By Damon Sims
September 05, 2009
What possessed seemingly harmless hippies to commit some of the
grisliest crimes of the 20th century?
"Manson" spends two hours trying to find the answer that has eluded
true-crime buffs for 40 years. It's a question that has transformed
Charles Manson into an evil icon in pop culture.
Monday's special on the History Channel looks at the 1960s
sociopathic hippie who commanded his followers to kill innocent victims.
"Manson" chronicles the nine months leading up to the seven
"Tate/LaBianca Murders" on Aug. 8-9, 1969. It was part of a twisted
vision Manson dubbed "Helter Skelter."
Manson imagined the murders as sparking an apocalyptic race war, in
which he would emerge a messiah.
He ended up in prison -- convicted of masterminding the murders of
Sharon Tate and six others during the spree -- and was exposed as
anything but a messiah.
But the sensation surrounding the trial, his commune and "philosophy"
forever link him with the dark side of rock 'n' roll.
Manson took the name for his killing spree from a Beatles song. He
recorded with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. And he's had his songs
covered by dozens of bands, including Guns N' Roses.
He was the evil hippie who helped kill the hippie movement.
Manson's crimes occurred the same year as Woodstock, the music
festival that celebrated the "good vibrations" of hippiedom. Like the
hippies, he espoused communal living -- except that his commune was a
cult, where members became his blind servants.
The Cincinnati-born Manson got his "start" in 1967, while living in
San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood -- espousing a
"philosophy" that mixed Summer of Love hippie vibes with Scientology.
By the late 1960s, he started the Family, a commune of followers
based in Death Valley, Calif. Manson saw himself as a guru -- and a
He recorded with Wilson, who acquainted Manson with Terry Melcher.
The famed surf-rock producer lived in the house they eventually would
rent to actress Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski -- the scene of
the "Helter Skelter" murders.
The missing link between music and murder?
Manson came up with his theory after listening to the Beatles' "White
Album," which, according to him, foretold a race war and commanded
the Manson Family to act -- by committing killings to further his
He started with the residents of Melcher's former residence after
becoming enraged because the producer refused to record some of his songs.
Manson was arrested in October 1969 and was convicted of murder in
In between, in 1970, his solo album was released. The album never
sold much -- only 2,000 copies were pressed.
But Manson's dark impact, even from behind bars, remains on pop culture:
Peace, love and hippiedom: Woodstock celebrated hippiedom. Manson
carved a swastika on his face.
The Beatles: When U2 covered the Fab Four's "Helter Skelter," Bono
said, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. Well,
we're stealing it back." No matter, it will always be tainted by the
blood of Manson's murders.
The Beach Boys: The band recorded and released a Manson composition
on its 1969 album "20/20."
Sharon Tate: The pregnant actress's life came to a brutal end when
she was stabbed by the Manson Family.
Roman Polanski: The director, who was in London at the time of the
murders, sank into a dark depression that colored later films such as
Latter-day followers: Rockers Marilyn Manson, Spahn Ranch (where the
Manson Family lived for a time) and Kasabian (after cult member Linda
Kasabian) took their names from the Manson cult. It also inspired
songs by the Flaming Lips and Alkaline Trio, and even Stephen
Sondheim's musical "Assassins." More than 70 bands have covered Manson's songs.
Number of the beast: The "South Park" episode "Merry Christmas,
Charlie Manson" features Manson as a cartoon character with inmate