Friday, December 5, 2008

Dunebuggies, horseflies and the Manson Family

Before it got too terribly cold outside, I spent a lot of time in my friend John Eiler's garage. His twenty-year-old daughter had just been found dead in Mexico, and he needed company, and I needed to be around him, as much as I could, to see how badly unhinged he was swinging, from day to day.

We're both big talkers, but we often didn't talk, and when we talked, it mostly wasn't about Sali. We talked about motorcycles. We talked about brain clinics in Southern California. We talked about the Manson Family. When we were talking about Charles Manson, John dug up for me a rare book called The Family, written by Ed Sanders, who (among many other things) had fronted a New York band called The Fugs.

When I was a young rock musician, my band was sometimes compared to The Fugs, whom I'm hearing for the first time as I search for a cool link for them to build into this post. That coincindence made me curious. So did the subtitle: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion.

One comes to associate many things with Charles Manson, but the dune buggy is not among them. To emphasize that disconnect, the book's (uncredited) graphic design artist used a VW Bug, rather than Manson's ubiquitous face, as the sole design element on the book jacket and flyleaf. That seemed suitably strange to me. I took the book home.

The dune buggy thing is something Sanders extrapolated and exaggerated from one of the family's core business lines, namely jacking cars, stripping them and selling them (and using them for transportation from Death Valley hideout to crime scene, or wherever).

Sanders is good for pulling out ordinary details of life with the Family like the car jacking racket. Another is the horseflies. Of course, the Spahn Ranch, where they squatted for a long period of time, was a former movie ranch - anybody who knows much about Manson knows that much. Lesser know is that it also was a horse ranch, and with horses come horseflies.

"On the ranch," Sanders writes, "almost like a mental affliction, were thousands and thousands of Spahn Ranch horseflies which were a devouring menace, especially to vulnerable lovemakers."
I'm not feeling sorry for Manson and the Family, at this point, but for the first time I am, actually, feeling them, for I have paddled all day down a Missouri river, tortured by horseflies, "almost like a mental affliction," though leave me out of that lovemaking horsefly imagery. Thanks.

Also, leave me out of this stuff:

"Charlie was out to impress with his power over animals. Picking up snakes and zapping them with the stare, allowing the Spahn Ranch horseflies to land on his mouth and swarm upon his lips. The girls claimed he conjured them not to bite him. Later on, it was always amazing to see unconcerned family members with horseflies on their lips - horseflies that can really chomp into a lip, should they decide it."

It may not be up (or down) there with the fork stuck into Sharon Tate's pregnant stomach, when it comes to the chamber of Manson Family horrors, but that's still right stanky and creepy.


No comments: