“Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson” is a fascinating read. Author Jeff Guinn tries hard to answer the question all of us have wondered: How did Manson get people to kill for him? What did Helter Skelter really mean in that guy’s head. What were the circumstances at the Spahn Ranch that allowed him to usurp the self-control of so many young people.
This book isn’t really about the Manson Murders, it’s about the Manson Family. Guinn contextualizes it by examining the upheaval of the period–the social, political, pop cultural changes–racial strife, war protests, the climbing divorce rate that broke apart families, and of course the sexually charged free love movement and pervasiveness of drugs, particularly LSD.
Guinn paints Manson as a bad seed from birth, exploring his troubled childhood and adolescence, as well as his long prison stints, ultimately creating the portrait of a man blood-thirsty for fame he hoped would come from his music. Manson’s bisexuality is mentioned, but only fleetingly. His relationship with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson is explored in depth, which led to his acquaintances with Gregg Jakobson, essentially an A&R man for the band, and wunderkind producer Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day. As a way of showing how the country’s celebrity-centric culture was already developing, Guinn drops names such as Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen, Neil Young, Frank Zappa and Cass Elliot, all of whom have a connection to Manson in their own way.
Manson hoped to capitalize on his Hollywood connections to earn a recording contract, at the same time exerting control over his flock of mostly females by feeding them acid in daily rituals, then orchestrating orgies and spreading his philosophy using a combination of Dale Carnegie training, Scientology and street smarts he accrued in prison. His drug-addled teens were well fed and given a structured routine; but mostly, Charlie made them feel loved–some of them for the first times in their lives.
Manson regaled his group with own songs on the guitar and Beatles music was played incessantly, to the point where Family members were burned out on the endless repeat of Magical Mystery Tour songs. And when the White Album is released, Guinn works in some bits about the band’s impending implosion as well as Paul McCartney’s description of Helter Skelter as a carnival ride in England with a steep slide used as a metaphor for “the rise and fall of the Roman Empire…the fall the demise, the going down.”
Using the White Album and the Book of Revelations, Charlie convinced his acolytes that the end was near and they were among the chosen people.
“For imaginations fueled by frequent, copious doses of LSD it was all too easy to believe not only John’s apocalyptic prophecies (from Revelations) but Charlie’s unique interpretation of them.”
Guinn explores how Manson used the Bible and the Beatles as a motive for murder, bringing all the elements of the era together as he takes the reader inside the mind of a megalomaniac.
What a trip, man!