It's the 50th anniversary of the serial killer's debut album 'Lie: The Love and Terror Cult'.
We're taking a rather different approach to our 'Album of the Week' feature this week as we explore instead the power that serial killer and cult leader Charles Manson had on musical culture on this, the 50th anniversary of his album Lie: The Love and Terror Cult which was recorded between 1967 and 1969 and released during his trial in 1970.
Charles Manson, 1968 / Photo Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
While there's arguably nothing especially remarkable about the album to note in terms of musical dexterity - at best, it's a mediocre folk record with disjointed lyrical themes - it does have a cult following thanks to the macabre history surrounding it. Artists like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Neil Young are purported fans of the album, though whether they would still be if Manson hadn't incited his followers to commit nine murders during the summer of 1969 is another question.
Lie: The Love and Terror Cult
Lie: The Love and Terror Cult was produced by Phil Kaufman (who has his own disturbing history) through Awareness Records after he met Manson in prison, before the Manson Family cult was formed. Kaufman allegedly thought Manson's guitar playing wasn't up to much, but appreciated his singing and songwriting abilities enough that he gave him the contact details for Gary Stromberg at Universal.
The subsequent recording session was a failure because Manson's approach was unprepared and amateurish, and though Kaufman would produce it in the end, it would reportedly only go on to sell 300 copies, though 2,000 were distributed. Kaufman even lived with the Manson Family for a time, but he quickly grew apart from Manson because - while he enjoyed sexual relationships with many of the women in the cult - he was never interested in being one of Manson's followers.
The title of the record and the mugshot on the cover parodies the Life magazine cover from December 1969 which featured "The Love and Terror Cult" as a headline. The "F" was, admittedly rather cleverly, removed from the word "Life". While Manson was in custody, it is claimed that he was so desperate for people to hear his music that he called Kaufman about it five times a week.
Manson's musical venture came out of a chance friendship with the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson in 1968. Dennis wanted him to be signed under the band's Brother Records, but Brian Wilson refused. He and Carl Wilson, however, did co-produce several recordings of Manson's music at Brian's home studio, though these are likely to never be released to the public. Of course, it is possible that some songs were re-recorded for Lie: The Love and Terror Cult but this has never been confirmed.
The Beach Boys went on to record one of Manson's songs, Cease to Exist, under the title Never Learn Not to Love (a line in the original song), though they refused to credit Manson owing to an outstanding debt. This, coupled with the changes in lyrics ("cease to exist" being changed to "cease to resist") understandably annoyed Manson, but he agreed to renounce his credit under a monetary arrangement. The song was included on the Beach Boys' album 20/20, released six months before the Tate-LaBianca murders.
And thus the band became the first of many whose music was influenced by the notorious murderer; though, of course, they didn't know it at the time. But subsequent artists would become more inspired by the crimes of Charles Manson, rather than his second-rate song-writing.
An Inspired Generation
It's only fitting that Manson would serve as dark inspiration for so many musicians when his own ideologies came from one of the most prominent albums of all time. His entire bloodthirsty philosophy was born from his obsession with The Beatles' White Album, whose song Helter Skelter became a term Manson used to describe what he believed was an impending race war of an apocalyptic scale.
We're not by any stretch suggesting that all of the bands we mention share any of Manson's views, but that's sort of what makes his influence so interesting. His songs have been covered to death and some people have based their entire aesthetic on him, not out of conscious reverence, but because controversy gets attention.
Guns N' Roses released a cover of Look at Your Game, Girl as a secret bonus track on their 1993 album The Spaghetti Incident?. Understandably, it caused plenty of outrage and the band did consider removing the track from future album pressings, though that never transpired. Later, Geffen Records announced that they would donate part of the album earnings to the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau in an attempt to appease critics.
Other notable covers of Manson songs were Sonic Boom's version of Mechanical Man in 1994, controversial punk rocker (and fellow Awareness Records artist) GG Allin's rendition of Garbage Dump, Crispin Glover's cover of I'll Never Say Never to Always and Devendra Banhart's reworking of Home Is Where You're Happy. Cease to Exist has been covered by Rob Zombie, Redd Kross and The Lemonheads, with the latter also doing a version of Home Is Where You're Happy and interpolating parts of Big Iron Door into Left for Dead from 1990's Lovey.
Additionally, Front Line Assembly and Cabaret Voltaire have sampled parts of Manson's album and interviews respectively, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre reworked Arkansas into their song Arkansas Revisited in 1999. In fact, the band's frontman Anton Newcombe has never shied away from citing Manson as an influence on his music, and even claimed to have recorded a song with him while he was in prison - though the validity of this claim is sketchy at best. We can't say we're surprised at learning that Newcombe made this claim, though; his fascination with murder cults is obvious, particularly given that he named his band after the 1978 Jonestown Massacre.
