Saturday, December 27, 2008

Squeaky Fromme, Katie Couric and I have been to West Virginia

I think if you're interested in America, you have to be interested in the Manson Family. I'm not aware of any invented American storyline that is better than what actually happened in the Charles Manson story.

Poor Appalachian petty criminal becomes Southern Californian messiah. The Summer of Love meets cataclysmic race war fantasy. Beatles album gets construed as battle signals in starting the race war. Race war is plotted from old movie location ranch. Pregnant vampire movie actress succumbs as sacrifical victim. A place called Death Valley provides the setting for the final showdown.

You can make this stuff up - it's just that the madeup stuff isn't half this good!

I come to this story very belatedly, after recently reading The Family by Ed Sanders, which inspired posts about horseflies on the lips of killer hippies and how the Manson gang nearly stuffed out an ambitious Wilco album before it was ever in the embryo.

I still find myself combing the internet, looking for dribs and drabs about this amazing cast of characters and the incalculably stupid decisions they made in the desert and in the beautiful hills above Los Angeles. And that is how I came across this clip of the young Katherine (not yet "Katie") Couric, reporting live from West Virginia .

The story: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme has escaped from federal prison in Alderson, West Virginia, just before Christmas 1987. Squeaky was soon captured and sent packing to other federal houses of confinement (long before Martha Stewart would check into Alderson in 2004 for securities fraud and obstruction of justice).

I find it interesting that Squeaky Fromme, the most devoted of Manson's disciples - she is in prison today for bumrushing President Ford with a gun in 1975, obscurely pursuing Charlie's program of saving the Redwoods - would end up in West Virginia, where Manson was (in his words) "razed" in the towns of McMechen and Wheeling.

I have been keeping an eye on West Virginia for longer than I have been a Manson Family watcher. My rock band Enormous Richard used to play Huntington and Charleston, West Virginia as routing gigs on our East Coast tours. We developed a pretty good following there, particularly in Huntington, a very strange town at that time.

It sits at a tri-state juncture (of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky), and in all border areas there is a sin city where the clubs stay open later and the cops are more corrupt than in the neighboring states, allowing markets for narcotics and weird sex to thrive. This was the situation with Huntington, West Virginia in the early- to mid-1990s, and it made for really interesting (if frequently disturbing) gigs.

Like all border towns, Huntington also harbored runaways, and I met a beautiful teen refugee from Kentucky at a gig there. I used to go out to West Virginia and stay with her between band tours, amazed by the beautiful hills and the strange little town. Eventually I moved her to St. Louis and married her - a marriage that ended badly. Not "Manson Family" badly, just "musician marriage" badly, though she and I did go through a murder trial together, where she was the motive for the murder and the star witness for the prosecution. Maybe that's why it made sense for me to find the Manson Family all mixed up with the hills of West Virginia.

You will find some of these personal experiences buried in the lyrics to a song I wrote, "Been to West Virginia," that I recorded with the band Eleanor Roosevelt. We released it on the record Walker With His Head Down, which is out there on the pay-to-play digital download sites, though here's a free mp3 of the song, for now. Handle with care.


I snapped the Polaroid on the property of primal rockabilly madman Hasil Adkins in the hills of West Virginia. That's another story altogether!


nosey parker said...

Great story man. I like the creepy stuff during the holidays. How bout that Katie? I remember a
quick comment you made about her taking off the
gloves for the Palin interview. She's look'n kinda
sexy now.

Confluence City said...

Thanks. I'm always creepy. The holidays come and go ... As for Katie Couric, she has never been other than sexy. Even I can only pile up so many backstories on one blogpost, so I left out a fact I thought about the whole time I was writing that thing, that my first ever serious girlfriend, my highschool girlfriend, aka Monkey, is a dead ringer for Katie Couric! (And my West Virginia refugee girlfriend was named Katie, and ... and ...)

Hope said...

Wow just can across a blog about Squeaky Fromme. Iwas only 18yrs old when I went to Alderson west.I remember like it was yesterday.Fromme trying to escape that day it was snowing and cold right after the last count she escape but the found her near a mountain top the nesxt day.The people that live close by work for
Alderson. I remember one of the girls had duty to polish Formme room the girl asked her to move a second later Formme busted her head open with something that look close to a what a flash back of my life I just have encountered.

Confluence City said...

Hope, Id be interested in hearing much more about your experiences.