From the day I arrived until the day I left the Manson Family there were always girls working on Charlie's ceremonial vest—a vest embroidered by hand in every imaginable color, a vest begun the day the Family was started by Charlie's first female follower, Mary Brunner. During the Summer of Love it was embroidered with flowers, which flowed across the shoulders on vines; then little scenes were added depicting the Family's odyssey across the country, and, finally, their arrival at Spahn's. There were scenes of making love, riding horses, smoking dope, dancing, making music, going to the desert. In time the vest became a vibrant, living chronicle of events within the Family, all the way through the period of Helter-Skelter, the murders and the trials. Over a two-year span more than fifteen girls worked on the vest continually—sometimes twenty-four hours at a stretch. It looked like a medieval tapestry depicting a legend or a myth. During the trials, after the girls cut their hair, great locks of it were sewn into the fabric. From time to time Charlie (and only Charlie) would wear the vest during music or therapy sessions, only to remove it afterward so that more work could be done on it. Or he would let me as if he were granting knighthood. It was never finished, and to this day I don't know what became of it.
One morning during my second week at Spahn's, I got up around ten and headed down toward the stables. After several days of relative indolence, I felt the need for physical exercise. I missed the strenuous workouts I'd enjoyed at Big
Still, after nearly ten days at the ranch, I was getting on top of the scene. I'd made love to nearly all of the girls and felt I was pretty much accepted by everyone. I knew as much when Charlie reiterated how glad he was that I'd decided to stick around. I still had some weighty hang-ups to deal with, but at this point, at least compared to the other gys in the Family, I was clearly ahead of the game.
I picked up a rock and fired it at the corral fence. It ricocheted off, and Tommy Thomas, Randy's black-and-white bulldog, came yipping out to greet me. I gave him a pat, then trotted up the hill toward George's house, deciding to get the keys to his pickup so I could take a load of horseshit from the stables and dump it. The screen door was ajar when I banged on it, and a little bell affixed to the inside doorknob clinked. I could smell sausage and hot coffee. I knew Squeaky was inside making George's breakfast.
"Come on in," I heard George call out. "I'm blind as a bat, ya know, can't see a thing."
We exchanged amenities and Squeaky asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee, so I sat beside George at the table while Squeaky brought another cup.
Squeaky (Lynn Fromme) was attractive in a bird-like, ethereal way. She had light red hair, an abundance of freckles, a lithe agile body, and was perhaps more devoted to Charlie than any woman in the Family. Like most of the girls, she had grown up in the
I stirred my coffee and glanced around the room. George's house was always a trip: chock full of saddles, bridles, and tack-room gear. It looked more like a bunkhouse than a ranch owner's living quarters. The house was old and weathered, the paint peeling off the walls in places, the floors strewn with faded throw rugs. The living room was good-sized, fronting directly onto the kitchen. There were also a bathroom, two bedrooms, and a storeroom off the back porch. Furniture was sparse: a couple of wooden rocking chairs, two straight-back antique chairs pulled up to the dining room table, and a dirty old couch.
There were a lot of stories about George Spahn: one was that he had more than ten children and that each of them was named after a favorite horse. He could always remember the horses' names, but never the names of his kids; it was also said that George could tell the quality of a horse just by feeling its muscle tone. I remember days when new horses would be brought to the ranch and George would be led out to the corral by
George rocked back and forth in his chair, swilling his coffee, a reflexive grin playing across his lips. He was clean-shaven and wore baggy, old-timer-style pants with suspenders, a white shirt, and vest. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. At his side, resting against his rocker, was his cane.
I told him I wanted to borrow his pickup to dump a load of horseshit down the canyon. Without hesitating, he reached into his vest pocket and pulled out the keys.
"Jes' drive it careful, ya hear?"
Squeaky took the keys and handed them to me, winking. She'd spent hours with George. Whenever anyone would ask her how George was in bed, she'd just grin her benign, space-cookie grin and spout back some of Charlie's rap: "George is a beautiful person…I love George."
