineteen hundred and seventy nails in the cross. I was meant to go up on the cross willingly.
All the wars, all the deaths, all the hunger of these nineteen hundred and seventy years of blasphemy against Jesus Christ, all the shame and guilt, all the torture, they can’t hide it any longer. And unless you are willing to die for your love, you cannot love. Jesus Christ died for your sins and for my sins, and for nineteen hundred and seventy years I have been denying Him.
The white man must pay for the deaths of all the Indians that were slaughtered in greed, and now it is time for him to die for them.
Hope? You expect hope? [Charlie puts his hands together in prayer.] Ah, yes, there must be a little hope left, yes? [He spits scornfully.] There’s no hope! You make your own world. Hope is the last thing you hang onto. Everyone expects to be saved, saved from their guilt. But they’re not going to be saved. I am not going to take responsibility for society.
So I’m here for stolen dune buggies. If it hadn’t been that, it would have been something else. They were out to get me, and it was only a matter of time before they found something to pin on me. And they did. First they make the picture and then they fill it in. They create things so they can hide their own guilt.
I can only tell you the truth. All my life I’ve been locked up because nobody wanted me. Jail is where they put people they don’t want. They’ve got nowhere else to go, but no one else wanted them so they got buried alive. They don’t want to be there, but everything has to be on its shelf. Everybody’s got to be somewhere, and somewhere is where people who are nowhere go.
Do you think you are being persecuted as an individual?
I don’t think about myself as an individual. I just think about my love. Every day I love my world a little more. Love makes you stronger. They can’t take that away. If a man has given up everything, what can they take away?
Those Christian robes that the judge wears are stained with the blood of millions and millions of lives. Christians have defiled the cross. They wore it into battle. They took Christ into war with them and defiled His image. You know, the cells in this jail are filled with blacks, chicanos, people like me. People who never had anything.
Did you have a bike when you were a kid? I never did. I never had anything. That’s what the system is, it’s self-recurring. It just goes in circles and circles. Take away the criminal and what have you got? This society needs criminals, they need someone to blame everything on.
What do you feel about Judge Keene taking away your pro per privilege?
The judge is just the flip side of the preacher. He took away my pro per privilege because they don’t want me to speak. They want to shut me up – because they know if I get up on the stand, I am going to blow the whole thing wide open. They don’t want to hear it. That’s why they assigned me this attorney, Hollopeter.
He came to see me [Charlie mimics a fussy little man shuffling papers], sat down and started fiddling with these papers in his brief case. See, he wouldn’t look me in the eye. They sent me this guy who looks like a mouse. He was hiding behind his briefcase and his important papers.
He was saying, “Well, Mr. Manson, in your case, etc., etc.” And I said to him, “All right, but can you look me in the eye?” He couldn’t look me in the eye.
How can a mouse represent a lion? A man, if he’s a man, can only speak for himself. I said to Judge Keene, “Do I speak for you?”
Between you and me, if that judge asks for my life, I’m going to give it to him right there in the courtroom. But first of all he is going to have to deal with my music, the music in my fingers and my body. [Charlie demonstrates. His nails tap out an incredible riff on the table, the chair, the glass of the booth, like the scurrying footsteps of some strung-out rodent.]
He is going to have to deal with that power. I’m probably one of the most dangerous men in the world if I want to be. But I never wanted to be anything but me. If the judge says death, I am dead. I’ve always been dead. Death is life.
Anything you see in me is in you. If you want to see a vicious killer, that’s who you’ll see, do you understand that? If you see me as your brother, that’s what I’ll be. It all depends on how much love you have. I am you, and when you can admit that, you will be free. I am just a mirror.
Did you see what they did to that guy in the Chicago Seven trial? Hoffman saw in those guys what he wanted to see. That’s why he found them guilty. The white man is fading, everybody knows that. The black man will take over, they can’t stop it. And they won’t be able to stop me either unless they gag me.
Why do you think black people will gain power?
They were the first people to have power. The Pharoahs were black. The Egyptians took one man and raised him up above the rest. They put him on the throne and they fed all these lines of energy into him. [He folds his arms across his chest like Tutankamen, holding his pencil between two fingers like Pharoah’s rod.]
That means power. This represents the penis, the power. They built the pyramids with this energy. They were all one in him. All that concentration created a tremendous force. Love built the pyramids. Focusing all that love on one man was like focusing it on themselves.
Masons have that power. It’s a secret that’s been handed down since the Pharoahs. The secret wisdom. Jesus knew the symbols. The preacher and the judge got ahold of the symbols and they kept them to themselves.
Judge Keene uses all those symbols. He’ll make a sign like “cut him off.” Or like when I get up to speak, he’ll make a signal to one of the marshals, and all of a sudden a whole bunch of people will be let in the court and there will be all this confusion so they can’t hear what I’m saying. They use all these Masonic signs to hold power over other people.
So I started using the symbols. Every time I go into court, or have my picture taken, I use another Masonic sign. Like the three fingers, two fingers outstretched. When the judge sees it, it really freaks him out because he can’t say anything. When I see them making these signs in court I flash them back at them.
They know the symbols of power but they can’t understand it. Power without love is aggression. There has been no true love since the Pharaohs. Except for J.C. He knew what love meant.
Tempt me not. Do you remember the story about Jesus on the hill? You know, the devil takes Him to the edge of this cliff [Charlie leans over the table as if perched precariously on the edge of the void], and he says to Him, “If you’re God, prove it by jumping off the edge.” And Jesus says, “There ain’t nothing to prove, man.” When you doubt, your mind is in two parts. It’s divided against itself. See, Christ is saying, “Past get behind me.” The devil is in the past. The devil is the past. What He is saying is “Don’t think.” He who thinks is lost, because if you have to think about something, to doubt it, you’re lost already.
My philosophy is: Don’t think. I don’t believe in the mind that you think with and scheme with. I don’t believe in words.
If you don’t believe in words, why do you use so many of them?
Words are symbols. All I’m doing is jumbling the symbols in your brain. Everything is symbolic. Symbols are just connections in your brain. Even your body is a symbol.
How can you love and threaten someone at the same time?
Who did I threaten?
You sent Dennis Wilson a bullet.
I had a pocket full of bullets, so I gave him one.
Then it wasn’t given as a threat?
That’s his paranoia. His paranoia created the idea that it was a threat. If you gave me a bullet, I’d wear it around my neck to let them see your love for me. The only thing I’d want to do to Dennis is make love to him.
You know, I used to say to him, “Look at this flower, Dennis. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?” And he would say, “Look, man, I got to go.” He was always going somewhere to take care of some big deal. What it amounted to is that he couldn’t accept my love. I love him as much as I love myself. I refuse nothing and I ask nothing. It all flows through me.
How do you know that these things are coming about (the oncoming Apocalypse)?
I’m just telling you what my awareness sees. I look into the future like an Indian on a trail. I know what my senses tell me. I can just see it coming, and when it comes I will just say, “Hi there!” [He says it like a used-car salesman greeting the Apocalypse from a TV screen in some empty room.]
Why do you think that this revolution predicted in “Revolution 9” will be violent? Why will it be racial?
Have you heard of the Muslims? Have you heard of the Black Panthers? Englishmen, do you remember cutting off the heads of praying Muslims with the cross sewn onto your battledress? Can you imagine it?
Well, imagination is the same as memory. You and all Western Man killed and mutilated them and now they are reincarnated and they are going to repay you. The soul in the white man is lying down. They were praying, kneeling in the temple. They did not want war. And the white man came in the name of Christ and killed them all.
