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!
Behind closed doors
10 hours ago
Piley has broken the last taboo:) Well I guess logically music should be judged on its own merits but no way should someone like Manson be allowed to profit - how come he escaped the death penalty anyway?
I guess like many people today, I had a dim and distant recollection of the nasty murders comitted by Manson and his followers but its only when you read up about what actually happened you think holy crap, I don't wanna hear that guy's music!
Shame coz I love Don Mclean and Garfunkel!
I should add that despite what I just wrote, I would have to admit his Tainted Love cover was pretty awesome!
Glad you liked my music man. I invite you to join The Family.
Helter Skelter my friend.
Great post Piley. One of your better, more deeper writings. It'll probably open up a can of worms but so what. As Encoch Powell once said: "By the rivers of babylon..."
It's one of those areas I've been aware of but never checked out - I'll have to lend it an (impartial)ear. It's always going to be a tricky catalogue, but one you have to judge on it's own musical merit.
PH - you are nearer than perhaps you thought! Brian did indeed nick Charlies surname for his Marilyn Manson character! It was a 'beauty and the beast' kinda vibe I believe.. Monroe n Charlie!
There is a weird line on whats acceptable in music tho...
We've had wife beaters (Ike Turner), Child abusers (Glitter, J King) and more. And didn't James Brown, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry etc all spend time in jail?
Some of these come back to a heroes welcome, whilst others can never return... Michael Jackson anyone??!
Surprised not to see more comments on this. I have been aware of Manson, the murders and the fact that there was a vague musical connection. Didn't realise it went this far though. I'd have to admit to a natural curiosity about his music but it would be hard to listen to it with an open mind. Still, I guess music is music and should be judged for what it is and not who played it.
I thought it was a good article……..very thought provoking. I expect that I might even like the 60’s music from what you described. However, even though it was produced before the atrocities, I don’t think that I could listen to them dispassionately. And I think you need to come at these things without prejudice or pre-judgement.
Brave post Piley. Very informative too, I had no idea there was a musical side to the Manson story. Think i'd feel unconfortable listening to it if I knew who it was, but I guess that's exactly the point of your article? or maybe I just been on the thicky pills again!
I think this is an extremely interesting and well-written piece. I found myself also drawing comparison with Hitler too - many have cited that had he been admitted to art school rather than rejected (and most upset and dejected about it he was too) then perhaps world history would be slightly different than it is today....
Re: Michael Jackson - despite the fact he was found not guilty I find it very hard to listen to his music now - ditto Gary Glitter. Never had a problem with Jonathan King because his music was utter shite anyway as opposed to Jackson and some early Glitter.
Hey, thanks everyone for the comments, I really appreciate em, particularly on this one, as I was a bit worried how the post might be viewed.
RM - you have nailed it there - just what I was thinking. The 'if onlys' in life... if only you'd done this and not that. Weird.
Just ran across this post. I'm the one who runs the Manson Music blog. Just wanted to thank you for the link!
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