Thursday, June 01, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter The First

[[ By Popular Demand we bring you MY LIFE WITH CHARLES MANSON by Paul Watkins, required reading for all Manson Scholars. Remember the following- Paul was there. Paul loved Charlie. Paul then turned on Charlie. Paul actually tried then to REPLACE Charlie. Read this with all of the above in mind. This book is COPYRIGHTED by Paul Watkins and Guillermo Soledad, and thus also presumably by Martha Watkins. This book has been out of print for twenty five years. We present it here for research purposes only because you cannot find a freaking copy. If somebody objects that isn't Martha or Guillermo, tough titty. And now CH 1. Proceed, Class.]]

Part One: I Am You and You Are Me

Chapter One:

On the day I met Charles Manson – March 16, 1968 – there was enough wind to drive the clouds and the smog out of the L.A. basin. I remember standing on a ridge above Topanga Canyon looking out over the valley. The mountains beyond San Fernando were clearly delineated and I could make out the confluence of highways which compose the L.A. freeway system and beyond it the congestion of greater Los Angeles. It felt good to be miles away from all that, shirtless in the afternoon sun. I took a leak, then hiked back through the oak grove to my campsite to smoke a number.

Several months before, I had left my home in Thousand Oaks and had dropped out of high school, giving up my senior year and the office of student-body president. By that time I’d lost all interest in my studies. I preferred smoking grass and playing music to sitting in a classroom. The world seemed utterly insane to me and I began experimenting with other drugs, until I was busted for marijuana and put on probation in December 1967. That same week, two friends of mine came back from Vietnam, dead. Others my age were enlisting; there was racial violence throughout the country – riots daily; plus, the overriding awareness that a nuclear holocaust could wipe out everything. But the roots went deeper. I remember my parents on the day John Kennedy was shot and how that event devastated them and so many others. It seemed, in a way, that many never got over it, that afterward they just stuck their heads in the sand and decided to live without feelings, without seeing. They didn’t recognize in the midst of all the violence, assassinations, profiteering, and suffering of the late sixties that there was a new spirit being born, something hopeful in the air. I saw that hope in what would later become known as the “psychedelic revolution,” the movement of America’s youth. While police described me then as a hippie and a “runaway,” I considered myself a fugitive flower child in search of enlightenment and truth. I took a hit off my joint and lay back in the waving mustard weed to let the hot sun bathe my face.

From the hillside where my tent was pitched (near the top of a ridge in the middle of a mustard-weed patch), I looked directly down through a stand of eucalyptus and oak to Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which stretched from the valley to the Pacific Coast Highway. Hidden from the road, I could observe at my leisure the endless procession of cars weaving back and forth through the canyon. I had chosen this vantage point for strategic reasons: probation authorities were still searching for me following the December marijuana bust at Half Moon Bay.

That bust was a real revelation. Certainly it made me more sympathetic later to the plight of Charlie and the Family. It happened while I was living in the mountains around Big Sur with a friend called Black Beard Charlie (Charlie Melton). Black Beard was another “runaway” from L.A. who had shined-on suburbia to take to the hills. He was nineteen, a full-on Kerouac “dharma bum” who could assume the full lotus at the drop of a hat and fall immediately into trancelike meditation. He was tall and slender with a gaunt, El Grecolike face which seemed compatible with his vagrant life-style. Brown, wide-set eyes highlighted his dark complexion. His hair hung to well below his shoulders and was tied at the base of his skull with a strip of rawhide. Black Beard was a student of Eastern religions and he taught me a lot about survival in the wilderness with a pack on my back. We had made camp at Hot Springs canyon, near Esalen, and were committed to the gypsy life, wandering through the forests and along the California coastline.

Two weeks after we arrived at Hot Springs, however, the weather turned unbearably cold and rainy, and we agreed to pack up and go looking for a warmer, drier scene. That fateful morning we rolled out early to watch the sunrise through a gray drizzle beside our teepee. We shared a breakfast of apricots, raisins, and camomile tea before loading our packs and setting out for the highway. We were both wearing Levis and moccasins, and I was carrying a pound of grass in a bag strapped to my waist, a stash I had earlier escaped with during the bust of a hippie commune in the valley. We cut holes in our blankets to make ponchos which covered our bodies and helped keep us dry on our trek out of the canyon to the highway.

