I’ve thought long and hard about this post, but I'm going with it anyway! I just hope my bloggin’ licence isn’t revoked as a consequence… I mean, exactly where do you start with a review of a murderers music career anyway?!
Charles Manson’s first recordings were made in 1967 -- 2 years before the atrocities he and his 'family' carried out. At the age of 33, he'd already spent more than half of his life in juvenile detention centres and prisons (mainly on charges of burglary), but it was whilst he was incarcerated in the United States Penitentiary at McNeil Island between 1960 and 67, that Alvin "Creepy" Karpis (a former member of Ma Barker's gang) taught Manson to play guitar.
On his release in March 67, Manson set his mind on ‘going straight’ and becoming a musician, and travelled to San Francisco to do just that. Soon he had the interest of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson and producer Terry Melcher (the son of Doris Day), who set up a recording session for Manson to make some demos. He recorded more demos in 68 (again with Wilson), but there was little interest in his material, and Manson soon became disillusioned with the whole idea. Bizarrely, it is the snub from the music industry that is actually cited as a possible motive for the Tate\LaBianca murders (8th and 9th Aug 69), revenge on the entertainment industry as a whole, for not furthering his musical career.
All of his demos from the 60s have been reissued numerous times (most famously the 68 session was released as Lie: The Love & Terror Cult in 1970, to finance his murder trial), but after his life imprisonment sentence in 1971 you’d think that would be the end of it. Yet believe it or not, Manson’s recording career took an even more sinister twist (if that's possible!) after this point, as incredibly, over the last 37 years, he has continued to release numerous albums of prison recordings ‘from the inside’ (the most recent in 2005)…. Even Amazon are known to carry a few of his albums, and some of his rare releases command big money on eBay.
There is (rightly) some unease about listening to these recordings -- and almost certainly some double standards too… would I be interested in hearing the musical talents of Ian Huntley or Myra Hindley perhaps? A resounding NO, yet if you can get over the main hurdle that you're listening to a murderer (a rather large hurdle granted!), his 60’s material is surprisingly good. Like a warped Dylan, he sings acoustic psychedelic/blues/folk songs with a real (albeit deranged) passion, with comparisons to anything from a young Willie Nelson or Hank Williams to Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean or even Art Garfunkel… yes really!. He actually has quite a good voice, his lyrics are heartfelt and his guitar playing is impressive. Yes, hours of subversive fun await you, playing it to all your unsuspecting elderly relatives, asking them to “guess the singer”!
The man and the crimes he carried out have all been judged, and I have nothing but contempt for them... but is it possible for his music to be judged seperatly?? Can you dispise the man yet enjoy the music? If only those albums really were a young Willie Nelson, I’d be guilt free!! As it is my only crumb of consolation comes from the fact that I’m only really interested in the 60’s recordings, and they were at least recorded prior to him becoming a viscous mass murderer!!
It’s also interesting to note just how many artists have covered Manson’s material over the years, The Lemonheads, Red Cross, Beach Boys, Guns n Roses, The Brian Jonestown Masacre and Marilyn Manson have all recorded his songs over the years... I wonder who the royalties go to??!
If you're curious, but don't feel it’s right that Manson (or anyone else for that matter) should profit from the sales of his albums, I can offer you the nearest you're likely to get to a 'guilt free' listen. A fellow Blogspot blogger has set up 'Manson Music', where you can download almost every album for free (including all the 67 and 68 demos).
Manson Music Blog
A much lighter post next time... promise!
Brian Lewis part 4
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