Friday, June 30, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter the Twelfth

Chapter 12

The subtlety of bizarre changes in the Family was hard to determine, since everyone pretty much went along with Charlie. Still, the focus and cohesiveness of the scene had disintegrated. Most of the Family simply weren’t ready for the utter solitude at Barker’s. Charlie’s own detachment was obvious.

One night during a rap, he paused in the middle of a sentence and stared straight ahead, as though addressing a presence above our heads.

“I came to you,” he said softly, his face wearing a distracted expression, “as a deer in the forest. I came to you with wonder in my eyes and love in my heart for you. For you were man and you were God and I could see it. I came to you with love. And you slaughtered me.”

Though it didn’t register consciously at the time, his statement was a prophetic one. It was the first sign that the flower child in Charlie Mansion was dying, wilting away in Death Valley by day, freezing by night. Maybe the scorpion had returned to the valley of death where he belonged.

Then, all at once, things changed dramatically. Charlie returned from L.A. and a meeting with Dennis Wilson and Greg Jakobson to discuss the chance of our recording an album. He appeared agitated, yet enthusiastic. He said there was more violence in the city; that the blacks were on the verge of full-scale revolution. “It’s just a matter of time,” he declared. “The shit’s gonna come down… it’s gonna come down hard.” What was different, however, was Charlie’s attitude. Instead of advocating passive resistance, instead of seeking to remain aloof from the impending conflict, he began speaking of the Family’s role in it.

“What we need to do is program the young love to split… when the scene comes down, they’re gonna need someplace to go. Well, we got that place. We’re here, and we can show the young love where to come. And we can show them with music.”

Suddenly we were no longer “coming from nowhere and going nowhere,” with “nothing to do but make love.” Now we had a purpose. The timing was perfect. As things had started to fragment on one level, Charlie (perhaps unwittingly) had shifted gears, jolting us out of our passivity and indolence into an attitude of action. We had a responsibility to the real world. What we had worked to achieve at Spahn’s – a level of psychic and spiritual freedom, a “oneness” – would be communicated to others. Since we had all tasted of city corruption and violence, we saw a virtue in leading “the young love” away from it. That’s why we had come to the desert. The more Charlie talked about it, the more convincing it appeared.

I began flashing on the article about the cop who shot the sixteen-year-old black kid. I recalled what had happened in Watts and I remembered the rap of Black Muslims in San Francisco. It hadn’t been a year since Martin Luther King was gunned down.

Each time I went to L.A. from the desert to get supplies, I found myself scrutinizing the faces of blacks in the streets, looking for signs of discontent. Charlie had programmed us to see it. And we did. It’s easy to project emotion into faces on the streets, particularly if that emotion is supposedly seething beneath the surface. Living in the desert, away from the frenetic pace of cities, only magnified our preconceptions and forebodings. Perhaps what Charlie saw in the faces of the blacks was the emerging (unconscious) violence of his own psyche. I’m not sure. But invariably people came back to Barker’s muttering, “The shit’s coming down, man… yeah… it won’t be long now.”

It got colder. Thanksgiving came, and we had a huge meal around the fire at the Meyers ranch. The next day it snowed. Brooks Posten chopped wood. So did I. In early December the weather drove us together in huddling, cuddling groups. To sleep, we packed side by side like sardines under blankets and sleeping bags; bodily friction was no longer a luxury; only Charlie’s raps fired the air. Bundled in sweaters and a parka, he clomped the floor at night in his motorcycle boots, his hands thrust into the pockets of his jacket, his words crisp against the cold, his respiration visible white puffs. He no longer looked like the inspired, soft-spoken guru, but like a general briefing his troops before the battle.

Now there was structure to what he preached. Everything that had seemed so nebulous before now had direction. Our songs reflected the change:

It’s time to call time from behind you

The illusion has been just a dream

The Valley of Death and I’ll find you

Now is when on a sunshine beam

So bring only your perfection

For their love will surely be

No pain, no fear, no hunger

You can see, you can see, you can see

Naively, perhaps, we all thought Charlie was right, that we had a duty and that everything we had worked for could now be applied to our music. I’ve often wished we had recorded some of the sessions we did at the Barker ranch at the base of the mountains. We worked hard; hours and hours. And it showed. As a professional musician, I can say without reservation that what we were doing was as good as, and in most cases better than, some of the top-selling recordings of the day. Though Charlie had spoken to us of violence – the violence of the revolution – there was never any talk of us doing anything but music. We had yet to hear the words Helter-Skelter.

In mid-December Charlie sent out two contingents from the ranch, one to Sacramento, one to Los Angeles, The Sacramento group, which included Tex, Sadie, T.J., Katie, Stephanie, Ella, and Leslie Van Houten, went to buy zuzus from a candy connection on the outskirts of the city. We were all pretty much addicted to zuzus and Charlie wanted an excuse to put the bus on the road again. He didn’t like leaving it parked unattended at the foot of the wash. Meanwhile, I was to take Snake and Gypsy with me to Los Angeles to buy supplies and to go to Spahn’s, where Gypsy would take over “George duty” for Juanita. After that, we were to rendezvous with the candy trip in Malibu.

The first night in L.A. I went with Snake and Juanita to Westwood Village to see the Beatles’ film The Yellow Submarine; afterward we visited a friend of Charlie’s in Topanga Canyon, who asked if we’d hear the Beatles’ White Album, released just days before. When we said no, he played it for us. The following morning I called Charlie and he said to come back by way of Vegas and to trade in Juanita’s van for a jeep (which we eventually did). By the time we finally got back to Barker’s, Charlie had gone to L.A. to meet the candy run. He too spent the night in Topanga and heard The White Album. After that, things were never the same.

Two days later, Charlie drove the bus back from L.A. Not wanting to leave it at the foot of Golar Wash, he decided to bring it all the way to Barker’s by taking a back road on the far side of Death Valley through Shoshone and Furnace Creek, then down a horrendous twisting, rock-strewn gorge. By the time he arrived, the bus was a wreck. The outside dual tires and the mufflers had been ripped to shreds, gouged by the rocks; the interior was also torn up by a cord of wood that had broken loose and had battered everything. It sounded like a tractor as Charlie drove it behind the ranch house and parked. It was New Year’s Eve, 1968, and “colder,” T.J. quipped, “than a dead celibate’s nuts.” But Charlie was fired up. The White Album had turned his head around.

That night we all hiked up to the Meyers place and built a roaring fire. Everyone was back. We had a full supply of food, candy, beverages, and enough wood to keep the fire stoked and blazing. Charlie was completely energized; his mood charged everyone. It was like a ritual gathering of some desert tribe to make New Year’s resolutions. A ceremony before the fire. The flames reflected in Charlies’ eyes as he spoke.

“Are you hep to what the Beatles are saying?… Dig it, they’re telling it like it is. They know what’s happening in the city; blackie is getting ready. They put the revolution to music… it’s ‘Helter-Skelter.’ Helter-Skelter is coming down. Hey, their album is getting the young love ready, man, building up steam. Our album is going to pop the cork right out of the bottle.”

Two days later, Charlie and T.J. split for Los Angeles to try to negotiate with Dennis and Greg Jakobson. Greg was married to the daughter of onetime comedian Lou Costello and had some good contacts in the record business. He had met Charlie in May of 1968 and had always encouraged him with his music. Charlie didn’t need much encouragement. By that time, he was determined to get our album on the market.

