"If you were surprised by the murders, you weren’t connected to what was going on in the canyon”
- Gail Zappa
"David (Briggs) chased Manson off the grounds of his Topanga house. Manson wanted his truck. David told him he’d shoot him if he didn’t get lost. Manson was scared of Briggs
- David Blumberg (Music Arranger)
I just finished a couple of older books in the last few weeks, and they got me to thinking about Manson again. I wasn’t really reading any of them for Manson-related reasons, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. Whenever I get into anything related to music or the Los Angeles area in the late 60’s- Charlie seems to make an appearance sooner or later. One of the books was about the music scene in and around Laurel Canyon. It had all the usual suspects. I read tales of Mama Cass Elliot and her rock and roll networking parties, and stories about Frank Zappa and the legendary “Log Cabin”. Once again, I wondered about the close proximity of the Cass Elliot residence to where two of the victims of TLB were living at the time.
In this first book, I read references made by Gail Zappa and music industry executives (such as Sally Stevens) to seeing Charlie and his friends at parties, and being in and around the scene. I had always believed that if there was any connection between the TLB murders and the music industry, it had to have had its roots in relationships forged during these times and in this place, where some of the people known to have associated with both the family and the victims socialized. I hung on to the little things I read—small pieces I had picked up here and there that told me members of the family had to have come into contact with certain people associated with the victims in Laurel Canyon; and yet, I could never come across any concrete evidence that Charlie had personally met anyone who was intimately involved with any of the major players of the Laurel Canyon musical fraternity.
There were things about Dennis Wilson, but that never seemed to get me anywhere beyond the time they spent having sex orgies at his house. Not sure that there is anything of real concrete value in relation to Dennis that we don’t already know, and it never seemed to directly tie Charlie to any other member of the music scene outside the Melcher/Wilson/Jakobson trilogy. The Wilson connection was essentially some great sex stories, and a nice final tab for Dennis along with a wrecked car or two. But aside from that, nobody else would admit to having anything to do with Charlie if it couldn’t be proven. Dennis himself wouldn’t talk about it after the murders. After all these years, and after reading almost all the TLB-related books, I had become convinced there would never be any direct admissions by any other players of any consequence of any dealings with Manson or his minions. But to steal a line from our favorite Prosecutor- it was otherwise, however, with the second book I read...
All quotes/excerpts below are taken from the biography "Shakey" by Jimmy McDonough.
"Topanga Canyon is a mere 25-minute drive from Hollywood and, in the late 60’s, was a universe apart from the glitz of the Sunset Strip. "It was like I was on speed and everyone else was on downers. People wore capes in Topanga".
- Writer Eve Babitz
Floods and fires brought hippies and rednecks together and earned it the nick-name- Haight Ashbury South: "It just exploded" - "it’s inaccessible except for one road so it became a microcosm of the best of the 60’s".
- Actor Dean Stockwell
"There were theater groups, nudist colonies, and communes, plus a small thriving music scene centered around the Corral. Originally a country western hole-in-the-wall called Mickey’s Hideaway, the Corral was revamped by architect Ral Curran into a hippy nightclub complete with a large painting of a naked couple, entitled Pisces Dancing, hanging over the dance floor. Canned Heat, Taj Mahal, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Joni Mitchell all played at Corral, along with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Biker Gang Satans Slaves called the Corral home, as did R&B great Big Joe Turner, who was booked into the club by beatnik "Topanga" Dick Ludwig, famous for his T-shirt proclaiming "Topanga Dick is not a social disease!" People would walk out into the parking lot with pitchers of beer, there would be drug connections up the street, people were screwing in the bushes, it was nuts. Just nuts."
"In addition to the other Topanga Crazies Young was meeting, at some point in 68 he encountered Charles Manson a few times. ( Curiously, Young and Manson share a November 12 birth date)"
Well, this is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, this must be the Corral where Charlie and Bobby’s band played their "Milky Way" gigs. Who knew they were in such heavy company? Second, I have read references to connections between the Family and Satan’s Slaves. A potential motive in Labianca ties this biker gang to a daughter of one of the victims through a boyfriend. As Charlie was only out for a short time in the big picture, and traveled a bunch as well, there was only so much time for him to have met all of the people he is tied to. We know that when he was at Spahn Ranch he was spending most of his free biker time with the Straight Satans. So if indeed Charlie did meet and form some type of relationship with Satan’s Slaves, was it here- during this period? This is the first thing I have ever read that puts both of them at the same place in the same time.
Also in this book, I came across an interesting character named David Briggs. He was the producer of almost every record Neil Young made with his side-band Crazy Horse. He lived in Topanga, and for a time while recording his earliest solo stuff- Neil Young lived with him at 1174 Old Topanga Road on his Ranch. They shared the place with the white dog you see on the cover of "Everyone Knows This is Nowhere". They hung around with guys like Louie Kelly. His parties were infamous. He was a charter member of the Topanga All-Stars, a loose congregation of 15 or so roughnecks who functioned as "Topanga's answer to the James Gang." The Topanga Allstars also congregated on the property. David Briggs had some unique personality traits. Here is a quote about life at Mr. Brigg's Ranch:
"They treated women like dirt. The whole macho cowboy thing. I have never heard anyone before refer to a woman as "old lady".
- That was said by Nils Lofgren, who was about to join the band. Here are a few more quotes about David Briggs:
"Briggs was evil, an evil individual. He looked like the devil. There was this anti-Semitic thing I used to get from David Briggs. He wasn't too crazy about Jews."
- Larry Kurzon (Agent and Manager)
"You put a hand right in front of David's face and you get a lot of respect out of him immediately. His mouth has written a lot of checks his ass can't cash."
- Kirby Cohee (Childhood friend)
"David was the master of committing women to slavery by putting them in left field. A true master of administering pure pain and gaining true love"
- Poncho Sampedro (Guitar player - Crazy Horse)
"One thing about David Briggs - even when you thought he was completely gone, he was always 100% there. Even when he was 100% stoned, 100% out of his mind, 100% lost on some fucking trip, he was still there. What was Brigg's job? I think he kept the chaos happening.
- Niko Bolas (Engineer)
Remind you of anyone? You wonder if Neil Young had encountered Charlie during this period if Neil and some of Neil's friends maybe had some influence on a struggling musician wannabe? When exactly did the vibes get darker for Charlie? Somewhere between the Magic Mystery Tour on the bus and Helter Skelter at Spahn Ranch, Charlie went from Mr. Lovey-Dovey to Apocalypse Now, and there wasn't a whole bunch of time in between. But, these times were in between. Who and what were the influences that caused this huge turnaround in Manson's priorities? The Beatles did all of that with a couple of records?
As for Neil Young, you can read the 700 plus pages for the rest of his story, but he certainly surrounded himself with some dark people. But I would ask if it was the darkness that Neil saw in Charlie? When exactly did they really meet? Was Charlie even showing dark signs back in Topanga in 68, if they crossed paths at that time? If Neil would admit to meeting Charlie several times, why not be honest about when? Certainly, some of what I read Neil say about the meetings didn't add up. It could be passing of time, selective memory, or who knows what else. If you listen to Neil Young, it is simple and he has figured it all out. Me? I am still not so sure. As always, with anything I read about this case, I walk away with as many questions as answers. But you haven't read all of this for my feelings and thoughts. Here are Neil Young's:
"We just hung out. He played some songs for me, sittin in Will Rogers old house, on Sunset Blvd. Dennis had a house there, and I visited Dennis a couple of times… Charlie was always there. I think I met him two, maybe three, times. Spent the afternoon with him. Dennis and all those girls - Linda Kasabian, Squeaky Fromme. The girls. They only paid attention to Charlie. Dennis and I felt like we weren't there, o.k.? Now that may not seem that unusual, but it is. Because both Dennis and I were known. The girls couldn't see us. He seemed uptight, a little too intense. Frustrated artist. Spent a lot of time in jail. Frustrated songwriter. Singer. Made up songs as he went along. New stuff all the time, no two songs were the same. I remember playing a little guitar while he was making up songs. Strong will, that guy .I told Mo Ostin about him- Warner Brothers. This guy is so unbelievable - he makes songs up as he goes along, and they are all good. Never got any further than that. Never got a demo. Glad he didn't get around to me when he was punishing people for the fact he didn't make it in the music biz. That's what that was all about. Didn't get to be a rock and roll star, so he started wiping people out. Dig that."
Q: What would have happened if he had got signed?
"Well, he would have probably gotten pissed off at them. He was an angry man. But brilliant. Wrong, but stone brilliant. He sounds like Dylan when he talks. He is like one of the main movers and shakers of the time- when you look back at Jesus and all those people. Charlie was like that. But he was kind of…. skewed. You can tell by reading his words. He's real smart. He's very deceptive though. Tricky. Confuses you. Crosby was scared to death of doing Revolution Blues. He didn't think it was safe to do it. Didn't want people to get the message you know- about Rock and Roll stars being worse than lepers. Didn't want that vibe out there."
Q: Are some people just Evil?
"Some people's lives are evil. I think people are receptacles- evil and good are out there. We either pick up on one or the other. I mean Well, if you're talking about intensity, and you're talking about somebody who you don't why they get to ya - look at Charlie."
So it seems like they certainly spent some time together. Not sure Linda was around when they were at Dennis Wilson's and Neil sure had a pretty specific opinion of someone he barely met. But there could be good reasons for those types of things... What is more important to me is that this erases any doubts that Charlie had met, at least, one of the major players in the music scene outside of Dennis Wilson. If Neil young is wrong about where/when, that makes it a bit more interesting to me as well..
Sometime in the couple of years (total) that Manson was free in between jail sentences, he formed some relationships and connections that, in addition to various influences he came under, I believe, led to the motive for the TLB murders. I think the motive had its roots in the scene he first flirted with, and aspired to, before things went South. I always assumed that Laurel Canyon was the most fertile soil for those seeds to have been planted. But, it seems that in my obsession over Laurel Canyon- I may have overlooked another Canyon just a few miles away. Topanga appears to have been another place in the late 60's in California where only no sense seemed to make any sense at all...