Charles Manson And The Death Of The Californian Dream

The swinging 60s in the Golden State - California. A decade of sex, drink, drugs and debauchery soundtracked by The Beach Boys, The Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
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California's mythic reputation as America's dreamland began as soon as the first settlers hit the western trail.

But it was in the 1960s, with the advent of The Beach Boys, that the Golden State became enshrined as the ultimate funseeker's destination.

Emerging from the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, the group hymned their homeland's abundance of sea, surf and sex. Their euphoric pop music poured out of radios around the globe - like waves crashing on the sun kissed sands at Malibu.

Across the nation, and the world at large, a generation raised in the foreboding shadow of world war 2, rationing and repressive parental mores heard the Beach Boys clarion call.

Harmony drenched opuses such as Surfin' Safari, California Girls and Little Deuce Coupe promised a better, brighter, more joyful world.

The group's songs, many penned by Brian Wilson and his cousin Mike Love, perfectly captured the irresistable lure of Hot Rod Racers, bikini clad girls and the captivating deep blue ocean that lined the Cali coast. The Beach Boys presented an open ended manifesto for a life of Fun, Fun Fun and their multi million dollar accruing success allowed the group to indulge and expand on this fantasy lifestyle.

It also insured that the group would have a deep and lasting musical, cultural and social impact.

In those bygone halcyon days the idea that you could have too much of a good thing - too much sun, too much sex, too many drugs, too much fun - was simply not on the agenda.

And yet, by the end of the decade, as 60s celebrations curdled into 70s hangovers, nowhere was the downside of living according to an unbending pleasure principle seen more clearly than at the heart of The Beach Boys.

Traumatised by a childood spent bearing the brunt of his father Murray's physical and mental abuse musical mastermind Brian Wilson had always operated at a remove from the world celebrated in the group's music.

Ocean-phobic Brian's increasingly eccentric attempts to ride the fun mobile included placing his grand piano in a sandbox which soon became a litter tray for the family pets. Belittled by his boisterous, bullying, inappropriately named cousin Brian attempted to keep pace of the international youth movement he had help inspire by ingesting massive quantities of marijuana, acid, cocaine and, eventually, heroin and hamburgers.

"In those bygone halcyon days the idea you could have too much of a good thing: too much sun, too much sex, too many drugs, too much fun: was not on the agenda."

By the end of the decade he was a bloated shell, a creatively bankrupt, terminally dysfunctional casualty. Once Brian was so out of it that, after failing to recognize her, he attempted to chat up his own daughter at a party.

Miraculously he survived, though at what cost can be seen by anyone attending his frequent live shows. There, with his robotic movements seemingly dictated by onstage autocue, Brian appears to have been reincarnated as the world's first remotely controlled popstar.

But at least Brian did survive - unlike his brother and Beach Boys drummer, Dennis Wilson. Surfing, sex addicted Dennis lived the life of a Beach Boys song to the hilt.

Blinded by the sun, the sea and the ministrations of an ever willing string of groupies, he narrowly escaped becoming a victim of Charlie Manson's killing spree. On one occasion after picking up two female hitchhikers he brought them home enjoying t a menage a trois with two members of Manson's family. He later championed Manson's primitive musical talents but Charlie was not happy about payment for the song Never Learn Not To Love aka Cease To Exist, included on The Beach Boys 20/20 album.

But Dennis's hedonistic lifestyle continued long after even his ex wives had entered rehab. As far back as 1965 he had boasted of living a fast life and in 1983, aged 39, loaded to the gills on booze and cocaine he dived into the cold waters at Marina Del Rey, only emerging several hours later when divers found his body, just below the spot where his yacht Harmony had once been moored. From his prison cell Manson gloated, claiming the death was a direct result of Wilson failing to honour alleged agreements.

The Beach Boys history ever since has been a long round of legal disputes, disease and deaths. But the band's cautionary tale was never going to prevent successive waves of Californian orientated dreamers lighting out for the Golden state. The magnetic pull of pleasure and mankind's desire to bathe at the fountain of fun springs eternal, although, in due course, those that followed in the slipstream of Hawthorne's most famous sons would discover that repeated withdrawals at the bank of fun can lead to deficeits in the mind, body and spirit.

Reserving the right to make mistakes of their own the major figures in a new California rock aristocracy had arrived by the early 70s. From the Texas heartland came Don Henley soon to be joined by Detroit native Glenn Frey in The Eagles. By 1976 fastidious control freak Henley and impetuous hell raising Frey had become the uncrowned Kings Of California rock with their classic Hotel California album.

Proving that their adopted homeland remained a beacon of dread and fascination for allcomers the album, along with the group's Greatest Hits collection, accounted for an astonishing, still unequalled, 18 million sales in a mere 18 month period after its release.

But Henley's great, often overlooked, talent was to chart the darkness and hubris inherent in the sex and cocaine filled rock god lifestyle in which he was a longtime willing participant. The typically literate and cinematic lyric he matched to the reggae rock groove guitarist Don Felder supplied for the epic Hotel California made the song the most potent manifestation of the skank (both the reggae off beat and the stench of society's decay) in post Marley rock – it remains a sublime but sinister vision of the Golden State as a modern day babylon.

"By the end of the decade he was a bloated shell, a creatively bankrupt, terminally dysfunctional casualty. Once Brian was so out of it that he attempted to chat up his own daughter at a party."

Henley's personal excesses included filming groupies that he'd tied to the bed - and screening the resulting movies for the delectation of the road crew. When on tour, if female fans presented with coveted "third encore" badges (an invitation to a post gig party come orgy) did not meet specifications, The Eagles would fly groupies in from LA by private(Lear) jet. Thus the y coined the phrase "love em and Lear em".

The group's free rolling fun freakshow entered another dimension with the arrival of Joe Walsh. The guitar player's furniture demolishing on the road exploits with a chainsaw brought new meaning to the word extrovert, particularly after he defaced an expensive oil painting in one establishment with the legend "party til you puke".

Eventually, of course, such extreme behaviour took its toll – Frey twice had his nose operated on because of damage caused by snorting cocaine, on the second ocassion he had the mucous membrane replaced by teflon lining. The latter adornment was a rockstar accesory first modelled by Linda Ronstadt, the singer who had given the future Eagles their first break as her backing band.

Henley blamed his drug intake for causing a range of ailments - from stomach cramps to back pains. These days he and The Eagles survive as a multi million selling, smoothie slurping shadow of their former selves. Once wildman Walsh celebrates his 17 (and counting) years of sobriety with his onstage hat cam, possibly the most risible use of modern technology to invoke a "fun" atmosphere ever seen on a rock n roll stage.

But even The Eagles exploits and their aftermath pale in comparison to those of David Crosby, former Byrd, solo genius and central figure in the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young supergroup. By the time Henley and co had arrived in California Crosby was well established as LA's leading rock satyr, engaged in bacchanals that lasted all day and night with a revolving retinue of female companions and mind altering stimulants.

"David had a a couple of girls living with him in a sporadic chronic permanent way," recalled San Francisco lady Grace Slick of The Jefferson Airplane, no stranger to feeding her head with heavy doses of lysergic derangement, nor, indeed, to singing the praises of the body electric.

"It was a Hollywood hippie thing, having these long blonde- haired lovely young beings running around, sometimes with no clothes,"Slick continued in Crosby's astonishing autobiography Long Time Gone.

Crosby's literary endeavour in that book is at least matched by his peerless off the edge, unashamedly cosmic, brilliantly titled 1971 solo album debut If I Could Only Remember My Name.Captured at the tipping point, before Crosby's indulgences lead him to a year spent in a Texas jail on fire arms and crack convictions in 1985, the album is the sound a freeborn thrill seeker set free to wander the chasms of his mind. The cream of Californian rock – Neil Young, The Airplane and The Grateful Dead - are there to toast him on his voyage.

Ultimately it would be a dark and of perilous journey. Even his much publicised post Texas recovery could not forestall Crosby's 1995 liver transplant necessitated by a previously undiagnosed case of Hepatitis C – the result of years of substance abuse.

One of the substances Crosby abused was heroin, the ultimate painkiller became a feature of the Cros's life after the 1969 death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car smash. Heroin is not categorised as a fun drug (although curiously cocaine – responsible for some of the most turgid rock music, vapid conversation, nervous and physical ailments of our time – is) but in 70s California its usage became rife.

"Brian attempted to keep pace of the international youth movement he had help inspire by ingesting massive quantities of marijuana, acid, cocaine and eventually, heroin and hamburgers."

Manson' s orchestrated slaughter campaign and his incendiary talk of race war had riven a new atmosphere of fear across the moneyed, post surfin safari, post hippy LA community. The Rolling Stones had looked on helpless as they hosted a Hell Angels engendered rock n roll blood bath upstate at Altamont Speedway.

Former Golden State governor Nixon was in power with the Watergate scandal just around the corner. The outrage of American war in Vietnam may have been drawing to the close but military action had merely switched to accommodate a covert, dirty, arguably even more destructive bombing campaign in Cambodia.

The simple Fun Fun Fun, 2 girls for every boy Beach Boys homilies seemed to have faded into the distance.

Small wonder that CSNY's drummer Dallas Taylor would later claim that he, Keith Richards and David Crosby had turned half of Hollywood onto smack.

Anaesthetising pain now often became the prequisite to having fun - even sensitive singer songwriter types like James Taylor and larger than life party girl Mama Cass were at. But heroin soon added to Californian rock's collateral damage count – country rock pioneer and Stones hanger on Gram Parsons, Tim Buckley, former call girl singer songwriter Judee Sill and,eventually, The Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia all chased the dragon to their graves.

Cocaine remained the fashionable drug of choice, sniggering like a naughty schoolboy, angel- faced songwriting genius Jackson Browne was heard to snort up a line at the close of his requiem for the rock n roll lifestyle on the album Running On Empty.

Little Feat frontman Lowell George, possibly the most gifted of all post Beach Boys Californian pilgrims, sacrificed his talent on a white powder mountain, pegging out in June 1979 aged only 34.

But the warnings that the roads of excess were more likely to lead to the palace of doom than wisdom were not heeded. Future casualties were already being born ready to stomp up the snowy peaks that Dennis Wilson and the saucer eyed Lowell George (party trick – snorting an entire gram of coke through one nostril) had once marched.

Today the cost of too much fun Californian style can be seen in the rapidly unravelling story of Britney Spears or in the jaw dropping physique of skeletor look a like Duff McKagan. The current Velvet Revolver and former Guns n Roses bassist was rebuilt by the miracle of modern medical after experiencing the rock n rolling recreational hazard of, yes, exploded liver.

Perhaps some fun lovers should sit up and take note. I am not a doctor but, when the biggest organ in your body detonates like a suicide bomb, it could be a sign that your capacity to enjoy life to the full has just expired.