The notorious cult killer, who died last week, was a figure of morbid fascination for generations of bands from Nine Inch Nails to Kasabian
Last Wednesday, after a long, disruptive, controlling and unrepentant life behind bars, Charles Manson died from natural causes, aged 83. His crimes were despicable and his music hardly a redeeming factor, yet Manson had become a figure of fascination since the Tate murders of 1969 – a symbol of the hippy dream gone bad, the darkness at the edge of pop culture and the soul-corrupting power of music, when fed through the warped mind of a madman.
For almost fifty years, various bands have been connected to Manson, either through misjudged friendships, a perverse admiration or to steal for themselves a little of his evil allure. These, then, are the acts drawn into Manson’s musical Family.
The darkness at the heart of ‘The White Album’ is deeper to this day because of the inference of race war and incitement to murder that Manson read into the album. Obsessed with The Beatles from their first emergence, by 1968 Manson felt the band were writing music specifically aimed at him and his Family – twisting lyrics to his own purposes, he saw ‘The White Album’ as an invitation to contact The Beatles and an outline of the forthcoming war between whites and blacks that he came to call Helter Skelter. ‘Piggies’ and ‘Healter Skelter’ were written in blood at the scenes of the Manson Family murders.
The Beach Boys
When Manson relocated from San Francisco to LA in 1968 to follow up on the Hollywood contacts he’d acquired during a life spent in various prisons and institutions for juvenile delinquency, car theft, fraud and pimping, he networked his way to several big music names, some more impressed than others. John Phillips of The Mamas And Papas repeatedly passed on recording with him, but Neil Young said “he had this kind of music that nobody else was doing, I thought he really had something crazy, something great. He was like a living poet.”
Another high-profile convert was The Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson, who loved Manson’s ‘Cease To Exist’ so much that he convinced The Beach Boys to record it, retitled ‘Never Learn Not To Love’ and with the original title lyric changed to ‘cease to resist’. Released first as a b-side and then included on their 1969 album ‘20/20’, the song is credited to Wilson, who had convinced Manson to give up his writing credit since he owed Dennis money for trashing his mansion and giving away his possessions when Manson and his Family basically took up residence there.
Several bands have taken their names from references to Manson and his Family – Kasabian are named after Linda Kasabian, a Family member who was the chief witness for the prosecution at the Manson Family trials, and LA’s electro-industrial trio Spahn Ranch took their name from the Family’s hideout. But most famously, Marilyn Manson stole his stage surname from the notorious cult killer, and referenced the Tate murders in the video for ‘Beautiful People’.
Nine Inch Nails
Hoping to capture a little of the murderous atmosphere of the place, Trent Reznor recorded much of NIN’s ‘The Downward Spiral’ album at 10050 Cielo Drive, scene of the Tate murders, and recorded the video for ‘Gave Up’ there too.
The Fat White Family
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Over the years, plenty of acts have incorporated references to Manson into their songs, from Cabaret Voltaire sampling his radio interviews for their 1985 album ‘The Covenant, The Sword And The Arm Of The Lord’ to Ozzy Osbourne, Alkaline Trio and Sonic Youth making mentions of Manson in song. There are few bands, though, prepared to come out as actual fans of Manson’s music, let alone start a covers band dedicated to them. Skulk forward The Fat White Manson Family, an offshoot of FWF who perform Charlie’s tunes to a whole new audience of impressionable psychopaths.