The most dangerous man in the world? Some guy who proclaimed he was either Jesus or Satan-or both at the same time? Believe it or not, Manson wasn’t the only one preaching this. (see above in Process, Mel Lyman, etc.) One important thing people argued about at the time: was Charles Manson a hippie? How could he be if he spent 22 out of 34 years in prison–one would think that it would be extremely unlikely. Yes, he was thrown into the middle of the summer of love in 1967, but that would only put a veneer of hippie on the huckster. What likely got more concern from authorities was something that not many have written about, and authorities were loathe to talk about publicly-Manson was the bridge between two highly insulated anti-establishment factions: Hippies and biker gang hoodlums. The government was pretty happy that these folks were diametrically opposed. Hog Farm and Leary’s crew or Hell’s Angels and Satan’s Slaves? Ultra leftists and ultra right usually don’t see eye to eye. But at Spahn Ranch, 1% outlaw biker gangs and free spirit flower children were co-mingling freely. A union of these factions could pose problems for the Nixon minded people in an atmosphere of bubbling revolution. This is why it makes sense that this trial became so high profile-this thing had to be nipped in the bud, and at any cost. But not enough people asked the right questions at the time. What were the Manson family aims? What were they after?
If you asked them questions, the Manson Family weren’t shy, they had plenty of answers, many of them repetitive-cliff note versions of Charlie’s syncretic counterculture philosophy. In some ways, Charlie was just another guru like the Maharishi preaching a mystical religious and communal way of life. But it is easy to see that the Family spawned more questions than answers. Many in the counter-culture took Manson as a cause célèbre, in particular the underground newspapers-the voice of the people on the street. ‘Charlie is Innocent’ was going to be the cover of the Rolling Stone issue featuring him. He was often portrayed as a martyr to the hippie cause-a reason for the pigs to push back and take control of the streets again from the burgeoning revolutionary dialectic fueling a social insurrection. Rightly or wrongly, Manson was viewed as someone honestly fighting back against ‘the man’. The Weathermen thought he was cool, but they were literally ‘underground’, holed up and not able to walk the streets without fear of arrest. Underground newspapers proclaimed Manson ‘Man of the Year’. The average hip person on the street also thought much the same.
His followers saw a sometimes simpler reason. Bruce Davis met him early trying to return a handsaw:
“He’s got all these pretty girls around him and all they do is get loaded all day.” That attracted Davis’ attention and he went along. The owner of the saw was none other than Charlie Manson. They arrived at this house in Topanga Canyon, where Manson was staying with some of his girls. Davis was introduced to them.
As soon as they arrived they were greeted by a guy, who then guided them through the house and out into the back yard. Manson was in a large bathtub, enjoying the sun and the girls who were giving him a sponge bath. There were about 10 girls around the bathtub and according to Davis, most of them were nude and giggling through a haze of marijuana smoke. Davis claims he was absolutely blown away by the scene. “It was real nice. It looked like Elysian Fields,” he would later say.”
The victims and the Manson family were not strangers, they had crossed paths many times. Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski ran in similar Laurel Canyon circles as Manson and his girls. They crossed paths at parties-Mama Cass and John Philips had acknowledged that Manson had been at their houses for parties more than once. (Papa John Phillips shows up in the background of many stories from both sides of this tale-Manson and Tate, but is rarely mentioned in any mainstream research-perhaps due to his rarely spoken of cloak and dagger military background which also included his parents and sister-insert Mamas and Papas song here. Don’t forget he also was the one who got the Process set up in their LA housing). Sharon, Roman, Gibby and Voytek also frequented the same parties, and lived close by-Abigail and Voytek across the street from Mama Cass actually. Hollywood elite have acknowledged that they had crossed paths with Manson many times. LA rock personalities were very familiar with Manson and his crew. Tex Watson and his drug circle intersected with Jay Sebring and Voytek Frykowski’s drug circle, with Joel Rostau as the nexus. Tex may have known those two before he even met up with the Manson family. Tex had been to parties at Cielo Drive. The idea that no one at the Polanski residence knew their killers is one of the myths that was pushed heavily at the trial, and leads one to wonder ‘why exactly did they push that angle?’. This idea still frames most of the information presented to this day. What were they trying to cover up?
One question you never see discussed that could be the powder keg that the prosecution bent over backwards to avoid was: did Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger attend Esalen Institute at Big Sur while Charlie was there ‘auditioning’ for important persons-persons unknown to this day? They had called there right before, and that was usual drill-call up first and then show up. Were those two women instrumental in getting Charlie heaved out on his ass, killing his chances forever in becoming the rock star he dreamed of becoming? Did Patricia Krenwinkel accidentally let slip a little noticed clue when she told the parole board that they were sent to ‘get two women’ at Terry’s old house? (there were only two women known to live there-Abigail and Sharon) This could go a long way to explaining the iron curtain of silence that immediately descended over the Esalen portion of the tale, the crucial week leading up to the massacres. A blinding rage fueled madness unleashed to get ‘revenge on the beautiful people’ who shunned him. Perhaps literally those people. This would be perhaps the closest guarded secret underlying the case. And as collateral karmic damage, Melcher certainly would have got the message-a massacre at his former house isn’t exactly subtle, much like the bullet left for Dennis Wilson.
So where does that leave us? Charlie never told. It is likely that some form of a truth yet to be told is contained on the still unreleased 1969 Tex Watson interview tapes, tapes that LAPD have fought diligently to keep from seeing the light of day. Tex clearly played a far larger part in this tale than has ever been acknowledged, and seems perhaps intentionally suppressed to keep the focus on Charlie. The lack of any publicity for Tex Watson, the guy who actually killed everybody in this tale, and a similar lack of mention of Voytek Frykowski as a lighting rod for trouble coming from different directions is definitely weird.
Incredibly, nobody seemed to notice Manson stole his whole philosophy from the Fountain of the World, who lived literally next door. Helter Skelter may have been a loose philosophy only a few believed (Bruce Davis explicitly did not) or Helter Skelter may have been the convenient excuse for a rage induced revenge on the two folks that had spiked Charlie’s musical career. Hey, maybe it was only a night club. However, drugs, theft and worryingly large amounts of cash float ominously in the background, as do strange sex practices, underground Hollywood porn, Satanic trappings. It is clear that the people living at Cielo Drive were engaging in dangerous behavior and moving in circles with dangerous people that put them in harm’s way. Leaving aside the flirtations with the dark side of the occult on both the family side and the Cielo Drive side-threesomes filmed by Polanski with random strangers brought home from the Strip for one night sex romps combined with large amounts of drugs being bought and sold can bring large amounts of trouble. It is likely that on some level they were aware that they were pushing the envelope of danger, but were confident the elite cocoon of the glamorous life would provide some level of safety. Worried? Maybe.
The LaBiancas were worried about something. Their house had been broken into so many times and ransacked that they expected it every time they came home. What were people looking for, and did Manson finally decide that the couple had to be confronted in person to give up….what? A black book of numbers? Or large amounts of LSD as some researchers believe? Far fetched on the surface, yet Joel Rostau pops up in regards to Rosemary in several tales told at the time (his involvement in security fraud like some of Leno’s associates were gives another level of possible confluence of interest). Conflicting evidence as to when they were killed combined with fairly obvious evidence that they left the house at some point during the event would seem to back some of this up. Her reported estate value of over a million dollars would be consistent with a ‘cash only’ drug business. Leno LaBianca was likely involved with the mob through horse ownership and gambling, and that is an organization that knows how to keep things under wraps while getting what they want. He had skimmed over $100,000 dollars from Gateway Markets, a chain where he was an owning partner. What prompted this quote from Leno to his close friend Peter DeSantis in July of 1969: “I’ve got to get out of this town and can’t unless I can sell my shares. It’s a matter of life and death. I’m asking for my life.” The disappearance of neighbor Eddie Pierce, or the Phantom, a mob bookie living up the street from the LaBiancas eight days after the murder should raise some eyebrows. Someone had been after the LaBiancas, and no one was talking.
This article isn’t meant to be sympathetic to Manson or the Family. Nor is it a condemnation of the victims or their lifestyles. No matter what the victims were into, you can’t just sit up and say: “they had it coming”. I do wonder sometimes though. Like some of the occult activity around Led Zeppelin (chronicled here) a few years later, the involvement of the Process and the renegade O.T.O. chapter makes one wonder if some wayward but real black magick is responsible for nudging things in certain directions.
