Friday, February 20, 2015

Goodbye Helter Skelter: Chapters three through five

Welcome back to Patty's ongoing book report on George Stimson's very thoughtful Goodbye Helter Skelter. Today's installment covers the next ninety pages or so for your reading enjoyment. BTW, have you ordered your copy yet? If not, then get on it!

Chapter three: "On Sources, Methodology and Terminology"
George explains why he does not use Helter Skelter as source material (one sided and self aggrandizing), The Family (entertaining but irrelevant), or Manson in His Own Words (in Emmons' own words). He claims that the Indiana School for Boys' gang rape recorded in Emmons is completely fabricated, and that Charlie himself refers to the entire book as "bullshit." He also discounts Taming the Beast because the quotes attributed to Manson were not tape recorded or written down verbatim, they were paraphrased by the author.

Rather, George relies on taped interviews and conversations, letters, trial transcripts, and the websites of people who were involved like Tex's and Bobby's. He relies on speakers talking about themselves only, and refuses to use anonymous sources.

Here is where things get a little shaky. George is occasionally willing to "present possible motivations" for people when he feels that they are lying. For instance, he claims that when Susan Atkins told her cellmates that she tasted her victims' blood, it is reasonable to assume that she is lying because she was trying to scare them in order to protect herself. While this may seem reasonable, it seems to Patty that then he is venturing into territory where he should not be if he is attempting to be more objective than his predecessors. We shall see how this plays out as the book goes along.

Further complicating the methodology is the fact that since parole boards don't retry cases and must accept as true the courts findings, those hoping to be paroled must admit to guilt and could also therefore not be telling the whole truth. This might not be entirely intentional on the part of the participants. George quotes Pat Krenwinkel here when she said in 1993 that "sometimes I'm not sure who said what and what really happened because there is (sic) so many accounts from everyone."

Before the chapter ends, George vouches for Charles Manson's honesty when he says that he has never known him to lie, but only to be evasive. He claims that in "even Bugliosi has acknowledged Manson's honesty."

At the end of the chapter, Patty was left with an uneasy feeling that she hopes will dissipate some as the book progresses.  After all, George has asks us that if we are to read the book, we read the entire thing, hear him out fully.  Patty intends to do just that.

Chapter four: "The Mood of the Time"
This chapter is very densely packed with many details, and is nearly impossible to summarize. In fact, George has already summarized what was a very crazy and tumultuous few years into just a few pages which, if you are big on US History, pop culture, movies and/or music you will want to read very carefully for book, movie and album recommendations just as Patty did.

Patty is afraid to try and summarize what George wrote at all because of this passage near the middle of the chapter: "Although most written works...on the Manson case touch briefly on the mood of the time, it is really not enough to vaguely refer to "Flower Power" or the "Summer of Love" to fully explain the spirit of the late 1960's and early 1970's. That spirit cannot be conveyed into a soundbyte, for it was in fact derived from an accumulation of experiences and events that took place and affected people's minds...on a daily basis for years." Any attempt by Patty to boil down George's eloquent chapter into a paragraph or two would be doing just this: creating a soundbyte. Suffice it to say that Patty has received her marching orders to read up on topics that she still knows very little about like Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers, the philosophy of Jerry Rubin, movies like Zabriskie Point and Alice's Restaurant, the "Is God Dead?" Time Magazine cover, the shooting of James Meredith and so on.

Chapter Five: "Spring 1967 to Summer, 1969"

This chapter is a chronology of the events leading up to the murders that is meant to illustrate the group dynamics and bonding between the members of Charlie's brigade. Much of it you are already familiar with but let's hit the highlights, shall we?

Shortly after his release from prison on March 21, 1967 Charlie traveled to the Bay are where he met Mary Brunner. They stayed only a few months before leaving for LA where they met Lynette Fromme in Venice Beach. The three traveled through Northern California through the spring and summer of that year, staying briefly at 636 Cole Street in the Haight Ashbury. In July, Charlie met Dean Moorheouse while hitchhiking, and the four were invited to stay with him for a time. Charlie was gifted a piano by a friend of Dean's which he sold in order to buy a VW camper van. By September, the four were in LA again, where they met Patricia Krenwinkel in Manhattan Beach. Back in San Francisco, they traded the camper van for a black bus with a stove, sink and water tank on top (what Little Paul likened to the bus' "hat") and added Susan Atkins to their group.

In November 1967, Charlie contacted producer Gary Stromberg whom he met through a prison contact (Phil Kaufman), and worked on an ill-fated movie about a black Jesus. He also recorded some music at Universal which was never released. While in LA they stayed at the Spiral Staircase where they met Bobby Beausoleil, Gary Hinman, Diane Lake, Nancy Pittman and Dede Lansbury. There were two abandoned houses they stayed in, Horsheshoe Lane (where Susan was given the nickname Sadie Mae Glutz during a fake ID brainstorming session) and Summit Drive where they met Bruce Davis, Little Paul, and Sandra Good (who had flown down from the Bay area in a private plane with a rich artist friend to sell paintings and go surfing).

Pooh Bear was born at Summit Drive on April 5, 1968 which concreted the group, George Stimson asserts, from a group of loose knit friends into more of a "family." By May, they were forced to move out because of pressure from local law enforcement. Sadie then heard about Spahn Ranch from someone who picked her up while hitchhiking. The group asked George Spahn if they could stay, and he agreed. Here is where the group picked up Steve Grogan (Clem), TJ Walleman and Catherine Share.

Around this time Dennis Wilson invited the group to stay with him after picking up Pat and Ella Jo Bailey while hitchhiking. Here, they met Brooks Poston and Tex Watson, who had picked up Dennis while hitchhiking home from Sunset Boulevard (hitchhiking seems to be a common theme through all of the meetings, doesn't it?). Dean Moorehouse was on the scene again when Mary, Susan and Pat moved north to where the famed Witches of Mendocino incident happened. Manson asked Dennis to bail the girls out but he demurred. Charlie made new Hollywood contacts through Dennis, namely Greg Jakobson and Terry Melcher. When Charlie wasn't given any royalties or writing credits for Cease to Exist (Cease to Resist), Stimson claimed that he soured on Hollywood and actually CHOSE to move out. The family was "glad to get back to the more natural way of living at Spahn's Ranch" to spurn the materialism of Hollywood in favor of their beloved environmentalism.

By July 1968, Paul Watkins was back from Big Sur, and on August 16 the Witches were released from custody in Mendocino. Susan gave birth to her son. Tex moved in to a tent at Spahn but continued to split his time between there and Hollywood where he sold wigs and marijuana. In November, he moved back to LA, failed his civil service exam, and met his fiance, Rosina Kroner. He also began selling LSD and returned to Spahn by March 1969, but continued to come and go as he pleased.

By Late August, 1968, Bobby arrived at the ranch with wife Gail and Leslie Van Houten. By September, Juanita Wildebush also arrived and donated her van and inheritance to the Family. Stimson claims that many, many people came and went, but that Charlie put conditions on none of them. He did have a way of getting rid of "troublemakers" with his "kill me, kill you" routine and by putting loathsome characters on a horse named Major to scare the shit out of them. Charlie claims that Susan caused a lot of trouble but he didn't have the heart to drive her off.

It became impractical for the group to stay at Spahn because of their burgeoning size and increased pressure from the law, so in October 1968 they drove out to the desert to check out Myers Ranch. Stimson claims that they got along just fine with the locals, like Emmett Harder, who thought well of them. When winter came, it got cold and harsh, so everyone but Paul, Brooks and Juanita moved in January 1969 to the house on Gresham Street in Canoga Park. Supposedly they didn't immediately return to Spahn's because Lynette and George Spahn had a fight. A month later however, Stimson says that Spahn invited them back again.

Danny DeCarlo arrived at the ranch in March, 1969. The group began their moneymaking schemes to get back to the desert, including the "Helter Skelter" nightclub in the Longhorn Saloon which the police quickly shut down. The stage was now set, says Stimson, for the "ill conceived underworld mis-dealings that would soon get out of control and escalate into literal matters of life and death."