Manson Biography Delves Into Mind of a Demon

Jeff Guinn's "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson."

Jeff Guinn’s “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson.”

“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.

Jeff Guinn photographed by Jill Johnson.

Jeff Guinn photographed by Jill Johnson.

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.”

Charles Manson after his arrest for orchestrating the murders of actress Sharon Tate and others.

Charles Manson after his arrest for orchestrating the murders of actress Sharon Tate and others.

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!


Augusten Burroughs Tells Us How to Get Over Anything

Augusten Burroughs' 'This is How...'

Augusten Burroughs’ ‘This is How…’

In the opening pages of his this book, Augusten Burroughs feels trapped in an elevator with an ostensibly chirpy and optimistic woman — the kind of person who starts every morning by repeating positive affirmations to her reflection in the mirror and who doesn’t mind sharing secrets of her perky disposition with others. Any reader familiar with Burroughs’ best-selling memoirs (“Running with Scissors,” “Dry”) might imagine that his between-floors encounter, though it lasts a mere 35 seconds, becomes fodder for sardonic remarks about acceptable social intercourse and proper elevator etiquette.

So begins “This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike.” That’s right; Burroughs has an answer for everything, having created a self-help guide that is unlike any other on the bookshelf. With his own brand of caustic wit and second-to-none sarcasm, he offers up a new kind of reverse psychology based on his own truths, which he offers as an alternative to what he calls “side-of-the-cereal-box psychology.”

For example, when the elevator lady, whom he instantly nicknames Lipstickmouth, encourages him to smile and think positively rather than wear his unhappiness on his sleeve, he writes: “My first thought was, ‘It’s leaking out of me? People can see it?’ My second thought was, ‘Die, bitch.’ ” He goes on to present his own case for allowing people to wallow in their woes when they need to, citing Canadian research that says repeating positive mantras about themselves can actually make people with low self-esteem feel worse.

Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burroughs

Drawing from his own experiences as a recovering alcoholic, a victim of childhood molestation, a neuroses-ridden gay New Yorker, and a former advertising copywriter, Burroughs dispenses “how-to” advice on dealing with everything from addiction and suicidal tendencies to cancer and yo-yo dieting. Every chapter is a life lesson that is sometimes practical (how to ace a job interview) sometimes philosophical (how to see the truth behind the truth) and much of the time hilarious (how to feel like shit). His gift for outrageous analogies and original metaphors, used so skillfully in his previous books, continues to bear fruit in “This is How.”

In his attempt to describe the miracle of human life he offers this gem: “Think of the actual physical elements that compose our bodies: we are 98 percent hydrogen and oxygen and carbon. That’s table sugar. You are made of the same stuff as table sugar. Just a couple of tiny differences here and there and look what happened to the sugar: it can stand upright and send tweets.”

Then there’s his take on shattering shame: “It just doesn’t seem likely that shame will be the next cupcakes. It may be destined to remain terminally uncool, relegated forever to the distant corner of the past we’d rather forget, right there along with clogs.”

For all of its humor, however, “This is How” has a surprisingly upbeat tone compared to Burroughs’ earlier books. Beneath the dark commentary is a semi-serious and sincere voice that comes from years of therapy and rehab. While he can sound at times like the Anti-Oprah, punching holes in platitudes and clichés, he can also be as profound as Norman Vincent Peale when he writes movingly on the topics of love and death. His observations are offered in an honest, plain-spoken manner with an earnest attempt to keep it real and even be inspirational.

“Life tucks its rarest, largest and most D-flawless diamonds deep, deep inside the folds of the greatest loss,” he writes. “You do not know they are even there, glittering in the dark, right beside you.”

There is a lot that readers can take away from this book; the author’s ultimate message is to live in the moment and be truthful to yourself. And Burroughs attempts to show you how.

When Joan Has a Bone To Pick, Everyone Gets Hated Equally

Joan Rivers' 'I Hate Everyone...Starting With Me.'

Joan Rivers’ ‘I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me.’

Let me start by saying I have never hated Joan Rivers. In fact, at one time, I loved, loved, loved her. Early in my career, back in her can-we-talk days, I interviewed her for a feature story and I still keep that yellow-edged article in my portfolio because I enjoyed our conversation so much.

But in recent years, I haven’t loved her as much as I used to. I saw her live a few years ago and felt like she lost her edge, relying too much on the F-word to get her jokes across. I guess when you get to be her age — as it should be — you don’t give a fuck what people think or say.

Well, Joan, you’ve won me over again with your latest book, “I Hate Everyone…Starting with Me” (Penguin Group). Within 10 pages, she had me in tears from laughing so hard. I think it was her definition of a tween: “which is just a teen who hasn’t given a blow job yet.” Actually, even before the book begins, the dedication page lets readers know they’re in for a very un-PC diatribe because she dedicates it to two killers, including O.J. Simpson, because “maybe the lippy ex-wife had it coming.”

Too soon? IT’S A JOKE, PEOPLE! And if you don’t like that one, you probably won’t enjoy ones about 9/11, the Holocaust or abortion, either.

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

That is the thing I’ve always loved about Joan: the courage to say inappropriate, funny things that will make people gasp both from horror and from laughing so hard. I believe the phrase “Oh no she di-ent” was first uttered at a Joan Rivers show. I said of her those many years ago after our interview that there were no sacred cows in Joan’s pasture. And that statement remains as true today. She’ll take potshots at anyone — ugly babies, dumb children, lip-smacking old people, rude airline passengers, gay wives and lesbian grooms, and especially other celebrities — skewer them and serve them up with a delicious punchline.

Actually, one of the best chapters is one about food and restaurants. Here’s a juicy morsel: “I hate it when the waiter comes to the table and asks, ‘Would you like to see a menu?’ What’s the correct response to that question: ‘No. Let me guess what you have in the refrigerator.’ Or ‘No. I’m not worthy. I’ll just eat the crumbs off of the lap of the old lady at table seven.'”

joan2She writes with the same rapid-fire delivery that she uses on stage so that when you’re reading the book, it’s her voice that you hear in your head saying things like, “I hate ‘dry’ weddings where they don’t serve alcohol. If I want dry, I’ll spend time in the Mojave Desert or take pictures of my vagina”; or “I’ve undergone more reconstruction than Baghdad.” As the title indicates, Joan continues to do what she has always done best: make fun of herself.

To be frank (can we talk?) not all of the jokes work and some of the comedienne’s references are so dated they show her age. I’m not sure one-liners about Sylvia Plath, Mickey Rooney or baby Jessica falling in a well in 1987 work that well today. But she makes up for it with plenty of current zingers about Jerry Sandusky that are spot on. But Joan knows her audience better than I do; and in the end, it’s a testament to her own longevity in show business that she can reference everyone from Clara Bow and Senor Wences to Kim Kardashian and Beyonce in her jokes, or stretch a comparison between Shirley Temple and kidnapping victim Jaycee Dugard.

And it wouldn’t be a Joan Rivers book without at least a few Liz Taylor fat jokes. When they come from Joan, those are always funny, even if Ol’ Violet Eyes is dead.
And Bea Arthur being a man. Again, always funny. Even if the Ol’ Dickless Baritone is dead, too.

Not that she’s ever gone away, but in my book Joan is back with a vengeance and a very funny new book. The world would be a happier place if there were more hatemongers like her.