November 20, 2017

HELL IS TOO GOOD FOR HIM: Multiple sources reporting Charles Manson dead at age 83.

Related: Charles Manson, a Villain in Life & Death, Praised as a Counterculture Hero in 1969, Dead at 83:

The charismatic Bernardine Dohrn, later a friend of Barack and Michelle Obama, feverishly told Weatherman followers: “Dig it: first they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach. Wild!”

When I asked Weatherman Mark Rudd why his otherwise intelligent friends paid homage to Manson, he told me: “We wanted to be bad.”

Like Dohrn, Rolling Stone later went on to enjoy mainstream respectability despite publishing bizarre views on one of the twentieth century’s most notorious serial killers. Whereas Manson looked every bit the madman on the cover of Life, he appeared as a visionary on the front page of Rolling Stone. Therein, the magazine depicted Manson’s refusal to offer an insanity plea as a principled stand and characterized his criticism of the legal system as “obviously accurate in many ways.” In calling him Charlie, a first-name-basis intimacy later reserved for Madonna, Prince, Bruce, and other singing celebrities, the magazine actively sought to humanize the man who dehumanized so many.

In Sticky Fingers, his recent (and well-written) biography of Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s founder and publisher, author Joe Hagan wrote:

As the 1960s kept ending, the next installment was the arrest of Charles Manson and four of his followers for the horrific murder of five people, including actress Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski, at a luxury mansion north of Beverly Hills. When Manson’s trial began in 1970, Wenner [who would then have been about age 24–Ed] leaped at the story with an idea for the headline: “Charles Manson Is Innocent!”

Wenner’s headline was less insane than it sounds to modern ears. Manson was already an object of media obsession, a former Haight-Ashbury denizen who drifted to L.A. and collected hippie acolytes for LSD orgies and quasi-biblical prophecies. While the straight world viewed him as a monster, much of Wenner’s audience saw him, at least hypothetically, as one of their own. The underground press of Los Angeles, including the Free Press, cast him as the victim of a hippie-hating media. Manson was a rock-and-roll hanger-on. Wenner was convinced of Manson’s innocence by his own writer David Dalton, who had lived for a time with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, a Manson believer. “I’d go out driving in the desert with Dennis, and he’d say things to me like ‘Charlie’s really cosmic, man.’ ”

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Meanwhile, a lawyer in the DA’s office, believing he was doing a favor for a friend of [David] Felton’s at the Los Angeles Times and that this hippie rag from San Francisco was a benign nonentity, brought Felton [then-recently hired away from the L.A. Times by Wenner] and Dalton into the office to show them the crime scene photos of the butchered bodies of Manson victims — including a man with the word war etched in his stomach with a fork. Dalton blanched when he saw the words “Healter [sic] Skelter” painted in blood on a refrigerator, instantly recalling what Dennis Wilson told him about the coded instructions Manson heard in the Beatles songs. “It must have been the most horrifying moment of my life,” said Dalton. “It was the end of the whole hippie culture.” Jann Wenner changed the headline.

Rolling Stone’s infamous 2013 radical chic hot take on Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looking totally cool and dreamy on their cover has its roots in the magazine’s founding days.