We didn't care much which direction we went, so once we reached the road, Black Beard stood on one side and I went to the other. It didn't take long. Within five minutes we had our first ride-a freezing-ass ordeal in the back of a Chevy pickup which took us to Daly City. From there we flagged down an old-timer driving a fifty Plymouth who must have been as blind as a bat-he was a trip-kept asking if we were in the military, said he used to be; said he didn't know what the world was coming to, couldn't trust anyone, not even your own mother, but that his mother was dead and that having arthritis didn't help "a damn." He told us his name was R.D. and that it stood for "Real Dirty," "but you boys kin call me Red." We drank a shot of brandy with him before he let us out on Polk Street in San Francisco, then we stood on the curb and waved as he disappeared into the morning fog.

The city seemed cold and inhospitable that day. We spent the morning wandering the streets, lugging our packs around, resting on corners, watching people. Sometime around noon, we took a bus ride to get warm but the driver gave us the evil eye for ten blocks so we got off. All the Christmas shit was up: window displays, Styrofoam Santas, colored lights, phony greenery, most of it dripping wet and pathetic-looking. We hiked over to Hippie Hill and found it nearly deserted. The mood had changed completely since the summer of '66 when I first visited the Haight. Instead of hippies and flower children we saw only derelicts and hard-core junkies trying to score booze and smack. Everything seemed depressed and stony and by late afternoon we wound up in Golden Gate Park drinking hot tea and feeding the gulls. When it started to rain again I was ready to split.

"Hey, man, let's boogie outta here."

"What's up, Paul?"

"The rain, man…I'm catching cold. I feel like getting dry."

"Where to?"

"Anywhere, let's just go."

We packed up our gear, took a hit of acid, and left the park, trudging it all the way to the highway. By the time we got there it was bitter cold but the rain had stopped and through a mist reminiscent of that morning, we watched the sun disappear into the sea. One ride with a jocular young sailor and his beer-swilling girlfriend took us to the outskirts of Half Moon Bay. From there we set out walking towards the town in silence, still coming onto the acid. The road was wet and the wheels of passing traffic made a hissing sound against the pavement. I thought of the highway as a snake, hissing as we moved along its back. We hadn't walked a hundred yards when a highway patrolman pulled over, wanting to see our I.D.'s.

The cop was a big, swaggering dude with a wide, sanguine face and freckles; the more I looked at his face the more the freckles looked like islands on some vast sea of skin. He said I'd been walking like a drunk and he stood over me with his flashlight while I fished through my wallet for the I.D. I had two, one a driver's license that was legal, the other a draft card that wasn't. I found the cards and he seized them both. But I was feeling confident, even friendly.

"Which one of these is you?" His voice was hard.

"The license is for real. But hey, man, I'm old enough to be on the road; it's cool. Hey, I'd like you to meet my friend Black Beard Charlie."

The cop ignored my introduction and told us to walk on down the highway to the drive-in restaurant where there was more light. We did and he followed us, radioing in the meantime to another squad car, which careened into the parking lot just after we got there. By then Black Beard was all Buddhaed-out in the full lotus, under a neon light. In front of him, his draft card, and a Bible. The big cop was still examining my I.D. "What's with Moses?" he asked, gesturing toward Charlie.

I shrugged. The other tow cops were looking at his I.D., but he didn't bat an eyelash and they didn't disturb him; they just looked at the I.D., then set it down again.

"What do you have on your back, Mr. Watkins?" the big guy wanted to know.

"Camping gear."

"Let's have a look."

"You can't search me without a warrant!"

The cop sniggered, reaching for the poncho. "Take it off, Mr. Watkins."

"Hey, man, you're supposed to be the law." I pushed his hand away. "This is my house…you can't enter my house! I didn't do anything!" The acid had slowed things down, had removed the filters from my vision. The cop seemed enormous to me now, like Goliath or King Kong, and I felt as though I were acting out a role in some ancient, preordained myth, and that somehow the outcome was already a matter of destiny.

The cop was furious now. "I said take it off!"

"Fuck no! I'm a sovereign being…you're violating my universe, man!"

