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This year marks fifty-years since Woodstock, the heights of the counterculture. While we celebrate the anniversary of that hippy-dream there is also the reminder of the cloud of darkness that settled over that very movement, when the hills of Los Angeles became a place of murder and bloodshed.
At the heart of the story is late-convicted murderer Charles Manson, already there is the alternative movie adaptation (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) based on the era from Quentin Tarantino. The complete story however, apart from Manson involves a Beach Boy, the most famous rock band of all time The Beatles, and their 1968 sprawling masterpiece simply known as The White Album.
The cracks in the portrait of greatness within The Beatles had begun to appear by 1968. Factors such as the death of their handler Brian Epstein, along with the inner battles for space on albums had divided this once unstoppable force, egos had come to surface, and already solo projects had entered each of their heads and some had even started to record separately, this was the catalyst for The White Album. It was the anti Sgt Pepper , no lavish packaging, a minimalist white cover with the name indented on the sleeve. The individual photos of each of The Beatles included inside, a sign of the collective being under pressure.
The late producer George Martin had always stated how good a single album it would have made, however looking back all tracks paint a picture, not of perfection but of the band and their state of mind. Perhaps the best example of this is the last verse of the George Harrison penned “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, left off the original album, but it pointed to the mood within the camp which would explode the following year in the well-documented Let It Be Sessions.
The albums background was inspired by The Beatles retreat to Rishikesh in India, the track “Dear Prudence” is directly about Mia Farrow’s sister (Prudence Farrow) who was present in India and over-obsessed with meditation. But it was “Sexy Sadie” which spelt out the shadow which was cast at the very heart of that trip, it was directed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who had made indecent sexual advances towards Mia Farrow, this was the red-flag for The Beatles to flee not only India but the spiritual enlightenment they sought out. Lennon re-wrote the original lyrics from;
“Maha-rishi what have you done?”
The White Album became Charles Manson’s latest obsession at the time of its release, in particular the John Lennon abstract song “Revolution #9”, which Manson misinterpreted as a reference to the bible passage Revelations 9, this inspired his intent to send the four Manson family members to 10050 Cielo Drive, on August 9, 1969.-Revelations 9.15:
“And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.”
The widely publicized, horrific torture and murder which the five people (plus one unborn baby) endured, including the pregnant Sharon Tate that night is incomprehensible in a modern society. Maybe the motives were more to do with music than any strike on the upper class in society, Charles Manson’s own music to be specific along with that of his favorite band. In Manson’s mind, there was a prophecy in the music, songs like “Blackbird”, “Piggies” and, most prominently, “Helter Skelter,” the title of which was written in blood at the scene, all however, foretold a bloody, apocalyptic race war. But when the battle never began, he decided to kick-start it with the murders, even the poignant “Rocky Racoon” spurred Manson on, within the words he took the racial slur ‘coon’ as his reason to revolt.
Enter the seventh victim of Charles Manson that night. Dennis Wilson was the original Beach Boy, the actual one who could surf. The good-looking guy who would spend days on the beach, partying, surfing, picking up girls, he was everything the Beach Boys sang about on those early records. Sometimes overshadowed by his brothers Brian and Carl, but proved himself more than just a drummer, coming into his own right as a songwriter. Wilson’s only solo album, 1977’s Pacific Ocean Blue, is a testament to his strength, even outselling the Beach Boys efforts at that point.
A flirtation with darkness has always been attributed to every rock star, from Elvis to Jim Morrison there has always been that crazed factor and need to push beyond the boundaries of society. Sometimes out of boredom, other times too much money or a simple that urge to find a new fix and addiction. Towards the end of spring 1968, Dennis Wilson picked up two female hitchhikers, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey, both of whom turned out to be members of Manson’s cult, his so-called ‘Family’. He dropped them off to their destination, but a few days later their paths met again, this time they headed directly to his mansion, 14400 Sunset Boulevard.
Wilson left for a while to go to the recording studio, where both he and the Beach Boys were knee-deep recording the Friends album.
With the sessions continued through the night,
as the morning dawned Wilson headed home to his mansion, only to be met in the driveway by a crazy eyed stranger, Charles Manson. Took unawares, and apprehensively by the man who stood before him, Manson’s next act did little to alleviate Wilsons anxiety, as the story goes Manson knelt down and kissed his feet.
Wilson ultimately befriended Manson, even at one point moving Manson and his ‘family’ in to his home with the promise that Wilson would record him and make him famous and this is where things turned sour. The Manson penned original “Cease To Exist” was recorded by The Beach Boys, credited as a Dennis Wilson original with a new title – “Never Learn Not To Love”. The song was released as the ‘B’ side to the Beach Boys single “Bluebirds Over The Mountain” in December 1968. On the following years release, the album, 20/20 (February 1969) the song was again solely credited to Dennis Wilson, and here is the first cog in the wheel of events that led to the murders. Some say Wilson ripped off the track, others say Manson wrote it specifically for the Beach Boys and was paid a sum of money and given a motorcycle for the rights, All is very unclear around the subject, but to say Manson got angry was a slight understatement, sending Wilson a bullet with his name on it certainly got his point across.
Terry Melcher was introduced to Manson through Wilson, a hotshot producer who had been the man behind the success of The Byrds and The Mamas And The Papas. The producer however refused Manson a record deal, citing his musical direction as not fitting with the current Los Angeles trend. The fact remains, however Terry Melcher originally lived at -10050 Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills with his then actress-girlfriend Candice Bergmen. Shortly after severing ties with Manson, Melcher moved out of Cielo Drive, leaving the owner, Rudi Altobelli, to lease it out, and this time to film director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate. In the aftermath of the murders, Melcher went into hiding fearing a reprisal from the remaining members of the ‘Family’.
”As long as I live, I’ll never talk about that,”
Dennis Wilson said of Charles Manson. The statement resonates with the guilt and pain that hung around Wilsons neck like a noose, tightened slowly by Manson himself. Haunted by his specter, and in some ways it contributed to his spiraling drug addiction and urge to self-destruct, the blame and the shame a factor which led to his tragic death in 1983. To say then The Beatles were responsible for a series of murders by that late psychotic-wannabe is ridiculous, to say that The White Album had a broad influence is not. Covers of the albums have been done by a variety of artists across genres. U2 covered the aforementioned “Helter Skelter”, as to did Motley Crue. Tori Amos covered “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, Siouxsie And The Banshees covered a sublime “Dear Prudence”, John Denver made “Mother Nature’s Son” his own, whereas The Pixies recreated “Wild Honey Pie“, making it a violent ramble more than a cover-version.
What Charles Manson set out to do had been achieved, he had become famous, similar to the rock star fame he was obsessed with. His face appeared on the front cover of a 1970 edition of Rolling Stone Magazine, he became a household name. In 1970 his album was finally released Lie:The Love And Terror Cult. Featuring a mock-up cover of a ‘Life’ magazine front page. Legend has it while awaiting trial, Charles Manson’s only concern was focused primarily on the albums release. His then associate, the producer Phil Kaufman had urged him to record his songs back in 1968, and after Manson’s arrest, he was receiving phone calls five days a week from the jailed Manson. The urgency was to get the recordings out there while his notoriety was at its peak, of course he gave in to Manson out of fear, the fear he used as a source of control. The dangerous dance with the devil that Wilson took part in came at a terrible price, changing the man for his remaining years, taking lives in the process.
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