What do you get when you take the mentally damaged bastard son of a sixteen year old prostitute and raise him in a series of increasingly authoritarian government institutions before unleashing him onto the streets of San Francisco during the Summer of Love with nothing but an old second hand guitar and the shirt on his back? Well, you get Charles Willis Manson of coarse, the perfect poster beast for the Amerikan gulag archipelago known to those of us in the know as the Prison Industrial Complex.
But old Charlie is probably best known as the convenient scapegoat for the damnation of an entire generation of peace loving malcontents, after masterminding a series of bizarre and gruesome mass slayings in the Hollywood Hills. Charlie dutifully played this role for decades, putting on one hell of a show for an endless procession of smug know-it-all journalists like that pervert Charlie Rose and the even more grotesque Geraldo Rivera. Because that's what you do when you become institutionalized, you find your role and you play it to death.
Charles finally played it to death early last week, just before Thanksgiving, when his shriveled old carcass finally gave in to years of being buried alive in a concrete tomb, the only world that twisted creature ever really understood. And the same media jackals that made a mint off of exploiting the little monster and his victims wasted little time stroking their chins with gross displays of abject moral superiority as they spun their tired mythology about that blood soaked Summer of Hate. Regurgitating one of America's most cherished modern horror stories before turning off the cameras and helping themselves to another intern.
The truth is, the story told a million times of Charlie Manson, the hippie Pied Pipper of doom, leading the innocent babes of the Lost Generation into committing totally random acts of slaughter over two days in hopes of sparking a Beatles inspired race war is largely a work of fiction carefully quilted together by master prosecutor and all around media whore Vincent Bugliosi from the incoherent bablings of Manson's hysterical drug addled followers. Bugliosi even admitted as much in his slick best seller Helter Skelter.
A creepy amoral fabulist who probably could have easily been Charlie Manson in another life without the advantages that come with proper breeding and mental hygiene, Bugliosi confessed more than once, back in the days before he became a cliff-note quoting parody of himself, that he had no goddamn idea why Charlie did what he did. Helter Skelter was simply a story he felt he could sell to the grey flannel set that made up the so called Silent Majority occupying Manson's jury. That sordid tale of bloodthirsty acid freaks and fire lit desert orgies may have made Helter Skelter the best piece of pulp fiction since the Old Testament but it always read like an airport paperback to me. I don't buy it. I never have.
In spite of the performance art of his Geraldo interviews, Charlie was a psychopath but not a fucking lunatic. Helter Skelter is the work of an overworked, undersexed, armchair savage trying to get in touch with his inner schizophrenic. Charlie was a smooth talking conman (think Donald Trump with sex appeal) that honed his skills for manipulation over decades of dodging the typical fate of guys his size in maximum security. Charlie was built like a goddamn horse jockey yet he somehow managed to master the art of institutional sexual predation by his late teens. He was a pimp. A hustler. A genuine nickle flipping, toothpick chewing, con artist. Charlie didn't do anything unless he got something out of it. He didn't give a fuck about revolution or racial holy war. He just wanted to get laid and get high and he would tell all the pretty little girls anything to make it happen.
So why did Charlie kill those people in the Summer of '69. No one really knows for sure but you better believe I've got a theory. It all starts with Manson's murder of an LA drug dealer who went by the name of Lotsapoppa (I have dibs on that for a future band name). After a fruitless attempt to work the black street hood over, Charlie shot him and somehow got it into his paranoid hillbilly mind that old Pops was connected to the Black Panthers, who scared the racist jailbird shitless. He went about turning Barker Ranch into a makeshift hippie fortress complete with armed dune buggy patrols but an army of clap-infested teeny boppers hardly proved formidable against the gauge toting urban Mau Maus in the Panthers. So Charlie sought out his own leather-clad army in a motley crew of outlaw bikers known as the Straight Satans.
Charlie tried to pay for their largesse with jail-bait scootch and ditch-weed but even bikers get tired of catching crabs, so Charlie had to up the anti. He offered to supply the boys with a stash of Mescaline which he procured from a hippie chemist named Gary Hinman. When the drugs Hinman sold Charlie turned out to be poison, the Straight Satans were beside themselves. They wanted their fucking money back. When Charlie's attempts to get a refund ended with Hinman dead and a Manson Family associate named Bobby Beausoleil locked up, Charlie was twelve miles up shit creek without a paddle. Now not only did he have the Panthers to contend with, his honky homies in the Satans wanted his scalp too. Charlie was in deep and had no room to refuse a request by the bikers.
My sneaking suspicion, and this is only a theory, is that the Straight Satans had Manson and his Family perform a hit at 10050 Cielo Drive, a property Manson was familiar with from his dealings with the property's previous owner, producer Terry Melcher. The target was likely Sharon Tate's house guest Wojciech Frykowski, a failed screenwriter rumored to be dabbling in the burgeoning MDA trade (an ancestor of Dr. Shulgin's MDMA). The rest were simply collateral damage in an amphetamine fueled suicide mission too risky even for a second rate Hell's Angels knock-off to handle. The LaBiancas were Charlie's hair brain idea of a cover, trying to make the whole matter appear like random acts of revolutionary bloodletting by black guerrillas.
Like I said, it's just a theory, largely based on interviews with Beausoleil, who always struck me as the most candid and lucid among Charlie's former cohorts and a quasi-autobiography penned by Manson's former cellmate Noel Emmons. Which is about as much proof as Bugliosi had for a theory that made less than half as much sense. Of coarse most of Manson's former Family have endorsed the Helter Skelter theory post mortem, largely because it paints them as little more than brainwashed pawns in Charlie's apocalyptic chess game and partially because even they probably aren't completely sure why they did it. '69 was a crazy year and LSD is one hell of a drug.
And America prefers Bugliosi's crackpot theory for largely the same reason, it lets them off the hook. In Helter Skelterland, Manson isn't the product of their own government's derelict justice system but the Devil incarnate. Their economically privileged suburban children aren't capable of the same unspeakable bloodshed as the inner-city poor when they're subjected to the same neglect and left to the care of the predators their tax dollars create, their innocent victims of bad drugs and bad hairdos. The wealthy victims of crimes aren't criminals themselves but spotless woolly lambs upholding the moral binary of the overly simplistic concept of good vs evil. But mostly, Americans are just plain lazy and prefer to believe the fairy-tales their government and media tell them.
Either way, Manson was a monster. But he didn't have to be. Monsters are raised not born and no one raises them like the Prison Industrial Complex.
Peace, Love and Empathy- CH
Soundtrack; Songs that influenced this post.
* Death Valley '69 By Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch
* Institutionalized By Suicidal Tendencies
* Garbage Dump By Charles Manson
* Helter Skelter By The Beatles
* Prison Sex By Tool
* I Wanna Kill By Crocodiles
* My Monkey By Marilyn Manson
* Sympathy For The Devil By The Rolling Stones
* Closer By Nine Inch Nails
* Congratulations By MGMT