WEIRDLAND: The Beach Boys: Love & Mercy, Dennis Wilson & Charles Manson (Bad Vibrations)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Beach Boys: Love & Mercy, Dennis Wilson & Charles Manson (Bad Vibrations)

“I am very, very grateful for Melinda coming into my life. She taught me little things, taking one day at a time. She saved me." -Brian Wilson on wife Melinda Ledbetter

LOVE & MERCY (2014) presents an unconventional portrait of Brian Wilson, the mercurial singer, songwriter and leader of The Beach Boys. Set against the era defining catalog of Wilson’s music, the film intimately examines the personal voyage and ultimate salvation of the icon whose success came at extraordinary personal cost. Starring: John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti. Directed by: Bill Pohlad. Screenplay by: Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner.

Love & Mercy Featurette - Dual Role, starring John Cusack, Paul Dano & Elizabeth Banks.

In "Love & Mercy" Elizabeth Banks plays Brian Wilson's wife Melinda Ledbetter, a former model turned Cadillac salesperson, whom he met in 1986 and married in 1995.

John Cusack, who with movies like “High Fidelity” and “Say Anything” is often associated with music on film, said he hopes “Love & Mercy” (the title comes from Wilson's 1988 solo album) underscores just how much the artist provides a soundtrack even to modern life. “It’s hard to overestimate his influence on music,” Cusack said. “Pet Sounds was a year before 'Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts,' and everything you hear in the Beatles is there. And then you listen more. Especially to The Smile Sessions, and you hear all these other connections. Boom, there’s ELO, there’s another band.” For her part, Elizabeth Banks extolled Ledbetter’s gutsiness and said that she hadn’t even thought of the film as a musical biopic until it was brought up in an interview. “We’re ‘Get on Up’ but we’re totally different,” she said. “It’s really a story about villains, about good conquering evil.” Source:

NBC has run out of patience with its low-rated Thursday drama tandem of “Aquarius” and “Hannibal,” revealing Monday that they will move over to little-watched Saturday nights. The scripted series will air from 9 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, flipping timeslots with the net’s popular “Dateline Saturday Mystery” crime franchise.

Last week, the first-year Charles Manson-themed drama “Aquarius” and third-year “Hannibal” both delivered tiny 0.4 ratings in adults 18-49, while “Dateline” did double that (0.8) on Saturday. The network effectively canceled “Hannibal” last month, but renewed “Aquarius” for a second season. Source:

California's mythic reputation as America's dreamland began as soon as the first settlers hit the western trail. But it was in the 1960s, with the advent of The Beach Boys, that the Golden State became enshrined as the ultimate funseeker's destination. Emerging from the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, the group hymned their homeland's abundance of sea, surf and sex. Their euphoric pop music poured out of radios around the globe - like waves crashing on the sun kissed sands at Malibu. Across the nation, and the world at large, a generation raised in the foreboding shadow of World War II, rationing and repressive parental mores heard the Beach Boys clarion call.

Harmony drenched opuses such as Surfin' Safari, California Girls and Little Deuce Coupe promised a better, brighter, more joyful world. The group's songs, many penned by Brian Wilson and his cousin Mike Love, perfectly captured the irresistable lure of Hot Rod Racers, bikini clad girls and the captivating deep blue ocean that lined the Cali coast. The Beach Boys presented an open ended manifesto for a life of Fun, Fun Fun and their multi million dollar accruing success allowed the group to indulge and expand on this fantasy lifestyle.

In those bygone halcyon days the idea that you could have too much of a good thing - too much sun, too much sex, too many drugs, too much fun - was simply not on the agenda. And yet, by the end of the decade, as 60s celebrations curdled into 70s hangovers, nowhere was the downside of living according to an unbending pleasure principle seen more clearly than at the heart of The Beach Boys. Traumatised by a childood spent bearing the brunt of his father Murry's physical and mental abuse musical mastermind Brian Wilson had always operated at a remove from the world celebrated in the group's music.

Ocean-phobic Brian's increasingly eccentric attempts to ride the fun mobile included placing his grand piano in a sandbox which soon became a litter tray for the family pets. Belittled by his boisterous, bullying, inappropriately named cousin Brian attempted to keep pace of the international youth movement he had help inspire by ingesting massive quantities of marijuana, acid, cocaine and, eventually, heroin and hamburgers.

But at least Brian did survive - unlike his brother and Beach Boys drummer, Dennis Wilson. Surfing, sex addicted Dennis lived the life of a Beach Boys song to the hilt. Blinded by the sun, the sea and the ministrations of an ever willing string of groupies, he narrowly escaped becoming a victim of Charlie Manson's killing spree. On one occasion after picking up two female hitchhikers he brought them home enjoying a menage a trois with two members of Manson's family. He later championed Manson's primitive musical talents but Charlie was not happy about payment for the song Never Learn Not To Love aka Cease To Exist, included on The Beach Boys 20/20 album.

