ROCK SNOB ENCYCLOPEDIA: Manson, Charles: aka Charlie, aka The Wizard. Known aliases: Jesus H. Christ and The Devil Himself. Manson was sort of the Hannibal Lecter of the flower-power era: witty and charismatic; disarmingly charming when he wanted to be; and supremely, psychopathically evil. He remains a cultural bogeyman, and in the minds of most, the most despicable super-criminal since Hitler. And even though the body count ascribed to him has been overshadowed by a long list of serial killers, terrorists and dictators, it is Manson’s gory hippie-Armageddon myth that still resonates the loudest. He is an enduring totem of transgression and an object of fascination for a certain extremist branch of alterna-types, the kind of people who used to read Answer Me! or order books from Feral House.
Trent Reznor took up residence at the Sharon Tate death house to channel the macabre vibe. Marilyn Manson took his name and a large measure of his righteous blasphemer pose from Manson. His songs have been covered by everyone from the Beach Boys to Guns N’ Roses to the Lemonheads. There are upwards of a dozen recordings of Manson and/or his Family available in some form on the black market, or circulating among tape traders and bootleggers.
Born poor white trash to a 16-year old mother on November 11, 1934, Manson began acting on his criminal impulses from an early age. He was essentially raised in reform schools and juvenile detention halls, serving time for auto theft and check forging. By the time he was released from prison in March 1967, he had spent 17 of his 33 years in some form of institutionalized incarceration.
He emerged hardened by years of prison life, schooled in the ways of pimping, intimidation and brutality. And as the Summer of Love was blossoming in Haight-Ashbury, the Devil was slouching toward San Francisco with a heart full of napalm. He dropped acid, grew his hair long and–armed with a guitar, Messianic charisma, Christ-like good looks and an innate ability to identify and exploit the psychologically vulnerable–soon gathered himself a nubile harem of spaced-out hippie chicks (including the son of Murder, She Wrote‘s Angela Lansbury), which he kept under the near-constant influence of psychedelic drugs and marathon orgy sessions.
Manson pointed the Family school bus toward Los Angeles with the hope of breaking into the music business. He managed to insinuate himself into the fringes West Coast ’60s pop elite, sparking up interest, briefly at least, among the likes of Neil Young, Papa John Philips, Byrds producer Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day) and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson.
He even took up residence at Wilson’s house. The Beach Boys drummer introduced Manson to Terry Melcher–who at the time lived with his girlfriend Candice Bergen at 10050 Cielo Drive, where Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski would take up residence a year later–but the Byrds producer had serious misgivings about Manson’s music and his thuggish methods. Wilson arranged a recording session with Manson at his brother Brian’s home studio, and over the course of three nights some eight songs were recorded. The sessions came to an abrupt end, however, when Manson pulled a knife on the engineer, and the tapes were sealed in a vault, where they remain today.
Despite all this, the Beach Boys recorded Manson’s Donovanesque “Cease to Exist” for their 20/20 album, changing some of the lyrics and retitling it “Never Learn Not to Love,” which infuriated The Wizard. In the spring of 1969, Melcher took a movie camera out to Spahn Ranch in the California desert to film Manson singing his songs while sitting on a rock surrounded by his girls, who were naked and humming along. Melcher came back to Spahn Ranch in June with recording equipment, but soured on the whole project when Manson beat a man senseless before his eyes.
On Aug. 9, 1969, the glamorous occupants of 10050 Cielo Drive–Melcher’s former residence–were slaughtered by Charlie’s angels in an orgy of unspeakable violence and sadism. After Manson’s trial, and his ensuing rise as a media figure, Kaufman released his tapes of Charlie’s songs under the title LIE: The Love and Terror Cult. And although judging the quality of this music is a bit like looking at Hitler’s paintings and trying not to see the blood of six million Jews, the fact is the songs are intriguing specimens of outsider art. — JONATHAN VALANIA