The plethora of motives covered here: Drug burn, murder for hire, copycat, Helter Skelter, revenge for failed music career, government operation–and everything else you can find once you go down the rabbit hole–one thing is sure, the tale we were told at the time, all neatly wrapped up nicely and officially in the Helter Skelter motive, something that got Manson locked up while others committed the murders, is still very much muddied to this day. The tale told in Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter book remains the oft repeated and universally accepted tale in all stories ever written about the murders. Yet the large mountain of things ignored: drugs, mob, secret societies, magick, music and film industry, government set up…well all of them have degrees of substantial primary sourced information that should have made any investigator say “hey let’s look into this a little deeper”. All of those angles had different people involved that were either barely questioned or not questioned at all. The focus stayed narrow, and that focus was on Helter Skelter as the primary motive. The confluence of madness that honestly isn’t in the background, but out in front demanding attention? This got pushed to the wings.
If the motive was drugs, well the police thought so too. They had tracked down and gotten statements from Canadian drug dealers Billy Doyle and Thomas Harrigan. These two had been set up in Los Angeles since early 1969 and established themselves as large scale suppliers in Hollywood, and had close contact with Sharon, Sebring, Folger and Frykowski. Frykowski was slated to pick up some unnamed Canadian dealers at the airport in the days before the murders. The day before the murders, Harrigan was documented as being seen with Frykowski and Sebring drinking a bottle of wine at Cielo, where they were heard discussing the impending MDA arrival. The next day-the afternoon of the murders-neighbors saw Sebring with an unfamiliar sports car following him speed out of the Cielo Drive gate and blow past them-something out of the ordinary as they said Jay usually waved and drove slowly down the narrow road. These events would lead one to believe that a large scale deal was about to go down that day. A Manson family visit happening the same evening that a large scale deal with international drug dealers is scheduled to go down should be a huge red flag waving wildly for any investigators. A drug rip off gone horribly wrong is easy to envision as the motive for the first night of murders.
If the motive was to ignite a black versus white war as Bugliosi told us the Helter Skelter motive was, well Charlie did a pretty shitty job of it. Leave aside the hitchhiking as a getaway plan for a murder posse, one must ask “why quit after only twenty four hours of murder?” That isn’t really what I would call an effort in igniting a country wide social conflagration. The Family owning a few guns also works against this idea. While portions of Helter Skelter enter the tale as an influence, it still is a philosophy stolen verbatim from the neighboring commune, the Fountain of the World. And nobody said ‘boo’ about them, and they killed even more people than Charlie was charged with. As the full motive, Helter Skelter has been discarded by many researchers. There’s just too much weirdness in the background.
The Mob dances in the wings in both murders-the LaBiancas were mob associated, deep in debt (likely to the mob–the reason for Leno skimming over $100,000 from his own business). Leno had something people were after, his little black book of information is often spoken of, the key to the treasure and the map to where the bodies are buried so to speak, with the appropriate names and numbers therein. Much effort went into ransacking the house the night of the murders, and it happened several times before the murders as well. Rosemary’s name showing up in relation to large scale drug dealing is intriguing, as her past is much more colorful and checkered than the middle aged housewife portrayed in the trial. Large level drug transactions would not go unnoticed by an organization that controlled much of that traffic, so both the Cielo Drive crowd and any large scale deals on the LaBianca end would be noticed. The police thought drugs were at the root of the Tate murders, and evidence shows there is much more to this idea than was presented at the trial. Joel Rostau and Eugene Massaro were Mob associated drug dealers integral to the tale. Although the Mob are never discussed in relation to the case, the two encounters Paul Watkins had with the Mob do show that underworld figures were directly involved in these events on some level, somehow this angle was completely ignored by Bugliosi. (ironically someone accused of Mob affiliations himself) It isn’t a stretch to interpret these facts as evidence the Mob definitely had a hand in a plausibly deniable lighting of a fire under the LaBiancas which ended in death.
There have been ideas floated that Charlie and the Family were part of a much larger plan-a social experiment workshopped by some government agency. Leary’s Millbrook clan eventually were shown to have CIA connections only known to some. The early days of the Mel Lyman group likewise show some agency figures dancing in the background during the early days. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Manson was part of some larger plan-whether nefarious or benevolent: all three groups used LSD heavily as part of a plan to create new ways of thinking, and all three involved self contained groups isolating themselves through psychedelics from society, and all three were led by god-like gurus. The CIA had been shown to be experimenting in different fields with different groups with LSD, and much of this work is still classified to this day. So in view of some of the people dancing in the background, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they were part of some larger experimental plan. The early documentation of the Family under the aegis of Roger Smith, the use of the large and failed raid on Spahn as a training film example for law enforcement usage, and the professional documentary filmed as the family unraveled by Laurence Merrick and Robert Hendrickson combine to make a eye raisingly large amount of professional documentation for a single hippie commune. It isn’t a stretch to say that this documentation went a long way in the media to be instrumental in demonising the hippie movement.
The appearance of high powered lawyer George Shibley meeting with Manson just before his release, and Tex Watson’s nearly forty meetings with another pair of high powered attorneys: David DeLoach (a prominent Young Republican figure) and Perry Walshin over a single marijuana charge seems incongruous and got Mae Brussell’s attention, as did the appearance of Warren Commission senior counsel Joseph Ball advising Manson and Atkins. (factor in Lawrence Schiller recording a staged confession of Jack Ruby the day before he died-the same man who got Susan Atkins’ to turn states evidence and implicate Manson for a part of a $150,000 payout, and Ed Butler- a guy who wrote the first piece on the murders and had been one of the first to write about Lee Harvey Oswald before JFK’s assassination-and you can see how someone might see fingerprints of something nefarious lurking in the background). One easy question no one has answered is: ‘who was paying these guys?’ It is an odd confluence of pro bono work by all involved, something the jaded might refer to as ‘stage managed’. In addition, law enforcement’s ‘hand’s off’ policy towards Manson should also raise an eyebrow or two. Even Bugliosi knew that not enough questions had been asked in certain areas, but was obviously clued in enough to avoid areas of investigation that were being actively buried.
Some folks out there know at least pieces of the truth. Dennis Wilson said several times he knew the truth, but would wait to speak when the time was right. That time never came, as he drowned before he could tell us. Some insiders in Esalen likely know far more than has been shared. Manson certainly knew, but he has left the planet. Bruce Davis and Tex Watson probably have some higher version of the truth than us, but even they might not be privy to the secrets of the inner circle. Hell, Charlie may not even have known what was going down behind the scenes, just watched it all unfold with eyes wide shut, only smiling at everything he saw.
So we have come full circle, back to where it all began, the music.
Let’s leave the final word to Charlie with a story that sums it all up:
Charlies’ philosophy of songwriting paraphrased from the 1970 Rolling Stone interview-“make a musical mistake on guitar, oops. Instead of fixing it next time through, repeat the mistake within the song, then next time through slowly abandon rest of the original song piece by piece, finally keeping only the mistake, and gradually create new music around the mistake until the only part of the original song left is that mistake. Presto-it’s a mistake no more. New song, the mistake is the inspiration, and it is perfect. Now apply this to life. ”
“I was in prison for 25 years. I have almost no intelligence. Doesn’t it make any sense to anybody that maybe I wasn’t the leader?” -Manson 1994
“No sense makes sense”
Suggestions for further reading:
Everyone should start with these two:
Helter Skelter-Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry 1974 Ghostwritten by Curt Gentry, this is the inside view from the prosecutor’s point. It is considered by the ‘straight media’ as the only accurate version of the murders and is the sole source of information for mainstream media reports on the case. Good for names/dates/places/timelines/police investigations. Considered unreliable as to real motives and behind the scenes activity. Love it or hate it, everyone should start with this one.
The Family: The Story of Charle’s Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion Ed Sanders 1971 1st edition hardcover. This is the other big one. Sanders spent nearly a year living in around and among the the Manson family. He interviewed hundreds of ancillary members of this tale–on the Manson end of things, and on the Polanski Tate end of things. Contains many details speculating on the real motives, and has very rich details on the behind the scenes activity. Probably the best source out there-contains much speculation, but was written in the immediate aftermath, and contains primary source information from people who were there. Criticized for too many ‘unnamed sources’. Make sure you get the first edition, the one that has many stories that were excised after Sanders was sued by the Process.
Manson in His Own Words: The Shocking Confessions of ‘The Most Dangerous Man Alive’-Charles Manson and Nuel Emmons 1986. Okay, this one causes a lot of controversy. How much of it is ghost written and how much is actually Manson’s words is debated in Manson circles. It backs up the version of the tale that takes Manson out of the leader’s status, and portrays events as just spinning out of control as the summer of 1969 wore on. While downplaying his own role, Charlie does eventually own up to some responsibility in the events.
Will You Die For Me?-Tex Watson 1978 Generally dismissed as post murder prison born again Christian ramblings. Nothing of note is in here, and Tex puts it all on Charlie and downplays his own involvement. Which ignores the fact he killed everyone, and Charlie didn’t kill anyone.
My Life With Charles Manson-Paul Watkins 1979 An interesting read from someone on the inside. Watkins was once Manson’s recruiter, but had started to get freaked out by the dark vibes and moved deeper into the desert with Brooks Poston before things went down. Watkins was one of the main witnesses against Manson, so it is not surprising that most of this story mirrors Bugliosi’s version of the murders. Still, he was there and there is a richness to some details of daily life at the Ranch.
Child of Satan Child of God – Susan Atkins 1977 Like Watson’s book, a fairly dry version of the events by one of the participants. Also like Watson’s book, this is written from a born again Christian point of view. Not much of note is in there.
If You Want to Go Down the Rabbit Hole:
The Manson File: Myth and Reality of an Outlaw Shaman -Nicholas Schreck 1988/2011. A fascinating collection of tidbits, trivia and esoterica. This guy had access to Manson in prison and spoke with him many times. Takes the stance that Manson might not be guilty. A bit jumbled but it uncovers many things no one else has. Get the newer version.
The Shadow Over Santa Susanna – Black Magic, Mind Control, and the ‘Manson Family’ Mythos – Adam Gorightly 2001. Another pretty good read that focuses on the occult angle, something ignored completely by Bugliosi. Some weird stuff in this one.
Manson: Behind the Scenes – Bill Nelson This guy got a reputation, much deserved, for being a Manson Family stalker. While that is true, he managed to find out probably more information and untold stories involving auxiliary members and unknown members of the Manson Family than anyone to date.
and finally, if you really want to get freaked out, try this 86 page treatise by Miles Mathis on how the Manson Murders were staged, Sharon Tate is still alive, and more….Although there is some insanely far fetched shit in here, it does contain some interesting ideas and connects some dots and ways of seeing things that no one has thought of. Worth a read if you’ve already fallen down the rabbit hole. http://mileswmathis.com/tate.pdf
One final note: I bought the original library bound edition of Rolling Stone magazine from summer1970 which contained the massive Manson article, and a dozen subsequent issues. Now anyone familiar with Rolling Stone of that era knows that the letters section of the following issue is chock full of comments about the previous issue. Hell if the news was big enough, letters sometimes were in the same issue as the news broke in. So I scanned the next issue for any mention in the letters of the Manson article. There were none. Odd. I checked the following issue. Still nothing. I kept searching the next five issues and not one single mention of the Manson article. Clearly this was intentional, but the big question is ‘why’? Obviously the magazine had been flooded with letters, but not a single one was published. This had to be an editorial decision by the publisher and editors at the highest levels. Who ordered this: law enforcement? Not likely they’d listen to that. Death threats from the Manson Family still at large? Far more likely. No one has ever mentioned this-obviously it was never intended to be ever mentioned, and they must have just hoped nobody would notice. Definitely one of the strangest little tidbits of hidden information I’ve ever encountered in this case.
“Just because you’re convicted of something in a court room doesn’t mean you’re guilty of something”