Charlie’s burst of energy seemed to revitalize everyone from the stupor of winter cold. While he was gone we all listened to the album over and over, particularly to five songs; “Blackbird,” “Piggies,” “Revolution 1,” “Revolution 9,” and “Helter-Skelter.” Sitting high in the Panamints around the fire, the songs did seem strangely prophetic. We listened to “Helter-Skelter,” to the discord and caterwauling of “Revolution 9,” which ends with machine guns firing and people screaming in agony as though it were the end of the world.

Indeed, at that point Charlie’s credibility seemed indisputable. For weeks he had been talking of revolution, prophesying it. We had listened to him rap; we were geared for it – making music to program the young love. Then, from across the Atlantic, the hottest music group in the world substantiates Charlie with an album which is almost blood-curdling in its depiction of violence. It was uncanny. By then, we had all made some uncanny discoveries together; journeys to inner worlds, to planes of consciousness, to the great wilderness of Death Valley. We had submitted to wildernesses within ourselves; we had experienced ego deaths; we had watched each other “letting go,” submitting to fear, releasing to the love which was Charlie. Few of us doubted Charlie’s power. He had alluded often to his being a spiritual medium, a “hole in the infinite,” a latter-day Jesus Christ. Why not? On the eve of the New Year (1969), the rest of the world seemed no less insane.

From the day I joined the Family, Charlie referred to the Beatles as “the soul,” and later even called them part of “the hole in the infinite.” Certainly the group had affected (and directed to some extent) the early Family philosophy; their album Magical Mystery Tour set the tempo of our entire trip during the early days: the idea that life is what you make it; that you’re free to be what you are, so long as you submit to the forces inside you: “turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.” Charlie believed in the Beatles and we believed in Charlie. By the time The White Album was released, with “Helter-Skelter,” both Charlie and the Beatles had been more than validated in our minds.

Around the tenth of January T.J. returned from L.A. in the jeep. I was working with Brooks and Clem, stacking wood alongside the ranch house. We watched T.J. park the jeep and hike up the trail, his head warmed by a snow-white stocking cap, his newly grown beard billowing out from his face like a swarm of bees. He was out of breath by the time he reached us.

“Charlie… says… we should all come to L.A.,” he announced, trying to catch his breath. “He’s got a place in Canoga Park where we can stay.” T.J. looked at me. “He says you should pick someone to watch this place and for the rest of us to boogie on down there today.” He fumbled for a cigarette in his shirt pocket, then extracted it from the package with his lips. “Motherfucker… it’s cold,” he muttered, offering us a smoke. He struck the match and cupped his hand around the flame. “Charlie says we got to get closer to the action for a while. Hey, the shit is really coming down… Charlie says he’s got a deal lined up with some guy named Melcher.”

By three that afternoon we were packed and on our way – all but Brooks and Juanita, whom I asked to stay at Barker’s to keep an eye on things. With the big bus out of commission, we took one of the Dodge power wagons and an old vintage pickup we had acquired from someone in Las Vegas. At ten that night we pulled into Los Angeles and drove to the house Charlie had rented.

The Family’s new residence was a two-story house at 20910 Gresham Street, in Canoga Park, just two blocks from the DeSoto Plaza and Junior’s Market, and less than twenty minutes away from Spahn’s. Suburbia – a treeladen middle-class neighborhood full of kids, tricycles, and dogs, mellow enough when compared to L.A. proper, but hectic after living in the desert. But it was warm. No one complained about that. The house, made of stucco and redwood, had been painted a bright canary yellow. It was bigger than Barker’s (four bedrooms, a spacious kitchen, a small dining area, and a huge living room set off by a concave brick fireplace) and sat on a good chunk of land, most of it in the back and all of it lush with pepper and eucalyptus trees. The front yard was divided by a walkway leading to the porch, which bisected a dichondra-and-crabgrass lawn. Two full-grown pepper trees graced the front yard with swaying branches and clusters of dried leaves. To the right of the house was a large two-car garage, and in the back, an empty toolshed.

Charlie had immediately dubbed the place “The Yellow Submarine.” From there, he said, we would remain “submerged beneath the awareness of the outside world” while working on our music.

Things got more intense, Charlie’s raps more elaborate and graphic: “You know what’s gonna happen one of these nights… the blacks from Watts are gonna break into the houses of some rich white piggies in Beverly Hills and start wasting them… you know… and it ain’t gonna be very pretty… like they’ll be vicious… they’ll chop them up and mutilate them and fling blood around; then whitey is gonna retaliate… he’ll go into the ghetto and start shooting blacks. I can see it happening. Then, blackie will go on TV and appeal to the government. ‘Hey look what you’ve done to my people.’ And the war’s gonna start, man… it’s gonna be worse than any war this country ever knew, ‘cause it’s gonna be here on these streets in these cities and it’s gonna come down hard. It’s gonna be a war between whitey and the Uncle Tom niggers… for keeps, ‘cause this war has been a long time comin’… the slaves are gonna have their day. But dig it, the smart ones will be the Muslims, ‘cause while the shit’s comin’ down they’ll be hiding in their basements with all kinds of weapons and strategies, and when the time is right they’ll come out and finish off what’s left of whitey. That’s why we got to get our scene together and get back to the desert.

“We gotta be ready,” he said, “to save the babies… there’re gonna be lots of homeless babies from this, and we got to take them with us. So we’re gonna need vehicles to transport people… dune buggies, motorcycles, and good maps.”

The more he rapped, the more we sensed the impending holocaust. I remember sitting in the living room beside Snake and Clem and looking out the window, wondering if the violence would reach us. We listened to The White Album for hours to “Revolution 9,” the gunfire and the screaming. It gave me chills. Meanwhile, we practiced our own music for hours, wrote new songs to operate beneath the level of people’s awareness and to program those “who were one in their minds,” to come to the desert.

Everyone who is a One

Is looking for the last door

So if you are a One, my friend,

You don’t need to look anymore

And everyone who is a two

Knows there’s nowhere else to go

So get on down that road, my friend,

Let it go, let it go, let it go!

The more Charlie talked about revolution, the more we agreed. We had been conditioned “to agree,” to accept and submit; we had also learned that often just agreeing was enough, that if Charlie saw you were willing to experience something, it would not be necessary to actually do it. At times I felt Charlie was merely testing us, gauging our reaction to his gory descriptions. Later, when he started talking about mounting machine guns on the roll bars of our dune buggies to defend ourselves against the pigs – “while the guys drive, the girls can man the machine guns” – it sounded pretty farfetched and I felt often that he was playing games. When people said, “Yeah, sure, Charlie, far-out,” subconsciously they were playing the “old” games without really digesting what he said. Yet, they agreed.

It may well be that in time, with so many people going for his rap, Charlie became a victim of his own imagination – perhaps the power of all that agreement created a reality, until ultimately he really believed he was destined to engineer a race war.

One day in mid-February around ten A.M. Charlie asked me to ride up to Spahn’s with him in the jeep. I grabbed a handful of plums from a bowl in the kitchen and followed him out to the car. We drove to the end of Gresham Street and turned left on Variel, then took the back road over to Topanga Canyon and proceeded north. It was cloudy and overcast but Charlie seemed as loquacious as ever.

“I want to see how things are shaping up at Spahn’s… talk to Juan and get a little scene going there again. I’d like you to bullshit with George while I look around.”