Marilyn Manson is probably the most Charles Manson-influenced artist in pop culture. His use of his surname aside, many of his songs make reference to the crimes. The Beautiful People alludes to a message that was written in blood at the Tate murder scene, "How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?" (itself a reference to lyrics in the Beatles song Baby, You're a Rich Man), and includes a vocal sample from Manson Family member Tex Watson.
He even recorded an acoustic cover of the Charles Manson's song Sick City in a podcast in 2000 though it was never officially released, and his band's 1994 debut album Portrait of an American Family was originally going to be called The Manson Family Album. The song My Monkey from the album sampled Charles Manson speaking and also lyrics from the killer's song Mechanical Man. Whether or not Mechanical Man inspired the title for the singer's later album Mechanical Animals remains to be seen, but the link between My Monkey and the Beatles' White Album song Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey cannot be ignored.
Parts of Portrait of an American Family were even recorded at Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor's home studio when he lived at 10050 Cielo Drive; the address where the Tate murders actually took place.
Reznor had purchased the property in 1992, naming the studio he built "Pig" in reference to another message written across the front door in blood by Manson Family member Susan Atkins; an allusion to another Beatles' song, Piggies. He later denied purchasing the house for "shock value" or to be associated with this infamous part of popular culture (unlike, he thought, Marilyn Manson's intentions), but claimed he was trying to be "subversive".
It was there Nine Inch Nails recorded most of their critically acclaimed second album The Downward Spiral two years before, but during that time Reznor claimed not to have known about the house's history when he bought it and simply liked it more than the other properties he had looked at. Songs like Piggy and March of the Pigs, however, suggested a more calculated purchase.
An alternative explanation for Piggy came from former guitarist Richard Patrick, who claimed that the song was named so because of Reznor's nickname for him and not to do with what was written on the door by Atkins (or, indeed, to do with Bobby Beausoleil scrawling "political piggy" across the wall of another murder victim named Gary Allen Hinman).
Reznor moved out soon after recording the album following an uncomfortable conversation with Sharon Tate's sister who had confronted him about exploiting her death by living there. He ultimately realised that his interest in American folklore was bordering on ignorance and decided that he no longer wanted to be seen as someone who supports a serial killer. In spite of his newfound attitude, he couldn't resist taking the front door of the house with him when he left, and installing it at his new studio in New Orleans.
Thankfully, the house was demolished by 1994, so no future artists could capitalise on its gruesome history for the sake of causing a reaction. Still, it didn't discourage others from associating themselves with the massacre; LA industrial band Spahn Ranch named themselves after the place where Manson and his followers lived, while British indie band Kasabian took their name from Manson Family member Linda Kasabian.
Even when artists are not taking their morbid fascination to these extremes, they are still talking about Manson in their music. Eminem, N.W.A and Don McLean have all made casual references, but the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Alkaline Trio, Sonic Youth, System of a Down, The Flaming Lips, Meat Machine, Neil Young and Ramones have written whole songs about him. The disturbing thing is that rarely are these written from a perspective of "this was a terrible, terrible man who did terrible, terrible things". They were written from a view of "here's a gratuitous and tongue-in-cheek re-telling of a shocking story".
Case in point: Ozzy's Bloodbath In Paradise features uncomfortably cavalier lines like: "You're comin' home - there's blood on the walls and Charlie and the family made house calls. If you're alone then watch what you do 'cos Charlie and the family might get you."
So why are artists so fascinated by this vile piece of American history?
There's something about tragedy and terror that humans as a species can't get enough of. We revel in horror movies, the more grisly the better, and we binge on Netflix true crime documentaries while still managing to keep down popcorn and take-out. The mere fact we're writing/reading this article proves we can't help ourselves when it comes to the profane and the wicked.
We're fascinated by those whose mentalities we can't touch, and by what drives people to commit crimes that are so completely against the nature of humanity as most of us see it in our day-to-day lives. Musicians are just people who transfer their curiosity into art. That sometimes upsets us because, while as individuals we like to immerse ourselves in the dark side of society every now and again, seeing others make a profit from doing so reminds us how wrong it is to allow people like Charles Manson to be remembered, and consequently even respected, above his innocent victims.
But this is where it gets interesting; as much as without Charles Manson we might not have Marilyn Manson as we know him and NIN's The Downward Spiral would have been very different, without the Beatles Manson may not have had corrupted ideologies that led him to form a cult. Saying that, Manson's love of music would likely have led towards another album of which to twist the lyrics if the Beatles had not been around, such was his mental state.
It may not have been "Helter Skelter", but it could just have easily have been "Animal Farm" (from The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society) or "Voodoo Chile" (Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland). Any song that has ever been written can be taken out of context; literal meanings interpreted as dark metaphors, single lines extracted and separated from their context. All it takes is someone with a perverse mind and a murderous agenda.
It's almost as if music was the corrupter as well as the corrupted in this case. It's powerful enough to inspire evil and to elevate evil to reverence. But also how many bands would think to create music surrounding such an incident if others had not done so before them? One thing's for sure: the very nature of music will make sure that Charles Manson's depraved legacy will live on forever.