Sunday, June 11, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter the Fourth

Chapter 4

Dennis Wilson looked about five-eleven and weighed maybe 160 pounds. He appeared agile and athletic, with blue eyes, blond hair, and rather standard California good looks. He seemed to be easygoing, but his jovial exterior betrayed a subtle sense of agitation. Still in his early twenties, he'd been married, divorced, and was the father of a child. When I first met him he came on like a polished playboy bachelor—glib, loose-jointed, and hip. At the same time (unlike the rest of the Beach Boys), he seemed accessible and amenable to suggestion—less satisfied, perhaps, with his own success. Earlier that summer he had met and befriended Charlie. Charlie seemed anxious that I meet him.

Dennis was standing on his porch, barefoot in a pair of Bermuda shorts, when we drove up and got out of the truck. Charlie introduced me to Dennis and we all went inside the house.

I was blown away by the size and beauty of the estate, once the home of Will Rogers. (If "success" was gauged by material extravagance, Dennis sure as hell had made it.): the classic Spanish-style Hollywood mansion, complete with magnificent manicured lawns, vibrant recently cultivated rose gardens, and an enormous kidney-shaped swimming pool. The inside was no less lavish: furnished to the hilt with antiques, original French paintings, Persian rugs, and countless mementos and photos of the Beach Boys' international acclaim in the record industry. Charlie's reasons for cultivating Dennis were obvious. In addition to his Rolls Royce, Dennis had a new candy-apple-red Ferrari, a fine piece of machinery that Steve Grogan (Clem) and I were to total three weeks later on a drive-up to Spahn's Ranch.

At the time, I viewed Dennis as an all-American middle-class surfer kid who suddenly made it rich and didn't know quite how to handle it. He was a prime target for the Family. Charlie self-righteously played the role of Robin Hood, taking from the rich, namely Dennis, to give to the poor, namely Charlie. He really want to work on Dennis, made him feel guilty for possessing so much wealth, urged him to renounce it in exchange for a simple communal life based on love: Charlie's love. Because Dennis liked Charlie's music, he was willing to help him and arranged for the Family to hold recording sessions in his brother Brian's Beverly Hills studio. Dennis was equally intrigued with Charlie's impoverished childhood, his criminal record, and his eclectic free-lance spiritual rap. As Dennis once remarked to me, "Charlie is the most tuned-in dude I ever met."

For the most part, however, Charlie was merely playing the roles he played best: con man and pimp. He had at his disposal not one but ten attractive girls who were ready and willing to heed his every whim. For a small-time ex-con who had spent seventeen years of his life behind bars, Charlie was doing all right for himself. It obviously impressed Dennis. During the first few weeks I was with the Family, Charlie was always sending over contingents of girls to keep Dennis fucked, sucked, and steeped in Manson doctrine: "Cease to exist…just come and say you love me…Give up your world, come on and you can be…I'm your kind, I'm your kind…And I can see…" Dennis all but capitulated. One night he gave Charlie and me not only most of his wardrobe (five-hundred-dollar suits, shirts, shoes, and ties), but all of his gold records, which we later distributed in the streets of Hollywood to passersby, just to blow their minds. It seemed to put things in perspective: what were gold records anyway? What did they mean to the spiritual man? What did they represent other than the epitome of American capitalism? Were it not for the fact that Dennis was deeply committed to the entertainment establishment, committed to people who had their own designs on his dangling purse strings, he might well have renounced everything and joined the Family.

The cast of characters at Spahn's Ranch that summer was awesome. The day I arrived there were four girls living with Charlie: Snake, Brenda, Squeaky, and Sandy. Two days later, Sadie, Katie, Mary, Stephanie, and Ella returned from Mendocino, swelling the female population to nine. The males (in addition to Charlie and myself) included Brooks Poston, a kid named Kim, Steve Grogan (Clem), and a good-natured Texan named Charles (Tex) Watson, who had been living with Dennis Wilson before joining the Family shortly after my arrival. Tex was twenty that July, one of the most affable, good-natured people I've ever met. An excellent carpenter and mechanic, he stayed busy keeping the Family vehicles in running order. He also served as a buffer between ranch hands and the Family. Being from the Lone Star State (McKinney), he spoke in a languorous drawl—"I jes come here t'see what was goin' on"—and was able to relate to the cowboys on their own terms. During the months that followed, I saw Charlie get inside his head. Within a year Manson turned Tex into a death-wielding robot who thought of himself as an avenging angel.

There were other males who drifted in and out of the Family that summer: one was Juan Flynn, a flamboyant, strapping Irish Panamanian who worked for George Spahn as a wrangler; another was Bobby Beausoleil, a super-hippie Hollywood kid and a fine musician who later introduced two new girls to the Family—Catherine Share (Gypsy) and Leslie Van Houten. The average age within the Family was twenty. The oldest girl was Gypsy, twenty-six; the youngest, Snake, fifteen. The oldest guy other than Charlie was Juan Flynn, twenty-six; the youngest guy Kim, seventeen. While there were fluctuations in size from time to time, new faces coming and going, this nucleus remained fairly consistent. The only child born to the Family at the time was Pooh Bear (Michael Valentine Manson), Mary Brunner's four-month-old son, sired by Charlie. Sadie, meanwhile, was five months pregnant, and Charlie had spread the word: he wanted all the girls to bear new life and for the Family to grow.

The day after my arrival at Spahn's we moved out of the outlaw shacks into the jail, which adjoined the saloon. We still had designs on the back ranch house but would have to wait until the hippies gave it up. In the meantime, we converted our new quarters to accommodate the entire Family. The saloon was authentic old-West, complete with hand-tooled mahogany bar, mirrors, and low-hnaging overhead fans. The girls cleaned the place thoroughly and we knocked out a wall to connect the jail with the saloon. We covered the floor with mattresses and bedizened the walls with tapestries purchased at the Topanga Plaza. All our food was stored in George's house, and the girls cooked on his stove, an arrangement which pleased the old-timer, since his own meals were prepared by the Family. Charlie always assigned one or tow girls to minister to George's needs. Lynn (Fromme) became his favorite and spent hours sitting beside him while he rocked in his chair in the front room while country music blasted from an old portable radio. One of George's greatest pleasures was to fondle Lynn's knees as she sat beside him. When, on occasion, he slid his hand up her leg and pinched the inside of her thigh, Lynn would invariably flinch and make a little "eeak" sound while George chuckled to himself demonically. That's how Lynn came to be dubbed "Squeaky." And the name stuck.

Living so close to George and the main hub of ranch activity forced us to keep our scene discreet. We didn't want to offend the tourists nor to piss off the ranch hands, some of whom lived in trailers and shacks on the property. Charlie was always urging us to cultivate the wranglers. So we did: saddling and currying the horses, shoveling shit, and cleaning up for George. They never had much to complain about. Only one among them ever really bad-mouthed the Family—a part-time stunt man and movie actor named Donald Jerome (Shorty) Shea.

Shorty was in his mid-thirties, a rugged, seemingly easygoing cowboy who aspired to become a big-time movie star; he had worked as a horse wrangler for over fifteen years and was a good friend to George. He was always taking off to try out for a movie role that "would land him in stardom." But it never happened; and he kept coming back to Spahn's to work for George. I always liked Shorty. Juan considered him his friend. I'll never forget the horror I experienced (a year later) when Clem described what they had done to him.

In addition to Shorty there were three wranglers who lived at the ranch full-time: I knew them by their first names—Randy, Benny, and Larry.

Randy Starr was ranch foreman—tall, wiry, about forty-five. He wore his black hair long under a felt Stetson. His face was gritty and pockmarked, and he ate "bennies" by the roll and swilled gallons of vodka. Shorty used to say his eyes looked like "two piss holes in the snow." Randy'd been a stunt man most of his life and had sustained an injury to his spine which rendered his left hand all but useless; it hung at his side like a hunk of rubber. Still, he considered himself something of a ladies' man and was forever trying to sweet-talk the "gals" into his trailer to show them his "stunts." But Charlie, wishing to keep our scene separate and secret, forbade the girls in the Family to socialize with any of the wranglers—except for Juan Flynn. Since Juan was such a big, powerful dude—hip to the drug scene and well-liked by all the ranch hands—Charlie figured it best to have him on our side. And Randy liked Juan.

Benny was the number-two man—jovial, easy-going, about five-nine, and 160 pounds, somewhere in his mid-thirties. He's been married more than once and reportedly had a whole passel of kids. But he lived in the bunkhouse on the boardwalk and only saw his family on the weekends. Benny claimed he was the best stunt man in the business. "Do any damn thing, if ya pay me for it." More than once I saw him fall off the barn for twenty-five dollars. About a month after we got there, someone gave him a tab of acid, and on a dare he walked all the way to Corriganville without his boots.

Then there was Larry, retarded by a horse fall in childhood, a hardworking twenty-eight-year-old. He had long blond hair and carried a bowie knife, which he knew how to handle. But he was always even-tempered and well-liked, constantly living out some cowboy-kid fantasy. He loved to do the "Blackfoot shuffle" and was forever galloping up to a group of us to announce: "Looks like I'll be headin' for Abilene today."

But George and the wranglers weren't the only people we had to deal with at Spahn's. There was also Ruby Pearl, a sixty-three-year-old red-headed latter-day Annie Oakley who had been a friend of George's for years. She'd also been a stunt rider in the circus and knew as much about horses as anyone at the ranch. She ran the finances, handled the wranglers, and pretty much managed the ranch. Since Spahn's supported some seventy head of horseflesh, Pearl was continually buying and selling them, as well as renting out stagecoaches, wagons, and sometimes the wranglers themselves to local movie companies. Pearl didn't live on the ranch, but she came every morning at dawn and worked energetically until late in the evening. Where the Family was concerned she was friendly and unobtrusive. So long as we did our share of the work and took care of George, she had no complaints. I liked her a lot. So did Charlie.

