In celebration of his upcoming nuptials, I thought I'd remind you of my personal favorite piece of weird Charles Manson history (not that I have like, a running list but...ugh, whatever).
See, once upon a time, just a year before the fully-public crazy and the murder and stuff, Charlie Manson was shacking up with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Sure, they shared some concubines, but more importantly, they made music together.
That's right, the Beach Boys collaborated with one of the most notorious Neo-Nazi cultist murderers in American history.
And ya know what? The results weren't bad. Somehow the sunshine-y-fun-love-60s-bubblegum-pop aesthetic of the Beach Boys meshed pretty well with the, well, utter pyscho of Charles Manson to make a decent 60s psych-pop song called "Never Learn Not To Love."
Here's the Beach Boys version:
And here's Charles Manson's original demo version, titled "Cease to Exist."
You might notice a few differences between the two versions. And, well, so did Chuck, which is why he threatened to murder Dennis, to which Dennis responded by...moving out of his house and letting Manson continue living there. Which sounds pretty lame, until you consider that the guy went on a murder rampage several months later. Remember kids: sometimes it's better to just walk away from your palatial Pacific Palisades estate than to engage with a maniac.
A maniac who, for all his faults, could apparently write a decent song. Hey, even Hitler had a girlfriend.
The thing I love about this weird piece of pop history is what it illuminates about lyrics and intent, especially in love songs. Luke O'Neil wrote a great piece in Esquire in light of the Elliot Rodger murders about the twisted misogyny of music, and it's something that I discuss pretty often with my good friend and collaborator Jacob Wake-Up. Love is obviously a very popular theme in pop music, and while heartbreak and longing are certainly valid emotions to express in song, they cross the line into misogynistic vitriol more frequently than many of us realize or are willing to admit.
And so, consider some of the lyrics of "Never Learn Not To Love You":
Give up your world, come on and be with me
My life is yours, and you can have my world
Submission is a gift given to another
Love and understanding is for one another
I'm your kind, I'm your kind, and I see
None of these would seem remarkably out of place in your standard pop love song, like the kind that the Beach Boys were known for. It's a little extreme, perhaps melodramatic — but hey, that's what love songs are for, right? It's all about the heightened emotions.
Consider those same lyrics in the context of the Manson family and suddenly the exact same words are not so sweet and innocent. Especially that one lyrical change that so righteously pissed off dear ol' Chuck. "Cease to resist, come on say you love me" is a little pushy, sure, but "Cease to exist" and now you're asking a girl to literally give up her identity and existence for a relationship. And not in the romantic Weezer "Holiday" style either ("No One Else" is a different story). Even if the writer of this song hadn't established a creepy cult commune of mostly-female worshipers/sex slaves, that would be an uncomfortable lyric; I totally understand Dennis Wilson's impetus to change it.
Then again, this was also the same guy who thought that "Helter Skelter" was about the coming race war, which lends some new credence to the idea of art gaining meaning through the lens of audience interpretation. But I digress; that's a topic for another day.
So next time you're listening to a love song, or writing a love song, or karaokeing to a love song, or collaborating with a weird dude connected to some hitchhikin' babes you brought home, try to consider what that same song would mean if Charles Manson was crooning it to his new spouse on their wedding night.
Maybe this will be Manson's first dance at his wedding. Wait. Is Manson even allowed to have conjugal visits? oh god the horrible thoughts they are burned in my brain make it stop make it stop ahhhhhh