Sunday, August 13, 2023

Dancing with Sharon Tate on Vincent Bugliosi's Grave

 "Where there is official censorship, it is a sign that speech is serious. Where there is none, it is pretty certain that the official spokesmen have all the loud-speakers."

-Paul Goodman

America is a nation that loves its folklore and God help me, I do to. Who doesn't love a good bedtime story? The Good War that saved the free world from fascism, the benevolent reign of the Kennedy Dynasty over the grassy knolls of Camelot, the Space Race that put American democracy on the moon... These tales are all as much a part of the fabric of my childhood as Paul Bunyan, Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny. 

The tricky thing about folklore though is that just because it's fun to believe doesn't mean that it represents reality and American folklore is no exception to this rule. After all, America only entered the Good War after communism had already kicked fascism's skinny white ass and the Kennedy's were just a bunch of drunken rapists who hired the leftover Nazis to put us on the moon just to stick it to the Soviets while we lost in Vietnam.

This August marks the 54th anniversary of one of my personal favorite American folk tales. One that has amazingly stood the test of time relatively unmolested by the ravages of reality. I speak of the legend of Helter Skelter, a horror story about a brutal spree of frenzied bloodbaths that claimed the lives of no less than seven innocent people including a beautiful blonde starlet named Sharon Tate and her four glamorous house guests in the Hollywood Hills. 

This story also gave America the sadistic gift of our most cherished supervillain, the hippie Rasputin, Charles Manson, who controlled the minds of a zombie army of quarterbacks and prom queens to do his evil bidding. The most incredible thing about this legend is that nearly every detail that we think we know about it comes from a single source; Vincent Bugliosi, the valiant prosecutor who used Helter Skelter to jail Charlie and his Family and turned the case into the highest selling work of "true crime" literature ever published.

The basic story goes that Charlie Manson used LSD to brainwash a bunch of all-American teeny-boppers into slaughtering several B-list celebrities and a middle-class suburban couple in order to spark a race war foretold in the lyrics of a Beatles' album. The Blacks would win but once it became clear that they couldn't handle the reins of power, they would gladly hand them over to Charlie and his Family who would rise from their hole in the desert to take their place as the rightful rulers of a post-apocalyptic utopia. This is the "official story", and most Americans still buy it even though the man who wrote it doesn't. 

Vincent Bugliosi admitted within a couple years of prosecuting the Manson Family that he didn't buy a single word he used to sentence them all to death. Over the years, while continuing to collect royalty checks for Helter Skelter, Bug has sported another popular version of the events that made him famous, claiming that Charlie Manson's real goal was to get revenge on record producer Terry Melcher and the music industry who screwed him out of a record contract by murdering a bunch of random people living in Melcher's former mansion on Cielo Drive. However, thanks largely to the hard work of Tim O'Neill's myth busting Manson tell-all CHAOS we now know for a fact that not only is this version bullshit too, but Bugliosi knew it and helped construct it anyway just like he did Helter Skelter.

There are numerous documented accounts of Terry Melcher and his celebrity friends like Beach Boy Dennis Wilson communing with Manson and his underage harem well after the mass slaughter that was supposed to have driven fear into their hearts and Bugliosi covered it all up, instructing Melcher and others to commit perjury under oath in the process. When O'Neill's findings became known, the venerable prosecutor turned true crime celebrity hounded the dogged sleuth with threats of million-dollar lawsuits and pederast slander that only ended when that crook finally dropped dead. But why? Why all these years of lies? And why does most of this nation continue to insist on believing them?

Vincent Bugliosi's motives are actually a hell of lot clearer than Charlie Manson's. The man had well known ambitions of becoming a powerful California politician and he saw this sensational case as his golden ticket to glory. This is why that scheming scoundrel began writing his bestseller before the trial even began. He even had his co-author, Curt Gentry, in the courtroom front and center every day taking notes. The only problem was that the victims at 10050 Cielo Drive weren't just well connected to Hollywood royalty but most of them were also nearly as guilty as the people who killed them, and their own crimes likely sealed their fate.