But the most bizarre personality among George's close friends was a wizened, beady-eyed dyspeptic little lady in her seventies who lived in a dilapidated lean-to (once a tool trailer) behind the saloon. Her name was Dody and she shared her low-slung hovel with a handful of yapping brindle-marked dogs. Her clothes were filthy, her teeth yellow. The only time we'd see her was when someone took her some food. Then she'd crawl out the entrance to her shack on her hands and knees. She spoke very little and what she said was usually unintelligible. She seemed frightened and suspicious people, childlike, yet wary. There was talk of committing her to a mental institution, but no one wanted that to happen. George let her live there because he liked her.

The general atmosphere at Spahn's was like that at most horse ranches. There was dust, leather, and the ubiquitous smell of horseshit. There was a well-stocked tack room filled with saddles, bridles, harnesses, whips, blankets, and sometimes bails of hay. And there was dust. Everything at Spahn's was seen through a veil of dust. In addition to the horses, there were scores of chickens who had the run of the place—laid their eggs everywhere—plus a scroungy one-horned goat who roamed the property bleating continually while scavenging for food. And there was always a full crew of cowboys—dressed daily in tight-fitting Levi's, work shirts, and soiled Stetsons: walking around, rolling cigarettes, talking in a drawl, spitting in the dust. Sometimes they hunkered on a boardwalk outside the saloon, bullshitting with Charlie and the Family. They liked Charlie's stories and told their own. Texas talk. Merle Haggard and the good ole boys. The told jokes, cussed, farted, and when they spotted Pearl, sauntered jauntily back to work. On weekends they went to "shit-kickin" bars in the valley and got drunk, then told stories about it during the week. Randy sang in a small country-western combo in one of the bars and asked some of the musicians in the Family to come down and play with them. We did a couple of times. It was okay. The ranch was comfortable, really. Except for the flies. There were flies everywhere, millions of them. Charlie used to sit on the boardwalk in the sun and laugh, letting the flies crawl all over him: "Man, you gotta submit to the flies…Let's face it, they own this place."

Charlie (Charles Miles Manson) was born on November 12, 1934, under the sign of Scorpio. His mother, Kathleen Madox, was sixteen at the time of his birth, and was living with a man named William Manson, who may or may not have been Charlie’s father, but who, nonetheless, provided him with the surname he was to use the rest of his life. While Charlie would later claim that his mother was a teenage prostitute, other relatives described her simply as submissive and “loose”. In any case, it is clear that she lived with a succession of men during Charlie’s childhood and was frequently absent from him. Charlie spent much of his time with obliging friends or with his aunt and maternal grandmother, moving back and forth between Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

In 1939 Kathleen and her brother, Luther, robbed a gas station and assaulted the owner with Coke bottles, knocking him unconscious. The next day they were arrested and incarcerated. While his mother served her sentence, Charlie lived with his aunt and uncle in McMechen, West Virginia, remaining with them until 1942, when Kathleen was paroled and again took custody of her son.

From 1942 to 1947 Charlie lived with his mother and a succession of “uncles”, moving from one run-down neighborhood to another, until at last Kathleen tried placing her son in a foster home. When none were available, she sent him to the Gibault School for Boys, a care-taking center in Terre Haute, Indiana. Charlie was twelve. Ten months later, he escaped and returned to his mother. When she rejected him, he took off on his own, and began burglarizing private residences to survive. He was finally caught and sent to Juvenile Center in Indianapolis. But due to an error in filling out his papers, he was listed as “Catholic” and sent to Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Town in Omaha, Nebraska. Less than a week later (together with another boy named Blackie Nielson), he stole a car and drove to Peoria, Illinois, committing two armed robberies while en route. His life as a hard-core criminal had begun. He’d just turned thirteen.

For the next twenty years Charlie was in and out of federal and state prisons for car theft, forgery, burglary, and pimping. During that period, he was married twice, once to a seventeen-year-old girl from McMechen named Rosalie Jean Willis, who bore him one son, Charles Manson, Jr., and later (1959) to a California girl named Leona, who also bore him a son, Charles Luthor Manson. Seventeen of those twenty years (from the time he was fourteen to the time of his release from Terminal Island at the age of thirty-four), Charlie was behind bars. “Getting’ educated,” Charlie used to say, “in them institutions of higher learning.” In the joint he studied music and learned to play the guitar. He wrote hundreds of songs. He also became interested in Eastern philosophy, Buddhism and Scientology.