When we passed Devonshire, then crossed the intersection at Chatsworth, Charlie pointed to a black guy on the sidewalk with a white girl; they were holding hands.

“Dig it, man… that’s why blackie’s been so pacified… still got a handle on whitey’s women. He’s up in Haight Ashbury now raping the young love, expending all his energy. But now that the young love is starting to split, he’s gonna get real frustrated, you know. And that’s when he’s gonna blow it.”

Just before we reached the foothills, Charlie stopped at a liquor store and ran inside to buy some doughnuts; he was already eating one when he climbed back into the jeep and handed me the package. I took a doughnut as he Brodied out onto the highway, then turned onto Santa Susana Pass Road.

It was good to be out of the congestion. Though Spahn’s is just five minutes away from the business district of the San Fernando Valley (about eight miles off the freeway), it lies in the foothills and gives the illusion of total isolation. We wound along the base of the foothills past the railroad tracks, then accelerated up the hill toward the curve where Clem and I, months before, had totaled Dennis’ Ferrari.

“Hey, man,” Charlie said after a long silence. “Speaking of young love, how about you hustling some new blood? You know, maybe enroll in that high school. I see some fine-looking girls walking to school in the morning. Can you dig that?”

“Sure, why not… maybe I can get my diploma!”

Charlie chuckled. “Yeah… get educated… study the mystery of history, and the ramis-jamis… and in the meantime, we’ll call it the in-between time. Then, on the other hand, of course, you have a ring.” Charlie looked down at his left hand, the middle finger of which sported a turquoise ring. “Now,” he went on, “take the toad’s toenail… pretty ain’t it – bleep, bleep – ride in a jeep.”

We turned in at Spahn’s and drove alongside the saloon and parked. Tommy Thomas emerged from under the building, barking, and Charlie stooped to pat him. Moments later, Randy swaggered out of the barn, and when Charlie shouted, Randy waved back and smiled.

“Look, he’s grinning,” Charlie said through his teeth, still grinning. “Must have taken a good shit for himself.”

“What’s happening, Shorty?” I greeted Shorty Shea as he came out of the tack room behind us, carrying a saddle and a handful of bridles.

“Not much. Howdy, Charlie… where you guys been?… Oh, yeah, Death Valley…. Squeaky says it’s pretty nice out there.”

“Colder than a well digger’s ass at night,” Charlie quipped.

“I bet.” Shorty gave Charlie a long expressionless look, then hoisted the saddle to his shoulder with a grunt. “Got to get these horses saddled and ready to go.” He ambled off toward the corral, where Larry and Juan Flynn were saddling mounts for a gang of tourists. Juan had moved back to Spahn’s to work full time for George as a wrangler. He showed up on occasion at Gresham Street, but infrequently. Juan was one of the first to start drifting away from Charlie’s orbit. Charlie sensed this and wanted to find out why.

Charlie slapped at a fly on his cheek, “Same old shit… got to submit to these poop-butt motherfuckin’ flies. Go on up and check George out, will ya, Paul? I want to look around a bit, then I’ll be up there.”

I called Tommy Thomas and he trotted ahead of me up to George’s house. I knocked and the bell sounded.

“Come in, come in,” he shouted. “I’m blind as a bat, can’t see a thing.”

I went inside and sat down at the table next to George. Gypsy winked from across the room; she was doing the breakfast dishes. I asked George how things were going and he told me that a few months back Charlie had given him the money to pay the taxes (money the Family had gotten from Juanita) but that the government wanted more all the time.

“Hell, if it keeps up, I’m gonna have to sell this place off. If it wasn’t for Ruby Pearl, nothin’ would get done.”

“What happened to Dody?”

“Hell, they come and got her… dragged her off to some funny farm up north. Damn shame, is what it is… she never done nothin’ to hurt anybody.”

“Who ya got living in the back ranch house?”

“Some fella and a gal and a baby… fella says he’s James Dean’s brother… damned if I know… but they’re okay… pay right up.”

A few minutes later Charlie came in. Gypsy poured us all coffee and Charlie bullshitted with George about the business of running a ranch. Soon Charlie was crackin’ jokes and both he and George were laughing uproariously.

“Damn,” Charlie gasped. “All that laughin’ makes me fart, George.”

“Nothin’ wrong with that,” George snorted. “You know the old sayin… a fartin’ horse will never tire, a man who farts is good to hire.”

After we left George’s, Charlie grabbed his guitar from the backseat of the jeep and we walked up the trail to the outlaw shacks. We sat on the steps a while and talked, then Charlie started to play.

“Just like when you first come to Spahn’s,” he mused. He began singing nonsense songs and I joined in; he’d do a verse, then I’d join in; then I’d do one and he’d sing along. In a matter of minutes we were in perfect syncopation, anticipating each other with almost absolute precision. Since the day I met Charlie, we’d always had this uncanny sense of timing; it was like complete psychic harmony. It was always there, and it seemed to amaze Charlie as much as it did me.

What Charlie and I achieved during these duets is what he sought to bring together with all the Family on all levels – a single flow of energy; such co0mplete submission to impulse that all energy became a single force unto itself. This was a profound concept, one I came closest to experiencing when we did music together. While it tied me very closely to Charlie, it also linked him strongly to me.

Suddenly he set down the guitar. “Hey, man,” he said, “take my hand.” He held out his right hand.

“Rub it… go on, pretend I’m Snake.” He sniggered.

I rubbed his hand with the fingers of my right hand.

“Do it again… keep doing it… yeah, wait.” He pulled his hand away. “Dig it, never make the same motion twice. Vary it, you know.” He took my hand. “Rub it like this, then change it, improvise, get the feel… you see. It’s like music, man, you change the beat, you feel it, you tune into the soul. Hey, it’s like making love. You can’t just bang away – bang, bang, bang, with no rhythm, no sense of surprise; it ain’t the meat, it’s the motion. That’s where it’s at with anything that’s got some soul. But you have to let it flow… let it be what it is, ‘cause it’s all one rhythm. Hey, you ever seen motion like this?”

Charlie began moving his hands like a belly dancer’s, weaving them around, under and over each other. “See,” he said, “no two motions alike… every motion its own… pretty soon they go by themselves, you know. Look at the motherfuckers, they’re alive!”

Later we walked back to the ranch house to say good-bye to George and Juan. When we passed Randy on our way out, he waved.

“Take it easy, Paul… Charlie.”

“Hey, don’t stop in any horseshit,” Charlie bellowed.

Driving back, Charlie told me the vibes seemed okay at Spahn’s. “George ain’t no problem. Gypsy and Squeaky take good care of him. I want to start stashin’ some vehicles and parts up there, put some campsites along the creek, you know. Maybe we better check back on the Fountain too, see what those crazy bastards are doing.”

As we turned off Santa Susana, Charlie asked if I wanted to hear a song he’d just written, and without waiting for an answer, proceeded to belt it out. The song, “The Eyes of a Dreamer,” a fast-moving ballad, was one we would later record on our album; it said a lot about Charlie during those days before “the holocaust.”

It’s all in the eyes of a dreamer

It’s all in the eyes of a man

All the things we’ve done in life

And all the things we planned

Can the world be sad as it seems

Where are your hopes, where are your dreams

They’re in the eyes of a dreamer

In the eyes of a man

All the songs have been sung

And all the saints have been hung

The wars and cries have been wailed

And all good people have been jailed…

Charlie glanced over, grinning; he had both hands on the steering wheel; his head was tilted back, his hair flowing. “Dig this next part.”

