Monday, 20 November 2017

Notes Towards an Expanded Psycho-Historical Context for the Manson Family

Following the death of Charles Manson, I have re-purposed an old post that I feel may feature a few ideas that might not appear in the undoubtedly huge amount of material that will probably surface on the internet in the next week or so.

I originally wrote this in 2009 when the release of the Johnny Depp vehicle Public Enemy coincided with the general period of the fortieth anniversary of the Manson murders. I found it interesting to note a point of connection that came through one of the true-life characters featured in the movie, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. In later years he tutored the young Charlie on the guitar and much else besides. This serves as an interesting doorway into an expanded psycho-historical context in which to place the Family enigma. I offer up these fragments in the spirit of Marshall McLuhan’s Probes in the hope they may inspire others to expand them further.

Charles Manson is certainly a unique character and a lot of his story carries the tone of the time. It’s fascinating to investigate the occult beliefs circulating in sixties California that may have influenced him. Ed Sanders in The Family and Adam Gorightly in The Shadow Over Santa Susana have pointed towards the Solar Lodge of the OTO, the Process Church of the Final Judgement and a wider climate inspired by the Church of Satan as important factors in the genesis of Helter Skelter. I deal with these topics in my Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus.

I think there is also a larger American pyschogeographical context that Charlie and the Family can be fruitfully placed in.  Firstly, the Karpis connection helps fit Manson  into a lineage that stretches back through the gangster era to the Wild West. Charlie’s gangster mentor was a former designated Public Enemy from the Dillinger/Bonnie and Clyde era. A thief and murderer in his own right he joined up with the Ma Barker gang, a group of psycho-killer brothers immortalised by seventies Euro-disco-kitsch champions Boney M under their variant spelling as Ma Baker.

Go on. You know you want to watch it.

As a young girl Ma Barker had seen Jesse James ride by on a horse and was upset to hear of his death. Contrary to the legend she didn’t slaughter for fun and may not have been actively involved in the carnage but here was a family that slayed together. FBI chief J Edgar Hoover wrote in a book called The FBI in Action that “Ma Barker and her sons, and Alvin Karpis and his cronies, constituted the toughest gang of hoodlums the FBI ever has been called upon to eliminate…Looking over the record of these criminals, I was repeatedly impressed by the cruelty of their depredations…murder of a policeman …murder of two policemen ….machine gun murder of an innocent citizen who got in the way during a bank robbery …kidnapping  and extortion…train robbery…mail robbery ...the protection of high police officials bought with tainted money…paroles bought.”  As well as guitar tutorials, Karpis probably regaled his student with romanticised outlaw-chic stories of on-the-road pillage and slaughter.

During Manson’s apparent hippy phase he remained in contact with all kinds of figures in the general criminal underworld, engaging in a wide range of what could be called conventional criminal activity: car theft, burglary, credit card rackets, as well as drug-dealing. Somewhere in the background lurk Mafia types and the possibility that there may be a contract-killing aspect to the Tate-LaBianca murders. In this sense, Manson was a gangster.

Once the Family moved out from the cities into the wilderness they took on the established outlaw ambiance. They spent significant time on a ranch that had featured in a numerous western B movies. Scenes from the legendary sixties TV series Bonanza and The Lone Ranger had been shot there. A whole Wild West street film set was in place that included a saloon. In this environment the Family lived their drug-filled orgiastic lifestyle. There were real cowboys still working on the ranch and a number of the Family also helped with the horses and general chores. Biker gangs were increasingly in evidence, along with the build up of an arsenal of weapons. In their later wanderings mining cabins and shacks, abandoned ghost villages, and isolated wilderness settlements are everywhere in the Family landscape. There can be little doubt that what could be called the Wild West Factor would have been part of the potent influences that shaped the group mindset.

Taking a look at Death Valley, scene of the final hoedown before Manson’s arrest, it’s redolent of Palestine. It’s a place where it would be easy to become a Bible nut. From the nineteenth century onwards large numbers of weird religious cults with their own take on Revelations went west. Madness, violence and sexuality were often present in varying blends around charismatic leader figures. The End Times were usually near. Charlie and the Family are part of this heritage as well. He fits the warped-out preacher archetype rather well. My personal favourite modern representation of this is Henry Kane in Poltergeist II. 

Manson is already a mythic figure. In another fifty years who knows how Hollywood might portray him or characters clearly derived from him? Look at the enormous number of westerns romanticising the lives of dirtbag murderers and the hideous environments they lived out their wretched lives in. These movies were created decades after the events they portrayed. With the gangster era there was no time-lag with the glamorising movies depicting it. Hippy outlaws and love-guru preachers may eventually become even more lionised noir figures than they already are. The psychogeography is well established. They are recognisable figures in archetypal tales set in a dreamtime landscape.

Steve Railsback as Manson in the seventies TV mini-series Helter Skelter. 

In my opinion the only actor who has ever managed a convincing portrayal. The words are accurately reported and the tale assuredly portrays Manson as a monster but Charlie himself skillfully milked the archetypal outlaw role and generates some power with it. What might a 2070 version of Helter Skelter be like?

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Atargatis Rune Soup Interview

I have been writing a book entitled Atargatis for the whole of this year and am now maybe a few months away from completion.

As always, I have placed great importance on the cover art and remain fortunate in being able to call on the considerable talent of Yuri Leitch to paint whatever design I come up with. The process in this case has been remarkably strange and is discussed at length in an interview with Gordon White for Rune Soup.

I also go into some detail about some of the contents of the book relating to Kenneth Grant and mysterious Egyptian Pharaoh Sobek Neferu Re. I would like to think it will generate some interest in the finished version when it finally arrives.