I finished the coffee and took off at a trot toward the corral. The mustard weed on the hillside was a bright yellow in the morning light. I felt refreshed. My surroundings already seemed comfortable and familiar; I liked the ranch, its isolation, all its characters. I liked the open air and the sloping mountains. I was beginning to feel more and more that I'd made a good decision. As I entered the stables, I heard the guttural sounds of grunt labor; someone was shoveling shit out of the stalls. I saw it come flying out in great heaps at the end of the corridor. It was Brooks Posten. No member of the Family had more discontent duty than Brooks. No one shoveled more shit. "Tons of it," he used to say. "Fucking tons of it."
I peeked into the stall. "What's happening, Brooks?"
He looked up, lifting a shovelful, and grinned. "Horseshit's happening." I stood aside while he tossed it into the pile at my feet.
"I got George's pickup, if you want to take a load up the canyon and dump it."
"I'll grab a shovel and back the truck in."
Brooks was from
I drove the truck and we began shoveling out the stalls. While we worked I asked Brooks what he'd done before coming to Spahn's. He told me about living in
"Yeah, Dean was pretty far-out. He's the one who first turned me on to LSD and told me about Charlie. Said Charlie was the most tuned-in dude he'd met. Old Dean was right on…I couldn't believe it either, man, 'cause Charlie had made it with Dean's virgin daughter, Ruth Ann, down on the beach in Mendocino. Dean was pissed plenty at first, said he'd kill Charlie…but shit, after Charlie turned his love on Dean, dean just said, 'Far-out!'"
I leaned my shovel up against the truck and sat down, wiping the sweat from my face with my sleeve. Flies swarmed around us like hornets; their incessant drone permeated the air. Brooks sat beside me, hawking a glob of spittle against the side of the stall as he did so.
"Yeah, you should have seen it, Paul, when I went with Dean over to Dennis' a couple of weeks ago. Dean hadn't seen Charlie in a while…I didn't even know Charlie then really. But he walks into Dennis's house and sees Dean…goes right over, kneels down, and kisses Dean's feet. Blew my mind! A few days later, I was stoned on acid and Charlie was sitting in Dennis's living room tuning his guitar. The next thing I know Dean crawls up to Charlie on his hands and knees like a puppy dog and just looks up at him. Charlie says, 'Are you ready to die this instant?' Dean says, 'Yes, I am.' Then Charlie says, 'You can live forever, brother.' Blew me away, man."
Listening to Brooks, I realized how deeply dependent he was on Charlie. But, at the time, it seemed right, that the power Charlie had was good.
Later, Brooks told me that his father had died while he was in high school and that he had felt somehow responsible—guilty for not having shown his father more love. "In a way, I think I helped kill him." After he had told me this, I began to understand why Charlie's death rap got so heavy for Brooks. Unconsciously, he took the death command almost literally. There was a part of him that thought he should die, that he deserved to die. That summer Brooks got totally spaced-out; not only could he not function in the sex scenes; at times, he was rendered completely catatonic. One day, a month or more after I'd been at Spahn's, I found Brooks lying outside on an old couch, motionless, with his head hanging over the edge, his limbs rigid. There were flies buzzing all around his head, and I could smell where he'd shit his pants. At first I thought he was dead. Then I felt his pulse and began shaking him. Finally I got him to his feet and took him into the house to clean him up. It scared me to see a guy that strung-out. But I never attributed any of it to Charlie. To me, it was just brooks going through his changes. If anyone could help Brooks, I figured it was Charlie.
Brooks and I worked until sundown, then went back to the saloon to eat dinner. Charlie seemed agitated during the meal, and afterward kept pacing around the saloon.
"I don't like the part I'm playing," he declared. Without looking at anyone he strode to the mirror behind the bar and jerked off his cowboy hat. "Hey, Mary, get me another hat." While Mary went into the room behind the bar to get the hat, Charlie untied the red bandanna from his neck and tied it around his head, then studied himself in the mirror. "Hey," he said to himself, "if you don't like the part you're playing, change it…it's a magical mystery tour…we can change the mask whenver we want."
