Mass murderer Charles Manson died in prison this week at age 83. History will remember him most for the brutal Tate murders committed by members of the Manson Family under his direction in August 1969. Many see the act as one of the last gruesome markers that would end the 1960’s.
And yet Manson would also become forever intertwined with the decade’s music. Manson would connect the Tate murders with the myth of the Beatles, just as the Meredith Hunter murder at Altamont would feed into the myth of the Rolling Stones.
Manson had famously and notoriously hijacked the meaning of the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” to be the banner song about a hypothetical race war that Manson had tried to initiate.
It would not be the only song from the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled album that Manson would latch onto. Many others remain irrevocably tied to the violent Manson mythology that was created around that time; songs ranging from “Blackbird” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” to the more lyrically unambiguous songs like “Honey Pie” and “I Will” were interpreted by Manson to have a more sinister undertone.
Manson himself felt the four Beatles to be kindred spirits, and he found nourishment in the music world at large. He himself was an amateur songwriter on the fringes of the L.A. music scene who somehow became friends with the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson. Though their meeting might be explained given the man’s admitted charisma and Wilson’s own personal demons.
The two worked on a project recorded at Dennis’ brother Brian’s home studio; recordings that perhaps for obvious reasons have never seen the light of day. Yet Manson would later manage to record and self-release an album of his own compositions after the Tate murders occurred titled “Lie: The Love and Terror Cult” (1970).
Wilson distanced himself from Manson after the album’s release. However, the Beach Boys would later re-work the Manson-penned “Cease to Exist” as their single “Never Learn Not to Love.”
Other notable artists would later cover other Manson songs including Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Look At Your Game, Girl” on “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993) and an acoustic cover by shock-rock namesake Marilyn Manson of “Sick City” which has never been released.
Charles Manson the songwriter is eccentric and unconventional, but not nearly as fragmented as listeners may expect from a psychopath. Regardless, it now seems appropriate that at the end of the most turbulent decade of the 20th century, the disjointed genre of freak folk would be born from two of the era’s most mentally unstable personalities.
Yet his talent is secondary to his violent crimes; his music is akin to learning that serial killer John Wayne Gacy moonlit as a kid’s birthday clown, a dissonant detail in a gruesome career and unsettling in retrospect.