Whoahhh… hold on there, Mr. Bugliosi, I was just checkin’ in to see what my condition was in, Charles Manson-wise!
BY UNCLE BLURT
Yeah, I was there—NOT, I hasten to add, at the Tate-LaBianca murders. I was at the local record store, many many many years back in the day, when producer/scenester (and future Gram Parsons body-snatcher) Phil Kaufman and his ad hoc indie label Awareness Records released Lie: The Love and Terror Cult. In 1970 America was in a protracted state of culture shock, and yours truly was only marginally coming to terms with the dissonant notions that one could wave one’s freak flag really fucking high while opposing Vietnam and sundry other Nixon-era ills, and still be not only appalled but downright nauseous that a countercultural opportunist and interloper like Charles Manson was able to shatter the—our—hippie dream merely by dispensing LSD to a bunch of impressionable kids and “suggesting” that the phrase death to pigs was not just a mere jocular implication taken from a Beatles song, but a goddam mandate.
You can get all you need to know about the original LP from its Wikipedia page (although no one seems to have bothered to update it in ages—there’s nominal info about the album’s reissue trajectory, so perhaps click over to the extended Discogs entry). Here, in 2017, we are fortunate to have yet a fresh iteration—and on translucent red vinyl to boot!—via the estimable ESP-Disk label, which actually can trace a “professional relationship” with the album (and whoever may have owned the rights to it at various times) going all the way back to a ’74 vinyl repressing and picking up again during the CD era. (ESP’s 2008 CD Sings expanded the original 14-song tracklisting to a whopping 26. That’s also the version you’ll encounter if you pull the album up on Spotify.)
Why do I say “fortunate”? Well, that’s complicated. Let’s face it, the music itself is, at best, nominal. There’s always been a lot of hoo-hah over the track “Cease to Exist” because it was notoriously turned into the Beach Boys’ “Never Learn Not to Love,” no doubt with the late Dennis Wilson sweating his way through the sessions; it’s decent enough, in an early Tim Buckley vein, but hardly memorable. And who gives a shit whether Rob Zombie, Redd Kross, and the Lemonheads have covered a “hardly memorable” song? “Garbage Dump,” made retroactively prominent by G.G. Allin, is barely listenable, go figure, while “Big Iron Door,” a blink-you-missed-it love song to, uh, prison, is even less so. A few track-skips later, we are left returning to “Look at Your Game Girl,” the album’s opening track and perhaps the tune that convinced Kaufman he might be able to shift a few copies. It’s strummy and has a moderately catchy folk-soul vibe, the kind of song you could do a blindfold test with on any given millennial or hipster and come away feeling pretty smug when your blindfoldee was positive it’s an unreleased Rodriguez track. There, I said it. Charles Manson sounds a lot like Rodriguez, if you need a musical selling point, I guess. Alternatively, maybe you’re simply a Guns N’ Roses fan and this is your entry point.
So, no. Still – “fortunate,” because this is a genuinely priceless cultural artifact that demands to be in the collection of any sentient music collector who gives even a small portion of a damn about rock ‘n’ roll, its history, its undercurrents, its implications, its future. Without an awareness of Charles Manson and the cultural bomb he set off back in the late ‘60s, all you kids out there reading this review are doomed to one day allow another Charles Manson creepy-crawl into the personal spheres of your brothers, sisters, friends, compatriots—and even your children.
The Mansons of the world are still out there; in fact, there’s a good chance several of them are currently strolling the corridors of the West Wing, patiently looking for their openings. The original is by all accounts not long for this world, and it’s unlikely he’ll make it to the age of 92, in 2027, the year he’s up for parole. But don’t for a second think that when that sawed-off little gangster is dead, the toxins that initially spawned him will have been eradicated. They’ve always been in the Amerikkan water system.
Luckily, as long as folks like ESP-Disk are doing their part to revive the conversation and then keep it alive, we have a chance of getting through that whole “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” etc., thing.
Remember, I lived through the Manson era. I recall, with great clarity, the moment when Woodstock-powered utopianism came crashing down, and the realization gradually dawned that long hair, sandals, love beads, bellbottoms jeans, and tie-dyed teeshirts were no longer instant affirmations of being part of the same club. Worse—for me, at least—it happened before I had even turned legal. In the summer of ’69, when those Manson murders took place, I was only 14 ½ years old. But I was old enough to have begun sketching out a future; in my teenage mind, as soon as Woodstock happened, I had a lot of catching up to do. Well, so much for that, because when news of arrests in the murder case hit the headlines in early December, those idyllic Bryan Adams future memories I’d no doubt been working on a few months earlier came crashing down, too.
Back here in 2017, I caught my breath, shuddered, cracked open the shrink wrap, slowly tugged out the red vinyl repressing, and laid it on my turntable. After a long pause—full disclosure: a longer pause than usual, first to admire the wax, because, well, colored vinyl— I allowed the needle to begin its descent…
Postscript: The last two times this publication posted Manson-related content on the website and put links out to it, we noticed that we were quickly followed on social media by organizations and individuals who were clearly Manson sympathizers. And many years ago, our good friend, the late Joe Young of AntiSeen band fame, released a solo 7” EP, “Bury the Needle,” that had a Manson-sampling track called “Charlie’s Blues” on the flipside. Not long after, he was visited by a couple of folks who identified themselves as members of “The Family.” Joe was somewhat bemused, but also somewhat shaken. It will be interesting to see what kind of feedback BLURT receives for this particular commentary.