It finally happened, the 1960s came to a close. With a whimper in a Bakersfield hospital ward. Charles Manson is dead. We may all now listen to Helter Skelter without hesitation. And not just the version U2 recorded with Bono’s admonition that he was “taking the song back.”
Tough old bird Charlie Manson. Managed to survive in the U.S. penal system for almost half a century. Perhaps more if you count his time served before forming the “family.” Alas, no one stuck a shiv between his ribs during the earlier stints. Instead, he hung around long enough to orchestrate the death of nine innocent people. Along the way becoming a cult figure worthy of t-shirts and pin-on buttons.
Yeah, Charlie reached the same plateau as Che Guevara. Only difference, Charlie was still alive. Che had to die before he became an icon for American teenagers who had no idea what atrocities the would-be communist standard-bearer had managed to accomplish.
They just don’t teach history in high school any more.
If 1967 became known as the “Summer of Love,” 1969 should have been decreed the “Summer of Death.” Think about it. Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew are running the country, Martin Luther King has been assassinated, cities across America have been burned, and then Charlie and the Manson Family go on a murderous spree in hope of provoking further race riots and a toppling of the existing regime.
Why there is any fond memory of the 1960s escapes me. Unless you were at Woodstock or managed to stay stoned for an extended period of time…like, oh, say, a decade running from 1965 to 1975. Imagine emerging from a marijuana-induced stupor in 1975 after going under in 1965. The Beach Boys and Beatles are a memory, Gerald Ford is president, and the Vietnam War is over. Shit, you didn’t miss a thing.
Not a damn thing. The Rolling Stones are still on the scene, Ford’s just another incarnation of the Eisenhower Administration and the Cold War trundles along unimpeded. But Charlie is gone. Pushed into a prison cell in 1971. Never to reemerge—despite 12, yes, 12, parole requests. Some people just don’t know when to give up.
So they cling to the 1960s as some highpoint of American cultural (or is that counter-cultural?) awakening. Really? On the Road was printed in 1957, Oh, sure, we have In Cold Blood arriving in 1966, but the literary stage does not really open again until the early 70s. Same could be said of art or theater. (The Famous American Plays series is markedly absent a tome for the 1960s…skips the entire decade…Hmmmm.)
But we still cherish memories of “flower power,” tie-dyed t-shirts and bell bottom jeans. It was the American “awakening.” Have you ever read The Awakening (Kate Chopin, 1899)? It’s not a happy story.
The same could be said of the 1960s. Opens with the gloss of John Kennedy’s election—the man who makes Bill Clinton appear positively chaste—and demises with Richard Nixon at the helm—elected in a campaign that set the stage for “law and order” and Republican ascendancy in the American South.
How soon we forget.
Yet, Charlie was there to remind us of the era, the glory it might have been. Speaking from his prison cell or paraded down a sidewalk on some punk’s rumpled shirt. Those eyes that seemed to stare through you, while it was obvious to anyone who met him that he knew not what he saw.
Charlie, the man who would have been king. In a time we all should just forget.
Bury him deep, with no marker for the deluded to honor. The same as we should with all shallow memories of the “hollowed” period so many wistfully call “the 60s.”
Eric C. Anderson
20 November 2017