Dennis's hedonistic lifestyle continued long after even his ex wives had entered rehab. As far back as 1965 he had boasted of living a fast life and in 1983, aged 39, loaded to the gills on booze and cocaine he dived into the cold waters at Marina Del Rey, only emerging several hours later when divers found his body, just below the spot where his yacht Harmony had once been moored. From his prison cell Manson gloated, claiming the death was a direct result of Wilson failing to honour alleged agreements. Source:

Charlie Manson had spent the majority of his life in the care of armed state and federal officials. His rap sheet and convictions centered primarily around car theft, burglary and forging federal checks. Somewhere deep inside his troubled, festering mind, Manson harbored dreams of making it big in the music business. Fellow con, Alvin Karpis, one of Ma Barker’s notorious gang members in the ‘30s, had taught Charlie to play guitar while he was incarcerated for a spell in Washington State. Flamboyant road manager Phil Kaufman, who later worked for renowned artists like The Rolling Stones and Emmylou Harris, first met Manson strumming a guitar, while Kaufman was serving time for marijuana trafficking at Terminal Island. “He sounded like a young Frankie Laine and was really quite good,” Kaufman later recalled. “A guard went up to him and said, ‘Manson, you’ll never get out of here.’ Charlie replied, ‘Get out of where, man?’” This kind of free-thinking, nonchalant view of the world and its authority would soon draw despondent and shiftless converts alike to the feet of this makeshift mangy messiah.

Around mid-1967, Dennis Wilson and his wife of two years, Carol, were no longer blissfully in love. When Wilson had met Carol Freedman in 1965, she was a 16-year old mom with a son named Scott. Dennis loved the boy so much, he chose to adopt him as his own. The young couple moved into a comfortable home in Los Angeles’ fashionable Benedict Canyon area. Just a mile or two up the road from their abode sat a home on Cielo Drive that would soon be the site of one of the century’s most horrifying crime scenes. Carol finally became fed up with Dennis by the end of 1967. Immersed in transcendental meditation, and yet still abandoning his wife for play time with female groupies, Dennis had also fallen prey to numerous narcotics. “For me it was the drugs,” Carol later told author Steven Gaines. “I was not into drugs, and with two little children (their daughter Jennifer had been born in 1967), that was really hard for me. 

The latter part of 1967 for Charles Manson, meanwhile, was eye-opening and eventful for the freed jailbird basking in the hedonistic Summer of Love. He hooked up with devotees Lynn “Squeaky” Fromme and Mary Brunner and headed north to the haven of hippie happiness, Haight-Ashbury, in San Francisco. While in prison, Manson had delved into the teachings of Scientology, a pseudo-religion that professed the merits of ‘auditing’ one’s own personality.

Dennis Wilson started branching out from his niche as drummer in his band around late 1967. His fellow Beach Boys began to tire of Dennis’ willingness to experiment with the latest fad and his seemingly lack of self-control. Life itself was a high, but that didn’t stop Dennis from sailing to the clouds sniffing nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans. He conveyed his “love everyone” philosophy in two songs he co-wrote, “Little Bird” and “Be Still.” Life in the Haight-Ashbury district turned cold and ugly that winter of 1968. Charlie Manson and his band of hangers-on were forced to move out. Stolen credit cards and counterfeit money bought them meals, gas and eventually a yellow school bus they painted black. The Family, as Manson dubbed them, traveled up and down the California coastline and as far east as Texas during this period. Meanwhile, Dennis Wilson had moved out of the house in Benedict Canyon and settled into a rented home at 14400 Sunset Boulevard.

It was the Spring of 1968. Charles Manson and his followers headed to an old movie set location in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley. The Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth was dilapidated and desolate, the perfect resting spot for The Family to disappear to. Its owner, 81-year old ex-stuntman George Spahn could barely say ‘no’ to the wanton girls and ‘feel-good’ guru vibe that Charlie could charmingly present. And it was one day in late May that found Dennis Wilson driving away from Malibu Beach when he happened upon two of Charlie’s girls, Ella Jo Bailey and Patricia Krenwinkel. Captivated by the sway Manson had over these people and lacking in the necessary self-esteem to realize he was being used, Wilson welcomed this new Family with open arms. Charlie immediately set up an orgy that sealed the deal with the fun-seeking Beach Boy.