The moment is ever constant in the mind

Everywhere I look the blind lead the blind

Here’s your chance

To step out of time

There ain’t no reason and there ain’t no rhyme

For the trouble you bring

Is the trouble you bring

And a thing is a thing

Is a thing, is a thing…

It was two o’clock by the time we got back to the house. I had Stephanie draw me a bath, then I changed clothes and drove the BSA bike I’d just acquired down to Birmingham High to enroll.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

BUGging Installment FIVE

Okay so if you are cool like the Col you always wondered how come Kay and BUG never mention one another, like in hearings and interviews and shit. Kay gets a passing nod in HS, but that's very little.

Well, thanks to my new toys, the Yalkowsky Collection and the LA Times Archives, now we know- KAY WAS THE SOURCE WHO TESTIFIED THAT BUG HAD PERJURED HIMSELF DURING THE TLB TRIAL.

I know so many of you Turner and KTS types LOVE Kay, think he is an honest and hard working man. Those are the same people who think BUG wrote a true account of the murders.

Well, what do you think NOW? Mr. HONEST KAY testifies under oath that BUG committed a Death Penalty offense.

Now I know many of you just went- WHAT THE HELL is the Col babbling about?

But as any disbarred attorney can tell you, PERJURY in a DEATH PENALTY trial itself carries the DEATH PENALTY.

Yeah yeah, dream on Col.

I am so glad to be getting this shit out on the www because it just ain't there. Rumors, innuendo- but now proof- not just my version, but verified stories.

Nice day.

(Click on the articles themselves to read better)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter the Eleventh

Chapter 11

Death Valley marked a turning point for the Manson Family. It is not easy to make sense of what happened there. I can only describe my own experience of it. But I do believe that coming to the desert stamped the fate of the family, and subsequently, the fate of its victims.

After living on the fringes of suburban Los Angeles, the solitude was a welcome change. The great expansiveness of the desert, honed by the silence, deepened the rapport we shared as a Family and also sharpened individual awareness. Within the magnitude of miraculous skies and limitless vistas, I felt closer to myself. Nearly every day I climbed the mountain above the ranch before dawn to watch the sunrise beyond the Amargosa range. I took a small thermos of coffee and something to nibble on, a doughnut or a piece of toast. Usually I had no more than sat down when the sun would appear like a great splintered gem blazing against the pinnacles and minarets of the Panamints.

In the beginning, life at Barker’s strengthened our bond. We played nightly and our music got better. We began teaching the girls to sing harmony. Though Charlie was always the lead vocalist, everyone got involved in the music. Brooks and Clem played the guitar. When Bobby was around, he played too and sang background. I alternated, playing the horn and the flute. We spent hours practicing—refining old songs, writing new ones, rearranging medleys. Some of my fondest memories are of afternoons we spent under the cottonwoods surrounded by the mountains, singing—a natural cathedral, sculptured out of granite and sandstone. Nothing brings people closer together than their own voices in song. And our music, at least for a while, was good. Charlie was certain that we would eventually be recorded by a major record company and that our songs, like those of the Beatles—the soul—would be an inspiration to what he called “the young love,” the youth of America.

When we weren’t singing or working around the ranch, we took small expeditions into the mountains and down the ravines, exploring the interminable maze of grottoes, fissures, passageways, and deep winding canyons. At night we often hiked up to Meyers ranch and built a fire before gathering around to listen to Charlie rap. More and more he preached that there were no leaders, no rules, that all we needed was to submit to the cosmic vibrations around us.

“Out here, we are free. We’ve come to the void to listen to it speak. Now, we have to listen. There ain’t no obstruction…nothing to learn on or hang onto. We got our music and our love and we just listen to that.” Charlie usually sat in front of the fire with his legs crossed in front of him. He was often clad in Levi’s, a plaid shirt, and heavy wool socks, his hair invariably curling around his head in tiny ringlets.

“Here, we have no leaders,” he said. “I’m not the leader…how can I be the leader when I have to wipe your asses and get you a blanket? The leader is the slowest one among us…the slowest is always the leader ‘cause we have to wait for him…he sets the pace. Pooh Bear and Zezos are the leaders, dig, ‘cause they got us waiting on them…and that’s the way it should be, for now, ‘cause they can teach us…they can teach us not to think and to do what we feel and be on the point of what love is.”

During the first month, we all felt good. Somehow the very act of coming to the desert as a Family was proof of a certain destiny. There was a genuine grandeur about it, which gave us a sense of our own grandeur. It seemed that all our preparation and programming had been for a reason. We saw the desert as a reward; it was like coming to a new land, a new planet. It seemed inevitable. And somehow it validated Charlie even more. Like many spiritual leaders, he had led his followers to the desert. It seemed right. We had been through some of the heaviest group-therapy sessions imaginable; we had worked for months at “submitting,” “letting go,” shedding our egos. It had been easy. These sessions continued in Death Valley, where the atmosphere was even more intense than at Spahn’s. At Barker’s we had little outside influence—no tourists, no wranglers, no machines. With infinity so close at hand, it was easier to give yourself. “Submit to the love,” Charlie said. It was an alternative we didn’t have to ponder. Certainly what we had come from as children was not all love—it was confusion, greed, pollution, and media programming; it was mass follow-the-leader since grade one; it was (and in most respects still is) mechanized, impersonal, decadent, spiritually impoverished. But we had come to the desert with Charlie. We had prepared, and it had come to pass. A Family of twenty-five, most of us from greater Los Angeles, products of middle or upper middle class, sons and daughters of well-to-do and respected “pillars” of the American nightmare—twenty-five survivors from the bowels of the inferno, standing before a battered, twisted, high-powered ex-convict under the scorching sun of a timeless desert, looking for love. It was insane; yet it was a fact: “no sense made sense.” Certainly I had doubts; we all did. But the man always feels doubt. In the face of the cosmos and his glaring imperfections, what else can he feel?

Our initial euphoria, however, was short-lived. Gradually, things on a spiritual level began to degenerate. The group sex sessions became more strained and self-conscious. The very fact of being in the desert, where we anticipated such good results, made it worse. We all wanted so much to “make it” that we created further anxiety. Brooks, for example, just couldn’t function. At Spahn’s he could always go down to the corral, and his absence wasn’t conspicuous. But at Barker’s there was nowhere to hide; he had to take part in the sessions. It made him feel so overwrought at times he’d roll up into a fetal position and just lie there quivering.

One morning he and I were standing by the woodpile talking. I was about to reply to a question he’d asked when suddenly his eyes rolled back in his head and his body stiffened. Seconds later he dropped, facedown and rigid, like a felled timber, striking his forehead against a log. Blood gushed from the wound, and Brooks didn’t utter a sound. I thought for an instant that he might have put his lights out for good; but he finally managed to stagger to his feet and within a couple of hours was back at work chopping wood.

“Letting go of the ego” to Brooks was literally like dying; perhaps on an unconscious level, being in “Death” Valley made this death wish even stronger. Since there was no shit to shovel at Barker’s, he assumed another “discontent” chore—chopping wood. From the day we arrived to the day we left, he was always at the woodpile chopping and stacking logs.

