“Now is the time for Helter Skelter” Charles Manson & His Continued Relationship With Popular Culture

“I have killed no one and I have ordered no one to be killed.”

For a man who claims to have done nothing, Charles Manson’s notoriety would suggest otherwise, in fact  Manson is a convicted serial killer. He rose to infamy in the 1960’s and has penetrated popular culture as an icon of evil and madness ever since.  He has featured in episodes of South Park and The Simpsons and there are many song references to him. But why is a man who was responsible for the death of a heavily pregnant woman among many others so famous and revered?

The 1960’s Californian setting and the Manson Family Murders contrast starkly. When thinking of the hippie movement one is often drawn to images of girls with blonde flower-strewn hair and bearded men toking on joints. A prevailing idea of peace and free love, helped in no small measure by prolific drug consumption. Drugs such as amphetamines, L.S.D and weed, (which were thought to aid the experiencing of alternative states of consciousness) countercultural values and experimental psychedelic music were key factors in the movement.

The Manson Family, headed by Charles Manson was a direct off-cut of the hippie movement. For example at one point it said that Manson had approximately 18 women living with him which certainly suggests the experimental sexual attitude of the time is in full swing.  Manson ultimately created the persona of a rock star, complete with adoring groupies and a level of local infamy during the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’. Manson’s past included spending much of his time in correctional institutes and being an unemployed ex-convict with an interest in popular music.

Manson was a singer and songwriter on the fringes of the Los Angles music scene and it was said that he met Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys in a chance encounter at a friend’s house in San Francisco where Manson had gone to obtain marijuana, it is said that Wilson gave Manson his home address and told him to contact him when he was in L.A. This culminated in late spring 1968 when it is reported that Wilson picked up two hitchhiking female members of The Manson family.  The following morning Wilson encountered Manson, a shocked Wilson asked if Manson intended to hurt him, Manson responded by kissing Wilson’s feet.  After this point on, Wilson’s Sunset Boulevard home became a base for the Manson Family whose numbers reportedly reached 24 at one point, costing Wilson upwards of $100,000 including medical bills for the treatment of gonorrhea and a $21,000 bill for the destruction of one of Wilson’s uninsured cars which they borrowed. Wilson would sing with Manson and introduce him to his friends such as Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski and others, with fatal consequences.

The Beach Boys aside, Manson was obsessed by another male pop group, The Beatles, despite having been in prison when The Beatles first came to fame in America. Manson described The Beatles as “the soul” and “part of the hole in the infinite.” Furthermore Manson told friends that he could surpass the group in fame, which suggests already his growing illusions of grandeur. This idea also has reverberations that were felt later on in The Beatles story, the idea that you can do something terrible and become famous, is a contributing factor to why some people commit unspeakable acts. Such as John Lennon murderer Mark Chapman, who said recently that his motivating factor was that he “wanted to become somebody.”

Manson believed that The Beatles had written ‘The White Album’ (The Beatles) specifically for The Family’s benefit, forewarning them of a massive racial war that would cripple America. He believed the album was written in code eliciting instructions to himself and The Family.  In fact it is not clear but it is entirely possible that the term ‘The White Album’ may have influenced Manson’s ideas surrounding this ideology.  Manson believed in the highly controversial religion of Scientology and read extensively about the philosophy in prison. In 1969 The Family moved to a canary yellow home in Canoga Park, which Manson called “The Yellow Submarine,” a further Beatles reference.

On August 8th 1969 it is reported that Manson proclaimed, “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.”In reference to The Beatles song which Manson used as the code name for the impending “apocalypse.” On that night, Manson ordered several members of The Family including  Susan Atkins & Linda Kasabian ( who Kasabian would later take their name from) to go to “that house where Melcher used to live” and “totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can.”

Sharon Tate who was 8 months pregnant was stabbed 16 times. Before leaving Atkins wrote ‘pig’ on the front door in blood.  The Tate murders became headline news due to the high-profile nature of the victims, the unusual and eerie circumstances and brutal nature of the murders.

After a protracted court case Manson was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment, yet he has managed to stay within the public eye line due to various interviews and outlandish antics. Furthermore within months of his arrest Manson was lauded by 1960’s countercultural newspapers, there have been various documentaries recording Manson’s amazing story, (most notably one entitled ‘Superstar’ which demonstrates Manson’s escalted public status) many bands have paid tribute to him most notably: Marilyn Manson, The Alkaline Trio and Kasabian.

Why is Manson a pin-up for outsider musicians and artists? He was an outsider himself, He felt ostracized by society and then later he felt victimised by the media. Manson is known for his bizarre and often prophet-like quotes. Even before he was famous he lived the life of a modern-day rock star with an army of female groupies adhering to his every whim. Even the term ‘The Manson Family’ is reminiscent of an alternative rock band. Forgetting his moral corruption his charisma is unquestionable.

To Be Continued…

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