Sunday, July 02, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter the Thirteenth


Chapter 13

Living in the midst of the San Fernando Valley heightened my desire to return to the desert. The tragedy of the city life is that you forget what fresh air and real color are; everything is shrouded in gray. Color and fragrance are muted to the point of extinction. I envied Juanita and Brooks being left in the desert and recalled Juanita’s rap about Mexico. She spoke of the small tropical villages she had lived in; of all the smells and colors, and how she missed the fresh fruits of the marketplace: mangoes, papayas, coconuts, pineapples. Her words prompted memories of my childhood in Lebanon. By comparison, L.A. seemed dead.

“Charlie’s right,” she told me. “L.A. is intense. It’s doomsville.”

Life in the Yellow Submarine was intense. There always seemed such urgency in the air: we had to be ready when the shit came down. Instead of rejecting the real world, we were forced, at least temporarily, to become a part of it. Charlie began, gradually, to recruit a more macho element to assist us—mechanics, bikers, and ex-cons—who could score and repair dune buggies and Harleys, vehicles we needed for the desert. While he rarely allowed these guys into the inner circle of the Family, he kept them around, enticing them with girls and dope.

One of the new breed was Bill Vance (David Lee Hamic), an ex-con and friend of Charlie’s who had recently been released from prison. Through bill we got access to the Gresham Street house. Bill was a hulking six-footer in his late forties, with short brown hair, brown eyes, and a battered face. His nose looked like a disjointed mountain range. He’d done time with Charlie for robbery and assault, among other things, and was the first of Charlie’s new recruits. Bill hit it off with Ella right away, and Charlie used this liaison to his own advantage. Within a week after out arrival, Bill had arranged for Sadie, Ella, Stephanie, Katie, and Mary to work as topless dancers at clubs in the valley. To buy vehicles and outfit them properly, we needed money. The girls went to work willingly.

Karate Dave was another “heavy-duty” recruit who joined us during that period. He was twenty-six, a Vietnam vet, and tough as nails. He had a plastic elbow (a vestige of his battlefield experience) and carried himself with an air of cold and utter confidence. Dave wasn’t big (five-nine, 160 pounds) but was built like a gymnast. While he seemed to like Charlie, he never tried to ingratiate himself. He was in it strictly for the goodies—all the women he could handle and what promised to be some excitement.

Through Dave and bill, others were enlisted to help prepare for Helter-Skelter: guys to score motor parts, camping gear, tents, and building supplies; guys who could later work around the clock on various projects at Spahn’s and who knew nothing of the inner workings of the Family; men who were content to do what they were told to do in exchange for sexual gratification and good weed.

Not long after we met Dave, two new girls joined the Family, a petite, hippie brunette from Canoga Park, who immediately traded her VW for a dune buggy, and a buxom, gregarious brunette runaway named Barbara Hoyt whom Charlie assigned to Karate Dave. Barbara had a round moon face, a disarming snaggletooth smile, and huge boobs. She fell right in with the tempo of things at Gresham Street and eventually moved into a tree house in the backyard with Dave.

Charlie’s finesse in handling such diverse elements was extraordinary. While laying out his spiritual rap on the Family, creating a reverent, almost sacred feeling of brotherhood and intimacy, he was able to bullshit with the macho brigade in their own language, bringing them close to our scene but not close enough to really understand the subtleties of what was happening. While his female flower children made love to the rednecks and ex-cons, Charlie continued to woo the establishment of the music world—Dennis Wilson, Greg Jakobson, and Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son), who he hoped would give us the break we needed. And all for a single purpose: Helter-Skelter. By the end of February 1969 we considered ourselves a band of tuned-in, spiritually hip revolutionaries—destined to make a mark on a decadent, disintegrated civilization.

By then my stint as a student at Birmingham High had come to an end. After two weeks of classes, I’d gotten bored, but not before luring several attractive girls to Gresham Street to get loaded and make love. While none of these girls ever joined the Family, my success pleased Charlie.

“Motherfucker! Those little gals love your ass!”

