Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter The Second

Chapter Two:

My full name is Paul Alan Watkins and I was born on the twenty-fifth of January 1950. I was one when my family moved to Sidon, Lebanon, where my father worked on the pipeline and where we lived in a sprawling, rather barren apartment complex for Americans near the outskirts of the city, within walking distance of the Mediterranean and a boat-filled harbor.

I don't remember a lot about the next four years I spent there but I do recall playing in dusty garbage-strewn streets with Lebanese kids and walking with my mother through a marketplace teeming with people. I can still visualize mazelike networks of narrow aisles littered with peelings, fish heads, and debris; flanks of hanging blood-red meat, roving fishmongers laden with squirming mackerel; women mending nets; smells of incense, spices, urine, oil, and sweat; dark faces of young and old chattering in Arabic-a vast sea of color, motion, and humanity; and seagulls scavenging for food.

I remember Arula and Rudi, the two seventeen-year old girls who took care of us while our mother was gone. From them I learned how to speak Arabic and to play the street games of children my own age. Once a week they took us with them to the masjid (mosque) to light candles. I knew nothing about the Islamic religion and have only vague recollections of worshipers gathered to pray. My most vivid and precise recollection is of Arula lighting incense in my bedroom each night after dinner, a memory that to this day triggers a deep and pervasive feeling of sensuality that I will always associate with Lebanon and the Middle East.

We left Sidon when I was five and moved to Beaumont, Texas; we remained there a couple of years, then traveled to Thousand Oaks, California, where I attended school from first through eleventh grades and became active in a variety of church groups.

Unlike most kids, I always liked church. There was something about being inside one that filled me with a sense of humility: maybe it was the stained-glass windows or the singing of the choir, but somewhere in that ambience I felt a deep reverence for life, a sense of spirituality that sustained me while growing up in Thousand Oaks. I experienced the same kind of feelings in nature, in the fertile rolling hills beyond home-the sloping oak groves of the Conejo Valley-where as a boy I often hiked alone or with my brothers.

At the tender age of eight I became a student of the Bible and I was active in youth organizations and church camps until the time I entered high school. My family were Methodists and I attended weekend youth groups regularly. But religion didn't get funky until my thirteenth year, when I went to hear an outdoor evangelical meeting with a friend named Toby: it was a breezy autumn evening and we had just eaten dinner before hiking across the ravine to the outskirts of town where the meeting was assembled in a clearing under the oaks. We sat in the front row. I remember hearing the traffic in the distance and I could see the lights from Thousand Oaks casting a glow along the rim of the foothills. There must have been a hundred and fifty people there that night, most of them from out of town. About a third of the congregation were black, and you rarely saw blacks in Thousand Oaks. There was a lady playing a piano and singing. She was short and pudgy and wore a battered straw hat laced with artificial flowers. Since she sat directly in front of us, we could look up her dress and ogle her enormous thighs, which slid together like two juicy hams. After singing a medley of rousing spirituals, she introduced herself as Lydia, then asked everyone to welcome Preacher Bob.

I'll never forget Preacher bob. He was tall, bald, and limber. Blue veins bristled in his wiry white arms, as he stood up and raised his hands over his head, then smiled like a Cheshire cat. A gold hexagon-shaped ring flashed from his little finger. He stood directly in front of us, wearing pressed white slacks and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled above the elbow.

He began at once to rave about Jesus. Through Jesus he had found salvation and a new life. After five minutes under the floodlights (which were strung up around the stage on pieces of cord tied to the oak trees), he was spewing sweat in prodigious salty drops. "There's still time, friends! There's always time to take Jesus into your lives!" His voice reeled higher and higher. People started shouting: "Hallelujah…Glory to God!" Preacher Bob just grinned, wiped his brow, and raised his hands in praise. Then Lydia banged the keyboard and we all sang. Pretty soon I was clapping, clomping, and singing up a storm. I didn't care much about being saved. What revved me up was the emotion and the intensity-the almost primal sensuality of being out there under the stars with all those people, singing my guts out.

For months afterwards I attended services, got saved, felt fine. But I grew tired of weekly salvation. By the time I reached high school, my fervor for evangelism had waned, while my interest in music and singing had become a passion. During those days I played the trumpet, and on weekends performed as a member of the Conejo Valley youth Band. Often, I'd play solos and dig on the crowd's reaction. I'm certain that it was during those performances, while I stood before all those eyes like some latter-day Elmer Gantry, that I first sensed my potential as a performer.

For the most part (with the exception of my religious orientation and the four years I spent in Lebanon), I enjoyed a pretty standard middle-class American upbringing. If, as some were to later to assert, I became an "alienated young man," I was no more alienated than thousands of other youths of my own generation. I did not come from a miserable home life where I was beaten, abused, or grossly mistreated. My affinity for rebellion and the psychedelic revolution went deeper than family. I loved my parents and they loved me, and while I was one of six children (three boys and three girls, I being the second son), I did not feel rejected or neglected by my folks, nor was I ever a social outcast among my peers. If anything, up until the time I took to the road, I was considered an unusually well-adjusted kid. I made decent grades and was always popular in school; in fact, I was elected president of every class I attended from first grade through eleventh grades. I was regarded by my teachers as bright, gregarious, even "gifted," which seems to blow the minds of those who learned of my later involvement with the Manson Family.

What disturbs these people-the public at large-is that they usually expect me to be some sort of spaced-out weirdo. When they learn otherwise, it scares them, and they become defensive. The reasons for this are clear to me now: the public has always known Charles Manson as a murderer. They did not meet him, as I did, on that evening in March 1968 in Topanga Canyon. When I met him, there was no violence in the Family, no talk of Helter-Skelter; in fact, it was the complete opposite, Charlie's love then was real. It had some integrity. But the public met Charlie through the media only after the murders; by then, the whole story was tainted with blood. To understand Charles Manson and the Family you have to see how they evolved, you have to make that journey as I did, from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Brenda lit two sticks of incense while Charlie and the others introduced themselves. Then I squatted beside Brenda and Snake at the far end of the table facing Charlie. Sanke offered me a candy bar and Charlie began to tune his guitar. I allowed my eyes to feast on the bevy of beautiful, unclad women. If an orgy was in the offing, I was more than ready for it. Snake wore a garland of tiny red roses as a headband, though I hadn't noticed them at first, so thick and red was her hair. But when I sat down beside her, she removed the band and placed it on my head. Then Brenda handed me a joint.

The exact number present that night, excluding myself, was twelve: Charlie, Sandra Good, Lynette Fromme (Squeaky), Bruce Davis, Sanke (Diane Lake), Brenda (Nancy Pittman), Katie (Patricia Krenwinkel), Sadie (Susan Atkins), Mary Brunner, Stephanie Rowe, Ella Jo Bailey, and a guy called Motorcycle Mark. All but Mark were part of the original Family Charlie had began in San Francisco the year before. Had anyone told me four of these people would later be convicted of the most sensational murder of the century and that the little guy named Charlie would be compared to men like Hitler and Jack the Ripper, I would have laughed out loud. The vibes pervading the scene that night were only mellow. Violence was the farthest thing from my mind as I glanced around the room.

The floor, except where the table was positioned, was covered with mattresses, which in turn were overlaid with blankets. Several Indian tapestries were tacked to the walls, and three potted ferns hung from the beams of the ceiling directly over the table. In the corner, leaning against the wall, was Mark's Harley Davidson Sportster, covered partially with a beach towel. Charlie raised his eyes and nodded at a tall slender, red-headed girl-Lynn (Squeaky) Fromme- who got up at once and left the room, returning moments later with a glass. Charlie took a drink, then smiled: "Sody water," he said aloud. He set the glass down, got to his feet, and stretched.

I noted how immediately how short he was: about five-three (two inches shorter than I). He wore motorcycle boots and faded Levi's, the pockets of which were embroidered with flowers. Tied around his neck was a leather thong. With his arms over his head, his ribs protruded, but his body was sinewy and he looked strong. A Zapata-style mustache and shoulder-length brown hair highlighted the even, boyish features of his face and his dark, darting brown eyes. He seemed like a jovial little dude, which I could well imagine, what with all those delectable ladies around him. He was obviously older than the others and the focal member of the group, though at the time I was much more aware of Brenda and Snake, who sat beside me smiling warmly.

"Did you know Jay?" I asked Brenda, trying not to stare at her boobs, "the guy who used to live here?"

She shook her head. "The house was empty when we moved in last week."

"You all together?"

She nodded. "We're a Family," she said simply, "an extension of Charlie's love."

I didn't know what that meant, but I was beginning to get an impression.

Charlie sat down and one of the girls placed a joint in his mouth. I wondered to myself: how does this guy do it; he's like a friggin' sultan. Then Charlie smiled at me, before saying something to Bruce about the Harley; moments later, Snake asked me where I was from and everyone talked quietly and I gradually felt the purely sexual vibes being dissipated and absorbed into a general feeling of closeness, a rapport which like nothing I had experienced in such a large group. I sensed that those people were really "together," and it intrigued me. I didn't understand it then, but I felt it strongly. This, I thought, is what I have been looking for.

Charlie took another hit from the joint, then began to sing. He bent forward, hugging the guitar, his hair hanging over his face; he really leaned into the music with body and voice. And he was good, damn good, timing the notes and modulations with a loose-jointed, natural rhythm. Manson had soul and there was genuine merriment in his manner, a contagious style that got everyone off. As a musician I admired his talent for improvisation; it gave the music vitality. Plus, it was right up my alley, 'cause that's the kind of music I do best and that's why Charlie and I connected so well that night.

Those who have written about Manson have always implied that drugs and sex were his primary means of programming the Family. But music was perhaps even more influential. No other art form better expresses and transmits the nuances of the soul. While Charlie was never a great instrumentalist, his voice was strong and he has a good range. He could wail, croon, and get funky. That night he was lighthearted and full of love.

He got it moving by making up songs, singing nonsense verses with uncanny timing. I felt completely relaxed and into it. When he suddenly began a new verse, then hesitated halfway through it, I obeyed an impulse and sang the rest of it.

"Right on, Paul! ... Let's do it!" Delighted, he bounced up and came around to my side of the table and started to play again. Pretty soon we were taking turns, first Charlie, then me, one verse following another, a full-on duet—all of it spontaneous, all of it coming together; everybody digging it. Afterward he sang a song and the whole group joined in: it was a song I was to hear hundred of times as a member of the Manson Family.

Your home is where you're happy

It's not where you are free

Your home is where you can be what you are;

'Cause you were just born to be.

They'll show you their castles,

And diamonds for all to see

But they’ll never show you their peace of mind

'Cause they don't know how to be free.

So burn all your bridges

Leave your old life far behind you

You can be what you wanna be

Just don't let your mama find you.

Anywhere you might wander,

You can make your home

Just as long as you've got love in your heart

You'll never be alone.

Later, Charlie sat beside me strumming the guitar. Bruce Davis had moved over and sat facing us from across the table. Bruce, whom I would come to know well and who was subsequently convicted for his part in the murder of Shorty Shea, was a thick, heavyset dude with an angular, saturnine face, usually wearing a tight-lipped expression. He had black wavy hair and a very macho demeanor. He was twenty-five. Like Charlie, he had done time. His hands were thick and gnarly, and he gestured with them sporadically while describing a motorcycle ride in Malibu which resulted in busting up the Harley earlier that week.

"Hey, if that wasn't bad enough, Charlie gets up on the bike and starts riding it around the sidewalk; then he loses control and crashes the son of a bitch through a fucking bakery window!"

Charlie chuckled. A small space was visible between his front teeth. "Yeah, it kinda got away from me, " he said.

"Kinda! Dig it, the fucking bike is still running, sitting in the middle of three wedding cakes; the guy who runs the place is screaming like a banshee…gonna tell the law—I go in and Charlie's licking his damn fingers and askin' the guy what kind of frosting he uses on the cakes…hey!"

I listened while they rapped out their recent adventures in West L.A. then Charlie asked me where I'd been and what I'd been doing. I told him about traveling to communes around the country and about my hassles with the Man. Then I decided what I'd experienced in Haight Ashbury in the summer of 1967. And that got Charlie off.

"Hey, Paul, I can dig it, man…'cause that's when I got out of Terminal Island and went up there." He leaned forward and smoothed his hair back from his eyes with his hands. "It's like as soon as I left prison and went to the city I met this dude who gave me something to eat, you know, and took me up to the Haight. I stayed up there with him and we slept in the park in sleeping bags and we lived on the streets and my hair got a little longer and I started playing my music—and everyone's digging it like tonight, you know; and they're smiling at me and putting their arms around me and hugging me. Hey, I didn't know how to act—like it just grabbed me up, man, that there were people that are real…"

Lynette (they called her Lynn) sat down beside Charlie and handed him a joint. He took a hit and handed it to me.

"Then you know, Paul, it's like you were saying, things got bad at the Haight—all the young love split. When that happened, I just got that old bus outside there and said, 'Hey, anybody wants to go can go on this bus…the bus isn't mine and it doesn't belong to anyone…we'll just put the pink slip in the glove compartment and the bus can belong to itself.' And you know, we just got some people together and turned off our minds and went looking for a place to get away from the Man." Charlie tossed his head to flick the hair from his eyes. "Hey, we went to Seattle, to Texas, to New Mexico, and the Man was everywhere; everywhere we went. And like it was a trip, we were going nowhere and coming from nowhere and just grooving on the road because the road seemed to be the only place where you can be free when you're moving from one spot to another…and we're still moving around." He smiled at Lynn and put his arm around her. "It seems like when you're moving like that you have the freedom to take a breath. To take a breath from the city. You know how crazy the city is…"

I nodded, as Snake sat down beside me and offered me a drink from a cold bottle of root beer. Charlie smiled as I handed back the bottle. Then she left the room, returning moments later with two more bottles, which she handed to us. Charlie asked if I felt the love in the room. I said I did.

He smiled, pulling one leg on top of the other into the half-lotus, before flicking his hair from his eyes. "You know, it's like if you love everything, you don't have to think about things. I mean, you just love. Whatever the circumstances hand you, whatever the dealer deals you, you just love the hand you got, dig?" He grinned, squeezing Lynette's hand; then set the bottle of root beer on the table. "I've never had much schooling, no home, in and out of orphanages, foster homes, reform schools, jails…and it's good, see, 'cause my head has always remained clear…like I have no opinion. But I know the truth, you dig. The truth has no word form. It just is. And everything is the way it is because that's the way love speaks. And when you tune in with love, you tune in with everything…that's not really a philosophy, that's a fact, and anybody who’s got love in their hearts knows that."

While I drank the rest of the root beer Charlie told me that the love in the room belonged to him and that we should enjoy it because that's all there was to enjoy. With Snake and Brenda sitting beside me again, their sleek bodies delineated by the candlelight, I was ready to enjoy it.

Looking back on that night through the lens of hindsight, it is easy to project interpretations which don't belong—particularly in view of the fact that Charlie, Sadie, (Susan Atkins), Katie (Patricia Krenwinkel), Bruce Davis, all present that night in Topanga, were subsequently convicted of first degree murder; but what I can say is that I did feel the love Charlie spoke of, not only the anticipation of making love to the girls, but the bond that clearly existed, a bond generated by Charlie Manson. What he seemed then is what he was: a hard-core ex-con who had found love in the streets and with it had established an alternative lifestyle to the rat race he called "the city"—a communal scene that seemed, that night, to be grounded by a feeling of brotherhood. I'd spent two years searching for that kind of ambience in communes throughout California and the Southwest. I found none of them were really "together." Most, in fact, were merely glorified crash pads where people came together to get stoned and fuck. What united them was not this feeling of love but a kind of desperate desperado alternative to the bleak superficiality of the straight world.

That desperation of the late sixties was not an isolated phenomenon. I had seen it on the road everywhere I went. People of all ages—confused, fearful, angry, frustrated, but not defeated. The half-decade between 1965 and 1970 was probably the most violent and chaotic period in America in the last thirty years. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam war were the wars and violence which raged in the streets and ghettos throughout the country: the Watts riots, the San Francisco riots, the Black Panther shoot-outs, the Chicago Seven conspiracy, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Yet, through it all, there was a vitality which sustained hope and inspired a search for new direction and leadership. The psychedelic revolution proved a catalyst to the process. The music of the Beatles reinforced it. There was Woodstock. There were books on Eastern thought. I remember reading books by Frank Waters on the Pueblo Indians; part of the reason for my journey to the Southwest was to find good peyote in the desert. More than anything, I wanted to identify more closely with my inner processes and the cosmic forces which seemed so inaccessible in the wake of a civilization gone mad. What the youth in America were looking for in the late sixties, it seemed to me, was a shared love and a sense of identity.

Charlie took an empty bottle out of my hand, then rose to his feet: "Would you like to stay tonight and make love with us?"

His question hardly needed an answer and he didn't wait for one. He merely returned to his place at the head of the table. Without recourse to a single word, Bruce and Katie moved the table to one corner of the room, while Mary and Brenda shoved the mattresses together. That's when I noticed Sadie get to her feet and walk to the head of the table near Charlie; she gave me what I interpreted to be an invitational smile when I stood gaping at her well-endowed physique. Sadie was full-bodied and sensual, one of Charlie's original girls. While I didn't speak to her at all the first night, I was aware of her presence; later we would become very close friends.

I was slightly apprehensive as everyone sat in a circle and joined hands. I had never taken part in group sex or orgies of any kind. In fact, where sex was concerned I was a relative novice, not a virgin by any means, but at eighteen, hardly an experienced lover. Had I not been stoned and into the vibes of Charlie and the Family, I might not have made the scene that night; but I was horny, and with Brenda and snake clinging to me, I was ready to go for it. Also, rapping and playing music with Charlie had created a rapport between us; his presence alone had a calming affect, and I inadvertently focused on the energy he was putting out, as did everyone else. Without being aware of it consciously, I sensed even then that the control was in his hands. In part it was the music and the anticipation of what was coming, but more it was the intuitive certainty that he alone determined all action.

Suddenly Charlie gave out with a gut-wrenching yowl and immediately the others began shouting, moaning and screaming, giving vent to a cacophony of noise; sitting directly to my left, Snake began to jibber while Brenda let go with a high-pitched screech like some berserk jungle feline; though I was initially startled by the raucous outburst, I immediately understood it as a kind of tension release, a collective purging of the soul, and I managed my own halfhearted rendition of what sounded like a dying seal. Gradually the noise subsided into a dull penetrating drone and I felt Snake squeeze my hand. Someone had turned on a stereo with the volume low so that the sounds seemed muted and hazy; the fire was still flickering among the coals and I was aware of how warm the room was becoming. In emulation of Charlie (who sat almost directly across from me), people began closing their eyes; somehow closing mine made it much easier and I began to get into the flow of energy coming into my hands. Months later, when I moved into Spahn’s Ranch with the Family, I would come to understand how Charlie programmed sexual energy into the group and how group sex functioned to unify the Family. But that night, my primary concern was to get it on with Brenda and Snake.

For what seemed like hours, we rocked back and forth, hands joined-until at last I realized that people around me were removing their clothes. I opened my eye and saw Bruce embracing Sandy, and I was aware of Charlie lying alongside Sadie and Squeaky, and of a general tangle of bodies to which I seemed to be remotely attached. I heard the lugubrious sounds of lovemaking and the positioning of bodies. Of immediate and most pressing interest, however, was Snake, who began to unfasten my belt while Brenda lay down and I lay down beside her, caressing her cheek with my hand. She guided my hand between her legs, while Snake pressed against me from behind so that I was sandwiched between the two girls. The grass had awakened my senses to every nuance of motion; to the slow undulations of our bodies greased with perspiration; to the perfection of everything tactile and audible. Oblivious of everything but the music, we moved together in a kind of harmonious, inventive slither, exploring orifices and contours with an amorphous precision like underwater jellyfish congealed into a single entity. Then I rolled onto my back and felt Snake’s tongue press into my mouth while Brenda began giving me head. It was as if my entire body was immersed in sensation, as though together we moved though space like planets on a hot surface of moist and resilient flesh no longer alone in the universe,

During the course of the evening I made love with other girls, but it was dark by then and I was completely spaced-out and never knew who they were. At one point I remember lying beside Charlie and him repeating that the love was his and that we were all brothers and sisters in love. It did not occur to me that night that Charlie was bisexual. I didn’t sense those kinds of vibes, and he made no physical moves in my direction, though later that dimension of our relationship would become something of an issue.

Everyone was asleep when I got up before dawn, slipped on my moccasins and tiptoed out to the porch. The air was crisp; moisture glistened from the blades of wilds grass growing around the house. Hundreds of tiny black birds were wide awake and chattering in trees along the ravine. I had awakened with a new plan of action; to return to Big Sur and live alone on the beach. I don’t know why this notion came to me so suddenly, particularly after all the good feelings I’d experienced that night, but it did. It had never really occurred to me to remain with Charlie and the Family after that first night. Even if the had asked me stay, I probably would have declined. I had little inclination, then, to live communally with anyone. Oddly enough, my meeting with Charlie had triggered a desire to be alone; to sort out my life and do my music away from the “madness" he had spoken of, away from L.A. and anything that smacked of civilization. The thought excited me as I pulled on my sweater and started back up the canyon toward my campsite.



spookycatz said...

Thanks for posting this, it is appreciated.


Synesthesiac said...

Yes. Again thanks. This truely, very cool of you Col.

Salem said...

Very interesting read.
Thank You.

Yepyep said...
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