I have never been entirely sure why Manson and his gruesome murders have continued to intrigue us. (AUGUST 9, 1969 – Issue: 8/7/19) I do get it in the immediate like O.J. or JonBenét Ramsey, the Unabomber, or even Michael Jackson capturing our gory sense of voyeurism. These are of their time. But then after a while something comes and knocks it off the table and we are mesmerized by a whole new horror. This time lapse has sped up considerably with the Internet and social media and 24-hour news channels and we are confronted with the worst violence, including these almost weekly mass shootings, and then… NEXT! But here is Manson and that bloody night a half-century ago still having this sinister impact on us all. But I have to say your piece brought it all to light. It was a fair and interesting look at both the youth/hippie movement and the Hollywood culture, as well as the ignoring of the signs that a counterculture could breed.
When I first saw this column I was kind of pissed. Another piece on this scum murderer continuing our fascination with violence and mayhem? But it was so well done, and I learned some new perspectives, I understood by the end why this period and this terrible event still lingers in our culture, for good or ill.
— Sarah M.
“All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit.” Boy is that reductive and simplistic. Maybe if he’d picked up a few hits of acid instead of a revolver, he would have enjoyed old age more. Interestingly, researchers are discovering after decades of demonization that acid is effective for quite a few afflictions, notably clinical depression. Also probably worth noting, Manson’s mom was a horror show as far as mothers go—I think she went away for armed robbery. He was raised mostly by his grandparents, who were ultra-strict, and on the first day of kindergarten—first day of school ever—sent him dressed in girl’s clothes to punish him for something or another. He wound up in reform school and if my memory is accurate, was repeatedly beaten and raped by both guards and older boys (he was always small).
Though this is according to Joel Norris’s book on serial killers (which he was not; he was never convicted of actually committing a murder, though he likely did commit one or more) and Norris’s book may need to be updated. I also saw the TV movie though it didn’t scare me in the least, I suspect for the simple reason that my father was, to me, scarier—and Charlie was in prison; my dad lived with me. That’s not irony. I read Bugliosi’s book and thought it exceptionally well done.
So, there’re my 2 cents.
I had honestly forgotten about Manson until I recently saw the Netflix series Mindhunters. It is a fascinating look into the minds of serial killers or merely the minds and motives and behavior of the violently insane. Manson to me always seemed like a con artist, which is one of your first descriptions of him in the piece. He played the hippies, he played the Hells Angels and the Black Panthers, the cops and the media, and the justice system. He was constantly putting on a show, changing his image and methods to fit whatever situation he could exploit. And since Manson had very little interest or put much stock in human life, the murders were just another a show. He made it a show, and this is what has survived in our violent American culture—the show. And I think your reference to Trump is apt in the sense that he represents the show portion of our inability to see the con artist from the celebrity, from the story those two weave to keep us from seeing their true nature.
You can’t help yourself, can you? This was one of your finest pieces to date…. right up until you tried to tie Charlie Manson to Donald Trump. Why Trump? Why not Obama? Why not either of the Bush guys? You really need to get your Trump Derangement Syndrome checked out. It totally destroyed one of your finest pieces to date.
I am appalled at our celebrity culture. It has always been our great distraction, our true “opiate of the masses” and in a way, it is our religion. We are transfixed by the shallowest shit, even our murders. Our criminals, now our presidents. Celebrity culture…. Pathetic. We deserve our violence and our idiot president and our vacuous music and insipid movies and TV shows and our worship of maggots like Charles fucking Manson.
Woodstock is one of the greatest moments in music history and certainly American history (AUGUST 15 – 18, 1969 – Issue: 8/14/19). I have really enjoyed your three-part series on three pretty incredible events happening within weeks of each other in the same month in the same year! But this one was the best…. It has frankly stood the test of time better than the other two. It has become kind of a catchphrase and a symbol for those times and also the part of the rock and roll culture that is passed down through the generations. This was a wonderful piece. Thank you.
I just started reading your column. I only knew your great writing from your music books and your podcast (Underwater Sunshine). You doing this long series on Woodstock has made me rethink its importance and how seminal it was beyond music to our national psyche. I was always perplexed by the film. It seemed more of a period piece than an actual documentary or music film to capture it for future generations. It was like they were selling the times and not capturing the time historically. Does that make sense? And because of that, Woodstock, the festival, seems to exist in a vacuum. Much of what we know, if not all of what we know about Woodstock, is the film. The music, as you guys are covering in the podcast, kind of got lost along the way. So many great artists were either forgotten, or in the case of Janis Joplin, The Band, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, or CCR, no one even knew they were there, as amazing as their sets ended up being. What I’m getting at is Woodstock remains one of our most celebrated mysteries. Not sure what we are saying by this celebration. Are we pining for these times? Are we saying that we can never again make it back to the garden, in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, or where was the garden in the first place? Was it something we just created from its history? Another American myth unsolved.
Excellent summation of a special event in R&R History. Still glad we did not stop along our way to the Catskills.