Mary handed him the weathered, misshapen Stetson. He tried it on. "What's wrong with the part I'm playing?" he asked himself. "It's a drag, man," he answered. "George is always bitchin', the cowboys got their redneck heads up their ass, that motherfucker Shorty is badmouthing us…no one can make the scene here…I think I'll just die and start over." With that Charlie clutched at his chest and dropped to the floor as though struck dead. The he got up grinning, hopped up on the bar, and began to play his guitar and make up verses, one leading into the next:
Hey, Snake and Brenda pushin' all the time,
Trying to be like Sadie, getting' out of line…
And Gypsy too…
Paul and Snake got a cozy thing going…
Looks real good but its belly-button's showin'…
Leave your thoughts…don't control your mind
Leave yourself and just be
Leave yourself far behind you…
Now, is where you should be…
The trouble with you all is ya can't get free
Got a wireless phone to Mama…won't let you be
Ya seem to be fine, but you're always on the line
…the party line…
'Cause you really don't wanna know how…to
Come to "Now"
Oh I had a little monkey and I took him to the
And I fed him on gingerbread
Along came a choo-choo and knocked my monkey
Now my little monkey is dead…
Charlie was always rapping about "making love" and "death." Those words went together, flowed effusively through all his songs and raps. In time, "death" and "making love" became almost synonymous. "It's through death (ego death) that we come to love." Only later would I realize the extent to which those notions applied when I learned that Sadie had had an orgasm while committing murder. Yet, at the time, what I saw in Charlie's program was positive. I understood that if I were to become tuned in to myself, a good bit of my ego would have to die. Like everyone else, I was going through my changes, trying to become one with my love. And Charlie was love, I was in some sense, like everyone else, becoming Charlie. Not infrequently during some heavy acid trip someone would shout, "But who am I?...I don't know who to be." Charlie would just tell them not to worry about it: "Be whoever or whatever you want to be. If you want to be someone, why not be me?"
One evening during the same period, Charlie and I took a hike up to the outlaw shacks before dinner and sat on the porch. He told me how he envisioned the Family once people got the shit and the ego mucked out of them, once they got "clear."
"It's like when people are really tuned in to each other, they don't have to think or speak. They just know. One thought becomes all thought…they move together, they feel together, they breather together like one organism. In a way, they become more like animals—more instinctive. They don't worry about the shit in their heads…they're clear…they just react and feel. Then, whatever they do is right-on: making love, making music, just getting into the flow of the natural scene. That's what I see happening, man…dig? That's the direction we're moving in…that's the direction we have to move in in this life, 'cause sooner or later the shit is going to come down."
Later that night we drove into
Another gift came to Charlie just two days later: a seductively packaged gift by the name of Ruth Ann Morehouse—none other than Dean Morehouse's "virgin" daughter Brooks had told me about earlier. Ruth Ann (who became known in the Family as Ouisch) was sixteen, small, elegant, and sensual, with black hair and a lustrous, curvy body. She was a delicious-looking girl and Charlie kept her close to him during the first few weeks of her stay at Spahn's. That was generally the procedure when a new girl arrived: Charlie would indoctrinate her with his concentrated presence on all levels, then turn her loose to the fold.
The day she arrived was the same day Bobby Beausoleil brought another new girl to the Family, Catherine Share, better known as Gypsy—dark-skinned, seductive, and built like a brood mare. Charlie's trip was particularly heavy after dinner that night. We had all smoked good grass and were playing music. He was singing a song he had written that particularly appealed to the women in the Family. Since there were two new members of the fair sex present, he really got into it:
There's a time just for livin'; time keeps on flyin'
You think you're lovin' baby; all you're doin' is
Can you feel? Ask yourself: are your feelin's real?
Look at your game, girl: go on. Look at your
Just to say you love is not enough, if'n you can't
You can tell all those lies, baby, but you're only foolin' you.
Can you feel? Ask yourself: are those feelin's real
Look at your game, girl: go on. Look at your
If ya can't feel, and the feelin's ain't real
Then ya better stop tryin' or you're gonna play
That's the game. Oh, that's the game.
The sad, sad game: the mad, mad game.
While Charlie sang, the girls sat around him, the looks on their faces almost reverent. Ouisch sat on his left, her eyes wide, her mouth slightly ajar. She reminded me of a teenager watching Elvis Presley in his prime. All eyes, in fact, were riveted to Charlie; every motion in the room was prompted by the movement of his body as he sang, leaning forward, then backward, his hair loose about his shoulders.
As a singer, Charlie was always magnetic. All his vibrance and vitality were expressed through his music. Without question, the Manson Family was programmed most effectively through music. Had the general public been exposed to Charlie's music, they might as well have understood, to some extent, the intensity of his presence. Music transcends the spoken word—explodes it into color and feeling; makes it live; gives it soul. All one need do is witness a good rock concert: people gyrating; submitting like participants in some voodoo hex. Even the most sedate and dignified have been known to flip out, leap onto stage in a frothing frenzy because of music. Music—cutting through all the barriers and blocks; liberating passion.
Only later would I become aware of just how powerful a force it was; how easily ideas are programmed into the subconscious by way of music—the very core of commercial advertising; little jingles that lead you to a box of corn flakes without realizing it; musical jingles repeated over and over again nightly: "Submission is a gift…cease to exist."
Later that night Charlie sang another song he had written: "Old Ego is a Too Much Thing." He sang it several times in a raspy Okie style. Soon everyone was singing along, belting out the refrain with real fervor: "Old ego is a too much thaang…old ego is a too much thaang…" I guess the response inspired Charlie, because after the song he began to rap in earnest about egos being programmed into us by society. I was turned on that night by Ouisch and watched her as she sat beside Charlie gawking up at him as he spoke:
"The idea is to kill off the programs society has stuck us with…to deprogram ourselves…to get rid of the past shit…to submit to the love and come to Now. That's why we sing and make love together and see our fears for what they are…steps to a higher consciousness. It's like the man on the cross, dig. He just loved. He just submitted to his love and all his body carried was love; there were no programs inside him. He was clear, just a hole in the infinite that love poured out of."
Charlie would often refer to himself as a "hole in the infinite"; the implications were obvious, and I remembered Snake's comment the first day I came to Spahn's: "Charlie is Jesus Christ." It was all the more intriguing and compelling because Charlie was never Christ-like in any traditional classical sense—turn the other cheek, stuff like that. Maybe that made it easier to buy; it seemed more real, more plausible. And we never considered ourselves hippies in that regard either. Charlie pointed out that while the ideas of the hippies were okay, they didn't have the balls or the soul to do anything for society; they hadn't been through their changes; they hadn't seen the truth. Brown rice, flowers, and beatific smiles weren't enough. He said the hippie had his chance at Haight Ashbury and blew it. I remember at one point he suggested we call ourselves "slippies"—like slippery; just slipping beneath the awareness of people. He told how in prison he just played beneath the awareness of the guards and the prison officials.
"Like I just played it dumb, man…like an idiot boy, you know? And they just left me alone to do my trip, to play my music. It’s like inside we have all we need; inside ourselves we have the love, and if we listen to the love and don't fall for the hype, we can get by and see the beauty. It's not that hard really, if you just open your eyes to it." He took Ouisch's hand and squeezed it. "I see it," he said looking at Ouisch. "I see the young love coming and getting free of all the programs."
He stood up and stretched, then rubbed his throat. Moments later, Squeaky got up and fetched him a glass of soda water. He took a sip and handed back the glass. Then he walked across the saloon in front of us. He was wearing buckskin pants and sandals; a piece of leather was tied around his neck, and a bowie knife was strapped to his waist in a leather sheath. He'd recently cut his beard. His eyes were clear. Everyone was really into his rap:
"It's like the man, dig…always programming us all the time…like society…programming us with all the garbage on TV: to wear certain clothes and eat certain foods, dig…to buy and produce all the rot that pollutes the earth…Like when I was in the Southwest, you know, I see man destroying things as fast as he can. I see man shooting the animals. I see these big fat dudes coming around with guns, shooting lizards and birds and anything they can. Just killing and killing. Hey, they're all programmed to kill…It's like the cop in
"You see it all the time in the war…You see eighteen year old kids…and all the young love…programmed to be marines…to hate gooks or Japs and to kill them with a bayonet in the name of democracy or the flag or whatever…but they make it out to be heroic, like an all-American dude, a hero, dig…just killing.