Scientology was just becoming popular when he went to prison for the tenth time at the age of twenty-six. While in confinement at McNeil Island, Washington, he began studying Scientology under the guidance of a convict named Lanier Rayner, who had been a student of L. Ron Hubbard, the discipline’s founder. Charlie would later claim that within a matter of months he had achieved Scientology’s highest level, “Theta Clear.” From these studies he extracted certain phrases such as “cease to exist,” and “come to Now.” Utilizing these, together with other precepts gained through reading, music, friendships, and his own observations of human nature, Charlie evolved an eclectic “theology” of his own which seemed to harmonize beautifully with the budding spiritual notions of the new generation of flower children. At the time Charlie left prison on March 21, 1967, and went to San Francisco, flower power at Haight Ashbury was in full bloom. For a seasoned ex-con and onetime pimp who had associated with some of the toughest criminals in the country, the dewey-eyed kids standing on street corners in San Francisco must have appeared like something out of a dream. Charlie had spent seven consecutive years behind bars before that summer. It was like returning from a time warp. Charlie had never known love; he had never really had a family. In the summer of 1967, nine months before I met him, he started one.

Shortly after my arrival at Spahn’s, I had to appear in court on my marijuana bust. Charlie read my citation and advised me how to handle the situation. He said I didn’t need my parents there. Two days before the court date we had one of Dennis Wilson’s white sequin-studded five-hundred-dollar suits altered to fit me. Squeaky and Sandy cut my hair while Charlie briefed me on what to tell the judge. That morning in court, while Charlie stood at the rear of the room, I stood before the judge, indignantly demanding a speedy jury trial. “I was busted, your Honor, for being in a place where marijuana was being smoked…. Where I was, was the side of the road. Now, I don’t know if marijuana is smoked on the side of the road or not. I don’t even know what this proceeding as about… but I do want a jury to decide my fate and—“

The judge sighed and said two words: “Case dismissed.”

It was the first time I’d been in a courtroom with Charles Manson, but it would not be the last. We walked out together arm in arm, grinning like loons, and returned to the ranch.

After living alone in Big Sur for the three months, the adjustment to life at Spahn’s was by no means easy. It was like living in another world – Charlie’s world. And like Charlie, it was always intense, paradoxical, comical, unpredictable, often beautiful, and in time, frightening.

On the surface, the Family routine was simple and fairly consistent: most of us, unless we had wrangler duty, generally got up at our leisure and, if we wanted to, made our own breakfast. Rarely did we eat as a group in the morning. While the girls cleaned up the place, took care of George and Dody, made garbage runs, or helped Pearl, the guys worked on the ranch, played music, or hung around with Charlie, who was usually scamming in town or tuning the scene at the ranch. At noon the girls would prepare lunch for those who wanted it. The evening ritual was always the same: we’d eat dinner, listen to Charlie rap for an hour or two, play music together, then make love—either in small groups or as a Family. Once or twice a week we’d set aside an evening to take acid. Use of drugs in the Family was never indiscriminate or casual. Rarely did we smoke grass during the day, and Charlie forbade anyone taking acid on his own. Drugs were used for a specific purpose: to bring us into a higher state of consciousness as a Family: to unify us.

Economically, we managed well. Much of our food came from garbage runs in the valley, or from money derived panhandling. Mary had a contact at a local bakery in Santa Monica who supplied us with bread, cakes, cookies, and other assorted pastries. Several of the girls had credit cards we used for gasoline. Charlie’s scams in the city always netted us old cars and donations. People were always giving Charlie things, people like Dennis Wilson and Bobby Beausoleil, who contributed not only money, but automobiles, clothing, and food. Meanwhile, all bank accounts became communal property, so that we generally had a reserve of cash when we needed it.

On one level, this life seemed easygoing and mellow. Since, as Charlie had said, “There is nothing to do but make love,” there were, at least in theory, no pressures. But it’s hard to do “nothing” without getting bored, and harder still to make love in a group without freaking out or getting hung-up. Thus, pressures were created and people became “discontent.” Charlie insisted that only those who were “discontent” had to work with the wranglers. If you couldn’t cut the sex scenes, you were obviously discontent. I was generally able to handle the sex trip consistently without going off into some heavy psychological number, which meant the other guys—Clem, Brooks, Kim, Tex, and T.J.—had most of the discontent duty. That left me and Charlie together much of the time, and I wound up palling around with him nearly every day. That’s how I got close to Charlie and came into a position of power and freedom within the Family. I picked up on the scene right away—got it together with the music, and really hit it off with the rest of the Family. I don’t know why it happened so fast. I guess I was ready to learn about myself. I’m sure it surprised Charlie. I hadn’t been there more than a week when he said: “You know, Paul, one of these days I’m going to pass the power on to you, dig?” At that point, I wasn’t sure just what the power was.

