I knew the Hippie Dream was over by the time of the mess that was Altamont, the anti-Woodstock concert.
Altamont happened 20 or 30 miles east of San Francisco in late ‘69. The bad vibes were flowing like crazy leading up to the event, and I decided not to go, sensing the bummer to come. Sure enough, there was a murder in front of the stage of the Rolling Stones.
You didn’t have to be a genius to know something had gone badly wrong by then with the Peace and Love scene, but it’s difficult to describe the collective psychic dismay as the details began to surface about the Manson Family killings, at around the same time as the disaster of Altamont.
The Manson murders were the final proof the hippie-haters needed to tar a generation.
The cascade of media details about LSD-crazed, Beatles-influenced weirdos on a bloody rampage were like some kind of infinite nightmare.
It reflected terribly on all of us who identified with the counter-culture. Suddenly we were more despicable than the killers in Vietnam. We went numb.
As the details emerged in the following months and years, it got even worse. Somehow this scary creature and cult leader Manson had actually worked with the Beach Boys as a songwriter, on a track they had rewritten from a tune he, unbelievably, wrote for them that he called “Cease to Exist.”
Here in our even-odder modern era of December 2017, you can easily hear Charlie Manson perform his song on YouTube. I just did for the very first time, Googled it and listened.
It was about what I expected, if better sung than I expected it to be. But knowing it was Manson singing was horrifying. “I’m your kind” he repeats in the hook.
The Beach Boys represented the innocent early 60s California culture. Sadly, they had become a irrelevant musical joke by the time they lifted Manson’s ditty for their recording. There is even a live Beach Boys performance of the tune on YouTube, which I also just saw for the first time but couldn’t finish watching. They kept Manson’s repeating lyric device, and Dennis Wilson sings it. The awkwardly-titled mess was retitled “Never Learn Not to Love.”
The chilling conclusion: The Beach Boys essentially stole a song from Charlie Manson. Apparently they paid him, but Dennis Wilson unjustly took sole writer’s credit for the song.
Thinking about it now, they dodged a bullet, so to speak. At least Manson’s name wasn’t on the label as a songwriter.
Dennis Wilson was haunted by his connection to Manson, and refused to discuss it for the rest of his life. I can’t say I blame him. Wilson actually had Charlie Manson and his Family living in his house, recorded with him, and released a song of his. Does it get any more embarrassing than that?
For anyone interested in the details of Manson’s life and that of his followers, there are two major books, “Helter Skelter” by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, and Ed Sanders’ work “The Family.” I prefer the Sanders version. Taken together, the two books cover most of what anyone could possibly need or want to know.
Manson died November 19, 2017, outliving Dennis Wilson by over three decades. Manson’s death, from respiratory failure brought on by a metastasized case of colon cancer, was rather a relief for some of us who lived through the grim experience of those times.
The details of the gruesome murders Manson orchestrated are too nauseating to me to want to go into here. But it seemed important to look into one aspect of the first Manson murder, that of musician Gary Hinman in the summer of 1969. Hinman lived not very far from where I do at present, in Topanga Canyon, California.
As far as I can tell, the Hinman house on Old Topanga Road was a modest cabin-type house that has since been torn down and replaced. The day after Manson died, I rather reluctantly went there and stood looking at the property from the street. Hm, I thought, probably for the best that the house was removed.
I took a couple photos, but as I drove home I concluded I wouldn’t be using them for this article. After all, if I lived there, I wouldn’t want to see my house on the internet connected to such sordid, notorious events.
Which brings us to The Golden Rule.
Much of the evil on Planet Earth stems from violations of this simple concept: treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s amazingly simple.
Manson apparently never had a father around, had an indifferent mother, got into crime early, and when released in the early spring of 1967 had been in jail over half of his 32 years. Reportedly he asked not to be released, stating that he felt more at home in jail than on the outside. But that’s not how the game works, and Manson, who had been jailed in Southern California, was given permission to reside in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So there is Charlie Manson, let loose in a special spot in the middle of a time Hunter Thompson called “the kind of peak that never comes again.”
Thompson nails the wonder of it, continuing that “San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world.”
I can testify to that, since I too was there. Most of you readers weren’t, which wasn’t your fault. You were either too young, or you just didn’t live there. But Thompson distills the essence of the era in what is perhaps his finest writing. We lived, for a short time from 1966 to maybe mid-1968, in a genuinely magic place.
As Thompson wrote, it’s almost impossible to describe.
Manson used his charisma to put together a group of devoted, mostly female followers who he dominated using drugs and sex. Eventually they left the Bay Area for Los Angeles, and none of the killings happened in the San Francisco region. The Manson murders didn’t kill our Hippie Dream, they were just the final nail in the coffin.
The Thompson quote, from what he later called “the Vegas Book,” is part of a larger recollection that included him noting that the entire Bay Area in the middle sixties was special. “There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…” Thompson wrote.
That’s certainly what I remember, and why the news of the Manson Family, which was actually started in the Bay Area, was so personally gut-wrenching. The short-lived purity of the time was destroyed by advantage-takers like Manson. For a moment, it seemed like everything was going to be all right. And then, as John Lennon said, “The dream is over.”
So here we are in a post-Manson world of corporate greed, Big Pharma drugs, accelerating environmental degradation, media mania, crazed shooters and bombers, vast economic disparity, insane partisan politics, racist and sexist lunacy, and perhaps worst of all, an endless extension of the Vietnam War, moved now to the Middle East and Africa.
I’ve never been good at tolerating people who break the Golden Rule, and man, does it seem like there are a lot of them now, more than ever, both in the news and in my personal life. Friends, even very long term friends, pulling dark stuff on me I’d never, ever do to them. Spirit-killing stuff. Stuff that makes me move back from them, from this society that puts a nice face on evil manipulative deeds.
Charlie Manson didn’t kill people, he just ordered other people to. And they did. Which makes Manson a penny-ante Trump. Or Obama. Or Bush, or Clinton.
There are numerous flaws in my own character. But I have tried to deal with them, to eliminate violations of The Golden Rule as much as possible. Driving down the road is almost always a current lesson in instant karma, for example. Ha, ha…
Looking inward can be painful, scorchingly so. But it’s needful.
As far as I can tell, many people are incapable of any self-reflection at all. That may be the single scariest factor I see out there, the prevalence of borderline and full-on psychopaths in American society. Many of those gravitate to positions of power of one kind or another.
“I’m your kind, I’m your kind, I’m your kind,” Manson sang.
Kyle K. Mann
Dec. 13, 2017