Acid Heroes

June 30, 2014

Charles Manson

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:23 pm
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Turn on, tune in, and X out.

I’ve always had a weird fascination with Charles Manson.  Like I lot of people, I guess.  If you made a list of the 10 most famous living people on the planet, I wouldn’t be surprised if Manson made that list.  45 years after the Sharon Tate murders there’s still an enduring, world-wide fascination with Charles Manson.  Manson has become almost a cartoon character of evil.  America’s favorite monster.

When I was 17 in 1974, senior year of high school, I first became fascinated with  Charles Manson. It was like an off-shoot of my general fascination with all things LSD.   I had a little bookshelf that was  built into the head-board of my bed in my bedroom.  And I kept it well-stocked with books related to psychedelics drugs.

There was “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” of course, which featured Ken Kesey as sort of the prototype psychedelic hero — the pioneer and space-cowboy explorer of inner space.  And I had a Beatles bio paperback, circa Sgt Pepper, with color photos of the Beatles decked out in their “psychedelic clothes” and Paul talking about how LSD had helped him to see God, and how acid might be a universal cure-all that would end poverty and war and shit if only the square politicians would start turning on.   And, of course, I had “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,”  Hunter S. Thompson’s madcap vision of the psychedelic experience.  And I had a bunch of Kurt Vonnegut novels, who was like a psychedelic father-figure (his son Mark Vonnegut would live out the classic ’60s hippie trip, starting a commune and grooving on many acid trips until he finally ended up in the nut ward).  Even my sports books had turned psychedelic.  There was “North Dallas 40” by Peter Gent, one of the first acid-dropping NFL football stars.  And the NBA basketball star Phil Jackson started out the first chapter of his jock bio, “Maverick,” with a story about how an acid trip had changed his life (for the better, natch).

But one day, quietly, my parents slipped a copy of “Helter Skelter” by Vincent Bugliosi into my collection of books.   They never mentioned it to me directly.  But I could sort of tell what their unstated message was:  “We can see where you’re headed with the drugs and the street scene and the psychedelic hippie shit.  So you might want to check out where that path could lead you.”

Of course I was fascinated with “Helter Skelter” and would read it many times from cover-to-cover.  And when I was tripping on acid I would some times vividly imagine what those kids in the Manson Family had experienced.  On acid you could understand exactly how those kids had been transformed.  For psychedelic drugs do open up your head in a way.  But they leave your  head exposed to be filled with whatever happens to be going around.  Nature abhors a vacuum after all.  And that goes for all that blank space in your noggin’, too.

Later,  in the 1980s, one of my best friends would become good friends with this wispy little Berkeley hippie chick named Angel Star who used to be in the Manson Family in the late-’60s.  Angel Star was in her 30s by that point, and every now and then she would talk about Charles Manson.  She claimed she had gotten out of the Family before the killings started.  But I was never so sure about that.

And Angel Star was just Charlie’s type.  Small, girl-ish, waif-like, with the long, straight hippie-hair parted in the middle. It’s weird how so many of the Manson girls were the exact same type.  And it was the “Children of the Damned” aspect that I think was such a big part of Manson’s enduring fascination. That these cute and seemingly innocent (and sexy) teenage girls could be capable of such monstrous acts.

I always wanted to ask Angel Star about Manson.   In retrospect I regret I didn’t.  But I could tell she didn’t want to go there.  It wasn’t something she  was eager for other people to know about. And I respected that.   Because it marked her in a way.  Almost as if it X-ed her out of society, even though she hadn’t literally carved one on her forehead.

To this day, I’ll still occasionally see Angel Star wandering around the streets of Bekeley.  Often dressed in rags, and sometimes pushing a shopping cart and listlessly scrounging around in garbage cans on Shattuck Avenue.  Always alone.  Always silent.  She’s in her 6os now and looks a bit haggard, even as she’s still retained some of her girl-ish demeanor.  She looks almost like an ancient, grizzled, little girl.   And I’ll sometimes think of how many different lives Charles Manson ruined.  And it’s almost mind-boggling.

There was another guy that used to hang out on Telegraph Avenue for a bit around 10 years ago.  Young, hippie-looking guy, dark brown hair, beard,  probably in his mid-30s.  Used to hang out on the sidewalk outside the Caffe Med, usually alone, never seemed to talk to anyone.  Always dressed in black clothes and was usually barefoot.  Nothing particular distinctive about him, except that he always wore a black top-hat.  And every now and then he’d take his hat off and you could see he had an X carved in his forehead.  Whenever I would see that guy hanging out on the Ave, I always got a strange feeling.  It was like seeing this haunted specter from the past, hovering silently over the scene.  And maybe a specter of the future, too.  Last  I heard, Charles Manson was still alive and well.  And still had an enduring appeal.



  1. One of the reasons I read this blog is that I[‘m fascinated by the dark side of hippiedom. I guess it’s because when I was a little kid, we were constantly spoon fed the sweet and gentle side of all that…Jim Henson and sesame street, playing with Earth Balls and non competitive parachute games and so on. I always had an instinctive sense that hippies were scary though, and when I got older and learned about their predecessors the beatnicks and all their creepy mindf#cking antics it started to make sense.

    Comment by hardears pickney — July 1, 2014 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

    • I think my fascination with “the ’60s” is somewhat similar to yours. I was a preteen Beatles fan in 1967 when the Beatles “went psychedelic.” Made that sudden, and jarring, transition from “teenybopper band” to full-blown “hippydom” virtually overnight. A typical example of how the ’60s was sold to kids like me was the “Yellow Submarine” movie — this wholesome, fun-loving, animated kiddie-cartoon that was basically about the Beatles tripping their brains out on powerful psychedelic drugs. Or the “Beatles Saturday Morning Cartoon Show” (sandwiched in between Bugs Bunny and Superman). I remember one of the episodes featured the cartoon Beatles singing “Tomorrow Never Knows” — the lyrics lifted word-for-word from Timothy Leary’s “The Psychedelic Experience” which was basically a “how-to” guide for taking an LSD trip (that’s certainly how Lennon was using it while he was writing the song). And nobody ever seemed to point out the oddity, or the possible ramifications of this kind of kiddie fare. Nowadays they’ve outlawed the “Joe Camel” cartoon character because they felt it might encourage kids to smoke cigarettes. I guess LSD is considered safer stuff . . . . What happened to those kids in the Manson Family was an extreme — but not altogether un-typical — example of a lot of the hay-wire trips that resulted from the combination of children, Beatles, LSD and pseudo-mysticism.

      Comment by Ace Backwords — July 1, 2014 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

      • Yeah, what could be odder than the mass marketing of psychedelics to the kiddies via those cartoons as an end result of the messianic hucksterism of Timothy Leary and his sidekick Ram Dass. I was born in 67, so by the time I was self-aware, that stuff was just a permanent part of the culture.

        We had this babysitter when I was 7 who always brought the “Sgt Pepper” album when she came over. My little brother and I would dance around playing tennis rackets. She explained to us about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and LSD which was a sort of medicine that made you think a door was turning into a mouth about to eat you, so you’d jump out a window to get away with it. WHy you’d put yourself though this voluntarily was yet another baffling and evil thing about grownups.

        Comment by hardears pickney — July 2, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

  2. A Manson story on this page

    Comment by Pat Hartman — July 2, 2014 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

  3. Hmmmm…well I suppose I was yet another “recruited”child…I found the tales of the impossibly beautiful and revealing aspects of psychadelic drugs enticing to the extreme.And experimented with them as soon as I could lay my hands on some.I loved the experiences that I had and repeated them as often as I could.I am even now, at sixty one, keeping my ear to the ground for substances of impeccable pedigree, because I ‘ve found them useful as a tuning fork applied to my personal consciousness.My occasional use helps me to keep things open ended and fresh in the maintenence of the evology of my(our) mind.There are a few things that I have done in my life that,while not really regreting,I think were unwise detours.But I am an advocate of all types of psychotropic chemicals, at least for myself.I have also witnessed the damage done to other people who , unknown to themselves, were psychogically unfit for this kind of inner exploration.And how could they know?These drugs were totally unregulated and there were no examinations that one could take or or do that might give a heads up to someone who had serious unresolve d personal issues and/or chemical instabilities.However, I think that these unwitting victems were the exception rather than the norm.My contemporaries and I did not suffer any damage at that time(being the eary seventies)or now.And its not because I was kept wrapped in pink cotten wool and had never had anything negitive occur in my life.As a sixteen year old runaway I had more than my share of ego eroding experiences including three murder attempts that I was able to extradite myself from and survive.Three!You would think that I had grown up in the Congo or Bosnia!At any rate, I found that drugs of this nature were helpful,rather than otherwise,in processing these events,and others ,such as rape and the manipulations of unscrupulous individuals seeking to control my body and mind for their own personal gain.I am a survivor.And not a broken and invalidated one either.I suppose you could simply say,know thyself.And as I have watched individuals persist in using these drugs despite initial unfortunate effects, all I can do is warn them off and try to help when inevitably they found themselves confronting the monsters beyond the theshold.Why they believe that they they must persist is a mystery to me.

    Comment by Valerie Angell — June 16, 2016 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

    • I appreciate your comment. Very nicely put.

      Comment by Ace Backwords — June 16, 2016 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

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