Charlie, the Monster, Is Dead — Was My Generation Insane?
Charles Manson is dead. Finally.
For many of us who have resided a long time in Los Angeles, it feels as if this monster has been with us all our lives. He is the dark side of this city personified, but even more the dark side of our generation, the dark side of hippiedom -- turn on, tune in, drop out, taken to its bloodiest extreme.
And here's a haunting fact. The murderous rampage that took seven lives at the homes of actress Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski, himself back in the news for his own repellent activities, and then supermarket exec Leno LaBianca and his wife occurred in August 1969 -- 48 years from today, but only 24 years from the liberation of Auschwitz. It was considerably closer to Nazi times than to ours.
Perhaps humanity had not learned because the Manson murders were their own mini-Holocaust, a death cult spawned at the Spahn Ranch. That it all began at an abandoned movie set was eerily appropriate for L.A. It also happened at a time when this city was reaching its supposed cultural zenith. Everyone wanted to come here. The Mamas and the Papas were singing "California Dreamin'." The Beach Boys were boosting the superiority of "California Girls." The surf was up. The cinema was the thing to do. You too could be the next Billy Wilder or John Huston. What could go wrong?
Well, a lot.
California has always promised a lot more than it delivered. Woody Guthrie put it succinctly when he sang "California is a Garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see, but believe it not, you won't find it so hot, if you ain't got the do re mi."
That was Manson, He didn't have the do re mi and he took it out with an LSD-fueled vengeance. As most will recall, he didn't do the killing himself but put his acolytes up to the work. During their two-night rampage, they inflicted 169 stab wounds, scrawling the word "pig" on the walls of the homes with the victims' blood. They also added the infamous "Helter Skelter," misspelling the word "helter."
Prosecutors had a theory at the time that Manson wanted the Black Panthers to be blamed for all this so a race war could be started. Nice guy.
It's hard to escape the reaction with the news of his death at 83 just now breaking that we were all part of this "Helter Skelter," that it was an Hieronymus Bosch-type nightmare in which we all participated. I know that's harsh, but I think my generation created the path for Manson. We prepared the field, as it were. The self-indulgent dreams of the sixties found their bitter fruit in this tiny, twisted, but evidently charismatic man. We could all do what we wished in a godless universe, but if what we wished was to kill "pigs" -- what then? Then we were Charlie. Peace and love weren't so peaceable or lovable.