He grabbed at the pack and the other two cops lurched over to help. I was more exhilarated than scared, driven by an impulse I could only obey as I listened to the cops grunting while trying to pinion my arms; my blood was surging, my adrenaline pumping, and for a time I held them off. But then the big one slammed a leg in behind my knee and threw me to the ground; he had one foot on my neck and the other on my hand, which he crunched into the pavement. I felt a toe of his boot grinding against my fingers at the same time the gravel was cutting into my face. My flesh peeled away onto his boots, onto the gravel. I was aware of warm blood trickling across my skin. I could smell it. Panicked again, I began kicking and flailing like some beached mammal; that's when Black Beard came to life and tried to help me-but one of the cops collared him.

"Hey, Paul," Charlie shouted. "Give it up man! Shit, it ain't worth it!

"No! No! They can't do this," I gasped. "This isn't the law!"

"This is the law, sonny," the big guy snarled, ripping my pack from my back. "This boot on your neck is the law…and don't forget it!" His words fell on my ears like some sort of substance pounded out of cold air. I heard the words being repeated over and over again, then I felt them like a liquid being poured into my head; but it was my own blood I felt, dripping. And I knew he was right, that one man was overpowering another, inflicting his will, is the bottom line of the law. Ironically, this revelation elated me.

I was in a spaced out daze when the big guy jerked me to my feet and held me while one of the other cops rummaged through my pack, scattering food, clothing, and utensils on the ground. Patrons from the drive-in had gathered in an excited gaggle outside the door to watch. I was bloody and exhausted, yet filled with a sense of buoyance, as though I had played my part well and was being cosmically rewarded. Black Beard, meanwhile, has resumed the lotus beneath the light, his eyes closed, his face mirroring an inscrutable calm.

"I found the marijuana!" came the proclamation as the cop jerked the bag from the debris, as if to prove to everyone, including the spectators, that it had all been worth it. His proclamation struck me as uproariously comical and I burst out laughing and cheering at the same time. It seemed to me then that we were all members of some comic acting troupe, a band of gypsy thespians performing on the roadside. And as the proclamation continued: "…in the name of San Mateo County, district…you are hereby…" I continued to cheer and to clap my hands. That's when I noticed the other cop gaping at my hands in unmasked horror; they were all looking at them. I looked down. Both hands were crumpled, my shirt torn to shreds, my arms cut and bleeding; my face was a gouged conglomerate of gravel, dirt, and blood. For several moments I stared down at my hands; they looked mangled beyond repair. The big cop had taken off his handcuffs and he stood over me, hesitating. Then I calmly reached down with one hand and straightened the fingers of the other, felling the bones crunch and crackle back into place, resetting both hands while the cops gawked at me. At last I opened and closed both hands several times to make sure they worked, before holding them out like raw hamburger to the big cop they called Ben. He slapped the cuffs on me, then heaved me bodily into the back of his car.

"Get your ass up and outta here, Moses!" he barked as I maneuvered into a sitting position in time to watch Black Beard collecting the gear from the parking lot and stuffing it into my pack. Then Big Ben got in his car, and the other two cops got in theirs, while the crowd around the restaurant began to disperse.

That's when Charlie ran up to the car and shouted, "Hey, Paul, hang tough, amigo…see you soon!"

We Brodied out onto the highway amid a swirl of gravel and mud, and all kinds of things flashed through my head: like maybe I'd go to jail for twenty years; marijuana was a big offense in those days. But I wasn't really scared; in fact, I felt a strange sort of satisfaction: the acid brought me to the realization that I had created the episode myself, had genereated my own personal catharsis at the cops' expense. I didn't blame them; if anything, I felt slightly guilty for deceiving them. Sitting Indian-style in the cage in the back of the squad car, I watched the clouds clear. I could see hundreds of stars glittering crisply in the heavens. Everything seemed clean and promising and gradually a flood of emotion swelled up inside me; tears streamed down my face. It seemed as though I had just returned from the bottom of the world, that I had been stomped on and stamped with the mark of civilization, but that I had survived and was still free. I flashed on Black Beard sitting in the full lotus and smiled through my tears. I saw the strength in his face and the light in his eyes when he shouted at me through the window, and I felt like a warrior. The moon broke through the clouds and Big Ben and I watched it out the window. He saw the tears and asked if my hand was okay.

