Uncharted: Crime and Mayhem in the Music Industry, episode 14: The musical nightmare of Charles Manson

I was once two degrees of separation from Charles Manson—sort of. I’d better explain that.

One February morning while I was in university, my friend Donald came skipping—skipping!—down the hall yelling “He wrote back! He wrote me back!” In his hand was a single sheet of yellow notepaper.

“What are you talking about?,” I asked. “Who wrote back?” I asked.

“Charlie!” he exclaimed.

“Charlie who?”

“Charlie Manson!”

I should point out that my friend had become a little eccentric. I think it started with an English project back in high school when we were asked to examine and interpret the lyrics from some of our favourite songs. He dove into The Beatles and returned with his insights into the gibberish that was “I Am the Walrus.”

This led him to a topic for his next project: the “Paul is dead” theory, which held that Paul McCartney died in a car crash sometime in early 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike imposter. That lit up the conspiracy centres of his brain. I was only a short hop from there to the song “Helter Skelter” from the white album and its connection to a couple of horrific Tate-LaBianca murders committed by the Manson family in August 1969.

It was sometime after high school that my friend started writing letters to Manson at his prison in Vacaville, California. And one day, this letter arrived.

I held it in my hand. The writing was spikey, aggressive, and hard to make out. It started running horizontally across the page but got progressively wilder with cryptic passages about a star rising in the east and odd doodles in the margins.

Flipping it over, the handwriting became even more wild, with the bottom half of the page taken up by some crazy illegible scribbles. And at the bottom, a simple signature: “Charlie.”

I lost contact with my friend years ago so I don’t know what happened to him, but I’ll never forget that handwritten letter from Charles Manson. The story of Manson has stayed with me.
Over the years, some intriguing stories about Manson, his family, and music have come to life,

Yes, there’s a musical angle to the carnage—and it’s time to put these pieces together. This is episode 14 of Uncharted: Music and Mayhem in the Music Industry. This time, it’s the musical nightmare of Charles Manson.

Get Uncharted: Crime and Mayhem in the Music Industry wherever you get your podcasts. Both Uncharted and The Ongoing History of New Music will be heard back-to-back overnights five days a week on these Corus news stations:

Showtimes (all times local)

  • Toronto: AM 640 (4-5am)
  • London: 980 CFPL (4-5am)
  • Hamilton: 900 CHML (4-5am)
  • Vancouver: 980 CKNW (1-2am)
  • Edmonton: 630 CHED (1-2am)
  • Calgary: QR77 (770 AM and 107.1 FM) (1-2am)
  • Winnipeg: 680 CJOB (1-2am)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38569 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.