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January 10, 2015

A Cop, a Glove, and a House of Cards

In 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, wife of football superstar O.J. Simpson, and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered outside of Nicole’s condo in Brentwood, California.  O.J. Simpson was subsequently charged with both murders. At the time, I was working for the Rupert Murdoch machinery at Fox Television.  Through the news division, we received the unsealed grand jury transcripts which laid out most of the overwhelming evidence amassed from the crime scene.  As the court case unfolded on national television over the next year, Simpson’s defense went on to throw suspicion on anyone and anything they could to discredit or occlude the evidence.  The main through-line of their case centered on the alleged racist investigating detective, Mark Fuhrman, and how he, along with LAPD veteran Phil Vannatter, must have set up O.J. Simpson as a patsy.  When Simpson was subsequently acquitted in late 1995, I re-examined all the evidence and set about writing this piece.  The following is a speculative narrative.  It incorporates all of the undisputed evidence collected and registered, as well as places persons, other than Fuhrman and Vannatter, at the exact locations and times they were at on the day of the murders.  If Fuhrman and Vannatter had framed O.J., this is how they would have had to do it….

The car door swung wide, as the reflections of revolving blue lights bounced off the Buick’s front hood.  He stood for a moment, surveying the scene, stifling a yawn.  It was late, after midnight, and he’d not had a lot of sleep over the last week.  But the grin flickered across his face, despite his fatigue.  Mark Fuhrman was happy.

He stepped over to the open gate and first saw the massive amount of blood on the scene.  It took him longer to make out Nicole Brown’s body lying askew, practically in silhouette near the front steps of the property.  A passing officer, Robert Riske, greeted the West LA Detective, telling him they taped the scene moments after calling it in.

Fuhrman gingerly stepped over the woman’s corpse, taking note of the kid lying off to the right amongst the leafy foliage.  His foot slipped on the step, his shoe covered in blood.  The officer made a move to catch the detective.  “Son-uv-a-bitch, there’s a helluva lot of blood,”  Mark barked, nervously chuckling.  The other officer looked to his partner, not sure if he should acknowledge Fuhrman’s joking demeanor.

A sedan pulled into the quiet neighborhood, causing several bystanders to step from the street back onto the grass, whispering about the new arrival.  Detective Ron Phillips sauntered up to the site, wiping a thin line of sweat from his lip.

“Mark,” Phillips nodded solemnly.  “Ron,” Mark chirped back.

“A real massacre,” Phillips muttered into his handkerchief.

He bent down to carefully pull back the hair from Nicole’s neck with his pen.  Her head was barely attached to her torso, a gaping hole slit from ear to ear.  “My God, somebody really lost their nut.”

“And we all know who’s responsible,” Fuhrman added.

Detective Phillips looked up,  “Mark, don’t start.”

The other two officers looked to one another, curious.

“Vannatter and Lange are on their way,” Phillips called out to Fuhrman from just inside the condominium doorway.  Most of the neighbors were talking amongst themselves on the grassy parkway between the sidewalk and street.  Fuhrman nodded in acknowledgement as he peered through the plants near Ron Goldman’s outstretched hand.  ‘Vannatter will be on board with me on this one,’ Mark thought as he parted a small bush.

A bloody glove lay against the garden wall, hidden in the near darkness.

Fuhrman looked to Ron’s feet where another bloody glove and a dark blue knit cap lay in random fashion.  The gloves were a match.

Glancing about the nearby vicinity, Fuhrman felt he wasn’t being watched.  His adrenaline kicked into gear.  He was elated.

Immediately, he about-faced and skirted past the bloody mess, back out to his parked sedan.  Rummaging around the backseat and through the glove compartment, he finally found an old Ziploc baggie under the passenger seat; discarded from a previous lunch on wheels.  Dipping all traces of crumbs onto the floorboard, Mark stuffed the plastic bag into his pant pocket and calmly strode back over to the crime scene.

The two uniformed officers were in the back of the complex, checking the alleyway with flashlights.  Phillips was inside with the kids, Sydney and Justin, arranging transport to a shelter.

Darting his hand into the bush, in one swift move, Fuhrman clutched ahold of the slippery glove, jamming it into the open baggie and carefully slid it into his sportjacket pocket.

No witnesses.

‘The bastard’s goin’ down,’ he cheerfully thought.

LAPD Detectives Tom Lange and Phil Vannatter arrived at the Bundy location around 4:20.  The bear-like veteran Vannatter spotted Fuhrman immediately.  Mark allowed a smile, a knowing smile.  Phil returned a slight wave, looking on a little puzzled.  He had been awoken at his home at 3:00 that morning.  Cobwebs still danced in his head.

The bodies were beginning to have a discernable odor.  Blood had fully drained from Nicole’s corpse, trickling in the cobblestone cracks, a yard or two wide.

Tom Lange spoke first.  “Okay, Mark, Ron here says you have an idea,”

“Phil and I spoke of this a few years back–you remember, Phil?” Fuhrman turned to Vannatter.

“What is it, Mark?” the old detective was irritable.  He had an inkling of what was next.

“About ten years ago, I was called to this house over on Rockingham.  Turned out to be O.J. Simpson’s place.  The yo’s standing in his drive, big baseball bat nearby, looking like he was out of his skull.  This one,” he pointed to Nicole’s body,”is peeing in her panties, scared shitless of him.  Her car’s windshield is bashed in.  He’d just wailed on it.  O.J.’s goin’ on about it bein’ a family thang and what-not, but you could tell he would’ve killed her if we hadn’t shown up when we did.  He was truly bugged.”

“You think he’s responsible here,” Vannatter chimed in.

“Number one suspect.  I guarantee it.  I know of at least a half a dozen times our patrol boys were called to his house to stop him from crushing her head.”  Fuhrman had a captive audience.

“I remember the time you and I met about five years ago, you did mention something about Simpson,” Vannatter offered.

Mark nodded back in agreement.

“Someone wanna call him,” Phillips spoke up.

“No,” Lange commanded suddenly.  “No tip off that we’re interested this early.”

“Why don’t we go over to his place,” Fuhrman said.

The others stared at him, waiting for more.

“I know he lives like five minutes from here.  I’ll show ya.”

Fuhrman made a move for the cars.

“Wait a minute,” Lange said, standing still.  “We just aren’t gonna barge over there, no search warrant, no probable cause as yet, to see if we can find him washing the blood off his hands.”

“What if he’s in trouble?” Phillips pondered.

“Give me a fuckin’ break!” Fuhrman exploded.  “I’m tellin’ you guys, the longer we stand around here, this n*****’s gonna be a ghost.  Out of town.  Trust me on this.  He’s the guy.  He’s the one.”  Fuhrman paused a moment to control his temper.  “Look, we go to the guy’s house and check on his safety.  Simple.  Just like Ron’s said.  We’re concerned he might be in trouble.  Ex-husband.  Celebrity.  You know.”

Detective Lange stepped forward, close to Mark’s chest.  “You’re damn sure about this, are you?”

“Hundred percent,” Mark said, unwavering.

“Phil, tell the officers to lock this up.  No one comes in until we get back,” Lange commanded.  “Let’s roll.”

360 Rockingham.  4:45am.  June 13th.  1994.

“You gettin’ a response?” Phillips asked as he walked back from the street corner.

Vannatter buzzed the intercom one last time.  “Guy’s in a coma in there.”

“I don’t think he’s home,” Lange said, looking to Fuhrman coldly.

“He’s in there.  Just cowering,” Fuhrman growled, as he started to scale the wall.

“Detective, what the fuck are you doin’?,” Lange shot back.

“He could be in trouble in there,” Mark winked, as he disappeared over the top.

In seconds, the gate swung open, and the four detectives walked onto O.J. Simpson’s property.  The sun was bringing ambient light over the horizon.  Phillips trailed off behind the others, suddenly stopping.

“Hey, look at this,” he pointed at the driveway.

The other three looked to the ground around their vicinity and saw the tiny blood drops leading from the gate to the front of the house.

“Son-uva-bitch,” Lange uttered, “You were right, Mark.”

“Could be the killer’s blood.  Come to get O.J.,” Phillips offered.

“No fuckin’ way,” Mark blasted, as he strode to the front, pushing the doorbell several times.

The house was silent.

“Let’s everybody spread out and see if someone’s around,” Lange said, motioning Vannatter and Fuhrman to the east side of the house.

Arnelle Simpson was in a frazzled state.  She spoke with O.J., who was on the line at the other end in Chicago.  Kato Kaelin seemed more collected.  But his eyes darted about, never resting on Detectives Vannatter’s and Lange’s faces.

“He, uh, he…had me turn on the alarm.  Rather he called, I guess from the airport or something and had me turn on the alarm.  I’d never done that before, so he really had to walk me through it.”

Ron Phillips walked into the kitchen from the front staircase.  “No one up there.  Nothing unusual.  No blood that I saw.  Bathroom looks like it’s been used in the last while though.  Towels are moist.”


Vannatter stopped his questioning of Kato and went in search of Fuhrman’s voice.

“Out here!”

By the guest house in the back, Fuhrman waited on the walkway for Vannatter to approach.

“What do you have, Mark?”


The two walked back behind the guest house, the light branches from the shrubbery grazing their arms.  Fuhrman stopped by the back wall and watched Vannatter.

“You gotta be kidding me,” Vannatter actually laughed.

“Dead to rights, buddy.”

“You planted that glove there, didn’t you, Mark?”

Fuhrman took a moment.  Just stared stonily at Vannatter, weighing the moment.  He stepped closer to the veteran.

“I want this.  I want this fucker to go down bad,” Fuhrman said in a hushed voice.

“Oh shit, Mark,” Vannatter said flustered, “You are stupid.  Jesus, Mark, not this case.”

“Exactly this one.  He’s a public figure.  You know it’s gonna send a big message.”

“What’s that,  Mark?”

“The rich ones aren’t safe.  None of ‘em better step outta line.  You hear what I’m sayin’?  Man, the fuckin’ yo’s are gonna weep if we make this tag.”

Vannatter searched Fuhrman’s face.  “You’re really serious, aren’t you?”

Mark moved up close and whispered, “Why not O.J.?”

“More to the point, Mark, Why O.J.?”

“Shit, Phil, why O.J.!  Have you forgotten that night I told you about ten damn years ago?  What he did to that gorgeous woman now lying in her own blood and urine a mile from here?”

“It’s too risky.”  Vannatter  dismissed him, regaining his senses.

Fuhrman grabbed the elder detective’s  arm, bruskly.

“Bullshit, Phil.  This is the perfect time.  The door is wide open.  I say we do the fix.”

“Mark, the media’s gonna be outside within the next hour.  They’re probably setting up right now.  They’re covering the Bundy scene.  Not just a stringer or two.  I’m talking every damn station freelancer and twerp with a camcorder.  Zooming through the gates.  Climbing on the wall.  Setting up the dishes.  It’s out of the question.”

“Wait, wait,” Fuhrman relaxed, leaning back against the guesthouse, his head resting beside the air conditioner.  “What if I explain how we do this.”

“No, you wait.  What if he has an iron-clad alibi?  What if someone’s been with him the whole time tonight?  Before he left for Chicago.  Shit, what if he wasn’t even in the vicinity, on his way to the airport or something when this murder went down?”

“The evidence will be so–”

“We’ll have our asses hanging in the wind, that’s what will happen, Mark.  Hell, Deputy Dawg would be able to crack that hoax.  You don’t frame someone when you don’t know who the real killer is.  You don’t frame someone when you don’t know all the angles.  For all we know the real killer might stumble into a bar later today and confess to the whole thing.  Or his mistress might call up the station and tell the truth.  ‘My Stanley up and knifed Nicole and Goldman last night.  I was with him.  Waiting in the car.  I took a fuckin’ video of it.’  Mark, we will have our balls ripped out and neatly framed on Willie’s wall.  You get it?”

“He did it, Phil!  We are gonna nail this n*****!”  Fuhrman’s face turned beet-red.

Gripping Mark’s neck, Vannatter bruskly herded the junior detective farther down the walkway.

“Now, let me tell you something, Mark.  I know you’ve wanted this a long time.  We talked about this five years ago when we met.  And yes, I’ve said I’d like to see something this big happen too.  We think the same wavelength.  You–maybe more intense than I.  But, dammit, it’s gotta be secure.  It’s gotta be a sure thing.  I haven’t been a clean dick for 25 years, wrapped more cases without a taint to ‘em, put up with more scumbags than Saint Christopher’s ever seen, to have it all get pissed away in one night’s blunder.   Watch my pension vanish like a bride’s nightie.”

“Phil, I’m planting it.  I’m  calling Lange and Phillips out here.  You can back me up or expose me.  If he’s really the killer, this’ll hammer it home.  If he isn’t, this will still be strong evidence toward linking him to the killings.”

“What’s goin’ on back there?” Lange’s voice came from the back door.

Mark looked to Vannatter.

The old detective saw the conviction in this fellow policeman’s eyes.  Sighing, Vannatter said, “You better be slicker than shit with this.”

The uniformed officers taped off the entrance to the Rockingham estate.  Lange and Vannatter conferred with someone on the police radio, trying to speed up a search warrant.  Arnelle had called Al Cowlings, and the two were somewhere in the vicinity.

Shortly before 8:00, Criminalist Dennis Fung pulled up to the Rockingham gate.  Lange escorted him to the blood drops spattered in a trail across the driveway.

“Oh, and we found blood inside the Ford Bronco parked over there,” he pointed to the vehicle parked at a slight cant to the curb.

“Should’ve just used a big painted sign:  ‘This way to the killer’s house’,” Fung said lightly.

Vannatter stepped forward.  “And the glove.”

“Oh, jeez, right, there’s a glove, blood all over it, in the backyard,” Lange said.

“I’ll get to work,” Fung pronounced efficiently, opening a bag of serology equipment.

Vannatter felt a presence next to him.  Mark Fuhrman was standing off to his side.

“Smooth,” he mouthed to the hound-faced detective.

Fung finished collecting the blood from the driveway.  Several cloth swatches absorbed the drops and were placed into evidence bags, marked with the case DR number.  He’d also finished bagging the bloody glove from out by the guest house.  And he swatched the blood spatter from the outside driver door of the Bronco.

Peering into the vehicle,  Fung looked at the blood smears on the driver’s seat, the instrument panel, the steering wheel, the center console, the inside driver door panel.  On the floorboard of the driver’s side, a small beret-style hat lay over noticeable bloodstains on the carpet.  A partial shoe print could be seen.

“The guy was at least a little aware of the fact that he’d been standing and walking through blood.  When he parked, he tossed the cap on the floor to try to obscure whatever stains he’d left down there,” Fung assumed aloud.

Fuhrman watched from the front of the vehicle.  “Gonna be O.J. isn’t it, Mr. Fung?”

“Would look that way.”

Fung walked back to his bags.

At 10:20, Fung left the Rockingham location and drove over to the crime scene at Bundy.  He began swatching the blood drops at 11:00, specifically, the tiny trail which led from the bodies, back towards the condominium front door and all the way back to the carport area.  He would collect cloth swatches at this location for the next 5 hours.  O.J. Simpson was still in flight, returning from Chicago back to LA.

Fuhrman was antsy.  He kept catching Vannatter’s eye, nodding to a private place to talk throughout the morning.  Phil hoped he wasn’t going to trip them up.

“I’ve been thinking,” Fuhrman allowed, his brow creased with concern.

“Just keep cool, Mark,” Vannatter muttered.

“No, really.  This isn’t going to be enough.”


“The glove.”

“What are you saying?”

“What if O.J. didn’t do the killing?  I mean, I really don’t understand who else’s blood might’ve been here in the driveway, and whose blood would be in his Bronco, but what if some guy had it in for O.J.   So much so that he risked coming over here after killing Nicole and Ron, looking for the Juice, and didn’t find him home.  The guy’s got a cut on his body and is dripping everywhere.”

Vannatter rolled his eyes.  “That would explain the blood in the driveway.  But why the blood inside, all over, the car?  There’s no signs of forcible entry into the vehicle whatsoever.”

“Doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t make sense to me either.  But dammit, Phil, we’ve got to make this stick.”

“The glove’s enough, Mark.  The media is everywhere.  Cops are everywhere.  People we don’t know are all over the place.  Why risk anything else?”

“I respect that line of thinking Phil, but I can’t abide by it.  We’re gonna have to plant more shit.”

“Fuck, Mark, the glove you planted’s got the two victims’ blood all over it.  It was found on O.J.’s property.  What more evidence are they gonna need to convict the prick?”

“More.”  Fuhrman stormed off, leaving Vannatter muttering expletives.

Photographs were taken of the partial shoe prints left in the escape trail away from the bodies at Bundy.  Hair fibers were carefully picked from the victims’ bodies.  The knit cap and glove were tagged and put into evidence bags.

Secretly, Mark Fuhrman appeared back at the Bundy location and caught up with Fung.

“Ah, Detective Fuhrman, look at this. “  The mild mannered criminalist led the jittery detective along the walkway, pointing at the blood trail which pointed in the direction of the back alleyway.

“See the footprints?”

“Yeah,” Fuhrman said nervously.

“The intermittent blood drops are to the left of the footmarks.”

“A cut, right?”

“Yes.  On the left hand.”

Shortly after 12 noon, Monday June 13th, O.J. Simpson finally appeared at his Rockingham home.  Detectives Lange and Vannatter surrounded him, even put him in cuffs for a while, and talked to him about the situation at hand.

Fuhrman appeared, and spotted the big Juiceman.  ‘You are goin’ to the Big House, Zulu boy,’ he thought ruefully.

He looked to O.J.’s hand.  There was a small cut on his knuckle, a band-aid around it.  On his left hand.

‘Holy shit!’ Fuhrman thought.  ‘How lucky can I get, fer Chrissakes!’  He was absolutely jubulant.  Waving manically at Vannatter, Fuhrman danced on the balls of his feet.

Phil wanted to crawl into a hole.

He sauntered over to the hyper-racist cop.  “What now, Mark?,” he growled under his breath.

“O.J.’s got a cut on his left hand!”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Blood drops at the crime scene are to the left of the footprints.  Don’t you see, it’s him.”

“Good.  Then let’s end this discussion now.”


Vannatter stopped in his tracks.

“You’re taking him downtown, right?”


“You’re taking a blood sample?”

“What do you think?”

“Gonna bring it back here?”


“Bring it back when you’re done with him.”

“What the fuck for.”

“You’re gonna have to give it to Fung anyway.  Bring it back.”

Vannatter stormed off, about to explode.  A nearby newsman observed the tet-a-tet and found the body language interesting, but his attention was diverted by the lack of ice in his Big Gulp drink.

O.J. Simpson was interviewed by Vannatter at Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles for approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  At the conclusion of the interview, registered nurse Thano Perato drew blood from O.J. Simpson’s body.  That blood went into an 8mm vial.

Vannatter now had O.J. Simpson’s blood on his possession.  The time was approximately 3:30 in the afternoon.

Detective Phil Vannatter arrived back on the west side of town around 4:00.  Fuhrman was waiting for him.  He was out of his mind.

“It’s about damn time!  We’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do.”

“Mark, what are you going on about?”

“Fung’s back here at Rockingham.  He just arrived from the Bundy location before you did.  He’s collected all the samples from the crime scene.  C’mon.”

Fuhrman practically yanked Vannatter up the Simpson driveway.  Fung stood inside the front foyer examining three blood drops.

Fuhrman cleared his throat.  Fung looked up with a sigh.

“What is it, detective?”

“Could Detective Vannatter and I have a moment here?”

Fung grumbled and shrugged off towards the kitchen.

“Okay, okay, the blood vial.”

“Mark, what are you doing?,” Vannatter protested.

Fuhrman snatched the blood vial from Vannatter’s hand.  He proceeded to pour a few drops of Simpson’s blood over the already-present blood stains on the floor.

“This won’t make any sense, Mark.  You’re either combining two different DNA blood spots, so that the killer and O.J. would have to have stood in one place and dripped on the same exact spot, OR you’re just putting more of O.J.’s blood in O.J.’s blood.”

Fuhrman just nodded intently, still dripping the vial.

“The first scenario is absolutely ludicrous, you fuckin’ nut.”

Mark was deaf to the reasoning.  Two officers walked down the staircase, right by Vannatter and Fuhrman and did not so much as glance at what they were up to.


“Gimme that.”  Vannatter snatched the vial back from Fuhrman.

“C’mon.  Upstairs.”  And Fuhrman was racing up the steps.

Vannatter watched as Mark digged through O.J.’s closet.   Several pairs of shoes spilled out onto the floor.

“What now, Mark?”  Vannatter was positively exasperated.

“Hey, get a sock out of that drawer over there.”  Fuhrman never looked up.

Vannatter grabbed a blue sock off the dresser top.

“Pour a drop from your vial on that thing.  Just one!”

Vannatter simply complied, having given up with arguing.

Mark stood up with a pair of designer Italian shoes.  “Voila,” he said to himself.

Pulling an old sandwich baggie from his coat pocket–the one which previously held the bloody glove he’d transported from Bundy to Rockingham–Fuhrman smeared some of the blood from the baggie onto the sock.


Vannatter could barely control his rage.  “Can we fuckin’ stop this, Mark!  The guy is framed.  He’s nailed.  We are going to get caught.  Enough already!!!”

“Nope, I gotta be Real Thorough.”


The city had learned of two brutal murders.

O.J. had been questioned and let go.

Tomorrow would yield more clues.

Rest for now.

…Er, but not for Mark Fuhrman and Phil Vannatter.

“Okay, I think it looks pretty much like daylight.  Just tilt that spot a little more to the left.”

Mark directed Phil, who was busy trying to focus a harshly bright klieg light on the stained walkway at Nicole’s condo.

A few neighbors peered from their window, intrigued.

“Now, I’m gonna put these bloodstained Italian shoe prints exactly over the other ones which we wiped clean,” Mark said enthusiastically, a special gleam in his eye.

Vannatter just drooled a little.  Both were giddy, exhausted, and working on overdrive.

Mark put O.J.’s shoes on his hands and trotted step-wise on all fours along the walkway.  The shoes left prints.

“Okey-doke, time to take the picture.”

Flash!   A bright light captured the awkward, bloodied forgery.

“Careful, the night guy is gonna hear us.  He just went to the crapper.”

Vannatter had knocked over a bucket of cleaning liquid left by an errant janitor.  The two detectives squished through the soapy liquid outside the serology lab at the LAPD Investigative Unit, downtown Los Angeles.

The time on the clock above their heads read 2:45am.

“Yippee, I’m in!,” Fuhrman squealed, as the lock gave way to Fung’s laboratory.  Vannatter kept chanting, droning, like a mantra, completely frazzled from sheer exhaustion, “We’re gonna nail the Juice!   We’re gonna git the Juice!”

Plying through bags and boxes, they came upon the evidence bag marked with the Simpson D.R.

“Start putting O.J.’s blood on every swatch of cloth you find.”

Ripping open evidence baggies, applying blood drops from the vial, Vannatter hooted and cackled, “That fuckin’ Hertz guy’s gonna fry!”

Blood dropped everywhere on the swatches.

When they had finished, baggies and swatches lay about the table top.

“Find me some more baggies, Phil baby.  We’ve got to seal these things back up.”

Vannatter skipped about the lab like a big puppy dog, plucking bags merrily from shelves, whistling ‘Ol Man River.’

The swatches went into the baggies.

“Can you write like that Fung asshole, Phil?”

“Sure, Marky boy.”

Vannatter scribbled the correct evidence numbers on each baggie.  Amazingly, duplicating the penmanship of Criminalist Dennis Fung.

The baggies were tossed back into the storage freezer.

“We are finished!  What a day, Phil!”  Fuhrman was beaming.

“You told me it’d be easy, but how was I to know it’d be this easy.”

“That Yamauchi Charlie Chan is slated to get started analyzing these swatches in the morning.  Boy, we work fast.  Let’s go grab some brewskis.”

The two began to head out of the lab.  Fuhrman turned to Phil.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart, ya big lug.  We’re about to see the biggest, blackest, baddest of the Naked Gun actors go to the slammer .  This is the happiest moment of my career.  Let’s remember to be real invisible on the way out of the building now.”

Vannatter placed his big paw on Fuhrman’s shoulder.

“Got a gift for ya.”

Fuhrman looked at him questioningly.

From his breast pocket, Phil took out his handkerchief.  Unfolded, there appeared to be hair strands stuck all over the cloth.

“Brushed it from his pillow at home.  We can add ‘em into the hair samples they took from the crime scene.”

“You’re beautiful, Phillip baby!”

And Fuhrman placed a big wet kiss on Vannatter.

The preceding was based on a timeline of events which took place on June 13th, 1994.  It is purely a work of fiction.   The reality is that the jury bought this story, hook, line and sinker.


January 10, 2015

Bushwacked: Election 2000

It is December 5, 2000. A Tuesday. The face of America is changing today whether people believe it or not. It’s just a Presidential election, right? A highly-contested event that has captured the media’s spotlight for the last three weeks. Will it be all that significant three years from now? Far worse crises may present themselves. Terrorist actions, combat strikes, threat of global disease. Judging by the events this week, more than likely, a guy named George W. Bush will be sitting in the highest chair of this land.

Does he have any intellectual capacity or intuitive skills to grasp complex, threatening scenarios and rule with superior discernment above and beyond the wisdom of his inner circle?

