Charles Manson

All the Way Alive

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In an era when one of the biggest pop stars in history is facing charges for molesting children, it may not be a time to emphasize the importance of separating an artist's personal life from his creations. At any rate, this concept has never really been appropriate in examining the musical output of Charles Manson. Despite humorous speculation about what might have happened had producer Terry Melcher decided to offer Manson a recording contract, the man's pop star-level fame was achieved not as a singer/songwriter but as the leader of a murderous cult. No one would argue the fascinating aspects of his case, one of which is a continuing interest in Manson music, although it would be an extreme exaggeration to suggest that there is anything other than a miniscule cult pursuing this particular muse. So here is All the Way Alive, a previously unreleased recording session from 1967, showing up in a limited edition of 1,000 copies courtesy of a tiny indie label, People's Temple -- a clear indication that the household name recognition Manson seems to relish does not mean instant record sales. Many music writers and just plain enthusiasts have expressed the opinion that a lack of interest in Manson's music is the result of his horrifying deeds, the purchasing of a disc or even just spinning a side representing some kind of undesired support for a murderous fiend. But the cold hard reality is the opposite: if Manson had not been at the center of one of the notorious crimes in history, nobody would be the least bit interested in his music.

It is not that he is as terrible a musician and singer as is sometimes made out to be the case by reviewers fattened by the attitude that nobody is going to bother sticking up for him. All the Way Alive, which actually has quite decent recorded sound, even winds up with him pulling off an incomplete but respectable cover version of Willie Nelson's "Night Life," which if used as a competency test would eliminate at least 75 percent of the musicians in existence, at least on the rock scene. He plays lots of major-seventh chords, he keeps a fairly steady beat, and his voice is not unpleasant, at times approaching the appeal of an employable lounge performer or someone who pulls out a guitar at a party. While the major following for Manson as a performing artist over the years has come from the punk, grunge, heavy metal, or other "extreme" music camps, Manson himself would never have been that comfortable with that kind of music. Working from the logical theory that it would be impossible to get an honest opinion about Manson's music once the listener knows who it is, some of these tracks were presented, identity not revealed, to subjects of various ages and musical tastes just to get a reaction. Besides boredom, the most common perception was that this was a casual recording of José Feliciano or Jim Croce. Here is a case of mistaken identity that does nothing to prove Manson was a bad musician, since the talents of both Feliciano and Croce as guitarists and singers are quite obvious. It does show, however, that the really edgy aspect of Manson was his lifestyle, not his music. People who are interested in songs nonetheless will find this release of great importance; the question is how many copies will be left from the original pressing once that crowd is satisfied. Rating the performance in the context of history has its difficulties, although one star or "poor" would be the simplest way to rate Manson as a person. Two stars or "average" rings true, though, for despite the infamy of this man, his musical output is just simply average.

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