Following the death of Charles Manson late last year, we take a look back on the uncanny link between this barbaric cult leader and the innocent, baby-faced Beatles. Manson was the charismatic leader of the Manson Family, a cult which he set up in the 1960s- the same era in which The Beatles were most prominent. Despite the congruent time-frames of both phenomenons, there seemed to be virtually no correspondence between the two until Manson credited his entire ideology to the band at the end of the 1960s.
Similarly to the majority of teenage girls at the time, Manson was infatuated with The Beatles, but in a brutally different way. Manson was serving jail time for a variety of crimes, including cheque fraud and pimping, while the Beatles were breaking America in 1964. While learning to play guitar he developed an obsession with the Beatles, which may have appeared harmless at the time. Once he was released, his level of fixation only multiplied. One of the Beatles last and most influential albums, the ‘White Album’, resonated most with Manson. According to the Family Members of the Manson Family, he would play the album on repeat, forwards and backwards, in a search for subliminal messages. In Manson’s twisted mind, benevolent, good-natured tracks such as ‘I Will’, ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Piggies’ represented an impending race war. According to Manson “this music is bringing on the revolution, the unorganized overthrow of the establishment.”
The hard rock, almost heavy metal track ‘Helter Skelter’ had the most substantial effect on Manson’s doctrine. He went as far as to name the race war he was starting after the song, claiming that it represented confusion and chaos. On the day of The Manson Family’s infamous killing of then-pregnant actress Sharon Tate, and her four loved ones, Manson told his followers that it was “time for Helter Skelter.” After a second killing spree the following day, ‘Helter Skelter’ was written at the crime scene using the victim’s blood. Manson manipulates the lyrics “I’m coming down fast” into “confusion is coming down around you fast” in order to create an unconvincing link between the song and his murderous movement. In a feeble attempt to justify the atrocities that arose from his movement he claimed that the song “says ‘Rise.’ It says ‘Kill.’ Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music.”
What made this connection even more unorthodox, if that is possible, is the discrepancy between the Manson’s beliefs and the moral standings of The Beatles. The Beatles had established a reputation of opposing racial segregation and discrimination that was prevalent in the US at the time. Amidst the Civil Rights Movement in 1965, the band signed a contract stating that they would not perform for segregated crowds which was the norm in every Southern US states at the time. Yet Manson claimed to have reason to believe that The Beatles were subtly initiating a merciless race war. On numerous occasions, The Beatles have denounced Manson’s principles and debunked any theories that Manson expressed. Paul McCartney, The Beatles frontman and writer and performer of the ‘Helter Skelter’, stated that Manson listened to the song and “arrived at having to go out and kill everyone…It was frightening, because you don’t write songs for those reasons”.
Having determined Manson’s outlandish analysis of The Beatles influence alongside the reaction of the band themselves, Manson was inarguably and tragically mistaken. Perhaps what is most disturbing about this case is that technically, Manson was an extreme version of the fans and conspiracists that have over-analysed every Beatles song to date. The danger of conspiracy theories such as these is that if they fall into the hands of a maniac, as they did in the 1960s, they could incite very real and perilous turmoil.