For the next three months, Dennis Wilson’s home life was filled with sex, drugs, and the philosophical musings of one Charles Manson. The girls cooked, cleaned, and catered to Dennis’ every whim. While they lived most of the time at his house, the Family still retreated to the Spahn ranch from time to time, in order to relax in the wilderness and subject themselves to more stringent, loopy teachings from their master. Hanging with Dennis, Charlie was introduced to the Hollywood lifestyle. “He could discuss almost any subject,” Gregg Jakobson later recalled. “He had a 1,000 hats and he could put on any hat at any time. In another situation, he would have been capable of being president of a university.”

Dennis allowed Charlie to use anything. His Ferrari, his Rolls-Royce, even his Mercedes Benz, which Manson’s group proceeded to crash. Someone who definitely was not fooled by Charlie’s charm was Dennis’ girlfriend at the time, 16-year old Croxey Adams. She had moved into Wilson’s Sunset house shortly before the Family had made it their headquarters. Charlie would say, ‘You’re not allowed to have crushes. Everybody is supposed to love everybody.” Croxey never fell for that line of reasoning. Dennis Wilson just had to get Charlie the chance to record. He decided to try to bring Charlie under the Beach Boys’ new record label, Brother Records. He was now referring to his philosophical guru as the Wizard and spouting much of his rhetoric to anyone who would listen.

“Fear is nothing but awareness,” Dennis asserted to Rave Magazine in August 1968. “I was only frightened as a child because I did not understand fear – the dark, being lost, what was under the bed! It came from within. Sometimes the Wizard frightens me. The Wizard is Charlie Manson, who is another friend of mine who says he is God and the Devil! He sings, plays and writes poetry, and may be another artist for Brother Records.”

Dennis’ fellow Beach Boys weren’t so sure the manic Manson was exactly the right guy to put on their personal label. The hot-wired maverick frightened the secretaries in the office, and they referred to him as ‘Pig Pen’ behind his back. As for the other Beach Boys, they weren’t very scared of their fellow bandmate’s loopy friend. “No, it was just irritating,” Beach Boy Al Jardine later related to Goldmine magazine, “’cause they were always around, and it was ‘Charlie this, Charlie that.’ And then he had this little thing that he (Dennis) and Charlie worked out. It was just a melody, a melody in ‘Never Learn Not to Love.’ Not the melody, but there was a mantra behind that. Then Dennis wanted to put it in everything. I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is getting to be too much.” The song “Never Learn Not to Love” was originally a Manson composition called “Cease To Exist.”

Dennis would subsequently overstep his license with Charlie when it came time for the Beach Boys to record the song. Dennis was able to get Charlie some recording time at his brother Brian’s home studio. After hours, Manson showed up with his girls, high on dope, trying to lay down tracks of his original compositions. Dennis rarely showed up for the sessions and left it to 24-year old Stephen Despar to produce a good sound for his protégé. “What struck me odd was the stare he gave you,” Despar later recalled to Steven Gaines, and the recordings were locked away in the Brother Records vaults. “Submission is a game given to another/Love and understanding is for one another/I’m your kind, I’m your kind, and I see.” Lyrics like these, which suggested the surrender of ego to another was what made Charlie so strong. Manson later said to Rolling Stone magazine, “Paranoia is the other side of love. Once you give in to paranoia, it ceases to exist. That’s why I say submission is a gift, just give into it, don’t resist.” The Beach Boys recorded the track on September 11th, and when Manson heard of the alterations, he was furious.

Manson was becoming increasingly unstable. What was once an espousal of free love and serving each other for the good of the Family became twisted into his statements of death and anarchy. His temper was more volatile. He still would stop by Wilson’s home in the Palisades to help himself to food and clothing. On December 8, 1968, The Beach Boys released the single “Bluebirds Over the Mountain.” On the flip side was the tune “Never Learn Not To Love.” Manson’s name was not credited anywhere in the liner notes.

Dennis Wilson had grown tired of seeing Charlie show up on his front porch in the Palisades, and moved into a basement room at Gregg Jakobson’s house. When it came to Manson’s overt malevolent nature, Wilson didn’t appear intimidated at first. His personality makeup was just as headstrong as the crazed cult figure. “Ultimately, Dennis and Charlie went head-on, because they both had the same energy,” Gregg Jakobson observed to Steven Gaines. “Only, Dennis was more heart-cultured. They attracted each other immediately and then immediately repelled.” Dennis pretty much gave up on Charlie at this point. Jakobson was still convinced he could capture the magic and spontaneity his mad friend exuded. He asked Terry Melcher to go out to Spahn Ranch to hear Charlie play in his natural environment.

Manson sat on a giant rock, strumming his guitar, while his girls swayed adoringly at his feet. On June 3rd, he and Jakobson returned to Spahn with Mike Deasy, an engineer who had his own mobile recording van. The day ended with Charlie arguing angrily with Melcher. Manson and his Family members contend that Melcher had all but made a deal with them to produce a record and manage their career. What occurred two months later could easily be construed as either a direct or indirect result of Manson’s fallout with Melcher.