One can view the debate videos from October. I won’t spend time detailing all of the points of generalities that Bush sputtered with buckshot focus and the precise, but perhaps longwinded, agendas Albert Gore laid forth to the short-attention span populous of America. Sure Al Gore is an erudite know-it-all. But when the criteria bar for this nation and its pundits rested on the notion that “Gee, Bush sure is folksy, and at least he didn’t say anything really stupid,” we’re in trouble folks. I don’t know about you, but when a Sultan from the Sudan visits the Rose Garden for an afternoon chat with our President, I would prefer our leader to be immersed in the knowledge of the man’s personal background, cultural viewpoints, administrative policies, and hidden customs. Unknown to many, Bill Clinton is someone who truly wanted to know everything he could about his most incidental visitors. So he could dive right into a conversation with them, citing many facts and events concerning their background. He routinely had many books brought over to the White House from the Library of Congress to pore over whenever he had an international guest arriving that he had agreed to receive. Gore, the eager intellectual that he is, seems to seek out this kind of knowledge. He reads voraciously, he is genuinely well-versed in a cornucopia of topics without the benefit of prepared notes. He, in other words, appears to enjoy entertaining avenues of globalism, diversity, alternative solutions, and equality-balanced policies.

We don’t know much about Bush. But judging from the crib note preparation he was forced to learn for the second debate, regarding foreign affairs, this is not a very savvy individual. Yes, he got an MBA from a respectable university. But nowhere in his public speech, off-the-cuff vocabulary, does he elicit pronouncements deeper than a twelfth-grader. Basically, he’s a quick study, a crammer, but he probably doesn’t retain. He’s not a deep thinker. His own staff members from Texas have conceded this. Even more telling, he appears as if he doesn’t CARE if he retains complex issues and knowledge. This is a man who, in the midst of the country’s most tumultuous electoral process, one in which he is a party to, retreated to a remote ranch in the boonies of Texas, without access to cable TV. Yes, he could rely on his advisors to tell him what was going on. A filtered viewpoint. However, shouldn’t a president-to-be want to judge for himself the events going on in the world? Have access to the very technology that delivers images and actual sound bites to every citizen on the planet? Shouldn’t he be hooked into the pulse of situations, not just with this election, but with circumstances involving — oh, I don’t know — let’s say, the Middle East right at the moment? Instead of just isolating himself on a ranch somewhere, detached, listening to blustery partyliners’ plans for what they’re gonna do when they get to the big ol’ White House. This is a man who does not seek knowledge. He does not appear to truly give a damn and throw himself into the details of the nations and continents around him. Let alone our own country’s concerns. The guy’s only been overseas twice.

This kind of arrogance and isolationism is what drives both Mr. Bush, and the Republican party in general, at this juncture of the 21st century. This pomposity is what has effectively snuffed out the notion that an individual’s right to be heard via a vote casting process is now permanently extinguished. For the Republicans are much more concerned about their own necks than anyone else’s, much more than the Democratic party has ever demonstrated in this election. I will expound on that. But know that from here on out, based on all that has occurred, your vote will never be considered completely valid or legitimate to determine the outcome of an election ever again.

The Republican Party and its hardline followers work out of fear, hostility and suppression. Fear is, of course, the most easily-definable of their traits in this election. Notice the tone of their past two administrations. Reagan wound up the country with vitriolic denouncements of the big, bad Soviet Union and those bad Sandinistas and the evil war on drugs. The message of the Republicans is that “forces” are always acting against us. Poor pitiful us. We have to fight back. They’re all out to get US!

The Soviet Union was well on its way to falling long before Reagan took the opportunity to pronounce “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that Wall!” Soldiers returning from the war in Afghanistan in the early ‘80s were unshakably disenchanted with their peers, just in the same manner as the counterculture movement of our ‘60s generation had responded to Vietnam. They were the true triggers to the transition. Capitalism was running rampant in their black market, and access to everything from cell phones, Nikes, and rock ‘n’ roll pushed the regime from its pedestal. It was inevitable. It wasn’t Reagan. He just liked to sound off, pumping himself up in view of the big, bad world. The Contra situation, as later reports indicated, would’ve worked itself out just in the same fashion, had we helped them or not. And drug usage didn’t go down significantly during either Reagan or Bush’s terms with their angry, finger-pointing campaign at the criminals of narcotics. Drug use actually went down more during Clinton’s deceptively laid-back term.

Republicans have feared all along that Gore truly won the majority of votes in the State of Florida in this year 2000. A basic and uncomplicated fear. Out of that emotion rose the two other traits.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. The networks DO need to stop reporting the election returns until all precincts across the country have closed. Neither candidate could do anything about who the networks called Florida for that night. It was a media screw-up and had it been reversed, hue and cry would equally have come from the Democrats, I’m sure. What is interesting is that the method by which the networks used to call each State, that of exit polls, more than likely was not flawed. Based on the individuals leaving the many precincts in South Florida, who were polled in the same manner as those to the north of the state, all probably thought they voted for Gore. Their belief that they had indeed cast a ballot for the Democrat candidate was duly noted and assimilated with the statistics statewide. The method wasn’t really off the mark. It was, of course, those pesky butterfly ballots and chad build-ups in certain machines. Or, if you’re a staunch Republican, you’ll, of course, believe 14,000 people actually went to the polls to vote for the Light Train and a few local candidates…but not a President. A statistic that is so extremely high in concentration in those few counties, that it is not found anywhere near that level of probability in any other spot in the State. Yeah, sure, whatever.

Now let me get the conspiracy stuff off the desk. It’s Oliver Stone time. Take the following with a hefty grain of salt. But if you can walk away from any of these citations with a feeling that maybe one of these elements could be true, you might be a candidate for behavioral and statistical common sense.

Everyone likes to help out a family member. Especially when you’re in a position to help. It’s no secret that Jeb Bush was heard before the election pledging he would do whatever he could to try to help deliver his State for his brother. All very innocent I’m sure.

Somewhere in Seminole County, there’s an election canvassing office. Before the election, several absentee ballots were incorrectly notated with voter ID numbers, for both Democratic and Republican candidates. The woman in charge, Sandra Goard, under deposition, said she allowed two men representing the Republicans to go into a back room, shut the door, and sit down with those absentee applications, and whatever materials were back there, for 10 whole days! She didn’t even recall the name or credentials of one of these mystery men. When the Democratic representatives requested the same opportunity with their applications, they were denied. There seems to be no alternate language, no conflicting statute anywhere in the lawbooks on this matter. Tampering or altering ballots, even the absentee applications, by individuals other than electors or their immediate family or the board’s immediate members is a felony. Period. It is fraud. Goard said she’d never allowed anyone to do this procedure, ever, in the history of her tenure at that office for over 20 years. Somebody did some very HARD persuading.

The room apparently contained 18 computers tied, ostensibly, to mainframes around the State of Florida. Electoral mainframes. Let’s see, 10 days to alter, maybe, let’s be generous, 6,000 applications. 3,000 each guy. Probably could be done easily in four days. No more than six days, let’s say. What were they doing in there for ten full days? Down in south Florida, on the day of the election, many African-Americans were seen complaining as they arrived to their designated precincts. They had registered, legally obtained their Voter ID cards, and were ready to vote. But the clerks turned them away, saying they were not listed on the computer printout registers. Hmmm. Does anyone want to please investigate this possibly overt link?

Also, as witnessed on videotape during the day of the election, many highway patrolmen had pulled over a highly-skewed proportion of African-Americans on their way to the polls in particular areas. Many were turned away. If these actions don’t suggest anything remotely suspect to you, perhaps you’ll be surprised to know that the South was not always very kind to people with black skin. Look it up. I’ll give you a moment.

To suggest maneuvers such as these were designated specifically from the lips of brother Jeb may be taxing believability of scoffers. But the minions who work for the governor could easily have made some calls. Suggested a few tactics to some ardent supporters holding influential positions. It happens, ya know.

The butterfly ballot is a moot issue. I concede that people should’ve figured it out. Gore did not join that lawsuit. While sympathetic to their befuddlement, he obviously felt the same way as I.

The election ended Tuesday November 7th. By the end of the evening, more than any other complaints in the United States, the media focused on South Florida as having been unusually vocal to many irregularities. This is BEFORE Florida was considered the crucial deciding State in the election. If there had been as much moaning in as concentrated an area somewhere else, say in Idaho or Utah, the media would’ve showcased that. They’re no dummies. They like stories of turmoil and dissension. But there simply wasn’t as big an aberrance anywhere else. It is maybe not so coincidental that the one place people seemed to be voicing valid claims of irregular practices and circumstances before all polls finally closed was also the one area that the entire nation has focused on ever since for the last three weeks. There is a kind of validity to these claims that oozes to the surface in light of how viciously the Bush camp has swooped down to squash the entire area in a Blitzkrieg of denouncements and smears. History has shown that the most telling of truths tends to encounter the harshest of adversities. And usually that adversity is borne out of fear. The Republicans have had the stench of fear on them ever since the voting booths shut their final curtain on November 7th.

While the voting process is designed to ensure the anonymity of each citizen, voting results are intended to be discovered and made known to all. At this point, I can only discuss the generalities. Not being a lawyer, not familiar with every nook, hook, and cranny of Florida statutes and Constitutional concerns, I can only address the surface of the issues that have poured forth from the Sunshine State last month. Reports tell us that three counties, under the auspices of the Democratic Party, asked for the ability to conduct a recount of the vote. Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade all performed a machine recount. Vice President Gore received a net gain in those counties in votes after the performance of this machine recount. The lead between the two candidates was cut to under 1,000. This lead is well below 1% of the State’s 6,000,000 or so ballots cast. With a nation of 100 million watching on, and with Gore leading the popular vote as well as the electoral count in the rest of the nation, this seemed overwhelmingly too close to call. The Gore team felt that those irregularities as reported on Election Day, namely ballots that were spit out by the machine during its count, should be examined. 14,000 of the so-called “undervotes.” Whatever you call ‘em, the machine didn’t call them anything.

Florida law apparently allows hand recounts as do many other States. The three counties – Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade — petitioned for a hand recount. They followed law and did a 1% sampling by hand. Gore’s number went up again. This is where the cloud obscured the light over the Sunshine State. Fear propelled the Republicans into action. And unfortunately, light may never be shed on the true voting results, results that should be open to everyone, ever again. Freedom of Information Act petitioners will eventually have the chance to examine those ballots for themselves and report their findings to the world. But inevitably the Republicans will find a way to slant the ballot results of any re-count to their favor, arguing over chads and indentations, never allowing for a specified legal criteria for assessing ballots in Florida to gain a foothold.

Since they’d never had to conduct a hand recount during a Presidential election, the canvassing boards were understandably seeking some sort of criteria this last month for conducting their procedure the weekend following Vote Day. Now, I’m not going to get into whether the hanging, pregnant or dimpled thing called a chad should be registered. I’m not going to get into procedure. Look to Texas law that allows dimples and what-not if you want my answer. Suffice to say, when they reached out to look for help, the one person, who ostensibly could be perceived as their boss, since it is she who weighs their efforts, Katherine Harris, the Secretary of State, told them they couldn’t recount. She said it during that weekend following the election. Then she put it in writing on Monday. Then she threatened them with the Tuesday deadline. Then she made them hand in a written reason why they should recount. The issue here is not whether she was to act strictly by the law’s literal meaning or whether she was right in imposing a strict reading of a discretionary deadline. The simple fact is she acted as an adversary to the very boards she was supposedly elected to receive ballots from. She strung them along with threats, making them extremely agitated and divided in how they should proceed, which in turn, resulted in a hand recount that could not be undertaken before the deadline.

Is this how we want an elected official who is going to certify an entire State’s vote count to act? Why didn’t she bend over backwards to get them definitive advice, seek out judicial or legislative interpretations, and draw on both parties to come up with a fast, efficient standard or denouncement for the process? Why didn’t she go on the airwaves to voice her concerns and allow for the proper individuals to step forward and help the State rectify its dilemma? Because, inarguably, she did not WANT to help. She did everything she could in her power NOT to help. A man who is committed to helping his brother win election in the State sat on the same hallway as her, 15 paces away from her desk. The candidate was someone she unabashedly supported both financially and voluntarily. This Bush individual was also someone she would truly love to receive a federal position from should he be elected. Do you have any problem ascertaining motive in this scenario? If so, you may be able to align yourself with the same intelligence quotient as the man from Austin.

Where Harris marched, so followed the entire Republican Party. And with them rose forth the two other traits outside of fear. Hostility and suppression. Suppression was easy to spot. Where Gore simply wanted those votes to be looked at, Bush wanted them locked away. The battle leapt about the courts and as of this writing it’s on its last legs. Procedure and adherence to one particular reading of the law were hammered at the Gore lines like shells on Normandy. The Florida Supreme Court, in my estimation, did screw up when they extended the deadline. That resulted in the contest period being shortened. But what’s the underlying message in what they ultimately were trying to do? They were trying to ensure that these votes, that had not been tabulated for either candidate during a machine count, could just be looked at by the human eye. Provide a forum whereby discernment of votes could be ascertained. They only wished to shed light on the matter, make it open for all. And the variance in this notion is what clearly delineated the two camps throughout.

The hand recounts conducted in Broward and Palm Beach were completely fair. Those that were counting, the Judges in charge, concurred with this assumption. It was only Republican “observers” on the sidelines that argued some sort of alleged mishandling notions that unfortunately gained exposure on the airwaves. To say that they were partisan-minded is to say that Goofy talks funny. The recounts were conducted under the scrutiny of so many individuals and video cameras that it’s absolutely impossible that the allegations these Republicans made could be deemed anything other than fantasy. Show me one piece of videotape of someone swallowing a chad or stomping ballots like a hyena, and I’ll give Cheney mouth-to-mouth. On the contrary, juxtapose the process that took place in those counties with the one which occurred in Seminole, in the back office of Sandra Goard, and one will find a truer shade of secrecy and subterfuge in its execution and fairness.

Everyone knows that the Republican Party paid for airline tickets and hotel rooms to accommodate out-of-State partisan protesters to descend on South Florida. Look at the signs each Republican protester held. “Sore Loserman,” “Gore must concede,” “Gore is stealing the election,” “Gore is the evil one.” Now scan the signs held by Democratic protestors. “Gore Lieberman,” and “Every vote should count.” Do you feel the hate? Do you connect with the arrogance and pomposity associated with a particular party? This is the climate that was with us throughout the 1980s. Get ready for a return to that subtext in the 2000s.

After Jesse Jackson led a peaceful street march of protest for those African-Americans, most of them Democratic, who felt they’d been wronged and harassed during the vote proceedings, a mob of fresh-scrubbed white boys screamed at the canvassing board of Miami-Dade outside their office and banged violently on the full-glass doors, scaring the vote counters within. Now, do you honestly believe that if that hallway had been filled with African-American men screaming and banging the doors violently that the policemen and security wouldn’t swoop in with nightsticks and pepper spray, and pummel them to the floor? You know in your heart they would’ve. But frat-boy, white Republicans can get away with it. The hate filled the hallway and the airwaves with this hackneyed suppression tactic. No light was to be shed on those ballots.

Finally, the ballots themselves were under attack at every turn. The Vota-matic designer himself said under testimony that chad build-up on those old machines could very easily block the stylus from breaking through a punch card. He recommended a hand count. The claim that continued handling of the cards was deteriorating their condition is logic unfounded. Chads were seen around the machine count areas (by Republican observers, I have to add), and thus, they said the ballots were being altered. If there were to be a ballot that showed more than one vote for President, hand counters would’ve discarded it anyway. This notion would help the Bushies one would think. Chads that had fallen away were more than likely to be one’s that had already been pushed on at an earlier occurrence. In other words, if the Bush camp truly believes that an affixed chad, one that hasn’t been touched before in anyway, can simply fall to the floor after a machine count, then that particular ballot card itself is completely flawed and should be omitted from the count. An affixed chad could’ve fallen away from a ballot as it was originally placed in its product box at the factory. Or one could have fluttered off when canvassing officials at precincts originally set them out to hand to incoming voters. This is a harebrained argument for people who are truly desperate to close the lid on discovery.

I could go on with many other instances of suppression tactics that were pulled from the Bush hat during this post-election skirmish, but suffice to say, the legitimacy of the vote count was never, and probably will never, be properly revealed. It could have easily been conducted after the petition for recount initially came in. As for the Republicans’ argument that selecting a few counties is wrong, well, we all saw Al Gore offer them the opportunity to get together on this and just recount the whole State. His was a conjoining effort. The Republicans have always pushed away. They declined. The nature of a contest or a dispute on the outcome tally of votes is to select those that you feel are in any way undercounted. And yes, you choose the ones, since it is a dispute (duh), that will invariably sway the lead to your favor. The Bush camp always knew this. They could’ve recount counties favorable to them, quite legally. But, we know, of course, that they ran on fear. Furtive and aware of a looming defeat, they were on the side of non-disclosure. (A funny contradiction, in light of their hyper-vocal calls for disclosure on the Clinton-Lewinsky matter – a far more personal, yet non-nationally-related revelation).

Bush and Cheney have been goading Gore to concede the last few days. I suspect he will before the week is out. Bully tactics, smoke and mirrors, and possible partisan rigging have been their game plan to this point. The Republican-led Florida Legislature, along with brother Jeb, have assured the country that their Man is going to the White House come hell or high water. Those 14,000 or so votes will sit quietly. Cast by folks like you and me. They don’t mean anything. In such a tight race, the legislatures of this country are going to determine who runs the nation. The Constitution does not support the people’s right to vote and for that vote to be heard. A fellow by the name of George W. Bush has seen to that, and he will be our 43rd president.


January 18, 2002

Alas, it wasn’t the legislatures who named George W. our 43rd head honcho. It was, of course, five members of the nation’s Supreme Court. Five people picked our current President of the United States. The rest of the votes in this country — yours, mine, your great granddaddy’s — did not matter. That was the thesis of my original article…it remains the same today, over a year later.

Obviously, the world has changed around us. My statement about our country eventually not caring much about the botched election due to potential terrorist threats or biological warfare has eerily come true. After last autumn’s 9/11, polls show that Bush has an approval rating in the 90th percentile. Republicans love to point to that and say, “see, the right man won. Everyone accepts him now.” But, ask anyone who viewed Bush as a privileged goob before 9/11, one who skated by on daddy’s money and dubiously skirted through graduate school, what they think of him today, and I bet they’ll concur he’s still a goob. A man they didn’t want in the White House. Sure, he’s given a rousing speech or two to rally our country. These are meticulous speeches written for him by professionals. And yes, his advisors were adept in planning and striking against Afghanistan. Plus, last time I checked, it was about 100,000 men and woman outside the radar of Washington that were truly fighting for justice overseas.

Nevertheless, listen to Bush talk, unscripted, and to this day, he appears to be a man who has limited intellectual capacity and a veneer of someone who desperately fears being challenged to expound on any one subject. The press has recently commended him for his “simplistic” talk regarding our war on terrorism. This is rhetoric reminiscent of his campaign debates. The subtext to this praise suggests something other than a commendation for his knowledgeable insight and commanding zeal. Each time Bush appears onscreen, there’s a natural tendency to flinch, awaiting a misstep in speech and a short-wire fizzle in thought patterns. It is exactly the same reaction one gets from his debate days. “Gee, at least he didn’t fumble on an Afghan leader’s name or mispronounce a Pakistani city.” The expectations watermark for this man is still set mercifully low.

Who is to say Gore would’ve been a better leader in these times of crises? The attack against our country was so blatant and horrifying that I have to believe any President, Democrat or Republican, would have responded in a firm and unrelenting manner. The idea that Democrats are pussyfoots is truly shortsighted when one recalls the grand glory of Donkey Presidents past, such as FDR and Truman during WWII. I would bet any money in the world that Gore would’ve found his voice and strength in convincingly rallying our nation as one force.

As of this writing, Democrats are starting to look at the Bush legacy, pre-9/11, and are beginning to rattle a sabre or two. When the Texas oilman assumed office in January 2000, gas prices shot through the roof in this country. We in California were raked over the coals by greedy Texas electricity magnates. Talk of alternative energy sources were swept under the White House rug, as Bush tapped a bill to drill in environmentally sensitive areas of Alaska. The pollution standards set internationally in the Kyoto treaty — standards that have remarkably helped cities like LA over the last decade curtail its smog — were wiped off the books to aid industry bigwigs with their problems in adhering to strict emission guidelines. This country felt like it took a major step backwards the second “W” entered office. And this is not to be overly reactionary, but I swear that the day the Supreme Court handed Bush the election, I began noticing more homeless people on our streets in LA. After the Inauguration, I honestly spotted and was accosted by more homeless people than I had ever seen in the ‘90s. It reminded me very much of the Reagan ‘80s here in town.

Perhaps the Enron scandal will blow through the White House halls and smear the good feeling the Bush administration has achieved over our recent tragedy. (Isn’t it saying something that this administration’s highest approval marks were achieved not during tax cuts and education proposals, but instead during the period when the country feels absolutely skittish, fearful, and excruciatingly vulnerable? Not a very cheery reflection on the nature of his approval, is it?). It is, however, laughable how Bush, who was such a friend to Enron chief and fellow Texan, Kenneth Lay, is vexingly distancing himself from his big-business buddy. Actually, it would be laughable, if it weren’t so darn sad for our country and its economy. The economy that George W. Bush sent into the toilet.

Remember my assertion, from over a year ago, which referred to the negativity and hostility Bush, and the Republicans in general, displayed in the election fiasco? And how that tone would set the mood for the 2000s? Well, Bush first pronounced his death-knell forecast of an imminent declining economy in his debate speeches. We, as Americans, were coasting still from a wonderful buzz of growth and prosperity from the Clinton years. We laughed at how he was spouting economic sour grapes. But, as soon as the deal was done, and he sneaked into the office of the presidency, Bush amped up his rhetoric tenfold. Negative, negative, negative. To say that the highest leader in our land doesn’t affect big business and, most importantly, Investors(!), with his views and pronouncements of our country’s state of affairs is to wield the hand of naivete. Within weeks, stocks plummeted, gas prices soared, unemployment rose, and companies tumbled. We’ve been on that path, on the downslope, ever since. Bush was the clarion call for this disaster of an economy. From his lips to our reality, it became truth. I firmly believe he is a very negative influence on our country and its economic outlook. His tax cuts are a joke. What the economy needs is what Clinton afforded. More help to small business and lower interest rates for borrowing in these risky endeavors. Big business is a disaster for this country now. We learned that lesson from Bush Sr.’s legacy. The middle class needs to continue to be nurtured. We do not need a $500 tax rebate to every man, woman and child, so Bubba can upgrade the fiberglass beer cooler on the back of his Evinrude outboard.

A lot of people I know still have a bad taste in their mouths about the election. I plan on voting nothing but Democrat for the 2002 House and Senate seats. Do I want Gore to run for 2004? I’m not sure. He’s been out of sight longer than the Hollow Man and donned such a bearded, Fed-protection-program-kind-of-countenance since the first of 2001 that I’m not sure who he is anymore. He may not know who he is anymore. But if I had to pick between him, Lieberman, Biden, Gephart, or Kerry, Gore might get my nomination. Daschle’s up there with him.

A final note to this postscript:
Talk magazine featured an article on Lieberman recently. Apparently many Democrats were angered back in December 2000 by Joe’s statement that he did not wish to toss out the absentee ballots sent in by the military from overseas. In his eyes, and perhaps rightfully so, it would seem contrary to the “every vote should count” chant the party was emitting from the southern sandpit State. While various news organizations from around the country have performed independent counts of all of Florida’s vote cards since the election, and depending on “chad” criteria, have shown varying results, there are many factors that still hover on the periphery of discovery that I continue to find intriguing. One of those factors involves the absentee ballots. According to the magazine, “In the thick of the recount fight, Nick Baldick, the Gore-Lieberman Florida field director, heard a rumor that Bush operatives had been contacting military personnel to get them to vote via absentee ballot after the election. These ballots had until November 17 to reach county election boards. Whether or not that rumor was accurate, hundreds of these absentee ballots, most of them for Bush, came in suspiciously late for ballots that were to have been mailed on November 7. And hundreds (!) of them could have been disqualified for not meeting election requirements.”

Do you still recall how adamant the Bush party was in adhering to all the rules and regulations of Florida law concerning election requirements? How they argued that the butterfly ballot controversy could not be an aberrance in the proceedings ripe for discussion? How they wanted to square off the controversial debate about chads? How they wanted to run the whole thing into the Florida legislature for a final deciding vote based on their interpretation of election rules? This absentee ballot tardiness could have easily and validly been interpreted as being a violation in election requirement rules. Strictly by the rulebook, without question, it could have invalidated a majority of those tardy absentee ballots. Yet, Lieberman’s comments, said on a “Meet The Press” program in the thick of the scuffle, effectively snuffed out a huge number of Democrat’s desire to pursue this suspicious violation, and the absentee ballots were subsequently counted. Bush won Florida, and thus the election, by only 537 votes (without the count, of course, of those 14,000 voting cards still laying dormant somewhere). Those 537 votes came from the absentee ballots. Ballots without which Gore-Lieberman would have won Florida by 202 votes.

I’m still awaiting this century’s Woodward-Bernstein to dig into all of these intriguing blind alleys and uncover some truths to the quickly fading discrepancies and actions undertaken by the Republicans over a year ago. Time is both my, and any determined reporter’s, enemy. May the country rebound in its determination to stomp out terrorism. May it also have the backbone to stomach some of the horrible excesses wrought by the Republicans in the 2000 elections should they ever be unearthed.

January 2, 2015

Absolute Beginners

Absolute Beginners (104 minutes) Rated PG-13/1986 – starring Eddie O’ Connell, Patsy Kensit, David Bowie, James Fox, Ray Davies, Mandy Rice-Davies, Eve Ferret, Tony Hippolyte, Graham Fletcher-Cook, Joe McKenna, Steven Berkoff, and Sade. Directed by Julien Temple. Originally released through HBO Home Video.

To use an overused British observation, “What a bloody mess!” It is a wonder that this mid-80s musical was based on a book by Colin MacInnes because as far as I could fathom, there wasn’t much of anything resembling a story in its translation to the screen. The character of Colin, as played by blank slate Eddie O’Connell, utters this line a half hour into the picture — “if this is life, I’m gonna stay an absolute beginner forever.” One only wishes director Julien Temple had considered this sentiment and never cranked the first shot on this tedious pastiche of Technicolor triviality.

Temple, whose vision was more coherent in one of the Rolling Stones music videos he directed in the early ‘80s, seems to have little regard for plot and character development. The story is set in 1958 London, a time when teen music was becoming more agitated and vibrant. Colin is almost 20 years old and is content to snap pictures of his mates in the Piccadilly Circus area of the city. With an opening number that is reminiscent of the camera maneuvering in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” and Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You” video, Temple swoops the lens around a neon-colored “street life” scene set to a jazzy score. Colin meets up with his gal, Crepe Suzette, played by singer/actress/rock-star wife Patsy Kensit, and the two dance the swing all night long. The fact that the film ends with the two dancing in each other’s arms again shows that the screenwriters at least followed the standard “bookends” formula for a feature musical. However, the fact that nothing of interest happens in their relationship between the opening and concluding dances painfully highlights a complete lack of storytelling ability.

For once Colin and Suzette soon finish their dance, they also part ways…for the entire body of the film! Colin just works his way up the fashion photography ladder, and Suzette becomes successful for dress designs. The bulk of the movie introduces a series of pointless characters that serve to stretch time in such a manner that Einstein might’ve drawn viable data from. Colin interacts with Wizard, a neighborhood grift artist; Big Jill, a prostitute; Harry Charms, a talent scout; his dad, who’s a landlord; and Vendice Partners, a smooth entrepreneur — all of whom could easily have been in other films because they do nothing to add any depth or meaning to the main characters of Colin and Suzette.

Even though he was a veteran of the music video world around the time of this production, Temple’s choreographed pizazz never quite clicks into rhythm for the film. The editing is such that he cuts to stationary scenes during rousing dance numbers rather jarringly, which causes all of the energy to be drained from the ‘darling’ moments. The world he has created is one that is bathed in blue and red neon, which only makes the characters become more one-dimensional. While the jazz numbers, covering everything from Gil Evans to Charlie Mingus, set a vibrant bed of “cool” throughout the film, the songs people like Kensit, David Bowie and Ray Davies, of the Kinks, sing are rather bland and third rate.

Patsy Kensit, who at the time was in the British pop band Eighth Wonder, exudes Ann-Margret charm in a vampy way, especially during the film’s only standout number, when she enlivens a stuffy fashion runway show with risque audacity. However, for the rest of the movie, she is left to either pout or just smile. She said recently to Gear magazine that director Temple “didn’t speak to us. It was awful. I was playing this sexually active girl that I had no understanding of.” Kensit was 16 at the time. David Bowie fared slightly better. As the cocksure businessman Partners, he at least has one moment of fun, dancing about a giant typewriter, goading teens with a whip singing “That’s Motivation.” The problem with Bowie’s part, again, is that once the number was over, he really had no more relevance to the narrative. The few scattered scenes of dialogue he does have come across as stilted because for some reason, Bowie chose to talk in what he thought was an American accent. It’s the same awkward sounding voice one hears when Michael Caine actually believes he’s performing an American accent. As for Ray Davies, who plays Colin’s dad, he seems to fumble for tone while singing about his adulterous wife in the high-camp number “Quiet Life.” This one scene with Ray plays like a bedroom farce, as boarders in his home scurry about, and Davies truly looks as if he’s searching the set for signs of his paycheck.

The slinky singer Sade is used to her best abilities, namely just singing and not acting. Mirroring her “Smooth Operator” video, she simply stands before a jazzy ensemble, looks stunning in her blue sequin dress, and warbles the smoky tune “Killer Blow.” In stark contrast, the movie’s worst moments hit home as the film laboriously stumbles into its final act. The shift in the movie’s tone has gone from lightweight, Doris Day to a “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” kind of vibe and finally to a kitschy Hitler youth production of West Side Story. Indeed, by film’s end, racist thugs, or rather, teddy boys, sling the “N” word around and burn up an African-American neighborhood, all the while jumping about like strutting alley cats breaking into Debbie Allen moves.

If not for Bowie’s excellent rendition of the title tune over the credits and Sade’s decent delivery of her number, the need for any eyes to ever view this film would be pointless. When Colin witnesses a Third Reichian hatemonger stirring up a crowd, he retorts, “This guy’s flipped, man!” One could apply that assessment to Julien Temple’s clueless and clunky take on “Absolute Beginners.”

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

A Hard Day’s Night

A Hard Day’s Night (85 minutes) 1964 – starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, John Junkins, Victor Spinetti, Anna Quayle, and Eleanor Bron. Directed by Richard Lester. Now showing in select theaters, released through Miramax Films.

In the very first scene of “A Hard Day’s Night,” John, George and Ringo are running towards the camera, being chased by a legion of screaming teens. George and Ringo get foot-tied in their strides and both tumble hard to the ground. John glances back to see their fall and breaks into a cheery, spontaneous laugh. The rough accident seems completely unscripted, and John’s reaction to it sets the tone throughout the rest of the film. The camaraderie signaled through John’s laugh instantly showed a bond the boys had cemented, an unusual unified friendship that telegraphed to the world that they weren’t merely manufactured by a record company. These guys genuinely cared for each other. However scripted the rest of the film seemed to be, the audience carried the underlying subtext that these friends weren’t just acting as friends. And that was the endearing quality they have retained ever since.

Re-released in gloriously restored black and white, the landmark musical “A Hard Day’s Night” packs all the magical personality it once projected to audiences three and a half decades ago. The Beatles had just returned to England after conquering America, when they began filming in March 1964. The mania for everything moptop was so feverish, that crowds of fans turned up on set locations and were incorporated in scenes from the film. A shot where the Beatles ride in a limo surrounded by shrieking girls was taken off-the-cuff as the boys were headed home after work one day and later inserted in the film’s opening train segment. Director Richard Lester captured the frenzy of those opening scenes in such a rapid-fire, documentary manner, allowing for the unexpected, that the continuity girl was completely caught off-guard. She wrote in her script notes: “First shot. Beatles wearing their own clothes. I was in the toilet. Director was the (camera) operator. If this is the way the film is to go on, I’m resigning now.”

This guerilla, spontaneous approach truly gives the film its zest and character. The standout moments using this technique are seen when the Beatles run about in an open field (during the “Can’t Buy Me Love” liberating montage) and as Ringo walks along a river during the ‘lonely guy’ segment. Lester’s use of swish pans, fast cutting, smooth tracking shots, and parallel imagery (most notably during the boys’ singing “I Should’ve Known Better” in the train’s storage compartment) preceded, and laid the groundwork for, the techniques used in modern day music videos. His decision to use slow fades during the Beatles’ studio performances bring the beauty and immediacy of their musical charisma to wonderful scrutiny throughout the picture. Photographer Robert Freeman’s design, during the end credits, using fabulous portraits of the lads smoothly dissolving from one image to the next, made for a final stamp of originality to the overall viewing experience.

Liverpudlian Alun Owen was brought in to meet the group for a few days, and he then fashioned his script into a story about the hectic schedule of a popular band. The empathy one felt for the boys is subtly triggered by the fact that they are seen being harshly shuttled about, grabbed at by cloying teens, and isolated in their hotel suites. While Owen scripted many of the quips they toss off, all four Beatles, particularly George, ad-libbed with their own brand of humorous one-liners.

The plot of the movie just concerns the boys prepping and playing for a television studio program. Subplots are merely vignettes, focusing on their interaction with others. Primarily, they take the ‘stuffing’ out of stuffy authority figures. Whether it’s an arrogant train businessman, a stern groundskeeper, indiscriminate policemen, or a pompous television director, the Beatles fancy themselves the underdogs making fun of all the pretensions. By this time, the foursome were making far more money than any of these ‘authority’ figures, but this juxtaposition only serves to highlight their strong amenable charisma and ability to sway opinion so easily to their favor onscreen.

Many of their antics were quite subversive when looked at in relation to the times they were living in. John especially seemed to delight in ambiguity. His sexual orientation is subtly teased when it’s insinuated he’s a sissy in an actor’s dressing room and when he leans into a petulant train traveler and tells the man, “Give us a kiss.” But he also overtly conveys his hetero proclivities as he air-gropes the bosoms of passing female dancers and responds to one handler’s statement “the place is surging with girls” with the plea, “Please, sir, can I have one to surge me?” When their manager suggests that Paul’s grandfather (played by the skeletal Wilfrid Brambell) is lost and must be in some sort of orgy, all four moptops gleefully respond enthusiastically about going to participate in the orgy. According to author Andrew Yule, the Beatles had sex very much on the brain during the shoot, as they watched 8mm porno films and sequestered several female extras to their trailers for “a series of ‘quickies.”

The music in the film has been lovingly restored to full digital sound, and those tunes sung in the ‘studio’ portions, such as “If I Fell” and “Tell Me Why,” resonate in dynamic perfection. Even though they’re lip-synching, the spark emanating between the quartet members and off the screen is engagingly palpable. There are fleeting moments where John is not aware of the camera on him, and we see him smiling over something Paul has said. With all the acrimony that placed a rift in their relationship later on, it is great to see them during a period of mutual admiration.

Only a third-act Keystone Kops vignette tends to be the film’s only misfire, causing the pace to plod aimlessly. But soon, the final concert performance blasts out from the speakers and the innocent magic of the Fab Four bring you back into their embrace and send you humming nostalgically out into a radically-altered present.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Number One With a Banana: Fans Go Ape Over the Monkees

Let’s put it in perspective right up front. The soundtrack to “West Side Story” back in 1962 held Billboard’s Number 1 spot in America for 54 weeks. Over a year, mind you, holding that top position. But if you look carefully, you’ll see that it didn’t retain that slot for 54 weeks in a row. No, the album that held the numero uno spot for the most weeks in a row would be another soundtrack, the one to “South Pacific.” It sat on the Billboard album summit uninterrupted for 31 weeks in 1958. Outside of soundtracks, no recording artists have had their LP last at number one over the length of that solid block of time. Sure, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” reigned supreme for 37 weeks…but again, it was a nonconsecutive stretch. One set of artists, however, did commandeer the top spot for 31 weeks in a row…with two back-to-back albums. These artists weren’t even supposed to be a real rock group. But from November 12, 1966 all the way to June 17, 1967, seven full months, America couldn’t get enough of the fabricated act known as The Monkees.

The times that gave birth to The Monkees may have had something to do with it. As 1966 was nearing an end, Vietnam was coughing up far more American casualties than had ever been expected. People were waking up to the fact that the engagement in Southeast Asia was turning into a full-scale war. During the summer, race riots were igniting all across the country on a regular basis. A guy named Charles Whitman had just climbed up the University of Texas’ tower and picked off innocent pedestrians with a high-powered rifle, in one of the country’s first instances of indiscriminate mass murder. In a peculiar fashion, Americans seem to look to popular entertainment at times of crisis to help anesthetize their fears and uncertainties. The biggest initial burst of production in the film industry occurred during the United States’ great Depression era of the 1930s. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that after JFK was assassinated, a mourning country embraced an innocent, happy-go-lucky quartet from Britain to lift them out of their sadness with songs of cheer and love. 1966 was unearthing more troubles and laying bare deep historical wounds in America. Yet those previously darling Beatles had just finished touring forever. They were holing up in the studio, moving into a more detached, introspective, psychedelic phase. The arrival of The Monkees couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.

The line between reality and make-believe truly blurred during these tumultuous months. As Americans tuned into a show about a rock ‘n’ roll group having fun and living a happy, fanciful life every week, somewhere along the way, folks began to believe that the personalities onscreen were actually living that musical life offscreen. One can argue that the calculation for this misconception had been knowingly orchestrated by the producers who set this whole endeavor into motion. Yes, they wanted people to watch their show. Sure, they counted on people buying the records. But at what point were The Monkees themselves supposed to stop being actors and become known primarily as musicians? Or was that supposed to happen at all? This part of the equation had not apparently been thought through.

Pop history has erroneously pinpointed the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” as the inspirational phenomenon that got Monkee creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider thinking about a sitcom involving a rock group. “I had the idea for the Monkees years before the Beatles arrived,” Rafelson clarified to author Harold Bronson. “I wrote it as a pilot for Universal in 1960. It was about a folk group – something about which I knew, because I was traveling with a group of four unruly and chaotic musicians in Mexico in 1953. I used many of the incidents that happened to me in Mexico when I was seventeen years old in ‘The Monkees’ episodes.” Rafelson had been immersed in music and television work throughout his early career. He created and directed the show “Hootenanny.” While The Beatles’ 1964 film renewed an interest in his idea, Rafelson was intent on assimilating many of the techniques coming out of the French New Wave style of cinema at the time. Namely, handheld camerawork, jump-cutting, and surreal storylines.

Sitting over at Columbia Studios was a friend of Bob’s named Bert Schneider. Bert’s father, Abe, ran Columbia. Abe had made his son treasurer of Screen Gems, an off-shoot company of the studio. One of Bert’s recent investments around the mid-60s was the purchase of a publishing group out of New York called Nevins-Kirshner Music. Schneider wished to oversee his own pop division. The publishing group he had bought was run by one of the best executives in the business, the guy people in “the know” referred to as “The Man With The Golden Ear.” Don Kirshner was his name, and he had a knack for putting together talented songwriters with promising musicians and selecting tunes that he knew were going to be hits. His golden touch had already spawned strong singles for acts like The Animals and Herman’s Hermits.

This collaborative mix of powerful people soon put in motion the Monkee machine. Bert and Bob dreamt up the idea of a comedy rock show, one in which they could peddle original songs directly to the teen market. This was the first time in history that the recording, radio and television industries would be utilized collectively to mutually foist a living commodity, one of popular entertainment, to eager consumers. As the years have shown since, it certainly galvanized a trend.

Forming their own company, Raybert Productions, Bert and Bob went to the head of Screen Gems, actor Jackie Cooper, star of the old Little Rascals films, and sold him on the idea. Money in the form of $225,000 was greenlighted for a pilot, and NBC was interested in seeing the finished product. Excitedly, the two men fashioned guidelines for the “types” of characters they wanted for their rock group.

At first, the duo considered hiring an established act that could play their own instruments and the producers would just shape the show around them. Bands like The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful were put on a list. But soon that plan was scrapped with the reasoning that Bert and Bob would be tied to a pre-existing group’s previous recordings and contracts. “Bert wanted strange types,” Monkees’ lead singer Davy Jones later said. “He wanted raw, new stuff that he alone could bring in.”

Davy Jones was already under contract to Screen Gems. Born December 30, 1945 in Manchester, England, Davy Jones grew up to be a short, good-looking lad who dreamed of being a horse jockey. Instead, he became immersed in television and stage work in Great Britain, most notably in a recurring part on the BBC’s “Coronation Street” series. By the time he was age 15, Davy lived in New York in his own apartment and starred as the Artful Dodger onstage in the musical “Oliver!” He was nominated for a Tony Award in this role, and when the cast of his Broadway play was invited to appear on CBS-TV’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, they shared the bill with four soon-to-be-phenomenal musicians from Liverpool making their debut on American television. Hollywood beckoned young Davy thereafter, and he made appearances on primetime shows like “Ben Casey.” In 1965, he released a solo album under his own name. This is when he and Bert crossed paths.

Snaring Davy on-board his new sit-com venture, Bert teamed the young man up with another producer on the show, Ward Sylvester. Together, Ward and Davy went to local Hollywood nightclubs, searching for personalities that might be worthy of asking in to the studio for an audition. “We saw Mike first, hosting New Talent Night at the Troubadour, a folk rock club that still exists,” Ward explained to author Harold Bronson. Born exactly three years before Davy, on December 30, 1942, Mike Nesmith grew up in Texas as an only child. Unsure of his horizons, the soft-spoken, low-key Monkee-in-waiting did a brief stint in the Air Force before enrolling at San Antonio College to study music. With guitar in hand, teaching himself how to play, Mike worked the local folk clubs and soon settled down, marrying Phyllis Barbour in 1963. After the birth of their son, the family moved west to LA, where Nesmith joined with John London and Bill Sleeper to play in a folk trio, strumming under the uninspired name of Mike, John, and Bill. A single was released on Omnibus Records before Nesmith went solo. He soon released three more singles, one under his own name and two under the moniker, Michael Blessing.

It was actually an ad the producers placed in the Hollywood trade paper Variety in September 1965 that eventually piqued Nesmith’s interest enough to audition. “Madness! Auditions: Folk and Rock Musicians – Singers for Acting Roles in a New TV Series. Running parts for four insane boys, ages 17-21,” it read. Mike’s family 1956 station wagon had just been repossessed by a finance company. He was hurting for a break. He went to the audition. So did over 400 other wannabe Monkees. Legend has long held that one Charles Manson showed up for a crack at being a lovable teen idol. While this rumor’s never been verified, there was, however, another shy, soft-spoken fellow sitting in the waiting area that day with Nesmith by the name of Peter Tork.

Born February 13, 1942 in Washington D.C., young Peter Torkelson was weened in several eastern cities due to the callings of his father’s professorial teaching positions but soon settled into a suburb in Connecticut. Like Nesmith, Peter started playing guitar and soon fell in with the folk circuit. Opening for acts like Jose Feliciano in small Greenwich Village, New York clubs, Tork, who had shortened his name, became friends with another aspiring musician, Stephen Stills, later of the Buffalo Springfield. Along the way, he married a woman named Jody, but they divorced soon thereafter. Relocating to Los Angeles, Peter strummed his way around the city’s coffeehouses and made ends meet washing dishes for $50 a week.

His buddy Stephen Stills was called in to meet Bert and Bob. They were very interested in Stills’ musical abilities, but the confident singer/songwriter wasn’t too sure he had the acting bug in him. Agreeing with the producers to contribute to the music end of the project however he could, Stills went and told Tork about the show, urging the mellow folkie to try out. Thus, Peter showed up for the auditions on the same day as Nesmith. The two didn’t reach out and become chums that afternoon, nor would their relationship get much better over the years ahead. “Unfortunately, even from the very beginning, it was apparent that Mike and Peter were destined for confrontation. There really couldn’t be two more incompatible characters,” drummer Micky Dolenz observed in his autobiography. “Mike is pragmatic. Peter is ethereal. Peter is laid-back, Mike is impatient. Mike is oil, Peter is water. There’s no way these two would have ever gotten together to form a group under normal circumstances…” As for Dolenz, he tried his best to get along with everyone.

Born March 8, 1945 in Tarzana, California, Micky was raised by a family headed by an actor. Micky’s dad was featured in several movie roles throughout the 1950s. Whereas, Mike and Peter shared a background in music, Micky’s past mirrored that of Davy’s. Adopting the stage name Mickey Braddock, Dolenz starred as the orphan boy Corky in the 1956-1958 television program, “Circus Boy.” Cancellation of the series forced Dolenz to go from adulation overnight to regular Valley kid, facing life at a lower gear. He remained a thespian, guest starring on episodes of “Peyton Place” and “Playhouse 90,” but also began studying architectural drafting. By the mid-60s, Micky had a hankering to front a band. “I first saw Micky performing in a bowling alley with a group called the Missing Links,” producer Ward Sylvester told Harold Bronson. “Micky did seem to me to be the Jerry Lewis-like clown we were looking for. He was always on.” The wacky, and unemployed, Dolenz was invited to a private audition with Bert and Bob.

To find the “bent” attitude they were looking for in the tone of their project, Bert and Bob interviewed each subject differently. Sometimes they completely ignored the applicant. Or they tossed a golf ball back and forth to each other. Anything to arouse some spontaneity in the potential Monkee being interviewed. When Micky entered their office, the two producers were balancing soda bottles and paper cups, pyramid-style, on their desk. After a moment, Micky keyed into the madness, swiped a cup up, placed it on the stack, and shouted, “Checkmate!” He was hired shortly thereafter.

Bert and Bob finally had their foursome. Nesmith, Jones, Tork, and Dolenz. Rejecting names like The Inevitables, The Creeps, and even The Turtles (which, of course, was later used elsewhere), they settled on the misspelled Monkees, one small allusion to the misspelled Beatles. Since Peter and Mike were accomplished guitarists, they were to assume that role on the show. Davy would sing lead and bang a tambourine. Which left Micky, who also was a guitar player. With no training whatsoever, Dolenz was designated the group’s drummer for the series.

Two musicians who had approached Bert and Bob to be in the Monkees, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, but were passed over in the acting category, were nonetheless contracted to come up with two songs for the initial pilot episode. Along with the song “I Wanna Be Free,” they recorded “(The Theme from) The Monkees” using their own vocals. According to Hart, the show’s theme song was inspired by the Dave Clark Five’s single “Catch Us If You Can.” On November 13, 1965, filming began in Del Mar, California on the Monkees’ pilot episode and lasted five days. The four actors lip-synced to the Boyce/Hart compositions. Shortly after completion, Peter later related that he sat Micky down and taught him how to play the drums.

Bob edited the pilot and submitted it to the network for their approval. An audience test group gave it one of the lowest ratings possible for a potential show. Undaunted, Rafelson raced back into the editing room and re-cut the episode. Since the focus group seemed to find the Monkees brash and interchangeable, Bob put in snippets of the boys’ audition test screenings, where they were personable and distinctive. This became a fixture in future shows. The pace was chopped up more, giving it a freestyle feel. And the character of an adult manager who worked in a record store was excised from the storyline altogether. The young and hip Bert Schneider didn’t want any authority figure overseeing the boys’ antics. “Up until then, shows like ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘My Three Sons’ always had adults,” Peter related to Harold Bronson. Micky observed to Creem Magazine, “The Monkees” ended up being the first time in the history of television that young people were seen as the leaders of their own destiny…free. And not smoking dope. And not screwing little 12-year old girls. And not being irresponsible.”

24 hours after submitting the revised edit, NBC gave the go-ahead order for 32 episodes. 72 hours later, major commercial sponsors were locked in to support the show. In the first few months of 1966, Bert and Bob began hiring writers and production staff. Don Kirshner, back in his New York offices, was given the title of music supervisor. His job was to corral a stable of songwriters and producers to come up with bonafide hits for the newly-minted foursome. Each episode would contain two songs, usually one used during a ‘romp’ montage or a ‘love’ vignette, and one ‘performance’ song the Monkees would be seen playing to. As for the Monkees themselves, well, they were left to try become acquainted with one another for awhile.

“When I first met Micky, I thought he was nowhere,” Peter told Tiger Beat magazine in April 1968. “I thought he was right out of ‘Readers’ Digest.’ He seemed to be everything I stood against: second-hand humor, second-hand situations, everything. I thought, well, they hired him because they needed someone with professional experience. Period.” Davy told Creem magazine, “We didn’t know each other very well when we were originally working together, and we hadn’t experienced a lot of things in common…we had no social hours.” However uncomfortable the foursome found their newly-forged relationship to be, they all agreed on one thing. They didn’t want to just be puppets on their television broadcast. “When we first found out that we were going to be the Monkees, we called a meeting to show each other what ideas we had and find out what directions we wanted to take,” Mike explained to Blitz Magazine in 1978. “We discussed our musical interests for awhile and figured we had better get some new equipment to practice on. We piled up in a truck and drove to a music store and bought about $5,000 worth of new equipment. We went into a studio and cut some rehearsal tracks.”

According to Nesmith, the group laid down close to a hundred songs, mostly covers of established tunes, but some were original compositions by Mike. “I can’t give you a specific figure on how many tracks we laid down,” Mike told Blitz Magazine, “but a hundred seems like a pretty accurate estimate. We recorded those in the studios at Columbia before the whole television thing started. Of course, at the time, we had no idea what was going to happen with the series. We were just a fun band.” A short time later, Don Kirshner called them into hear what they had recorded. “He listened and seemed to like what he heard,” Mike continued, “but also said that this was not at all the musical directions that he had intended for the Monkees. And you know the rest of the story. It soon became apparent to me that I would not be satisfied playing in that context for very long.” Kirshner was already putting out the word to studio session players that they were needed for upcoming Monkees’ recording gigs. Meanwhile, somewhat deflated, the four members holed up on Stage 3 on the Screen Gems studio lot and began to learn how to act with one another.

James Frawley was an actor in New York who worked with an improv group called The Premise, a troupe that featured George Segal and Buck Henry amongst others. Frawley had also directed a few short 16mm films in an avant-garde style. Both ingredients were perfect for his landing the job to coach and direct the Monkees in their television endeavor. For two months on the Hollywood soundstage, he honed their skills in technical and improvisational acting. On May 31, 1966, initial filming for the television series commenced.

Workdays were long, usually from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night. The months of improv had paid off. The four actors were loose with each other, tossing in cutting remarks that left them in stitches. Although the Monkees would claim that many of their lines were ad-libbed, director Frawley stated that they stuck pretty close to the script. Out of the four characterizations the boys had to portray, Peter’s identity on the show was the least like his own demeanor. The Peter character on the program was naïve and a bit slow-witted. On the other hand, the real Peter, as Ward Sylvester told Harold Bronson, “is very intelligent and very well-educated. He always surprises me with allusions to classical music and to classical literature. He’s very spiritual and very insightful. He had to suppress an awful lot of that to be the Peter that we know from television.”

Studio lots were run very strictly with union rules that never allowed for much flexibility in those days. But Frawley was somehow able to coax the kinetic pacing he required for his show out of his exhausted team. “We had the fastest crew in Hollywood,” he related to Andrew Sandoval. “I would get sometimes 40, 50, or 60 setups a day – which is a lot of shots. Most television shows get 15 or 20 a day, but because of the nature of the editing, I needed very much to get that kind of rhythm going.”

Don Kirshner was not getting very far in finding producers willing to go into the recording studio to oversee music for what they perceived would be a project dismissed as a loser teeny-bopper show. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart soon stepped back up to the plate. “I told Donnie, ‘I’ve got this band that I work with in clubs called the Candy Store Prophets,” Hart later shared with author Harold Bronson. “We’ll rehearse the songs that we would like to record with my group, and we’ll go into a cheap rehearsal studio, and you come down and listen and if you like what you hear, give us the job.’ He came down, and we played him two or three songs, and he said, ‘You guys got it. Go into RCA and start cutting the first album.’

On June 10th, the four members of the Monkees showed up at the RCA Victor Studios in Hollywood. Boyce and Hart were behind the console and their Candy Store Prophets were in the studio, ready to play. Glen Campbell was a session player at the recording and would sit in on numerous tracks throughout the next few months. Davy Jones sang lead vocal on Boyce/Hart’s song “Let’s Dance On.” The camaraderie that the four Monkees had built up over the preceding months exploded in carefree shoving and playful wrestling. Boyce and Hart had to halt the session. “From that night on,” Bobby Hart to Harold Bronson, “we never had more than one Monkee in the studio at a time. We just didn’t trust what might happen.” Micky Dolenz wound up singing lead on the song during a July 6th recording session.

Music producer Jack Keller, on the insistence of Don Kirshner, began to sit in on Boyce and Hart’s sessions to oversee quality and give his two cents’ worth. On July 7th, while Boyce and Hart were recording some of the Monkees singing tunes at RCA Studios, Mike Nesmith set up over at another Hollywood studio, Western Recorders, and began laying down his own tracks. They recorded a song Mike had written called “Papa Gene’s Blues.” The style of the song was a little bit of country, but most certainly with a rock-tinged edge. Nesmith was adept at fusing these two genres, and as his song catalog grew, one could easily isolate him as one of the first progenitors of country-rock. During this session, he allowed more than one Monkee to sit in the studio with him. Peter played his guitar with five other session guitarists on the track. This moment would be the only time that any member of the band would be lending an instrumental contribution to the recordings laid down for the group’s first two blockbuster albums.

“Mike fought hard to be involved in the recordings,” Micky related in his biography. “He put together his own studio group and got a couple of his songs on the first album, and was encouraging the rest of us to do the same. It wasn’t all altruistic, mind you. He knew full well what the economic potential was of writing a number one hit song, and he wanted his chance.”

And so it went, throughout the rest of July, Boyce and Hart recorded their sessions, while Mike was producing some of his own. Since the four Monkees acted all day long at Screen Gems, evenings were spent sequestered in recording. They were definitely working on overdrive. During a July 25th session, each Monkee was given a crack at singing lead vocals on Boyce and Hart’s song “Last Train To Clarksville” that night. As was the case with the majority of The Monkees’ output, Micky was given the lead. This recording would be issued as a single on August 16, 1966, with the B-side song “Take A Giant Step,” and rock fans would soon be waking up to a worldwide phenomenon.

Don Kirshner was constantly sending out tunes written by his contracted employees in New York for song consideration on the albums. Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin wrote a number of tunes for the Monkees during this period, including “I Won’t Be The Same Without Her,” “So Goes Love,” and “Sweet Young Thing.” Towards the end of July, the group was already recording songs that would ultimately appear on their second album, like “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”

When “Last Train To Clarksville” was finally issued as a single in mid-August, nobody had heard of the Monkees. Their show had still not debuted. Nevertheless, it made its way into the Billboard Top 100 in a month’s time. By November 5, 1966, after the programs had become “must-see” TV, the single went to number one on the chart for a week. While many detractors saw the group as a fabricated pop machine with no social conscience, according to Micky, the Monkees were subversive from the start. He claimed to Creem magazine that “Last Train To Clarksville” was anti-war. “It was about a soldier. ‘And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home’ (the lyric). It was subtle.” Bobby Hart, who co-wrote the tune, later told Harold Bronson, “The song’s about a guy who’s going off to war, not knowing if he’s ever going to come back. He wants to spend one more night with his girlfriend. We never considered it a war protest song until we heard Micky Dolenz in an interview explaining it that way. I thought, ‘Why not, it sounds good to me.”

By the start of August 1966, the first season of “The Monkees” had finished production and the group had laid down all of their tracks for their debut album. The foursome, nonetheless, spent the rest of the summer back in the recording studio. The first episode of their show was set to air on Monday, September 12th at 7:30pm on NBC. Local Los Angeles radio station KHJ was playing “Last Train To Clarksville” on the hour every hour leading up to the 12th. To meet the press and let America see their faces, the Monkees flew by helicopter to Del Mar, California on September 11th, landing near a 16-passenger train. Climbing aboard, they sang a few tunes and chatted up reporters all the way back to LA. The next day, their nutty, off-the-cuff series began. Although the storylines were simplistic (i.e. The Monkees save a princess, go to a séance, work for a toy company, etc.), the viewing audience, especially young children and teenagers, became entranced. The boys’ charm was the element that kept people tuning in from week to week. And, of course, the hit songs. The Monkees became an overnight sensation, pretty much, overnight. By the end of October, the show was number one in ratings for its time slot.

Monkee cards, lunchboxes, wool hats, posters, bubblegum, and models flooded the marketplace soon after. Bert and Bob had a goldmine on their hands. The Monkees themselves almost didn’t seem to notice. They were back in the recording studio during the rest of September and much of October, churning out future tracks for albums. Don Kirshner began to augment Boyce and Hart’s output by hiring producer Jeff Barry in New York to record all the instrumentation for songs like Goffin/King’s “Sometime in the Morning” and “I Don’t Think You Know Me,” and then he would send the tapes to Los Angeles for the Monkees to insert their vocals onto.

One of these tracks recorded in late October was written by a popular singer in his own right, Neil Diamond. “I’m A Believer,” with Micky Dolenz on lead vocals, would be released the following month as a single and hit number one on the chart almost immediately on November 12th. “The individual song that was near and dearest to my heart was ‘I’m A Believer,” Don Kirshner related to Harold Bronson, “because Neil Diamond really wanted to keep the song for himself, and it was a major fight to get it from him. I think it’s Neil’s biggest song as a writer. It’s my particular favorite because that song catapulted the Monkees into a whole different level, and got the whole feeling of every boy and girl in America wanting to be part of the Monkees’ phenomenon.”

That phenomenon translated to almost 5,000 fan letters being received from around the country a day. And it yielded the Monkees a number one album. Released shortly after the debut of the show, the group’s self-titled debut LP rose up the Billboard album chart over a six week period. On November 12, 1966, the same day as their second single hit the top of its chart, the Monkees’ album nudged aside the soundtrack to “Dr. Zhivago,” and went on to remain in the number one album position for 13 consecutive weeks. The singles, the album and the TV show had officially and effectively launched Monkeemania.

The Monkees were elated but also exhausted. Micky and Davy moved into a rented house in the Hollywood Hills, and the boys barely had any time to themselves. The only social gathering they seemed to savor was playing together in a weekly softball game in the San Fernando Valley. Micky related in his biography that he’d been so busy, he truly had not grasped the enormity of their popularity. In early December, he went to a mall in the Valley where he always shopped in the past to buy some Christmas gifts. “I was busy concentrating on my shopping list and hadn’t got more than fifty feet inside when I heard screams! I looked up and saw dozens of people running toward me. ‘S***! A fire,’ I thought to myself. I turned to run out of the door but was surrounded. They weren’t trying to get out. They were trying to get me! I barely made it out with my life. And never got my shopping done. There was no doubt about it…I had arrived.”

The media and even some of the Monkees’ own publicity machine seemed to constantly refer to their image as a copycat of the Beatles. “They want us to be the Beatles,” Mike told Look magazine in December 1966, “but we’re not. We’re us. We’re funny. They’re in the middle of something good, and they’re trying to sell something else.” Peter later told Creem magazine, “We weren’t the Beatles, and we never said that we would be. We never said that we were going to be the Beatles. What we were is what we were. Which I look back on it now, and I think we were unique.” John Lennon seemed to support America’s new sensation, empathizing with the harried overexposure. “They’ve got their own scene,” he said, “and I won’t send them down for it. You try a weekly television show, and see if you can manage one half as good!”

One of the main arenas the boys hadn’t conquered up to this point was performing live. The four members felt they’d rehearsed enough together to be able to put on a decent show. Dick Clark lent a hand in booking their first gig at the Honolulu International Center Arena in Hawaii on December 3, 1966. The reason they picked that remote location was, according to Micky, because should they bomb, who would know? The concert was a success. While the craftsmanship of the Monkees performance might have been average, the audience of screaming, hysterical fans didn’t seem to mind. Another plus from the show was the fact that Davy Jones met Linda Haines, a clothes designer, who would later become his wife.

The Monkees were subsequently booked on a 12-city jaunt across America beginning the day after Christmas. Hordes of fans camped outside their hotels, and the concerts were sellouts. Unbeknownst to the foursome, Kirshner had hastily assembled tracks together for a second album, “More of The Monkees,” and Colgems, their label, released it while they were in the Midwest on their first tour. “The second record was so angering,” Peter related to Harold Bronson, “because Donnie almost militantly cut us out of the process. By that time we were playing our own music onstage, and we were righteously pissed that the album was released without our knowing anything at all about it. We thought those tracks were being recorded for the TV show, not a new album. We were on the road at the time, and somebody went across the street to the mall to get a copy. We had to buy the album just to hear it.”

Micky wasn’t as concerned about the album’s music as he was about the cover photo the record company plastered on it. The snapshot featured all four Monkees standing side by side, wearing some very dated looking ‘60s wear. Micky told Chicago DJ Ken Cocker, “They made some deal with some clothes company (J.C. Penney), and we had to wear those clothes. Of course, back then there was a lot of paisley around. I don’t know what we were thinking.” However miffed the boys were about the release of this new album, it managed to enter the Billboard chart at number 122 on February 4, 1967, less than a month after its release. One week later, it leapt to number one. “More of The Monkees” knocked their debut album “The Monkees” from the top spot. And this follow-up album would remain perched in the primo position for a longer period of time than its predecessor. For 18 consecutive weeks.

However successful the band had become, The Monkees were disillusioned. What had started as four actors trying to pretend as if they were a full-fledged rock outfit had evolved into four actors eager to truly become an established rock outfit. In fact, just six days after their second album was released, the boys took time off from their tour to go into the studio to lay down some tracks of their own. Instead of Boyce and Hart, or Jack Keller, or Jeff Barry — all previous producers sanctioned by Don Kirshner — the Monkees asked Chip Douglas, a former bassist with The Turtles, to oversee their session. The band re-recorded a tune of Mike’s they first tried recording back before the series had begun. The song, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” would soon prove to be a volatile turning point for the group.

Finishing up the last of their gigs on the Winter ’67 tour in Phoenix and San Francisco on the 21st and 22nd of January, the boys took a much-needed vacation. Peter went back to New York, Davy jetted to the Caribbean, and Micky went to London. Mike would later head to London, but he spent some time venting his displeasure of the group’s first two albums to the press. “The music had nothing to do with us,” he related in the January 28, 1967 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. “It was totally dishonest. Do you know how debilitating it is to sit up and have to duplicate somebody else’s records? That’s really what we were doing…Our records are not our forte. I don’t care if we never sell another record…Maybe we were manufactured and put on the air strictly with a lot of hoopla. Tell the world that we’re synthetic because, damn it, we are. Tell them the Monkees were wholly man-made overnight, that millions of dollars have been poured into this thing. Tell the world we don’t record our own music.”

The Monkees’ “secret” had been revealed…not that many folks hadn’t already suspected that they weren’t a “real” group in the first place. But with Mike’s naked revelations to the media, many critics, especially those with journalism degrees, took up a lot of print space chastising and mocking the Monkees because of their ruse. This backlash only fueled the group’s desire to take control of their musical destiny.

Shortly after their respite, Don Kirshner flew out to Los Angeles to give each band member a $250,000 royalty check from their first album. On that day, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, he also presented them with gold discs. Talk got around to their next single. The song “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” was slated to be on the 45’s A-side. For the B-side, Kirshner was opting for a Jeff Barry song called “She Hangs Out.” Mike argued that the band wanted to make their recording of “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” the single’s B-side. Angry words were traded. Mike threatened to quit the band. A crony of Kirshner’s in the hotel room threatened Mike with contractual obligations. Mike ended all threats by smashing his fist through the wall. Kirshner later told Harold Bronson his take on Mike’s standoff. “He said, ‘We’re not recording for you anymore. We want to do our own thing.’ But they all took the money on the work we did on the first albums, then went crying back to Bert and Bob. Because Bert’s father was the president of Columbia Pictures, he had a lot of clout. He said, ‘We want to get rid of Donnie Kirshner.”

Peter conveyed to interviewer Bronson the band’s side of the argument. “What we asked for was to be allowed to be the studio musicians on our own records. We did not ask for creative control. We did not ask to be the producers. We did not ask to replace Kirshner.” Nonetheless, Bert and Bob fired the Man with the Golden Ear. Micky’s later recollections about Kirshner were complimentary if somewhat hazy. “To be honest, I remember very little about Donnie Kirshner,” he wrote in his biography. ‘In years to come he was to claim the title of ‘Monkeemaker.’ That was certainly an overestimation, but he undoubtedly had a profound influence on what we recorded and what was released and, hence, our musical careers.” For Mike Nesmith, his latter day assessment of their music supervisor was almost laudable. “This is really the last thing you’d expect to hear out of a guy like me,” he told Blitz Magazine, “but whatever went down between Don Kirshner and myself at the time simply happened. Don is a corporate executive and simply fulfilled that role.”

The four Monkees had gotten what they wished for. Beginning in March 1967, they sequestered themselves with Chip Douglas at the RCA Victor Studios to lay down tracks for their next LP, “Headquarters.” “We buried ourselves in the studio for six to eight weeks,” Micky said. “That’s all we did. We just recorded that album from start to finish. We lived in there. We slept in there. We had sex in there. It was really down and dirty.”

The resulting album was vibrant, well-produced, and musically-sound. In fact, it sounded much in the same vein as, well, their first two albums. The group was quite satisfied with their effort. Around this time, the last show of their first season of “The Monkees” was broadcast on April 21st. The episodes would be re-run throughout the summer, and Monkee madness only escalated. The boys went back into production on their second season episodes for the television show. With more clout to their name, they demanded more perks. A huge, empty storehouse was placed outside their soundstage, allowing the Monkees to lay about on throw pillows on its floor, play music as loud as they wanted, and smoke pot to their hearts’ content in the dimly-lit interior.

They sought more innovative techniques from director Frawley to insert into their show. Film was shot backwards and edited haphazardly in a scene. Lighting effects were used in surreal moments. Clips from news programs were dropped in for no apparent reason. “I think it marked a very free, innovative, stylistic approach to filming television in a way I haven’t seen since then,” Frawley told Andrew Sandoval. “There are things I see on television now that I think are very innovative stylistically – like the pilot for ‘NYPD Blue.’ But, I think at that time, there was a freedom and an energy that was quite remarkable. A style that was set, that was, as I say, very original for American television.” Frawley went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy and the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.

The hysteria surrounding the Monkee phenomenon was such that typically outlandish stories began to circulate amongst the band’s many detractors. Micky tried to address these rumors in the May 1967 issue of Tiger Beat. “Since our show went on TV, I’ve heard the following things about us:

  1. We were killed in a plane crash.
  2.  We all hate each other.
  3. I’m mad at Davy because he gets all the girls.
  4. Mike and Phyllis are getting a divorce.
  5. Peter is dying of a strange disease.
  6. We were killed in a car crash in Hawaii.
  7.  Davy’s quitting the Monkees.
  8. We don’t play our own instruments.

Rumors can be pretty bad things when they get started, and all of these that I’ve just mentioned really upset us, and I’m sure they don’t make our fans very happy. Naturally, the answer to all of the above rumors is a big ‘No,’ except the last one, and that’s a ‘yes’ because we do play our own instruments.”

“More of the Monkees” finally ended its reign at the top of the charts on June 17, 1967. The consecutive 31 weeks of being the number one group in America had finally reached the finish line. Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass jumped up to the number one spot that week with the album “Sounds Like…” But Herb’s effort stayed in place for only 7 days. On June 24th, with no single to release from the album, the Monkees’ first authentic group effort, “Headquarters,” put the pre-fab foursome back at number one.

Monkeemania was at its height that summer as the group hit the road again to tour, starting in London on June 30th. And for their opening act, they landed a future legend. “I was in New York, it must have been ’67,” Micky Dolenz recalled for Creem Magazine, “and somebody said you gotta go hear this guitar player. He plays with his teeth. He was playing with the Albert Hammond Group at the time. And so I went down to the Bottom Line or somewhere down in the Village, and there he was playing guitar with his teeth. I thought, ‘Wow! Great!’ And then, God, I guess it was six or eight months later, I was at the Monterey Pop Festival, and simultaneously we needed an act. And the Jimi Hendrix Experience got up onstage, and I said, ‘I know that guy! He was playing guitar with his teeth in the Village.’ Our producer said to us, ‘Well, you need an opening act,’ and I thought he’d really be great. He was colorful and psychedelic, and I was really into that at the time. So we hired him, and he opened for us on quite a few dates.”

Mike Nesmith had already been introduced to the caterwauling sounds of Hendrix during a period he had stayed in London earlier in 1967. While having dinner with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton, John had played them all a tape he’d acquired of Hendrix. Mike had gotten to hear something else while visiting with the Beatles. “I was staying with John Lennon during the recording of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album,” he told Harold Bronson. “He would come home and play the acetates from the day’s sessions. ‘What do you think of that sound? Do you think there’s too much bass on there?’ And, of course, I just didn’t have anyway to talk to him because he was just rearranging my musical realities at the time.” Ultimately, the reign of the Monkees’ third album, “Headquarters,” was cut short, prematurely so, after just a single week, when the landmark “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” album shot straight to number one on the Billboard chart on July 1, 1967.

As this month rolled on, Hendrix only lasted seven concert dates with the Monkees. His style of music was obviously so far removed from what the headlining foursome had to offer, and it became quite embarrassing to the group when their teeny-bopper fans out front shouted, ‘We want Davy!’ in the midst of Jimi’s sets. As for the Monkees’ performances during this tour, the screams of adulation seemed to exceed those that emanated from teenagers who witnessed their first set of shows earlier in the year. “We would burst out of these big mock Vox speakers onto the stage,” Micky recalled for interviewer Bronson, “and the place would go bananas. We had one of the first multimedia presentations; we projected this film up behind us on a big movie screen. We’d play big arenas, and it was just when the little flash cameras had come out on the market. The Instamatics, with a flashcube. So, like, 15,000 times four of these little flashcubes would go off simultaneously.”

Just like their Beatle pals, Monkee fan frenzy wasn’t relegated solely to the arenas. Hordes of followers camped outside every one of their nightly stopovers, trying to bribe their way past zealous desk clerks to get a glimpse of their heroes. “I remember once in New York, we pulled away from a hotel,” Micky further related, “and the police and the guards hadn’t been able to keep the kids away from the limo. A couple of them grabbed onto the back and hung onto the antenna or the roof, and the driver was told to take off. He’s in the front and the window between us and him is up, and he’s going thirty miles an hour down Fifth Avenue, and these kids are hanging on the back of the car going, ‘No, wait, stop!’ We didn’t know what to do. He took a corner at thirty miles an hour, and these two kids just bounced off. They got up and were okay and had a great story to tell. It got kind of scary at times.”

After the tour, the Monkees went into the studio to record their fourth album, “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s wonderful hit “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was included on this LP. Their attitude toward recording had changed once again, however. “Well, after ‘Headquarters,’ we all enjoyed having the control of the vision so much that we didn’t want to give it up to anyone, not even each other,” Micky related in his biography. They went back to recording their songs separately, using studio session players to help them with their individual tracks. The group had reached its zenith. The ensuing decline was long but steady.

The second season of shows premiered on NBC on September 11, 1967. This time the network had only committed to 26 episodes. The Monkees’ last hurrah came with the release of “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” The album entered the Billboard chart at number 29 on November 25, 1967, and a week later on December 2nd, it scurried to number one. The single “Daydream Believer” also hit the top spot on this date and remained there for a week. Five weeks later, the Beatles were back to kick the Monkees off the pedestal with their release of “Magical Mystery Tour.” The death knell began to sound for this very fortunate quartet.

Jack Nicholson was a friend of Bert and Bob. Having only acted in B-grade movies up to 1967, the charismatic entertainer offered his services to help The Monkees make their first foray onto the big screen. Over a long three-day weekend, the group and Jack checked themselves into a golf resort in the mountainous coastal town of Ojai and brainstormed ideas for their feature film. After much inebriation and toking, Jack had enough material to fashion a whacked-out screenplay called “Head.” It was basically a freestyle, vignette-driven narrative, much like “The Monkees” television program, except that it was overtly more open in its acceptance of the subject of drugs and vehemently opposed to the nation’s involvement in Vietnam. Filmed from February 11, 1968 to May 21, 1968 at a cost of $750,000, the supporting cast was made up of an eclectic group of performers including Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, and Victor Mature.

When the film opened in November 1968, “The Monkees” show had already been cancelled. The group’s fifth album, “The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees” had not been a commercial success. And critics panned the scattershot dark big-screen comedy, already relegating the foursome to the relic bin. The movie only took in $16,111 in ticket sales.

The writing had been on the wall for sometime. “We were a pain in the a**,” Peter allowed to interviewer Harold Bronson. “We did things that I look back on now with horror. I think Bert and Bob had love/hate feelings for us. They liked us because we weren’t normal characters, and this is a case of taking the bitter with the sweet. You can have Hollywood-trained actors who know how to be quiet and sit still when they’re supposed to sit still, and act when they’re supposed to act, but you’re not going to get crazies like us. I think they eventually got sick of it and didn’t want to do it anymore.” By the end of 1968, the two producers were, indeed, preoccupied in other matters – that of helping Nicholson and his pals Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda get a film called “Easy Rider” off the ground.

Tork was the first to bail. After the group taped a bizarre special for NBC called “33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkees,” Peter informed his bandmates that he was quitting. “For me, it never was a case of the bubble bursting,” he later told Creem Magazine. “It was much more a case of leaving the bubble through the airlock as it slowly fizzled away. I only see this in retrospect. At the time, I wanted to get out because I wanted to be a Beatle-type musician. I wanted to lead my own band. I had no idea how difficult that was at the time. I just wanted to go off and do my own things. Now I wonder about my attitude then. I think it was probably a false attitude.” Nevertheless, after fulfilling a final obligation to tour the Far East with his fellow friends, Peter dropped out.

“If the truth be known, the day Peter quit was probably the happiest day of Mike’s life,” Micky Dolenz wrote in his biography. “They’d never really gotten along, right from day one. Mike had always perceived Peter as untenable, and they’d always been adversarial, if not outright combative.” The remaining threesome loped on, releasing two albums, “Instant Replay” and “The Monkees Present,” that failed to make an impression on consumers or radio station programmers. Although most fans found these LPs to contain middling material, Mike Nesmith had consciously tried to shake up the group’s formula. “What I was doing with the Monkees at the time of the last two albums I appeared on,” he explained to Blitz Magazine, “was to try and move us in the direction of country rock. Of course, I had no intention of leaving the group at the time those albums were recorded, and I had long range goals for us in that retrospect.” In 1969, after Micky purportedly upstaged Mike one night while the Monkees appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Nesmith quit the band.

On January 3, 1970, Davy Jones told New Musical Express magazine, “So far as I am concerned, the Monkees are dead. I am planning a new career on my own.” Before he closed the cage door behind him, Davy ambled back into the studio one more time with Micky Dolenz, and with just the two of them remaining, they released the uninspired Monkees album “Changes.” Not many fans were open to such a depressing change. The era of Monkee madness was over.

Micky went on to direct television shows and music videos in England. He toured with the off-Broadway musical of “Grease!” with Davy. In the ‘90s, he recorded an album for children. Davy sang in different rock revues over the years and got to race as a horse jockey in England. Peter taught school for awhile before performing in a band called the New Monks. He subsequently released a solo album. Mike went on to a successful solo career. He won the first ever music video Grammy award for his landmark TV special “Elephant Parts.” He wrote and directed a Monkees special that aired on ABC. And he spawned a production company, Pacific Arts, which dabbled in films, videos, music and software products.

In 1986, Davy, Peter and Micky toured again as the Monkees. Mike joined them onstage during one performance at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre. A decade later, all four members recorded a new album, “Justus,” that sold a respectable amount of units.

Back in 1966, Micky told Look Magazine, “We’re advertisers. We’re selling a product. We’re selling Monkees. It’s gotta be that way.” But, the Monkees achieved more in their brief stint in the spotlight than just stale hucksterism. They broke out of a mold that had been haphazardly cast around them. Since their roles were ill-defined, they took advantage of their good fortune and strove to establish themselves as something more than just characters stuck between commercial airtime. Did they succeed in making us believe they were serious musical artists? Probably not. But they were groundbreakers. 31 weeks in a row. It’s a tough statistic to easily dismiss. The pop-perfect compositions are still difficult to shake. So what if we could never quite put our finger on whether they were better actors than they were musicians?

The Monkees were great performers, plain and simple.

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Looner Cycles: The Mad Days and Sad Demise of Keith Moon

Throughout his adult life, Keith Moon loved to “dress up.” Whether it was in women’s clothing, in top hat and tails, in Nazi uniforms, or donning horror masks, the manic drummer of The Who liked to entertain and take on the roles each of these disguises afforded him. Of all of his alter egos, he seemed most enamored of Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” He’d play the character in the same manner as actor Robert Newton had in the 1940s – dashing, roguish, and commanding. It was an easy role for Moon to assume. He was, in every sense of the word, a modern-day pirate. Outlandish in breaking societal norms, critical of pompous institutions, yet yearning for wealth and adulation, Keith was nomadic in his lifestyle and a crusader for self-gratification. He wanted to be the focus of attention at all times and to lead the charge against the establishment. Yet, in keeping with the high seas spirit, he was also a raconteur who desired a fun-loving, loyal wench – someone he could share each life and excessive alcoholic experience with whenever he was in the party spirit.

What started out as a seemingly innocent streak of pranks and outrageousness became increasingly bent and desperate as the mad drummer found fame and fortune. Keith Moon began his professional career with a bottle in one hand and pills in the other and never let up. The damage done by these substances led to a kind of attention-getting delirium from which he was never able to recover. The one amazing by-product of his hyperactivity was translated to his abilities as a preeminent drummer of the rock world. Bob Henrit, who played drums with Adam Faith in the early ‘60s, was one of the few drummers Keith admired. Henrit gave his thoughts about Keith to author Tony Fletcher. “I thought he was wonderful, the most natural drummer I ever met. Technique was immaterial in what Keith did. Normally you have to know the rules to break them. Well I don’t believe that Keith ever knew the rules but he still broke them.”

The mischievous musician began his career as a bugle boy in the Sea Cadet Corps. Growing up in Wembley, outside of London, a stone’s throw from the city’s great stadium, Moon joined the marching band at age 12. While he was a relatively quiet boy, he certainly was not meek. He would oftentimes steal food to snack on with his friends. Childhood pranks of startling adults and blowing small items up were his way of relieving monotony and impressing his pals. His dad helped him on his future career path by purchasing his first Premier drum kit for him in his early teens. “I found out that I really could not do anything else,” Keith explained to Circus Magazine. “I tried several things and this was the only one I enjoyed doing.”

His fascination with drumming led him to hang out at a local club called the Oldfield when he was age 15. A drummer for the band The Savages, Carlo Little, that often played the Oldfield, offered to give young Moon lessons. Keith soon joined his boyhood friends for his first gigs in a group called The Escorts. Meanwhile, his youthful pranks had evolved into a more sophisticated form of devilry. One afternoon, while in the London Underground (subway system) in the Jewish section of the city, he entertained his buddies by breaking in on a supervisor’s platform microphone and announced in a crisp, German accent, “All Jews line up here, ready to be gassed.” He also stole a snare drum from his favorite music shop.

Leaving the Escorts, he auditioned for a local group called The Beachcombers. The band’s rhythm guitarist, John Schollar recalled to Tony Fletcher that Keith’s tryout sounded “like a bomb going off behind us. We couldn’t believe so much noise was coming from this little nipper behind these drums.” Joining the band and garnering the nickname “Weasel,” he took to tying his kit to the stage floor so as to prevent knocking the drums over with his merciless combative style. For the next 18 months, during the early 1960s, Keith honed his craft with the rocking, surfer outfit. The jokes tumbled forth as well. While performing one night, he acted as if he were angry with lead singer Ron Chenery, and at a pivotal moment in the set, leapt out of his seat and fired a gun at the horrified vocalist. Moon’s blank-filled starter’s pistol certainly stunned everyone for a passing moment, then he was all laughs and good cheer. While with the Beachcombers, he acquired the proclivity to dress up in costume. With the assistance of bassist Tony Brind, Keith would clomp about London in a full-fledged pantomime horse outfit, trying to board buses and enter into pubs. His klepto desires had not subsided, and he subsequently ripped off a professional reel-to-reel tape player and an amplifier from some of the establishments they performed in.

It was not like Moon wasn’t getting paid and able to take care of himself. He worked a day sales job with a plastering company named British Gypsum. It was more likely the thrill of living on the edge, at this very early stage, that was already becoming a fixture in his personality. “He didn’t seem to worry about money,” Ron Chenery told author Fletcher. “We’d worry about certain gigs, if we were going to get paid or not…and I don’t think he cared. He just wanted to play, and he wanted to be the center of attention.” When the Beachcombers performed at the Oldfield, another local band, The Detours could sometimes be seen there sharing the bill. With their leather jackets and blue jeans, The Detours were more aggressive in their style of play than Moon’s band. “…I’d decided my talent as a drummer was wasted in a tight-knit harmony group like The Beachcombers,” Keith told Rolling Stone magazine, “and the only band that I heard of that sounded as loud as I did was the Detours.”

The band he would soon join was made up of Pete Townshend on guitar, John Entwistle on bass, Doug Sandom on drums, and lead singer Roger Daltrey. Townshend and Entwistle had known each other in high school and formed an early jazz band. A few months after the hardscrabble Daltrey beat up one of Pete’s friends on a playground, Roger was asking Pete and John to form a rock ‘n’ roll group with him. They soon picked up Sandom, who was a 29-year old bricklayer with a wife and kid and who barely seemed to fit in with the scruffy teen musicians. Representatives from Fontana Records had heard the group play in a few clubs in the early part of 1964 and signed them to their label in April of that year. Pete forced Doug to leave shortly thereafter. The Detours forged ahead with several session drummers and were on the lookout for a permanent replacement.

“They were playing at a pub near me, the Oldfield,” Keith recalled to Rolling Stone magazine. “I went down there, and they had a session drummer sitting in with them. I got up onstage and said, ‘Well, I can do better than him.’ They said go ahead, and I got behind this other guy’s drums and I did one song – ‘Road Runner.’ I’d had several drinks to get me courage up, and when I got onstage, I went arrrrrggGHHHHHH on the drums, broke the base drum pedal, and two skins and got off. I figured that was it. I was scared to death.” Roger walked over to Keith and asked him if he was available to play their next gig. “And that was it. Nobody ever said, ‘You’re in.’ They just said, ‘What’re you doing Monday?” As with all things relating to Moon, embellishment may have a hand in how this legendary moment actually occurred. The manager of the Oldfield, Louis Hunt, later recalled he told Keith to go audition for the boys at their rehearsal studio in Acton and that there was never any public demonstration as Keith has related.

Nevertheless, Moon was now a member of one of the world’s loudest, most raucous bands. The image would suit his persona impeccably. Hooking up with a doorknob manufacturer, Helmut Gordon, to manage them, along with the publicist for the Rolling Stones, Pete Meaden, who changed their look to the ‘mod’ style, The High Numbers, as they were now being called, became the house band at the Railway Hotel. It was there one night that Townshend accidentally poked his guitar into the low ceiling, breaking the neck of his expensive Rickenbacker. The next week, fans expected more mayhem, so Keith kicked over his drum set. Soon, both Pete and Keith were trashing their gear with merry abandonment. Two film executives, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, caught their act and subsequently would step in to snatch up their management reins over the ensuing years. The band changed their name to The Who and started the climb to notoriety.

Around the time they released their first self-penned hit, “I Can’t Explain,” in late 1964, Keith had become enamored of a 16-year old model he met at a club called the Disc A Go Go in Bournemouth. Kim Kerrigan related her initial feelings about Moon to author Tony Fletcher. “He was actually very shy. He was an extrovert when he was onstage, but he was a shy person at that time and very, very star struck.” One set of stars he was clearly in awe of came across his path in 1965. Fletcher related Keith Moon’s meeting with The Beatles at the exclusive Scotch of St. James club one night. “Do you mind if I join you?,” Keith asked the mop-tops. “Pull up a chair,” came the reply. Moon stood still, pausing a moment, then repeated with emphasis, “No, do you mind if I join you?” The four legendary musicians looked to one another, clearly perplexed. Finally Ringo muttered dryly, “We’ve already got a drummer, thanks.” Everybody laughed, the ice was broken, and Moon settled in with them for the evening.

Keith’s insecurities, however, were starting to get the best of him. He became jealous of his new girlfriend, Kim, and asked her not to continue modeling. He learned that singer Rod Stewart had taken a fancy of her. While his drumming clearly improved over 1965 with the release of his stunning work on “My Generation,” and “The Kids Are Allright,” Moon was increasingly relying on the booze and pills to foist his spirit through each day. When the band toured Europe in September 1965, Roger Daltrey, the only member to not indulge in drugs on a regular basis, blew his top in Denmark. “I acted the only way I knew,” he told People magazine. “I punched Moon in the nose and threw away his pills, so they threw me out of the band. But cooler managerial heads prevailed. I learned to control my violence problem. But we hardly spoke for two years.” The ill will would carry on, actually, for many years. Chris Stamp told author Fletcher, “Roger was not liked by Keith at all. They were bitter enemies. Roger got the close-ups on TV, Roger got the girls, Roger was the singer. He was in front of Keith most of the time. He got all the stuff and Keith wasn’t getting that.”

With Pete writing their songs most of the time, Moon looked to Entwistle to be his party hound friend on the late night circuit. After Kim became pregnant, Entwistle was the only Who member to attend her and Keith’s wedding at a local registrar’s office on March 17, 1965. Becoming a husband didn’t slow Moon down. He left Kim at home with his mom and dad and would stay out to all hours of the night with his bass-playing pal. “He only needed one beer and he was gone,” Entwistle related to Musician magazine. “The alcohol seemed to stay in his body and all he needed was to top it off. But he didn’t get falling-down drunk. He got obnoxious drunk…He was Dr. Jekyll until two in the afternoon and then Mr. Hyde for the rest of the day. He’d say something to really hurt you and then he wouldn’t remember having said it the next day. That was the sad part about Keith.” Entwistle would later write a song, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” clearly inspired by his boozing buddy.

After the birth of his daughter, Mandy, in July 1966, Keith became insanely jealous of Kim returning to a more svelte form. One night, in a wild drunken rage, he tried to cut his bathroom door down with a knife to get at his cowering wife. Meanwhile, with the continued destruction of their equipment as part of their stage act, The Who was desperately in need of more cash flow. Lambert began booking them gigs overseas. In 1967, the group gave one of its best performances at the Monterey Pop Festival. They subsequently hit the road around America, touring with Herman’s Hermits.

It was while on the road that the concept of trashing their gear onstage translated to the trashing of hotel rooms after their shows. The heights by which The Who, and in particular, Moon, set about destroying comfortable lodgings around the globe may never have been rivaled by another band since. Pete Townshend saw Keith Moon’s penchant for obliteration as a kind of avant-garde expression. “He was a hotel-room-wrecking artist,” Townshend observed to Playboy magazine. “It wasn’t about violence or hedonism. It was art. Quite seriously. It was part of the statement against materialism, against neatness, against order, values, role models, against all that s***. He’d come into a freshly made-up room and look intently at it and study it. Then he’d rearrange it. Afterward, he would always go to warn the maid. ‘A slight problem in room 1308,’ he’d say.”

The beginning of Keith Moon’s long, fabled hotel destruction legacy commenced somewhere around Birmingham, Alabama. He and John Entwistle purchased legal cherry bombs, highly explosive devices used for fireworks purposes. “We tried one out on his suitcase,” Entwistle recalled to Tony Fletcher. “It blew a hole in the suitcase and the chair. So then we decided the hotel deserves to get f***ed because we’d had so much trouble with room service…our idea was to put the cherry bomb down the toilet and flush it so we couldn’t get blamed for it. Hopefully it would blow some pipes along the way. We crouched over, Keith lit it and I flushed and the cherry bomb just kept going round. The flush didn’t work properly. We looked at it and went ‘Aaaagh!’ and ran out and slammed the door. And as we slammed the door the explosion went off, and there was just a hole in the bathroom floor. The toilet was completely powdered.”

It was also in Alabama that Keith felt the wrath of a few of the town locals. “I’m not quite sure how it came about,” he told Beats International at the time, “but I was walking along a road when some fellers came up, took an instant dislike to me, and shoved me through a plate glass window. By the time I had clambered out, they had disappeared and I’m still wondering what it was all about.” Assorted trashing mayhem ensued on the tour, culminating in one of the biggest, oftentimes exaggerated, stories of rock on the road life.

On August 23, 1967, the group performed at Atwood High School stadium in Flint, Michigan. The otherwise routine appearance was exceptional in that Moon had been celebrating his 21st birthday since the early hours of morning. By nightfall, the group was back at a Holiday Inn conference room. Out of all the recollections of this event, three things are for certain. Mayhem did ensue, sheriffs did appear on the scene, and Keith broke his front tooth. Outside of that, just about everybody’s memory of the event seems suspect. A huge multi-tiered cake, presented by Premier drums, was wheeled out. Moon reportedly either started throwing it against a wall or mashed it into the face of an astonished hotel manager. Either way, the police were alerted. When the authorities arrived, Keith dashed out of the conference room. Roadie Tom Wright told author Richard Barnes, “He grabbed a fire extinguisher, goes outside and shoots foam into any car that had open windows. You know, ‘SWOOSH,’ and these Cadillacs were filled with foam. I eventually cornered him in someone’s room and said, ‘Listen we gotta talk,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ He picked up a lamp and threw it at me and it broke as it smashed against the wall…He ran again and six of us, in all, were chasing him by now.”

Keith’s version was quite a bit different. “By the time the sheriff came in, I was standing there in me underpants,” he related to Rolling Stone. “I ran out, jumped into the first car I came to, which was a brand-new Lincoln Continental. It was parked on a slight hill, and when I took the handbrake off, it started to roll and it smashed straight through this pool surround (fence), and the whole Lincoln Continental went into the ‘Oliday Inn swimming pool, with me in it…So there I was, sitting in the eight-foot-six in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Continental, underwater. And the water was pouring in – coming through the bloody pedal ‘oles in the floorboard, you know, squirting in through the windows. In a startling moment of logical I said, ‘Well, I can’t open the doors until the pressure is the same…’ It’s amazing ‘ow I remembered those things from my physics class!” As for his broken tooth, Keith’s version is a bit tamer than his roadie’s. Tom Wright claimed Moon dove off the pool’s diving board…into an empty pool. He smashed his face on the dry bottom, breaking off his tooth. Moon, on the other hand, claimed to Rolling Stone, that after he swam out of his Lincoln Continental, he encountered a sheriff again. “And I ran, I started to leg it out the door, and I slipped on a piece of marzipan and fell flat on me face and knocked out me tooth.”

However the ordeal fell into place, the band was fined about $24,000 in damages. Moon said he was taken to a dentist that night who gave him a false tooth. The next day, he related to Rolling Stone, “the sheriff took me out in the law car, and he puts me on the plane and says (American accent), ‘Son, don’t ever dock in Flint, Michigan, again.’ I said, ‘Dear boy, I wouldn’t dream of it.’ And I was lisping around the new tooth.” Newspapers everywhere picked up on the destructive event, and The Who effectively became the legendary bad boys of rock the world over. Moon was the instigator of their merry maelstroms and gladly steered the course of their ensuing years as scandalous minstrels before the public eye. “In some ways he saw himself as The Who’s publicity machine,” Pete Townshend observed to Playboy magazine. “If he could get a front-page story, he’d do it. And it was quite difficult for us because we didn’t want to turn down the easy notoriety he gave us.”

A month later on September 17, 1967, the group made its American television debut on CBS-TV’s “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” Stagehands had already loaded up Keith’s bass drum with the requisite amount of flash powder to give a good bang at the end of their performance. Moon packed it with more explosive. At the end of “My Generation,” he triggered the device, and the huge white flash and repercussive boom that followed was enough to frazzle transmission on the television cameras for a good five seconds. Television guest Bette Davis fainted into Mickey Rooney’s arms in the wings. Pete Townshend’s hair was singed. And Keith suffered a nasty cut to his arm from a flying broken cymbal. The moment, however, cemented their anarchic popularity with American teens.

In England, Keith felt right at home, strutting his notoriety proudly and standing up for his friends who felt they wielded lesser power. Keyboardist Ian McLagan of the Small Faces was one of these chums who felt he was being slighted by his management company in their not rewarding his group with proper royalties and releasing inferior tracks of their songs. One night emerging from a pub, McLagan and his inebriated pal Moon spotted a luxurious Rolls Royce parked outside. McLagan said it belonged to his band’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who also oversaw The Rolling Stones at the time. “Keith stopped in his tracks and became very quiet,” McLagen later wrote. “He was thinking. He screwed one eye and pierced me with the other, his lips tight and menacing and his head slightly to one side…Beckoning me with a finger, and only when he had my full attention, he whispered with purpose, ‘Let’s key the Roller.” The drunken duo set about digging their keys into the sides of the pristine auto, scraping the paint up and down. The next day, when McLagan ventured to his management company, he saw the Rolls parked outside…without a scratch on it. The soused stooges had obviously keyed the wrong car.

Back in the United States for a second tour in February 1968, Keith’s drinking and fascination with fireworks went overboard once again, when he subsequently blew up the toilet in his room at the posh Gorham hotel in New York City. He then walked out onto the 9th floor ledge, overlooking the crowded streets below and began dropping cherry bombs that exploded mercifully high enough over unsuspecting pedestrians’ heads. Roadie Tom Wright was staying a few rooms down from Keith. “There was hammering at my door,” he related to author Richard Barnes. “I opened it and there were cops all the way down the hall. One guy was lying on the floor with a rifle pointed at my door and two guys were up against the wall, and this other guy had a gun pointed at my face. ‘What the hell’s going on here,’ he said. ‘Who’s got the piece?’ I said, ‘Man, everybody is peaceful here, no problem whatsoever.” The police then went to Keith’s room. The quick-witted Moon apparently calmed them down, claiming that he didn’t know the American fireworks were so powerful and was fearful they would go off in his room. Not like our harmless English fireworks, he chuckled in a haughty aristocratic voice. The Who were bounced out of the hotel. When they checked into the equally-expensive Waldorf Astoria, the management would not let Keith have his luggage in his room. One to always accept a challenge, Moon simply blew up a door with more cherry bombs and retrieved his stashed suitcases. The band was forced to go to another hotel.

By the end of the decade, The Who had become a force not only to be reckoned with in the rock world but also a forebear of the “angry young man” stance that would be adopted by punk lovers everywhere in the mid-70s. The flags of discontent that started in the cinema with America’s motorcycle movies like “The Wild One” had trickled across the seas to working-class Brits in films such as “Look Back In Anger” with Richard Burton and had now been passed on to torch-bearers like The Who. The ‘we’re not gonna take it’ posing was effectively molded into a tale of messianic proportions when Pete Townshend conceived his rock opera “Tommy” in 1969. The group was at an all-time high in popularity, delivering one of their best performances at the Isle of Wight concert that summer. Even with a broken foot, which he’d sustained falling down a flight of stairs at his apartment, Moon’s drumming licks were some of his stellar best. They were subsequently snatched up to appear at the landmark Woodstock festival.

But for Kim Moon, life at home had become unbearable with Keith. “I should have gone to Woodstock, but I didn’t want to, because Keith and I were having horrid fights,” she related to Tony Fletcher. “I was looking forward to a week on my own. Then just before he left, we had a fight, and I fell downstairs and my nose was broken, so I had a good excuse not to go, because I was in hospital.” Kim would subsequently suffer a broken nose over two more instances before finally leaving her marriage with Moon. “He just wasn’t a rational person. I don’t know if he was clinically schizophrenic, but he really was lots and lots of different people. He was very difficult to deal with. There was no discussing anything. You had to deal with him as you could. And it got worse.”

In early 1970, it got about as worse as it seemingly could get. Keith took Kim and some friends with him to a disco named Cranbourne Rooms outside of London. He had been asked by the management to formally open the establishment. When his chauffeur, Neil Boland, pulled their luxurious Bentley up to the front of the disco, it was obvious to everyone present that things might become very tense. The patrons consisted of brooding skinheads who looked on Moon and his flamboyance with disdain. After an uneasy few hours downing a few drinks at the bar, Keith apparently got into an argument with one of these hulking yard-apes. The next thing everyone knew, the Moon entourage was moving to the Bentley posthaste, and skinheads were surrounding the beautiful car, banging on its exterior. Boland for some reason left the car, perhaps to clear a way. He was chased on foot ahead down the driveway by several hooligans, who proceeded to beat him. Moon, in an ever-increasing panic from the mob surrounding his car, leapt to the driver’s seat and stomped on the accelerator. The Bentley flew down the driveway and on to a lighted area with other citizens about 100 yards up the road. Somebody motioned for him to stop, telling Moon someone was under the car.

“Keith went underneath,” Kim recalled to author Fletcher. “He put his head down and pulled out…brains.” Their chauffeur Neil had fallen in the path of the fleeing automobile. “His head was like an eggshell,” Kim horribly recounted. After a night’s incarceration for the whole lot, and a somber trial proceeding, Keith was not convicted of any wrongdoing. The authorities let him go scot-free. Yet, he never seemed to let himself go for his actions. “I think the thing that really screwed him up was when his chauffeur died,” John Entwistle told Musician magazine. “It had a much deeper effect on him than he ever let on.” His guilt never seemed to diminish. Groupie Pamela Des Barres, who met Moon on the set of Frank Zappa’s film “200 Motels,” later had a series of flings with the mercurial jester and saw this guilt manifest itself in their trysts. Their love sessions consisted of make-believe scenarios with Pamela as a hooker coming onto Moon’s virgin boy, Pamela as a rich old woman pursuing Moon as an unemployed stud, and Keith as a priest raping Pamela dressed up as a schoolgirl. “Sometime during the postmidnight madness,” she related in her book ‘I’m With The Band,’ “Keith pulled a sordid story out of his past that had crippled him for eternity.” He went on to tell her about the incident with Boland. “He broke down while playing the priest and started to cry, calling himself a murdering f***. Needless to say, this toppled our improv, and I smoothed his weary, wacky brow while he reeled in masochistic terror.” Over successive meetings his self-loathing became more pronounced. “At night he would wake up ten times, bathed in medicine-smelling sweat, jabbering about running over his roadie and burning for eternity. He couldn’t wait to pay for that horrible mistake.”

Moon’s erratic behavior became more pronounced. He took to purchasing a slew of expensive cars and homes over the next two years. He bought a pub and a hotel in the fashionable Chipping Norton suburb of London. His drunkenness caused him to be on the receiving end of more injuries. Kim had left him for a period and one night, while at his own hotel, Keith fell down soused, completely passed out. Some drinking buddies apparently tried to lug his body upstairs to his suite. “They got me up two flights and then promptly dropped me down, both of them, breaking me collarbone, y’see,” Moon later told Rolling Stone magazine. “But I didn’t know this until I woke up in the morning and tried to put me f***ing shirt on. I went through the f***ing roof.”

Surprisingly, Keith’s drumming technique had become more polished, as evidenced in his disciplined pounding of skins in the striking classics “Baba O’Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” But by early 1972, when The Who decided to rest from recording and touring for five months, a restless Moon was shining from the night sky. Parties filled with strangers and mere acquaintances raged at all hours inside his multi-pyramid-shaped mansion he’d bought in Surrey the previous year and dubbed ‘Tara.’ A recently-purchased hovercraft arrived from Los Angeles, and Keith proceeded to blast it around the front lawn, finally stalling it out perilously on a set of busy British railway tracks. When The Who set to touring again in the summer, Moon’s daily intake usually consisted of a couple of bottles of brandy and champagne every 24-hour period.

Kooky situations dominated life on the road once again. While performing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in New York, a roadie rushed on stage at Moon with a bucket of water. “He looked as if he was gonna throw it at me,” Keith recalled. “So I started to move around, turned me head and there was smoke pouring off my headphones, and the bloody thing was alight. That’s what I call pyrotechnics!” When the band stopped over in Denmark, it was Townshend who primed Moon’s prankster pump when he suggested they move a giant waterbed out of Keith’s hotel room to an elevator, sending it to the bottom floor to flood the lobby. “Of course it wouldn’t move,” Townshend reminisced to Musician magazine, “but Keith tried to lever it out of the frame, and it burst. The water was a foot high, flooding out into the hallway and down several floors. At first it was ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ Then, ‘Ha…ha…ha…ooooh, this is going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds! What are we going to do?’ The destruction was unbelievable. ‘Don’t worry, Pete. I’ll handle this,’ Keith says, and he rings the desk. ‘Hello, I want to talk to the manager. I have a suitcase here full of the most expensive stage clothes, designed by Hardy Amis, tailor to the Queen. Yes, yes, and they have just been engulfed by 4,000 gallons of water from this leaking waterbed. Not only do I demand immediate replacement of my clothing, but also a room on the top floor, straightaway!’ And the manager came running upstairs, ‘Oh my God! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ Keith claimed it had burst when we sat on the bed…the guy bought it, and we never had to pay.”

But the wild antics were starting to wear thin on Moon’s fellow bandmates. “I didn’t like them very much, I have to say,” Pete told Playboy. “It’s not just me being a bad sport. I kind of went along with it, but I didn’t like it. And I don’t think Roger did, either, and maybe not even John…I think Keith is a brilliant example of the tragedy behind the clown. If he thought it would make you laugh, he would pour petrol on himself and set himself on fire.” It didn’t seem to matter if Keith was amongst strangers, spectators, friends or simply one-on-one with a mate, he always had to be ‘on.’ “Once, he was walking along with me on the second floor of a Holiday Inn,” Pete continued, “and he climbed up on the railing and said, ‘Bye, Pete!’ and leapt off. There was a swimming pool down there, but it was at least five yards away. By some miracle, he contorted himself and managed to barely squeeze into the pool. Then he got up and shouted, ‘Voila!’ I was the only person there, so who was he doing it for?”

Indeed, maybe even Keith knew how insane his life was becoming. For a short period in late 1972, he checked into rehab to try to clean up and subsequently took an acting role in the film “That’ll Be The Day.” But soon he was backing his Rolls Royce into ponds, crashing his Ferrari, and overdosing several times, having to be rushed on emergency to the nearest hospital. For his much-beleaguered Kim, time had run out. After a particularly heated argument, she escaped to a nearby pub to avoid his constant harangues. “Sure enough he came down, incensed, and I realized that it wasn’t good us having this big row in the bar,” she recalled to Tony Fletcher, “so I took off in the back of the pub. The next I knew he came after me with a gun, shooting in the air, like something out of a horror movie, stumbling through the woods, and then I get to the gate and the gate is locked. Eventually I jumped over the gate and he’s coming after me with this gun. I finally got home and hid myself away until he calmed down.”

