Back in 1969, a man named Charles Manson, like a great deal of the youth at the time, felt an affinity with the music of popular Liverpool beat group The Beatles. Whereas a lot of people related to the messages of peace; the winking drug references; the constant, quick paced innovation; and the musical palette–the jaw-dropping depth and variety of which remained unchallenged–Manson simply heard coded messages, warning him specifically of an impending apocalyptic race war. Art is subjective, after all.
And while The Beatles White Album has long been cited as the record that triggered the Manson Family killings (he even referred to the forthcoming war as ‘Helter Skelter’ – no doubt causing the shredding of thousands of similarly branded Beatles tees) there were numerous other popular ‘60s musicians who were way more involved in Manson’s life in the period leading up to the killings.
THIS IS PART ONE OF A SERIES (PART TWO: NEIL YOUNG | PART THREE: MAMAS AND THE PAPAS)
Dennis Wilson was the renegade of the Wilson family. A rudimentary-at-best drummer, he was, instead, proficient in drinking impressive amounts of liquor and bedding the group’s growing legion of fans (a transgression his manager father Murray repeatedly and hilariously fined him for).
He was also the only member who actually surfed, so there was that, too – handy when you’ve centred your entire business model around the practice. Basically, while his elder brother Brian sat at home second-guessing the public, and penning songs of young love and surfing at a prolific rate – Dennis just went and flat out lived it.
I actually get around.
One evening in 1968, Dennis was cruising round Malibu with the top down, no doubt listening to his own music – at the time there was no other music suitable for such a scenario – when he picked up two female hitch-hikers (or honeys, as cousin Mike called them) he had previously met while driving on the same route.
This time, attempting to bed one or both of them (thus taking brother Brian’s two girls for every guy lyric way too literally) he drove them to his mansion, which was on Sunset Boulevard, ‘cos that’s where Beach Boys live.
In the ‘60s bands were expected to pump out an inordinate amount of dazzling records in the amount of time an engineer these days would spend getting a good kick-drum sound, so Wilson left for the studio, leaving the two girls in his house with what he assumed was a tacit understanding that there were to be no cult leaders around while he was recording.
Upon his return, Wilson was greeted in his driveway by a nice but intense guy by the name of Charlie. He also noticed there were roughly half-a-dozen more honeys (girls) in his pad (house) then there were before. No worries though – Dennis liked a party, and this Charlie guy seemed alright.
Within a few weeks, Manson was blue-skying song ideas with Dennis, who even set up a recording session for him at his elder brother Brian’s home studio. The Beach Boys went so far as to record the Manson-penned track ‘Cease To Exist’, which was Beach Boys’d up and renamed the arguably more-ominous Never Learn Not To Love. The ditty was released on the 20/20 album in February 1969, a mere six months before the murders occurred. (Oddly, it is yet to appear on any best of collections. Yet that evil, soul-less Barbara Ann always gets a look in…)
By the time Wilson realised Manson was a crackpot, the cult leader had completely taken over his house, filling it with family members (some of whom weren’t even ‘60s babes) and siphoning over $100,000 of Wilson’s money. (Mike Love claimed in his 2016 memoir that Wilson told him he’d witnessed Manson murder a man and throw the body down a well, but Love has a penchant for re-writing history, so who knows the truth.)
Figuring he had perhaps gotten a little too involved when Manson left a bullet and a thinly veiled threat with Wilson’s housekeeper one evening, Dennis did what all responsible men do when faced with a volatile situation, and abandoned ship, leaving a hapless landlord to deal with the pesky matter of a live-in cult at one of their properties – and possibly cigarette burns on the curtains. Wilson’s rental history was never quite the same after that.