Charles Manson. He gets a bad rap.
But is this really fair? Yes, basically. Except is it? Is Charles Manson really a racist?
Yes, Charles Manson carved a swastika into his forehead. Yes, Charles Manson wanted to start a race war.
Let's not forget, though, that he wanted all the white people to die in the race war. I think we can all agree that white people are terrible. Yes, he then assumed that black people would not be able to manage things at all and they would be like, Oh, Charles Manson, please be our leader, please, we will be slaves and stuff.
So that is a bit racist, I guess. No offence to any Mansonites reading this, but I think there may have been some flaws in this plan.
Ah, yes, the plan. Helter Skelter. That is the point of this piece that I am writing now. Well, one of the points. The main point is to finally have something to send to The Drum (note: remove this line in Drum version).
Helter Skelter, like all good race war plots, was heavily inspired by songs from The White Album, especially the lyric-less Revolution 9, which is full of people saying random shit and is probably a good starting point for anyone wanting to find secret messages to themselves in music.
Manson also found message in the more lyrical efforts. By way of example, Manson took inspiration from Revolution 1, particularly the lines: "You say you want a revolution/ Well you know/ We all want to change the world / But when you talk about destruction/ Don't you know that you can count me out (in)".
In Blackbird, Paul McCartney sings, "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." Manson took this to mean that black people would rise up and exterminate white people, when in fact the song is really about McCartney's fear that blackbirds were going to rise up and exterminate white people.
And of course, there is Helter Skelter, the Beatles' brief foray into the world of discordant proto-metal, in which McCartney sings, "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". Manson believed that this line referred to the point of his plan at which he and the Family would emerge from the desert and take control.
Cam, you are probably thinking, as readers of The Drum we are all well-versed in all of the ins and outs of acid fascism, why are you telling us this stuff?
Because, gentle reader, what you are not aware of is HOW CLOSE MANSON CAME TO REALISING HIS DREAM.
If not for the hand of fate and inter-band politics, Charles Manson might be sitting in the White House instead of in a prison cell. Probably in a bean bag.
Let me explain.
In 1967, singer and multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper, seeing a gap in the music market marked JAZZ ROCK, formed a band called Blood, Sweat & Tears with a bunch of other rocky jazzers. In February 1968, they released their debut album Child Is Father To The Man, an ambitious fusion of rock, psych, jazz and classical that was met with critical acclaim, which is nice but doesn't really put lentils on the table.
Kooper, who had previously been in one of those hippy bands where everybody gets a say, had appointed himself band leader. As such, the rest of the band held him responsible for the commercial failure and booted him out of the band. Foreshades of Kevin Rudd, anyone?
Having kicked Kooper out, BS&T had to find a new singer before they could take another crack at jamming Jazz Rock into the fractured consciousness of the Swingin' Sixties. Soon, they found David Clayton-Thomas, an illegal immigrant (foreshades of Julia Gillard, anyone?), and got to work on their sophomore effort, the self-titled Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Although more popular than their first attempt, the removal of Kooper drained much of their counter-culture appeal, as well as delaying the timing of its release. If it had only come out a few weeks earlier, perhaps it would have been Blood, Sweat & Tears whom Manson would latch on to?
Consider these lyrics:
And When I Die: "I'm not scared of dying / And I don't really care. / If it's peace you find in dying / Well then let the time be near. / If it's peace you find in dying / And if dying time is here / Just bundle up my coffin / 'Cause it's cold way down there."
Yes, BS&T, it is rather cold out there in the Nevada desert.
You've Made Me So Very Happy: "I chose you for the one / Now we're having so much fun / You treated me so kind / I'm about to lose my mind / ... / 'Cause you came and you took control / You touched my very soul / You always showed me that / Loving you is where it's at."
Yes, the African-American community would be very grateful that you had taken control following the race war, Chuck.
And most significantly, and recorded EXACTLY ONE MONTH TO THE DAY after Helter Skelter, Spinning Wheel which includes lyrics such as: "What goes up, must come down." "Let it shine within your mind and show you that the COLOURS are real." "Ride a painted pony."
Need I say any more? The only real difference between Helter Skelter and Spinning Wheel is that the former consists of anarchic musical thrashing and screaming, while the latter features fruity jazz breakdowns.
The only real difference, Cam? Yes, the only real difference! Both songs even conclude the same way, with a comment from the drummer. In Helter Skelter, Ringo Starr screams "I got blisters on me fingers", while in Spinning Wheel, Bobby Colomby notes, "That wasn't very good."
But Cam, how would Manson fixating on Blood, Sweat and Tears have led to a Manson presidency?
Look, Helter Skelter is a fucked up song. There is yelling, there is banging things, George Harrison was running around the studio with an ashtray on fire above his head. Starr would later describe the recording as "total madness and hysterics."
Can you imagine how distracting all that noise would have been while Charles was trying to divine the secret messages from The Beatles and plan his race war? Very distracting!
But what if he had been listening to the smooth brass rock of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Why, he might just have been able to concentrate properly and get some work done.
He might just have pulled it off.
That is how close we came to the brink. Two trumpets and trombones to midnight.
(Shades of Mark Latham, anyone?)