Saturday, December 6, 2008

How Wilco was spared the knives of the Manson Family


I don't usually go in for the Manson Family before breakfast, but I've got a rare book (The Family, by Ed Sanders) on loan and feel the need to share its disturbing wealth with the world before returning it to my friend. These are the notes that caught my eye.

The Family were San Fernando Valley Dumpster divers, and even Johnnie Schwartz's 1957 yellow Ford that they drove to commit various murders had its back seats removed to accommodate large loads of salvaged food.

Some of the iconic Marlboro Man commercials were filmed on the Spahn Ranch, one of the Family's squats.

Manson deprecated what he called "black slave music" and forbid the playing of Jimi Hendrix records.

Manson initially had his thirst for butchery stoked by listening to a Panamanian hand on the Spahn Ranch, Juan Flynn, remember his time in Vietnam, but Flynn counselled against killing when Manson started talking more and more about getting into the act: "It's like smoking cigarettes, Charlie; one you start, you just keep wanting to do it."

Manson is said to have buried his Spanish guitar in Death Valley where it's said to await his release and return.

One of the Family's murder victims, Jay Sebring, was a hair stylist whom the late Paul Newman credited with saving his hair. He also "discovered" Bruce Lee, though I am picking that up from Wikipedia, not Sanders' book.

Sanders did inform me, though, that Sebring, Sharon Tate and others dined at El Coyote the night they were murdered. This place is right around the corner from the home of my songwriting partner in Hollywood, Matt Fuller. Personal aside: the one time I ordered carryout from El Coyote, there were such a puzzling number of evidently transgendered individuals in the restaurant that I wrote that scene into a novel and it yielded a major, minor character for me.

The novelist Jerzy Kosinski was expected at Sharon Tate's home the night she and others were murdered there, but his luggage was lost in a transatlantic flight so he was delayed in New York. That lost luggage kept him alive long enough to write the novel Being There, published in 1971 and then adapted for the screen in the 1979 film of the same name by Hal Ashby.

Local rock music aside: in his unknown days, Jeff Tweedy often commented to fellow unknowns, like myself, that Being There and Raising Arizona were his two favorite films. So the Manson Family could have been responsible for snuffing out the title of a Wilco album, on top of so much else, but for some luggage that zigged when it should have zagged. Had Jerzy Kosinksi been there with Sharon Tate on Cielo Drive the night of August 9, 1969, there would have been no Being There.

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My Google hunts in support of this post led me to the as-told-to autobiography of Manson Family main murderer Charles "Tex" Watson, which is available online and backs up Sander's book with, evidently, even more inside detail.

2 comments:

Steve Pick said...

You'd have to ask her, but I have the vaguest memory that Rene Saller met Jerzy Kosinski when she was in college.

Michael R. Allen said...

There is so much Manson material online when you start probing into it you are on a ship with a thousand staterooms, each arranged somewhat differently. That story has infinite layers, players, facts and connections with American pop culture -- it's too weird to not be true!