On July 20, 1969, Sharon Tate arrived back from Europe in time to watch the first Apollo moon landing on television with her friends, Folger, Frykowski, and Sebring. Roman Polanski wasn’t due back until August 12th, so Sharon encouraged her pals to stay on with her in the house until then. Meanwhile, Manson was on the move. He’d already established an outpost at Barker Ranch, a deserted ghost town outside Death Valley, Nevada, and was amassing an arsenal of guns and knives for the big race war on the horizon.  Also, on July 30th, someone in the Tate household phoned a “growth center” named the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The facility catered to new-age ideas from all kinds of zealots, and was open to rich people who wanted to get in touch with their innermost selves. Abigail Folger had visited the center on previous occasions. It is not known if she made a quick detour there again in the early days of August.

But Charlie showed up at Esalen on August 5th. He was apparently given a cold reception and turned away. He recruited a 17-year old girl named Stephanie to his fold and returned to southern California. Fuming with all of the botched dealings he had tried to put in motion, Manson pulled aside young Tex Watson and explained what he must do for the Family’s cause. The slaughter was unimaginable. Los Angeles immediately became enshrouded in fear overnight. Thousands of guns and security alarms were sold to jittery citizens over the next few days. Police were reluctant to link the two sets of killings to the same band of murderers. Warren Beatty, Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers and other prominent citizens in the Hollywood community set up a $25,000 reward for the capture of the killers. Manson, meanwhile, was trying to dig up last minute funds to move his Family permanently out to Death Valley. Conflicting reports suggest that he appeared on more than one occasion at Dennis Wilson’s house. On August 16th, police raided the Spahn Ranch and rounded up Manson and his Family members.

Manson was finally arrested for good on October 12, 1969. He was captured at the Barker Ranch outside Death Valley. Dennis Wilson had received death threats. Around this time, Charlie’s minion, Lynn “Squeaky” Fromme appeared at Dennis’ place, demanding the Beach Boy return the music tapes that Charlie had recorded for the Brothers Record label. Wilson simply told her that he’d turn the music over to the State of California for evidence. In fact, the music was never turned in for exhibit purposes and remained locked up at Brian’s studio. Dennis was questioned by the District Attorney but was never asked to testify. Gregg Jakobson, Terry Melcher, and Rudi Altobelli wound up being key witnesses for the prosecution. Phil Kaufman and Al Swerdloff, with an investment by Harold True, found some old Manson music and released it in 1971 on Awareness Records.

The team took a cover photo shot of a manic Charlie pose from Life Magazine, erased the ‘F’ from the Life logo, calling the album “Lie.” The record contained such eerie Manson ditties as “I’ll Never Say Never To Always,” “Garbage Dump,” and “Look At Your Game, Girl” which was later covered by Guns N’ Roses. Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten were sentenced to die in California’s gas chamber. However, in February 1972, the state Supreme Court suspended the death penalty, and Manson and his followers received life sentences. Dennis Wilson attempted to purge himself of Manson’s influence on his life. He turned away from some of the creepy kind of music he’d been pursuing in the late ‘60s and focused more on a positive outlook in his songs.

He remarried in 1970. But Wilson was driven by excess, and he spent much of the ‘70s tanked on booze, high on drugs, and spending money he no longer had. His writing partner at the time, Daryl Dragon, later the “Captain” of singing duo Captain and Tennille, told author Adam Webb, “Very few people know that the reason Dennis drove himself to destruction was the fear of Charles Manson returning into his life… should he get out of jail, or maybe hire someone to ‘rub Dennis out.’ It was really that bad.”

In 1980, Wilson was forced to sell his beloved 62-foot boat “Harmony” to pay off loans and bills. Before losing the craft, he’d tossed many personal items overboard, into the waters of the boat slip in Marina Del Rey, enraged about his misfortune and losing his new wife to divorce. Three years later, just after Christmas on December 28, 1983, Wilson was onboard a friend’s yacht that happened to be parked in the old “Harmony” slip. Dennis drank all day long, starting at 9:00am. By 3:00 he was diving overboard and retrieving some of the items he’d tossed to the muddy bottom long ago. His friends watched him go down and then resurface with handfuls of mementos. The last time he was seen was around 4:15. A harbor patrol boat proved otherwise, when scuba divers brought up Dennis’ body from the marina bottom around 5:30 that afternoon.

In reality, Dennis Wilson had been on the road to self-destruction for many years. Whatever personal demons he had that led him on the path to ruin had been in his life long before his association with Manson. Charlie Manson fed on that insecurity, thrived on ambivalence, and his evil doings shocked the world with images of brutal and immoral savagery, a legacy that reverberates to this day with bad vibrations. Source:

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