Rare or Unreleased 30: Charles Manson

Charles Manson: Some songs off All the Way Alive [.zip]

This week saw both «Communist» China's 60-year anniversary and Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland. The two events seem connected—in the loosest possible sense—in a 1967 Esquire pictorial, wherein snippets of Mao's propaganda is illustrated with shots of Sharon Tate donning CCP symbols, mixed in with glamour, glitz and gratuitous nudity. You could say it anticipated China's consumerist-Capitalist twist on Communism by decades. Two years later, this innocent (if offensively ignorant) radical chic would be starkly contrasted with the hateful underbelly of '60s love & light, the Manson Family serving as the rapist-murderer to the Beverly Hills socialites' S&M fetishist.

It's testament to the 1960s' artistic dedication that several of its influential figures took things a little too far, losing their balance while tip-toeing on the edge of thought. Today's hip or prominent artists are more worried about their hairdos or the lighting. But in the '60s, we have Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett, Jefferson Airplane/Moby Grape's Skip Spence, the 13th Floor Elevators' Roky Erickson, Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, Love's Arthur Lee (and Bobby Beausoleil)…

Not to mention Charlie. Manson wasn't a rock star, of course, and some would have it that it's precisely this frustration that made him do the things he's best remembered for. That's a simplistic theory that originated in the prosecutor's office, and should never have left the courtroom, really. A lot of people don't make it in the biz, without resorting to extensive mind control and conspiracy to brutally slaughter random rich & beautiful people. But a prosecutor needs a motive, and a motive involves neat rationality. It's not unthinkable, however, that Manson wanted to see how far he could make his followers go, equally as much as he desired to unleash his rage upon those who spurned his desperate advances for validation… In any case, reasoning on his part would probably have been confused, at best.

But all that came later. On 11 September 1967, still trying to land a record deal, Manson recorded his first demos. (Not to be confused with a second batch of demos, recorded on 9 August, 1968 and released in 1970 under the title Lie—The Love and Terror Cult.) The '67 demos remained unreleased for a very long time, no one wanting to touch the damn thing, not even for historical value. They were finally released in 2003, as All the Way Alive, limited to a run of 1,000. Neither the audio quality nor the music itself are great, yet they aren't as poor as you'd imagine. Dennis Wilson famously ended up buying a couple of songs off Manson (which the Beach Boys subsequently recorded), and Neil Young was sufficiently impressed to give Manson a motorcycle(!).

Typically, the 12 songs (and one interview) showcase Manson's homespun quack, hack and wack «philosophy,» which basically takes the common lovey-dovey sentiments of doe-eyed hippies (with the typical disregard for coherence and logical consistency of all New Age of Aquarius non-systems of thought), and weds it to a sometimes more bitter, anti-social sentiment, latent in the songs' anti-consumerism. The whole thing is made all the more bizarre by Manson's intros and addendums of nervous laughter and quasi-intellectual chatter. This is the sound of a pathological con man's take on hippie culture, in a time before hippies were equated with love and flowers and many of them were still dabbling in anything alternative to the WASP existence, be it the occult, hoodoo or Satanism—even Socialist revolution.

In any case, Manson's con was convincing enough to disillusioned middle class, teenage runaway girls with father complexes, who heard something profound in these songs and discourses. Of course, LSD helped suspend their critical faculties.

Still, these recordings aren't just curiosa. This is the sound of Napoleonic ambition and bottomless resentment, cloaked in Christlike love. And when you think of all that has been (and still is) done in the name of Christ—all the sinister motives disguised as «love», in our everyday lives as much as in major historical events—you realise there's an unintentional ring of ugly truth to these sounds—which are admittedly quite catchy at times.

At least the songs I've shortlisted here. (The rest of the tracks are novelty songs of mainly historical value.) And at least in one song—the refreshingly honest «Bet You Think I Care»—Manson gives us a short glimpse behind the curtain, directly revealing to us his psychopathic nature. He's not evil. He simply doesn't give a shit.

  1. True Love You Will Find
  2. The More You Love
  3. Two Pair of Shoes
  4. Who to Blame
  5. Bet You Think I Care
  6. Devil Man

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