Due to the 40th anniversary of the Sharon Tate murders, I just tapped into something that makes the borderline conspiracy theorist in me and my love/obsession of the Avocado Mafia and the rock and roll roots of Los Angeles in the late Sixties and early Seventies, combine and go bonkers.
And all of it is messily tied up with Charles Manson and his family.
As I said, as this is the 40th anniversary of the August 9th, 1969 Sharon Tate murders and the official death of the two-year-long 1967 Summer of Love, let’s start there.
Sharon Tate was a former fiancé and still friends of Jay Sebring - Sebring was murdered along with Tate. Jay Sebring was the hairdresser-to-the-stars and Warren Beatty’s friend, for whom Beatty made the movie “Shampoo. ” "Shampoo" lovingly chronicled the sleazy, but sexy world of beautiful houses in Laurel Canyon, Beverly Hills and Malibu, drugs, and wild sex that was rampant in 1968. All of which, it turns out, were deeply connected – and or mostly supplied by - you got it, Charles Manson.
Separating fact from myth and conspiracy theories is not easy to do in this giant bacchanal mess - none of which is helped by the fact that Manson and his family were all insane murderers - but the truth and connections are amazing and undeniable.
In 1968, Charles Manson lived with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Wilson admitted he freely partook of Manson’s endless supply of drugs and sex with drugged-up pretty hippy girls. This relationship started the germ that would grow into the fall-of-Rome that was soon to be West Los Angeles circa 1968.
The newest biggest drug to hit this scene was cocaine, which Manson had tapped into supplying and using way ahead of his time thanks to his desert biker gang connections. Hard as it seems to believe now, there was a time when the coolest people were doing a lot of cocaine and having a lot of casual sex.
Manson started to scare Wilson, so Wilson kicked him out of his Sunset Blvd house – this started the toxic hatred of Wilson by Manson - so Manson and his girls set up shop in Spahn Ranch, the site of a dilapidated former western movie set in the desert – later used by the Eagles in their "Outlaw Man" video. More about that later. (“Never go with a hippy to a second location.” Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, “30 Rock”)
Prior to the ugly eviction of the Manson family, Wilson and the Beach Boys actually recorded a Manson song, "Cease to Exist" which they changed to "Never Learn Not to Love." Much to my surprise, Manson turned out to be quite the talented songwriter. Manson’s songs were also used by other bands and singers including Guns ‘N Roses and Marilyn Manson.
Neil Young spoke openly about his admiration for Manson and his free-association musical style. It is speculated many of Young’s hit songs were inspired by the Manson family hippy girls with whom Young slept - among them “Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” - in the party/orgies out at Spahn Ranch. The Spahn Ranch (Used in "Bonanza" and "The Lone Ranger") is where the rough Los Angeles outlaw biker culture blended uneasily, but forever, with the hippies of rock and roll.
After this time, Neil Young gave Manson a motorcycle - some speculate to pay a sex and drug dept – and Young tried to get Manson signed with Reprise Records. Something tells me Manson had spooked Young, and Young wanted to make him happy.
Manson was a racist and a fascist and devout follower of Hitler and mentioned Hitler’s Eagles Nest over and over again in his teachings and lyrics. He was also a firm believer in witchcraft and the occult. Call me crazy, but the (ahem) Eagles “Hotel California” mentions 1969 and “stabbing with their steely knives.” And “Witchy Woman”?
Apparently it was well-known, much to my surprise, that Doris Day and Charles Manson had been lovers and Day's son was a Manson follower, Terry Melcher. (Melcher reportedly gave Manson a luxury car, a Jaguar, on the condition Manson stop telling people about Manson's affair with his Mom) Terry Melcher was also a successful recording artist/producer who wrote songs with the Beach Boys. (If the coupling of the images of Doris Day and Charles Manson aren’t the seventh sign of the Apocalypse, I don’t know what is)
(Mom, if you’re reading about this Doris Day/Charles Manson hook up in heaven, I am sorry, but it appears to be true)
(And I’m not even going to go into the gay-sex allegations – Manson was maybe the only and truly bi-sexual man on the planet – about Red Skelton, Cary Grant, Robert Conrad, (gulp) Peter Falk and (double-gulp) Elvis Presley)
Doris Day's son, Terry Melcher, was so enamored of Charles Manson he decided to produce a musical documentary about Manson, until Melcher became unnerved at the sight of Manson brutally stomping a drunk stuntman nearly to death at Spahn ranch. At that point, Melcher dropped all contact with Manson, further infuriating Manson with his Beach Boy connections.
Neil Young introduced fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell as well as his CS&N band mates, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, into this wild lifestyle. They all lived at and around Topanga Canyon, Malibu/Zuma, Coldwater Canyon and Laurel Canyon and – although there isn’t photographic evidence to link all of these players with Manson - it is impossible they didn't know each other well, and probably shared drugs or sex or both, through these endless parties.
For example, Eric Clapton was busted for drugs in 1968 along with Terry Melcher in whole-party-sting-arrest at a Topanga Canyon house, although the chargers were later dropped. Not that it puts Clapton directly with Manson, but . . .
Some say the California trend of “Hey, let’s have orgy sex with many beautiful people at the same time, but don’t tell anyone about it” can first be credited to Hugh Hefner and the Playboy mansion, but Manson certainly put a hip, drug-driven, rock and roll spin to it.
The orgies apparently begat real relationships as Joni Mitchell was linked with everyone in “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.” So was Judy Collins. Mitchell admits she wrote “Help Me” about Glenn Frey of the Eagles. Later on it was the same story with Don Henley and Linda Rondstadt and Stevie Nicks. “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” was written by Stephen Stills about Collins. The list goes on and intertwines seemingly forever.
What a tangled web we weave indeed, Don Henley. “Have sex with a celebrity and write a hit song about it" screamed the mantra of the times. Cue: Carly Simon's "You're So Vein."
The regulars at these wild Malibu, Sunset Blvd, Laurel Canyon debacles were the who’s who of rock in the late sixties. Including, you got it, the Who. You name them, starting with Clapton, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Dylan, the Mamas and the Papas to the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, the Doors (Jim Morrison was a client and friend of Manson-murdered hairstylist-to-the-stars-Jay Sebring ) and Led Zeppelin, all admit to being at and were witnessed at these “Shampoo”- like orgies combining famous celebrities, wanna-be-starlets, Manson's sex slaves, music, acid, pot, coke, and lots of wild bondage and spanking multiple-partner sex.
The soundtrack to these parties could be Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop."
Now, I don't want to say the Laurel Canyon parties were all satanic debacles. I'm sure there were amazing wine-and-pot generated sweet moments of the sunset through the leafy trees and all of these amazing musicians harmonizing and playing acoustic guitars. It has been rumored that Keith Richards wrote "Wild Horses" with L.A.-based Graham Parsons ( they were good friends) at such a party and, as it is one of my favorite love songs, I would love to believe that is true.
One of those celebrities who flat out admits - and seemingly brags about - having multi-partner sex with Manson at these parties is none other than Jane Fonda. (Her father, Henry Fonda, had lived in the same house on 10050 Cielo Drive where Tate was murdered, but I am not implying a connection. But it does speak to how close Manson was to all of this back then)
Want a good creep out? Google Earth: Cielo Drive, Laurel Canyon California. It is remarkable how infested-with-celebrities that wealthy neighborhood was/is. Joni Mitchell’s house (which inspired Graham Nash’s sweet song “Our House”) was probably close enough to hear Sharon Tate’s screams across the canyon on that fateful August night.
Myth started blending into reality which turned into cold hard cash as these drug and sex fueled parties started producing some eye-popping success in the music world. “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin was like an open invitation: come to California and take drugs and play music and have sex with Manson’s wild and brain-washed hippy girls. And while you’re at it, why not pay for it all by writing a hit song about it?
Everyone in the country knew about these wild California rumors, but it not only turns out to be true times ten, it turns out the epicenter of the whole thing was none other than Charles Manson. Many famous participants, like Jane Fonda, freely admit it. Although there are no receipts and bills connecting the sex and drugs directly to Manson, if famous people are, even now, willing to admit they did drugs and had sex with a famous convicted mass murderer, I am inclined to believe them.
And if all of that wasn’t crazy enough, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and the rat pack and the mafia all come into play. It is known that the LaBianca’s – also murdered by Manson – were randomly selected to be killed, but they were also connected to the mob and Sinatra. Dean Martin’s daughter admitted to having sex with Charles Manson. Frank Sinatra was also known as a regular at these parties.
Where things turned on this scene was obviously the tragic, insane night of August 9th, 1969. The Laurel Canyon/Beverly Hills 10050 Cielo Drive house Tate rented was owned by a producer of the Beach Boys, Rudi Altobelli – who also, surprise, surprise, had mafia ties. Altobelli bought the home from Terry Melcher who had lived there with his then wife, Candice Bergen.
Manson would tell anyone who would listen how the Beach Boys, Melcher and Altobelli ripped him off of his Beach Boy royalties – which it turns out was true. Even crazy people get hosed. (A running joke is that, even after the murders, Charlie Manson wasn't even close to the craziest a-hole in the music industry)
So, was the attack at Tate’s house a case of revenge-based mistaken identity? Nobody knows because Roman Polanksi and Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring and the LaBianca’s were all known regulars at these Manson-catered parties. (Sharon Tate was look-alike Julie Christie's Jackie Shawn character in "Shampoo.")
That is how deeply woven this seedy web was in West Los Angeles, that a possible case of mistaken identity mass murder could still have direct ties with this insanely wild scene.
Rock and rollers and celebrities penchant to use and spit out people who are trying to leech from them is legendary – chronicled as recently as Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” - but in Charles Manson, they tried to chew up and spit out the wrong guy, and Manson was determined to make them pay. In blood.
After the gruesome Tate murders, all of Hollywood and the music business went into hiding to cover their long history with Chuck. (Don't forget, the Beatles admitted they wrote the 1968 “Sexy Sadie” after soon-to-be Manson Family killer Susan “Sadie” Atkins, though that was later denied and covered up after the murders. Volumes have been written about the Beatles influence on Manson, it seems Manson also influenced the Beatles)
Although I am admitting this is getting into nebulous territory, it has been strongly rumored the Beatles stopped touring at this exact same time for fear of Manson family retribution at a concert. It is true that, individually, all the Beatles jacked-up their private security and went into hiding at this time.
Manson was rumored to have an infamous celebrity hit list of those powerful people who took advantage of him and supposedly it included the Beach Boys and the Beatles, thus making Dennis Wilson’s drowning even more suspicious. Clapton went into heroin-induced hiding right then as well.
Coincidence? Maybe. Who knows? I sure don't.
Regardless, hard as it is to believe, at the heart of the hugest and most influential music scene in rock’s history was one Charles Milles Manson. Manson’s heavy-handed mad guru preaching of the creative power of drugs, orgies, motorcycles, occult and S&M were messy fingerprints left all over rock and roll at this time. Take those themes away and where does that leave everyone from the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and on forward to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Guns and Roses to the entire heavy metal movement?
Granted, some of these are chicken and egg arguments, drugs and sex and rock and roll have always been linked, but there is simply no denying Manson’s stranglehold on the 1968/1969 West Los Angeles' dark world. If you had sex with a crazy hippy girl and did drugs, as nearly everyone did then, you probably owed it to Charlie Manson.
August 9th, 1969 is when the hangover began, not just in the music business, but in our entire culture as well. Suddenly being a hippy and doing drugs and having an orgy were not seen as so chic and enlightened now they were preached and provided by an unspeakable mass murderer.
Of course, the appetite for drugs and orgies doesn’t go away over night, but from this moment on they went underground. (At the exact time when Manson and his cache of drugs and his minions of horny hippy girls vanished from the L.A. scene, the Las Vegas-based-mafia-run prostitute and drug rings in Hollywood scuttled to cover and openly had wars with the biker gang’s drug dealers and prostitutes. It seems Chuck left a big bloody mess in his wake. )
Around the mid-to-late Seventies people were starting to see, especially in the music industry, the toll exacted from, as Don Henley put it, having “everything all the time.”
However, as Don Henley so eloquently pines in “Hotel California” there was still longing for that weirdly magically drug and sex crazy time; “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.”
Especially the rockers themselves, they clearly wanted to deny Manson's influence. Whether they admit it or not, Charles Manson was a, if not the, player, as we say now, in that incendiary and wildly influential era on rock around Los Angeles in 1969.
Nobody is saying Manson was not nuts, but let's not also forget this was a man with enough charisma to have a huge harem of pretty women who truly believed Manson was a savior. Not only that, they tried to prove their devotion to him by committing unspeakably grisly murders. Someone like that could easily hoodwink a bunch of insecure artists. You can't write all of that off to insanity and acid and cocaine.
No matter how crazy a rat Charlie Manson was, anyone with that much wild sex and drugs to offer can easily slither into the upper echelon of the Los Angeles entertainment industry, just ask Heidi Fleiss.
Whether or not Manson was just some drug-addled homicidal desert spook who happened to get in the heads of famous, but insecure musicians by plying them with drugs and sex, or Manson was the rock Svengali forever responsible for motorcycle-boot- stomping the spirit of rock and roll into a decadent sex and drug raged violent rebellion, Manson’s impact on rock music, no matter how horrible, was enormous and indelible.
So, rock and roll, welcome to the Hotel Charlie Manson, you can check out any time you want, you just can never leave.