The passing of maximum psycho Charles Manson brings back a lot of memories, all of them bad. Several people have remarked that his death occurred roughly 50 years too late. I think we gotta go back a bit further – it came 83 years too late. Manson should never have walked this earth.
He was my father’s age, and I remember wondering at the height of Manson’s fame, when I was 10 or 11 with the limited perspective you might expect, how a guy like my dad could ever do those things. Of course, Manson was nothing like my dad. At the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders the 35-year old Manson had already been in jail and other institutions for nearly half his life.
He was born to a 16-year old single mother who, if she wasn’t unhinged at the time, shortly reached that point. He seemed to experience very little of what could be described as a normal upbringing and was one of those tragic children who had no chance. That said, his wiring may have been fried from the very beginning, demonstrating, as Bruce Springsteen sang in his song Nebraska, “I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.” An appropriate, orderly life was obviously anathema to Manson and the fact that most people actually lived that way ultimately bothered him enough to mastermind a killing spree.
I equate both Manson and the Zodiac Killer with a certain point in history. As I said, I was quite young at the time and both men scared the living shit out of me. I had difficulty sleeping, and when I did manage to fall asleep I had nightmares. Manson continued to freak me out well into my teens–long after he was convicted and incarcerated–with his wild eyes and whacked-out followers, including Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who attempted to further Manson’s legacy with an assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford in Sacramento in 1975.
Charles Manson forever tainted the Beatles’ “White Album” for me. He was under a delusion that the record was speaking to him, and many of you probably recall that his followers scrawled references on the walls at the mass murder sites, using the blood of their victims. To this day I can’t listen to ‘Helter Skelter’ with anything resembling enjoyment – all I see is Manson’s face with a maniacal grin, making the song threatening and spooky. The stunning ballad ‘Sexy Sadie,’ which is actually about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, never breaks through the chill of being co-opted as the nickname of convicted killer Susan Atkins. And the silly ‘Piggies’ has taken on an entirely different meaning that will never be erased.
Buh-bye, Charlie. If there is in fact life after death, I hope yours will be most unpleasant.