Another problem was supplies. It soon became apparent that with so many people to feed, it was hard to keep enough food on hand. Charlie was continually sending contingents to Las Vegas or L.A. to buy supplies and to bring back vehicles. Two days after our arrival, we sent someone down to bring back Juanita’s camper. The following week, Bobby Beausoleil showed up with a girlfriend called Sweet Cindy. Each drove a run-down Dodge power wagon, donations to the Family. By the end of the first month we had four vehicles: the bus, Juanita’s van (which we soon traded for a four-wheel-drive Jeep Scout), and the two power wagons. With so many expeditions to and from Barker’s, we needed all the transportation we could get.

While everyone professed to love the desert (partly to please Charlie), it became clear that many were getting bored. Even Charlie seemed listless and irritable, and contented himself much of the time with lounging about in a hammock he had strung up behind the ranch house. In retrospect, I see it as a time of profound transformation. While Charlie appeared languid during the day, his nightly raps were animated and inspired, their intensity augmented, it seemed, by the silence, the cold, and the intimacy we shared while huddled around the fire. Like everything, it was a paradox: in one sense Charlie became our source for entertainment. The longer we stayed in the desert, divorced from outside stimuli, the more convincing he became; the more we submitted. He had always preached the virtue of doing nothing. In time, we fell into a tempo of doing just that. A limbo.

We became as vacant as our surroundings. At night we sat around the fire watching him. There were moments when he seemed almost demonic, pacing like a caged predator before the flames, his hair long and scraggly, his eyes bright. Perhaps by submitting so totally we were trapping Charlie in a vacuum of his own creation. In the absence of everything, he became everything: wind, sand, sun, the cosmos itself. Yet, without feedback, he was completely alone.

He continued to proclaim the “beauty” of the Family; that we were all beautiful spiritually; that we had been guided to the desert to preserve that beauty and to strengthen ourselves for what was to come; there was a destiny at work which would see to it that our purpose was fulfilled. The desert, he said, would further purify our love and our bond, but at the same time would make us more vulnerable to evil. Society, he insisted, feared love and purity. “It’s like that cat Billy Budd…he was beautiful but his love was too pure and they snuffed him.”

If we were to survive the viciousness of the outside world and retain our purity, Charlie said we had to remain alert, stay hidden. I didn’t really appreciate Charlie’s application of this notion until one afternoon I hiked down Golar Canyon toward the halfway house and came upon Snake cowering beneath an outcropping of granite with her hands over her eyes and a feather in her hair. She looked up when she heard me approaching.

“Duck down, Paul!”

“What’s going on, Snake?” I knelt beside her.

“They might see you,” she said, pulling me toward her out of the light.

“Huh…who might?” I looked around, then at her. Her red hair was pulled over her face; she looked like a frightened child.

“The radar.”

“What radar?”

She pointed to the sky. “If they find me, Charlie said they’d kill me…he said I was too beautiful and that they wouldn’t let me live.”

“Who’s they?”

“The people.”

It took me more than a half-hour to coax her out of hiding and get her back up to the ranch. While the incident struck me as absurdly comical at the time, I realized that Snake was genuinely frightened. The next day she seemed in control once again, and I didn’t think much of it. Snake was always a tough one, resilient both emotionally and physically. I figured Charlie was just bored and trying to amuse himself at her expense. But what was happening became clear to me in retrospect. Charlie was playing his games of fear manipulation, the same number he had tried to put on me. Once Charlie had instilled fear in someone, he devised a mechanism that triggered that individual’s fear, then he used it to control that person and to titillate his own demonic power fantasies.

I saw even more dramatic evidence of this a short time later; this time with Squeaky. It happened one afternoon when Charlie and I took Brenda and Squeaky up to the Meyers ranch to make love before dinner. It was windy and the sand blew down the ravine and against the ranch house, sounding like rain. I was on one side of the fireplace with Brenda, and Charlie and Squeaky were a few feet away. They had just finished making love when Squeaky started to moan and convulse on the floor as if she were going into an epileptic seizure. I flashed immediately on the freak-out scene at Spahn’s when she had berserk in the woodpile. I was curious to see how Charlie would handle it.

“Charlie! Charlie!” she whimpered.

Charlie straddled her and grabbed her wrists. “Okay, Lynn…” he panted. “It’s okay. Just tighten your fingers…if they want to tighten up like that, go on and tighten them…tight as you want…go on, tighten them good…yeah tighter tighter…come on, tight as you can.”

Lyn’s face was flushed and contorted, her breath came in short wheezing gasps, as she tightened he fists, still whimpering, her head thrashing from side to side.

“Okay now,” he grunted, “just relax them…just a little…yeah.”

The instant she began to relax, he told her to tighten them again. “Good. Now relax, tighten, relax…Tighten…good, Lynn…relax, tighten.”

By alternating commands he was gradually able to calm her down and work her out of the convulsions. Then he had her follow the motions he was making with his hands, until, finally, they both moved like one person. There is no doubt in my mind that Charlie had the knowledge to deprogram Lynn of that “condition.” But he chose not to, preferring instead to maintain control over that mechanism, thus placing Squeaky in a position of complete dependence on him. Seeing this, I was later able to understand the desperation she had experienced during the freak-out when it became clear that Charlie (literally her savior) was in some respects more dependent on her than she was on him. I was also able to understand, for the first time, why no one but Charlie made love with Squeaky.

Two months passed. The games continued: games of concentration, submitting to the motion; letting go. I’d been in the Family half a year, and Charlie was still testing people’s loyalties, manipulating their fears. Near the end of November he put me through another test.

It happened when Bobby Beausoleil came to the ranch with Sweet Cindy. Cindy was eighteen and extremely attractive, with reddish-blond hair and a curvaceous, compact body. Her large green eyes looked like a pair of Koh-i-noor diamonds. It was clear from the onset that she was not going for Charlie’s rap. And this was unusual. Generally when Charlie laid his trip on a visitor, the person would wind up agreeing with him wholeheartedly (with twenty-five other people agreeing, it was hard to do otherwise). It got to be automatic; we’d all joke about how long it would take for the visitor “to fall into the hole,” meaning to accept Charlie’s trip without reservation. “Hole,” in this case, meant a “hole in the infinite.” It also had the connotation of “whole.” Ironically, it had never occurred to us that falling into a hole could be considered a misfortune.

Cindy wanted to return to L.A. almost at once. But both power wagons needed repairs, and there were no other vehicles available. It was obvious that Bobby wanted to split too. Finally, Charlie got pissed off and said someone should walk them to Ballarat, where they could catch a ride back to L.A. He looked at me, which meant I was to volunteer. It was nearly twenty-five miles to Ballarat from the ranch, and it was already late afternoon and getting cold. There was a pregnant silence while Charlie waited for my response. He knew I would go. My position in the Family was again being tested. Bobby and Cindy had no idea what we were in for. But I did; and so did Charlie.

The hike through Golar Canyon took about three hours. We reached the plateau at the foot of the wash and stopped to rest. It was dark—the night crisp, clear, and biting cold. Cindy pulled on a pair of wool mittens and zipped up her parka. Her hair was tucked inside a faded navy-blue sailor’s cap. Bobby and I both wore army jackets and cowboy boots. But they didn’t begin to keep out the cold.

“Jesus,” he exclaimed, “it’s freezing up here!”

“Yeah…it’s a bitch,” I concurred, trying to decide whether or not we should even try walking out. I looked at Cindy and she smiled. I could sense her relief to be on her way home.

“How far is it from here?” she chirped cheerily.

“A long way…let’s get going.”

We set out at a good pace, three abreast, along the valley floor, talking little to conserve our energy. The soberness of my attitude seemed to rub off. They knew we were not in for an easy time of it. A chilling wind banked off the canyon and funneled in off our backs. More stars appeared. It got colder, and gradually Cindy fell behind. We waited for her, then took off again, swinging our arms to keep the circulation active. Again she dropped behind and we waited.

“Come on, Cindy,” I urged. “It’s cold standing still…you have to keep up.”

“Sorry,” she gasped. “How much further is it?”

“We just started.” I gave them a swig of water and we proceeded.

Within twenty minutes, Cindy was fifty yards behind us. Bobby was getting pissed off. We waited, leaning against a rock, beating our shoulders with our hands.

“Hurry it up, dammit!” he shouted when she came within hearing range.

“I have to rest,” she panted. “God, I’m not used to this.”

“Look,” I said, “we’ll slow it up and walk at your pace; the main thing is we stay together. How fast do you want to go?” We started off. “Come one, you set the pace, Cindy…and we’ll stay together.”

For the next two hours we maintained slow but steady time along the alluvial fan, our feet crunching against the scree-encrusted floor of the valley or sinking intermittently into the softer sand. We’d covered about a third of the distance when an ass-kicking wind boomed out of the canyon, flinging up sand and blotting out the sky. It was ice cold, howling like some demented being. We clung together with our arms across our faces and pushed on.

“I don’t know how much further I can go,” Cindy whimpered.

“You’ll make it,” I told her.

A short time later she slumped to her knees. “I just have to rest. Can’t we please rest?…” Bobby and I pulled her to her feet. Her teeth were chattering; her arms hung limply at her sides. I rubbed her arms, but my own hands were so numb I could hardly feel sensation in them.

“How fucking cold is it, you think?” Bobby marked time with his feet, keeping his head down to protect his eyes from the swirling sand.

“Come on, Cindy…you can make it…just keep moving.” I pushed her into motion. “Just one foot at a time…we’ll get there.”

We moved on. My hands and feet were completely numb. As we walked, I began to experience my own fatigue, and when Cindy again lagged behind, I gave up trying to hold onto her. Within an hour we had all separated and were walking single file—me, then Bobby, and finally Cindy. At a bend in the valley I turned around and looked behind me. I could barely make out Bobby’s form against the desert floor. I lay down on a flat rock to rest, putting my hands to my face. Then I sat up quickly and began clapping my hands together while kicking one foot against the other. When the wind churned up again, I lay down on the rock and closed my eyes.

For several minutes I lay there shivering, my flesh icy, the rock digging into my body. Unconsciously I began muttering to myself. “This just isn’t worth it. I might as well just hang it up…let it go.” The more I talked, realizing it was a game I was playing with myself, the more relaxed I became, the more I submitted to the cold. “Submission is a gift…” I chuckled to myself. The rock seemed softer. My body began to warm up. It was as though someone had opened me up and poured hot honey-rum into my veins. I felt the presence of death like a warm blissful whisper, as thought the cold hard night had turned into a caress. Charlie had rapped about death being nothing more than “a release of love,” and that’s how I felt. Yet, I was using that state to restore my own energy. I knew I would not fall asleep. What prompted me to move was the appearance of Bobby and cindy; instinctively and without a word I got to my feet and we continued our trek to Ballarat. On the outskirts of town we built a fire inside a deserted miner’s shack and watched the sun come up.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

BUGging Installment Four

It sounds like some bad comedy from the early 1900's. BUG gets a bee in his bonnet (how fitting) about the possibility that the MILKMAN knocked up his wife FOUR years before and starts harassing the Milkman and his wife in order to see if Vincent T. Jr. is his blood son. You have to see the letter BUG sent to the husband- it is a portrait of paranoid delusions- I just need time to transcribe.

So we got BUG Stalking his Milkman, beating his girlfriend (police report to follow) and lying under oath to the judge in TLB.

And this is only part 4!

Monday, June 26, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter the Tenth

Chapter 10

The freak-out changed my relationship to Charlie once again, though its impact, at the time, was more unconscious than conscious. While Charlie blamed the Family and the “uptight” vibes at the ranch for the craziness which erupted, claiming that he had no need to go through such “insanity” just because we did (thereby justifying his own quick and convenient departure), it was clear that he had failed to confront his own uncertainties and fears. He had violated his cardinal rule: “No one splits during an acid trip.” In the meantime, I had unwittingly assumed leadership, moving from a role of passive submission to one of self-assertion. Both the choking scene and the freak-out were experiences I had learned from. I owed that to Charlie, or at least I believed I did. Charlie, on the other hand, had grown increasingly more frustrated, first because the Family scene was not coming together as he envisioned, and second because of his failure to sell his music. He was divided within himself; on the one hand he wanted a spiritual, communal life with the Family, with “nothing to do but make love.” On the other hand, he sought success as a commercial entertainer, and wanted to influence the world with his music. We all believed the trip to the desert would resolve things. Charlie urged us to psyche up for the desert. We did; most of us anyway. All but Kim. For Kim the freak-out proved a violent and impassioned swan song. Shortly thereafter, he left the Family. Two days after his departure, the bus returned from San Jose and we began preparing for the journey.

After completely rebuilding the engine, we bought new heavy-duty batteries, rewired the electrical system, and rigged up large adjustable outside mirrors. We loaded the cabinets with spare parts, tools, and an abundance of dried foods. The girls redecorated the interior, painting the dashboard and replacing the curtains. As we worked, Charlie’s mood became buoyant. Cappy had described her grandmother’s ranch as a veritable paradise of orchards, vineyards, and magical beauty, a place where we might realize our spiritual goals and truly come together. Soon, everyone was sharing Charlie’s enthusiasm. When word got out that we were leaving, the wranglers began coming around to inspect what we’d done to the bus. Benny shuffled in one afternoon, sipping some Jack Daniels: “Looks like a friggin’ whorehouse,” he quipped, removing his hat. “Cops are gonna shit if they pull you over and peek in here.” He had a point; the interior was lavish to the extreme: a two-room salon with plush carpets, pillows, satin curtains, a low-hanging tassel-studded headliner, a gas stove, and a new refrigerator. We were ready.

On the afternoon of October 31, 1968, I observed Charlie sitting on the hillside above the ranch, smoking a cigarette. I waved at him and he waved back. Minutes later – it must have been about four P.M. – he came down from the hill and sauntered into the ranch house, grinning. “Let’s git out of here!” In less than an hour everything was packed and loaded: mattresses, blankets, clothes, musical instruments, food supplies, five cases of zuzus, a kilo of grass, and fifty tabs of acid. We all boarded the bus and Charlie fired up the engine. Tex cheered. “Listen to that baby hum!” Charlie cackled, and gave him a thumbs-up sign. Then he drove down the back road to the saloon and honked the horn. Squeaky and Juanita came running out and waved to us: we all waved back. They were to remain behind to keep an eye on George and the ranch.

Charlie headed along the boardwalk, honking at Randy Star, who was ambling across the road carrying a saddle. “Keep a tight asshole, cowboy,” Charlie shouted out the window. If Randy heard him, he didn’t let on. We swerved to the left and bounced on down the rutted driveway along the corral gate toward Santa Susana Pass. That’s when I spotted a jack-o’-lantern perched on top of a fencepost and realized it was Halloween.

