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Helter Skelter: Racism and Murder

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Are you hep to what the Beatles are saying? Dig it, they are telling it like it is. They know what's happening in the city; blackie is getting ready. They put the revolution to music. It's "Helter Skelter." Helter-Skelter is coming down.--Charles Manson

Drenched in blood, a dead body was slumped in a car on the driveway. Two bodies, looking like mannequins dipped in red paint, lay on the manicured lawn. As police officers entered the home, they noticed the word "PIG" painted on the door in blood. In the center of the living room, facing the fireplace, was a long couch. Draped over the back was a huge American flag. It was Saturday, August 9, 1969. (Ironically, the day before in England, the Beatles walked across Abbey Road for the last time -- the photo captured for posterity on the album of the same name.)

On the other side of the couch lay a young blond woman, very pregnant. Later identified as Sharon Tate, film director Roman Polanski's wife, she lay in a fetal position, her legs tucked up toward her stomach. Blood had been smeared all over her. A white nylon rope was looped around her neck twice; one end extended over a rafter in the ceiling, the other led across the floor to yet another body, that of a man, about four feet away. The man was drenched in blood, his face covered with a bloody towel, his hands bunched up near his head as if still warding off blows. When the police lifted the towel, the man's face was so badly contused that the police became sick to their stomachs.

Charles Manson, the psychopathic killer responsible for the seven murders at this Hollywood Hills home, blamed the Beatles' White Album for the series of killings his "Family" committed. "Manson was obsessed with the Beatles," writes Barry Miles in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997), "and, like many disturbed Beatles fans, thought they were directing secret messages to him via their songs."

In Manson's case, he thought the messages were ordering him to kill, and that the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter" foretold an uprising in which blacks would murder a third of the world's white population. Like many white convicts, Manson was a racist. However, at some point in 1968, fear of black revolution began to pervade his delusions. Manson's own ultimate domination of the black race became a primary element of the apocalypse he would orchestrate. It would be Helter Skelter. It was also the name his followers used for the murder spree.

Manson thought virtually every one of the 30 tracks on the Beatles' White Albumbrimmed with hidden significance for him. As Manson explains:

At the end of each song there is a little tag piece on it, a couple of notes. Or like in "Piggies" there's "oink, oink, oink." Just these couple of sounds. And all these sounds are repeated in "Revolution 9." Like in "Revolution 9," all these pieces are fitted together and they predict the violent overthrow of the white man. Like you'll hear "oink, oink," and then machine gun fire....I think it's a subconscious thing.... This music is bringing on the revolution...The Beatles know in the sense that the subconscious knows.

Manson believed that the song "Happiness is a Warm Gun" was the Beatles telling the blacks that the time had come to fight, and the lyrics to "Blackbird" spelled it out even more clearly. The white enemy was identified in "Piggies," which is why the Family scrawled the words "Death to Pigs" in blood on the wall after killing several of the Hollywood Hills victims with knives and forks.

Manson's interpretation of the Beatles lyrics was a strange, twisted affair but also was heavily dependent on the Bible -- primarily the book of Revelation, especially Chapter 9, which Manson acquainted with John Lennon's song "Revolution 9."

In Revelation, we read, "So the four angels held were set loose to kill a third of mankind. They had been held ready for this moment, for this very year and month, day and hour." To Manson, the Beatles were the four angels. At the beginning of Revelation 9, St. John sees an angel (or star) fall to earth:

[A]nd the star was given the key of the shaft of the abyss. With this he opened the shaft of the abyss; and from the shaft smoke rose like smoke from a great furnace, and the sun and the air was darkened by the smoke from the shaft. Then over the earth, out of the smoke, came locusts.

Locusts, in Manson's mind, meant beetles. The fallen angel with the key, of course, was Manson himself.

Manson also found an abandoned mine shaft in the desert north of Los Angeles which he told his brainwashed followers was the shaft to Revelation 9. From there, Manson taught his followers that the White Album prophesized that the black race would rise up and murder the white race but that Manson and his Family would be saved. To Manson, "the black man, having lived so long in chains, will not know how to officiate in whatever world is left to him," writes Devin McKinney in Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History (2003). "Thus, Manson was to emerge from the hole, return the black man to his chains, and rule forever in paradise."

Vincent Bugliosi, a District Attorney for Los Angeles, whose book Helter Skelter is the standard work on the trial and Manson's cult, questioned Manson about his beliefs. "We both know you ordered those murders," Bugliosi told Manson. "Bugliosi," Manson replied, "It's the Beatles, the music they're putting out. They are talking about war. These kids listen to this music and pick up on the message. It's subliminal."

Of course, the Beatles were shocked to learn of Manson's interpretation of their lyrics. As Ringo Starr would later say, all the Beatles ever stood for was peace, love and harmony.

After a series of trials, four Family members were eventually convicted of the murders, including Manson himself, on January 25, 1971. While in prison, Manson expected that the murders he had directed his Family to commit would be the long-awaited signal for the blacks to begin their bloody uprising. He was surprised when riots, chaos and violence did not follow. Neither, however, did peace, love and harmony.