“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
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.
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.
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, 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
King Crimson in 2017, a look back at what got us here-the fuck ups and nimble twists, and a look at two current concerts on this tour. Does all this Radikal Action show that the Monkey Mind is still crazy, or crafty like a fox?
King Crimson in 2017. Just that idea is remarkable considering the perilous courses charted by King Crimson mk1 (the Greg Lake era, where Crimson was an equal partners band still), mk2 (the jazz influenced era, where Fripp and session musicians made up Crimson) and mk3 (the cutting edge Wetton/Bruford/Fripp/Cross era). Each of those bands crashed and burned, mostly at Fripp’s behest, after a two year stretch. Yes, two years is all any of these line ups lasted. Fragile was the word for Crimson band stability. Yet in five years, King Crimson created a body of work in seven albums that still reverberates strongly through the corridors of power in the rock n roll world to this day. This was groundbreaking shit when it came out, it was still groundbreaking two decades later, it is still groundbreaking today, four to nearly five decades after their release. Let that sink in for a minute.
In the Court of the Crimson King is the one that got the attention and still does, but smarter fans and savvier critics knew better. The real deal was Crimson Mk3. Heavy Metal magazine (formerly Metal Hurlant in France) in their December 1979 issue had a highly recommended article on King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic album, which had been released in early 1973. It posited the idea that King Crimson was so far ahead of their time that it would easily be fifty years before critics could come to grips with that album not as a rock release, but as a major musical milestone, a monument in the sand that future musicians would look back upon as an achievement unlike any other in rock music, a la Beethoven or Mozart’s lesser masterpieces. Perhaps it would be closer to one hundred years. Hyperbole or heady and prescient praise? Well here we are 44 years after Lark’s Tongues hit the shelves, and it remains a fairly unchallenged masterpiece in the rock canon. (That Lark’s Tongues borrowed very heavily from Bartok string quartets and Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring was something that seemingly eluded that original author at the time does not diminish his original point-this record is essential and far reaching in scope). Starless and Bible Black dropped the eccentric percussionist Jamie Muir (whose batwing costume and propensity to puke fake blood frightened the band and provided inadvertent inspiration to Kiss), while Red saw Lizard’s Marc Charig and founding member and principle songwriter Ian McDonald return to the fold. King Crimson was set up for another round of success. All three albums are visionary and pushed the edge of rock music to boundaries folks didn’t even suspect existed. Alas, ’twas not to be, as Robert Fripp pulled a schizophrenic disappearing act and Mk3 evaporated in the morning mist, much to the consternation of the fans, music press and the band itself. “Is Fripp crazy?” started to get asked in many circles. There was no consensus on the answer to that. Fripp layed low.
Mk1 1969-1970 Mk2 1970-1971 Mk3- 1973-1974
Round Two; Pentatonia, Meet Neurotica
“The Drive to 1981” and “The Incline to 1984” were announced in the liner notes of Fripp’s first solo album, Exposure, in 1979. These seemed to be a pair of three year plans for the future. Ambient music, pop music, and a strangely named dance band (the League of Gentlemen) comprised the first set of the plan. The League band is the one where Fripp once famously berated the audience to “stop staring at my fingers. This is a dance band, I suggest you dance!” But contained in the songs was a structure that repeated itself from song to song: a highly disciplined hypnotic pentatonic scale style that wove itself into most every song. This ended up being a hint as to what was coming next in the Incline to 1984-Discipline.
1981 brought a new band into existence for the next phase: Discipline. With Bill Bruford from Mk3 on board as drummer, Zappa and Bowie alumni Adrian Belew on guitar and noted jazz iconoclast Tony Levin on the new bass-like instrument the Chapman stick-crowds began to froth. Audiences recognized that this was a new iteration of King Crimson before Fripp himself did, but it wasn’t long before the moniker Discipline was retired and King Crimson Mk4 hit the floorboards. Unlike previous versions of the band, this one stuck very close to the interlocking pentatonic patterns approach of Discipline for all three of the albums in this run. They released the trio of stylistically similar albums, Discipline in 1981, Beat in 1982 and Three of a Perfect Pair in 1984.
World tours, decent album sales, and glowing critical reviews made the band the envy of their peers. In the prog rock world, many of their contemporaries were flailing. Yes had done well with Owner of a Lonely Heart in the charts, but was that even really Yes? Genesis had become increasingly irrelevant after a last gasp with 1980’s Duke and a warning of things to come with 1981’s Abacab. The Moody Blues had abdicated whatever influence they had in the late sixties. Other extant prog luminaries like Mike Oldfield, PFM, Camel and Caravan were trying out pop formulae. Rush, often lumped in but never really a prog band was showing strong signs of falling off a musical cliff. Asia? ‘Nuff said. Most other influential prog rock bands had already folded up shop (ELP, Gong, Can, Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, Gryphon, National Health, Pink Floyd, UK). King Crimson stood alone at the end of 1984 as not only the last relevant prog era band still standing, but the only one that was still cutting edge, still making statements that made others take notice. Maybe even still ahead of the curve. Things looked pretty good. It wasn’t hard to predict what Fripp would do next- he called a halt to the proceedings and broke the band up.
What is the Opposite of an Incline?
The ecstatic response Crimson received in 1981 was world wide. After a decade off, the reunion prefaced by the EP Vrooom that showed up in 1994 was greeted by long time Crimson fans with…well it definitely was enthusiasm, but few were really surprised. Bruford, Belew, Fripp and Levin had once again reassembled right where they left off in 1984. The sound was not that much different: pentatonic tapestries wove shifting melodies that underpinned Belew’s plaintive wail. “I am a dinosaur” he wryly sang on the debut of Crimson Mk5, THRAK. The album sounded like the word, or as Fripp put it “…the meaning of THRAK is: 117 guitars almost hitting the same chord simultaneously”. He added “So, the album THRAK, what is it? 56 minutes and 37 seconds of songs and music about love, dying, redemption and mature guys who get erections.” The addition of Trey Gunn on Stick and Pat Mastellotto on drums in 1994 had expanded the 80’s version to a sextet. Things sounded busy yet familiar.
Like the previous incarnations, this one traveled a three album arc. One huge difference though-multiple lineup changes and a timeline that took from 1994 to 2008 to wrap up this incarnation, fourteen years. Now remember, from In the Court of the Crimson King to Red-mk1, mk2 and mk3-when Crimson was creating masterpieces on a weekly basis, was less than six years in length. Factor in the hiatus from 1974 to 1981 and we are still only at fifteen years from 69-84. Fripp expanded and contracted the band several times during the tenure of Crimson Mk5.
Bruford’s exit in 1997 left a large hole in the band as one of the last foils to Fripp, someone who could look him in the eye and tell him that he was plain wrong-musically that is. Fripp had become annoyed with Bruford’s chaotic approach to drumming, a seemingly scattershot style that Fripp felt conflicted with the precise mathematical interplay of the guitars. Bruford was spot on in his response : “it was held that the other musicians *couldn’t* keep time, so they employed this guy called a drummer to do it for them…we have to assume that by now that Robert Fripp can keep time. And if he can’t, well, that’s tough.” Bruford had “once called him an amalgam of Stalin, Gandhi and the Marquis de Sade”. He’s someone who would intimately know given the four decades of work together. Exit Bruford permanently.
Shortly after, Levin went on indefinite hiatus. This reduced the band once more to a quartet-Fripp, Belew, Mastelotto and Gunn, with the two long term member’s absence palpably felt. This move coincided with a noticeable stagnation in the band sound, resulting in the sporadically interesting album The Power to Believe in 2003. By now, they had been mining the interlocking guitar pattern style for 22 years, had put out (read: recycled) Lark’s Tongues in Aspic several times as parts 3,4 and 5 over the years. Visionaries were needed as things began getting a bit stale. Fripp opened up the windows to air out the room, and out flew Gunn and in flew a returning Levin and a new drummer Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree. This resulted in a 40th anniversary tour in 2009 that continued over familiar ground and there was a perception that the band was treading water. The band’s cutting edge reputation was now being written about in less than friendly terms, and phrases like “cutting edge” were now preceded by words like ‘once’ and ‘formerly’.
Resurrection of the Crimson King
As noted previously here, Fripp is a bit of a crazed musical force, self destructive and visionary in the same breath. He retreated into some fairly intractable diatribes online, culminating in his sudden self avowed quitting of the music business in 2012. This was perceived by many as a large hissy fit-likely triggered by Kanye West using 21st Century Schizoid Man as a sample in a song and having a huge hit with it. His interview at the time about this retirement can be read here. (click to expand the text below the link) So when Fripp announced in 2013 that King Crimson was reforming, well people were taken by surprise. This time the band was based on a 2011 project Fripp had done with Jakko Jakszyk, former Crimson reedsman Mel Collins, Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison. While skirting close to easy listening or Crimson lite, it laid the foundation for a new page in Crim history.
