Manson Exposed!

Having read easily in excess of a dozen books on Charles Manson over the years, plus viewing at least that number of films and documentaries about his life, not to mention the literally countless scads of magazine and news articles devoted to chronicling he and his followers’ brain-curdling exploits, I was content in the belief I knew everything there was to know about the the 20th century’s answer to Jack the Ripper.

How wrong that was. A book published last year by American journalist Ivor Davis to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the crimes known to the world as the Tate/LaBianca killings has dramatically and emphatically turned that belief on it’s head.

MEMBER OF THE FAMILY (HERE) written by Dianne Lake and published in 2018 was the last book I read from what may properly be referred to as the ‘Manson canon’. That book was such an insightful and gripping read, I made a pact with myself never to read another book on Manson that wasn’t penned by a person who was actually there and a member of Manson’s inner circle known as The Family.

That meant no more books by journalists, hangers-on, Manson-ologists, sideline commentators and self-appointed experts. God knows there’s been way too many of those over the years offering absolutely nothing new on the subject of Charles Manson and his band of devoted followers.

Back in August 1969, Ivor Davis was the U.S. correspondent for The London Times newspaper. He was among the throng of reporters gathered outside 10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles the day after the murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others hoping for any morsel of information shared from the attending police and detectives.

Davis not only wrote the second ever published book – FIVE TO DIE – on the case back in 1970, he also accompanied the Beatles on their 1964, 31 concert American tour (Manson claimed songs from the Beatles WHITE ALBUM foretold of a black/white race war that he would be the architect of).

He also personally interviewed Sharon Tate about her movie career prior to her murder and recorded interviews with John Lennon and Paul McCartney regarding their views on Manson’s twisted interpretation of their song lyrics.

In other words one would be hard-pressed to think of someone more consummately qualified than Davis – now aged 82 – to write the definitive journalist’s account of this unique and so very dark period of American history.

Among his new book’s many revelations are –

  • Actor Steve McQueen once got into a fight with Charles Manson and broke the delusional Svengali’s nose
  • Steve McQueen was en-route to Sharon Tate’s house the night of the murders to have dinner with Sharon and Roman Polanski but got sidetracked when he picked up a female hitchhiker. Instead he spent the night back at her house. For years, that close shave with death was known around Hollywood as McQueen’s GREAT ESCAPE (after the 1963 movie of the same name he starred in)
Steve McQueen pictured with actress Sharon Tate and film director Roman Polanski just days before Sharon’s murder in August 1969.
  • Months before the killings Manson had a brief encounter with Sharon Tate at her Cielo Drive residence
  • Singer Neil Young once gifted Manson a motorcycle
  • A few weeks after the murders, Roman Polanski received a bill from his landlord Rudi Altobelli – from whom he and Sharon were renting the property at 10050 Cielo Drive – for $1500 for damage done to the property on the night of the murders. The expenses included replacement of blood-stained carpets, damage to drapes and repainting of walls that had been inscribed with messages written in the victims’ blood
  • Bruce Lee was briefly considered a suspect in the Tate/LaBianca murders. Lee had coached Sharon Tate in martial arts for her role in the movie THE WRECKING CREW.
  • In 1983, a company called GREY MATTER RECORDS released a 13 track album of Manson music titled CHARLES MANSON: LIVE AT SAN QUENTIN, recorded in and smuggled out of Vacaville Prison
  • When he died in 2017, Manson had 8620 Twitter followers
  • On the day he died – November 17th – the headline of The New York Post ran –

Interestingly, MANSON EXPOSED includes one of the few positive anecdotes I’ve read which paints Manson in what could be construed as a vaguely humanitarian light.

The story is recounted (page 201) that on the second night of murders, August 10, 1969, while driving around Benedict Canyon looking for a house to kill all the occupants of, Manson is said to have looked inside a home and remarked “Let’s drive on – there’s children in that house”.

Not something one might exactly include on a character reference but if your name happened to be Charlie Manson then I imagine anything that could be even remotely mistaken for a charitable comment might be welcome.

The real game-changer however, delivered to me from reading Ivor Davis’s book, concerned Charles Manson’s thwarted music career.

A number of books and sources over the decades have offered the motive for the murder of Sharon Tate and the four other victims at 10050 Cielo Drive on the night of August 9, 1969 as being a mistaken, tragically misplaced revenge killing ordered by Manson whose real intended victim had been record producer Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day).

Through a series of by now very well-documented events, Terry Melcher expressed interest in recording a demo session with Charlie in his recording studio. Manson rashly and idiotically interpreted this as a handshake agreement to the pre-signing of a record contract.

When the imagined record contract did not eventuate, Manson regarded it as an act of treachery and double-cross on the part of Melcher and swore vengeance. Terry Melcher was at one time the tenant of 10050 Cielo Drive but had moved out several weeks before Manson’s band of demented followers struck.

What the 2019 book MANSON EXPOSED reveals is that Manson had numerous chances to achieve his dreams of singer/songwriter success but due in no small part to his own in-efforts and lack of follow-up, ended up bitter, disillusioned and empty-handed.

Davis recounts the time Manson recorded a three hour demo session with Gary Stromberg, a producer at Universal Records. Stromberg wanted Charlie to come back and do some more but Manson never showed up.

About a year later, Charlie gained the interest of another music producer but after the recording he again failed to show for the follow up. Phil Kaufman, a music industry insider, is quoted as saying “We tried to sell Charlie’s music a long time ago but we never could get him to sit down and do it.” (page 37).

Whether it was due to Manson’s nomadic, drug-fueled lifestyle, or his need to keep on the run from authorities or some other reason, accounts such as these go against the previously unchallenged picture of down-trodden Charlie who couldn’t get an even break from a music industry blind to his talent.

I reckon a decent enough fiction writer could have a rolling good time with the possibilities inherent in an alternate history version of the Manson narrative. What if fate had deemed that Charlie’s musical career did take off? And take off spectacularly?

Speaking of which…

A writing site called QUERY LETTER.COM is running a competition asking entrants to write a back cover blurb of 100 words or less for a made-up, yet-to-be-written book.

I thought I’d try my hand and came up with this –

California. 1972.  Former hippie cult leader Charles Manson is now a successful recording artist on his way to becoming the next Bob Dylan. The brutal killings forever associated with his name are yet to take place. Instead, the sort of success Charlie always dreamed of finally seems within reach.

Industry executive Roman Reyes is charged with managing the eccentric superstar on the rise but when he promises more than he can deliver events take on an unexpected, sinister turn. Will Charlie revert to old ways and seek vengeance or is this a messiah reborn? Find out in MANSON SPIN CITY.

Coming up with the name of the actual book proved to be challenging. I boiled it down to this list of ten titles, then chose one –

Unfinished Notes

Front Man Charlie

Manson 2.0

Back Catalog

Manson Set List

The Sound & The Fury

Manson Spin City

Charlie Hasn’t Left Yet

The Manson Also Rises

Brave New Charlie

There’s $500 up for grabs for the winner. Entrants have until September 15 to submit. Go HERE if you’ve got a brilliant idea.

Ps. Your bonus view this week is an interview with Charles Manson’s son, Michael Brunner. He comes across as someone who has lead a thoughtful life and doesn’t appear to be a chip off the ‘ol block.

Aussie Character seen from afar

It was time.

After nearly four years of writing adventures and quirk-filled penmanship on Scenic Writer’s Shack, it was finally time to offer some special prime roast on the platter.

I speak of course of a guest post.

Who better to write that post than my Los Angeles-based blogging compatriot, author Stacey Bryan Stacey has never ventured to Australia so I thought it might be interesting to ask her views from afar of the land Down Under.

Here’s what she wrote –

When I received an unexpected invitation from the world-famous Scenic Writer’s Shack to share some perceptions about Australia from an American’s point of view, the first thing I immediately thought was, “Now, THAT’S a knife.”

This thought didn’t come guilt-free, though. It stank of sludgy shame and hot, putrid regret. And unfortunately (or not; I’m not sure anymore) it wasn’t a solo thought.  A string of similar notions clamored inside me, so if I felt bad or guilty about “Crocodile Dundee”,  more of the same would follow for  “Razorback,” “Wolf Creek”, “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” “A Dingo Took My Baby” movie, and of course… ”Mad Max.”

We can never forget about “Mad Max.” And if we did, we would be very wrong to do so.

Why, you ask, does ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’ even have to come into play? If I’ve never met anyone from Australia and have never been there myself, isn’t pop culture the next best way, besides the news and documentaries (and, okay, yeah, books), to learn about such a distant and unfamiliar country? And since nobody’s gonna (snore) watch a documentary or (gag) read a book, then we must depend on pop culture for our knowledge, right?

Yet guilty feelings persisted as I realized that while I knew all about Paul Hogan’s big knife and Mel Gibson’s fat tank of gas and John Jarratt’s head on a stick, I knew nothing about the black box flight recorder, the development of WiFi, and the electric drill (information recently revealed to me by a little birdie) and all of which are just a few of the amazing inventions that have come out of Australia that everyone in the world uses every day!

