Fifty years ago today, the Manson Family carried out the grisly Tate-Labianca murders that essentially crushed the hippie dream with a tragic nightmare starring failed songwriter and psychopath Charles Manson. At Manson's trial, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argued that the cult leader was inspired by his misreading of The Beatles' White Album. Indeed, "Healter Skelter” [sic] had been smeared in blood on the LaBiancas’ refrigerator. Over at Rolling Stone, Kory Grow does a track-by-track analysis of Manson's bizarre misinterpretation of The White Album. From Rolling Stone:
Although he would deny being into the Beatles years later (“I am a Bing Crosby fan,” he declared in 1985 – despite inmates at a prison Manson stayed at in the early Sixties claiming he was obsessed with the Beatles), Manson discussed the group enough with his followers that his warped reading of the Fab Four’s most adventurous album resounded throughout the trial. Bugliosi interviewed several Manson Family members, including those who were not facing criminal charges, and found consistency in their descriptions of his mythology surrounding the White Album and the garbled connections he made between it and the Book of Revelations, which depict end-times.
“This music is bringing on the revolution, the unorganized overthrow of the establishment,” Manson told Rolling Stone in 1970. “The Beatles know [what’s happening] in the sense that the subconscious knows.”
“From the beginning, Charlie believed the Beatles’ music carried an important message – to us,” Manson Family member Paul Watkins wrote in his book, My Life With Charles Manson. “He said their album, The Magical Mystery Tour, expressed the essence of his own philosophy. Basically, Charlie’s trip was to program us all to submit: to give up our egos, which, in a spiritual sense, is a lofty aspiration. As rebels within a materialistic, decadent culture, we could dig it.”
Manson discovered the White Album in December 1968, while visiting Los Angeles on a sojourn from the freezing California desert. When he returned to Death Valley on New Year’s Eve, he began pressing his entourage for their reactions to the record. “Are you hep to what the Beatles are saying?” Family member Brooks Poston recalled Manson asking him, as reported in Bugliosi’s book, Helter Skelter. “Helter Skelter is coming down. The Beatles are telling it like it is.” Watkins said this was around the time, too, that Manson began using the words “helter skelter” to describe an oncoming racial conflict, “and what it meant was the Negros were going to come down and rip the cities all apart. … Before Helter Skelter came along, all Charlie cared about was orgies.”