At the end of the summer of 1973, Kim escaped her tormented Keith for good. She was put up by friends for a spell, and after a while, a romance with keyboardist Ian McLagan kindled. When Moon learned of their relationship, he paid one of his roadies 200 pounds to break McLagan’s fingers. Pete Townshend intercepted the thug, paying him the same amount not to assail Ian. McLagan later told interviewer Pat Gilbert, “I didn’t feel very good about him then…But I love Keith to this day. There were so many Keiths; he could be very nasty, he could be lovely, childish, funny…His job was being a clown, but it didn’t make him happy.” Ian and Kim subsequently wed in 1978.

The Who’s tour for their double album “Quadrophenia” in 1973 was, of course, not without incident. The group was jailed in Montreal after they tore apart a hotel room and tossed a marble table 13 floors to the swimming pool below. Keith was lethargic, virtually passing out stone cold during his performance in San Francisco. The contents of his pumped stomach indicated he had ingested PCP (angel dust). “He was in a wheelchair for two days,” Townshend later related to Musician magazine. “I have a Super-8 film of when we brought him off the plane in a wheelchair. The doctor from Free Clinic says, ‘His heart is only beating once every 30 seconds! He’s clinically dead!’ And Keith says (mumbles), ‘F*** off.’ That is not apocryphal. I have it on film.”

Back in England, alone in an empty house, boozing and popping pills at all hours, Moon turned to acting once again. In early 1974, he performed in a film called “Stardust” with other rockers. Famed Welsh singer/guitarist Dave Edmunds was temporarily swept into Keith’s world of lunacy for the duration of the shoot. One day, while on his way to the set, riding in a chauffeur-driven limo with Keith, they were passed by a school bus filled with young teenage girls. “They were looking out the windows and making innocent gestures and holding up messages they’d written on pieces of paper, that sort of thing,” Edmunds later wrote. “Their driver pulled in to a truck stop and Keith instructed his chauffeur to follow them. We stopped nearby and watched as thirty or more girls tumbled out of the bus and gathered in an orderly group with their teachers. We watched in dumb amazement as Keith quickly started taking off all his clothes. Then, completely naked and with perfect timing, he leapt out of the limo and started running around and around and through these terrified schoolgirls and their chaperones. Then he ran back to the car, got in and ordered Eddie the chauffeur to take off.”

Even Moon’s naked enthusiasm for exhibitionism couldn’t quell his loneliness from Kim. “A lot of the serious self destruction happened after his marriage split up in ’73 or ’74,” Roger Daltrey conceded to Musician magazine. “There was a definite change for the worse at that point.” The alteration in behavior truly manifested itself, without inhibitions, when Keith moved to Los Angeles in late 1974. He took with him a 19-year old Swedish model named Annette Walter-Lax. “He was very light to be with,” Annette said to Tony Fletcher of her first impression of Mr. Moon. “He wasn’t a heavy person. It was all ‘Yes, fine, okay.’ When you’re a young girl, childish and naïve, and you meet someone who treats you the way he treated me – he’d send a Rolls Royce to pick me up wherever I was – you get impressed.”

Keith began recording a solo album titled “Two Sides Of The Moon.” When it was ready for release, his record company, MCA, balked at issuing the cover sleeve that contained a picture of Keith mooning the camera. The loopy drummer reportedly appeared at the office of MCA executive Mike Maitland one afternoon. Holding a fire ax. “What’s it going to be, dear boy?’ he quizzically posed to the frightened Maitland. “My album cover or a new desk?” The album was released as is. Despite its novel photo design, the LP sold poorly. Moon sunk into a prescribed quaqmire. His friend, actor Larry Hagman, whom he’d met on the set of “Stardust,” was summoned by Annette one day to help her put the narcotized Who man into drug rehab. The brief respite from mind-altering stimulants and depressants allowed him to fly back to England to record another album with his increasingly-dismayed band members. Upon his return to LA, he fell in with his old drinking circle.

Amongst the Hollywood clique, Keith hung mostly with other rockers, namely, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, as well as his co-star in the feature film “Tommy,” Oliver Reed. One of the first encounters with his drinking buddy Reed occurred when Moon asked him to come over to his hotel room one night. According to author Tony Fletcher, Keith asked Oliver to help him ‘fix the television.’ The two moved the set close to the window, Reed not sensing why the change in locale might help reception. “All of a sudden he tips it up to one side and out of the window,” Oliver remembered. “Bang! The porter comes charging up the stairs. ‘Good, there you are,’ says Moon. ‘Next time answer the phone when I call.” Reed was an immediate convert. For the next four years the terrible twosome would goad each other to new, outrageous boundaries in public. A typical scenario occurred in early 1976, when Oliver blew into LA and took Keith to a posh restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. As the two became boisterous in their conversations and arguments, Moon broke all decorum by jumping up onto their dining table, dropped his trousers, and loudly proclaimed to Ollie that he indeed was not Jewish.

Another incident at the Beverly Wilshire left Reed downright flabbergasted. On the occasion of his brother’s 40th birthday, Oliver threw a massive party with many celebrities and friends in attendance. It wasn’t long before Moon became soused and started a messy food fight. Suddenly, expensive dishware was being smashed, Keith cut his hand badly, blood poured forth profusely, and he was skirted away to the hospital. Reed was left with the mayhem and the monumental dinner tab. “The people had screamed and run out because of Moon spurting blood everywhere,” Reed later told Tony Fletcher, “and the whole thing was in chaos, the waiters were going crazy, and bodyguards were punching people out…And Ringo was sitting at the table, just shaking his head like he’d seen it all before.”

Friend Harry Nilsson also witnessed the latter day madness of Keith Moon. When the two met up in London for a simple round of drinks at a hotel, it didn’t take long for Keith to find fault with the entertainment. “It happened to be the first night of their disco attempt,” Harry related to Musician magazine. “The music was horrible. Of course, they were buying drinks for us. Halfway through the second bottle, Keith snapped. He picked up a bottle and threw it at the disc jockey. It hit the wall behind him, bounced back and wiped out the turntables. The room came to a sudden stop. The next thing I know, the table is upside down, there are security people and I was on the floor. I looked up and saw Keith being carried out over the heads of six waiters, his arms and legs flailing, screaming, ‘Charge this to Neil Sedaka!’ He (Sedaka) was at the hotel at the time.”

Before the start of a short tour in 1976, The Who confronted Moon and told him to seek help. A spirit-filled health worker accompanied Moon on the road, because Keith was convinced he had a head filled with demons. He seriously wanted to believe in God. For the brief excursion performing around Europe, Keith remained sober and drug-free. But once the tour and his spiritual guide went home, the demons rose forth once again, and Moon tore the chandelier out of his Paris hotel room before flying back to Annette and Los Angeles. The simple pranks he once effortlessly executed became more surreal. He rolled up one day to a tennis match in a Nazi uniform, driving a prop tank he’d rented from the Universal Studios backlot. Meanwhile, his chums who’d normally hang with him, found excuses not to. “I couldn’t hang out with Keith all the time,” musician Alice Cooper told Tony Fletcher. “He would exhaust you because he never got tired, and it wasn’t because of drugs necessarily, he was just one of those guys who never got tired. You’d be passing out and going ‘enough’ and he’d be going ‘let’s go out!”

While on tour with The Who around the United States during the late summer of 1976, Moon went completely out of his head. After laying waste to the stately Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, he was arrested and committed to a mental ward of a hospital for observation. He told a local disc jockey, “I don’t really remember much about it. I felt dizzy…and I just blacked out and woke up here. The doctors said it was a breakdown.” After a week he was released and allowed to return to the tour. For the next nine days of their schedule, Moon was the perfect gentleman, no trouble whatsoever. His contribution to each show was impeccable. When the group performed the final concert in Toronto on October 21, 1976, nobody knew it would be Moon’s last live show onstage with The Who.

Exhausted and in need of creative rejuvenation, the band went their separate ways over the first eight months of 1977. Keith flew back to Los Angeles and further isolation. Having moved to a beautiful beach home in the Malibu colony, he picked fights with his celebrity neighbor, actor Steve McQueen. More and more he was seen around town dressed in his Rommel Nazi uniform, on one occasion having goose-stepped down the pricey beachfront properties with no pants and underwear, saluting aghast socialites with a hearty ‘Heil!’ Late night phone calls to Townshend and Entwistle decrying his loneliness and asking for their assistance left him broken and angry. Neither flew from England to be with him. He overdosed a couple of times to the point Annette and others had him checked into the rigid detox ward at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Weeks of treatment failed to remedy his addiction and soon Moon was back to the bottle and hard drugs. By the end of the summer, however, The Who wanted him back. Townshend had been writing new material. On September 12th, Keith and Annette caught a plane for London and never looked back at Malibu.

The Who settled into recording in early October. The old Moon abilities behind the drum kit were almost non-existent. Increasingly frustrated by trying to stay off the booze, Keith took up with the brandy and soon was delinquent in his commitments with his bandmates. “About halfway through the recording of ‘Who Are You,’ he was showing up late and not playing very well and I got into this mood: ‘I’m not taking any more of his s***,” Pete Townshend recalled to Musician magazine. “So I rang him up and told him to get the f*** down here. He came running down, babbling excuses. I got him behind the drums and he could not keep the song together. He couldn’t play. He’d obviously been out the night before to some club. He’d put his work second. Again. But before I could say anything, he went (imitates chaotic drum solo). ‘See?,’ he said. ‘I’m still the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.”

The band somehow plodded through the recording sessions into 1978. Moon’s work was discarded or not even recorded for some songs. Alcoholism was his life’s blood. “He was drinking port for breakfast,” Annette told Tony Fletcher. “His body was so toxic that when he was going to swallow alcohol it came straight back up again. So he had to force it down. It was just awful to watch.” After the completion of “Who Are You,” Keith and Annette took a holiday in June to the island of Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean. Away from the temptations to grandstand and booze it up, Moon stayed relatively sober and clean. Annette was cheered by his stabilizing health at the end of the month. However, the moments of madness were short-lived. Walking to the British Airways jet that was idling on the tarmac to take them back to London, Keith inexplicably hurled his suitcase into one of the jet’s engine, causing a tense-filled delay. He was thrown off the plane and put into a hospital midway in the Seychelles Islands. The old Moon was back.

His bandmates tried to rally him one last time. They made him director of publicity at their newly acquired Shepperton Studios recording facility. This new position, although relatively undemanding, seemed to give him hope. “I feel I’ve got a sense of purpose,” Moon told Rolling Stone magazine. “In the two years off, I was really drifting away with no direction, no nothing…Nothing ever came close to the feeling I get when I’m working with the guys. Because it’s fun, but at the same time I know I’ve gotta discipline myself again. I accept that.” Around this time, he and Annette moved into an apartment owned by Harry Nilsson in the fashionable Mayfair district of London. It was the same apartment Mama Cass Elliott perished in four years earlier.

To quell his yearnings for alcohol, Keith was prescribed a drug called Heminevrin. A highly potent drug, it is not ordinarily the kind of narcotic given to patients under a prescription form. Usually it should be dispensed to patients under the direct guidance of a physician. Moon had persuaded a doctor to let him have the prescription.

On September 6, 1978, Keith and Annette attended a premiere of the film “The Buddy Holly Story,” starring Gary Busey, and hosted by Paul McCartney. As the movie cranked up around midnight, Keith decided he wanted to leave and go home. He had told many at the premiere party how serious he was about curtailing his drinking and all-night cavorting. Annette and Moon arrived back at the apartment, Keith took some Heminevrin, and settled in to watch a Vincent Price film on TV. The next morning, around 7:30, Keith woke Annette up, saying he was hungry. After she fixed him a hearty breakfast, he apparently took more pills and went back to sleep. Annette, too, moved off to the living room and fell back to a fitful slumber. When she awoke around 3:30 in the afternoon, she entered the bedroom to find Moon still under the covers. Upon closer examination, she found the musician no longer breathing. His body was taken by ambulance to nearby Middlesex Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Keith had overdosed on too many doses of Heminevrin. Thirty-two tablets, some dissolved and others undissolved, were found in his system.

The well-wishers at his funeral on September 13th were a who’s-who of rock ‘n’ roll. Roger Daltrey’s floral contribution to the proceedings, an arrangement that depicted the image of a champagne bottle sticking out of a smashed TV set, seemed to embody both the reckless and endearing spirit of the fallen drummer. Pete Townshend encapsulated the very essence of Keith Moon’s demise. “He died f***ing around with drugs and alcohol,” he bluntly stated to Musician magazine. “Not in a nihilistic sense. He died f***ing around. He’d lost perspective. He was not drinking at the time he died, he took an overdose of a drug to prevent seizures during alcoholic withdrawal. He took eight of the pills. He was thinking, ‘I’m a good boy, I’ve quit drinking, if one of these is good for me, eight will be better.’ It was like a sick joke it should happen.” Nobody, not one of his friends, believed it was a suicide. It was an accident, one that seemed irrevocably inevitable. “I was in America when he died,” Ringo Starr recalled to Musician magazine. “We were all doing the same thing to our health; that seemed to be the course we were all on in those years. Some of us stopped and some of us didn’t. I think it was pure accident with Keith ‘cause he had the constitution of a horse.”

The eccentric talent of Keith Moon may never be fully understood outside the context of the destruction he left behind. But within his element, when he was in focus, seated grandly behind his drum kit, beating mercilessly in a way that suggested he was oftentimes the lead instrument, Keith Moon’s talent was in plain view. “People underestimated him,” guitarist Jeff Beck observed to author Tony Fletcher. “He was the most incredible drummer. You can’t even mimic him. Nobody’s been able to do it. I’ve watched and stood beside him and…I could describe a car crash easier than I could describe his drumming.” The Who’s publicist, Keith Altham, seemed to summarize Moon’s ingenuity the best. “What he could do none of them could do. Which was a wall of sound of his own, a kind of rumbling explosion that was going on in the background that was as impressive and exciting as anyone else could do on another instrument…He was a one-man walking explosion, and he put that into his music in the same way as it was in his life.”

The reasons for Keith Moon’s demons are complex. No one will ever know why this gregarious man with vast talent, a raw sense of humor, and exceedingly good fortune would virtually throw it all away with constant annihilation and self-destruction. The one mystery that can be solved is the fact that Keith Moon was aware of his own demise. There never seemed to be a moment in all of the fog-enshrouded, booze-addled episodes that he didn’t know exactly what his role in all of it was. “Those farcical situations,” he mused to Rolling Stone magazine, “I’m always tied up in them. They’re always as if they could be a Laurel and Hardy sketch. And they always ‘appen to me…I think unconsciously I want them to ‘appen, and they do…I suppose to most people I’m probably seen as an amiable idiot…a genial twit. I think I must be a victim of circumstance really. Most of it’s me own doing. I’m a victim of me own practical jokes. I suppose that reflects a rather selfish attitude: I like to be the recipient of me own doings. Nine times out of ten I am. I set traps and fall into them.”

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Bad Vibrations: Dennis Wilson & The Manson Family

In March 1967, the Beach Boys’ masterpiece smash song “Good Vibrations” hit a wall. Heralded as the group’s most ambitious and sonically-superior tune, the number one-charting single did not pick up the expected Grammy for Best Contemporary Rock Recording that month. The feel-good, harmonic melodies that had soothed a nation’s nerves in the first part of the decade were now considered not so daring or relevant to the shifting musical landscape. For the members of the famous surf band, they began to explore other outlets for enlightenment and creative rejuvenation. Brian Wilson had sunk into a world of psychedelics, teetering towards the brink of madness. Drummer Dennis Wilson, the brother who was born between older Brian and younger Carl, sought eastern methods of mind expansion. He introduced the boys to the merits of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom the band was to meet while touring in Paris later that year in December. Dennis was always the most fearless, the most eager to experiment of the quintet. Having been the only Beach Boy to actually surf, he’d parlayed his thrills into fast cars. Several automobile crashes later, he was undeterred in his pursuit to push the limits. Restless, searching, and open-minded, Dennis Wilson was about to come into contact with a guide to the wild side of life unlike any he had ever met before.

March 1967 was also the month in which a wiry inmate, standing barely over five feet tall, with a penetrating gaze and gift of gab, was released from Terminal Island prison in southern California. When Charles Miles Manson ambled out of the walled enclave on March 21, 1967, he was a thirty-two year old drifter with thirty-five dollars in his pocket and nowhere in particular to go. The son of a prostitute who never knew his real father, 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 in his autobiography. “A guard went up to him and said, ‘Manson, you’ll never get out of here.’ Charlie replied, ‘Get out of where, man?’ and just kept playing his guitar.” 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 drugs started right after Jennifer was born, maybe while I was pregnant.” Dennis was allegedly so disrespectful of his wife that he was said to have boasted to friends that he’d made love to another woman on his front lawn the night his daughter was born.

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. Charlie had honed in on the mind control aspects inherent in the teachings and stretched the information gleaned to manipulate the will of others to him. His credo became, ‘All action is positive. Everything is right – nothing is wrong.’ Mixing in lessons learned from the Church of the Final Judgment (better known as The Process), a borderline cult that worshipped both Christ and Satan, Manson began to present his image as a kind of spiritual master, akin to a god. As Phil Kaufman later observed, “Charlie was the kind of guy that would just drop a hint and everybody would think that they had made it up. He’d say, ‘I know what we’ll do. Let’s do this.’ And they’d think that they had thought of it, but Charlie had already planted the seed.”

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.” Dabbling more in the studio, Dennis became chums with people in the industry who could help him with his music. Already pals with Gregg Jakobson, an occasional actor and talent scout, the twosome would sit around, scribbling potential tunes for upcoming Beach Boy albums. A friend of older brother Brian Wilson, Terry Melcher, soon became a best buddy of Dennis’. Melcher had produced acts like The Byrds and Paul Revere & The Raiders. His father had recently passed away leaving an inheritance filled with homes, cars, and assets in the millions. His mom, singer/actress Doris Day, relied on her son to whip her new CBS-TV program into shape. Terry, Dennis and Gregg formed a tight-knit club called “The Golden Penetrators,” whose mission statement was to keep track of the number of groupies and starlets each member could bed over a period of time. At the turn of 1968, Terry was living in a rented home in Benedict Canyon with his actress/girlfriend Candice Bergen. The address was 10050 Cielo Drive.

On the other side of the world, in London, on January 20, 1968, a renowned filmmaker, Roman Polanski, director of the recently-released “Rosemary’s Baby,” married a promising new actress named Sharon Tate. The two had met a year and a half earlier while filming his horror comedy, “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” Sharon had moved to Hollywood as a teenager seeking fame in the movie world. In 1963, she moved in with the town’s leading hair stylist, Jay Sebring. With clients like Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen, Sebring was a well-connected playboy who became enamored of the astonishingly beautiful starlet and subsequently proposed marriage to her. He may have been shaken when she instead fell for Polanski a few years later, but he never outwardly showed his dejection to the Hollywood community. Sebring remained pals with the Polanskis until the end of the decade.

Life in the Haight-Ashbury district turned cold and ugly that winter of 1968. Charlie Manson began to make a biased distinction that the area, especially the Fillmore district, was becoming overrun with African-Americans and crime. Whatever racial hatred he had before towards blacks was magnified to the extreme now that he 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. Dropout teenage runaways, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins soon joined the entourage. Krenwinkel came from a nice, stable home back east, and Atkins was a cocktail waitress who danced topless on the side for Anton LaVey’s satanic church. The Family, as Manson dubbed them, traveled up and down the California coastline and as far east as Texas during this period. Another girl, Ruth Ann Morehouse, a 14-year old runaway hopped aboard the love bus and was pursued by her preacher dad, Dean Morehouse. Charlie slipped some LSD to Dean and soon the onetime Methodist minister became a devout proselytizer for Charlie. Former jail friend, Phil Kaufman, hooked Manson up with a record executive at Universal Studios, trying to forge an album deal. Charlie finally settled in the suburb of Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles in a two-story home. Teenager Bobby Beausoleil showed up one evening for a party and joined up immediately as one of Charlie’s right hand men. Beausoleil had been living nearby in the canyon at the home of Gary Hinman, a music teacher who was pursuing a degree in Sociology from UCLA. Within the next year and a half, Hinman would be the Manson family’s first documented victim.

Meanwhile, Dennis Wilson had moved out of the house in Benedict Canyon and settled into a rented home at 14400 Sunset Boulevard. Will Rogers once owned the hunting lodge abode that came complete with a log cabin exterior and a pool shaped like the State of California. 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. They’d spent the afternoon in the sun and were hitching for a ride back to the ranch. Wilson instead offered to take them to his home in the swanky Beverly Hills area on Sunset Boulevard. The three made love that afternoon, and then Dennis headed off for a recording session, promising to see them later that night.

Upon his return to the house at 3:00am the next morning, Dennis noticed the place was hopping with music and girls. Manson came out from the backdoor and immediately dropped to his knees, kissing Dennis’ shoes. “Who are you?” Dennis asked. “I’m a friend,” Manson benevolently replied. Ella Jo and Patricia came out to greet Dennis, saying, “This is the guy we were telling you about. This is Charlie Manson.” Flabbergasted at first, Dennis was soon swept up in the fervor of the evening. Manson’s girls were smoking pot, laughing, and some were wandering about topless. Charlie made it clear that the girls were there to serve Dennis. 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, under his direction, of course, 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. Gregg Jakobson was suitably impressed by the squirrelly satyr who spewed morsels of intellect. “He could discuss almost any subject,” 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.” Gregg would later relate that he’d spent countless hours over the year debating Charlie on the philosophies of life.

One afternoon, a few weeks after Manson had become chums with Dennis, the Wilson brother crossed paths with another man who would play a pivotal role in the horrific crimes that lay ahead. When 22-year old Charles Watson was driving his pickup truck along Sunset Boulevard and stopped to take on a hitchhiking Dennis Wilson, the fellow everyone referred to as ‘Tex’ was a wig salesman dealing a little marijuana on the side. Tex Watson had been a star athlete at his Lone Star State high school before he dropped out to head west for a new identity. Wilson invited Watson back to his home that afternoon to meet Charlie. “There he was surrounded by five or six girls – on the floor next to the huge coffee table with a guitar in his hands,” Tex later wrote. “He looked up, and the first thing I felt was a sort of gentleness, an embarrassing kind of acceptance and love. ‘This is Charlie,’ Dean (Morehouse) said, ‘Charles Manson.’ There was a large ashtray full of Lebanese hash sitting in the middle of the coffee table, and pretty soon, Charlie and Dean and Dennis and I were lounging back on the oversize sofas, smoking. Nobody said much. As we got stoned, Charlie started playing his music softly, almost to himself. Here I was, accepted in a world I’d never even dreamed about, mellow and at my ease…Late that night, at my truck, as I was leaving, Dennis smiled and told me to come by anytime, take a swim in the pool, whatever I wanted.”

Wilson apparently welcomed everyone to meet his new-found, intellectual friend. “People came and went, a peculiar mix of young drop-outs like me, drug dealers, and people in the entertainment business,” Tex later related. “It was a strange time in Hollywood. It had become chic to play the hippie game, and the children of the big stars partied with gurus like Charlie Manson and listened to them and bought drugs from them and took hippie kids to be and let them drive their expensive cars and crash in their Bel Air mansions. Everybody felt aware and free.” The swinging Hollywood community seemed to be particularly tolerant of the eccentric nutcase known as Manson. “…Charlie always managed to show up for their parties,” Tex observed. “And he did it well, playing the free, spontaneous child, the holy-fool, turning his self-effacing charm on a pretty young celebrity’s daughter…” Charlie tried to recruit Dean Martin’s kid unsuccessfully, but he’d been able to snare actress Angela Lansbury’s 13-year old child, Didi, as one of his devoted zombies.

Dennis allowed Charlie to use anything. His Ferrari, his Rolls-Royce, even his Mercedes Benz, which Manson’s group proceeded to crash. While the scraggly nomads had access to all the grub they needed at Wilson’s house, Charlie still would send some of the girls out in Dennis’ Rolls Royce at night to scrounge through supermarket dumpsters looking for discarded food. When there wasn’t a party to attend or one to be held at the house, Dennis and Gregg would take Charlie along to a hot Hollywood nightspot. One night while they were at the famous Whisky-A-Go-Go, “Charlie started dancing,” Jakobson later recalled, “and I swear to God, within a matter of minutes the dance floor would be empty, and Charlie would be dancing by himself. It was almost as if sparks were flying off the guy.”

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. “I would try to stop (the orgies),” she told author Steven Gaines. “I would start cracking up. I would get out of those things and say this is not for me…I said, ‘I’m here because I like Dennis,’ and Charlie would say, ‘You’re not allowed to have crushes. Everybody is supposed to love everybody.” Croxey never fell for that line of reasoning.

The Family splintered and came together while Charlie established himself in the Tinseltown parade. Bobby Beausoleil recruited 18-year old Leslie Van Houten in June 1968 while travelling around northern California. Meanwhile, Dennis and Gregg introduced Terry Melcher to Charlie. Dennis thought that Melcher and his friend Rudi Altobelli, a show-biz representative who looked after clients like Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, could hawk Manson’s musical genius for a record deal. But while Melcher wasn’t dismissive outright, Altobelli saw no potential in Charlie’s crooning abilities. One evening, after Melcher went to Dennis’ home to hear Charlie play, the Beach Boy and Gregg Jakobson drove Terry back to his rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive. The home was owned by Rudi Altobelli, who lived in the back guesthouse. Charles Manson rode along in the backseat, calmly strumming his guitar, as he first came in contact with the notorious abode.

