The case of Charles Manson and his “Family” is one that I have been interested in for quite some time now. It is a story of mayhem, murder, and is a blight in the annals of American crime. Most everyone over the age of 16 has probably heard some version of the story and knows a bit of the detail surrounding the case. This is incredible considering that the crimes they are most infamous for occurred more than 40 years ago. That being said, this post has nothing to do with the crimes perpetuated by these beasts. If you are interested in learning more about the real “Crime of the Century” (fuck off, OJ), I highly suggest reading Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and The Family by Ed Sanders. Both are two of the most engaging books I have ever read and I turn to them often for refreshers on the case or for more information.
What I find interesting is that there is quite a bit of music that was directly inspired by these wackjobs that is quite good, or at the very least interesting. Ya see, Charlie really really wanted to be a famous musician. He duped and manipulated many well known figures in the industry at the time (namely Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys) into helping him and his band of misfits get a record contract. Needless to say, the ploy failed and its highly possible that the driving force behind the Tate/LaBianca slayings were a direct result of Charlie getting slighted.
There is tons of music on the web recorded by Charlie himself. If you’ve never heard a Manson song, I have to say that not much of it is very good. Charlie fashioned himself a troubadour in an almost “Dylan-like” mold. Most of his songs are purely acoustic with goofy hippie lyrics and his voice is rough around the edges. I personally cannot listen to most of his music as it’s just too crazy to get into very deeply without feeling remorse for the victims. I am a huge fan of Sharon Tate and whenever I even try to listen to Charlie’s music, I think of her and I feel awful. I would be remiss not to include Charlie in this discussion, so I’m going to open the proceeeding with one of his tunes….
You may have heard this tune before as it was covered by Guns ‘N Roses and included as a hidden track on their “Spaghetti Incident” album. I admit that I actually like Manson’s version and it is the only one of his songs I can listen to without feeling like shit. This was recorded before the murders, but I felt it necessary to include one of Charlie’s songs as without him, none of this mess ever happens.
Charlie did have a little bit of success with his efforts to become a famous musician. This tidbit always seems to shock people, but it is absolutely true. Did you know that the Beach Boys recorded one of Manson’s tunes? They did, and it’s still available on their 20/20 album. The tune is called “Never Learn Not To Love” and is a bit different from Charlie’s version, which was entitled “Cease to Exist”. I personally don’t care for either version, but I’ve posted both for you to compare yourself.
There is a wonderful documentary that is available to watch in full on IMDB that specifically focuses on the music motive being the reason for this debacle. I highly recommend it. Most the material is culled from other sources, but the creator did a wonderful job and its a valuable tool for anyone interested in learning more about this case. You can watch here.
Charlie surrounded himself with naive kids, some of which had musical talent on their own. “Family” member, Steve “Clem” Grogan, who is remarkable as being the only member of the family convicted of murder that has been paroled, resurfaced a few years ago as Adam Gabriel and a member of a Bay Area rock and roll band. Convicted Manson murderer, Bobby Beausoliel, who is still in prison, has recorded multiple albums and was also an early member of the great 60’s band “Love” which was led by the late great, Arthur Lee.
Here’s a track from Bobby Beausoliel’s soundtrack for the absolutely strange 60’s cult film, “Lucifer Rising”.
I admit that I am a little impressed with most of Bobby’s work. It’s very atmospheric and moody. Most of it was written/recorded in one form before the murders, but the version above was recorded while he was in prison. I also believe that Bobby is the most sympathetic character to be convicted of a crime, but you’ll have to read some outside sources to see if you agree with me.
The Family were hoping to be part of Charlie’s efforts in music and even after the murders were still intent on recording Charlie’s music. Here is a song that never ceases to spook me, it is a few of the Manson girls along with the aforementioned Grogan on vocals. This was recorded sometime in 1970 during the trial.
This case has inspired quite a bit of music. Aside from Charlie’s own music, numerous artists, both famous and non-famous, have recorded songs that were fueled creatively by the case. Trent Reznor recorded “The Downward Spiral” in the house where the Tate murders occurred, and Marilyn Manson recorded his vocals for “Portrait of an American Family” in that same house. Upon completion of the projects and before the demolition of the house, Reznor took the door that Susan Atkins wrote the word “Pig” on in Sharon Tate’s blood. The door is currently the door to Reznor’s studio in New Orleans. I don’t think it’s ironic that on “Downward Spiral” are two tunes with the word “pig” in the title/lyrics.
Here are some pieces that I am quite fond of and fit what I’m going for here:
This is a tune by Paul Watkins and Brooks Poston. Both were once members of “The Family” and were not present for the planning or execution of the murders. It’s called “Young Girl”, and was featured in Robert Hendrickson’s brilliant documentary, “Manson“, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Hendrickson reportedly has most of this music in his vault, but he’s a wacko when it comes to “piracy”, so don’t count on a release anytime soon.
I even have this song on my iPod. The stills in the video above are from the documentary and I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Many lesser known acts have also recorded music inspired by this debacle. Highlighted here is a wonderful track by Canadian act, “The Shangs“. It’s called “The Ballad of Brenda McCann” and is pretty haunting. Brenda McCann was the pseudonym used by Manson acolyte, Nancy Pitman. She was a wacko back in the day and quite possibly still. She came from a VERY privileged background only to be sucked into Manson’s tractor beam and was lost forever.
I admittedly love this song.
The Shangs actually have a few more tracks directly inspired by the case. They’re all on Youtube.
I posted this article not as a fan, but for critical thought and because I find it so damn interesting. My personal opinion on this case clearly resides with the prosecution. While I don’t necessarily believe Bugliosi’s case, I am glad that these people were punished and the majority of them received the punishment they deserve. I am not a Manson apologist needless to say.
As I always do when I listen to this music, I feel the need to reflect on the lives lost at the hands of the inspiration to this music. RIP Sharon, Jay, Voytek, Abigail, Steven, Leno, Rosemary, Gary, and Shorty. Who knows how many other souls were lost.