"What I see in the animals…sometimes here on the ranch…you know…what I see is the animals are smarter than the people. In jail I hardly ever saw animals around. But then I got out and see the coyotes and dogs and snakes, rabbits and cats and mules and the horses. And I see the animals and watch them. And that's were the love is. Most of the love is in the animals and in the people, man. And that's were my love is. I don't really have a philosophy. My philosophy is: don't think. You know, just don’t think. If you think, you are divided in your mind. You know, one and one is one two parts. Like I don't have any thought in my mind hardly at all – It's all love."
"Intense" is the word that best described Charlie during these raps. He seemed totally energized and focused. He exuded an electric, almost seething passion. His words were infused with feeling, as though they had been issued from a bubbling caldron of soul. When he spoke of love you felt warmth to your core. When he sang, his words were even more compelling. Being so small physically and so large physically made it even more dramatic. There was a beauty in his face, a bold, confident directness. There was also subtlety and cunning – a lupine glint in his eyes – the look of the wolf, the jackal; the soul of the scorpion. I would later meet an old desert rat in the
Charlie smoother his hair back from his face, looked around the room, then sat down beside Ouisch, taking her hand. Squeaky handed him the soda water and he took a drink. I was sitting beside Stephanie and Snake. There were at least twenty people in the circle, including
Before long I was lying on my back with Snake on my left. I had my hand on her thigh while Stephanie lay on my right with one of her legs draped over mine. Stephanie Rowe was another girl I grew very fond of. She was quick-witted and capable, and at times would engage in friendly verbal fencing matches with Charlie. She had dark strong features and thick brown hair. A slight tendency to corpulence inhibited her on occasion, but for the most part she was very much on top of the scene. She'd been with Charlie since the
Since there were always fewer men, the women prepared each other by initiating foreplay – readying themselves for the men, who would subsequently move from girl to girl while trying to maintain the rhythm of the group. I was aware of the breathing in the room. It sounded like an organism, as if I was connected respiratorially to everyone. The fire was still crackling, spewing up smoke through the flue. The back windows were open so that fresh air circulated like some invisible external aphrodisiac moving in a rhythm with the breathing and the languorous sounds of the lovemakers.
I don't know if the whole Family was in tune with the little scene that five or six of us had going, but I do know that at no previous time had I experienced such a free, natural flow of movement. I had complete control as I moved from one girl to the next. It seemed as if I was penetrating all of them simultaneously and that we were all in tune – an alchemy of human juices mingling and swirling in orifices belonging to us all. There was no hesitation, no holding back. It was as if the "Love" of the Family on a sexual-spiritual lever had stood up to orchestrate its own rhythm. Everyone disappeared into the vortex of sound and sensation. What Charlie had said was true: there was no thinking, no leaders, no rules, no individuality. Where was Charlie? We were all Charlie. And there was no Charlie. Perhaps Charlie was, that night, a hole in the infinite.
For me, the climax was not shattering or wildly passionate – more, it was like a quiet, gradual release, a single wave which had broken far out at sea to flow shoreward. The sounds of people coming were like the sounds of waves being dissipated on the shore, spectacular, the infinite, whispered sounds of fulfillment.
No one spoke afterward. I remember people clinging to each other without moving – bodies relaxed and interlocke; the sounds of quiet breathing. I remember Charlie muttering something aloud, but what he said was muffled and remote, as though it had been uttered from a great distance. Snake laid her head on my chest. I had my arm around Stephanie and was aware of other bodies which had gravitated to me and were now draped across mine; aware of hands resting on my flesh like warm hearts, beating.
Much later that night, Charlie came over with a new girl named Darcy. I was aware of them lying beside me. Almost everyone else was sleeping – a sea of bodies sprawling across the saloon floor. It was dark except for a candle burning on the windowsill that fronted the boardwalk. Charlie asked her if she felt the cosmic vibes that night. She said yes. The he said sex was just an expression of love: "If you love, you just love…physical and spiritual love are one love." Then he told her to give him some head. When she went down on him he stopped her. "Hey, no, no, not like that…Paul can do better than that. Hey, Paul…show this girl how to give head, will ya." Charlie was testing me, and I knew it. The thought repulsed me as I looked at him and then at the girl. But I was starting to believe in Charlie. I wanted to please him so I showed her.
"Freedom," Charlie said later, "is a turn-on to cosmic law, and in cosmic law there is no gender, it's just love."
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD