Charles Manson’s Diabolical Musical Reach: From the Beach Boys to Black Flag to NIN
To the general population, Charles Milles Maddox — the man otherwise known to most as Charles Manson — is nothing more than the purest incarnation of evil to ever walk our earth. His masterminding of multiple barbaric murders in Los Angeles during the summer of '69 is something many consider to be not only a truly heinous act, but the inevitable and grisly finale to the innocence of hippie culture.
But before all of his bloody, Beatles-inspired handiwork, Manson was first and foremost a struggling singer-songwriter who had already wormed his way into hobnobbing with the likes of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, hotshot record producer Terry Melcher and Neil Young — who even made an attempt to score Manson a record deal with his label at the time, Reprise. Following his life sentence, the music world felt Manson’s impact even harder via punk bands like Black Flag and Redd Kross, British noiseniks like Psychic TV, and even stadium-filling artists like Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
So, sit tight as we examine the way Manson and his followers have creepy-crawled their way into sonic society both before and after his incarceration in this installment of Crash Course.
Certainly the suavest and most handsome male member of the Manson family, Bobby Beausoleil was a California wild child born and bred who found time to be roommates with legendary underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, as well as be entrenched in the state’s underground rock scene, playing in both an embryonic lineup of Love and the San Francisco psychedelic improv unit the Orkustra. He is also the man known for unofficially kicking off the family’s killing spree — otherwise known as Helter Skelter — when he slowly tortured and murdered music teacher Gary Hinman on July 27, 1969 over a drug deal gone wrong. While serving a life sentence for the act, Beausoleil composed and recorded one of the finest pieces of psychedelic music ever made: the soundtrack for his former roomie’s mind-expanding masterpiece Lucifer Rising. Beausoleil is still very active with his music, and has appeared on some compilations in the past few years with the likes of acid folker Matt Valentine and Krautrock legend Conrad Schnitzler.
THE BEACH BOYS
When Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson first struck up a friendship with Manson, it was based solely on the cult leader's endless supply of female followers who were willing to screw him, but Wilson quickly and genuinely grew enamored with Manson's songwriting skills. He dug Manson’s stuff so much, in fact, he pushed for the Beach Boys to record his tune "Cease to Exist" for their 1969 LP, 20/20. After much futzing by Wilson and his brothers, the song barely resembled its initial version and was retitled “Never Learn Not to Love.” When Manson found all this out, Wilson made one the worst enemies anyone would wanna have. Nonetheless, Manson’s attempt at vengeance was thwarted when Wilson promptly kicked the mass murderer’s ass.
As the producer of such landmark '60s tunes as the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and Paul Revere and the Raiders' “Just Like Me.” Terry Melcher ran within the same circles of Los Angeles pop royalty as Dennis Wilson, thus making it inevitable for him to eventually get swept into the world of Manson and his crew. He wasn’t as smitten with Manson as a songwriter as Wilson was, but it didn’t stop Manson from incessantly hounding Melcher for a recording contract. When Melcher finally caved in and granted him an audition, Manson gave a less-than-sub-par performance, thus making the producer no longer interested and putting him on Manson’s eternal shit list. So, it’s no coincidence that when the family committed their first official act of Helter Skelter, it occurred at Melcher’s former residence of 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills. Although they knew he no longer lived there, family member Susan Atkins testified in court they chose that particular home to show Melcher their interpretation of revenge. Understandably, Melcher went into prolonged seclusion, not knowing who to trust in the L.A. hippie scene, which was now psychically tainted — but it didn’t stop him putting out two absolutely fucking excellent solo LPs: Terry Melcher (1974) and Royal Flush (1976)
CATHERINE “GYPSY” SHARE
Catherine Share was brought into Manson’s fold via Beausoleil sometime in '67, and moved into their commune soon after taking part in the ritualistic acid trips and general mayhem to be had on Spahn Ranch. But what the family and their aspiring musician of a leader didn’t know about the member they had christened “Gypsy” was that she cut a record of her own up north two years before for the Autumn label; home to the Beau Brummels, the Great Society and Sly Stone. Recorded under the name Charity Shayne, her 45 “Ain’t It? Babe” b/w “Then, You Try” is a pleasant enough slice of '60s female folk-pop, but would anyone give it a second listen if the singer wasn’t involved with a crazed clan of hippie murders? Probably not.
Although brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald formed Redd Kross under the guise of it being a punk band in Southern California, they were quickly one of the first bands out of that '70s scene to give a great big gut laugh to anything even resembling a “scene rulebook.” Creating a universe of their own culled from various elements of American trash / pop culture of the '60s and '70s, it was inevitable that they would pull Manson — as well as the paranoia he brought to their backyard just 10 years prior — into the mix. The band posed famously for the cover of L.A.’s premier punk zine Flipside in front of a huge Manson poster, and they even covered his “Cease to Exist” in its original form for their debut LP Born Innocent, released in 1982 on the Smoke Seven label.
Where Redd Kross’ flirtation with Manson was done in a sort of goofy and benign way, a local band they shared members with named Black Flag took their admiration extremely seriously. Black Flag cranked their already menacing vibe into the red when they started having their guitarist’s brother and in-house artist Raymond Pettibon depicting Manson as Jesus Christ on show flyers while throwing text in the corners synonymous with the family, such as “creepy crawl,” a term they used for home invasions. Their veneration even led to negotiations with Manson to release some of the material he was recording in prison on the band’s self-run record label, SST. But when anonymous and threatening phone calls throwing Manson’s name around started coming into office late at night, the project was shelved.
Even though Britain gave us one of the main reasons that Manson commanded his killings — the Beatles — their auricular response to his crimes didn’t really come until the early '80s via industrial bands such as Ramleh, Cabaret Voltaire and, of course, the godfathers of that whole shebang, Throbbing Gristle. When TG broke up in May of 1981, one half of the band formed Psychic TV and recorded “Roman P,” a woozy delight of a track that featured samplings of Manson rants, as well as raps from another American cult leader, Jim Jones. For some screwy-ass reason, the track appeared in a Volkswagen commercial later on in the '90s, which confounded many followers of Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth.
NINE INCH NAILS
After the success of Nine Inch Nails’ debut LP Pretty Hate Machine, bandleader Trent Reznor was given a laundry list of top-of-the-line studios from their new label Interscope to record their much anticipated follow-up, but he wasn’t interested in any of them. Instead, Reznor set up a makeshift studio at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills — the same home in which Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel murdered Sharon Tate and four others under the command of Manson. Renamed “Le Pig,” the house became the birthplace for one of the band's’ biggest albums, The Downward Spiral. Years later, Reznor would regret his choice of studio as a crass exploitation of a horrible tragedy. Whatever — I’m sure he’ll cry himself to sleep on a pile of hundreds tonight over the whole ordeal.