In a candid conversation with HIGH SOCIETY Charles Manson talks about drugs, Presidents Reagan and Nixon and late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson.
Last month, in High Society's exclusive interview with Charles Manson, he discussed the 1969 Hinman/Tate/LaBianca murders, the origin of the circle of friends -- a hippie cult known as the Family -- and Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi's explanation of the crimes' motivations -- a gory tale he called "Helter Skelter." Bugliosi convinced a jury that it was an interpretation of the Beatles' "White Album" that drove Manson and Family members t take the lives of eight people. Charles Manson disputes this, however. "Helter Skelter is a night club in the desert," he said. "And the D.A. took it and made it into a motive for a crime -- and he sold it." Manson also did not like the use of the word Family. "What's the Family?" he chastised. "The D.A. had to have the Family in order to win the conviction.
Part II of this interview focuses directly on three of the most publicized crimes of this century and delves into Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's involvement with Charles Manson and his circle. It was Wilson who introduced Manson to Gregg Jakobson, a talent scout who was married to veteran comedian Lou Costello's daughter, and who, on August 9, 1968 -- exactly one year to the day before the Tate murders -- had arranged a recording session for Manson at a studio in Van Nuys. Jakobson introduced Manson to actress doris Day's son, TV/record producer Terry Melcher. Jakobson tried to persuade Melcher to record Manson, but after listening to his groups unusual music, Melcher decided against doing the session.
As we approached the California Medical Facility in Vacaville where Charles Manson is incarcerated, for the first time since we had secured the interview, I felt apprehension. It's an awesome place, rows of sprawling buildings enclosed behind fences, complete with a watchtower and armed guards. The guns pointed down at us reminded me of a prison scene breakout scene from an old Cagney movie, but we were very aware of their seriousness. There are a lot of violent hostile people housed in the Vacaville compound, and for one brief moment I wondered why I had not listened to my mother when she said: "Do you have to do this crazy thing?"
It took over three months to finalize our negotiations and all the details with the prison officials. Because it is so difficult to communicate with someone in prison, especially on a daily basis by telephone, we relied heavily on the assistance of a close personal friend of Manson's. When we arrived, it was late in the day, and we decided to take advantage of the fleeting light and get some pictures of the facility from the road. No sooner had our photographer begun to when armed guards came running, one of them with his hand on his gun in a practiced precautionary measure. "You're taking pictures!" he yelled. "That's not allowed." The reason for this security is to prevent prison escape routes from being documented on film, but we were granted permission for a few shots.
Next came the search. This is when I found out that the contents of my pocketbook were more significant than I had ever considered. No opened packs of cigarettes, no cash over $20, no credit cards, emery boards or postage stamps, and so on. We had been told in advance that we should not come dressed in denim clothing. The inmates wear denim and it identifies them to guards and prison officials who are constantly on watch.
The wait for Manson to be brought down from housing to the attorney's visiting room, a small, glass enclosed cubicle where our interview was conducted, was a long one which dissipated some of my anxieties. Charles Manson is a notorious legend in American history, and I looked forward to meeting him face to face and looking him straight in the eyes -- despite warnings by well meaning friends who believe Manson is capable of mind-control. It is important, I think, to say that no time during the interview did I see a single trace of the raving lunatic I was led to believe Charles Manson is. He was animated, very talkative, and sometimes rambled from one subject to the next, but was lucid, keen minded and very articulate.
HIGH SOCIETY: Bobby Beausoleil was arrested for the Gary Hinman murder on August 6, 1969. He called you the next day and asked for help. Were the Tate murders which took place on August 9th, then planned to be similar to the Hinman murder, to throw the authorities off the track and convince them Bobby was innocent?
CHARLES MANSON: The final tip on that circle was, get your brother out of jail. How do I do that? What the hell do I care how you do it? Pay him! Pay him what you owe him, or I'll pay him what you owe him. Someone says, "We'll get him a lawyer." And someone else says, If you get him a lawyer, all lawyers do is lie and take the money." So then you go back into your system, and you ask who killed those people? The lawyers, because we can't get no representation.
HS: Then you did send Charles Watson, Susan Atkins and the others to the Tate house?
CM: Wait a minute, man. I didn't say I sent anybody anywhere. This is just a conversation in that circle. Then I said, "I'm leaving this circle, because this is going straight back to the penitentiary, and I'm not going back to jail for none of you assholes." They said, "Oh, brother, don't leave us. We need you. We love you." And I said, "Look, man, don't put tags on my toes. I've been through this before. I'm solo on this outlaw trail, and I'm walking on my own ability. Do what you do. Pay your debts the way you pay them. I had to fight four times for you, put my life on the line. Here, you lock your hands and stand up for yourselves. Don't ask me to stand up for you."
HS: But before Sharon Tate moved into that house, Terry Melcher lived there and --
CM: This interview isn't suppose to be about all this madness. Do you want me to evoke all that bullshit again?
HS: What I'm trying to get at is --
CM: Look here, if we had two or three weeks to sit down and sort it all out to where it is explainable....
HS: I'm trying to ask you about the connection between Hinman, who was a musician, and --
CM: Hinman was not a musician. He never played anything in his life. He played a little piano for his mother when he was about six years old, and he got a job teaching. Bobby was a musician. Hinman taught little kids. You go to a studio musician and ask him what kind of a musician teaches on consignment for a music store. It's a sham, you know.
HS: What I see is Hinman killed, then people at the home where Terry Melcher had lived, and then the LaBianca's, whose former neighbor happened to have been Harold True, and it was at True's house that you and members of the circle had attended LSD parties before True moved to another location. Were the Tate/LaBianca murders errors? Were they to be, instead, Melcher or True -- revenge murders for the music deals that had gone down bad? Didn't you want to be a rock singer?
CM: See, again you got it backwards.
HS: Explain it to me.
CM: As I explained, man. I was raised up playing Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Eddie Gorme. I wanted to be in a Marrakech band at one time. I wanted to be a bullfighter at one time. I wanted to be a racecar driver. I had a million fantasies, you know, but when I grew up and I faced the reality of what is, I felt differently. I'll give you an example. I went to the Troubadour when I got out of jail, and I was standing in line with my guitar, and I had some 1950 songs. A guy took me over and showed me what acid rock was doing. The biggest in my mind was "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White." When I came out and heard The Grateful Dead, I threw my guitar away. Man, music had run off and left me.
HS: You didn't want to become part of the music scene?
CM: I wanted to when I first came out. I checked out the music scene.
HS: But weren't you negotiating with Terry Melcher?
CM: No. That was Gregg Jakobson's idea. Gregg Jakobson was broke. Dennis [Wilson] had fired him. He was good at what he does, and he wanted to produce an album. He wanted to make the money, and had the connection with Terry Melcher. They came to me. I didn't go to them. If I was after a career, wouldn't I be at his house saying, hey, look at what I can do? So what's he coming to me for?
HS: Melcher went to see you at the ranch?
CM: Yeah, he came out there. He sent a truck out there with somebody that was suppose to record, but this guy went out of his mind. the music was too much for him, he couldn't deal with it. He had never heard music like that before, and he went crazy. In the weeds, we play some pretty wild music, music that you ain't heard on the radio. Now, I'll tell you something else. When that murder jumped off, I was in San Diego with a girl named Stephanie. I had picked her up in Big Sur. I had a milk truck I was riding around in. I hadn't even been living at the ranch. I had been on the road. I even had a traffic ticket, but they tore it up and transferred the highway patrolman.
HS: Someone testified that you offered him $5000 and a three-wheeled motorcycle to kill Melcher. He agreed, but then the next day he went home to Texas.
CM: Let me tell you something. Every rumkin, including your Danny DeCarlo, had five auto thefts, three burglaries, four sales and anybody would say anything. The D.A. would knock all the cases off.
HS: Danny DeCarlo, a member of the Straight Satans -- was he your bodyguard?
CM: My bodyguard? [laughter] Danny was half-scared all the time. He walked around with a pistol in his pocket. His wife comes up and says, "Where's my husband?" I say he's out in the barn, and she goes over by the barn and comes back. She says, "You tell my husband to come back downtown." He's up here, and he's telling her, "I'm not going back because I'm staying here with Charlie." He's hiding behind me, you dig.... As soon as she would come, in would come all that negative force. Downer freaks started coming in. I've always drawn the line -- smoke a little grass, a little hash and some acid now and then. Every once in a while, if you got something to do and you want to drop some bennies, that's reasonable. I'm into crime long enough to know where to draw the line and where it's safe.
HS: You don't approve of other drugs?
CM: I don't approve or disapprove of anything. I don't like what goes along with them. I don't like downer freaks because they generally end up causing trouble, and them you have to beat one of them up, and when you beat one of them up, they can't feel it anyway.
HS: There's a different kind of drug usage today than there was in the late sixties. What do you think about today's drugs?
CM: I think everything is good if used properly. You have to go all the way back to the fifties to understand where the problem started. I remember when there was nobody in jail for drugs.... Remember when they put out that movie "Reefer Madness"? All that insane bullshit, and then everybody started putting all their problems off on drugs and blaming the drugs for their behavior. All kinds of things, to where drugs started getting a bad name. Then they started calling marijuana drugs. Marijuana's never been a drug. And then they come up with LSD, so they pushed LSD over on the drug market. LSD isn't drugs. And then peyote. Peyote isn't drugs. Your body is yours. Your mind is yours. And you should be able to do what you want to do with your body and your mind.
HS: Would you tell today's kids to use or not use drugs?
CM: I would say, change the laws and use the motivation of drugs for a positive purpose. Sell it in the drugstore. If you work and earn it then you can have it. I think it is bad when people won't allow other people to be themselves. If I tell you don't pick that up [he places a matchbook on the table], don't pick that up, don't even think of picking that up, I don't want you to, don't you dare --
HS: I have the compulsion to pick it up.
CM: Exactly, and that's exactly what we are doing to the kids.
HS: So you think we should legalize --
CM: Put it in the drugstore man.
HS: The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson -- was he a friend? What was your involvement with him?
CM: Yes. I loved him.
HS: Did he live with the Family?
CM: See, there you go again, drawing lines to the Family. What's the Family? The Family had five people in it. It was a music group. It was called Family Jams.
HS: If you prefer, I'll use the word circle. Was Dennis Wilson a member of your circle?
CM: Member? There were no membership cards. You were just there if you were, and if you weren't, you weren't. People came and went as they wanted to.
HS: Was Dennis there?
CM: Yeah. When the Buffalo Springfield broke up, they left a motorcycle over at Dennis' pad. I wanted the motorcycle. I went over to get the motorcycle, mainly because I liked the Buffalo Springfield. I was there with this Neil something or other, Diamond or Young, and we sat and bullshitted. We played some music and he said, "You play pretty good, why don't you take it up professionally?" I was going to do something with Dennis. I was writing songs for Dennis, and Dennis was taking them and giving them to his brothers' recording company. They were changing the words all around and moving the song to the point that it was not saying what I wanted to say. I said, later! If I can't say what I want to say, then I don't want the money. Fuck the money, man. It's the principle.
HS: What were your thoughts when Dennis Wilson died?
CM: I knew it. I'd seen it. Too many negative trips. Dennis was a lost child. He was thrown up in the public's eye before he really knew what life's all about. When I got him to hitchhike up and down the highway a couple of times, he was thrilled to death, because that was like getting back in touch with reality. He had forgotten what the regular people lived like.
HS: The Beatles --
CM: They killed the music. They killed the music by not standing up with the kids they were influencing. "Why don't we do it in the road?" Do what? Who's going to do it in the road? We'll do it in the road, and we'll do the suffering and the kids come to the nut ward and say, we'll go down to Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real, Penny Lane, cut your fuckin' wrists, write "I love you God" on the wall and all that stuff, and then hang yourself on the fuckin' ventilator.
HS: What was your reaction to John Lennon's assassination?
CM: He shot himself. The guy that shot him said, "I'm John Lennon. I shot myself."
HS: Do you believe in God?
CM: I believe in everybody in this room.
HS: Are you saying that everybody in this room collectively is God?
CM: Yes. And it is a word that we use.
HS: In 1985, where do you think we are headed?
CM: We are going to destruction. I have some predictions for you. One is that crime for money will be on the down. Crime for principle will be on the up. People are waking up to the fact that ecology is important. There'll be a revolution against pollution. We have to clean up our atmosphere. This is not a question as to whether we want to or not -- we have to!
HS: Do you have any comments on our president, Ronald Reagan?
CM: He was one of my heroes when I was a kid. I like him. I used to watch him on "Death Valley Days." Reagan was always one of the cleaner actors, he was one of the more upstanding good guys. He was never a bad guy, but always a straight shooter -- him and Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and all those guys like Gabby Hayes.
HS: What about Reagan as a president?
CM: As a president what he says is right. I have listened to him, and I haven't heard anything he has said that isn't right on. See, one thing that is wrong with this country is everybody uses the presidents to get off on. That's why we elect them so we can dump the shit all on them. Like Nixon, he was one of the best presidents this country ever had.
HS: Maybe you are crazy, Charlie.
CM: No, no. Because he was so sneaky [laughter]. If somebody is going to look out for your interest, would you rather have some rockydoo up there, playing with flowers, or would you rather have some terrible son-of-a-bitch that's just awful? You know what kind of ol' lady I want if I ever get out? I want her to be the meanest one, the most wicked bitch in the whole fuckin' country, because then I can hide behind her ass, see.
HS: Charlie, if you could get out of prison right now, what would you do?
CM: I'd get a girl and get her in the bushes.
HS: After sex, then what?
CM: There's no after. that's what I'd do all the time, and I'd try my damnedest to get rich, then I wouldn't have this happen anymore -- jail and all.