Charles Manson

LIE: The Love and Terror Cult

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Charles Manson's most famous recording was made on September 11, 1967 and released as an LP in 1970 while the Tate/La Bianca murders and subsequent Manson Family trials were still headline news. The album cover is an altered version of Manson's likeness as it appeared on the cover of Life Magazine on December 19, 1969. On the record jacket the "F" has been removed, transforming "LIFE" into "LIE" in graphic denial of Manson's guilt. Certainly Manson played up to the sensationalism, mugging for the cameras like Aleister Crowley or Arthur Brown, bulging his eyes like Beelzebub, carving a swastika into his forehead, and spouting stream of consciousness yang with nothing-to-lose-audacity. The mass media's portrayal of Manson as the archetypal homicidal freak (forever stamped with the meaningless word "hippie") permanently tarnished the common perception of '60s counterculture and rendered some of its social agenda wrongfully suspect by association. For the listener to accurately comprehend the music on this recording, an extra helping of context is in order. Composer John Moran, whose The Manson Family: An Opera adds several dimensions to an already loaded equation, has stated that ''Until the murders, psychedelia had been associated with the idea of love. After Manson, and because of the way the media portrayed him, psychedelia became associated with flipping out and violence and fear." He also adds: ''People forget that cults are not just fringe groups. America is a cult. All countries use cult techniques. They teach you that anything outside the cult is evil and to be feared, and they constantly inundate us with slogans. We like to think that we're past propaganda, but we are subjected to it all the time, through the media and through our friends. What is commonly called a cult is just smaller.''

Manson's main cultural influences (outside of prison) seem to have been L. Ron Hubbard, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Beatles. To some extent he thought he was the fifth Beatle, and a sitar was incorporated into some of the mixes in order to drive home the point. "Look at Your Game Girl" embodies Manson's fundamental approach to influencing young women by targeting their socially imposed hang-ups and implying that his way is better and more liberating. This is problematic considering his remarkable knack for mind control. Manson insisted that the "Ego" needed to be done away with, preferably by massive doses of LSD and prolonged bouts of sexual intercourse. "Cease to Exist" also references this process ("...give up your world...") while imploring "I'm your kind -- I'm your kind -- and I love you -- "never learn not to love," , followed by the manipulative suggestion: "submission is a gift, give it to your brother."

Dennis Wilson's entanglement with the Manson Family resulted in a cover of this song by the Beach Boys, retitled "Never Learn Not to Love" and included on their album 20/20. Hearing Manson's original and the Beach Boys' cover back to back is an unforgettable experience, particularly when the popular group's coordinated vocal arrangement kicks in and a sort of imitation Moody Blues "aum" trope appears as if to certify that the composer of the song was a spiritually advanced being. "Cease to Exist" (often mistitled "Cease to Exit") is one of Manson's signature performances, and has justifiably invited comparison with Jim Croce and José Feliciano. Parallels could also be drawn with Cat Stevens, Don McLean, Harry Chapin, John Denver. and one of Manson's ex-buddies, Bobby Beausoleil.

Charles Manson was a byproduct of the United States penal system, and his ideology was largely shaped by what he learned in reformatories and prisons prior to being paroled in 1967. Within the largely female-inhabited circle that came to surround him, several attributes of the burgeoning counterculture were in place, including communalism, vegetarianism, and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol and Charlie's own patriarchal, hierarchic brand of communalism. Conspicuously absent were of course non-violence, feminism (Manson's women were peculiarly subservient), and an informed awareness of the wrong-headedness of racism. Among the Mansonites, this fundamental aspect of '60s youth culture at its most promising seems to have been entirely eclipsed by white supremacist theories which are still firmly entrenched in the prison system. One of the cornerstones of the counterculture was and is the awareness that institutionalized racism is a lie rooted in ignorance and therefore something to rebel against. Given that the Civil Rights Movement was one of the basic building blocks of progressive activism during the '60s, for the Manson Family to be stereotyped as hippies while espousing a racist worldview is one of the great ironies of this wretched story. Another huge misconception is that barbaric, bloody homicides were committed by people who were heavily dosed with LSD. While large quantities of acid were in fact used by Manson to break down the egos of his followers, by the time he sent "assassins" to slaughter people in their own homes, his secret weapon was amphetamine, the same drug that enabled storm troopers and kamikaze pilots to achieve their goals during the Second World War.

"Mechanical Man" is a striking example of the Manson Family as a renegade performance troupe whose voices and instruments mimic the workings of an automated system in need, perhaps, of disassembling. "People Say I'm No Good" typifies Manson's wistful if stubborn response to a lifetime of being ostracized and alienated. It also contains language implying that young people know more about life than mature adults; he would still be using this line years later as a mature adult playing his guitar inside the lockup at San Quentin. "I'll Never Say Never to Always" is a jingle sung by the Manson girls. Lasting less than a minute, it seems largely to be composed of rhythmic phrases learned from Manson. Towards the end of the song, cooing babies may be heard in the background. "Garbage Dump" is by far the most enduringly relevant of these Manson songs, because it makes a legitimate point about wasted resources and our nation's failure to distribute food properly. Among the widely circulated images of family members is a photograph of several individuals merrily engaged in dumpster diving behind a supermarket, rescuing discarded fruits and vegetables which would be used to nourish occupants of the communal homestead back at the Ranch. This was authentic countercultural resourcefulness, and thousands of furry freaks employed it nationwide in order to survive. Even if Manson's rhyming of "dump" and "lump" seems puerile, there's nothing silly about the line "you can feed the world with your garbage dump." That point of view has been articulated by many others, including outspoken performance poet John Giorno. "Arkansas" has a haunting quality that is enhanced by the harmonizing voices of family members, and here one can easily imagine what it was like to sing along with Manson round the fire at Spahn Ranch. This album was reissued in 1993, and in 2006 by ESP-Disk with 12 extra tracks.

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