January 11, 2020


Sympathy for the Devil in the Cultural Moment of 1969 (ALEXANDER RILEY, 1/08/20, Public Discourse)

Just a few days before Woodstock, the Manson murders were taking place on the other side of the country in California. Lebo's consideration of this dreadful piece of 1969 is admirable, emphasizing some of the broader connections of Manson's insanity to the '60s musical counterculture. Still, he fails to connect as fully as he might all the sinister dots linking Manson, the deeds of his "Family," and the rest of the counterculture he inhabited.

In a December 1968 interview with the title "I Live With 17 Girls," the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson described his relationship with a number of Manson's female cult members--"space ladies," in his terms--whom he was thinking of launching in a musical career. Through them, he met their "guru, a guy named Charlie who'd recently come out of jail after twelve years." Manson, Wilson went on, had "drifted into crime, but when I met him, I found he had great musical ideas. We're writing together now. He's dumb, in some ways, but I accept his approach and have learnt from him." Wilson let members of the Manson Family live in his Sunset Boulevard home, and he introduced Manson to Terry Melcher, the music producer son of Doris Day. Manson later dropped by Melcher's home unannounced, but Melcher had moved. The new resident was Sharon Tate, who turned him away. Manson did not forget this spurning.

Charles Manson did not become a famous musician, and his failure in the music industry motivated some of his monstrous rage. A Beach Boys' song, "Never Learn Not to Love," was a rewritten version of a Manson composition titled "Cease to Exist," and the lack of a songwriting credit greatly angered him. When the Beatles' White Album was released in November 1968, Manson heard it as a call to violent social revolution through assassination, murder, and race war.

It is too easy now, especially given a certain political predilection, to see this as a wholly distinctive and idiosyncratic reading of the cultural temperature of the moment.

Quentin Tarantino's new film is a stinging rebuke to the romanticization of the '60s, right down to the title's implication that they were unAmerican.

Posted by at January 11, 2020 8:35 AM