I’m reading Vincent Bugliosi’s book about the Manson Family murders ‘Helter Skelter‘ and although he’s a criminally insane raging madman, I think that ol’ Charlie Manson had pretty decent taste in music.
The Beatles’ White Album is one of my favourite records too and although I don’t get the same messages from the songs that Charlie did (Because I’m not full of acid everyday), I agree that ‘Revolution 9’ and ‘Helter Skelter’ sound like real violence.
But there’s a difference.
The White Album doesn’t make me want to go out and murder everyone. Or anyone.
Manson played The White Album constantly and he took direct messages that were never there from specific songs.
* I WILL
Lyric: ‘And when at last I find you/ Your song will fill the air/ Sing it loud so I can hear you/ Make it easy to be near you‘
Meaning: The Beatles are looking for Jesus Christ.
Lyric: ‘Oh, honey pie, my position is tragic/ Come and show me the magic/ Of your Hollywood song‘
Meaning: The Beatles know Jesus Christ has returned to Earth and is in Los Angeles. They want Manson to create his “song,” that is, his album that will set off Helter Skelter.
Lyric: ‘Oh, honey pie, you are driving me frantic/ Sail across the Atlantic/ To be where you belong‘
Meaning: The Beatles want Jesus Christ to come to England.
Consequence: In early 1969, Manson and his female followers attempted to contact The Beatles by letter, telegram, and telephone; they struggled to make clear to The Beatles that it is they, The Beatles, who are to come across the Atlantic, to join the family in Death Valley.
Lyric: ‘I’m in love, but I’m lazy‘
Meaning: The Beatles love Jesus Christ but are too lazy to go looking for him. They’ve worn themselves out in a trip to India to visit the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom they now regard as a false prophet.
Lyric: ‘I Listen for your footsteps coming up the drive/ Listen for your footsteps, but they don’t arrive/ Waiting for your knock dear on my old front door/ I don’t hear it; does it mean you don’t love me any more?/ I Hear the clock a-ticking on the mantle shelf/ See the hands a-moving, but I’m by myself/ I wonder where you are tonight and why I’m by myself/ I don’t see you; does it mean you don’t love me any more?‘
Meaning: The Beatles are calling for Jesus Christ.
Lyric: ‘Yes, I’m lonely; wanna die/ Yes, I’m lonely; wanna die/ If I ain’t dead already/ Girl, you know the reason why‘
Meaning: The Beatles are calling for Jesus Christ.
Significance: Manson had renamed Family member Susan Atkins “Sadie Mae Glutz” long before the release of The Beatles. This served to reinforce the mental connection Manson felt he had with The Beatles.
In San Francisco, where she met Manson, Atkins had been a topless dancer. Paul Watkins wrote that Atkins “thrived on sex,” and he even seemed to suggest she had the nickname Sexy Sadie before the Family heard the song. Similarly, Tex Watson wrote that the words of “Sexy Sadie” fit Atkins so well “that it made us all sure [the Beatles] had to be singing directly to us.” Watson specifically noted that the song’s title character “came along to turn on everyone,” “broke the rules,” and “laid it down for all to see.” Atkins, he said, “had broken all the rules, sexually, and liked to talk about her experience and lack of inhibitions.”
Significance: Rocky Raccoon means “coon,” vulgar term for a black man
Of all the Beatles songs known to have been connected with Helter Skelter, this is the only one that mentions the Bible. (It is possibly the only Beatles song at all that mentions the Bible.) A play on the Gideons International practice of leaving Bibles in hotel rooms, the references are to a Bible left in the room of the title character by a “Gideon”:
So one day (Rocky Raccoon) walked into town/ Booked himself a room in the local saloon/ Rocky Raccoon/ Checked into his room/ Only to find Gideon’s Bible… Now Rocky Raccoon/ He fell back in his room/ Only to find Gideon’s Bible/ Gideon checked out/ And he left it no doubt/ To help with good Rocky’s revival.
Manson made the connection. In the period before his trial, he was visited at the Los Angeles County Jail by David Dalton and David Felton, who were preparing a Rolling Stone story, about him, that appeared in the magazine in June 1970. In an article in the October 1998 issue of the periodical Gadfly, Dalton, recounting the visit to Manson, relayed the remarks Manson made to Felton and him about “Rocky Raccoon”:
“Coon,” said Charlie. “You know that’s a word they use for black people. You know the line, ‘Gideon checked out/ And left no doubt/ To help good Rocky’s revival.’ Rocky’s revival — re-vival. It means coming back to life. The black man is going to come into power again. ‘Gideon checks out’ means that it’s all written out there in the New Testament, in the Book of Revelations.”
Significance: The Beatles are telling blacks to get guns and fight whites
Sample Lyric: ‘When I hold you in my arms/ And I feel my finger on your trigger/ I know no one can do me no harm/ Because happiness is a warm gun/ (Bang bang, shoot shoot)‘
While in the Death Valley area after the New Year’s Eve gathering at which Manson announced Helter Skelter, the Family played over and over The White Album’s five following songs:
Lyric: ‘Blackbird singing in the dead of night/ Take these broken wings and learn to fly/ All your life/ You were only waiting for this moment to arise‘
Meaning: The black man is going to arise and overthrow the white man. The Beatles are programming blacks to rise.
In detailing Helter Skelter in his autobiography, Tex Watson invoked this lyric obliquely:
The white establishment would slaughter thousands of blacks, but actually only manage to eliminate all the Uncle Toms, since the “true black race” (sometimes Charlie thought they were the Black Muslims , sometimes the Panthers) would have hidden, waiting for their moment.
Ironically, Manson’s interpretation of this song specifically wasn’t far off. McCartney later explained that the song’s intended meaning was indeed about racial struggle in the United States.
Lyric: ‘When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide/ Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride‘
Significance: A reference to the Family’s emergence from “the Bottomless Pit,” the underground Death Valley hideaway where the group will escape the violence of Helter Skelter
In British English, helter-skelter not only has its meanings of “confused” or “confusedly” but is the name of an amusement park slide, which this portion of the lyrics suggests is one of the term’s surface denotations in the song. There is nothing to indicate Manson was aware of this meaning.
Lyric: ‘Look out… Helter Skelter… She’s coming down fast… Yes she is‘
Meaning: The upcoming explosion of race-based violence is imminent. These are the “last few months, weeks, perhaps days, of the old order.”
Even to someone unaware that helter-skelter is the name of a slide, the song’s mention of a slide might have indicated that the “she” in this part of the lyrics is someone who, literally or otherwise, is riding on a slide and “coming down fast” (i.e., “helter-skelter”, or “out of control”). In My Life with Charles Manson, Paul Watkins makes clear Manson construed “she” as a reference to the words “helter skelter” themselves. It is Helter Skelter — which, in America, at least, can be the noun “confusion” — that is coming down fast, i.e., is imminent.
In trial testimony, Gregg Jakobson, who first met Manson at the home of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson in May or early summer of 1968, described a mural he had eventually seen at the Spahn Ranch, where Manson and most of the Family were residing at the time of the murders:
Jakobson: There was a room called — it was an old saloon in one of the [ranch’s] old [movie] sets.
Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi: Among the front buildings at the ranch?
Bugliosi: Right off Santa Susana Road there?
Jakobson: Yes. And there was a big mural in day-glo colors. It glowed with blue light. It depicted Helter Skelter, and it was written.
Bugliosi: The words [Helter Skelter] were written?
Jakobson: Yes. And there was a picture of the mountains and the desert and Goler Wash, and so on, and Helter Skelter coming down out of the sky.
Bugliosi: Something like a map?
Jakobson: It was more like a mural that covered the whole wall. It was rather impressive.
Lyric: ‘What they need’s a damned good whacking‘
Significance: Blacks are going to give “the piggies” — i.e., the establishment- a damned good whacking. Manson particularly liked this phrase.
Lyric: Everywhere there’s lots of piggies/ Living piggy lives/ You can see them out for dinner/ With their piggy wives/ Clutching forks and knives/ To eat their bacon.
In Helter Skelter — The True Story of the Manson Murders, which he wrote with Curt Gentry, Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Manson and the others accused of the Tate-LaBianca murders, draws attention to this. He notes that Leno LaBianca was left with a knife in his throat and a fork in his stomach. (Bugliosi has to make the point somewhat indirectly in the text because George Harrison, who wrote the song, refused the book authors’ permission to quote the lyrics.)
Lyric: ‘You say you want a revolution/ Well you know/ We all want to change the world…/ But when you talk about destruction/ Don’t you know that you can count me out (in)‘
Significance: The singing of “in” after the word “out,” even though “in” doesn’t appear in the lyrics as they were presented on the printed sheet enclosed with the album, indicates that the Beatles had been undecided but now favor revolution. Though they are no longer on a “peace-and-love trip,” they can’t admit as much to the establishment
Lyric: ‘You say you got a real solution/ Well you know/ We’d all love to see the plan‘
Meaning: The Beatles want Manson to tell them how to escape the horrors of Helter Skelter. They are ready for the violence; they want Manson to create his album that will tell them what to do. Its songs will be “the plan” whose subtle messages will be aimed at the various parts of society that will be involved in Helter Skelter.
This is the White Album piece Manson spoke about the most, the one he deemed most significant. An audio collage more than eight minutes long, it has no lyrics.
Significance: Manson hears machine-gun fire, the oinking of pigs, and the word “Rise.” The piece is audio representation of the coming conflict; the repeated utterance “Number 9” is reference to Chapter 9 of the Book of Revelation. Revolution 9 is prophecy, paralleling Revelation 9. “Revolution 9” = Revelation 9.
“Rise” is “one of Manson’s big words”; the black man is going to “rise” up against the white man. While playing “Revolution 9,” Manson screams “Rise! Rise! Rise!” (From 2:33 to 2:50 of the recording, a voice that could be that of John Lennon does, in fact, repeat what is possibly the word “Right,” not “Rise.” About twenty-five seconds before that word is first heard, a voice says something that seems to include the words “lots of stab wounds”; but Bugliosi and Gentry, who mention this in Helter Skelter, do not indicate whether Manson or any of the Family members heard it.)
Manson also hears the Beatles whispering: “Charlie, Charlie, send us a telegram.” At approximately 3:45 of the recording, a voice that could be that of George Harrison does, in fact, seem to be saying something about a telegram.
In his autobiography, Tex Watson tied the prophecy to one more White Album song, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey, though he changed monkey to monkeys, plural. While on LSD at a party in late March 1969, Watson explained, he and two Manson girls realized they themselves were “the monkeys,… just bright-eyed, free little animals, totally uninhibited.” As they started “bouncing around the apartment, throwing food against the walls, and laughing hysterically,” they were, in their own view (if not that of the others in attendance), “all love — spontaneous, childlike love.” It would seem Watson took the song’s “me and my monkey[s]” to signify Manson and the Family, though he doesn’t say it that way; he doesn’t indicate whether the interpretation was brought to Manson’s attention.
Manson himself invoked, too, “Yellow Submarine,” a Beatles song that was released in 1966 and that inspired an animated movie of the same title. The movie was released in November 1968, within a week or so of the White Album. In the first months of 1969, after he had delivered the Helter Skelter prophecy around the New Year’s Eve campfire near Death Valley, Manson applied the name “Yellow Submarine” to a canary-yellow, Canoga Park house to which the Family repaired at his instruction. There, as they would prepare for Helter Skelter, they would be “submerged beneath the awareness of the outside world.”