It has been an open secret in Hollywood for decades that Sharon Tate's husband, Roman Polanski and his buddies, celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring and gutterland gadfly, Wojciech Frykowski, were little more than sexual predators and wannabe gangsters. Vincent Bugliosi revealed as much to Tim O'Neill when he told him early on in the latter's investigation that detectives investigating the murder scene at Cielo Drive had discovered a tape in Polanski's loft showing Sharon being raped by two other men with her husband presumably behind the camera. Bugliosi further displayed his willingness to cover up the crimes of the rich and famous when he told O'Neill that he had instructed the cops to put the tape back. Sadly, this was far from an isolated incident. 

Friends and family of Sharon have reported that Polanski was an abusive control freak, with many believing that Sebring, Frykowski and Frykowski's heiress girlfriend Abigail Folger were not at Cielo Drive as mere houseguests but as babysitters, tasked with making sure that the pregnant Tate didn't flee while Polanski was off shooting a movie in Europe. During this time those creeps were given the full lay of the land and according to friends and enemies alike, they turned that mansion into a den of depravity well before Manson crashed the party.

Roman's good friend, famous actor/director Dennis Hopper told reporters "They had fallen into sadism, masochism and bestiality and they recorded it all on tape." Hopper claimed that police had confirmed this when he was interviewed in the days following the murders. He also claimed that three days before the slaughter, 25 people were invited to the house to witness a "mass whipping" of a drug dealer who had allegedly sold Sebring and Frykowski bad dope. 

This dealer was a character named Pic Dawson, a Canadian career criminal who led a gang of notorious drug smugglers who were all sexually involved with Cielo Drive regular, Mama Cass. According to Frykowski's lifelong friend and accomplice, Witold Kaczanowski, who was also the last man to see him alive, Pic and his crew were not just the primary source of the mansion's drug supply, they were also staking out their claim as the primary source of a trendy new Canadian amphetamine known as MDA and Frykowski had ambitions of becoming their Hollywood connect. But Dawson wasn't the only career criminal who was a fixture of this increasingly freaky Hollywood party scene. According to none other than Neil Young, "A lot of pretty well-known musicians around LA knew Manson, though they'd probably deny it now."

That's because Charles Manson wasn't a cult leader, he was a pimp who hustled underage girls to the Hollywood elites like a fringe leather Jeffrey Eppstein. The ugly truth about the Manson murders is that the people who killed the residents of Cielo Drive were likely also on a first name basis with them and this is probably why they were hired out to do it. We will likely never know for sure. Too much time has passed, too many lies have been told and most of the people who know the truth are dead. The only two things that I know for sure are that Vincent Bugliosi was a goddamn liar and Sharon Tate did not deserve to die with her captors. But every bad folk tale deserves a good one to counter it, so here's mine for you.

Charles Manson was not some criminal mastermind. He was a career con artist who was very much a man of his times. Manson began his Family as a hustle to pimp out teenage runaways to Hollywood bigshots, but he needed muscle to keep them in line, so he hired a small-time drug dealer from the Lone Star State named Charles "Tex" Watson. Watson made a failed attempt to rob a competing Black dealer named Bernard Crowe, but Crowe got the drop on Tex, kidnapped his girlfriend and threatened to come down to the derelict movie ranch that Manson and his girls occupied with his crew and wipe the whole place from the map.  Manson decided to act first and gut shot Crowe, falsely believing that he had killed the gangbanger in the process. For reasons that remain unknown, Manson, a lifelong white supremacist, also came to believe that Crowe was a Black Panther, and that this terrifying militia of heavily armed brothers was now gunning for him.

Manson conspired to hire his own army for protection. He befriended a Canadian greaser named Danny DeCarlo, who served as the treasurer for a local outlaw biker outfit called the Straight Satans, by plying him and his friends with free underage scootch. Danny even took Manson's psychotic bottom bitch Susan Atkins for a lover, but his fellow bikers soon tired of jailbait and VD, so Manson needed another way to earn their favor. Bobby Beausoleil, who served as a sort of go-between for the Satans and the Family, managed to secure the bikers with 1,000 tabs of mescaline from a local basement chemist who he had bunked with named Gary Hinman. When the mescaline turned out to be toxic, DeCarlo roughed up Beausoleil and demanded their money back. Manson's attempt to squeeze Hinman ended up with Hinman dead and Beausoleil in prison for his murder.

So, what is a paranoid racist pimp to do when he has managed to conjure up the wrath of both the Black Panthers and the Straight Satans? Perhaps pick up a hit job on some Hollywood rapists that even the Satans were afraid to touch and try to make it look like part of a Black Panther murder spree by targeting a random white couple in the burbs the next night. Sure, it's a conspiracy theory but so was Helter Skelter and, knowing what we know now, which one do you find more plausible? 

But there are still more unanswered questions and terrifying possibilities on hand here. What gave Manson the idea that Bernard Crowe, a lowly two-bit hustler, was a Panther? And why the hell did it take the cops so long to bust the Family? Manson was a violent repeat offender and a documented sexual predator, yet he was allowed to violate his parole repeatedly without so much as having a charge brought against him. Manson's own playpen at Spahn Ranch was under heavy police surveillance before becoming the target of what was then the largest raid in Los Angeles law enforcement history just weeks after the Tate-Labianca murders. A cache of semi-automatic weapons, credit cards and stolen cars were recovered from the scene, but Charlie and his Family were all released without a charge.

Call me paranoid but this list of bewildering facts screams just one word loud and clear in my ears and that word is INFORMANT. A word that coexists quite uncomfortably with COINTELPRO, an FBI/law enforcement mission to destroy the sixties counterculture by sicking its various unruly factions against each other with lies and disinformation that frequently ended in paranoid bloodbaths. 

But perhaps the scariest possibility of all is that Charles Manson, snitch and pimp to the stars, may not have even been the devil after all but rather just another bit player in a melodrama far less climactic than anything Bugliosi could build a career on. After all, it was Tex Watson who actually committed most if not all of the murders and it was Tex Watson who was the Hollywood drug dealer with a recorded history of pulling disastrously violent burns against his rivals. But unlike Manson, Tex was not a camera-ready supervillain that Vincent could galvanize voters in the Valley against.

In fact, Tex could have easily been one of his constituency's native sons; a star quarterback and honor roll student who found himself so disenfranchised with the monotonous suburban purgatory that the Greatest Generation killed and conspired with Nazis to build that he chose to voluntarily throw in his lot with the freaky people they sneered at. This more than any other folktale about the Summer of Hate seems to be the hardest and darkest for the American mind to comprehend which is precisely why it demands comprehension otherwise another Helter Skelter remains just a kiss away.

When you raise your children on lies and throw them out like trash for not believing them, don't be shocked to find them recycled into blowback when the freaky people tell them the truth. As for this storytelling freaky person, I'm just a messenger spitting in Roman Polanski's eye while I wait for my turn to dance with Sharon Tate's ghost on Vincent Bugliosi's grave.

Peace, Love & Empathy- Nicky/CH

Soundtrack: Songs that influenced this post

* Happiness is a Warm Gun by the Beatles

* Expressway to Yr Skull by Sonic Youth

* Loaded by Primal Scream

* Dear Prudence by Siouxsie & the Banshees

* Frankenstein by New York Dolls

* Garbage Dump by Charles Manson

* Golden Hair by Slowdive

* Teenage Riot by Sonic Youth

* Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones

* All Tomorrow's Parties by the Velvet Underground

* Vapor Trail by Ride

* Helter Skelter by the Beatles

* My Monkey by Marilyn Manson

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