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How Charles Manson Took Sick Inspiration From the Beatles' 'Helter Skelter'

June 13, 2019 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

Paul McCartney said the song was about a playground slide, but Manson claimed the music incited a race war and murder.

Innocent song using the symbol of a playground slide as a metaphor, or subliminal lyrics inciting a race war and murder? Ask Paul McCartney what he was thinking when he wrote the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” and it’s the former. But, according to Charles Manson, the “White Album” single helped serve as inspiration for a spree that ended in nine murders in the summer of 1969.

“I was using the symbol of a helter skelter (a playground slide) as a ride from the top to the bottom—the rise and fall of the Roman Empire,” McCartney says in , says Manson’s primary way of preaching to his followers was by playing his guitar and singing lyrics—by both himself and the Beatles. He convinced his cult members that Beatles’ music, and particularly the song, “Helter Skelter” contained subliminal messaging to commit violence.

“In the Beatles, I think Manson saw things he desperately wanted: worldwide respect, stardom and, of course, money,” she says. “Manson, a struggling artist, to put it nicely, had none of the above and was desperate to make a name for himself in the music industry in L.A. in the late ’60s.“

The ‘White Album’ Inspires Manson’s Dark Fantasy

But, Wiehl adds, as his musical aspirations continued to be dashed in Hollywood, Manson’s anger grew and he turned to the lyrics in the “White Album” to bolster “the scheme that was forming inside his warped mind, a scheme that would involve the entire L.A. area involved in a race war.”

“The race war would end with L.A. in shambles and only he, Charles Manson, and his followers, who would be waiting in the desert for the exact right time to appear, would come in and save the city,” she says. “Manson would be the leader of L.A. after the ‘blacks’ had ‘risen up’—Helter Skelter—and all would be nirvana.”

Bryanna Fox, assistant criminology professor at the University of South Florida and associate editor of the Journal of Criminal Psychology, says Manson quickly became fascinated with the “White Album” following its late-1968 release. Specifically, Fox notes, the written and (in his mind) unwritten lyrics of “Helter Skelter.”

“While he previously was most interested in his own music career—and engaging in group sex with his ‘Family’ members—his attention now turned to the lyrics of Beatles’ songs …read more


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