The tour in 2015 was a fairly interesting proposition. Gone were two decades of Belew/Fripp guitar interactions, and in was a set that drew heavily for the first time in their career on the early stuff. In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon, Islands, Lark’s Tongues were all represented. Although Fripp had offloaded some of the weightier guitar tasks to Jakko, his presence on many songs was still felt. Seated in the back corner of the stage, one could be forgiven for mistaking him for a turn of the century accountant sitting in for an evening. Three drummers lined the front of the stage. It was an evening of musical inspiration-stripped of the normal frills accompanying most shows like lighting rigs and video screens, this tour was about the music. Reviews were glowing.
2017 Tour of America-King Crimson Live in Boston and Albany
The current tour saw some semi-confusing lineup changes for those not paying attention. Percussionist Bill Rieflin had departed the band in 2016 for reasons unknown, but had returned for this tour, but departed the touring band before the tour started, yet stayed in the band as a member. But now suddenly was replaced by TWO musicians: Chris Gibson now occupied the riser on keyboards (something Rieflin did from behind his kit originally), and new drummer and session man Jeremy Stacey on full drum kit, something Rieflin hadn’t usually played-sticking more to percussion work. The ‘Seven Headed Beast’ is now a full octet. (Belew had gotten into a scrape with Fripp and was tossed in 2009; today they have made up and Fripp has allowed that Belew is now an unofficial 9th member of the band, awaiting a call up to the big leagues. Note that if Rieflin returns, this will bring the head count up to ten. Hmm)
Well how was it compared to last tour? The short answer is that there is a noticeable improvement in delivery, improvisation and general comfort level with each other onstage. I witnessed both a Boston show and an Albany show on this tour, and both were exceptional. The music was delivered in two sets. Boston had a tour record of 25 songs. Setlist here. This time around, Fripp was a much more active participant in the proceedings, taking back some guitar duties from Jakko, adding more mellotron here and there before switching back to electric banshee wails that are his trademark. Jakko is vocally very suited to the band. He is able to duplicate early Crimson with an air of authenticity-Greg Lake, Boz Burrell, John Wetton era tunes sounded very close to the original arrangements vocally. The Belew era was less convincing-Indiscipline’s strong spoken word portion now had a sing songy processed vocal arrangement that didn’t really work, though the instrumental portion of the song was still spot on. Mel Collins was once again a quiet force, able to reproduce the bellowing sax explosions of Ian McDonald’s work on the early material as well as his own riffs from Islands. One complaint that overlapped from the last tour is his soprano saxophone work can tend to put some of the Islands material (never thought of as an essential album) awfully close to Kenny G territory–the smooth jazz approach of Scarcity of Miracles album that seemed like the whole Crimson thing was on life support. Me? I’d flush most of the Islands album from the set. A Sailor’s Tale and The Letters were nice on the reunion tour to reinforce the ‘early material’ vibe, but nothing from that album really needed to be revisited. (historical note: the whole Islands band quit on Fripp in 1972 to form their own band due to his overbearing attitudes) Boston had some surprises-Cirkus and Lizard from the Lizard album were some out of the blue choices. Cirkus in particular was a highlight of the evening. Four songs from In the Court of the Crimson King also were crowd favorites, as was the rarely played encore of Heroes by David Bowie-a tune Fripp had laid guitar down on in 1977. The crowd was ecstatic.
Two days later, the Egg in Albany offered a different take on the band. The tiny venue has a capacity of just over 900 and is an acoustically designed amphitheater. Once again the crowd was warned in written and audio statements against photography, filming and recording. (one of the better bootlegs of the 2015 tour was recorded here, but Fripp’s minions diligently hunt it down and remove it whenever it pops up online.) Although the apparent attempt by Fripp is to enjoin us all to ‘remain in the moment’ and actively stay focused on the music, it is clear that this is evidence of Fripp’s long term paranoia that has hampered the ‘fun vibe’ for decades. Folks were ejected for taking a single picture, including a white haired gentleman from the front rows forced to leave during the last song. My seats on the aisle stage left top revealed a flaw in the design of the Egg-if any artist isn’t standing near the front of the stage, they tend to be cut off from view. With five members of Crimson on a podium at the back of the stage, fully half the band was cut off from view. Here is an approximate view (no Crimson onstage):
I moved to the standing room center quickly and had a good view for the show. This time the band took a while to get going. They opened with a drum solo showing off their new triple full kit attack. Nice technique, but Fripp should know better than to open a show with a drum solo. In fact most people would know not to open a show with a drum solo, but common sense often does not factor into decisions here. In fact there were FIVE count ’em five drum solos in the first set alone. Jesus. (Mastelotto took Harrison and Stacey to school btw-Stacey hung in there but Harrison was somewhat plodding in comparison). Back to back versions of Moonchild and The Court of the Crimson King kept set one from being entirely a wash. Set two picked things up instantly, no new disposable tunes, it was pedal to the metal. Setlist here. Lark’s Tongues part 1 and part 2 back to back? Fallen Angel and Starless? They hit the stratosphere right to the last clang of Easy Money.
Also of note in Albany were the “shooshers”. Some folks get vocally enthusiastic at shows, but this brand of anal retentives are hell bent on making everyone shut up. By loudly and continuously shushing at the first sign of anyone cheering….and not noticing that they are disrupting the proceedings as much as anyone. I saw one guy get out of his seat and walk ten feet to angrily admonish someone in the standing room to stop whooping. Another shoosher in the middle kept it up at the slightest instance of incidental noise. At his second insistent shoosh I was forced to spontaneously yell out a quick “faaaaackofffff’ which got quick approval of all in the standing room area. (I had witnessed the previous week at a Goblin show in Boston a fan TWICE move across the floor to get in a guy’s face threaten to beat the shit out of someone who was yelling enthusiasm at the Italian horror legends.) Message to shooshers: get over yourselves. People enjoy concerts in their own personal way.
21st Century Schizoid Man needs a Drum Solo In It Like Close to the Edge Needs a Grand Funk Railroad Commercial In the Middle of It.
Why is there a drum solo in this song? In view of the five drum solos in the first set, I had trouble keeping quiet and not going all ‘belligerent seventies New York style’ to show my disapproval. Seriously, this shit has to stop. The song doesn’t need it, never had it before, and smacks of gratuitous soloing–something that Crimson was always avowedly against. Does Gavin Harrison have dirt on Fripp? For he is the only one with a true drum *solo* in the whole evening. All other ones were interactions between the trio of drummers. Which leads us to….
The Ever Present March of the Quill Pig
Porcupine Tree. The band is becoming worryingly intertwined with King Crimson, which beckons the question above. I have been vocal in my opposition to Steve Wilson’s remixing of Crimson and other bands (read a quick take here), and began to question why Fripp was allowing Wilson to tamper with his work. Then Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree joins on drums. Now Steve Wilson’s solo album drummer Jeremy Stacey is in the Crimfold. What gives? One can be forgiven for thinking that these fuckers are aiming to take over Crimson on the sly. Maybe Steve Wilson is actually the one with dirt on Robert.
The Final Cut
As stated in the introduction, King Crimson in 2017 is a fairly unlikely event. A quick read of Fripp’s phoenix-like self immolations would lead one to think this could never be a reality, and yet-it is. I’ve seen the band three times since the reunion, and they are still going strong, with signs of actually becoming even more musically dangerous. And that my friends, is a good thing for all of us.
“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 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 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 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 directlt 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 day. 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. 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 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. 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 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, 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:
used the music business and record companies to promote their message
reprogrammed initiates to have new identities and leave their former family
give all of their money and possessions to the family and guru
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, 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. But nobody ever bothered to ask any questions about Mob angles.
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.
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 quqntum 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.
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 knows) 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 his 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 he 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. 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 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 with 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, so she was also presented as an insider. 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.
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. 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. 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 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 if 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 ineritance 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 friend, 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.
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. 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 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.
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,”. Probation officer and his wife were somehow allowed to be foster parents to Manson family toddlers whenever they were busted, then gives kids back.
Did Al Springer refuse some of the reward money because he was 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. 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; 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? 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? 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. 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. 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?
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?
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? 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 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.
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 when in to ransacking the house. 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 encounters Paul Watkins had with the Mob do show that underworld figures were directly involved in the events on some level, somehow this angle was completely ignored by Bugliosi. (ironically someone accused of Mob affiliations)
There have been ideas floated that Charlie and the Family were part of a much larger plan-a social experiment floated 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.
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. 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. 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.
