Charles Manson’s Legendary Musical Friends
The mass-murder mastermind had ties to the Beach Boys, Neil Young, Guns N' Roses and others.
It would be easy to say Charles Manson’s death at 83 brought him back to the public eye, except he never really left it. In 1994’s Natural Born Killers, a serial killer learns his TV ratings have topped John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, but not Manson. The killer can accept this: “It’s pretty hard to beat the king.”
One reason Manson maintained such fame over the decades was because of music. Manson both knew and “inspired” an array of important artists. (He also periodically linked himself to musicians who doubtless wished they’d permanently stayed off his playlist.)
Here are some of Manson’s strangest musical connections:
Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. The drumming brother of Brian and Carl had a relatively brief but weirdly intense relationship with Charles Manson in 1968. They engaged in drugs and group sex with Manson’s female followers. Indeed, Manson and the women moved into Wilson’s home. Wilson also tried to help Manson’s recording career. This proved a failure as Manson was impossible to handle, pulling a knife in the studio. Even so, his song “Cease to Exist” was recorded by the Beach Boys. Unfortunately, they changed some lyrics and renamed it “Never Learn Not To Love.” This enraged Manson, who reportedly left a bullet on Dennis Wilson’s bed as a warning. Like so many Beach Boys songs, “Never Learn Not To Love” is a beautiful tune, albeit one that would probably feel creepy even without Manson’s involvement. In particular, “Submission is a gift, give it to your lover” sounds unnerving coming from the guys so associated with the joys of summer.
Mike Love of the Beach Boys. With Dennis Wilson in his corner (for a little while, at least), Manson gained access to other movers and shakers in the music industry. While Manson could seem both charismatic and even oddly charming, he could also be—for lack of a better term—crazy. Indeed, terrifying. Below, Beach Boy lead singer Mike Love recalls the time Manson followed him into the shower.
Neil Young. Young also met Manson through Dennis Wilson. Unlike Mike Love, however, he was impressed. In his 2012 memoir Waging Heavy Peace, Young recalled Manson picking up a guitar and playing a number of his own songs. Finding him “[k]ind of like Dylan,” Young called him “quite good.” He made an attempt to get “Charlie” a record contract, a quest that ended with the Tate murders.
Terry Melcher. The son of actress Doris Day, he became a success in his own right as the producer of such classic songs by the Byrds as “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Yet another member of the music industry introduced to Manson by Dennis Wilson, he eventually decided not to work with Charlie. The Tate murders happened at his former home. It was speculated by many at the time that Manson was targeting him with the killings. (Police ultimately concluded Manson knew he’d already moved.) Melcher would go on to cowrite the Beach Boys’ #1 single “Kokomo.”
The Beatles. Manson’s fixation on the Beatles and, in particular, the White Album led him to become convinced that tracks like “Helter Skelter” prophesied a race war. The murders were his attempt to jumpstart the conflict. (It should go without saying all four Beatles were baffled by this interpretation.) During a 1985 interview, Manson denied even liking the Beatles, calling himself a “Bing Crosby fan.”
Hank Williams Sr. In 1995, a compact disc was released of music Manson recorded in prison. It includes a tribute to the “Hillbilly Shakespeare,” who died in 1953 yet remains arguably the single most important figure in country music. Manson’s short tune begins by quoting the first line of Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart” before Manson drifts into musings about Hank riding a white horse.
Guns N’ Roses. Invoking Manson has long been a way for musicians to suggest that they’re rebels. None did it more aggressively than Axl Rose. GNR’s lead singer took his habit of wearing a Manson T-shirt in concert to another level by covering Manson’s song “Look at Your Game, Girl” for their 1993 album “The Spaghetti Incident?” Geffen Records agreed to pay $62,000 in royalties for every million albums sold to Bartek Frykowski, whose father was killed during the Tate massacre. Rose later claimed he thought the song was written by Dennis Wilson. Which would be more convincing if he didn’t end the song by saying, “Thanks, Chas.” Axl shows off his Manson shirt in the video below.
Marilyn Manson. Actually, Axl’s Manson fandom has to take a backseat to someone else’s. At his commercial peak, Marilyn Manson sold millions of albums and even topped the charts with 1998’s Mechanical Animals. His name was a combination of “Charles Manson” and “Marilyn Monroe.” (His band included “Madonna Wayne Gacy.”) The initial reports of Charles Manson’s death brought a surge of interest in Marilyn, as confused fans mistakenly thought he was the Manson who died and tweeted their condolences.
Below, watch Charles Manson name-check an impressive number of musicians and even briefly erupt into song. Then picture this man bursting in on you mid-shower and feel a whole lot of sympathy for Mike Love.
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