And I definitely did NOT think of the genesis of feature-length films when I thought of Australia. I live in L.A., the home of Hollywood, for god’s sake. We took everyone out of silent movies into sound. We discovered magic hour. We invented the dolly zoom and the Steadicam.  

Yet I was floored to discover that what’s believed to be the world’s first feature-length movie, “The Story of the Kelly Gang” was shot in and around Melbourne in 1906! Wow! In America, W.D. Griffith’s  three-hour epic, “Birth of a Nation,” the longest movie made up to that point, came out almost a decade later in 1915, so the land Down Under totally had us beat!

So I’ll just give in and say that, in honor of movies, between giant man-eating boars, dingoes consuming infants  (“A Cry in the Dark”; I finally looked the title up), fiendish serial killers absconding with clueless tourists in the outback, and roving maniacs all violently vying for “guzzolene”… how inviting did Australia seem to me? Not very!

And the sharks. Let’s not forget about the sharks. They’re probably hyped up by the news so it only seems like every beach on the continent is swarming with those toothy leftovers from dinosaur days, but I’ll take my chances with heat stroke. I don’t need to swim in the ocean.  I’d rather keel over onto my face from severe dehydration in the middle of snapping shots of the Opera House than to be torn savagely limb from limb while, cherry on top, also simultaneously drowning.

On the other hand, swerving abruptly in another direction entirely, I’ve always been drawn to the history and stories of the indigenous population. I couldn’t get too judgey over what I perceived as Australia’s dark past involving  the original inhabitants, because the United States was obviously one of the biggest perpetrators of negatively-consequenced colonization. I think I just made that term up.  I always knew that we had that in common: more often than not playing the villainous role in the epic story of our countries’ recent pasts.  

I’m not sure where Australia stands today in trying to heal those wounds, but I can tell you for sure what the U.S. is doing for our Native American population, and that’s basically just shooting them the bird, whether literally or symbolically. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s giving someone the middle finger. In case you don’t know what the middle finger is, it’s an uncouth gesture that more or less means “I don’t care about you, and if you walked off a cliff right now, it wouldn’t impact my day in the slightest. I’d still get a Frappuccino at Starbucks and would probably meet up with friends later for drinks and tapas.”

But I loved the concept of Dreamtime and Dreaming and walkabouts, and I loved the word digeridoo and their unique, haunting sound, and when Stephen Hawking started using machines to talk and ended up sounding almost exactly like a digeridoo, even that eerie fact never tainted them for me. There seemed to me an alluring metaphysical sheen shining on and around all things and ideas of this nature, making Australia appear magical in a sense, imbued as it was, most especially through its original inhabitants, with profound elemental wisdom and deep-seated cosmic obeisance.  

Ha! I guess it’s not ALL about pop culture after all. Like Men at Work and vegemite sandwiches. (Almost forgot to throw that in).  I did glean a few real-life facts over the years. What, by the way, IS a vegemite sandwich? Without looking it up, I’m gonna guess it’s similar to Spam. What is Spam? you ask.  A precooked canned meat that they SAY is pork…but would you be willing to bet your life on that? I wouldn’t.

Note: The ‘Vegemite sandwich’ lyric comes in at the 1 minute 15 second mark.

Ultimately, I’ve decided that in my next life I wanna come back as a kangaroo. I can’t wait to be a joey, hanging out in Mom’s front pocket, warm and safe. Far away from the beach and all those swimming murder machines.

I’d be a millennial version of a Joey, though. I wouldn’t move out after a year or less—no way. I’d still be living there, nice and safe, in Mom’s pouch, until at least my late 20s. Possibly early 30s. ‘Cause kangaroos rock, and what epitomizes Australia more than a kangaroo? Nothing. Nothing epitomizes it more.

Well, except Dreamtime and digeridoos and the great sweeping expanses of the mysterious Outback. And, of course, another shrimp on the barbie. (I couldn’t resist) I shouldn’t say that, though, ‘cause I found out that Australians hate that expression and actually, shrimp are called prawns.

So scratch that last one. Just tuck me into Mom’s pouch and leave me be. What a great way to start life out. Apart from being invited to appear in the illustrious Scenic Writer’s Shack, I really can’t think of anything better.

A heart-stopping sign-off to savour if ever there was one! Thank you so much for penning your deliciously-worded thoughts Stacey. In gratitude I bestow upon you honorary Australian citizenship for the length of time this post features on Scenic Writer’s Shack. You deserve much more. And speaking of more, if you’d like to read more of Stacey’s writing you can HERE and HERE.