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”
As chronicled last year here , summer is the time to get out there-preferably under the stars, and see rock shows like they did back in the day: grassy field, blankets and festival vibes. Like last year, this summer had a wide range of rock enticement. What was on the menu?
May 16-Jean Michel Jarre Boston
This was a big one. I mean this guy never tours. His first album that broke him, Oxygene, came out 41 years ago. He’d played the States exactly once, a single show in Houston in 1986, 31 years ago. A detailed review of this Boston show written at the time can be read here. Jarre is a first generation French synth giant along the order of Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the big three krautrock synth god founders of electronic music. The Bank of America Pavilion is on the waterfront, and the back of the stage is pretty much on the sea wall. Bass sequences set up standing waves in Boston Harbor, and Jarre shattered reality, profoundly Oddly, this show was completely unknown and literally unpromoted. (I wore the tour shirt to an electronic music festival later in the summer. An older fan who flew in from overseas said he was a huge Jarre fan and asked when I’d seen him. I turned around so he could read the tour dates on the back of my shirt. “Hmmm, ok, ok…..uhhhhh no, nooo, NOOOOOO!!! The tour is over?!? Why didn’t I hear about this?) Why indeed? Not one single Jarre fan I spoke to this summer had ANY idea he was coming, and all were genuinely pissed they missed it. No print ads, no radio. Unsurprisingly, the venue was only about 1/3 full. Jarre beckoned to the crowd “come closer” and gathered the faithful. He told us secrets. Setlist
June 9-Ween Cooperstown NY
Up next, and on the same date the summer concert blitz started last year, June 9 saw Ween at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown (home of the baseball Hall of Fame). This one was a camping overnight on site event. Things learned? Brewery + Ween + walking to campsite at end of show = uh oh. Bodies dropped left and right into the mud trying to navigate in the dark, and last call went until well after eleven pm-strong brewery beer. I’d seen Ween five or so times since the reunion…and this band has some deep catalog to draw from. This night was no different. Setlist here. a 26 song setlist of rarities and chestnuts. A double encore seemed to precede either an extended LMLYP or Poopship Destroyer, but the oh so clever brain cell challenged neo hippie jam band element thought they would provide entertainment and rewards for Deaner by pelting him in the face with glow sticks (the thin pixie stick kind).
In their heads, they probably imagined it looked something like this:
In actuality it was much more like this:
This phenomenon of pelting the band with LARGE handfuls of glow sticks started at Phish shows, but thinking the band will react in any fashion other than pissed off is evidence that repeated drug use might cause the brain damage that D.A.R.E. always promised. Deaner turned to the drummer and motioned ‘this is it, last riff we are done’ ending the song while glaring back at the crowd of idiots clustered in the front. Concert ended early. Good show, and Ween in an outdoor venue with camping? Hope they do this again next summer.
June 20 – Dead and Company SPAC Saratoga NY
SPAC is a fairly legendary venue for the Dead. In 1983 I saw one of their performances of the decade here. I’d seen them last summer in Boston, and the band performed one of their dream shows, still spoken of as the best show Dead and Company have ever played. I mean Help->Slip->Franklin’s in the FIRST set? St. Stephen->Dark Star->Terrapin-> drums/space->Terrapin->Morning Dew to start the second set? Yeah that’s not likely to be topped. Combined with the rampant rumors that John Mayer tripped at the show for his first genuine ‘electric’ Dead experience, and well you have a show not likely to ever be topped. So it was with a little trepidation I rode out here, knowing that they will probably never top what I saw last summer. But hey, the Dead outside in the middle of a forest state park? Count me in. Rain is usually in the forecast, but this time blue skies guided the vehicle the whole way. Grabbed some lawn seats near the stage (this venue is notably difficult to see the stage from the field) and watched some puffy clouds gather. Then, during Looks Like Rain, well…. it started to rain. Something in 35 years of seeing the Dead that I had never seen happen before. Friends were incredulous. Definitely weird. Even weirder, as the song drew to a close, behind us this happened:
Yeah it was a fucking moment. Song list trended towards ordinary, and Lost Sailor/St. of Circumstance was arranged to a point where it was barely recognizable at first. This is why many go to so many Dead shows-a deceased Jerry hasn’t curbed their propensity for dodgy shows here and there. John Mayer has definitely learned how to do a proper Jerry, and Oteil can channel Phil Lesh with much more authenticity than his early turns in 2015. Good but not great. It is disconcerting to realize they might never top what I saw in Fenway Park last summer. Mickey Hart can still create some sonic mayhem though.
July 7-Jerry Seinfeld Springfield MA
I had wanted to get down the NYC to the Beacon Theater to see Seinfeld in his residency there this year, and saw he was doing a quick one off in Springfield. His reason? “Just like you, I had nothing better to do on a Friday night, and I needed to kill some time. So I came here.” Seinfeld does a clean and non topical act-cursing and politics are off limits- and he revisited some of his older material from the show. Springfield Symphony Hall is a venue that can cater to decent sounding acts, but much of Seinfeld’s act was barely audible, inexcusable really. However familiarity with his patterns and riffs helped the long time fans keep following the thread. The free wheeling playboy Seinfeld has been hitched for a while, and semi-lamented his married status and new group of friends: “If you don’t have a wife, we have nothing to talk about. You have a girlfriend? That’s Wiffle ball. You’re playing a paintball war and I’m in Afghanistan with real, loaded weapons. A single guy is sitting on a merry-ground blowing on a pinwheel. I’m driving a truck full of nitro down a dirt road.” Funny, but one got the sense he doesn’t have to work very hard to create his act anymore. Legends are like that though.
July 20-The Who Mohegan Sun CT
The Who. Only the Beatles and the Stones have the stature and influence the Who have as originators of modern rock. In truth, this band has seen all eras of rock n roll. From their first angst ridden thrashes in dance halls in 1964 to 2017-the Who have seen it all, close up and personal. Roger Daltrey, the ace mod face, and also ‘The Voice” of rock has had his share of vocal difficulties over the past twenty or so years. From vocal cord surgery in 2011 to difficulties with smoke in the audience in 2013 to postponing their 2015 fall US tour, there have been problems. But at this show, Daltrey was well rested, and in the best vocal condition I had seen him, perhaps ever. And he knew he was in good form-vocal riffs ran scales from borderline falsettos suddenly hurtling octaves into a deep familiar bass growl to end songs. Townshend was in good form, prickly and extra cunty. “We’re grateful to be here. Well I’m not grateful but I’ll bet you are…” Daltrey shot him an incredulous stare from center stage and took over…..”We are very glad to be here tonight, right Pete?” Townshend continued irritably prattling on about how he didn’t need the money and that he had just flown in to town in his million dollar private jet. Daltrey once again had to smooth things over. With Pino Palladino out on tour with John Mayer, John Button from Daltrey’s solo band stepped in, and things were quite different from the first legs of “the Who Turns 50” tour. Townshend said introducing My Generation: “I’ve written about a hundred songs, and every one is better than this one”. The song degenerated into the chaos it used to in the sixties and early seventies arrangements, and then…suddenly I looked up. What the hell was going on? The band had jumped the rails and was off in uncharted territory, with Townshend slashing random riffs and Daltrey riffing random improvised vocals. Soon it seemed to solidify into a vague version of Cry If You Want-
Woah. The Who hadn’t let things fly like this in a bundle of decades. Bargain and Overture also had some free wheeling improv sections. Daltrey stalked around in front of Townshend in repetitive short circles as Pete thrashed his guitar with frenzied rhythmic slashes that increasingly bore no resemblance to the song. Incredible explorations, albeit short and interspersed, that hadn’t been seen live in well over forty years. The signature scream at the end of Won’t Get Fooled Again, the trademark howl of two generations? Spot on. Perhaps the best time and tightest I’d seen them in the over two decades of seeing them. I’d still pick out the Quadrophenia ’96 tour as my personal highlight, but vocally and arrangement wise, this was one powerful fucking show. The Who were famously challenged by the punk rock bands in the 70’s as dinosaurs, but the punk comet burned out early and the dinosaurs still freely stomp the earth, bringing rumbling thunder and showing that this is no damn nostalgia act, they can still rip the roof off an arena. The highlight of the summer, if not the year. song list
July 30- Blondie and Garbage Bank of America Pavilion Boston
I once again trundled to Boston to see Garbage and Blondie. I wasn’t really sure what this would bring, I mean Debbie Harry is much older than many think (she was in bands on major labels in 1968, and was literally born during WW2-1945 for you non historians). I’d seen Garbage last year on the first album commemorative tour, and was beyond pleasantly surprised. They were nearly as powerful as when I saw them on the first album tour twenty years ago. This time though, no such luck. Shirley Manson admitted to being way overtired and had just got into town. The setlist ignored most of their hits, and the band was listless. It was apparent that much of their set is electronically pre-recorded and triggered from the stage. Fifty grand in sound equipment but from the ninth row the guitars sounded like a Peavey Backstage and Line Six Spirit amps were in use. (translation for non guitarists-two really cheap beginner guitar amps). Butch Vig, soundcrafter extraordinaire, had no visible mics on his cymbals, indicating they were electronic as well. Odd for such a perfection based and studio sound obsessed band to have such a thin sound and low energy.
Blondie however, was a big surprise. Debbie Harry came out dressed as above, but covered with a cape emblazoned “stop fucking the planet”, resembling sixties legend Moondog, statuesque and shamblingly regal. At nearly 72 years old one would assume she has the gravitas to let us know what’s up-perhaps more of an instruction in truth. Their new album, Pollinator, brings to theme Harry’s cause, which is to save the disappearing bees. The setlist was pretty much as expected, and four songs from Pollinator was a brave choice, but the new stuff really hung in there with the standards. Founding guitarist Chris Stein seemed a bit propped up on stage and shows some signs of his lingering illness that has hampered him for a long while, but his riffing quietly with Iron Man underneath band introductions…wish he’d continued it. Overall, I’d have to say one word for Blondie in 2017-impressive.
August 20-Chris Robinson Band Holyoke MA
A show in the newly created Gateway City Arts in Holyoke was one of those ‘hey they’re too famous to play here’ vibes that new venues can get. But this is a solid place to see a show. CRB is the Chris Robinson led half version of the Black Crowes while Rich Robinson has most of the rest of the band in The Magpie Salute. Will the long admired original Crowes band traditionally combative brothers ever get back together? According to Rich, not very likely due his brother’s obsession with his Dead influenced CRB: “Chris is done with it and we’re done with him, in a weird way. And it sucks, because that band could still do a lot of great things, he’s just into the Grateful Dead. That’s all he really cares about. He makes his records sound like the Dead; he hangs out with the Dead. It’s fucking crazy,” says Robinson. “But that’s what he wants to do. And if he’s happy doing it, good for him, man.”
Remember that the Black Crowes are the band that had this famous exchange between the brothers at the beginning of a tour:
Rich: If anyone gives my brother drugs, they are fired (from crew)
Chris: If anyone refuses to get me drugs, they are fired
So I was well prepared for a Dead influenced version of the Crowes. Yet most of the material was surprisingly well afar from the Crowes, and the band sounded more like a hybrid of Bobby and the Midnights circa ’83 and the Jerry Garcia Band from around the same era- a Dead solo trip hybridization, a more timid version of the Dead if you will. One of their songs sounded quite close to Birdsong, which several in the crowd noticed. Flickers of other Grateful Dead themes darted in and around what was essentially ‘Dead Lite’.
Back in the days of the Black Crowes, when Chris Robinson strapped an electric guitar on, it was an ‘oh shit’ moment. Anything could happen, often off kilter things not planned. Rich would often turn his back noticeably on Chris when he quietly riffed on a few songs. This night, Chris was an able and tasteful guitarist, trying to channel Bob Weir’s ability to lead the band places unexpected. If your tastes run more to slow burn Grateful Dead, and not expecting too much of a Crowes experience, worth seeing. Setlist
August 27-Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Edgar Winter Mansfield MA
Like last years summer kick off with Bad Company and Joe Walsh, this was another one I almost gave a miss. But when tix on Stubblehub dipped to fifteen bucks, I had to do it. I mean I’d worshiped Edgar Winter Frankenstein since it came out, had seen the holy album cover in school-a whisper time holy relic of big kid culture.
This was seriously traumatic and intriguing for a pre-teen in ’73. The allure of Frankenstein and to a lesser extent Free Ride (both have the signature synthesizer gurgle swoop sound in them) influenced me on an atomic level.
Since then, Edgar has been a noted Scientologist, and scored the soundtrack to the historically execrable Battlefield Earth scifi/scientology non blockbuster. His twin brother Johnny plowed a blues furrow for decades, and Edgar…? He seemed to fade. Yet the idea of seeing Frankenstein live was a bucket list type thought. A thirty minute traffic showdown on the MassPike caused a mad high octane dash to the venue…and running up the ramp to the amphitheater one could hear the opening strains of Frankenstein, clearly the last song of the set. Winter took solo turns on drums, saxophone and of course synthesizer during the song-impressive. Forty year wish fulfillment. (Actually heard Derringer’s Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo on the way in if I remember right.) Setlist
I really didn’t expect Alice Cooper to win the night. Recently I’d seen him headlining in a theater and was mildly impressed, and then saw him open for Marilyn Manson and found myself wondering if he really wanted to do this. Alice was never known for his vocal prowess even back in the day (it was known that it took many takes to get something good from this band), and to his credit, Alice hasn’t really deteriorated from his mid 70’s growl sing.
But this night-big stage big production dollars involved-things were different. The band played with a swagger, triple guitar attack. Songs and more expensive theater vignettes salted the show. Cold Ethyl was acted out as a love affair with a female corpse who gets brutally knifed by Alice. (Cold Ethyl is actually a love song to alcohol and a warning on its killing powers…oops. Alice was beheaded next). Seventies chauvinism was exalted and amplified at the altar of seventies excess in a paen to an era gone by. I’d only wish to see this show performed somewhere near Smith College as a writing prompt to a decade of collective indignant polemic. But in the haven of beers n bones Mansfield, no such consciousness was in evidence. In odd juxtaposition to the shock on display, Alice has been a little know born again Christian for a while. Though the setlist was fairly close to those of recent years, new songs were snuck in. Halo of Flies was the highlight, Alice’s attempt to prove to the prog rock snob crowd that ‘hey we can do that King Crimson shit too’. Decapitation, sword attacks, straight jackets, ten foot Frankenstein, electrocution….you know, the usual suspects were there to flesh out the concepts. Clear winners of the evening.
Deep Purple. One of the second wave of British bands behind the Who, the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. One of the kings of heavy, with only Led Zeppelin acknowledged as their peers in ability to improvise, vocal power (hell Ian Gillan was Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar), album sales and concert draw. One of the godlike bands of my childhood.
I worshiped at the altar of Made in Japan for decades. Whispers of Purple playing again was a heady concept. I’d known of Purple’s reunion circa 1985, that they were secretly rehearsing in New Hampshire at the time. When a sold out Worcester Centrum in 1985 announced on the radio that day of show the stage was a different shape and that 195 tickets would be released that afternoon, I bolted straight out there. The setlist of that tour stuck pretty close to Made in Japan, and during the opening chords of Highway Star, the opener, I leapt so high in the air I didn’t come down in the row in front of me, I landed TWO rows in front of me, right on top of some unsuspecting girl. I dusted off and scuttled away. They were fucking amazing, and in a form very close to their 1972 peak.
Since then, the departure of John Lord (RIP) and Ritchie Blackmore has impacted the band’s sound. Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse has been manning guitar since 1994, and Purple fans seem satisfied. Blackmore is the Hendrix vibe of unbridled chaos Purple survived on, warts n all. Morse is the Robert Fripp of the band politely filtered through country precision. But as founding drummer Ian Paice has said “Life’s too short to play with Ritchie Blackmore again”
Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Ian Paice, Glen Hughes Steve Morse and Don Airey still provide a formidable line up for any vintage rock band in 2017-essentially not one replacement part. Three to four original members (yeah four if you include 1973 Hughes) and Don Airey as a longtime keyboardist of Rainbow. (Stargazer intro in keyboard solo) make this a band that has the ability to kick ass and show off at the same time. Airey mostly carried the night on a variety of keys. Gillan’s increasing resemblance to Popeye was wryly noted on his choice of apparel. His once amazing four octave vocal range is now diminished, but the power to amaze still bubbles underneath. Three new songs probably give them the illusion that this isn’t a nostalgia act. ‘The Long Goodbye Tour’ might be a sign they are actually aware, so more power to ’em or springing some cool new riffs on unsuspecting ears. Were they close to Purple in 1985 with Blackmore? No. Were they still showing signs of being able to annihilate most post 80’s bands? Yes. setlist
(On a religious front, this is about as close as Purple got to Born Again, Gillan’s underrated 1983 alliance with Black Sabbath)
September 2-Pete Townshend’s Orchestral Quadrophenia: ‘Classic Quadrophenia’
Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia is a work two decades in the making. From his first meeting with Rachel Fuller at a party in 1996, Townshend went into one of his periodic infatuations, and did everything he could to bed the then 23 year old up and coming arranger and film score artist. He finally landed her as a musical and then life partner, and realizing that his original premise to chat her up “uhh maybe we should get together, I need someone to orchestrate some Who” had to be followed up on…two decades later here we are.
Tanglewood in Lenox Massachusetts was the site of the opening night of this four city presentation. Seeing the Who within the last month was quite a juxtaposition of takes on Townshend’s underated compositional skills. Coming off one of Daltrey’s better vocal performances in decades, this one was likely to be some level of letdown. Daltrey’s place was split between two diametrically opposing fields of talent-the punk by Billy Idol (reprising his 1996 role with the Who’s first real Quadrophenia tour) and the rest by operatic tenor Alfie Boe. Pete Townshend showed up on a few songs as well. But how well can a well heeled opera and theater star fronting a top notch orchestra channel the pure angst and frustration that is Quadrophenia? This night, the results were mixed. First, the sound was spotty, with many sections nearly inaudible on the lawn. (I was front row lawn right behind the back row in the shed, so the sound deteriorated quickly as one walked back into the jam packed field). In the UK run in 2015, it was noted that Alfie was a bit too clean, no grit, and didn’t really capture the essence of the piece. At Tanglewood, it was evident he had taken steps to correct some of these criticisms, and was animated and excited. Still, the familiar growl of Daltrey is so intertwined with this album that one couldn’t help but notice some of the power gone. Also of note-Keith Moon and John Entwistle on drums and bass weave a powerful low end rumblingly delicate dance throughout the four sides of Quadrophenia. Here, the string bass and percussion section just couldn’t do justice to what essentially is the beating heart of one of the more dynamic works in the rock canon. Sure, the original album has some scattered orchestrations (mostly the work of Entwistle’s talent on all sorts of brass) which are nice reference points, but Fuller’s arrangements seemed a bit too polite in the long run. Tommy had been orchestrated in 1972, with similar mixed results, but a bit more able to capture the beating heart of that album. In the end, one question remains: “can you orchestrate one of the greatest rock albums ever? Yes. Should you?” That one is up to the listener. A noble failure.
September 3 – Venom Inc, Goat Whore, Toxic Holocaust, The Convalescence. Brighton Music Hall Boston
Venom. The band that started Black Metal 36 years ago. Just a mention of their name can still raise eyebrows across many genres of fans of heavy. Hell, they were tagged as the primary inspiration for the notorious Norwegian church burning/murder scene of 1992 (chronicled here). The band had mostly dissolved with bassist and vocalist Cronos keeping the Venom name, and Mantas (gtr) and Abaddon (drums) left to their own devices.
But Satan had other ideas. At a festival in Germany, the promoter asked Mantas (Jeff Dunn) if he’d mind if Abaddon (Anthony Bray) came out to jam. They hadn’t spoken in well over a decade, but they jammed, the crowd went berserk and Venom was reborn.
So how does one follow up on Boston Symphony Orchestra doing the Who? A little Goat Whore and a lot of Venom. Arriving late with a posse, tired and still hung over, and amazed I’d talked people into driving across the state on consecutive nights, this night belonged to Venom. Brighton Music Hall holds about 400, yet there was a suspiciously large open area in the middle of the floor. A shirtless metal dude bobbed near the edge of the opening. I thought ‘hey nice place to see the band’ and then another thought crossed my mind. Before I could react, Venom hit the stage, and then something very much like this happened:
Bodies flew in all directions. Glasses flew in all directions. Bodies hit the bar-head first. Notes to self, when kids have the DRI logo on their jackets, beware. People started to rally and revive. One of our posse was fading and wanted to lie down in the car. Three songs in, all of us were head banging furiously, while one yelled out “Holy shit Satan healed me!” Things amped up even further During Live Like an Angel Die Like a Devil, one of Venom’s faster tunes, but now delivered at a mind boggling tempo. Bodies flew, sweat flew, beer flew, blood flowed. Warhead, Die Hard, Countess Bathory, Black Metal, Leave Me in Hell….Metal at its finest. God bless Venom. Satan too. Setlist here.
September 11- Roky Erickson and Death Valley Girls Brighton Music Hall Boston
The summer started with a legend, a cult legend to be sure, and ended with one of the most renowned ‘cult legends’ in the history of rock-60’s legend Roky Erickson. Roky’s tale is one that could easily encompass ten thousand words, but his short stint with the 13th Floor Elevators from 1966-1969 created a legend in the music world that still runs large ripples on both sides of the pond to this day. In truth, Roky is America’s Syd Barrett, the US psychedelic pioneer that was subverting the youth of Texas and promoting the nascent counterculture of dope sex n rock (and eventually launching decades of psych fans across the planet) while gobbling prodigiously large amounts of acid before the Grateful Dead even existed. And then dissolving spectacularly into madness, incarceration and retirement from public view.
From the first glorious notes of the Cold Night For Alligators until the the last reverberating chords of You’re Gonna Miss Me, the night was something completely different that what one could legitimately expect. Why? Well, Roky’s return to the floorboards in 2007 caught many by surprise. The stories of his unbridled madness: junk mail covering his walls, radios, tvs and alarm clocks jamming his house, all on full volume -a cacophony of noise that ran 24/7… his sister allowed that if the noise stopped, Roky could hear the voices again. Like Barrett, his legend precedes him in most circles. So when I witnessed a young looking and shaven revitalized Roky at the Bowery Ballroom in April 2007, he shook everyone’s preconceptions quickly. I got to a meet and greet after the show, and far from clinically mad, Roky was erudite, quite lucid, in strong voice and in command of his guitar….and ripped off the roof off the ballroom:
People were ecstatic that his return, so unexpected, could be so successful and raucous. He toured sporadically after this and his appearance and demeanor plummeted quickly, going from this to this in seven short years:
Seeing him in 2013 and 2014 I began to wonder what was going on. Roky blew lyrics on most songs, played very little guitar as it was slung prop-like over his shoulder, and seemed generally unaware of his surroundings. I began to wonder if elderly abuse charges needed to be filed against his backing band as they led him tottering to the stage, and then guided him painfully slowly off stage at the end. Roky did not acknowledge the audience as even being there.
This night, with a new band, Roky was led to the stage like usual, but this time a comfortable stool was front and center. And as mentioned, things were quite different. The new band was the most well suited to his material yet. His set list was unprecedented. 20 songs, 3 encores, NINE 13th Floor Elevators songs, an electric jug a la Tommy Hall? Christ, this was one miraculous recovery. Roky was still minimalist to non participating on guitar. But his vocals were sparkling, no cheat sheets in use (I was watching from the side of the stage), intricate lyrics delivered perfectly without any flubs. I watched as his left hand hung low by his side and twitched in an almost autistic fashion, wondering if he was suffering a level of torment. But after some observation, I realized that his hand was silently chording the guitar riffs right along with his vocal, an invisible and inaudible accompaniment, though the guitar hung unused on his neck. Fascinating insight into a mind that has been through the wringer of chemical madness. And an amazing evening with one of the last living legends of psychedelia. Brilliant stuff, akin to time traveling to a better golden age you’d thought had evaporated long ago. Yardbirds, Stones, Floyd, Beatles? Syd Barrett is long gone, but his American counterpart and pioneer is still out there infecting the masses with 50 year old vibrations. The pulse of acid inflected madness still floats in strength from Austin’s pioneering treasure, and I am damn glad he’s back in force.
Another amazing summer criss-crossing the Northeast, six outdoor shows sprinkled in. Get out there folks and spend next summer doing it right. The Who, Roky and Jean Michel Jarre were the top three shows of the summer, a fucking unbelievable summer.
Once again, let’s have Jerry Garcia Band bring us to the end:
Cats on the bandstand, give ’em each a big hand Anyone who sweats like that must be all right No one wants sometimes, no black eye Just another cat beneath the stars tonight
Cats down under the stars Cats down under the stars
Final tally: 14 bands, 9 venues, 2,095 miles traveled. Highway Stars.
Oscar: I tell you one thing that really drives me nuts, is people who think that Jethro Tull is just a person in a band. psychologist: Who is Jethro Tull?
Owen Wilson, Armageddon , 1998
Recently a friend said to me “Tull is coming in November, should we go?” I quickly said “hell no!” and he was surprised by my quick response. Why? Well many out there might not have noticed, but Jethro Tull quietly expired at the end of the 2011 tour. “But wait!” you say, “they just played Chicago!” Well yes, and no.
During the 2011 Tull tour, Ian Anderson dropped the bomb that he was done performing Jethro Tull concerts, was going solo, and that Martin Barre (essentially a founding member and guitarist since 1968) and Doane Perry (drummer since 1984) were no longer needed, suddenly and without warning pulling the rug out from under them. Goodbye. No more Tull. And then…
Thick as a Brick 2 by Ian Anderson was released very shortly after in 2012, which confused the hell out of Barre, Perry and any Tull fans still hanging in there. (Check out the tiny apostrophe after Jethro Tull) This move made the notoriously difficult Anderson to look even more of a calculating asshole. Barre said in an interview at the time:
“When Ian announced on the American tour last year that he didn’t want to do any more Jethro Tull shows, Doane and I had no idea that he was planning to do “Thick As A Brick 2.” This was all stuff he had planned before he had told us anything. He told us nothing, yet, obviously, he had thought this through for a long time. It is what it is. Everybody has to draw their own conclusions.”
Tull had been on life support for a while (Rock Island in 1989 many consider to be the swan song), and Anderson’s creaking vocals became more and more strained as the millenium clicked over. I had seen them with Emerson Lake and Palmer in 1996, and it was apparent that Ian’s voice had deteriorated quite noticeably. (In deference to Tull being my first ever concert circa War Child, instead of putting up a link, I will let the reader go online to any Youtube videos of Tull in the last decade). The last twenty years since that 1996 moment have seen a further frightening decline in his vocal range. But back to the Tull confusion.
The Jethro Tull website run by Ian Anderson is a source of some very strange information for someone through with the band. Since Tull broke up, and Ian said he was done performing Tull, we have seen:
Ian Anderson- Thick as a Brick tour 2013
Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour 2013
Ian Anderson Thick as a Brick tour 2013 continued
Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour 2013 summer German tour
Ian Anderson Thick as a Brick tour 2013 continued Russia and Scandinavian tour, US tour, Canada tour
Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson tour spring 2014
Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour summer 2014
Ian Anderson Best of Jethro Tull tour winter 2014-2015
Ian Anderson performs Orchestral Jethro Tull spring 2015
Ian Anderson Best of Jethro Tull tour summer 2015
Jethro Tull the Rock Opera fall 2015 – winter 2016
Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson spring 2016
Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour summer 2016 Europe
Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson Norway summer 2016
Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour fall 2016
Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson October 2016 – June 2017
Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour Europe summer 2017
Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson summer 2017 US
Confused? I am. Apparently Ian is, as the multiple incarnations trading on the Jethro Tull name belie him being ‘done’ with Tull in 2011. Actually, seems like quite a bit of Tull going on there. So what gives? Even Anderson’s website still contains the Jethro Tull lineup with Martin Barre and Doane Perry listed as current members of Tull, along with his separate solo band lineup, disingenuously muddying the waters for anyone checking in to see what’s what. Can’t help but notice the slow morphing from ‘Ian Anderson Band’ to a more frequent ‘Jethro Tull’ label. With Barre gone…well this is pretty close to intentional deception. http://jethrotull.com/musicians/
Some think that Martin Barre left the band willingly. Many think he is still in the band. Barre said:
“I always hate to hear, ‘Oh, you’ve left Jethro Tull.’ I haven’t – Ian wanted to finish Jethro Tull, wanted to stop the band completely. It was a big personal shock to finish. Essentially the floor was pulled from underneath me, and I had a month to start from the beginning again.”
“Now there is not a Jethro Tull. Maybe there will be in five or 10 years, but probably not. It’s sad, because I see bands like Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Toto out there having very successful tours. They’re very special bands, and they’re enjoying a resurgence of interest from that era. But unfortunately we’re not part of that.”
This is where I have a problem, and the reason I so quickly refused to go see the band (along side with Ian’s worrying lack of vocal power). Anderson seems to be trading on the band name, and doing his damnedest to keep anyone today from knowing that Tull ceased to exist six years ago, and obfuscating the fact that the guitar sound of Martin Barre, a person integral to the whole ethos of the band, is no longer there. The guy that crafted the riffs that launched the career of one of the most popular bands in the history of rock ain’t in the band anymore, and it wasn’t his choice. The casual fan or lapsed Tull fanatic is likely unaware of this sleight of hand. The upcoming 50th anniversary of the band will soon be promoted, but a close read indicates that the there will be no reunion and the band will consist of all hired guns, plus Ian. Barre confirmed this in March 2017:
“I think that the one time it would have done would have been next year, which is the 50th anniversary of Jethro Tull, and I’ve heard absolutely nothing from anybody in five years. I think it’s on the shelf, but it’ll probably stay there.”
As Barre says above, there currently now is no Jethro Tull. Caveat Emptor my friends.
Jean Michel Jarre played Boston last week. Let me say that again-JEAN MICHEL JARRE PLAYED BOSTON LAST WEEK HOLY FUCKING SHIT!! The earth shifted on its axis temporarily, the sun came up in the west and set in the east. Up was down, right?
Why get so excited one may ask? Well depending on who you ask, this was his first US show ever, and is akin to Led Zeppelin just showing up to do an unannounced reunion show at the Paradise. This was BIG news for progrock/psychedelic/electronic astronauts, yet many didn’t even know it was happening. (side note: this show, and tour, are criminally underpromoted-no word anywhere. I found out by accident ten days ahead of time. Not one of my long time JMJ friends had ANY idea he was coming). It was the first US show of his first North American tour ever, and the third show of the tour. Most fans had long dismissed any idea of seeing him live. Those with longer memories may recall a single show he did in Houston thirty years ago (more later on that), but many consider this his first US show ever. Why is Jean Michel Jarre such a big deal?
A big deal he certainly is. Jean Michel Jarre is one of the foundation pillars of electronic music. Words like ‘innovator’ and ‘pioneer’ get thrown around pretty frequently. Along with Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk (Klaus Schulze and Vangelis to a lesser extent), Jean Michel Jarre fleshed out a group of musicians that single handedly created electronic music as a scene, and by proxy a ‘little’ genre known as techno, now one of the most popular scenes in the world of music today. His devotion to the synthesizer as an instrument of incalculable creative power cannot be underestimated. Tangerine Dream had a trio of dudes chugging away at the complicated and quirky keyboard beasts-Kraftwerk a quartet. TD, Schulze and Kraftwerk were all German–Jarre was the lone French entry into this uncharted and rarely chart-able music scene. The ability to create sonic tapestries alone, and then dare to try to reproduce them on stage was unique at that time. (a nod to Klaus Schulze here for his multitude of solo improvisational shows). Jarre was able to not only play some impressive shows, but shift some major units all over the world. And draw some impressive crowds.
Bastille Day 1979
On Bastille Day 1979, Jarre played the Place de la Concorde in Paris to one million people, the largest outdoor show at that time. No one had ever seen anything like this before-the city was the stage, as lights fountained everywhere. It was a mastery of live multi media performance where the city itself was the stage, and buildings the backdrops for projections and lasers. It was his first live concert. One million people. Wowza! (see above for most of the show). Jarre controlled lighting cues and somehow managed in the pre-MIDI era to keep everything running, playing Oxygene and Equinoxe in their entirety. It was hard to imagine where to go next.
Nobody played China, nobody. Hell nobody WENT to China. But the country was opening to the west, and somehow Jarre got invited to do shows in Shanghai and Beijing. This was China’s first exposure to the west, and it as documented on the excellent Concerts en Chine live album. Electricity was scarce-sections of the city had to be blacked out to provide power for the lights and sound. Jarre became somewhat of a Chinese phenomenon. Hundred of thousands attended.
Now that he’d figured out how to really set up a live rig, Houston was the setting for the high point of Jarre’s live era. He took over Houston-the sky scrapers bore tarps as projection screens. The generally quiet city became a blueprint for the modern rave scene. A ten piece band hit the stage, and 1.3 million Texans were treated to a full on electronic thundering freakout. Once again, Jarre had to draw excess power from the city grid, browning out the local FBI. Ron McNair, a NASA astronaut was due to play saxophone live from space during the performance, but was killed months previously in the Challenger disaster. Fireworks, lasers, searchlights and hundred foot tall projections transformed the cityscape into the world’s largest stage. (A murky version of the spectacle is above). Highways were closed as cars pulled to a stop to watch the spectacle of a city under a multi color hallucinatory siege. TV reporters struggled to describe the largest urban multi-sensory spectacle since WW2:
Paris Bastille Day 1990- la Defense
Seven synthesists and two drummers led a musical charge unlike anything the planet had ever seen. 2.5 million crowded from the Arc de Triomphe to the district of la Defense (the skyscraper district a la Houston). A pyramid stage housed the musicians and singers for the largest performance ever given in history. (for synth heads: a couple of ARP 2600s and two EMS VCS3s were part of the arsenal). Paris was taken over completely in an explosion of light, sound and colour.
Egypt 2000-the Millennium Show
Jarre was asked to perform at the last surviving of the 7 Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramid at Giza for New Years Eve 1999-2000 by the president of Egypt. The logistics for this one were daunting. Sand + synthesizers is a bad equation (ask any Burning Man performer), plus electricity in the desert? Good luck. 120,000 attended.
(a quick aside: Many Egyptologists are aware that there are some difficult to explain anomalies associated with the great pyramid, and that it likely was not designed as a tomb, but as a device. What this device is–well, nobody is sure. Hints from ancient Egyptian texts speak of the ‘activating of the pyramid’ ceremony. The current pyramid is flat topped-the original had a large-ish white marble scaled down pyramid to continue it to towards a point. This flat topped marble pyramid was topped by a gold pyramid that fit on top, topped by a crystal pyramid, and then the final piece, what they called the ‘mustard seed’, which supposedly activated the whole thing. It’s anybody’s guess what this ‘seed’ refers to, the secret is still hidden to this day. Fast forward to 1999, and quietly the Egyptian government discussed the reactivating of the pyramid ceremony as something they might try for the millennium, helicopters lowering pieces into place. Blame it on the fog, blame it on some nervous Egyptian officials talking to Egyptologists who asked “what if this works? We don’t actually know if something might happen?” Discretion being the better part of valor, they-perhaps wisely-decided at the last minute against trying the ceremony)
As noted above, it was fairly improbable that Jarre would ever tour North America. Fans had long given up any hope of him playing the States. Boston would be fairly low on my list of cities he’d hit, but nevertheless, his first US show of his first ever North American tour landed at the Blue Hills Pavillion, literally on the edge of Boston Harbor, show three of a nine city tour. Opening the show, a low key French DJ spun some Jarre-ish techno. His small DJ booth with no backdrop did not prepare the audience what came next.
Chain mesh curtains cast three dimensional images in layers, projections flickered everywhere, multicolored lasers fanned the audience. Pieces of the sonically familiar wove in with newer looks. (Like Mike Oldfield, Jarre seems bent on re-creating Oxygene several times. Tubular Bells VII anyone?). Pieces from Oxygene of all eras melted into Equinoxe and continued morphing from borderline techno then back to the classic electronic analog melodies that made his sound so original in the mid 1970’s. setlist here A head mounted go-pro camera gave us a look at his rig, which was fairly high up on a podium. Knobs and dials in bunches swirled by, ensuring us that he was playing this stuff (Kraftwerk in Boston 2015 was less clear about what-or who-was responsible for the sounds).
His session with the laser harp is usually a show highlight. Here in the somewhat weather susceptible venue, Jarre ventured “ok, I’m naught reely sure eef thees will work in zee outdoors, but less geev eet a try”.
Above is him giving it a go in 2016. He dons the gloves, tests the beams, and Boston Harbor shook in a fashion that suggested a Godzilla sized entity might be lurking under the waves somewhere offshore. He nodded: “ok eet works” and he was off. He beckoned to the less than half full audience to come closer to the intimidating stage area, and the crowd gathered closely to the stage.He began to stick his hands into the laser beams as the crowd gathered ’round. Visually stunning? Sonically stunning? The pavilion levitated a few centimeters as the earth shifted. It was one of the most literally breathtaking displays I’d seen in electronic music-a visual and audio sensory overload that profoundly warped reality. The founder of electronica came to the Boston shore to remind all the laptop and turntable jockeys-“don’t forget where this revolutionary sonic stuff all started…” You hadda be there.
It’s 1970, and one of the up and coming British bands tapped for success was Yes. The liner notes of their 1969 debut boldly quote Melody Maker critic Tony Wilson who declared that Led Zeppelin and Yes would be the two Brit bands most likely to succeed in 1969 (Nostradamus-wise, Zep perhaps being an easy call, Yes less so). Their debut album got some attention for it’s mash up of unlikely covers and burgeoning musical prowess, but in May 1970, disaster struck the band….
As the second Yes album, Time and a Word was undergoing final tweaks in post production and a tour testing the new material was underway-founding member Peter Banks was shown the door. Or quit, depending on who you believe. Either way, this was looked upon in the industry as a death knell for Yes. After all, Peter Banks was generally considered to be the heart and soul of the band-fashion savvy, and with a personality and playing style that were open and daring–in marked contrast to the taskmaster persona brought by Jon and the aloof and entitled (some friends said condescending) views of Squire. He had named the band in 1968 when Jon Anderson’s suggestion of ‘Life’ and Chris Squire’s suggestion of ‘World’ were met with indifference. Peter suggested ‘Yes!’ (exclamation and all) as a holding action until they came up with something better. It stuck, though the exclamation point was dropped quickly.(The less letters in the band name, the larger it shows up on posters noted Peter). Banks also designed the first Yes logo.
With a sound fueled by a Gibson ES-335 that was very difficult to define, Banks was able to fuse rhythm and lead guitar sounds simultaneously to make a jazz rock fusion that some said formed the original definition of progressive rock guitar. Lester Bangs noted of their debut album both the good and the bad in his February 1970 review:
Because all of it is excellently done: brisk fuzz leads, whirring bass, a bit of the Beatles vocally, a touch of Wes Montgomery in the guitar solos—a definitive album, in fact, in the prevalent style of “hip” groups over the past two years. The only trouble is that there are hosts of American bands (and presumably British as well) who are into the same bag with equal facility and taste. The excitement of true innovation is missing—which may not be a valid criticism, since most rock is folk music anyway, but that’s what makes albums like this one so much less arresting than many others…Their version of the Byrds’ “I See You” is especially nice, although none of their own compositions are very memorable.
The second Yes album cover was hastily reshot for the US version with newly acquired guitarist Steve Howe on the cover, although he didn’t play at all on the record. Howe played a similar style to Banks and his Gibson ES-175 hollow body brought a similar sound to the band as Banks’ ES-335. Howe’s reputation on the circuit was as a low key but tastefully improving guitarist, but not a forceful and flashy personality like Banks. Time and a Word featured some fairly heavy handed orchestral overdubs which stepped all over Banks’ guitar in the mix, and rendered Kaye’s organ work nearly invisible. A short attempt to demo this live in concert left Banks even more dissatisfied-and he was gone. But with a new guitarist under their wing, the band soldiered on to create their first mini masterpiece, the meticulously ‘assembled from little song bits’ lp the Yes Album. Recorded six months after Banks departure, it brought some new success to the band. But while on tour in 1971, the axe fell again-and founding keyboardist Tony Kaye was left curbside for pickup. Two founding members leaving in a year? Many thought Yes was in big trouble. This is where our story begins:
Flash (clockwise, from left), drummer Mike Hough, bassist Ray Bennett, guitarist Peter Banks and vocalist Colin Carter.
There is little agreement on the facts surrounding Banks and Kaye’s ouster from the Yes. In one interview Kaye said that Anderson came in his bedroom while he was sleeping off a night out and profoundly hung over. ‘You’re out of the band” said Jon and Kaye later said “I just grunted, mostly relieved that he was leaving the room so I could sleep more”
An early 1972 Rolling Stone article noted the difference of opinions as to what had transpired:
Tony Kaye and Pete Banks have now come together and formed their own band, Flash, which is currently working its way around the club and dance hall circuit. Their departures from Yes are explained by Jon: “They didn’t leave- we decided to get someone else. It doesn’t help them to say that. We’ve always said that Tony decided to leave the band because it’d get him a better situation. The truth is that we blew them out because they weren’t really into what we were trying to get together . . . Peter was a bit lazy, that’s why. He liked his clothes a bit more than his music. Tony had a marvelous mind, he was a great guy to talk to, but he didn’t have so many ideas. He wasn’t willing to expound himself.”
Jon and Tony seem to agree that he was tossed, Peter however disagrees (from the same early 1972 article):
Pete Banks still doesn’t quite see that things happened the way Jon described. “I decided to make a move more than anything,” he explained one evening, sitting on the floor of his basement flat. On the walls were reminders of his stay with the band – posters, photographs and an album sleeve. “I only made the decision though after I’d given it a lot of thought. Luckily Yes were strong enough to get a new guitarist, rehearse and get it back on the road.” From his point of view Yes had become a mechanical band producing music that was less than human. He remembered the times when he and Bruford had gone through the motions of clocking in and out on live performances, and how it [was] really only half a joke for them. “We’d go on each night knowing we’d go down well,” he said.”We’d got things worked out to that degree. Yes always went for the technique approach, whereas with Flash we’re going for the feel. Yes tends to lack feel. Sometimes it’s good to make mistakes to show you’re human and that it’s not being made by a machine. I don’t think Fragile was human. You couldn’t fault it in any other way though.”
Peter seemed to reverse himself and took a more distanced view of what happened in a 2006 interview:
Peter: I was kicked out, simple as that. I’ve never really found out why, to be honest. I think it was mostly musical. We hit a really bad period where we had quite a lot of work and rehearsals. I think the musical reason was, and I’m kinda guessing here, I think I lacked a certain amount of structure, and Steve came in to replace me, he was a more structured player, where my approach always has been really, I don’t like to play the same thing twice.
Obviously you have structure within music, but if someone says ‘I like what you played last week can you play it again?’ chances are I probably won’t, I’ll go out of my way to play something different, with a new spin on it. If you’re a lead singer, that kind of puts lead singers out. I think that might have been a reason but I don’t know.
I think Jon mentioned in a recent interview, where he was talking about Yes guitar players, he was very frustrated that I never played the same thing twice. Same with Bill, us two were a bit of a loose cannon. Because we were playing the same things night after night after night, we would like to screw around with it.
Rolling Stone in their review of 1971’s Fragile also took note of some of the complaints Banks had pointed out about Yes’ shortcomings:
Some problems remain, however: They’re good and they know it, so they tend to succumb to the show-off syndrome. Their music (notably “Cans and Brahms” and “We Have Heaven”) often seems designed only to impress and tries too hard to call attention to itself. Is anyone really still excited by things like “Five tracks on this album are individual ideas, personally arranged and organized by the five members of the band..etc.”
Melody Maker echoed this in 1971: ‘Fragile’ does not seem to go anywhere or have any theme except displaying Yes’ technical ability … It’s all a little too much like exercises, clever and beautifully played”.
(A quick aside: Jon wasn’t averse to taking some dodgy chances with Yes-like recording around this time, as a Faberge commercial was recorded during the sessions for the studio version of America: Another project which was waiting to be recorded when “America” finally reached the can was a 60-second commercial for Faberge-
Put a little music on and hear it play/ Put a little music on from Faberge.
They’d even got a nice little arrangement for the band to set the lyrics to, but Jon wanted to it his way. He decided to use the same technique he used on “We Have Heaven” on the Fragile album, where they overlay vocal tracks from their own music. ” I think it’s worth it,” said Jon.”Not for the money we’re getting, but because it’ll be a nice little song when it’s done the way I want it. I didn’t want a dinky little song. Anyway, the more people that hear our music the better.”)
Whatever the facts were, two important founding members of Yes had joined forces in 1971 to create a band that echoed the early sound of Yes, but emphasized feeling over technique, and playing for the sheer joy of creation over the construction of things far removed from the emotional immediacy of rock n roll. People were excited.
Although he is listed as a full member on their debut album, Tony Kaye was always viewed as a sideman in this project according to both Kaye and Banks (there were high hopes he’d stay on) Still, this fact escaped the music press, and Flash were viewed as a back to roots version of Yes, something that is less evident as desirable today as it was back in 1971. With the guitarist and keyboardist who’d provided most of the musical ‘sound’ to the parent band now in a new project-who could say which one would come out on top?
Their debut album in 1972 was decidedly Yes-like. Band members Mike Hough on drums, Ray Bennett on bass and the noticeably Jon Anderson-ish Colin Carter on vocals made up the quartet. Bennett had some prog-cred even in his teenage years: he’d been in a band with Bill Bruford at age 15, and rubbed elbows in bands with musicians who ended up in Gentle Giant, Man and Gun. The album cover by Hipgnosis was ambiguously created to impart a sauciness when viewed in the racks, but entirely confusing as to whether it was a front or rear shot when folded out. Small Beginnings, the first single, charted on both sides of the pond (top 30 in US Billboard) and things looked bright.
Children of the Universe, another highlight, accentuated the Yes vibe. Diddits and rahoovyahs straight out of The Yes Album were the frosting on the dexterous and constantly changing instrumental underpinnings. Banks was able to knit together some impressive runs that challenged the depth of his earlier work with Yes. His runs became even more jazz-like than in Yes, approaching a territory the Robert Fripp had dipped his toes into during the early days of King Crimson, yet Banks created a more successful hybridization of rock and jazz stylings. Although this album didn’t make the waves some critics were expecting, it did well enough to warrant a second album release, and many Yes fans snapped this up instantly. In retrospect, this was a fine response to The Yes Album. Fragile? Well there was no challenger to Roundabout here, but the earlier notation by Banks that Fragile was hampered by sterility of playing shows the difference of opinions that led to his departure. Besides, Fragile only contained four actual songs.
Fully keyboard-less, the band delivered their sophomore effort, just as strong as their debut. Titled Flash in the Can, a name that punned on the sophomoric cover. Like the first album, this one also flaunted the ‘sex will sell this album, dammit!” as it likewise folded out to a more salacious version. Despite the word flash meaning ‘fancy and cool’ in British slang, the record company was intent on another meaning of flash for the public to grab onto. One thing was sure at this point-Flash could jam live.
The second album contains what many consider their finest musical moment, There No More. Overall, this album hangs together better than their debut, despite the lack of a proper keyboardist. The first two albums are definitely essential for any Yes fan. Critics weren’t so sure that a progressive rock band could cut it without keyboards, but Banks fretwork here ups the ante from the debut. Check out this:
Despite being perhaps even more overtly Yes-like (albeit an early version of Yes), their second album didn’t get the attention it deserved.Songwriting credit for Banks was limited to a half a song, as Ray Bennett was revealed as the principle songwriter-Banks crafted his guitar in and around songs. Maddeningly, despite a full US tour spending a large chunk of 1972 in the States with the likes of Foghat, Savoy Brown, Wishbone Ash, Three Dog Night, Beck Bogert and Appice, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Alice Cooper, Mott the Hoople and Humble Pie, the band’s fortunes only slightly crept onward. A second US tour in December of 1972 did see them headlining many of their own shows, and a full billboard graced the streets of Los Angeles next to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.
Their 1973 album, Out of Our Hands continued the ‘boobs n butts’ theme, with hands and knuckles cleverly taking the place of arched backs and bums. The band had been sued for their name, forcing the record company to call the band ‘Flash featuring England’s Peter Banks’, much to the consternation of his hard working band mates. Sure Banks was still the draw, even three albums in, but his musical mates chafed at the change. They played at least 65 US shows on an arduous tour from early August to mid November, finally imploding on November 17, 1973 with seven shows remaining to the tour-which all had to be canceled. Dissension and fatigue combined with the inability to get to the next level to finally destroy the band. According to Bennett, the problems all came down to Banks: “He was almost entirely to blame for the early Flash breakup, and for a major amount of friction and unrest in our camp — and not just with the band — almost everyone around us, too: manager, producer, Capitol Records and others. I’ve restrained myself from just saying it bluntly in the past, but Flash didn’t just ‘implode on the road’. We’d had enough of Banks.”Some information on their dissolution can be found in an interview with Carter and Bennett here.
Banks takes a more distant, but similar view of the break-up in 2006, acknowledging he might have been a problem:
We didn’t last long, but we were very creative, we made 3 albums in 2 years. But business things were very bad, we needed new management, I was very unhappy. What turned out to be our last tour was very Spinal Tap, I wasn’t even traveling with the guys, I would show up sometimes 10 minutes before the show, and I probably acted like a real asshole at the time.
We broke up in New Mexico with 4 more gigs to go, very unfortunate thing to happen. I tried and I tried after that, because it was like a divorce. For 2 years we’d been working so intensely, we were getting better but the audiences were dropping off. We were playing with bands we shouldn’t have played with.
I had wondered about some of the bills they had been booked on during the US tour. They had more success here than in the UK, and it made sense to try to capitalize on the buzz created by the first album and single, but really…Three Dog Night and Flash on tour together? Grand Funk? Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show? A gig is a gig I suppose, but a more concerted effort to get them in front of an appreciative audience by their management is perhaps the biggest spike driven into their possible success.
An easy example-Genesis was in the States in 1973, and Flash would have been the perfect opening act on that bill. Perhaps they were trying a bit too hard to shake the perception that they were a junior varsity version of Yes and were their own band by playing with folks not even close to their more technically adept stylings.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see that Flash wasn’t going to hit the same level as Yes. But in 1971, things weren’t as easy to predict. Half of Yes strikes out on their own, leaving only the singer, drummer and bassist? You can see how those paying attention might be wont to plunk their ducats on the dark horse in this race. To this day, the first two Flash albums stand up extremely well against their peer group of B-division progressive rock bands of the early 70’s, (hell it even stands up fairly well against pre-Close to the Edge Yes.) And the world would have to wait a few more years for the next even more derivative Yes clone band to hit the floorboards, (though lacking the cachet of real Yes members)…..Starcastle.
But for now, let’s just ruminate on some small beginnings with large aspirations. One more pass through with Flash on US TV in 1972: