Forget Woodstock, Charles Manson was the real face of 1969
Nostalgia tells us 1969 was the height of hippiedom, when
individualism, non-conformity and the creative impulse reigned. The
dark underside of those ideals gave America a bloody jolt 40 years ago tomorrow
Aug 08, 2009
There's no use going looking for 10050 Cielo Dr. any more. It's gone,
razed more than a decade ago. On the rough, tumbling northern slope
of the San Fernando Valley's western edge, north of Beverly Hills,
the house that stands there now shows a different address.
But that hasn't stopped legions of gawkers from rubbernecking their
way up the scrubby valley wall along Cielo Dr., spectrally still and
remote. It is a macabre pilgrimage, to the place where, 40 years ago
tomorrow, a generation's defining criminal atrocity took place.
Four decades later, the multiple murders of actress Sharon Tate,
eight months pregnant at the time; her former fiancé, hairstylist Jay
Sebring; Voytek Frykowski, a friend of Tate's husband, director Roman
Polanski; and Abigail Folger, the Folger's Coffee heiress, still
resonate with a grim, consuming clarity.
Feel-good nostalgia tells us that 1969 was the height of the hippie,
warm-fuzzy era of peace and love, and that this week's other 40th
anniversary, of the Woodstock music festival, was its pinnacle: A
moment where individualism, non-conformity and the creative impulse
reigned, where repression was challenged and, in many ways, fell.
But that's rose-coloured hindsight of a fractious time that unleashed
demons as much as it seeded naïve idealism. The Cielo Dr. killings,
and the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in Los Feliz a day
later, were as much a product of those times. No one embodies this
dark flowering more than the murderers' puppetmaster, Charles Manson.
And his stamp on the culture is arguably deeper and more lasting than
Part of it, surely, is the extremeness of the violence, executed with
a cool sense of purpose 102 stab wounds inflicted on the four
victims in the house plus Steven Parent, an 18-year-old delivery boy
shot dead in the driveway on his way home as the killers made their
way to the house.
The next night, the killing continued, this time in the hills of Los
Feliz, where Leon and Rosemary LaBianca were murdered in much the
same way, stabbed with a knife and fork. Leon's stomach had carved on
it the word "WAR."
But just as horrifying as the brutal nature of the crimes were the
killers themselves: Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins
long-haired flower children, and proverbial "good kids," for the
most part; Watson was an A student and high-school star athlete;
Krenwinkel the daughter of an insurance executive and an actual choirgirl.
But Manson, their patriarch and orchestrator of the murders, looms
huge over them all, and the entire counterculture generation.
The killings were a perplexing infusion of revulsion in what was, by
now, a waning countercultural movement: The Manson "family," as they
called themselves, were hippies, for all appearances charter
members of the peace and love generation, which met violence with
sit-ins, and guns with flowers. They were political and
anti-establishment, as were so many of their generation. They were
indulgent users of drugs like marijuana and LSD. They lived on a
commune, the Spahn Ranch, and were, by many eyewitness accounts,
practitioners of "free love."
But when their time came in court, the world was shocked to see the
women, in hippie garb, holding hands and singing, ridiculing
prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, laughing at his accounts of their crimes.
"The mantra of the era was `peace, love and sharing,'" says Bugliosi.
"Prior to (the Manson case), people just didn't identify hippies with
violence. Then the Manson family comes along, looking like hippies,
but being mass murderers. And that shocked America: How could this be?"
Trying to derive meaning from seemingly random acts orchestrated by a
pyschopath is dangerous territory. But there's little question that
the murders, both at the time and in hindsight, cast a pall over the
counterculture. Violence in America was nothing new; neither was
murder, nor were high-profile cases. But brutal, unjustifiable
violence from within, committed in its name? This was something new.
A week after the murders, Woodstock took place in upstate New York,
swelling spontaneously to a half-million kids listening to acts like
Country Joe and the Fish, Santana and Jimi Hendrix. But it was
revelry cast in dark shadow.
"The first thing to recognize is that the past and history are
different," says John Storey, a cultural historian in the U.K. and
the author of Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. "The struggle over
the meaning of the '60s, for example, changes on whether we highlight
Woodstock or Manson. This, in simplified form, could be said to be
the difference between those who view the '60s and its legacy as
positive or negative."
Meanwhile, the counterculture to the conservative establishment at
the time, not much more threatening than a bunch of lazy, misguided
kids who needed to grow up was morphing quickly from social
revolution into fashion trend and marketing opportunity.
Earlier festivals, like The Human Be-In in San Francisco in 1967,
were free; later that year, the Monterey Pop Festival was intended to
raise money for free clinics (though the $500,000 it raised
By Woodstock, the naive sheen had dulled. "The real thing Woodstock
accomplished," Bill Graham, the former manager of Jefferson Airplane,
told Storey, "was that it told people rock was big business."
If Woodstock was the beginning of the end, then the murder
indictments on Dec. 8, 1969, of Manson, Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel
and two other family members, Linda Kasabian and Leslie Van Houten,
were to many its grim, undeniable conclusion.
"Is Charles Manson a hippie?" asked Rolling Stone in one cover story.
"The '60s abruptly ended on August 9, 1969," the date of the murders
on Cielo Dr., wrote Joan Didion in her 1979 collection of personal
essays on life in the '60s, The White Album.
That was a philosophical take. At the time, others were more
practical, driven by fear. In the October 1969 issue of Los Angeles
magazine, spurred by the Manson family murders, Myron Roberts wrote
an alarmist indictment of a generation run wild, fuelled by drugs,
lax morals and a loss of standards.
He chided Life magazine's special edition on Woodstock for making it
"a cultural event of monumental import, just behind Genesis and
landing on the moon." Woodstock was lauded for being civil, to which
Roberts wrote that "no one stopped to ask why the absence of violence
at a large, public gathering of the young should be considered more
remarkable than the fact that the fans who go to football games ...
do not customarily tear up the stadium or attack one another."
He then compared Woodstock to "another youth festival the Nuremberg
Rallies where Hitler, Goebbels & Co. were the featured group and
the multitudes of fans were stoned on slogans, not grass." Not
finished yet, he concluded the article with a practical guide to
"protecting yourself from `freaky' crime" meaning drug-induced, of
course, perpetuated by a darkening culture of hippiedom.
And this was before any of the Manson crew had been caught. When
Manson, looking beatific, long hair and beard flowing, was arrested,
the dark side of the era had a face. And when the grisly details of
the murders came out, the death knell for the counterculture was
sounding loud and clear.
It is, by now, a gruesome litany: Manson was obsessed with the
Beatles, who were central to the countercultural movement. The White
Album in particular. He believed they were sending him messages,
enlisting him to start a revolution. The song "Helter Skelter"
became, for him, a command to start a race war between blacks and
whites; "Piggies," ridiculing the British upper classes eating "with
forks and knives," was for Manson an invitation to wipe out the
wealthy ("what they need's a damn good whacking," the song went).
The Tate house was chosen over an old grudge that had nothing to do
with Tate or any of the other victims. Manson, an aspiring
songwriter, had auditioned there for producer Terry Melcher when he
lived there with his then-girlfriend, Candice Bergen. Melcher, after
witnessing Manson in a frenzied fight one night, broke off ties,
which infuriated Manson.
The night of the murders, when the family members arrived, Parent was
rolling down the driveway. Watson shot him dead at the wheel. He then
cut the phone line, and the three made for the house.
Slitting a screen, the threesome slipped inside. Tate, Sebring and
Folger, thinking they were being robbed, were tied by the neck with a
rope, which was flung over a support beam in the living room. They
asked what would happen to them. "You're all going to die," Watson
said calmly. Panic took hold.
Frykowski got loose and burst outside, screaming for help. Watson
stabbed him 51 times. Inside, Tate, Sebring and Folger struggled to
get free. The stabbing, 102 wounds altogether, came in a flurry.
Tate, who was eight months pregnant, begged to be allowed to have her
baby. Atkins stabbed her 16 times. In custody, she told Bugliosi that
she told Tate, before she killed her: "Bitch, you're going to die. I
don't have any mercy on you." When she was done, she wrote "PIG" in
Tate's blood, before taking a shower and leaving the scene.
The next night, the Manson family, this time joined by Kasabian, Van
Houten and Manson himself, went looking for more victims. They chose
the LaBianca house at random.
"If you were white and appeared financially well-off, you qualified
to be murdered," Bugliosi said. The killers used knives and forks
an apparent reference to the Beatles song and left the LaBiancas
butchered in their home, but not before raiding their refrigerator
and showering.The fallout was severe. Once the Manson family was
revealed, the establishment's dim view of counterculture turned rabid
and extreme. Even Polanski himself was implicated.
"In their rush to assess what had happened, some of the mainstream
press brought the nature of Roman Polanski's movies into the nature
of the crime and held (his) movies responsible," Warren Beatty told
Los Angeles magazine recently. "Roman was a total innocent. Neither
his life nor his movies had anything to do with this. But because
he'd made Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby he was made to seem responsible."
For some, the counterculture was already teetering under the weight
of its own portent. Indulgent and hedonistic, it had become bloated
and without focus a set of superficial trends, not a social
revolution. The Manson crimes represented a shocking extreme to a
culture that was becoming increasingly incoherent.
"What struck me about the Manson murders was how at the moment they
happened, it seemed as if they were inevitable," Didion said, during
an interview at the National Book Awards. "It seemed as if we had
been moving toward that moment for about a year."
Bugliosi had no such sense at the time. "I'm not a sociologist. I was
just trying one murder case after another," he says. "But looking
back, it seems to be the consensus of many that the Manson case
sounded a death knell for hippies and everything they symbolically
High above the San Fernando Valley, on Cielo Dr., the quiet absence
of No. 10050 says much the same thing.
August 1969, Charles Manson, Woodstock and the end of an era
August 8, 2009
by Patricia Lantz
Joan Didion wrote in"The White Album", her 1979 collection of essays
on life in the 60's; "The 60's abruptly ended on August 9, 1969, the
date of the murders on Cielo Dr."
The decade of the 60's has become synonymous with all the new,
exciting, radical, and subversive events and trends of the period.
This was a time when a ridged culture became unable to hold back the
demand for greater individual freedom. A counter culture broke free
and sparked social revolutions throughout much of the world.
Yes, it was an unusual decade, and the legacy of the America's
Counter Culture movement of the 60's is huge.
It was a time of Social and political upheaval, a time of revolution,
individualism and non-conformity and it was also a time of love,
music, sex and mind expanding psychedelic substances.
By the end of the 60's much the counter culture, which had began as a
progressive social movement bent on changing the world for the
better, seemed to have lost it's focus and become self indulgent and
hedonistic. Rather than a social movement it had seemingly de-evolved
into a superficial social trend.
And the Manson Family crimes represented the dark extreme of a
counter culture that was becoming increasingly incongruous.
Just a few days after the murders on Cielo Dr. but before the Manson
Family was arrested the Woodstock Music Festival took place in
upstate New York.
For many Woodstock seemed the pinnacle of the movement. it was a
moment when personal freedom and non-conformity reigned.
As astrologer Steffan Vanel writes:
" I personally experienced Woodstock as an explosion of Aquarian
universal love and brotherhood. I witnessed it as the small groups of
hippies in every town on the East Coast coming together and amassing
to nearly a half million. I was only 17 years old at the time, but I
remember thinking "This is going to change the world. This power of
love is what is really going to change the world. Kids from now on
are going to become hippies, and drugs and music is going to do it!"
" The collective good vibes of Woodstock didn't last long. The next
big festival was the Rolling Stones at Altamont, California where
someone was murdered. The Rolling Stones had tried to show how
US/California cool they were by hiring the Hells Angels for security
for the show and paying them with cases of beer. A very bad move.
Here we saw the dark sides of Pluto (death), Neptune (drugs and
alcohol), and Uranus (sudden erratic craziness)." Read Steffan
Vanel's entire article
But for many Americans Woodstock was seen as, the epitome of a
generation gone wild on drugs, with lax morals and a loss of
standards. The already darkening perception of hippie culture turned
black when Charles Manson was arrested (October 69) and the details
of all the murders came out....this signaled the end of an era.
As prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, says, "The mantra of the era was
`peace, love and sharing. Prior to (the Manson case), people just
didn't identify hippies with violence. Then the Manson family comes
along, looking like hippies, but being mass murderers. And that
shocked America: How could this be?".
Looking back at the 60's the decade seems to resemble an amazing and
beautiful love affair that in the end went very very bad. However,
during that affair, society was impregnated with the Aquarian vision
of brotherhood and service to all mankind.
What was conceived in the 60's has been nurtured and growing within
our sociey and soon will take on a life of it's own. We can only hope
the birth will be painless and that what's being born will arrive healthy.
Excerpt from "The World Transformed"
"The most interesting alignment begins when Uranus enters Aries and
squares Pluto in Capricorn from June 2012 to March 2015. It could be
the coupling of the Uranian need for nonconformity, change or
rebellion with the fearless impulsiveness of Aries that will release
the world from traditional conservative constraints.
This Uranus in Aries-Pluto in Capricorn contact is quite capable of
igniting the cultural revolutionary forces that began in the
mid-1960s...when Uranus and Pluto were coupled in Virgo. In affect,
what was conceived at that 1960's coupling will be born...come to
life and become viable during this era."