If there was a goal in the Manson Family during that first summer (1968), it was to have no goal other than arriving at a plateau of inner harmony as a group, a plateau of love that might be an example to the desperate and alienated world. Without saying so directly, Charlie espoused the doctrines of Buddhist teachers and Zen masters: “turn off the internal dialogue and come to Now.” What it meant was an inner cleansing of the psyche and the soul—a confrontation with self on the deepest levels of experience—not privately or secretly, but in front of the Family, in front of Charlie. What it meant was the heaviest psychosexual therapy imaginable. I learned more about myself and human nature through that group experience than from any other in my life. If I hadn’t felt a real love from the Family in the beginning in support of the changes I was going through, I would never have remained.

From the beginning, Charlie believed the Beatles’ music carried an important message—to us. He said their album The Magical Mystery Tour expressed the essence of his own philosophy. Basically, Charlie’s trip was to program us all to submit: to give up our egos, which, in a spiritual sense, is a lofty aspiration. As rebels within a materialistic, decadent culture, we could dig it. We were ripe for it. I know I was. It was particularly attractive to me because I’d always been spiritually oriented, into the Bible and Eastern thought. But generally, the girls were easier to program than the guys. It was easier for them to submit; they were more ingenuous and didn't have as far to fall, as much ego to drop off. They'd already been programmed into a form of submission by society. Yet, in a way, by submitting, they became superior to the guys. Like when it came to accepting their bodies—being naked—they were generally more comfortable than the men. Particularly Charlie's original girls; they were not only physically "liberated," but sexually confident.

Certainly Charlie's conception of love was a sexual one: "Hey man, like Jesus, when he rapped about love, wasn't talking about some mealymouthed muttering and stuttering…he was talking about love with a real spirit…love with a dick and balls! Why do you think all those women hung around Jesus?... Hey, he showed those Romans how to ride their chariots…it's just that all these 'latter-day saints' and men in black have tried to fill people's heads with a load of garbage…how do they get off talking about love?...walkin' around in those black robe up to their eyeballs, choking on those collars, their little peckers shriveled up and ready to fall off…what do those motherfuckers know about love? Hell, they never even dip their wicks or know what their bodies look like…"

That was the hardest thing for me, initially—being free and comfortable while naked in front of the others. I overcame this inhibition for the most part by way of an episode that happened just three days after I joined the Family. By then, all the girls had returned and we were living in the saloon. It was around seven p.m. and we'd just eaten a huge welcome-home casserole dinner, with mounds of green salad, followed by our customary dessert of zuzus, a name of Charlie had given to all junk food and candy. (It was Charlie's contention that Candy was traditionally used as a ploy by parents to manipulate children and that we, the Family, should never be subjected to a life without it, the implication being, perhaps, that we were all good children. During the months I spent with the Family, there was never a day when we did not have plenty of zuzus.)

After dessert that evening, everyone sat in a large circle in the center of the saloon on mattresses, waiting for Charlie to initiate things. He had invited a couple of hippie girls from up at the ranch house to join the festivities, partly out of neighborliness, partly because he still had designs on the ranch house and wanted to work on the hippies. Both girls, Bo (Barbara Rosenberg, who would later join the Family) and Shelly, were in their late teens. Shelly was tall and voluptuous; Bo, short, slender, and with full upturned breasts and an engaging, yet nervous smile. They got right into the zuzus and the music, and seemed relaxed.

It was hot and nearly everyone was naked, when Bo, in preparation for the scene that was coming, began to peel off her clothes. She was clearly self-conscious. I sensed her embarrassment immediately and identified with it. Charlie was also aware of her hesitation and he didn't let her off the hook. He confronted her, but did it masterfully, in a direct, yet soothing monotone.

"There's nothing to be embarrassed about, Bo," he said evenly.

If she hadn't been uptight before, she sure as hell was then. Everyone's eyes were on her, which is what Charlie wanted. He used scenes like that to teach the group, a method I was to see him employ time and again.

"Hey, we're all made of the same ingredients—same stuff: flesh, blood, and bones and like that." He stood up as if to demonstrate, looking down at his own body. "We're all just plain old skin, right?" Bo had already removed her bra and was still holding it in her hand. She dropped it on the floor as Charlie went on with his rap. "So, look, just relax and get down with us…There's nothing ashamed of. You were born beautiful. You have a beautiful body. Come over here a minute, Bo."

The girl stood up, still in her panties. When Charlie extended his hand, she walked over to where he stood. Then he led her behind the bar to a full-length mirror. I couldn't see them, but I heard him talking to her, we all did. "Look at yourself, woman. See how beautiful you are…No, no, dammit, look…really take a look. Look at your arms, your boobs, your legs. Look at all that pretty hair. That's not a foreign country, that's your own planet, your own beautiful, physical self. Touch it! Go on, touch it! There's nothing but beauty there, nothing but your own beauty to love."

The next day I went into the saloon alone and stood before the same mirror. I took a long look at my own body. I scrutinized everything: my hair, face, legs, arms, hands, feet, fingers, fingernails. I looked at my genitals, examined them carefully. It may sound absurd, but that day I got to know my body by really looking at it. I saw it as beautiful and I accepted it. Without realizing it, I'd spent eighteen years without really accepting my body. Perhaps my religious, sometimes puritanical upbringing had caused me in some way unconsciously to disassociate myself from my body, particularly my genitals. It was a good lesson, one of many I would learn while in the Manson Family.

Charlie was always rapping about letting go of the ego. "Let it die…turn off the internal dialogue and come to Now." Pacing back and forth across the saloon, he'd talk for hours, stopping to make a point, gesturing with his hands. "Hey, we don't have to be hung-up on all this past shit. Let it die. It doesn't matter what happened to you when you were three years old, or when you joined the Boy Scouts. Hey, the sound of one hand clapping is the sound of one hand clapping. That's all. There's nothing to figure out. There ain't no background. There's just Now and when we come to Now, we come to love—and get free."

After these spiels, we'd sing Charlie's songs, which reinforced his words: "Cease to Exist," and "Your Home is Where You're Happy," and "Old Ego is a Too Much Thing." Then a few of the girls would pass around some grass or a little hash, and Charlie would initiate a game called the Circle, transmitting motion by joining hands and passing the motion around the group. We'd all focus on turning off the internal dialogue, and just get into the rhythm and vibrations of the motion. Gradually Charlie would start programming in sexual energy by touching or feeling the person next to him, and this would be passed along. From that point, we'd progress to positions on the floor, touching each other, trying to get a harmonious sense of energy flowing. Charlie would usually direct things by using sign language (winks and nods), or by physically guiding people. Since there were always fewer guys, the girls would get off by tuning into each other, trying to get into the rhythm of the whole group. Sometimes small segments, say four or five people, would get a nice thing going. But it was hard to pull off the big transcendental sexual trip of coming all at once, of coming to "Now" in one big orgasm. Charlie believed that if we ever achieved that as a group we would be bound together as one person in a state of love. But invariably, someone would start freaking out or going through some heavy ego death and we'd have to help that person through it.

One night, during my first week at Spahn's, Sandy freaked out on acid—started screaming about death—said death was crawling across her skin.

Sandra Good was one of Charlie's original girls, and among his most devoted followers. She had a pretty, cherub face with rosy cheeks and a well-proportioned Rubenesque body. She had come from a wealthy family and had been a debutante; her only blemish was a small scar on her throat, where years before she had undergone a tracheotomy. Sandy was always sensitive and high-strung, given to hysterical outbursts and tantrums. She was true to form that night.

"Charlie! Charlie!...It's Death…"

Charlie was seated at the head of the table beside Squeaky, but he quickly went to Sandy and knelt beside her.

"Look at it!" he shouted. "Feel your skin…what does it look like? Look at Death!"

"Volcanoes…volcanoes! Volcanoes and worms! Worms on my skin! Eating my skin. It's green with worms!" She broke away from Charlie and started crawling across the saloon floor; then suddenly she stopped beside Clem and Stephanie and rolled over onto her back, gasping for air.

Charlie was right there. He grabbed her by the hair, jerking her head back. "Look at it. Don't avoid it!" Then he was talking more softly, soothing her while she screamed while the rest of us sat there spaced-out and stunned, tripping out.

Sandy's voice sounded like the screeching of some jungle bird. "I can't…I can't!" she stammered.

"Look at it all, dammit!" Charlie urged. "Look at the love! Take off the masks and see the love! Volcanoes are beautiful. Fire is your love…yours and mine!"

Sandy rubbed her arm with her hand. Gradually her breathing slowed down.

"Charlie," she said softly, pronouncing the word as though it were a mantra.

He let go of her hair. "You're warm," he said, touching her neck. "You're like silk."



Sandy started to laugh lightly and put her arms around Charlie.

"Let it go, he said. "Let everything go where it wants…give it up. Let it die…Feel the love."

"It's like…"

"Don't let anyone into your head but me."

"I hear the wind," she said.

"So do I," Clem intoned.

"Me, too," Snake whispered.

Later, during that same trip, Ella erupted, shouting angrily at the fire: "Stop it! Stop it! Don't put it there…I can't stand it!"

She sat facing the flames. Her hair hung in loose pliant curls down her back. I could see the side of her face, flushed, aglitter with perspiration. Ella too was one of Charlie's original girls—tall, slender, and one of the most adept lovemakers in the Family. She would later leave the Family in the company of an ex-con named Bill vance who arrived at Spahn's a few months prior to the murders. Ella's most striking feature was her smile, a smile that seemed to radiate from deep within her. But she wasn't smiling that night.

"Don't!" she cried. "I can't stand it!"

"What is it?" Charlie broke in, seizing her arm. "Who is it?" Ella pushed him away and he grabbed her hands with his. They struggled, and he muscled her to the floor, still clinging to her hands. "Let go," he said. "Submit to the motion…submit to the motion…quit fighting me."

Gradually Ella stopped flailing; she relaxed and her hands and arms become one with Charlie's. He rotated his arms, holding onto her hands; soon their arms were in a smooth rhythmic pattern.

"Who is it?" Charlie asked again.

"It's Candy…It's my friend Candy." Ella spoke without turning her head. "I can't stand it…I can't…"

"Talk to her!" Charlie urged. "Tell her what you're feeling. Listen, Candy, listen to Ella." Then Charlie motioned to Snake, and it was understood that she was Candy. She crawled up to Ella.

"Candy!" Charlie shouted at Snake. "Listen to Ella."

Throughout my experience with the Family, we often acted out roles, becoming parents, brothers, sisters, and friends for one another. Some of the scenes were devastating. But we always got through them. Invariably Charlie took control with a blend of physical force and a soothing monologue, asking that we submit to what we encountered and submit to his motion. We all took part in these scenes, and a strong kinship resulted. We did become brothers and sisters. Acid only intensified it, made it more indelible. Charlie directed it, but he could not control it. It was something no one could control. As much as anyone, he too was submitting to the forces of the unconscious.

But not all the scenes were heavy: some, in fact, were crudely comical. One night during the same first week, we were into a sex scene, split up into small groups of five or six. I was making it with Sadie and Stephanie, really getting into it, when Charlie sprang to his feet. "Wait a minute," he shouted. "Hold everything!" He was standing over Clem, who, apparently, without much success, was trying to give head to Katie. Katie had signaled to Charlie that Clem wasn't cutting the mustard.

"Look, man." Charlie knelt beside Clem. "Don't you know how to give head yet?"

Clem grinned sheepishly.

Charlie walked to the bar to get a cigarette; everyone sat up. "Look," he said, lighting a cigarette. "You heard of Freud? Well, the dude was always talking about sucking on something…right? Oral fixations. We all got'em. See, I mean the cat was right…you need to suck on something: that's why you got a mouth…that's why women got tits." He took a deep drag and the smoke billowed out around his head.

"I mean, dig it…you see kids sucking their thumbs or their fingers, or chewing on suckers or jawbreakers or long wiggly pieces of licorice; licking off frosting. People are always sticking pickles and smokes and zuzus into their face to suck on, dig. So, if you're gonna suck on something, you should know how to do it." He set the cigarette down. "Hey, Katie, come up here a minute. Get up on the bar, will ya. Please…Yeah, right, just lie down there. Good."

Katie (Patricia Krenwinkel) was twenty-one. She had been with Charlie for nearly a year prior to my arrival in the Family. She was a strong, large-boned, tough-minded girl. Though not as loquacious when it came to spouting Charlie's rap as the others, she exuded confidence and had respect within the Family. She was not beautiful but had a plain, appealing face and a good body. Nothing seemed to daunt or fluster Katie, and it was this attitude, together with her unflappable devotion to Charlie, that made her such a dominant figure within the Family. Where sex was concerned, her own self-confidence seemed to consistently intimidate the younger men.

"Okay," Charlie barked. "Everyone gather round a second and watch this. I mean, shit, if ya can't give head, we might as well stop everything! Spread your legs, Katie…okay…good." Charlie bent over and gently parted the lips of Katie's vagina, exposing the clitoris. "See this?...Do you see this, Clem? Look, dammit, see it!...Good. Everyone take a gander at it. Okay, this"—he pointed—is the little bugger that needs attention." With that he went down on Katie to demonstrate.

A few days later, during my second acid trip with the Family, Charlie pulled off another of his instructional demonstrations. The rule when taking acid was that no one leave the room during the trip, not even to use the bathroom. A trip usually lasted about twelve hours. In case it was needed, we installed a portable shitter in one corner of the room. By that time, Charlie had made me the "dope monitor," which meant that I passed out whatever dope the Family used. I'd just handed it out and everyone had taken a tab. We were gathered in a circle; Brooks was strumming on the sitar. Charlie was seated, shirtless, at the head of the group, already into his rap:

"To lose the ego is to die," he said. "And when you die or a part of you dies, you release that part to love. So what it means is overcoming your fear of death. Fear is the beginning of growth. Yet, it's what holds us back. Fear is a higher form of consciousness, 'cause it gives us a glimpse of the love. So it's like you have to submit to your fear…your fear is your pathway to love."

We were starting to come on a little to the acid when one of the girls—another visitor to our scene—had to use the little pot. She got up during a pause in Charlie's rap and started for the shitter. But when she got there, she stopped, turned around, and started back, embarrassed to use the toilet in front of us. Charlie was back on his feet at once. He took the girl's hand and smiled. "You gotta use the pot?"

"I can wait."

Suddenly Charlie became the clown. "Hey…hey," he said. "We all got assholes, right? Anyone here without an asshole?" The little brunette hurriedly sat down, her face flushed. "Hey, like everyone look at my asshole." Charlie bent over and spread the cheeks of his anus. "That," he declared, "is an asshole…We all got 'em, we all use 'em—without 'em, we'd be in real trouble, right? Anyone else got an asshole they'd liked to show us? Hey, Paul…come here…show us your asshole. Right on! There's another one, folks, pretty much the same, aren't they? Sadie, can we take a look at yours?" Sadie smiled, stood up, and spread her cheeks. "Amazing." Charlie beamed. "That's the one thing that don't change—the asshole. Men got no tits to speak of; women got no pricks. But we all got them assholes." He grinned at the girl. "So go on over, use the son of a bitch, and let's get on with it."

While the girl proceeded to the toilet, Charlie, without breaking stride, went right on with his rap.

"The human soul," he said, "doesn't hear 'Don't' and 'No.' 'Don't' and 'No' are contrary to nature…dig? Life is 'Yes' and 'Do.' Even when my people say 'No' they mean 'Yes.' What it means is don't get hung up on the negative vibes. Hey, if you got to shit…you shit. You stay positive. You confront your fears. You always move towards 'Yes' and 'Do.' That's the way to overcome fear and get to love, get to Now. You say 'Yes' to your fears, you look at them and submit to them. And then it's like they dissolve into the love you are, into the love that we all are. You do what your love says."



Salem said...

Thanks again Col. for yet another great read.

Yepyep said...
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RadioFreeCatlandia said...

This posting is from the future!

CreequeAlley said...

Charlie sure did baffle them with bullshit.

Dope them up, lay some meaningless BS on them and he's the Great Slippie Guru with a direct cosmic pipeline to the Beatles.

I'd like to think that if I were "of age" at that time and place, I wouldn't have fallen for that rap. I'd like to think that, but I probably would have. Sex, drugs, rock & roll.

agnostic monk said...

The picture Paul paints seems to be one of Charlie as very much a leader, very much a manipulator and - dare I even say it - a borderline "brainwasher".

If we discount that image of Charlie, does that make Paul Watkins a big fat liar?

Salem said...

scary huh?

catscradle77 said...
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Salem said...

What did he gain out of testifying to what he did?

a book deal?

chasingbunnies said...

agnostic monk said...
The picture Paul paints seems to be one of Charlie as very much a leader, very much a manipulator and - dare I even say it - a borderline "brainwasher".

If we discount that image of Charlie, does that make Paul Watkins a big fat liar

Hey Monk...
Seems to me like Charlie was an ace manipulator, because of all that time he spent in prison. A total con man. Those kids seemed to be very suggestible, including Watkins. They seemed more like borderline personalities rather than borderline brainwashed badly wired hippies.Whenever I read about the hippie stuff they spewed I just laugh and laugh. (not about the murders :( but Charlie's rap the so-called followers took seriously.)

Those kids decided all on their own to go on that rampage. I really believe that. Charlie's raps were just that--interesting gobbledygook. He sure liked to talk never-ending shit to anyone who would listen. I honestly believe he was just much older and grew up in hard core prisons with major league Mafia-type killers, and "Creepy" Carpis type dudes, who taught CM all about their criminal escapades and Charlie listened. CM was no killer, just a story teller.

The comments that Paul said Charlie made about the poop bucket to the one young girl while they all tripped, was gross but hysterical at the same time. Just the way Watkins told it was funny.

True hippies (in my opinion) didn't take orders from anyone. If anyone tried to order a hippy around, a hippy would do the exact opposite. JMO

Yepyep said...
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agnostic monk said...

chasingbunnies said...
>>>>The comments that Paul said Charlie made about the poop bucket to the one young girl while they all tripped, was gross but hysterical at the same time. Just the way Watkins told it was funny.<<<<

I can't imagine ever agreeing to take LSD and stay locked in a room with a bunch of people FOR UP TO 12 HOURS not even being allowed to go out to a real bathroom. TWELVE HOURS? And you can't go outside? Even if the weather's nice? And you have to crap in a bucket in the corner of a crowded room? That experience alone would turn me into a homicidal maniac.


chasingbunnies said...

agnostic monk said...
chasingbunnies said...
>>>>The comments that Paul said Charlie made about the poop bucket to the one young girl while they all tripped, was gross but hysterical at the same time. Just the way Watkins told it was funny.<<<<

I can't imagine ever agreeing to take LSD and stay locked in a room with a bunch of people FOR UP TO 12 HOURS not even being allowed to go out to a real bathroom. TWELVE HOURS? And you can't go outside? Even if the weather's nice? And you have to crap in a bucket in the corner of a crowded room? That experience alone would turn me into a homicidal maniac.

Oh Monk.. I agree times infinity! It just grossed me out but cracked me up at the same time.

Salem said...

True hippies (in my opinion) didn't take orders from anyone. If anyone tried to order a hippy around, a hippy would do the exact opposite. JMO


I remember having one dude that was always the oldest and wisest and did all the deals etc...The Guru. That told stories and adventures of his. Was loads of fun.