Charles Manson: How cult leader's obsession with The Beatles inspired horrific murders

Charles Manson used the Beatles' White Album to construct a vile narrative to drive the Family cult members to commit the horrific murders of 1969.

Express, UK/November 19, 2018

By Anna Krestschmer

Evil Charles Manson died a year ago today at the age of 83. The White album was released in November 1968, less than a year before Manson ordered the brutal Tate-LaBianca murders of August 1969. Manson’s fixation on The Beatles, and the White Album in particular, was so significant to the killings that it formed a large part of the murder trial in 1970.

Prosecuting District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi said that the jury had two requests during the trial: to visit the murder scenes and to listen to the White Album.

Hollywood historian Karina Longworth explains the complexities of Manson’s bizarre obsession and how it fuelled the horrific killings.

Her podcast “You Must Remember This” takes a deep dive into Manson’s LA and his obsession with fame and the Hollywood elite.

At the heart of Manson’s twisted thinking was “Helter Skelter”, the White Album song which used the image of the fairground slide.Manson took that, alongside the avant-garde soundscape Revolution 9, to construct a racist narrative that foretold of a coming apocalypse.

The songs proved that an apocalyptic race war was coming, Manson argued.

When it did, he and the Family would flee into the desert, where they would take refuge “in a hole in the ground” and wait out the coming end-of-days.

The plan was that they would then “re-emerge,” “enslave the black men, and the planet would belong to them, and Charlie could take his rightful throne as the king of men,” explains Longworth.

Manson told his cult followers that the successes of the Civil Rights movement, and especially the rise of the Black Panthers, were proof of his prophecies that a race war was coming.

And, he said, The Beatles proved this too.

“The Beatles were telling the entire Black race, Manson said, that their time was nigh. And if they were unsure how to do it, that’s what “Happiness is a Warm Gun” was for, to tell black men to pick up guns and use them against white men,” says Longworth.

Alongside this, Manson saw the White Album’s song “Rocky Racoon” as a thinly-veiled racial slur.

Longworth adds: “He prophesied that one night a crew of “Rocky Racoons” were going to drive up […] to Bel Air, invade some rich guys house and kill everyone in it, writing messages on the walls in the victims blood. That’s how Helter Skelter was going to start, Charlie said.”

When it didn’t happen, Manson took matters into his own hands.

He ordered his gang of followers, which included Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian, to go to the Cielo Drive mansion, and kill everyone inside.

After murdering Hollywood actress Sharon Tate and her friends who were staying there, they moved on to the LaBianca family home the next evening.

During the killings, the misspelled “Healter Skelter” was daubed in blood on the LaBianca’s kitchen fridge.

The Family also wrote “Death to pigs” in the blood of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, echoing the “pig” which Susan Atkins wrote in Tate’s blood on a door of the Cielo Drive mansion.

This was in reference the Beatles song “Piggies”, another album track which Manson used to justify the killings.

“Manson’s interpretation was The Manson Family were the little piggies crawling in the dirt, or in their case dumpster-diving for food, while the big piggies wore clean white shirts and lived decadently. It was all about how rich people had too much,” Longworth explains.

Lennon’s lyric in the song – “what they need’s a damn good whacking” – described what Manson and the cult should do to redress the balance.

In addition to the Helter Skelter project, Longworth also describes the bizarre personal connections that Manson imagined between himself and the band.

He used them to further indoctrinate the Family into Helter Skelter, and to lend his wild theories and prophecies an air of legitimacy.

“After all, if The Beatles were talking about the same things, how could they be totally made up and insane?” explains Longworth.

On its release, Manson soon began working White Album lyrics into his nightly preaching sessions, telling the Family that the band had “channelled Manson’s own teachings and bottled them into this masterpiece of pop music for the masses".

“Charlie preached that the whole of the album contained the message that the Beatles were looking for a spiritual saviour," Longworth noted.

The song Honey Pie, he told the Family, was an “invitation to Manson to create his own album” – an endeavour he had already been haranguing Hollywood music producers about.

For their part, The Beatles never gave Manson and his cult any attention.

However, they did reflect on how the sickening murders brought a sudden, violent end to the era of peace and free love.

“It stopped everyone in their tracks, because suddenly all this violence came out in the midst of all this love and peace and psychedelia,” Ringo Starr said in “Anthology”.

“It was pretty miserable, actually, and everyone in L.A. felt, ‘Oh, God, it can happen to anybody.’ Thank God they caught the bugger.”

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