by Andrew K. Arnett
1969 was a strange time. Nixon was in office, the Vietnam War was raging and the utopian hippie dream that was the Summer of Love had turned, in two short years, into a bad acid trip bummer we can, for poetic purposes, refer to as the Summer of Death.
It wasn’t meant to be that way, of course.
The pied pipers of the counterculture – The Beatles – were leading the hippies to the promised land of peace, love and facial hair. The Woodstock festival should have been the apex of hippie idealism but the brutal murders by a band of hippies just days prior put the kibosh on that fantasy.
The Manson Murders captured the headlines, dragging Hollywood and Rock and Roll royalty into the dark world of drugs, Satanism and murder. We are still obsessed with the case. In this past year, we saw the release of three Manson films, including Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, directed by Quinton Tarantino. Manson ‘Family’ members are also back in the news. Both Leslie Van Houten and Bobby Beausoleil were recently up for, and subsequently denied, parole.
In 1971, Manson was convicted of murder for his involvement in the Tate-LaBianca killings. Manson, however, was not present during these killings. A motive needed to be established. Prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi argued that Manson’s motive was found in Beatles songs, which Manson told his followers were filled with subliminal messages and instructions on how to conduct the coming race war which he called Helter Skelter.
In an interview with Playboy (1980), John Lennon stated, “It has nothing to do with me. Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the ‘Paul is dead’ thing or who figured out that the initials to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid.”
Despite Lennon’s comments, we know that The Beatles had an abiding interest in and propagated the use of psychedelic drugs. As well, the band enjoyed backmasking songs with embedded ‘Paul is Dead’ symbolism. But it’s a big leap from embedding subliminal messages like “Turn me on dead man” and “I buried Paul,” to triggering a programmed Manchurian Candidate, possibly someone like Charles Manson, to commit murder.
The details of the Manson Murders have been well publicized. To whit: on the night of August 8, 1969, at the behest of cult leader Charles Manson, cult members “Tex” Watson, Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, entered the home of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles and brutally killed everyone present. The victims were Sharon Tate (eight months pregnant), Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, Abigail Folger and Steven Parent.
On the following night, August 9, seven members of the Manson Family went to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca at 3301 Waverly Drive in Los Angeles and viciously murdered the couple. Leno was stabbed 12 times with a bayonet and had the word “WAR” carved on his exposed abdomen.
The Beatles obsession, for Manson, began in 1964, while he was doing time at the U.S. Penitentiary on McNeill Island, Washington, for charges related to violating the Mann Act. In January of that year, “I Want to Hold Your Hands” reached the top of the U.S. pop charts. His prison review that year stated that Manson “tends to involve himself in various fanatical interests,” and according to fellow inmates, those fanatical interests involved The Beatles. Alvin Karpis, former gang member of the Ma Barker gang, was teaching Manson how to play the steel guitar at the time, and confirmed Manson’s obsession with The Beatles.
Karpis explained that Manson was in fact jealous of The Beatles. Manson thought that, given the chance, he could be even bigger than the British pop band. Over the course of the next couple of years, Manson would write 80 to 90 songs, become adept at guitar and drums as well as proficient in singing.
In the late sixties, Manson would hob nob with rock stars and Hollywood elite. He jammed with Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson while Brian and Carl Wilson produced ten of his songs at the Beach Boys’ personal studio. Songs from Manson’s 1970 album Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, would go on to be covered by the likes of Guns N’ Roses and Marylyn Manson.
In 1967, Manson acquired a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ themed bus for his Family to drive up and down the west coast, and a house, dubbed the “Yellow Submarine,” where they could await the coming of Helter Skelter. It wasn’t until the release of The Beatles (aka ‘The White Album’), in November, 1968, that his Beatles obsession took a decidedly darker turn and, provide Manson with a blue print for war, revolution and murder.
Manson believed The Beatles were prophets, and the White Album was their Book of Revelations. On New Years Eve (December 31, 1968), Manson gathered his followers around their Death Valley campfire to hear his prophecy of Helter Skelter. According to cult member Brooks Poston, Manson said, “Are you hep to what the Beatles are saying? Helter Skelter is coming down. The Beatles are telling it like it is.”
Helter Skelter is a song on the White Album written by Paul McCartney, ostensibly about a fairground attraction of the same name. It is a raucous tune sighted as an influence on the development of heavy metal and punk. Manson told his followers the song was coded message for the apocalypse, consisting of a race war between blacks and whites, wherein blacks would rise up and kill all the white people.
Susan Atkins (aka Sadie Mae Glutz) explained that the purpose of the Tate-LaBianca murders was to kick start Helter Skelter, telling Bugliosi, “The whole thing was done to instill fear in the establishment and cause paranoia. Also to show the black man how to take over the white man.” Atkins defined Helter Skelter as “the last war on the face of the earth. It would be all the wars that have ever been fought built one on top of the other.”
Manson told Rolling Stone (1970), “Is it a conspiracy that the music is telling the youth to rise up against the establishment because the establishment is rapidly destroying things? The music speaks to you every day, but you are too deaf, dumb and blind to even listen to the music . . . It is not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says ‘Rise.’ It says ‘Kill.’ Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music.”
Other songs on the White Album which, according to Manson, contain coded messages, included “Piggies,” with the lyrics, “In their eyes there’s something lacking/ What they need is a damn good whacking.” Here, The Beatles are programming the blacks to rise up and ‘whack,’ or kill, all the whites. ‘Blackbird,’ with the lyrics, “Blackbird singing in the dead of night/Take these broken wings and learn to fly/All your life/You were only waiting for this moment to arise,” is another subliminal message to overthrow the white establishment.
When asked about hidden messages in Beatles songs, Manson explained, “The bottom part is the subconscious. At the end of each song there is a little tag piece on it, a couple of notes. Or like in ‘Piggies’ there’s ‘oink, oink, oink.’ Just these couple of sounds. And all these sounds are repeated in ‘Revolution 9.’ Like in ‘Revolution 9,’ all these pieces are fitted together and they predict the violent overthrow of the white man. Like you’ll hear ‘oink, oink,’ and then right after that, machine-gun fire: AK-AK-AK-AK-AK-AK!”
Charles Manson had a keen interest in the Book of Revelations and, as his trial revealed, a unique interpretation of the Holy Book. For instance, Manson believed that The Beatles song Revolution 9, a discordant sound collage found on the White Album, was a direct parallel to Revelation 9 in the Bible.
Revelation 9, according to Manson, made direct references to The Beatles. For instance, Verse 3: “And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.”
“Locusts,” according to Manson, referenced “The Beatles.” “Scorpions,” on the other hand, referenced Manson himself, a scorpio.
Verse 7 & 8: “And their faces were as the faces of men/ And they had hair as the hair of women,” referenced The Beatles long hair.
Verse 9: “And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.”
Manson viewed the “breastplates” as the guitars The Beatles wore in concert, and the “sound of their wings” described the power of the band’s music.
Verse 2: “And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.”
Manson preached to his followers that their was a city of gold somewhere beneath Southern California, a “bottomless pit,” where he and his Family would hide out during the race war. The Beatles referenced this bottomless pit in the lyrics of Helter Skelter: “When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide/Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride/Till I get to the bottom and I see you again.”
In Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney stated, “I was using the symbol of a helter skelter [a playground slide] as a ride from the top to the bottom — the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. This was the demise, the going down. You could have thought of it as a rather cute title but its since taken on all sorts of ominous overtones because Manson picked it up as an anthem.”
Curiously, Manson preached that his followers were the original Christians, reincarnated, and that the establishment were the modern day Romans. Manson believed that he himself was Christ, even changing his middle name to read: Charles Willis Manson (Read: Charles Will Is Man’s Son), implying he was the Son of Man.
The Manson Family viewed their victims, like Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, as “Romans,” “Piggies,” and the “Establishment.” At the scene of their murder, the Manson family wrote on the refrigerator door, in LaBianca’s own blood, the words “Healter Skelter.”
Chapter 9 from Revelations concludes with a chilling verse: “Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
Bugliosi, Vincent (2001). Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN-10: 9780393322231
Miles, Barry (1998). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. Holt Paperbacks. ISBN-10: 0805052496