Meanwhile, we practiced our music daily. Within a month of our arrival, we’d purchased all new sound equipment and tow new guitars. Through Dennis and Greg we lined up recording sessions at Brian Wilson’s studio. But none of them went well. Charlie liked to improvise, even during live recordings, and it just didn’t work. Invariably, our best sessions were outside the studio, in a relaxed atmosphere. Charlie wanted Terry Melcher, the owner of a record company, to come and hear us at Gresham Street. “all we need,” he said, “is a chance…one break and we get this album together…it’s gonna happen, man!”

Charlie told us he thought it happened when Melcher promised to come to the house one evening and hear us. We cleaned the place thoroughly and set up the instruments and equipment in the living room. The girls prepared vegetables, lasagna, green salad, French bread, and freshly baked cookies. Then they rolled some good weed. We waited. All afternoon we waited. When Melcher didn’t show up (or call), Charlie was seething. “That motherfucker’s word isn’t worth a plugged nickel.”

Preparations for Helter-Skelter accelerated. By the middle of March we had purchased three dune buggies and three Harleys. We kept the dune buggies and three Harleys in the garage at Gresham Street. Charlie also bought three hundred dollars’ worth of topo maps so that we could chart a road to the desert—our own road—beginning behind Spahn’s in Devil’s Canyon and running through the Simi Valley (bypassing highways, over and under culverts) and out to Death Valley. At night we’d lay the maps out in the upstairs bedroom and plot out the road. I still have memories of Charlie pacing back and forth over the maps. “We’re gonna need more Harleys…we’ll need enough so that we can all ride together; like one person, like one mind, so that when it comes time to turn, we’ll just turn together, without speaking, you know. We’ll move like a flock of birds, instinctively and with precision.”

For hours we labored over the maps, pinpointing potential command posts and campsites along the way. By the end of the month we had the road pretty well laid out.

We began making sorties into Devil’s Canyon, scouting out the terrain in our dune buggies, plotting the road. It was a trip—racing over the sand dunes, looking out across the great expanse of the Simi Valley, sensing that the time was fast approaching when we would put our program into action.

At night, after the evening meal, Charlie rapped about our need to be unified: “Let go of the ego, let it die; just turn off your mind. Hey, things haven’t changed; it’s just that now we move with the time; now we got to make our scene of service. Yeah, there’s gonna be some shootin’ and dyin’, but that’s not new. There’s always been times in history when a lot of people die, and it don’t a thing to do with right or wrong or wing and wang…or diddly shit. It’s beyond all that, ‘cause the cosmic wind blows over the universe and man just reaps his karma whether he likes it or not.

“Hey, the Beatles have tuned into it. They’ve been tapping into the vibes for a long time. Look at their songs: songs sung all over the world by the young love; it ain’t nothin’ new. It’s all written down. It’s written in the good book, in Revelation, all about the four angels programming the holocaust…the four angels looking for the fifth angel to lead the people into the pit of fire…right out to Death Valley. Yeah, it’s alll been written down, so we might as well submit to it. It’s all in Revelation…Revelation is now! The Beatles are now! It’s all in black and white, in The White Album—white, so there ain’t mistakin’ the color---it’s all in the words and music. So listen and pay attention.”

Charlie spent hours quoting and interpreting Revelation to the Family, particularly verses from chapter 9:

And the four angels were loosed

Which were prepared for an hour

And a day, and a month, and a year,

For to slay the third part of men…

And the fifth angel sounded,

And I saw a star fall from heaven

Unto the earth: and to him was

Given the key to the bottomless pit.

The implications were clear: the four angels were the Beatles, whom Charlie considered prophets for what was coming down. The fifth angel was Charlie. “The third part of men,” he said was the white race, those who would die in Helter Skelter. The passage “And he opened the bottomless pit…And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given as the scorpions of the earth have power” was not only a reference to the Beatles (locusts) but implied that the power of scorpion (Charlie was a Scorpio) would prevail. In describing the locusts (Beatles), Revelation said, “their faces were as the faces of men,” yet “they had the hair as the hair of women,” and “wore breastplates of fire,” which Charlie said were their electric guitars. Charlie read on: “And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth , neither any green thing, neither any tree.” Charlie maintained that cosmic wrath would only be leashed upon men and not on nature; that when the holocaust was over, the natural beauty would remain, and the world, at least in the desert, would be like Eden again. And we'd be the survivors, ready to start a whole new scene.

“When all the fightin’s over, the Muslims will come in and clean up the mess…’cause blackie has always cleaned up whitey’s mess. But blackie won’t be able to handle it and he’ll come over and say, “You know, I did my number, man…I killed them all and I’m tired of killing. The fightin’ is over.’ And that’s when we’ll scratch blackie’s fuzzy head and kick him in the butt and tell him to go pick the cotton.”

Charlie never hid his racial prejudices. And blacks weren’t the only ones he chided. He made jokes about Jews, particularly old Jewish men who lay around resort hotels with their comical penguin bodies, buying and selling humanity as though it were a commodity. He told Tex that Hitler was a tuned-in dude who leveled the karma of the Jews. Charlie razzed the cowboys and Okies for their redneck shortsightedness, yet his own prejudices coincided with theirs. He said priests were the biggest hypocrites of all. “always walkin’ around talkin’ about life and love and the beauty of god. Dig it, all they ever wear is black; black! They walk around like the fucking sky fell on ‘em. Their faces never see the sunlight. They look like zombies, man; morticians. They preach love but they never have a woman. Yet, those poop-butt motherfuckers got the gall to tell you what life is about and how you should repent and all that shit. Hey, if anything is a sin, it’s those assholes.”

Later, people would ask me how a man like Charlie Manson could ever be considered Christlike. How could he ever get that close to people, so close to they spoke his rap and thought his thoughts. The answer is simple really: he listened to them, each of them. He concentrated on what they said. He sympathized with their problems, knew their idiosyncrasies. He allowed them to express all their fears, hope, aspirations. Seemingly, he did not judge, he merely listened and focused all his attention on them. He became friend, brother, lover, and father. He gave himself in a way that perhaps no one else ever had, particularly in the beginning. Ironically, few people ever really pay attention on that level. He taught the girls not only to love their minds but their bodies and to use them without inhibition. What he had started at Spahn’s, he continued at Gresham Street. He was always changing the motion, remaining unpredictable.

At times he’d gather us together to preach about the psychology of women. Though he’d be addressing the girls, everyone was present.

“Dig it, this is the planet of women…the men are just guests here. I mean, everything is set up for women; they pretend it ain’t so, but it is. They’re the mothers, the ones who bear the life of new generations. It’s like they have the greatest creative energy going for them. But they need the seed of man, dig. It’s up to man to bring woman to life and to tap into her energy. Women need to be loved, and we should love them, not as little boys but as men. The trouble with society is that women have made little boys out of men. Mothers have cut the balls off their sons before they developed their sexuality…left them boys instead of men. That’s why women today are not satisfied…they want men but all they find are little boys.

“We have to treat our women like women but also like daughters. We gotta cultivate them like a garden of flowers so that they give us life, so that when we tap into them we will become energized. Women are like batteries that gotta be charged. We give to them and they give back to us. It’s like money in the bank. Women are cosmic creatures, beautiful and strong. But they also got a streak of the witch in them. All of them got it. They’re dangerous, dig; they can’t help but want to cut your balls off. That’s their game; sad but true. Hey, look at all the dudes running around without balls! Women got the motherfuckers. Still, we got to love them; they’re our daughters, our power. But we can’t be goin’ on their trip. If they do, why you just wind up singing those high notes yourself, dig; it’s a game; it’s always a game.”

It was clear that Charlie feared losing control over his women. As a child who had been beaten and deserted by his own mother, his fear and paranoia were to some extent understandable.

He spoke like a pimp. There was never any doubt that the girls belonged to him and that their favors were a gift, not from them, but from Charlie. “Your love is my love,” he would say. “It’s all one love; when you love someone, I am loving them; we are all loving them.”

Regardless of the mechanics (and theory), it worked; the girls in the Family adored Charlie; he knew each of them—their hang-ups, their likes, dislikes, phobias, their tastes in food, sex, music, their backgrounds—everything. Whenever someone appeared who might cause a problem to our scene—a narc, redneck, probation officer, anyone from the straight world—Charlie knew immediately which girl would be best suited to neutralize that person. He was masterful at this; to do it, he had to know his women well.

Standing beside Sadie in the kitchen one night at Gresham Street, I listened while she told Patty: “Charlie is the only man I’ve ever met who is complete. He will not take back talk. He will not let a woman talk him into doing anything. He is a man.” Months later, after her capture, Sadie was asked by the authorities if she thought Charlie was an evil person. She said, “By your standards of evil, looking at him through your eyes, I would say yes. Looking at him through my eyes, he is as good as he is evil, he is as evil as he is good. You could not judge the man.”

Even when Charlie was gone, the intensity was almost the same: the only rap, Charlie’s rap. Sadie, Squeaky, Tex, Clem, Mary, Brenda, Ella, Bo, Snake, Cappy—everyone spewing the same line: “Hey, it’s coming down…get ready, Helter-Skelter is coming down.” I remember Squeaky standing before the fireplace urging us all to forsake our games and ego-trips. “We have to flow with the love!” she wailed in her high-pitched voice. “We have to let the love happen. Charlie is our love, and we are Charlie’s love. It’s all one. It’s all happening now…so just let it go…just drop it…let it die…die, motherfuckers! Let it die!”

Sometime in March, Charlie began sending people out on creepy-crawly missions around Canoga Park. The idea was to enter someone’s room without being detected. “When it comes down, we got to be prepared to save the babies. It might mean some sneakin’ and peekin’ around…takin’ some chances.” While I never went on any (breaking and entering) creepy-crawlies, I heard reports from those who did; everyone seemed to enjoy it. Snake said it was like going out on Halloween and taking your treat without ever knocking on the door. Only months later would it become clear that these exercises were dress rehearsals for murder.

One night, shortly after Sadie and Ella had gotten home from dancing at a bar in the valley (it must have been around two a.m.), Charlie ordered them to go with Tex, Clem, Mary, and Bill Vance to creepy crawl a couple of houses on Variel Street. Within five minutes they were on their way. Bill, an expert when it came to breaking and entering, had taught most of the girls how to remove screens, slip locks, avoid watchdogs, and to implement the tools of the trade: penknives, razor blades, bobby pins, pieces of wire; he also showed them the best places to look for valuables. No one liked to steal more than bill, and no on in the Family was better at it.

Around four p.m. the following day, Charlie asked me to take the jeep and drive Sadie to work at the club. Sadie had slept all morning; she was in good spirits as we pulled out of the driveway. “Hey, Paul, see that place?” She pointed to a white stucco house set off the road near the corner of Variel and Gresham. “That’s where we went last night, through that window…that one, see, next to the garage…walked right by this guy and his old lady, then right into the kitchen and had some orange juice and cookies. Then we split. They didn’t even twitch. We didn’t take anything—except for Bill; he grabbed a couple of credit cards for Charlie.”

Everything was for Charlie; every thought, action, gesture. It now seems hard to imagine that one person could hold such sway over so many. And it retrospect, it became clear that no one was more dominated by Charlie than Sadie. Had someone told me as we drove toward Canoga Park that in less than five months she would commit one of most heinous murders imaginable, I would have thought him mad. I had made love with her; I had helped her give birth. In group session I’d related to her as a brother and a father. I had sensed a childlike quality in her and a hardness born of deep anger. But I never thought her capable of murder.

When we got to the club, just off Devonshire, I stopped in the parking lot near the rear entrance. Sadie kissed me on the cheek and hopped out. I watched her trot toward the door just as two guys in business suits emerged. They ogled her as she passed them.

“Nice ass,” one of them muttered.

“Yeah, and she can move it…I saw her dance in here last week.”

At that instant both men looked up and saw me as Sadie shouted, “See ya, Paul.”

“That your girlfriend?” one of them asked.

“Yeah.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah.”

2 comments:

Salem said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
highlandave said...

"Bill had arranged for Sadie, Ella, Stephanie, Katie & Mary to work as topless dancers in the valley... They went to work willingly".
Sadie, Katie & Mary (with Ella, Stephanie & an infant, I think)went to Mendocino to be raped by locals & get busted for supplying LSD.
Sadie & Katie went to Cielo. Watson's stated opinion is that Mary would have been with them had not she been in Sybil Brand on August 8/9, hence Linda replaced her.
Is a pattern evident?
Wise Ella split for keeps when Sadie told her about Hinman.