But it wasn't all love those first days at Spahn's. Though rare, there were occasions when Charlie vented an explosive violence, particularly if someone challenged his authority. Only in retrospect would I understand the portent of those outbursts.
One night we were gathered around the low dining room table waiting while the girls served dinner. It was dark outside but the saloon was illuminated by a series of candles set along the top of the bar and several that flickered from the windowsills fronting on the boardwalk. Gypsy had lit some incense and its ambrosial fragrance wafted through the room, reminding me momentarily of
"I been riding thee focking horse for five hours weeth Benny behind me telling to go faster…son-time I theenk he's crazy, Benny."
Juan stood about six-five and weighed 220 pounds, most of it muscle. He was always garrulous and lusty, a powerhouse personality, one of the few guys Charlie could really never get a handle on. Half Panamanian and half Irish, he had light brown Afro-style hair and steel blue eyes. He reminded me of a hybrid Zorba the Greek. He'd grown up in
That night she sat on the other side of Juan. He was joking about the Family living inside a jail (the mock jail at Spahn's); then he began describing the time he was jailed in
"I don' know," Juan concluded, "but eet seem to me that een jail I talk to some very interesting and intelligent men…I hate thee jail but I see there is son-thing to learn."
In the other room, Pooh Bear was crying. Charlie signaled to Stephanie and she went into the room (behind the bar) to check on the baby. Charlie grinned at Juan, then flicked the hair from his eyes.
"Dig it, Juan…" he said. "It's like all my life I felt like all the bad people were in jail and all the good people were on the outside. Then, I would get out of jail and find out just the opposite—that the people outside smiled and pretended they were groovy but shit, they never kept their word, you know. And then I'd go back in the jail…Hey, I think my longest time out of jail in the past twenty years had been about eight months at a stretch…up until the last time I got out.
"Then, Juan—dig this—just before they let me out the last time I told the man, I sez, 'Hey, I can't cut society…I'm just digging being in here with people I know, being in here playing my music, doing my trip.' So what happens, they kick me out and I go to
After all the food was on table and everyone was seated, Charlie took a bite of salad; then we all started to eat. Moments later, he looked up from his plate, screwed his face into a scowl. "Hey, who made this salad dressing?"
Sadie said she did.
"Smells a little bit like piss," Charlie grinned.
"Hold your nose," Sadie quipped.
"I might have to."
Sadie got up and started to walk toward the doorway with a plate. More than five months pregnant, her belly was beginning to ripen and protrude beneath the Mexican blouse she wore. Moving past Charlie, she made some comment which to me was unintelligible. But Charlie leaped to his feet.
"Don't give me that shit, woman!" He grabbed her by the arm and started slapping her. "I don't listen to that kind of talk. You can just take that shit on down the road. Dig what I'm saying!"
Sadie cried out and I felt Juan's body tense. But he didn't get up nor did anyone else. Sadie kicked and grappled with Charlie until he pinned her arms against the side of the bar. "I'll break your goddamned fingers off! Let go, dammit!"
"Stop it! Charlie…stop it!" Her breathing came in short gasps.
Finally he forced her to the floor, bending her fingers back against he hand. She groaned, but wouldn't let go. "Just relax…dammit…quit fighting!" He crouched over her, forcing her arms to move with his until gradually she submitted to the motion and was following his movements. It lasted only an instant; then he was talking soothingly to her, almost like a passionate lover might—stroking her hair. "Just let go, Sadie…let go…" It was starting to turn Sadie on and she began caressing Charlie. Then he jerked her to her feet and told her to go on in the kitchen and take care of her business.
Later, I was to see many such outbursts from Charlie; short, violent ragings—sometimes verbal, sometimes physical but always resolved by a form of submission, either physical or mental, or both (motion hooked to emotion), and always balanced by a soothing aftermath. Another of his releases was to smash a guitar to smithereens. He must have destroyed a dozen while I was with the Family. Later, the split in his personality became increasingly more apparent, but always his violence was more than balanced by his softer, more loving side; his patience. Again, it was a paradox, since Charlie was generally much more patient than anyone else in the Family. "After spending two thirds of your life behind bars, you learn a little patience." There were times, for example, when there would be a delay or we'd have to wait someplace in line. Charlie would never get uptight; he'd just find a stick or a rock on the ground and turn it into some kind of game or toy; or he'd start talking to a kid and entice him into the game. It was beautiful the way he'd get so absorbed into it. And it impressed the Family, giving more credence to what he preached about coming to "Now" and being alive in the moment.
When he did vent rage or displeasure, most of us felt responsible, believing that we were to blame by being too hung-up on our own egos. What made us resist, or question, he said, was ego. He taught submission; a submission to "the love." And since Charlie was "the love," submission to him. He said that there was no such thing as right and wrong so long as we followed "our love." The implications were clear, and in time these notions became a reality for most of us. When, on several occasions, he was challenged for being too rough on one of the girls, his rap was always the same:
"No one was hurt, man…I didn't hurt anyone. You don't see blood…you don't see any marks. Dig it, pain is a sensation; there is no pain, really. It's like change, and change you pass through produces sensation. Pain is like fear…it expands your consciousness. It's essential. It brings you to Now. Only through pain and fear do you come to love."
What inhibited my reacting to Charlie on these occasions was partially due to the passivity of the girls. Most of them had been with him for months. They were used to it, and even seemed to thrive on the attention. They were committed to Charlie on very deep levels, just how deeply committed I wouldn't learn until much later. It seemed too, in retrospect, that they all felt guilty for certain unmentionable sins, so that they unconsciously deserved punishment. I see it in common in this culture. In part, it's the whole guilt trip religion has laid on people. It would appear that unconsciously the Family was as much attracted to Charlie's negative, violent side as they were to his warm, living side. Generally people repress negative feelings and are afraid to release anger. You don't have to be in prison to store up anger. People are attracted to real violence because they see it vented so rarely. It's like a magnet. But what they're really responding to is their own repressed anger. That helps explain the paradox of Charlie's appeal and also why the murderers got so charged up while committing their crimes—particularly Sadie.
Susan Atkins was only twenty when I first saw her in
Susan was born in
Sadie had a seductive, unctuous voice, tinged with a fine patina of bitterness—the voice of a girl who had become a woman too fast. Both precocious and promiscuous, she had come to know men at a tender age; yet she knew them primarily as animals; in their eyes she had always been a sex object. What she did not know how to deal with real love. To her way of thinking, only Charlie had showed her what that was all about. "Getting hit by the man you love is no different than making love to him…Charlie gives me what I need."
Like all the girls, Sadie soaked up Charlie's rap—we all did. That was the game in the Manson Family. When Charlie left the ranch, the rap we spoke was his rap. In time, it got so that we rarely spoke at all of personal experiences or our pasts. We spoke only of love, of coming to "Now," of tuning our scene.
Being at Spahn's made it easier. We were isolated from society. We had no TV sets, no newspapers, and we rarely left the ranch except to drive into town on garbage runs or into the valley to pick up a truckload of corn for the horses. We were nearly always together: sleeping, eating, making love, playing music, working on the ranch. There was nothing more important to any of us than putting Charlie's scene together. If anyone raised a question, Charlie would just dismiss it. "There are no questions," he'd say. Every question contains its own answer. Therefore when you pose a question, you pose it to the void. A question is just a statement."
Living with the Family became primarily a game of awareness, being aware primarily of what Charlie wanted, anticipating Charlie. My success in the Family was based on my ability to play the games. I learned to pick up on Charlie's signals, knew when he moved a certain way or assumed a certain expression just what he wanted. Sometimes we picked up girls together and brought them back to the ranch. Occasionally they were afraid of Charlie because he was so much older. I bridged the gap. Because we were the same size and spoke the same rap, they were able to make the transition. Charlie benefited from my presence. More and more he put me in charge of details he would have generally handled himself. It was clear too that the veteran girls found it easy to me on all levels. In the process, I got closer to everyone in the Family. During the heavier therapy sessions when someone would freak out, I was able to help them through their changes and I got good at it, thereby gaining rank in the Family. Charlie allowed this; it took the pressures off him, gave him a chance to rest and observe. When Sadie's belly swelled even larger, I took a paternal interest in her; helped her with heavy loads, watched out for her wellbeing. It was an unconscious process on my part. But I was beginning to feel a strong tie to the greater Family—a real kinship with this band of people who had gathered in the
At the same time, deep within myself I began to experience a vague uneasiness. Initially I though it stemmed from the trauma of my sexual number with Charlie. But that passed as he had said it would: by confronting whatever latent homosexual fears I may have harbored, I had discovered that I could perform bisexual acts without freaking out. Sex to Charlie's way of thinking was merely a vehicle to assist in "getting free." There were times, for example, when we would take a little orgy contingent to Dennis Wilson's house just to blow the minds of his "hip" guests, who thought they were so sexually liberated. They'd never seen real uninhibited lovemaking before and many of them couldn't handle it. Charlie took a perverse delight in exposing their hang-ups so blatantly; then we'd leave like a well-trained band of commandos and return to Spahn's to do it for real. Both Charlie and I were heterosexuals. But being locked up with men for seventeen years of his life had pretty much dictated a certain amount of homosexuality on his part. "In the joint, you ain't got much choice…pretty soon it happens whether you like it or not…and after a while, you're just flat on it." When, on occasion, a gay dude would show up on the scene, we'd run him down the road in a hurry. With all those horny women, the last thing we needed was what Juan called a maricon.
No, the uneasiness I began to experience went deeper than that. Something scared me, and I didn't know what or why.
One evening, less than a month after my arrival at Spahn's, I left the ranch and hiked up past the outlaw shacks to the hillside where I could look down upon the ravine. I heard the screen door slam and knew that Squeaky was taking George his dinner. There were crickets whirring in the grass and the lights from passing cars on the highway were visible beyond the ridge. Moments later I heard approaching footsteps and saw Charlie coming up the trail carrying his guitar. He was wearing Levi's and a full-sleeved scarlet shirt. He had a smile on his face and reminded me of a campesino on his way to a fiesta.
"Nice sky tonight, huh?" was his comment as he hunkered beside me, looking down the ravine.
We sat without speaking for a time while he strummed the guitar. Then he began talking about how glad he was I had joined the Family and said again that someday he'd be passing on the power to me: "In time, you'll have your own Family, your own tribe. We'll spread the love around, dig…share it with the world." The sky was a brilliant red-orange at the base of the hillside which loomed beyond the ravine like a miniature volcano. My eyes were riveted to the horizon.
"Anything wrong, Paul?" Charlie spoke without looking at me.
"I don't know…I just feel sort of…frustrated…and afraid."
"What are you afraid of?...Are you afraid of me?"
"Maybe a little…I don't know…but I'm afraid of something."
"You know what I think, man? I think you're afraid of yourself…that's okay, 'cause fear is what helps you see yourself. Once you get past the fear, you can see the love. You're starting to look inside yourself, and it scares you."
For some reason, Charlie's words opened up a well of emotion and I began to cry. He put his arm around my shoulder. "You know, brother, the way I look at it, fear is a state you should not resist; it's a state you grow in. through fear you come to Now, to the very moment of living, and that's where the love is. That's where you're going and where we're all going.
"Hey, you know, up here we got it made. Everything is right here…Dig it: we're not hungry; we got nature all around us and mostly, we got all the love anyone could want. So don't be afraid of yourself and afraid of the love. Down there, you know, they got madness—they got six million freeways and smog and cars and ugly women and all the poison of TV sets and insurance policies. Hey, the only place they're going is nuts. We got no ulcers here. We got music, a ranch, good hash; we got horses and nothing to do but make love and music. Dig it, Paul, people aren't bad…not even the pigs are bad—it's just they don't know where the road starts. They think the road is made of concrete; they don't see the blood veins in their own arms and legs. They don't see the rivers of their own blood; they don't see that the heart is what makes the roads and that roads are invisible until you quit running after them and start listening to your heart." He flicked the hair from his eyes with a jerk of the head.
"You know, man, you might like to take a little ride up north to Mendocino…take the girls up there for their dope trial—take the bus and go for a nice ride up the coast and have a good time; see some scenery and greenery…get on the road a little bit…can you dig that, Paul?"
Ten days later, we moved from the saloon into the back ranch house. Charlie had convinced the hippies to seek another residence, explaining that if they traveled together to another spot their unit would be more cohesive. He had also convinced George that since we were taking care of the ranch, we should be allowed to live in more comfortable quarters. Now we had the seclusion we needed and could feel free to relax. Aslo, with Pooh Bear, and Sadie's baby due, we needed more room. Since the ranch house was at least a quarter of a mile up the road from George's and the movie sets, no one would be bothered by us.
Like the rest of the buildings at Spahn's, the ranch house was in a general state of despair. But it was warm, rustic, and smelled of wood, generating the feelings of mountain cabin. It had a huge living room with a fireplace and plenty of windows facing the road. Two good-sized bedrooms in the back fronted on the creek, and beyond it, a sloping forest of scrub oak, eucalyptus, and poison oak. The girls wnet to work at once, scouring floors, cleaning cabinets, and washing windows. We moved the mattresses, furniture, and food supplies in from the saloon, and afterward decorated the walls and the ceiling of the living room with Moroccan tapestries. It felt good to be out of the dusty confines of the saloon into the more bucolic, pictaresque setting away from all the tourists.
The very first night we built a roaring fire and ate a lavish meal: cheese-and-noodle casserole, fruit salad, and chocolate cream pies. In celebration, we played music, then dropped acid. I was in good spirits. The fears I had experienced earlier in the week had dissipated for the time being. I felt happy in our new surroundings. Everyone did.
We were all naked. Charlie sat across from me with Squeaky on one side, Mary on the other. Between Mary and Charlie I could see the fire expanding and contracting—rolling like some kaleidoscopic organism as the flames popped and crackled and smoke spun in tight circles around the logs. Snake sat on my left, Ouisch on my right. While holding their hands, I watched the heat spreading out from the inferno's gaping maw in pulsating, luminescent waves, as though drawn to the feeling waves given off by the Family. Charlie moved his hand across his forehead and I saw the aura of his fingers wafting an arc of light—a soft blue stream in front of his face. Then suddenly he rose to his feet and crouched like some predatory beast. Without warning, he lunged directly at me. Before I could react, his weight sent me reeling back against a huge bean-bag pillow and I felt his hands fasten around my neck.
When I looked into his face, expecting to see that playful twinkle in his eyes, I saw only a leering, demonic expression—a face I'd never known before that day. His eyes were wide and bright—almost blinding—a fifty-thousand-watt stare that told me he wasn't kidding. Jesus! I thought. What the hell is happening? There was even a register of delight in his irises as his fingers tightened around my throat. He was loving it; he was loving choking me and I was stoned enough to see it all as though in slow motion, as though the infinity of my own death might be a spectacle like the sunset—like the ebbing flames of the fire. During those first few moments all paradoxes seemed to coalesce and to burn like the flames. My fear seemed somehow separate from my thinking—enough so to enable me to have a clear vision of what was happening.
Charlie's face was contorted with madness; it was a face in transformation, fast becoming rigid, losing its fluidity. He can't see! I kept thinking. He can't see me. The madness has blinded him! His weight and the feel of his fingers around my neck brought recall of the cop at
Then it occurred to me, as I sank deeper into the pillow, that he couldn't strangle me. My neck muscles were too strong to penetrate. I tightened the muscles and locked my hands around his forearms. I tried to grin. But there was no sign of give in his expression or in his hands. If anything, he got stronger. His breathing came hard and tight in my face, until suddenly I gave way to the fear; my air was being closed off. I began sputtering.
"What the hell is going on?" were the words I attempted to utter, but the sounds were garbled, completely unintelligible. I tried to push his arms away. Then the thought came to me as it had at
What was happening, I knew, at the deepest levels of consciousness, was not possible; he could not destroy me. Yet the paradox was all too clear: he was doing it! What perplexed me even more was that no one seemed at all concerned over what was happening—Charlie is strangling the shit out of Paul—so that part of me thought: this must be a routine game; no big deal. And it was then that I looked up at Charlie and realized where his strength was coming from. I saw the waves and pulsations of my own fear being absorbed into his hands. I saw streaks of sweat running along his forearms like tiny rivers toward my eyes. I saw that he was strangling me with my own fear! And I realized too, during the eternity of that episode, that what was prompting me to endure it all—to violate my own survival mechanism (which is fear and the adrenaline it pumps)—was a deeper, cosmic consciousness which had seized my curiosity.
"Okay, Paul," he said, "I'm going to finish it off now…I'm going to kill you."
At precisely that moment, the fear began to leave me. I relaxed and looked up at Charlie. And it happened: as I withdrew my fear, I felt his power ebbing; he was losing strength. His hands began to shake. Then his whole body was shaking. Moments later, his hands popped off, and he was literally ejected from me. I sat up, and he faced me on his knees, his body dripping with sweat. He seemed as shocked as I did, yet there was a twinkle in his eye.
"You saw it, huh?" he said, almost reverently.
I nodded, rubbing my neck with one hand. "Yeah, Charlie…yeah…I saw it."
And what I had seen (though it would take time to sort it out in my mind) was the game Charles Manson was playing; the game of fear manipulation, which was his way of controlling the Family. He had set me up for the episode during our little talk on the hillside. Had I submitted to the fear and thrown Charlie off, or had I passed out and come to later, I would have always lived with the fear and would have either left the Family then, or, had I stayed, remained completely dominated by the Family.
Ironically, from that point on I operated on a plane of vision which in some sense put me on a par with Charlie. Later, I realized that Charlie had staged the incident to test me. It was the classic confrontation of the master and his prize pupil. Yet, it was a dilemma for him: on the one hand he loved me like a brother and needed my help; on the other hand, I posed a threat to his absolute rule. My own reaction was also a paradox. While I had been terrified, I had also made a great step forward within the Family. Perhaps Charlie was passing the power to me, without meaning to.
Few if any of the others really saw what transpired. In retrospect, I see that they were governed not only by their love for Charlie but by fear of the demons inside him which were every bit as powerful as the love, and which, in time, would destroy that love. During the months that followed, I would see this fear mechanism operating on many levels. By resorting to physical violence and domination with the girls—twisting their arms, smacking them, but never hurting them seriously—he was able to maintain and instill fear, which was balanced by his love and his seeming infallibility. The words Charlie uttered were invariably rich with truths. Not only his words but the motion games, which were based on principles of yang and yin—force versus resistance, masculine versus feminine—the polarity of the world of matter; Charlie had discovered that the harmony of opposites is at the core of cosmic law and that submission (in the way Sadie had submitted to him that night) was fundamental to an achievement of that harmony. There was beauty in these principles which Charlie clearly understood and knew how to implement.
Yet, on a deeper, more insidious level, he was programming us through fear. He did so by locating deep-seated hang-ups in a person's psyche. Later, when we went to the desert, I would see dramatic and harrowing instances of this under acid. On acid these personal blocks, inhibitions, fears, nightmares, and frustrations became all too apparent to Charlie. At the same time, he would ask that we submit to him and to our fears. Instead of reprogramming or dismantling the fear or hang-up, he would leave it operational on a subconscious level, telling the person (who is open and vulnerable on acid), "Don't let anyone into your head but me." In a very real sense, Charlie took up residence in people's heads. "I am you and you are me" was something we were programmed for. With a handle on people's fears (a handle they were unaware of), Charlie could trigger and dissolve those fears practically at will. For most people, then, he became both Satan and savior. Simultaneously, he had programmed people to give up their past lives ("Give up your world…come and you can be") so that eventually they had no point of reference, nothing to relate back to, no right, no wrong—no roots. Their only reference point became Charlie and his program. Thus a new reality was created. While this reality would soon become frightening, at the time (and in view of the insanity of the "civilized world," which to many of us was more frightening), it seemed worthy to endure.
Intil that night, however, I had never fully absorbed Charlie's central message, a message repeated nightly in the music: "Cease to exist, just come and say you love me…give up your world…come and you can be…" When, during that confrontation, I literally "submitted" (and perhaps could well have "ceased to exist"), it blew Charlie's mind. In a very real sense I may even have transcended his own wildest expectations. Because of this, I became at once more valuable and more threatening. Charlie and I had shared an experience which gave us a glimpse of the core—a taste of the same revelation. In this case his counsel had proven correct—fear had been an obstacle to growth. Fear had been the incipient stages of higher consciousness; fear had placed me at the jumping off point where destiny revealed itself in a game of chance. I saw that there are no losers, save for those who dare not play the game. Maybe like most good gamblers, I was just lucky. But from then on, while Charlie and I would remain brothers, we were brothers in a different sense—like wolves in the same wolf pack, always wary of each other and continually on guard.
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD