Is California Dreamin' Becoming a Reality?
The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion, by Ed Sanders, E.P. Dutton, 412 pp., $5.95
Late in the Summer of '69 the Santa Anna or "devil wind" shot down from the California hills at 100 miles an hour, brittling dispositions and trees alike, preparing those few signs of life in Los Angeles for an Indian summer of death which, though matching other years in the strength of its demonic energy and violence, would once and for all implant the Fear in the hearts of millions of Americans. The wind came, people sweated, lay in bed asleep, took Excedrin; the crime rate went up 75 per cent; and Charles Manson was.
The Summer of Love in San Francisco had come and gone two years before, most of those still deeply committed to a no-compromise counter-cultural movement had long since taken to the hills to the North or the plains of New Mexico, and the streets of the Haight and Sunset Boulevard lay littered with the last pock-marked remains of hippie. Hippie was now the 95-lb. speed freak on the corner who hustled bad acid and talked non-stop about getting it all together "in a commune somewhere." Hippie began to dress in a black cape, wearing a Mephistophiles beard and an upside-down crucifix, cultivating a rap of strange mumbo-jumbo, anywhere from the teachings of the English satanist Aleister Crowley to the fascist meanderings of Robert Heinlein's science fiction masterpiece, Stranger in a Strange Land. Hippie became a laboratory rat for Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest, for out on the street, the rule of the land seemed to rest solidly on the idea that the weird shall inherit the earth; it was a case of the survival of the weirdest. Exploit or be exploited and the quickest way to exploitation and power seemed to lie in the strange marriage of satanism and acid.
So California, the home of Sirhan Sirhan, the Zodiac Killer, Juan Corona, Altamont, People's Park, the Donner Party, the San Andreas Fault, and Richard Nixon, thus begat another symbol of doom and yet another disciple of destruction, this one the most feared of all, coyote-man Charles Manson. For if Manson was given to referring to himself as a coyote who heard and knew all, whose senses were sharp enough to catch any stirrings of life outside his void, then those he surrounded himself with were the rabbits, plump and innocent, waiting for the kill.
There were no rules. But there was a weakness: from the standpoint of vulnerability the flower movement was like a valley of thousands of plump white rabbits surrounded by wounded coyotes. Sure the 'leaders' were tough, some of them geniuses and great poets. But the acid-dropping middle-class children from Des Moines were rabbits.
This is the backdrop before which Ed Sanders spins his tale of Manson and his band of slave-women, beginning from Manson's last prison term in the mid-Sixties, stretching to his final capture hiding crouched in a cabinet ("Hi," he said to policemen when found, "I'm Charlie Manson."), and including a detailed account of the numerous influences which supposedly turned him on the road to demon-killer.
The fact that Ed Sanders, former member of "The Fugs," founder of Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, author of The Shards of God: A Novel of the Yippies, and general all-around good guy, should wax so incredibly moralistic in this book is indication enough that it bears close scrutiny. Sanders spent over a year and a half researching the Manson family--as he says, "I wrote down literally everything I heard or saw related to the so-called Manson family...I became a data addict...Day and night I roamed Los Angeles gathering data...Naturally my path crossed many others whose activities were not directly involved in family life and death but who were nevertheless weird beyond weird. Particularly in the areas of occult groups I encountered the spiritually wounded: drinkers of dog blood, the video-bugger crowd, people who hang rotting goats' heads up in their kitchens, people who rent corpses for their parties, victimizers of every persuasion ...The probability that uncaught murderers--plus groups who commit human sacrifice and from whom the family drew ideas and support--were running loose in California also crimped investigation. One encountered several nomadic hippie Cassandras whom no official seemed to believe and who told ghastly tales of sacrificial rituals in the mountains and on the beaches of California."
Sanders' book is written in a strangely mixed and stilted style, ranging from occasional jaunts into officialese (at times sounding like a desk sergeant's account of a routine house-check), to rather florid descriptions of some of the actual murders. But most of the story is told in the best traditions of nighttime rewrite, hard-hitting, punch-packing journalism. This is where he is most effective. The actual murders at the Tate and LaBianca houses are told in this way, and aside from the actual sensationalism of the material itself, the style makes it the most readable and coherent part of the book. In general, though, the book is technically weak, and as one reviewer put it, "Sanders' prose is riddled with the most amazing assortment of solecisms, illiteracies, and editorial oversights ever assembled between the covers of a single volume since Eisenhower's Collected Speeches went out of print."
While his language and non-sequiturs can perhaps be tolerated, the doubtful overall credibility of his investigation--in spite of a number of good points--cannot be.
Witness: Bernard Crowe became involved with Manson and the family through some dope dealings. Manson reportedly shot him, but if Sanders' book is any guide, he was shot, says Sanders, on the morning of July 1, 1969, and was supposedly released from the hospital on June 17, 1969. The police, according to Sanders, never asked him how he happened to get shot in the first place. The facts in the case are hopelessly garbled and really need not be included in an investigative work. The shooting sheds little light on either Manson's development or the Tate-LaBianca crimes.
The list of such slips and bad reportage is embarrassingly long, especially so for a book issued by a major publisher such as Dutton. One imagines the editing job having gone to some Yippie friend of Sanders'.
"Tex had him down on his back and slashed him four times in the throat leaving the serrated knife buried deep within. He stabbed him four times in the abdomen into the colon, all fatal wounds. He bled to death, helped by the throw pillow with which Tex smothered his face to stop the screams...Not to be outdone. Katie took the carving fork and stabbed both bodies with it. Seven double punctures punctured here and there into the abdomen of Mr. LaBianca, till she left it embedded in his flesh near the navel to the bifur cation of the tines. Katie said she was fascinated by the fork. She reached over to it as it stood out from his stomach and she gave it a twang and it vibrated.
Bernardine Dohrn would later be heard to utter, "Far out...can you dig that...killing that pig with a fork...fork power!" but that of course is somewhere else, standing only as a peculiar monument to the way in 'which any action in America becomes relevant to whomever thinks fastest and yells, "First dibsies." That was the strange thing about Manson, he seemed to fit just about everybody's purpose, to satisfy just about everybody's fantasies, and that is probably why he now has the best possible facilities in his prison cell, and why he'll probably die a rich man.
In a land where one person out of every 38 lives in a trailer, where 65 per cent of all stationary homes have been built in the last 15 years, where a cloverleaf is not something that brings particularly good luck, Charles Manson, a "glib, grubby little man with a guitar," was quite at home. Fresh from 20 years in prison, he had taught himself the finer points of brainwashing, although there he had used it only to stir up support for the prison baseball team. Now, in the Summer of Love, with thousands of rabbits to hunt, coyote-man was ecstatic. As Sanders explains it, "Manson carried this (Ken Kesey's initial acid experimentation) onward, making it evil, slowly changing the colors, the red tempura becoming dog blood, the acid test turning to psychedelic satanism, the filming of happiness turning to the filming of hapless murder of female Caucasians on the beaches of Southern California."
Manson grew enthralled with the opportunities violence had to offer; where before he seemed content to derive pleasure from making the family obey his will in purely sexual and routine matters, he now began to inject that thrilling edge of violence and gore into more and more of his dealings. "He seemed to be eager to see which of his 'program people' would kill," Sanders says.
"'After all,' Manson said, 'We are all one.' Killing someone is just like breaking off a piece of cookie. And did not the Manson adage run, 'If you're willing to be killed you should be willing to kill?'"
Moving out to the Spahn Ranch in Death Valley, the shooting scene of several "Marlboro man" commercials, Manson turned his attention toward a number of curiously American symbols. He began to cultivate the friendship of Brian Wilson, one of the founders of that sun 'n surf, good-time-all-the-time-till-daddy-takes-the-t-bird away-'n-blondes-have-more-fun band, and pestered them to record his songs. The Beach Boys eventually did record one of Manson's songs, a death-rags originally entitled "Cease to Exist" which they changed to "Cease to Resist." And when Charlie began equipping the family's ranch for the "Black Panther" raids he chose to steal a telescope belonging to none other than Doris Day, (the mother of Manson's good friend Terry Melcher), to scan the horizon for the black faces that his twisted, racist mind felt sure would pop up any minute. He amused himself with a battalion of gun-mounted dune buggies (the modern Marlboro man's equivalent of horses), and a system of caches, escape routes, and telephone hookups. Of course there were always the girls, (Sadie, Snake, Ouish, Susan, and the rest,) who guaranteed him a vacuum in which to act out his pathetically infantile fantasies.
If Charlie was the logical extension of the Marlboro man, the "one who had won what's never been won," as Bob Dylan said in another context, then a number of occult societies operating in California at that time were the advertising geniuses. The three main ones that Sanders mentions are the Process Church of the Final Judgement (better known to Cambridge residents as just "The Process."); the Solar Lodge of the Ordo Temple Orientis, who drink blood, hate blacks, and religiously indulge in sado-sodo sex and magic; and the Kirke Order of Dog Blood, which means just what it says. Of the three, only the Process has been shown by Sanders to have even a tenuous connection to Manson, which is beside the point, for the incredible weirdness manifested by them in their earlier years is of the first importance.
It is unfortunate that Sanders claims all kinds of ominous links between the Process and coyote-man without clearly substantiating them, for they have now initiated a $1.5 million libel suit against both Sanders and Dutton, thus diverting attention from their actual day-to-day activities. The link is hardly proven, but the overall taste left in the mouth after a perusal of the Process' current Death Issue magazine, which reprints part of an "article" written by Manson, is not in the least pleasant. Robert DeGrimston, the founder of the Process, has published three books on war, supposedly based on the words of Satan, Lucifer, and Jehovah. Their violent language was carefully toned down in later editions after public pressure got a little too heavy.
The concept of "psychedelic fascism," which Sanders encountered in his investigations into many satanist cults, has received a large amount of play in the media, and refers to the way in which psychedelics are used to brainwash and subjugate people into a strict authoritarian lifestyle, usually centered on the demands and needs of one leader. It is this which worries Ed Sanders most. "Young people need to know the techniques a guru or so-called leader might use to entrap them in a web of submission so that they can keep a constant vigil against it," warns Sanders in his preface; at the end of the book he is somewhat more dramatic and angry: "Only when all these evil affairs are known and exposed can the curse of ritual sacrifice, Helter Skelter and satanism be removed from the coasts and mountains of California." Paranoia? Perhaps, but given the state of California, given the state of the whole country, given the tremendous proliferation of satanic, blood-and-gore-worshipping cults, I would not hesitate to believe anything.