When fellow inmate, Phil Kaufman, was finally released from Terminal Island in March 1968, he had gone to visit Charlie and the Family while they were still living in Topanga Canyon. Kaufman subsequently spent the majority of his time crashing at the pad of his friend, Harold True. Harold soon met Manson through Kaufman and liked the setup because of the abundance of girls Charlie would have hanging around him. Throughout the summer of 1968, Manson and his devoted females would stop in to party occasionally at Harold’s home in the quaint Hollywood suburb of Los Feliz. Charlie even stayed there for a week. Harold lived in a house at 3267 Waverly Drive with music biz friends Al Swerdloff and Ernie Baltzell. In the house next door to Harold lived an unassuming couple at 3301 Waverly Drive. The husband, Leno LaBianca, was chairman of the Gateway Supermarket chain. Along with his wife Rosemary, the LaBiancas were still living in this house a year later when the Manson Family made a fateful stop outside.

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.

Meanwhile, working a deal with his own label, 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. “It was scary. We were in there two or three nights, and then he got pretty weird. (He) pulled a knife on me, just for no reason really, just pulled a knife out and would flash it around while he was talking.” Despar wrapped up the sessions as quick as he could, and the recordings were locked away in the Brother Records vaults.

That August and September, the Beach Boys toured heavily to support their latest album “Friends,” which rose to a dismal number 126 on the Billboard charts. With his household becoming more hectic and his divorce finally having been finalized, Dennis was wanting to withdraw. He moved out of the house on Sunset and into a small place in the Pacific Palisades. The lease on the Sunset house eventually ran out three weeks later, and the landlord had Manson and his brood tossed to the streets. The Family relocated back to the dirt-poor surroundings of the Spahn Ranch. Over the course of their stay with Wilson, the Family had cost him roughly $100,000. The Benz had been totaled, clothes were stolen, the grocery tab was enormous, Beach Boy gold disc records had been pawned, and the bill for penicillin treatments for the numerous outbreaks of gonorrhea had reached into the thousands.

In September, the Beach Boys had a few days to record some new songs. Dennis introduced the composition he and Charlie had written, “Cease To Exist.” Dennis felt the title could be construed as too negative, so he changed it to “Never Learn Not To Love,” and altered the refrain ‘Cease to exist’ to ‘Cease to resist.’ Nevertheless, it was quintessential Charlie. “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. “Charlie had a big thing about the meaning of words that came out of your mouth,” Gregg Jakobson later related. “That is to say, to him all that a man is, is what he says he is; so those words better be true.” Charlie himself was heard to say on more than one occasion, “I don’t care what you do with the music. Just don’t let anybody change any of the lyrics.”

Sometime in that month of September 1968, Wojiciech “Voytek” Frykowski and Abigail Folger drove across the country to Los Angeles. The two had met in January at a party in New York. Abigail came from an extremely rich family, whose father was chairman of the A.J. Folger Coffee Company. Frykowski was a Polish émigré who had been pals with Roman Polanski in their native Poland. He and Abigail had fallen in love and shared a long trip both on the road and in their heads. They used drugs frequently and made a point to stop and score narcotics cross-country. In early October, they moved into a temporary home off of L.A.’s Mullholland Drive and proceeded to hold many a drug party for their new Hollywood friends. Their paths invariably crossed with Jay Sebring, the famous hair stylist, who was unofficially known in drug parlance as “The Candyman” around town.

Manson, meanwhile, 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 one of these visits, Charlie encountered Croxey and demanded sex with her. “I said, ‘Get out of here and leave me alone,” Croxey recalled to Steven Gaines. “He pulled out a knife and said, ‘You know I could cut you up in little pieces…” The frightened girl ran from the premises, but after a few minutes’ reflection, returned to the house and defiantly barked at Manson to go ahead and attack her. This action suitably cowed the sniveling madman, and he beat a retreat back to Spahn Ranch.

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. At this same time, The Beatles released their double LP masterpiece, the so-called “White Album.” Manson and Tex Watson were at a friend’s house in Topanga Canyon when they first heard it. “His interpretation of the album took off,” Watson later wrote. “I had already made up my mind to run away from him while in town, so I called a friend to come and pick me up. I sneaked away and stayed gone for at least 3 months, then something drew me back. It’s a long story, but while I was away, he came up with the Helter Skelter philosophy.” Increasingly agitated over his fizzled attempt at recording stardom, and clouded with racial bigotry, Manson became a veritable drill sergeant, badgering his unswerving recruits about an upcoming race war between blacks and whites. Some of these visions may have been based upon the upsurge of race riots taking place across the country in 1968. Manson saw the Beatles as the messengers, the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, inciting African-Americans to rise up, and only he and his Family would survive the Armageddon. His followers were told they would need to live in the desert, to subsist on the barest of necessities. He set about having members steal Volkswagens to use their engines and parts in makeshift dune buggies.

Beatle George Harrison later said, “It was mentioned as if we were sending him messages. It’s just sick. It just shows that everyone is on their own trip, but they can attribute their actions to someone else.” The pivotal song on the album through which Manson derived the basis of his chaotic outlook was “Helter Skelter.” The opening lyrics started out, “When I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide…” If Manson lived in England, this might’ve been a misconstrued tip-off to the fact that in Britain, a ‘helter-skelter’ is an amusement park slide. Charlie saw it as a calling of war, whereby a bottomless pit would open up. All of the doom and gloom imagery he spewed was derived from a mixture of Scientology, the Process Church and his readings of works like Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger In A Strange Land.” The Family moved into a Canoga Park two-story house on Gresham Street in the San Fernando Valley and listened to the “White Album” incessantly.

Terry Melcher, meanwhile, had moved out of 10050 Cielo Drive, and he and Candice Bergen holed up in one of his mother’s homes in Malibu. On February 12, 1969, the Polanskis signed a lease for $1,200 a month on the Cielo home and moved in three days later. By the first of March, Roman Polanski had gone back to Europe to work on movie projects, such as a possible film about the Donner Pass tragedy, and on scripts like “The Day of the Dolphin.” On March 23, 1969, Charles Manson knocked on the front door at 10050 Cielo Drive. A photographer taking pictures of Sharon Tate answered the door. Manson asked for the whereabouts of Terry Melcher. Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger were also there that night and inquired as to whom was at the door. The photographer told Charlie to try the guesthouse around back. Rudi Altobelli found Manson outside his guesthouse front door, and even though he knew Melcher had moved on to Malibu, told Manson he hadn’t a clue where the record producer had relocated. Charlie left quietly. When Tate flew to Rome the next day with Altobelli, she intimated how creeped-out she’d been by the strange man on their doorstep the night before.

Dennis Wilson had grown tired of seeing Charlie show up on his front porch in the Palisades. His friend Stanley Shapiro, a member of the Beach Boys’ management team, said, “Most of the time, Dennis avoided (Charlie) because he never passed up a chance to shake him down for money.” Wilson ejected most of his belongings, including Croxey, and moved into a basement room at Gregg Jakobson’s house. Later in the year, he revealed to New Musical Express his cleansing mindset. “I live there out of desire. I’m living where I want. I look at the room as my mind. There’s a piano in there. There’s a bed in there, and that’s all I need. What do you need in a home?…I’ve lived in a beautiful home in Beverly Hills, in harems, in the mountains, with a family, but where I like best is where I am now. I want to achieve happiness.”

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.” Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks revealed to interviewer Bill Holdship that Dennis could definitely hold his own against Manson. “One day, Charles Manson brought out a bullet and showed it to Dennis, who asked, ‘What’s this?’ And Manson replied, ‘It’s a bullet. Every time you look at it, I want you to think how nice it is your kids are still safe.’ Well, Dennis grabbed Manson by the head and threw him to the ground and began pummeling him until Charlie said, ‘Ouch!’ He beat the living s*** out of him. ‘How dare you!’ was Dennis’ reaction. Charlie Manson was weeping openly in front of a lot of hip people. I heard about it, but I wasn’t there. The point is, though, Dennis Wilson wasn’t afraid of anybody!”

Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger moved into the Polanski house in April 1969. Jay Sebring was a constant visitor at the estate as well. Meanwhile, Dennis Wilson tried one last time to get Manson the shot at recording success he thought he deserved. In early May, he and Gregg Jakobson arranged for Charlie to lay down some tracks at George Wilder’s studio in Santa Monica. Manson showed up barely prepared and would not take direction from Dennis in the control booth. Wilder learned that Charlie was an ex-con and cut short the session. Manson later related to Rolling Stone magazine, “I never really dug recording, you know, all those things pointed at you. Gregg would say, ‘Come down to the studio, and we’ll tape some things,’ so I went. You get into the studio, you know, and it’s hard to sing into microphones. Giant phallic symbol’s pointing at you. All my latent tendencies…”

Dennis pretty much gave up on Charlie at this point. Gregg 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 in mid-May. Manson sat on a giant rock, strumming his guitar, while his girls swayed adoringly at his feet. Melcher saw the potential of filming Charlie for a possible documentary. 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 1st, Manson got into an altercation whereby he apparently shot a dope dealer in the stomach. The man did not die from his injuries. A friend of Dennis Wilson’s was at the house the shooting occurred in and phoned the rock star to tell him about the incident that afternoon. Upon learning of the attempted murder, Terry Melcher told his friends that the documentary about Manson was off. Soon thereafter, a telescope that sat on Melcher’s Malibu porch was repositioned to the far end of the deck. On another day, when Terry awoke, he found the telescope missing. Manson joked to Gregg Jakobson about the errant stargazing device. Melcher was suitably shaken by the incident. Manson sent Leslie Van Houten and another girl to Melcher’s home to talk to him about the music deal, but Terry would only speak with them through the outside intercom.

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. Rudi Altobelli remained in Rome and had hired a caretaker, William Garretson, to move into the guesthouse, overseeing maintenance on the property and to look after his dogs.

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. The Family was running short of money to get their weapons. Bobby Beausoleil had mentioned that his old pal in Topanga Canyon, Gary Hinman, was rumored to have inherited $20,000 and kept the loot stashed in his home. Hinman had provided the Family with synthetic mescaline but rejected Charlie’s repeated offers to join their cause. Manson saw Hinman as expendable. Bobby, Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins invaded Gary’s home on July 25th, tying up the bewildered musician and threatening death if he didn’t tell them of the money location. When he didn’t talk, Manson himself appeared and hacked at Gary’s ear with a sword. By early morning of the 27th, Hinman got into a struggle with Bobby, and Beausoleil fatally stabbed Gary twice in the chest and smothered him. Trying to tie the murder in with something radical African-Americans might have perpetrated, Bobby drew the words “Political Piggy” with Hinman’s blood on the wall. On Tuesday the 30th, Bobby went back to Hinman’s home to wipe the place clean of fingerprints and inadvertently left a clean print of his own on a door frame. Police later pulled over Bobby driving Hinman’s car, and subsequently, he was sentenced to San Quentin for the murder.

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. The institute would never reveal their client logs. 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. When he got to Spahn Ranch on the 8th, he learned of not only Bobby’s arrest but also the capture of Mary Brunner and another Manson girl, Sandy Pugh, while the two had tried to pull a credit card scam at a local Sears. 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.

That night, on August 9, 1969, Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, and Jay Sebring all had a late dinner at a Mexican restaurant called El Coyote located across the street from the Paramount Studios lot. They returned home to the 10050 Cielo Drive residence after 11:00. Folger and Frykowski were using a new drug they’d gotten from Canada called MDA (Methlenedioxyl-amphetimine). Jay Sebring helped himself to his stash of marijuana. Sharon Tate, over 8 months pregnant, abstained. Sometime after 12:30am on the morning of August 10th, Tex pulled up outside the gates of the Tate household in a yellow and white Ford. With him were Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Linda Kasabian. It was alleged that the reason the girls went barefoot that night was because their feet were swollen with so many sores from gonorrhea that it hurt to put on shoes. Linda would not participate in the massacre and would later testify against her co-horts.

A friend of caretaker William Garretson’s, an 18-year old named Steven Parent, was heading up the driveway in his Dodge Rambler when he was fatally shot four times in the chest and head. The four occupants within the house were subsequently tied up in the living room and taunted by Tex. Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski managed to break free and were pursued out of the house onto the lawn. 25-year old Folger was stabbed 28 times. 32-year old Frykowski bravely fought his assailants for a long period of time, stumbling about the property, but in the end he was shot twice, struck on the head 13 times with the gun, and was left with 51 stab wounds. Inside the house in the living room, 35-year old Jay Sebring had been shot once and stabbed 7 times. A rope was wrapped around his neck. The other end of the rope was tied to 26-year old Sharon Tate’s neck, who lay four feet away beside him. Her end of the rope was strung across an overhead ceiling beam. Sharon had been hanged before she died from 16 stab wounds. Her unborn baby boy perished in the melee.

The slaughter was unimaginable. The word “Pig” was written in Tate’s blood on the front door. Incredibly, Garretson the caretaker had been spared. He supposedly had slept through the entire bloodshed in the guesthouse. He was immediately booked as a suspect. Back at Spahn Ranch, Charlie chastised the group for having made the scene look more like a rampage than an execution. That Saturday night, he drove the bunch himself to another location. The house next to Harold True’s place on Waverly Drive. True and his friends had moved out of 3297 Waverly sometime ago, but Charlie was more aware of what lay next door. Rosemary LaBianca had mentioned to friends that it appeared their house had been broken into a few times while she and her husband had gone out of town. On the night of Saturday, August 10th, the LaBiancas were returning home from a brief vacation to a lake. Charlie entered their home after 1:00am and tied them up. He then sent his crew in to do the dirty work. 38-year old Rosemary was found in her bedroom with a lamp cord tied around her neck and a pillowcase over her head. She was stabbed 41 times. 44-year old Leno was also bound with a lamp cord around his neck and a pillowcase over his head. The word “War” was carved on his flesh. Lying in the living room, Leno suffered 26 stab wounds, 14 of which were from a double-tined carving fork that stuck protruding from his stomach. The words “Death to Pigs” and a misspelled “Healter Skelter” were written in their blood on the walls.

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. He tried to finagle $1,500 out of the Beach Boy, but Dennis refused. Manson apparently threatened to kill his son Scott. Other reports have Manson talking with manager Stanley Shapiro at Gregg Jakobson’s house. Shapiro told author Steven Gaines, “He had a .45-caliber automatic pistol stuck in his waistband and he said, ‘Where’s Dennis?’ When told he wasn’t there, Manson replied, ‘Oh yeah?’ he raged. ‘Well you tell Dennis I’ve got something for him.’ Then Manson pulled the .45 out of his waistband and took out the magazine. He popped a bullet out of it and threw it on the floor. ‘When you see Dennis, tell him this is for him. And I’ve got one for Scott, too.” This tale mirrors the earlier scenario that Van Dyke Parks had spoken of, and it is hard to sort out the truth. Gregg Jakobson claimed to prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi that Manson had also visited him the week following the murders. “The electricity was almost pouring out of him,” Jakobson related. “His hair was on end. His eyes were wild. The only thing I can compare it to…is that he was just like an animal in a cage.”

On August 16th, police raided the Spahn Ranch and rounded up Manson and his Family members. The charge, however, was not homicide, but instead, theft of Volkswagens. A misdated warrant unfortunately caused a loophole in the arrest, and the gang was freed shortly thereafter. On August 26th, the entire Family participated in the killing of Donald “Shorty” Shea, a Spahn ranch hand, who’d been rounded up in the raid. Some members alleged his death was attributable to his snitching in jail on the Family. Others claimed Manson was appalled that Shorty was married to a black dancer. All the same, Shea was unmercifully tortured over a great stretch of time, then dispatched and buried in a faraway canyon. Family member Steve “Clem” Grogan, who had participated in the LaBianca assault, later told authorities where Shorty’s body could be found in 1979. Clem was the only Family member to be paroled when he was released for serving time in 1986.

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 1971. 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. His pals thought he might’ve swum to a nearby dock, pulling a trick on them, and was seated at the Marina bar having a laugh at their expense. A harbor patrol boat proved otherwise, when scuba divers brought up Dennis’ body from the marina bottom around 5:30 that afternoon.

In the end, Charles Manson, sitting in his 6’ x 11’ cell, felt the final chapter of Dennis’ life had left him vindicated. He was quoted as saying, “Dennis Wilson’s brotherhood took my songs and changed the words. His own devils grabbed his legs and pulled and held him under water.” In reality, 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. What made Dennis Wilson unique to the Charles Manson legacy was the fact that he may have blindly linked Charlie to a set of individuals who otherwise might’ve stayed out of harm’s way. It was through his connection with Dennis that Manson met Terry Melcher. Melcher resided at 10050 Cielo Drive. Susan Atkins later admitted they picked 10050 Cielo Drive to instill fear in Melcher who had supposedly reneged on a recording deal. That was more than likely only part of the reason. The Family needed money, and it was probably assumed that Folger, along with sometime-drug dealers Frykowski and Sebring, might have had access to a lot of cash for them. Dennis was also instrumental in introducing Manson to his soon-to-be number-one butcher, Charles “Tex” Watson. Of course, it was another set of music friends, Phil Kaufman and Harold True, who probably directed Manson’s attention to the supermarket chain-owning victims, the LaBiancas, on Waverly Drive.

To lay the blame for five individuals’ deaths on Dennis Wilson would be absurd. In essence, Dennis’ one main offense, in regards to his association with Charlie, was one shared by several others. He was gullible – easily swayed by the morally-bankrupt tempest that entered their midst. They were all conned by this mad, shiftless, drifter who left prison with $35 dollars to his name. Perhaps Tex Watson, serving life for his role in the heinous murders, summed up the Charlie experience for Dennis and all the Manson devotees alike. “In reality, we empowered him by giving him our lives,” Tex wrote. “We were young, rebellious, and even angry inside. I was looking for love, identity, direction, acceptance, and at the same time, I was very naïve, a ‘people-pleaser,’ in fear of failure with no sound belief system.” 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.

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Angels & Abominations: The Altamont Tragedy

Fans mumbled, shouted, stomped their feet, napped, and generally grew irritated. The Rolling Stones seemed to be stalling. Earlier that night, November 8, 1969, the band had played to a packed house at the Inglewood Forum arena in Los Angeles. They had run through numbers like “Brown Sugar,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” and “Street Fighting Man.” A second concert was scheduled to begin at midnight for another batch of eager fans who had waited patiently outside the Forum walls, hearing the distant sounds of the first concert. The Stones kept these fans waiting an awful long time. At around 4:00 in the morning, the British sensations cranked up the festivities with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The sleepy-eyed audience rallied themselves and cheered the Stones arrival. But after a handful of songs were performed, brawls broke out in front of the stage, the result of cranky, tired ticket holders who’d felt they’d waited far too long, which caused the house lights to be turned on and several arrests to be made. This marked the official start of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 American Tour. It would end amongst far greater chaos.

By the close of the 1960s, the Rolling Stones were certainly not having the best of years. Although their album “Beggars Banquet” was hailed critically as a masterpiece, those same critics had savaged the Stones’ previous album “Their Satanic Majesties’ Request,” a limp concept record that tried to match the artistic heights of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Mick Jagger and his girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull were arrested for possession of cannabis on May 28, 1969. On July 3rd of that year, The Rolling Stones’ former bandmate Brian Jones had been found floating dead in his swimming pool (in a manner which has fostered far too much speculative foul play assertions over the decades since). In addition, the group spent much of the year trying to excise the overly-expensive percentage of revenue shared by their manager, Allen Klein, whose contract with the band was not scheduled to expire until July 31, 1970. And after arriving in Australia to act in a film called “Ned Kelly,” Mick Jagger told Faithfull their relationship was over, which resulted in Faithfull overdosing on narcotics on July 8, 1969, and slipping into an eight-day coma. It was fairly tumultuous for The Stones at this time, to say the least.

As a result of the suicide attempt, Faithfull wasn’t able to act in the film, as scheduled, alongside Jagger. On September 12, 1969, Mick and a recovered Marianne returned to London, and Jagger began making preliminary arrangements for the launch of the American Tour, the sixth such undertaking The Rolling Stones had made up to that point. For the part of their tour manager, Sam Cutler, a reliable Stones’ friend was placed in charge of the endeavor. As for the overall production management of the shows, Mick chose Allen Klein’s 27-year old nephew, Ronnie Schneider, to fill this position, the reasoning being that Ronnie was a more malleable, frugal version of his avaricious uncle. On October 13th, the Stones arrived in Los Angeles. Mick and Keith Richards stayed at a friend’s estate in Laurel Canyon, a huge home recently vacated by The Monkee’s Peter Tork. Drummer Charlie Watts and his family moved into Ronnie’s house. And the rest of the group and its entourage stayed at the massive Du Pont mansion above the Sunset Strip.

Ronnie began the process of securing all the requirements sought by his charges, a group that hadn’t toured in more than three years. The size of dressing rooms, the six bottles of tequila, the chilled Blue Nun wine, the cold cuts, the fruits — all of these details needed to be met at each venue. He also was able to finagle about 60% of the gross against a guaranteed minimum amount on each concert engagement for the group.

One night, Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead dropped by Mick and Keith’s home, and during their conversations, Garcia suggested The Rolling Stones would benefit a great deal in publicity if they gave a free concert after their tour ended around the first of December. They liked the idea and began to hash out some of the details. San Francisco, the late ‘60s capital of “peace, love and understanding” was seen as an opportune location for the event. The monumental and successful Woodstock festival had just made its mark two months earlier in August, and Jagger felt a massive, open- air gathering would help put The Stones back on the map again. A memorial concert the group had performed for Brian Jones on July 5th that year had drawn hundreds of thousands of fans in London’s Hyde Park, and it was felt that this free concert would attract an even bigger crowd. Jerry mentioned that as far as security goes, the Hell’s Angels in the Bay Area had handled control of events with local bands in a smooth, efficient manner. The British chapter of the Angels had run security for The Stones during the Hyde Park tribute without a glitch, so the thought of using the California Hell’s Angels in a month’s time for the big concert was a plausible business decision, The Stones reasoned.

Around this time, Jagger had heard that Warner Bros., the studio that was delaying the release of a previous film Mick had acted in called “Performance” (due to the movie’s explicit violence and sexuality), was in the midst of editing a documentary of the Woodstock festival. To beat the studio’s release of this “event” concert film, Jagger wanted to one-up them with his own concert film of the tour they were about to undertake. The free concert at tour’s end would act as a great conclusion for his film. He set about soliciting documentary filmmakers who would take on the job.

After three weeks of rehearsals, partying, celebrity schmoozing, drug intake, and groupie dalliances in Los Angeles, The Rolling Stones performed a warm-up concert at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado on November 7, 1969. The next day, the American Tour officially kicked off its 17-date journey with the raucous opening performance at the Forum in Los Angeles.

Throughout the month of November, The Rolling Stones made their way across America. Once again, as they had at the Forum, they delayed going onstage, this time for over two hours in Oakland, California. When the band reached the Dallas, Texas leg of the tour, Marianne Faithfull announced to the press in Europe that she was formally leaving Mick Jagger and moving to Rome to live with an Italian film director/wealthy playboy named Mario Schifano. Mick was devastated by this news and tried, in vain, to woo Marianne back.

Meanwhile, New York filmmakers David and Albert Maysles were hired by The Stones to document the tour. These brothers had successfully captured on film the frenzy surrounding The Beatles first visit to the United States back in 1964. They assured Mick that this documentary would be ready by mid-March 1970, almost a month before Warner Bros.’ tentative release date for “Woodstock.” Being hired so late in the tour, the Maysles would begin filming the band once they arrived in New York. Meanwhile, the Elysian Golden Gate Park was being considered as the leading contender location for the San Francisco free concert.

On November 27th and 28th, The Stones played Madison Square Garden in New York to sellout crowds. Teens crushed towards the stage during “Sympathy For The Devil,” leaving the fold-out chairs strewn on the floor beneath them. In the VIP box, celebrities like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Woody Allen, Leonard Bernstein, and Andy Warhol boogied out to the blues-rock riffs emanating from the stage. Songs from these concerts were recorded and released the following year on the album “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” The American tour officially ended the next night, the 29th, at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Heading out of LaGuardia Airport in New York, the group was significantly delayed from flying to a festival at the International Raceway in West Palm Beach, Florida, where they wound up playing at 4:00 in the freezing-cold morning to shivering fans on November 30, 1969. The free concert event on the other coast was scheduled to take place in one week’s time.

Travelling to the Sound Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the group spent the week following the end of their tour laying down tracks for a future album. They learned that the city of San Francisco would not issue a permit for the free concert at Golden Gate Park. The director of the Sears Point Raceway, just outside San Francisco, jumped in and offered the band use of his track free of charge. However, the owners of the Sears track, a consortium that also ran concert promotions, a corporation that felt The Stones had stiffed them out of a huge portion of their promotion profits on the just-completed tour, decided to put the screws to the band. On Thursday, December 4, 1969, as The Stones’ crew was assembling the staging at the Sears’ track, the promotion consortium, Filmways, demanded that Stones’ management secure $125,000 in escrow for any possible damages incurred during the concert, and they wished to retain all film rights to the concert, otherwise they’d require another $125,000 from the band. With the intercession of San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli, both camps haggled over the deal. On Friday, December 5th, one day before the main event, Dick Carter, operator of a stock car track in Livermere, California, a community 15 miles east of Berkeley, offered up his location free of charge to The Rolling Stones. He thought it would be great publicity for his venue and insisted it be promoted as taking place at “Dick Carter’s Altamont Speedway.” Where Woodstock, a concert drawing approximately 450,000 attendees, was planned meticulously, months in advance, the Altamont concert, which was expected to draw upwards of 250,000 people the next day, was literally being patched together overnight. Disaster seemed the only forecast for this kind of hasty venture.

The Stones’ crew, along with the help of some of The Grateful Dead’s crew, somehow, someway, made it happen. Tearing down the stage at the Sears’ track and assembling it in the darkened night of December 5th at Altamont, the roadies feverishly hammered the set together for 12 hours. As they labored into the night, hordes of fans began showing up on the property, bundling themselves in their sleeping bags to fend off the chilly desert air. Around 2:00 in the morning of Saturday, December 6th, Mick and Keith, having flown into San Francisco earlier on Friday, helicoptered to the Altamont track to survey the progress of the riggings. They walked amongst the fans, crouching down to shake some hands and give some hugs. Author Christopher Anderson, an unauthorized biographer, has alleged that, during this period of time, Jagger stopped by a campfire to share a joint with none other than Charles Manson. Be that as it may, about an hour later, Mick climbed aboard the helicopter to head back to San Francisco, while Keith decided to spend the night on the track’s grounds, partaking in the drugs and enthusiasm of his fans.

At around 7:00am, Hell’s Angels members who had prevented fans from wandering to the front grounds near the stage, finally allowed the area to be filled in. Over the next few hours, the Altamont Speedway and the properties surrounding it would teem to capacity. Roads leading into the area were clogged with cars for miles. Roughly calculated, the location could only hold about 12,000 automobiles, and that’s with nobody on the grounds. Needless to say, people walked for miles, abandoning their cars along the road. By 12 noon approximately 300,000 individuals were packed in with one another.

Sights of Altamont that day included hippies, college students, bikers, nudists, dogs, cats, frisbees, bubbles, tie-dyed shirts, leather-fringe jackets, long unkempt hair, LSD, heroin, jug wine, ice chests, bedrolls, mattresses, kissing, fornicating, four births, Jesus proselytizers, Black Panther advocators, dancing, stumbling, tripping-out, vomiting, chanting, fortune-telling, and…the occasional outbreak of violence. At first the scuffles were few and far between. Minor little skirmishes over lack of food, water, and dope. But the anger grew. The meager supply of basic amenities to accommodate this mini-city of civilians was overwhelmingly apparent. The wait for the bathrooms was over a half-hour, and the lines for drinking water were over 300 yards long. Not much food was available. And when the majority of the Hell’s Angels roared in on their bikes, the tension grew thicker.

The Angels had been given about $500 in alcohol to provide “security” for the afternoon. Approximately 300 or more Hell’s Angels were onsite, “working” this concert. As they drove their beloved motorcycles straight through the crowds, making everyone scatter in their path, one could see many of the bikers already swigging on jugs of wine. Some hippies began passing out thousands of tabs of acid to the Angels and their friends. As the afternoon sun helped warm the December air, many people began to bake their brains. Bad acid trips were breaking out as people whirled in dervish dances or grimaced and pulled at their hair. As the Hell’s Angels members became more inebriated and strung out, they also became notably bloodthirsty. As fate would ironically have it on this day, The Rolling Stones new album, “Let It Bleed,” was being released to stores across the nation.

Sometime in the afternoon, a 17-year old boy, numbingly under the influence, fell into a deep, concrete, drainage aqueduct near the concert location and drowned. Stoned bystanders watched the body float downstream, not sure if they were witnessing reality or a drug-induced vision.

Carlos Santana and his band finally got the proceedings off to a start. At the first sounds of music, the crowds shifted, moving forward slightly, to get a better position. The Hell’s Angels’ job requirement for the day, as requested by Stone’s tour manager, Sam Cutler, was to keep the crowd off the stage and off the equipment. The Angels, unfortunately, did not believe in tactics such as a simple shake of the head, signaling “no” to unruly, curious audience members. The first inkling of their style of security came during the Santana set when one man, attempting to approach the stage, was kicked down by a biker. Armed with heavy, lead-tipped, pool cues, the Angels patrolled the stage and the area down front, cracking several people across the head with drug-fueled animosity. When members of their pack laid into a naked couple with the pool cues, a nearby photographer fired off several photos. He, in turn, took a smack to the head, opening a gash that required several stitches. Carlos Santana couldn’t believe the eruptions of violence he was witnessing around the periphery of the stage. He just tried to forge ahead and get through his set. Afterwards, backstage, he told reporters, “There were bad vibes from the beginning. The fights started because the Hell’s Angels pushed people around. During our set, I could see a guy from the stage who had a knife, and (he) just wanted to stab somebody. I mean he really wanted a fight. There were kids being stabbed and heads cracking the whole time.”

Into this ugly forum, local favorites, The Jefferson Airplane, took to the stage. Even though they had been around the Hell’s Angels before, the Airplane soon saw that the mood of the afternoon was not going to change now that they began to play. More skirmishes broke out. A strong push here, a knockdown there. One young teenager staggered around the audience, unable to focus because blood trickling from a head wound was seeping into his eyes. As the Jefferson Airplane began playing their ironic-under-the circumstances song “We Can Be Together,” an African-American man, trying to elude the foot pursuit of a violent Angel, leapt up onto the stage beside the group, terrified. Several bikers got him to the floor, beating him with the pool cues, and then tossed him off the stage. More Hell’s Angels were on him in a second, hauling him along the ground and beating him some more. Airplane singer Marty Balin had had enough. He climbed down into the audience, pushing his way to the assaulting brutes, trying to break up the fight. A Hell’s Angel turned and swung a pool cue square into Marty’s face. The rocker was knocked off his rocker, falling unconscious to the ground. As he came to, stumbling back to the stage, The Jefferson Airplane had by this time stopped most of their song. Only the drummer kept a beat, while singer Grace Slick kept time, chanting a mantra of peace, “Easy, easy, easy, easy…” Guitarist Paul Kantner, seething with anger, said to the masses, “I’d like to mention the Hell’s Angels just smashed Marty Balin in the face, and knocked him out for a bit.” A nearby Angel member tried to take the microphone away from him.

In the midst of this mayhem, Mick Jagger and the rest of the band, sans Keith, who was already there, touched down by helicopter on a hill behind the stage. As they hustled down the embankment to an awaiting trailer, another touch of madness arose, as a drug-crazed, bedraggled man screamed at Mick, “I hate you, I hate you,” and proceeded to throw a punch to Jagger’s head. Hell’s Angels escorting the entourage, quickly lifted the offending fan away, beating him as they went. The Stones were a bit shaken and sequestered themselves inside the trailer. Someone popped their head in and informed them of what had happened while the Jefferson Airplane was onstage. Keith told Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, “When I heard what they done to Marty Balin, they’re gettin’ out of hand. It’s just gonna get worse, I thought; obviously, it’s not going to get better. Nothing’s gonna cool them out once they start.”

The Flying Burrito Brothers, a California folk group, went onstage next. Their music seemed to calm the restless crowd for a short duration. Climbing off a helicopter up the hill, Jerry Garcia was told of the violence and injuries that had occurred prior to his arrival. “That’s a bummer,” he said, as he looked around, pondering. The Grateful Dead chose not to perform that afternoon. Meanwhile, down at the trailer, Jagger and Richards occasionally stuck their heads out of the pot-filled interior to speak with reporters and sign autographs.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tried to maintain the calm when they followed the Burrito Brothers. But the Hell’s Angels began to scatter into the audience by the stage, knocking heads once again. Swinging pool cues and medical stretchers bearing casualties highlighted their set. A terrified Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young cut their performance short and made a dash for a helicopter, which took off immediately. The sun was sinking towards the horizon. Now the crowd awaited the final act, The Rolling Stones.

The understaffed and under-equipped medical personnel in the offstage tent were tending to more and more wounded. Thousands of people staggered, or were carried, to the tent in order to receive a thorazine shot which would help calm the effects of all the bad acid trips occurring that afternoon. The thorazine supply, however, was quickly depleted. Teenagers yelled and moaned, curling up or tearing at their clothes. The medics continued stitching the open gashes on the latest Hell’s Angels’ victims.

As they had notoriously shown before on the American tour, the Stones kept their fans waiting. And waiting. More beatings were taking place as the late afternoon turned to evening, and the temperature dropped. Hunger set in, as the crowd shivered in their thin clothes. No one knows the exact reason why the Rolling Stones waited an hour and a half to venture out of their trailers, but two excuses have been given. One was that they were busy tuning their instruments. The second was that Mick wanted the cameras to capture his performance after dark, so that the stage lighting would cast a dramatic effect on the assembled throng. One can only make a decision as to which artistically-veiled excuse sounds more plausible.

The Hell’s Angels drove several of their motorcycles through the audience, parking them a few rows in front of the stage. Finally, the lights kicked on. The crowd pushed forward, jamming up against the performance platform. Reporters and Angels were crowding the entire expanse of the stage as The Rolling Stones arrived. The snarling guitar licks of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” signaled the start of their set.

Almost immediately, the Angels began their assaults. One of them laid into a fan severely after the guy had accidentally toppled the biker’s motorcycle. As Keith noted to Rolling Stone magazine, “The cat left his bike there and it got knocked over, so that was the first one.” Sonny Barger, leader of the Hell’s Angels, later told the media about his gang’s fanatical pride in their bikes by saying, “Ain’t nobody gonna kick my motorcycle and get away with it.” Bikers from the back of the stage rushed forward, past Mick, periodically to slug somebody in the front row. Jagger felt crowded, saying “Fellows, fellows, move back, won’t ya?” A boy at the corner of the stage, tried to climb up, but was kicked back by an Angel. The boy’s jaw shattered. Nervously, the band started the next song “Carol,” while some people out front began to strip naked. The nude, dazed audience members tried to clamber onto the stage, but they, too, were beaten bloody and tossed back to the ground.

Jagger and the band at this point had lost all hope of maintaining peace with their assembled fans. The audience was truly at the frenzied, malevolent mercy of the Hell’s Angels. Keith, again to Rolling Stone magazine, said, “They were out of control, man. The Angels shouldn’t have been asked to do the job…People were just asking for it. All those nude fat people, just asking for it. They had those victims’ faces.”

“Just be cool down front there, don’t push around,” Jagger said, as the band led into “Sympathy For The Devil.” Strutting his stuff across the stage, Mick got in the first few verses before a huge pummeling between Angels and fans attracted his attention down in front. “Hey, hey! Hey, Keith, Keith,” motioning for Richards to stop playing, “hey people, brothers and sisters, come on now,” Jagger pleaded. The crowd stopped its commotion for a moment. “Let’s everybody cool out. Something always funny happens when we start that number,” Jagger mumbled. The band tentatively began again. A Hell’s Angel member strolled over to Mick during the song’s instrumental section and whispered in his ear. A nude woman, completely stoned, climbed onto the stage and held onto one of the group’s amplifiers. Audience members in front shook their heads at Mick, conveying their feeling that he should halt the proceedings. Five Hell’s Angels surrounded the naked woman, trying to pry her fingers loose of the amp. Jagger stopped the performance again and sarcastically remarked, “I’m sure it doesn’t take all of you to take care of this. Surely one of you can handle her.” With that, four members dropped back as one Hell’s Angel clubbed her in the head with a pool cue and dumped her back into the audience. Jagger, appalled, noticed another fight in the audience. Someone tried to climb on stage to get them to stop the performance, but he, too, was tossed back in the crowd. “People, who’s fighting and what for? Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting?” Keith stepped up to the microphone. “Listen, either those cats cool it or we don’t play!,” he barked. A Hell’s Angel walked over to him, screaming in the mike, “F*** you!” Mick stammered, trying to keep what little peace was left, “You know, if we are all one…let’s show we’re all one.”

The songs continued. “The Sun Is Shining,” “Stray Cat Blues,” “Love In Vain.” And so did the beatings. When “Under My Thumb” started up, the ultimate tragedy was moments away from occurring. (Many press reports and biographers cite that this tragedy occurred during “Sympathy For The Devil,” but if one views the film “Gimme Shelter,” it actually appears to take place during “Under My Thumb”). Towards the end of the song, a commotion broke out about ten rows back in which an African-American man appeared to be pointing a gun at Mick onstage. The man’s name was Meredith Hunter.

Having arrived at the concert earlier in the day with his date, a blonde teenage girlfriend, 18-year old Hunter had found the two of them a spot near the side of the stage, next to an amplifier. Wearing a lime green suit, he stood out in the crowd…and on the Maysle Brothers’ film. A burly, 6’4” tall, Hell’s Angel, sitting on the amp, for one reason or another, reached down and yanked Hunter by the hair. Stumbling backward, shocked, Hunter saw the biker leap to the ground, and suddenly, he was surrounded by five other Hell’s Angels. They began to beat him, as his girlfriend screamed. Turning to try to run away, Hunter was caught by the arm by one of the bikers, and the biker stabbed Hunter in the back. Pulling out a gun he had in his pocket, Hunter was spun around. Mick Jagger apparently saw the weapon at that point, turning to guitarist Mick Taylor saying, “there’s somebody out there…there’s a cat pointing a gun at us.” Overhearing this statement, a nearby Hell’s Angel onstage dropped to the floor. Keith told Rolling Stone magazine, “I didn’t see any killings. If I see any killing going on, I shout, ‘Murder.’ You dig, when you’re onstage you can’t see much, like just the first four rows.” During this split second, Hunter was being stabbed again. His girlfriend screamed, “don’t shoot anyone,” and the gun was wrestled away from him. An Angel cut Hunter’s head with the knife. Stumbling, running, and tripping, Hunter fell to the ground a few yards away, and the Hell’s Angels swarmed him. He was stabbed and kicked repeatedly. A steel trashcan was smashed down on his face. The big, burly Hell’s Angel, the one who had originally pulled his hair, stood on Hunter’s head for almost two minutes.

Audience members around Hunter stood watching, horrified and in shock. They felt too threatened to try to help him. After a while, the Angels left Hunter lying bloodied on the ground. Audience members rushed to his side and tried to treat him. Jagger was confused as to the severity of the commotion. “How are we doin’ over there? Everybody allright? Can we still collect ourselves?” Word quickly spread to the front that Hunter was severely wounded and needed help immediately. Tour manager Sam Cutler grabbed the microphone and asked people to make room for the doctor. As Hunter was carted off, barely conscious on the stretcher, Jagger said, “This could be the most beautiful evening – I beg you to get it together.”

The band started up the songlist again. “Brown Sugar,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Live With Me,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Little Queenie,” “Satisfaction,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” and finally, “Street Fighting Man.” Hunter died shortly after he arrived at the medical tent. Mick fluttered about the stage at concert’s end, blowing kisses, saying, “We’re gonna kiss you goodbye, and we leave you to kiss each other goodbye. You have been so groovy. Good Night.” The Stones quietly, and quickly, left the stage. The band and its entourage piled into an awaiting helicopter, clamoring to get aboard, as if they were escaping the fall of Saigon. Airlifting away into the cold night sky, the group was taken back to their cozy suites at the Nob Hill Huntington Hotel in San Francisco. Below them, the zombie denizens of Altamont stumbled across the cluttered open fields in the dark, trying to make sense of a confusing day and trying to remember where they left their cars.

Later in the evening, a hit and run occurred after midnight, when a 1964 Plymouth sedan ran through a campsite and crushed two men to death in their sleeping bags on the grounds of the speedway.

The media was quick to disparage The Rolling Stones for the debacle which resulted from their free concert. Musician David Crosby chimed in to reporters with his own distaste for the Stones. “The Rolling Stones are still a little bit in 1965. They didn’t really know that security isn’t part of anybody’s concert anymore…We didn’t need the Angels…But I don’t think the Angels were the major mistake…I think the major mistake was taking what was essentially a party and turning it into an ego game and a star trip…I’m sure they (the Stones) don’t understand what they did Saturday. I think they have an exaggerated view of their own importance.”

Keith told Rolling Stone magazine, “For all the control one can have over an audience, it doesn’t mean you can control the murderers. That’s a different thing, man; you can’t make someone’s knife disappear by just looking at him…Half of our concerts in our whole career have been stopped for doctors and stretchers. How much responsibility for the gig are you going to lay on the cat who’s playing and how much on the cat that organized it? Rolling Stone’s name is linked with Altamont. It wasn’t our production particularly. Our people were involved, but they were relying on local knowledge.” Mick further expounded on this topic when he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1987, “Everyone who lived in San Francisco – including a lot of those people who wrote about Altamont – knew that a lot of concerts had gone on with all these same organizers, with the Hell’s Angels…And it may sound like an excuse, but we believed – however naively – that this show could be organized by those San Francisco people who’d had experience with this sort of thing…And just because it got out of hand, we get the blame.”

Sonny Barger, the Hell’s Angel leader, said on a talk radio show, “This Mick Jagger put it all on the Angels. He used us for dupes, man. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve been the biggest suckers for that idiot I’ve ever seen.” An Angel named Alan Passaro was subsequently arrested for the murder of Meredith Hunter. At his trial, the defense submitted the assumption that it was very hard to tell whether Passaro was the person who dealt the fatal wound to Meredith. Passaro claimed he only reacted after Meredith pulled a gun on him. The jury was left with no other choice than to acquit the Hell’s Angel. Passaro allegedly did serve some time later at San Quentin prison. A rumor circulates to this day that, upon his release, Passaro was found dead, floating face down, in a remote lake.

The Rolling Stones’ attorneys were quite busy during the year 1970. The family of Meredith Hunter sued the Stones. Property owners near the Altamont Speedway sued the Stones. The Rolling Stones, in turn, sued the Sears Point International Raceway for more than $10 million under charges of fraud and breach of contract.

Warner Bros. released their landmark documentary “Woodstock” in March 1970. Mick’s dream film, the one which might have one-upped the Warner Bros. project, was no longer on the fast track. “Gimme Shelter” debuted in New York on December 6, 1970.

Blame for a disastrous event of this magnitude really settles on the majority of the individuals who participated in and observed its unfolding. Easily, a damning finger can be pointed at the Hell’s Angels, whose brutality was the very essence of evil on December 6, 1969. The Stones were indifferent to the needs and demands such a concert required, as were the organizers they employed to put it together. The thousands of people who passed out acid tabs and fueled their systems with narcotics, left themselves vulnerable and perhaps, naively irritable contributors to the destructive forces at play that day. No one felt the overwhelming need to leave the grounds and contact police officials as to the violent overtones brewing and bursting forth during the day’s event. Everyone, therefore, could fall under an umbrella of fault.

Altamont will always be remembered as an ugly chapter in rock’s history. Even the music performances weren’t particularly notable considering the talent on hand that day. Mick Jagger reflected on this bleak moment in his band’s history in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1987. “I felt very upset. And I was very sad about the violence, the guy that died and the Hell’s Angels behaving the way they did. It was awful. It was a horrible thing to go through. I hated it. And the audience had a hard time. It was a lesson that we all learned. It was a horrible experience – not so much for me as for the people that suffered. I had a pretty easy ride, you know…I was lucky.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow

December 31, 2014

Good things

Sure, it’s easy to sit back and brainstorm about bands whose name consists of no more than four letters. INXS, Korn, Asia, Hole, Rush, Chic, Styx, Toto, Abba, we could go on and on….
But, here are some of those brave pioneers of rock who boldly wrapped their identity in names consisting of three letters or less:

ABC With Martin Fry’s lush, crooning voice, hits from this Sheffield, Yorkshire band of the ‘80s like, “When Smokey Sings,” “Be Near Me,” and “The Look of Love” rose in the U.S. charts to #5, #9, and #18 respectively.
Ah-ha This Norwegian pop band, whose name was chosen because it was a universally-recognized exclamation, traversed the fjord of success by reaching number 1 with their MTV darling, “Take on Me.”
Air Heralded by music critics everywhere as one of the best albums of 1998, French duo Air’s “Moon Safari” debut floated dreamy soundscapes through smoky St. Tropez lounges and international cosmetic ads.
Ash Punk power pop sounds from this northern Ireland band drew comparisons with Brit bad boys Oasis and helped fan the flames of commerce, driving their 1996 album, “1977” to number 1 on the UK charts.
Can Germans and avant-garde electronic rock seem to be inseparable and Can certainly didn’t stray far from this stereotype. Unfortunately, “I Want More” featuring Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on guitar was their only chart appearance.
dB’s The decibels were just right for this charming pop group out of North Carolina. Their jangly, knowing songs caught the ears of R.E.M. in the late 1970s, and dBers Peter Holsapple and Mitch Easter soon went to work with the Athens, Georgia band on several efforts.
E “A Man Called E” and “Broken Toy Shop” were wry, melodic, albums by this Southern California musician, whose layered sounds caught the ears of Msrs. Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg. They promptly made E and his new band Eels one of their first DreamWorks acts in 1997.
EMF Whichever meaning their name stood for (either “Epson Mad Funkers” or “Ecstasy Mother F**kers”), this Gloucester band made the incredible leap to number one on the U.S. charts in July 1991 with their bouncy jive smash “Unbelievable.”
L7 The preeminent riot grrrl group of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, L7’s all-female punk pedal-to-the-metal songs like “Pretend We’re Dead” and albums like “Hungry for Stink” stomped on the moaning, navel-gazing grunge movement of the period like Joan Jett guest speaking at a Junior League lunch.
NWA Bustin’ out of the South Central ravages circa 1986, NWA (N***ers With Attitude) shouted their rap milestone bestsellers “F**k tha Police,” “Straight Outta Compton,” and “Gangsta Gangsta,” to a world of controversy and disaffected youth.
R.E>M. “We’re thinking about Rapid Eye Movement,” drummer Bill Berry said to this author and assorted hall-mates, as he thumbed through a biology book late one night at his University of Georgia dorm. In what seemed like a blink of the eye, R.E.M went on to score eye-popping success with scads of hits and two number 1 albums, “Out of Time” and “Monster.”

December 31, 2014

Good Things Come in Threes

Sure, it’s easy to sit back and brainstorm about bands whose name consists of no more than four letters. INXS, Korn, Asia, Hole, Rush, Chic, Styx, Toto, Abba, we could go on and on….
But, here are some of those brave pioneers of rock who boldly wrapped their identity in names consisting of three letters or less:

ABC With Martin Fry’s lush, crooning voice, hits from this Sheffield, Yorkshire band of the ‘80s like, “When Smokey Sings,” “Be Near Me,” and “The Look of Love” rose in the U.S. charts to #5, #9, and #18 respectively.
A-hahhhhhhhhhhhhhh This Norwegian pop band, whose name was chosen because it was a universally-recognized exclamation, traversed the fjord of success by reaching number 1 with their MTV darling, “Take on Me.”
Air Heralded by music critics everywhere as one of the best albums of 1998, French duo Air’s “Moon Safari” debut floated dreamy soundscapes through smoky St. Tropez lounges and international cosmetic ads.
Ash Punk power pop sounds from this northern Ireland band drew comparisons with Brit bad boys Oasis and helped fan the flames of commerce, driving their 1996 album, “1977” to number 1 on the UK charts.
Can Germans and avant-garde electronic rock seem to be inseparable and Can certainly didn’t stray far from this stereotype. Unfortunately, “I Want More” featuring Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on guitar was their only chart appearance.
dB’s The decibels were just right for this charming pop group out of North Carolina. Their jangly, knowing songs caught the ears of R.E.M. in the late 1970s, and dBers Peter Holsapple and Mitch Easter soon went to work with the Athens, Georgia band on several efforts.
E “A Man Called E” and “Broken Toy Shop” were wry, melodic, albums by this Southern California musician, whose layered sounds caught the ears of Msrs. Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg. They promptly made E and his new band Eels one of their first DreamWorks acts in 1997.
EMF Whichever meaning their name stood for (either “Epson Mad Funkers” or “Ecstasy Mother F**kers”), this Gloucester band made the incredible leap to number one on the U.S. charts in July 1991 with their bouncy jive smash “Unbelievable.”
L7 The preeminent riot grrrl group of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, L7’s all-female punk pedal-to-the-metal songs like “Pretend We’re Dead” and albums like “Hungry for Stink” stomped on the moaning, navel-gazing grunge movement of the period like Joan Jett guest speaking at a Junior League lunch.
NWA Bustin’ out of the South Central ravages circa 1986, NWA (N***ers With Attitude) shouted their rap milestone bestsellers “F**k tha Police,” “Straight Outta Compton,” and “Gangsta Gangsta,” to a world of controversy and disaffected youth.
R.E.M. “We’re thinking about Rapid Eye Movement,” drummer Bill Berry said to this author and assorted hall-mates, as he thumbed through a biology book late one night at his University of Georgia dorm. In what seemed like a blink of the eye, R.E.M went on to score eye-popping success with scads of hits and two number 1 albums, “Out of Time” and “Monster.”
TLC Not quite named after their tender loving care, TLC are the first initials of the performers’ nicknames (T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli), and Grammy darlings like “Waterfalls,” “Creeps,” and “No Scrubs” have all cracked the U.S. top 10 charts.
UFO Formed and reformed over the years since 1969, this London band known for its trippy “space-rock” has gained notoriety more for its abuse of drugs, alcohol, other bands, and hotels than for crafting any Undeniably Formidable Opuses.
U2 Gliding smoothly from political rock to electronic pop, Dublin’s U2 has always fashioned its hits, like their number 1 singles “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” with an urgency and conviction that only the best craftsmen of rock are able to consistently churn out.
War With their name chosen as a stark counterpoint to the peace music of their day, War’s anthem funk, from their number 1 album “The World Is A Ghetto” and their hits “The Cisco Kid,” “Low Rider,” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” roused people to leave their complacent state behind.
X Guilt, paranoia, and wretched excess defined the art punk themes of X, whose crashing 2 minute songs were the high watermark of the early ‘80s LA underground scene. Ray Manzarek of The Doors helped capture their raw wire sound as producer of X’s first four albums.
XTC Their biggest selling album in the U.S., 1986’s “Skylarking,” sold a respectable 250,000 copies, but sales figures are not what keeps fans of this British band xtatic. For 20 years critics have consistently praised the tinkering nuance and thoughtful melodies which have filled XTC’s catalog.
Yes With more lives than Friday the 13th’s Jason, Yes has perennially rotated its lineup but never its unique sound. Known for their progressive jams in the ‘70s on hits like “Roundabout” and “Close to the Edge,” Jon Anderson’s haunting vocals finally scored a number one in 1984 with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
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