By John W. Whitehead
Are you hep to what the Beatles are saying? Dig it, they are telling
it like it is. They know what's happening in the city; blackie is
getting ready. They put the revolution to music. It's "Helter
Skelter." Helter-Skelter is coming down.--Charles Manson
Every generation has its maniacs--especially racist maniacs. Such was
Charles Manson. Here's his story as it unfolded 40 years ago--one
that is a lesson to us today. This is especially so in light of the
rise of racism in America and violent acts that inevitably follow from it.
Drenched in blood, a dead body was slumped in a car on the driveway.
Two bodies, looking like mannequins dipped in red paint, lay on the
manicured lawn. As police officers entered the home, they noticed the
word "PIG" painted on the door in blood. In the center of the living
room, facing the fireplace, was a long couch. Draped over the back
was a huge American flag. It was Saturday, August 9, 1969.
(Ironically, the day before in England, the Beatles walked across
Abbey Road for the last time--the photo captured for posterity on the
album of the same name.)
On the other side of the couch lay a young blond woman, very
pregnant. Later identified as Sharon Tate, film director Roman
Polanski's wife, she lay in a fetal position, her legs tucked up
toward her stomach. Blood had been smeared all over her. A white
nylon rope was looped around her neck twice; one end extended over a
rafter in the ceiling, the other led across the floor to yet another
body, that of a man, about four feet away. The man was drenched in
blood, his face covered with a bloody towel, his hands bunched up
near his head as if still warding off blows. When the police lifted
the towel, the man's face was so badly contused that the police
became sick to their stomachs.
Charles Manson, the psychopathic killer responsible for the seven
murders at this Hollywood Hills home, blamed the Beatles' White Album
for the series of killings his "Family" committed. "Manson was
obsessed with the Beatles," writes Barry Miles in Paul McCartney:
Many Years From Now (1997), "and, like many disturbed Beatles fans,
thought they were directing secret messages to him via their songs."
In Manson's case, he thought the messages were ordering him to kill,
and that the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter" foretold an uprising in
which blacks would murder a third of the world's white population.
Like many white convicts, Manson was a racist. However, at some point
in 1968, fear of black revolution began to pervade his delusions.
Manson's own ultimate domination of the black race became a primary
element of the apocalypse he would orchestrate. It would be Helter
Skelter. It was also the name his followers used for the murder spree.
Manson thought virtually every one of the 30 tracks on the Beatles'
White Album brimmed with hidden significance for him. As Manson explains:
At the end of each song there is a little tag piece on it, a couple
of notes. Or like in "Piggies" there's "oink, oink, oink." Just these
couple of sounds. And all these sounds are repeated in "Revolution
9." Like in "Revolution 9," all these pieces are fitted together and
they predict the violent overthrow of the white man. Like you'll hear
"oink, oink," and then machine gun fire....I think it's a
subconscious thing.... This music is bringing on the revolution...The
Beatles know in the sense that the subconscious knows.
Manson believed that the song "Happiness is a Warm Gun" was the
Beatles telling the blacks that the time had come to fight, and the
lyrics to "Blackbird" spelled it out even more clearly. The white
enemy was identified in "Piggies," which is why the Family scrawled
the words "Death to Pigs" in blood on the wall after killing several
of the Hollywood Hills victims with knives and forks.
Manson's interpretation of the Beatles lyrics was a strange, twisted
affair but also was heavily dependent on the Bible--primarily the
book of Revelation, especially Chapter 9, which Manson acquainted
with John Lennon's song "Revolution 9."
In Revelation, we read, "So the four angels held were set loose to
kill a third of mankind. They had been held ready for this moment,
for this very year and month, day and hour." To Manson, the Beatles
were the four angels. At the beginning of Revelation 9, St. John sees
an angel (or star) fall to earth:
[A]nd the star was given the key of the shaft of the abyss. With
this he opened the shaft of the abyss; and from the shaft smoke rose
like smoke from a great furnace, and the sun and the air was darkened
by the smoke from the shaft. Then over the earth, out of the smoke,
Locusts, in Manson's mind, meant beetles. The fallen angel with the
key, of course, was Manson himself.
Manson also found an abandoned mine shaft in the desert north of Los
Angeles which he told his brainwashed followers was the shaft to
Revelation 9. From there, Manson taught his followers that the White
Album prophesized that the black race would rise up and murder the
white race but that Manson and his Family would be saved. To Manson,
"the black man, having lived so long in chains, will not know how to
officiate in whatever world is left to him," writes Devin McKinney in
Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History (2003). "Thus, Manson
was to emerge from the hole, return the black man to his chains, and
rule forever in paradise."
Vincent Bugliosi, a District Attorney for Los Angeles, whose book
Helter Skelter is the standard work on the trial and Manson's cult,
questioned Manson about his beliefs. "We both know you ordered those
murders," Bugliosi told Manson. "Bugliosi," Manson replied, "It's the
Beatles, the music they're putting out. They are talking about war.
These kids listen to this music and pick up on the message. It's subliminal."
Of course, the Beatles were shocked to learn of Manson's
interpretation of their lyrics. As Ringo Starr would later say, all
the Beatles ever stood for was peace, love and harmony.
After a series of trials, four Family members were eventually
convicted of the murders, including Manson himself, on January 25,
1971. While in prison, Manson expected that the murders he had
directed his Family to commit would be the long-awaited signal for
the blacks to begin their bloody uprising. He was surprised when
riots, chaos and violence did not follow. Neither, however, did
peace, love and harmony.