"Yeah, it's okay."

I was booked in San Mateo and released the following morning to the custody of my parents in Los Angeles. I ran away again, a a week later I met Black Beard in Malibu; we palled around together for several weeks before he split for New Mexico. That's when I moved into my tent in Topanga Canyon, which is where this story started-on the day I met Charlie Manson.

After watching a wedding caravan scream up the canyon-I remember horns blaring and the flowing streamers and tin cans tied to the cars-I pulled my pack out of the tent and ate some dried peaches and a handful of raisins, which I washed down with water from a canteen. Then I kicked off my moccasins and took out my French horn. The instant I started to play, two blue-jays who hung out in a nearby scrub oak came out and started squawking; they'd been there ever since I set up camp, and they squawked each time I played music. But no one else did. There was no else around.

It was my custom to sit on that hillside for hours, playing the music to trees and wildflowers, watching the leaves blowing and twisting as if they were dancing to the tune I played-the sensitivity of massive, gnarled limbs betrayed in their nimble leaves. And when it was hot, there were always the white butterflies fluttering in pairs across the canyon, and a myriad of droning bees in the mustard weed. From my hideout I could see the elegant homes of the wealthy perched on surrounding hillsides, and a few shacks back up the canyon. But around me was only a feral expanse of nature, now abloom in early spring; perfect; living in a pup tent on my own private mountain in the middle of L.A. But those crazy birds made me think of my friend Jay, who lived up the canyon on Summit Drive, and I decided to hike down there to visit him.

It was around four o'clock when I put my horn away, grabbed a sweater, and started my hike down the hill toward the riverbed which leads up the canyon to Summit Drive. Descending the slope through the oaks reminded me of similar terrain just north of Taos, New Mexico, where the previous summer (1967), I had spent two weeks in a hippie commune. That entire summer, in fact, I'd devoted to hitchhiking around the country, from Haight Ashbury to Taos, looking for people to live with and make music with-people who sensed then, as I did, that there was a new awakening of consciousness; a generation utterly alienated from the parents by the seemingly unbreachable gap of time and acid.

I had become acutely aware of this phenomenon on my first trip to the Haight that same summer: playing music in the city-in parks, crash pads, parking lots; smoking grass; feeling good. It was the beginning of the psychedelic revolution and it captured the awareness of youth like nothing else in my lifetime. I met people from everywhere, hiked with them through the city and up into the mountains behind Berkeley, where we sang songs and picked flowers; we were like gypsies spreading love, giving love and flowers to people in the street; people of all ages-children, old men, women, bus drivers, cops, newspapermen, grocery clerks, ex-convicts. It was real love and it was contagious. People have forgotten how deeply it was felt because in time it turned into a heavy rip-off drug scene and lost its potency. In fact, by September 1967 (two months after Jimi Hendrix brought "a new soul sound of love" to the Monterey Pop Festival), Haight Ashbury had degenerated from a scene of smiles and flowers into a cesspool of violence and hostility: it had become a terror-stricken ghetto where those "hippies" who remained became victims of phony slop-bucket liberal do-gooders, vicious con men, or worse. But in the beginning the love was real; it had integrity; and it turned my head around. So much so that by the time I went back to Thousand Oaks the following September to finish my senior year, I couldn't handle school any longer. I became one of tow or three out of 2,500 students who started using psychedelics: "outrageous behaviors" for a student-body president. School officials said I should be "setting an example." I thought I was. Two months later, I was removed from office. The only president in the school's history to be so honored.

I hiked along the creek bed which parallels Topanga Canyon Boulevard, taking my time, hopping from rock to rock over the silver trickle of water that glistened in the light. After an hour I stopped on a protruding hunk of gray granite, big enough to stretch out on, and there I smoked a joint while contemplating the shadows on the rocks and the changing textures of the hillside. When it grew cold and started to get dark, I moved on.

Jay's house was located at the end of the creek where the road slopes up and dead-ends against the face of the hillside. All but hidden in a grove of oak, it gave the illusion of total isolation from the world. Beyond it, the rugged hillside swept up into an overgrown mane of mustard weed and wildflowers which looked from the floor of the canyon to be the jumping-off place to the sky. Though there were other houses around, within a stone's throw of Jay's, they were hidden by dense foliage and the rolling contours of the landscape. Being at Jay's, you had the feeling of living in a mountain retreat. Jay was a musician who played drums for a local rock group on the Sunset Strip. I'd met him only recently and had visited him a number of times since moving to my hideaway in Topanga. But I hadn't seen him in over a week.

It took twenty minutes to hike the half-mile up to the dead end where Jay's car was usually parked on a slope above the house. But his car was gone. In its place was an old black and white school bus with a large storage rack on top, secured with rope and covered with an embroidered psychedelic canvas tarp. From a distance, and because of the angle as I approached the slope, the bus looked like the head of a minstrel wearing a top hat. When I turned off onto the dirt driveway and started down the gully which plunges into the oak grove, I spotted a dim light in the living room window. By then it was downright cold, so I jogged down the hill, hopped on the porch and knocked on the door. A can of paint sat in one corner of the porch with a brush lying on top of it; Jay had intended to paint the trim around the windows of the house, but apparently had not gotten around to it. The house was small, made of weathered pine, and painted white. It was old and run-down, but it had a woodsy charm. The fireplace was spewing smoke and I was eager to get warm. I was ready to knock again when the door opened.

Two naked, wispy-legged teenage girls with waist-length hair stood in the doorway, greeting me with quizzical, appraising smiles. I felt the heat from the fireplace waft across the porch and I smelled the fragrance of marijuana.

"Is Jay around?" I stammered.

"Jay doesn't live here anymore," the taller girl said; she pulled a strand of hair away from her eyes and smiled. "I'm Snake and this is Brenda…Would you like to come in?"

They asked my name and I told them as they stood aside to let me enter the house.

Brenda (Nancy Pitman) led the way. She was about five-three, and had wavy blondish hair that hung to her butt. Her body was slender and suntanned; she looked like the classic little surfer girl from Malibu, which, as it turned out, is what she was. Snake (Diane Lake) was about five-five and had a more rounded, voluptuous body; beautiful, upturned boobs and an incredible jungle of fire red-hair, so thick it seemed to coil out of her head as though charged with electricity. All but obscuring her pixie face and large fulgurous green eyes.

The living room we entered was spacious, with windows fronting on the thickest part of the oak grove. A luminous glow emanated from the fireplace and the smell of pot was intoxicating. Ten or twelve people, all but three of whom were girls, sat on the floor around a knee-high wooden table, the top of which was covered with a red embroidered cloth. There were three or four candles on the table and two bowls filled with candy bars. About half the girls were naked; none of the guys were, though the one at the head of the table who held the guitar was shirtless. At my feet, lying across the entrance to the room like some exotic Playboy Bunny in repose, was a pretty dark-haired girl who was subsequently introduced to me as Sadie (Susan Atkins).

"This is Paul," Brenda announced in a husky voice, a childlike voice which seemed compatible with her rosy, cherub face; she addressed the guy at the head of the table, the shirtless one who held the guitar and who smiled warmly, raising his hand in a gesture of welcome.

"I'm Charlie," he said. "Won't you stay and make music with us?"


Salem said...

Thanks Col.
I could not get the book.

Dok said...

Brilliant! Thank you Col, I can hardly wait for the next installment.

Synesthesiac said...

Fantabulous !

Thanks Col.

Audio Magic said...

Very interesting, Col. Now I wish I had read his book back when it was first published.
Thank you

Yepyep said...
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catscradle77 said...
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Jane Doe said...

Thank you for posting this. The writing is brilliant.

deadwoodhbo said...

awesome col Thank You!!!!!!!!!!!!

spookycatz said...

Thanks. Like everyone else, I couldn't get the book.

The writing is a burden to read through. Too wordy. I will read through it though because as you say, he was there.

I seem to have developed an addiction. I want to know what happened and why during those 2 nights in August 1969.


60skid said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
deadwoodhbo said...

thank you

justme said...

I would love to know what you are referring to when you say Paul Watkins tried to replace Charles Manson?
Found Watkins an interesting guy in an old documentary & had no idea he wrote a book.
Thanks for this, I'm reading it now & thrilled to hear his story in his own words!

Branwell Manwell said...
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Branwell Manwell said...

How can you think this book is "too wordy"? I found it almost too easy to read, blew through it in 2 days.