We camped the first night in a canyon somewhere in San Bernardino County, near the Cajon Pass. The following morning we took off at sunup drivin’ north on highway 395. The girls brewed coffee and served it with sweet rolls and doughnuts. The sun was bright and the air began to clear as we drove deeper into the desert. The expansiveness of the terrain after so long in L.A. was a real rush. I sat up front beside Charlie, who was driving and smoking a cigarette. His hair was long and disheveled, hanging across his shoulders in twisted strands as he hunched over the wheel. He was ebullient as Snake handed him a steaming cup of coffee.

He took a sip. “Out here,” he said, swallowing, “we got breathing room… it’s alive. The sun can get to you and there ain’t no hassles with cowboy motherfuckers and city rats. Look beyond that ridge… the way those clouds are… looks like Malibu surf,” he enthused. “Yeah, here it’s breathin’, man; here our music can breathe and our love can breathe, you dig it?… Hey, Paul, we should have come to the desert a long time ago.”

When we got to Ridgecrest we turned west along the Argus Mountain Range to Trona, then down into the Panamint Valley: everyone was at the windows surveying the majesty of the landscape. The Panamints, eleven thousand feet in some places, towered above the valley floor like craggy prehistoric beasts. The sun blazed off the land; heat waves slithered along its surface. I could make out the timberline of pinon pine on the lofty face of the range. An incredible panorama. Gnarled fingers of basalt and granite seemed to cling to the valley floor, claws of sediment clutching at us as we droned through the vast immensity, singing songs and munching zuzus. Cappy had come up front to sit by Charlie and me to point out landmarks.

Catherine Gilles was seventeen, and slightly overweight, with a cute pixielike face and short flaxen hair. From the very beginning, she exhibited a strong commitment to the Family scene. Charlie liked her. In time, she would become one of Charlie’s most capable and sequacious followers – even after he was convicted of the murders.

“What exactly did you tell your grandmother?” Charlie wanted to know.

“I just said me and some friends were going to come up and stay at the ranch.”

“But you didn’t say how many, right?”

“I just said some girls and me, mostly.”

“What if she gets nosy and sends someone up to check?”

“She won’t.”

“Any other places up there?”

“There’s the Barker ranch.”

“What’s the story on that?”

“I don’t think anyone’s there… I’m not sure.”

“It doesn’t matter… we’ll check it out. Hey” – Charlie grinned, putting his arm around Cappy – “this is God’s country out here, you know it.”

Cappy beamed.

“Hey, Paul, why don’t you sing that song of yours about the crazy women in Peru. You know…”

Juan snapped his fingers. “Yes, I like dat song bery moch too.”

Clem tossed me the guitar. Everone clapped. Glancing at their faces, it was hard to imagine the freakout ever happened. Sadie sat near the rear of the bus nursing Zezos; Pooh Bear was asleep. Juan lay sprawled out of the floor, a languorous grin on his face, his stetson pulled over his eyes, a toothpick dangling from his mouth. The others sat huddled together beneath the satin canopy: Clem, Brooks, T.J., Ella, Stephanie, Ouisch, Bo, Juanita, Katie, Sandy, Brenda, Snake, and Tex. The windows were down; the heat was stifling. I took a sip of water from a canteen behind the seat, then sang the song. It was a song written by a high-school friend, Rabbit McKie, one we’d sung together often before dropping out of school.

I am just a stranger here/ I come from down the road

I did not come to ask you all to help me share my load

I came to sing my songs for you

And to tell you where I’ve been

And maybe share a little time before I’m gone again

I was born in California at a very early age

My mother she was beautiful/ my father worked the stage

But I could not seem to go along with all they had in mind

So at the tender age of fourteen years, I left their house behind

Oh, I was free to put to sea and it was nineteen and sixty-two

So I went down a-fishin’ tuna in the waters of Peru

Oh, the sun it was so hot down there, it drove the women all insane

And soon the salt of the seven seas was flowin’ in my veins

Now, I’ve seen the wall in Germany and I’ve felt it in the South

And I’ve heard it said that freedom is just a ramblin’ at the mouth

Yes, your masterminds and their dividin’ lines, why they’re just a passin’ trend

‘Cause freedom is a song of spirit, written on the wind…

It was late afternoon by the time we drove through Ballarat – a one-store outpost in the middle of the valley floor. From there we proceeded south, deeper into the valley toward Golar Canyon, where we would begin our ascent to the Meyers place. Once out onto the alluvial fan, we started a gradual climb toward the base of the wash. The road was strewn with loose rock and in places was scarcely visible. Juan, Ouisch, Sandy, Snake, and Charlie climbed up on the front fenders while T.J. drove. Everyone was singing and drinking soda pop we’d purchased at Ballarant. The valley was incredible – silent and timeless – with nothing around us but the towering monolithic walls of the canyon and an endless expanse of desert. I sat in the back. The bus weaved and swayed; the gold tassels hanging from the headliner danced and reflected in the sunlight. Suddenly our vehicle seemed strangely appropriate for this desert pilgrimage, like riding on the back of a camel. I looked out the rear window at the rock formations, stark against the flat terrain. Joshua trees and mesquite grew in clumps along the base of the mountain; to the left the salt flats were interspersed with poppies, choya, and desert holly. From time to time something alive scurried across the road: a jackrabbit, a kangaroo mouse, and once an animal that looked like a cross between a raccoon and a squirrel. Cappy called it a ringtail cat.

Finally, we arrived at a plateau at the base of the canyon and parked beside the remains of an old ranch house. Only the foundations were visible. On the ground, scattered amidst the decomposition, were rotted jeep tires, hubcaps, scraps of bleached canvas, and several whiskey bottles.

“I don’t think we better take the bus up Golar,” Cappy said, standing beside Charlie. “It’s too rocky.”

“Yeah, looks like one mean-ass drive,” Charlie concurred, gazing up the wash. “We’ll park here and hike in. How long’s it take to get up there?”

“Two hours, maybe three… if it doesn’t get dark on us.”

So the first of many treks up Golar Canyon began. Sadie and Mary carried their infants strapped to their backs. The rest of us grabbed armfuls of supplies – bedding, food, jugs of water, and packs – and started up the wash. A wind from the south had put a chill in the air and the sun was setting. Directly overhead, the clouds had elongated and turned crimson, appearing like disjointed entrails squeezed from the bowels of the sky. Within an hour it was downright cold, and we all put on jackets and sweaters. I was hiking alongside Clem and Snake, with Cappy just in front of us. The others followed, scattered along the trail, some as far as a mile back. Halfway up, the canyon widened out, becoming green with clusters of mesquite. We filled canteens at a deserted one-room shack Cappy called “the halfway house,” then hiked beyond it onto the sloping flatlands where springs flowed in from the surrounding hillsides. The rock formations became less severe, more rounded. In the distance the mountains looked like scoops of melting ice cream. We shouted down the canyon at the others, and they shouted back.

At the top of the wash, we proceeded along a narrow road behind Cappy. She pointed out the Barker ranch off to the right – a low-slung dwelling secluded behind a stand of windblown cottonwoods and fronted by a grape vineyard. But we didn’t stop to check it out; instead, we trudged another quarter mile to the Meyers ranch. Cappy had not exaggerated; the surrounding property was lush with vegetation: salt cedar, tamarisk, fig, cottonwood, willow, and apple trees, and behind the house, a rolling expanse of vineyards and wildflowers. The ranch house itself was small and unpretentious, with a fair-sized living room (fifteen by thirty), a fireplace, two small bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, and an outdoor bathroom just off the back porch. The foundations of the house were made of narrow-gauge railroad ties, taken years before from a defunct Epsom-salts mine, then plastered over with stucco. It was a rustic, cozy little place and we moved right in and built a fire before gathering around to eat zuzus and canned fruit cocktail. By nine P.M. everyone was asleep.

The following morning we were all up at dawn. The girls made hotcakes and a huge vat of coffee and we sat around the fire eating, while Charlie divided us into the scouting parties. All morning we hiked the roads and trails through the mountains above the property. I went with Clem, Sadie, and Snake. Around noon we hiked to a promontory which towered over the ranch, and from which, to our right, we could look out upon the floor of Death Valley. We could see the threadlike road to Shoshone and Tecopa, and beyond it, the highway to Las Vegas; the Great American Desert – three hundred and sixty degrees of tortured, tumultuous, serene, and undisputed wilderness. We couldn’t have chosen a more scenic and strategic location.

Death Valley is starkly surrealistic. Ideas that would have seemed utterly inconceivable to me in West Los Angeles were perfectly understandable on a crystal-clear morning from the peaks of the Panamint Mountains. The desert is a ready-made acid trip. Perhaps for that reason the greatest visions of Indians and holy men have taken place on the desert. There has always been magic in the desert, and a good deal of myth surrounding the ambience of Death Valley. It has been called the hottest place on earth, devoid of animal life, vegetation, and water. Salt-infested pools and deadly gases, it has been said, fill the sand pockets of the valley, together with quicksands that lie across the bottomless salt marshes. Mules, it was once claimed, were the only beasts who could withstand the infernal heat. Not true. There was always life in Death Valley – animal life, vegetation, and human life. As a Family we came there looking for that life, an elemental life with which we had begun to lose contact.

Death Valley actually forms but one part of the Great Basin of the Great American Desert – an incredible arid trough spread over thousands of square miles. There are thousands of streams within the basin, but not one of them ever reaches the sea. The valley itself is actually the sink of the Amargosa River; most of it is below sea level. This is the land where the rivers are upside down, with stream beds on top and water beneath the sand and gravel. This phenomenon always perplexed Charlie, who, from the time we arrived, began speaking of “a hole” in the desert which would lead us to water, perhaps even a lake and a place to live. I remember days, after we’d been in the desert several months, when Charlie and I would walk the valley floor, along the borax flats, dry lakes, alkali washes, and salt sinks, looking for the “hole” – a subterranean world, a cave, a place where we might take the Family and make our home when “the shit came down.” The idea of a “hole” was by no means a completely crazy one, since all water which flows into the valley, only to emerge elsewhere (as springs) out of pure bedrock, must go someplace. The entire mystique of subterranean worlds, infinite space, “magical mystery tours,” “I am you and you are me,” “No sense makes sense,” and so on, was much more palatable in the desert ambience. The cosmic vacuum of the desert was a perfect place to program young minds.

Shortly after noon that first day, everyone gathered at the top of Golar Canyon at the Barker ranch. Barker’s, though less spacious than the Meyers place, was also built in the midst of dense, oasislike vegetation; at the time we arrived, it was in a general state of disrepair and the vineyards had all gone to seed – growing in a tangle around the house and up the latticework along the walls. It had a small living room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a good-sized kitchen. It did not have a fireplace or electricity and relied on heat from a custom-made oil-drum stove, complete with small burners and an oven. Off to the right of the main ranch house was a bunkhouse made of railroad ties, which reminded me of the outlaw shacks at Spahn’s. In general, the Barker place was funkier, more weather-beaten, and somehow more conducive to the scene we had going. The place was completely deserted except for an amiable, bowlegged desert rat and onetime prospector named Ballarat Bob, who sometimes slept there while wandering around the Panamints.

Charlie was still paranoid about staying at the Meyers place with so many people, particularly since Cappy’s grandmother was under the impression they were all girls. When he asked old Bob if he thought we might move into the Barker place, the old geezer said he thought so, but that it might be a good idea, “jes’ for the record,” to speak with the owner, Ma Barker, who lived down the valley at Indian Springs. Charlie agreed, and the next morning he and I hiked back down the wash and drove to Indian Springs to talk to Ma Barker.

We found her easily enough in a small, weather-tight cabin surrounded by a flaccid chain-link fence. She lived alone most of the time and that morning was seated on her front porch dozing with a newspaper in her lap. Charlie wasted no time in laying his rap on the gray-haired, grizzled old gal.

“It’s like Paul and me are musicians… you know; we done some music with the Beach Boys – and now we need solitude to do our music, get our own gig together. Up there on that mountain at your ranch… well, it’s about as pretty a place to compose music as I’ve ever seen… right, Paul? And if we get lucky and sell some stuff, who knows, we might all get rich.”

The old woman nodded, rocking back and forth in her chair, her eyes half-closed; a scrawny Siamese cat purred at her feet. Like George Spahn, she looked listless and torpid, but she hadn’t missed a thing. She said she was more than willing to let us stay at the ranch so long as we kept her place in order and “fixed what needed fixin’.”

“Why sure,” she said as we were leaving. “That’s fine… you just take care of my property and do some good songs… that’ll be fine.”

Charlie thanked her again and gave her a Beach Boys’ gold record; then we split back down the Panamint Valley, stopping at Ballarat to buy soda pop.

During Charlies’ rap with Ma Barker, I’d picked up the Las Vegas paper and had noted a reference to a racial incident in Haight Ashbury. The article stated that a San Francisco policeman had recently shot and killed a sixteen-year-old black kid who had allegedly pulled a gun on him. I took notice of the story only because the location of the shooting, just off Fillmore, was one block away from a place I had crashed at in the summer of 1967.

I mentioned the article to Charlie as we drove through the valley toward Golar Wash drinking our pop.

“Dig it, man,” Charlie said, gesturing with one hand while steering the bus with the other. “This shit can’t go on forever with blackie… pretty soon he’s gonna revolt and start kickin’ whitey’s ass. I’ve seen it buildin’ up for years. It was bad enough at Watts and San Francisco, but now that they wasted that jive-ass Martin Luther… well, that’s, a heavy number, man. I mean, you gotta figure whitey’s karma’s gotta turn one of these days… it’s just a matter of time. The heavy dudes, though, are the Muslims. I’ve seen those cats in jail. They sit back real stoic like and watch and stay cool, you know. But they’ll be the ones who bring the shit down. Yeah, it’s gonna come down hard… a full-on war. And when it does, we’re gonna be glad we’re out here.

“The trouble with blackie is, he wants to fuck all the white women… turn all the white babies brown.” Charlie jettisoned the empty can out the window. “That brings a lot of shit his way. I mean, it was never meant that the races get mixed; that’s what fucks everything up. That’s what makes whitey mad. But it won’t do any good, ‘cause it’s blackie’s turn. His day, you know. Hey man, we don’t want any part of that. It would destroy our whole scene.”

I didn’t pay too much attention to Charlie’s racial rap; it sounded pretty farfetched. I knew he didn’t like blacks. But with the exception of an occasional offhand slur or an old prison joke, he never really said much about “blackie.” I never dreamed that in time the notion of a racial war between “blackie” and “whitey” would become the core of Helter-Skelter.

It was dark by the time we got back to Golar Canyon, parked the bus, and started our hike up to the ranch.