HELTER SKELTER THE MUSICAL Charles Manson

The hills are alive with the sound of The
Family…

BY MIKE
SHANLEY

 

 

 

The ESP-Disk
label has maintained a four-decade reputation as a credible underground label in
part because many of its releases were of dubious quality and would never have
seen the light day otherwise. So along with seminal albums by the Fugs, Albert
Ayler and Pearls Before Swine, there came the awful-yet-fascinating Erica
Pomerance, Cromagnon and MIJ the Yodeling Astrologer. And all these years
later, some of them would fit right in on a playlist with any supposed freak
folk act. Ahead of their time? And how.

 

Then
there’s sweet Charlie Manson, who sings about love and how it will find your
young heart. There was a time, when
lines like that – and a handsomely hirsute face like Michael “Meathead” Stivic
or LA Woman-era Jim Morrison – could woo a young woman’s heart. Good
thing the revolution never came.

 

Sings has been released by several
labels, including ESP and Awareness, an imprint created by Phil Kaufman, the
man to whom Manson passed these recordings when both were in jail.  ESP issued Sings in the early ‘70s under the title LIE after Manson was serving a life sentence; label founder Bernard
Stollman compares its release to Alfred Knopf’s publishing of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. There was a time, he recalls
in the liner notes, that the Manson family trial seemed like little more than a
government plot to discredit the hippie movement. The songs include uncredited
contributions from members of the Manson family, and thereby warrant their
release, he says. All royalties from sales of the record are paid by the label to
the estate of Wojciech Frykowski, an actor and victim in the Polanski murders, whose
family won a civil suit against Manson. So you can listen to the latest
reissue, from the rejuvenated ESP (www.espdisk.com)
with a clear conscience.

 

Still,
that gives no indication about what it sounds like. For the uninitiated “Look
at Your Game Girl,” starts the album with the idea that maybe there was a
sensitive side to Charlie, with its sweet seventh chords and his gentle voice.

 

That
lasts all of 2:01.

 

“Ego”
begins with a sinister strumming, some sloppy hand drums and what sounds like two
voices in his head escaping onto the tape: “It’s inside. It’s in the back. The
front. No, it’s in the back, no it’s in the front….. they shoved it in the
back… all the love in the back.” Any chance of separating the image of this
aspiring folk singer from the guy in jail with swastikas on his forehead ends
with the second track.

 

Some of
the songs, which were recorded in 1967-68, reveal a half-decent songwriter, but
with a total of 26 of them – the original album had 14 – they all get lost in a
sea of banged acoustic guitars and plain melodies. A few things do stand out. The
39-second, chirpy “I’ll Never Say Never to Always,” sung by anonymous females,
was probably meant to sound sweet, but it now evokes images of knife-wielding
chicks. Manson cracks himself up in “Devil Man” after singing, “All we want is
your evil soul,” as if he might not have taken himself too seriously at one
time. A three-minute interview includes the Manson-ism, “I was so smart when I
was a kid, that I learned that I was dumb.”

 

One
tantalizing side note: the song “Cease to Exist” had so impressed Dennis Wilson
(who for a short period had come into Manson’s orbit) that in 1968 he convinced
his fellow Beach Boys to cut a version of it, with him on lead vocals and
retitled “Never Learn Not to Love.” The song appeared on the album 20/20 and as the B-side to “Bluebirds
Over the Mountain.” Significantly, it did not bear Manson’s name; Manson was reportedly paid an undisclosed amount of cash
and Wilson took
the songwriting credit.

 

Cultural
baggage and dubious artistic quality aside, this oddity deserves high marks for its mere existence. And
in the ESP canon, it sounds as oddly entertaining as the Godz’s imitations of
horny felines on “White Cat Heat.”

 

 

 Track
Listing

1      Look at Your Game, Girl 
    (2:01)         
2     Ego     (2:26)
           
3     Mechanical Man    
(3:15)            
4     People Say I’m No Good
    (3:16)         
5     Home Is Where You’re Happy
    (1:26) 
6     Arkansas     (3:02)
           
7     I’ll Never Say Never to Always
    (0:39)  
8     Garbage Dump     (2:32)
           
9     Don’t Do Anything Illegal
    (2:49)          
10     Sick City     (1:31)
           
11     Cease to Exist    
(2:10)            
12     Big Iron Door    
(1:08)            
13     I Once Knew a Man    
(2:31)            
14     Eyes of a Dreamer    
(2:32)            
15     Devil Man     (2:30)
           
16     More You Love    
(1:40)            
17     Two Pair of Shoes    
(1:56)            
18     Maiden with Green Eyes (Remember Me)
    (1:24)            
19     Swamp Girl     (1:57)
           
20     Bet You Think I Care
    (2:11)            
21     Look at Your Game, Girl (Alternate
Version)     (1:45)          
 
22     Interview     (3:15)
           
23     Who to Blame    
(2:26)            
24     True Love You Will Find
    (2:52)          
25     My World     (1:44)
           
26     Invisible Tears    
(1:33)

 

 

[Manson
montage courtesy IrfanView]

 

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