Charlie on Demand: 10 Things to Read, Watch and Hear on Charles Manson - Rolling Stone
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Charlie on Demand: 10 Things to Read, Watch and Hear on Charles Manson

From a 12-part podcast to a stop-motion indie musical, the ways to learn about the infamous cult killings – from a safe distance

Charles Manson 10 books to read

Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on conspiracy-murder charges in connection with the Sharon Tate murder case in 1969 in Los Angeles.


In August 1969, Charles Manson brought the free-wheeling 1960s to a halt. This was Charlie Manson's America now, where doe-eyed, long-haired women who sang promises of peace and love could turn around and decapitate a famous Hollywood actress and stab her friends and unborn child to death. Almost 50 years later, Manson's place in pop culture remains larger than life. Even after he dies, the public's obsession will return in waves, with every new book, film, conspiracy theory or development in the case. But as the Manson family legend lives on in books and movies, their victims remain dead inside the myth. Here, 10 unique ways the family's story has been told, each an attempt to make sense of one of the most unbelievable nights in American history.

Last Podcast on the Left

‘Last Podcast on the Left’

Popular weekly true-crime-cum-comedy show Last Podcast on the Left tackled the Charles Manson saga in a biographical three-part series. Manson's childhood antics are recalled at length and told jocularly by a panel of stand-up comedians Ben Missel, Henry Zebrowski and Marcus Parks. Stories range from his mother's abandonment to a series of misdemeanors that landed him in jail from an early age – they even go back to his first day of school, when Manson's uncle punished him by making him wear girl's clothes to school. The impressions are eerily spot-on. 

The Family Jams Charles Manson

‘The Family Jams’ Album

The Family Jams are the Mamas and the Papas-esque recordings made by the Manson Family on the heels of Manson's arrest. While the leader himself does not sing on the album, the songs are credited in his name and sung in a fevered pitch by his most loyal followers. Notable Manson family members who appear on the album include Clem Grogan, Squeaky Fromme and Catherine "Gypsy" Share. Though recorded in 1970, the album was not released until 1997 – and the original Family Jams tape recordings are allegedly buried in a vault. The songs directly address Manson's arrest, especially the song "Get On Home," which references the infamous crosses cut into the family's foreheads.  

Charles Manson Superstar

‘Charles Manson Superstar’

Though Nikolas Schrek's controversial documentary Charles Manson Superstar originally came out in 1989, it wasn't released on DVD until 2002 after alleged fallacies were criticized for making the film "pro-Manson." Schrek filmed face-to-face interviews with Manson from inside the San Quentin Prison. He links the sensationalist media around the Manson murders to the capitalized branding behind his popularity, starting with the iconic photo on the cover of Time in 1969. Schrek goes deep into how the Manson mythology plays into the American media's particular desire for fear. The 1989 film features Manson's original music, including the songs "Clang Bang Clang" and "Mechanical Man" off Manson's 1970 psychedelic folk album, Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, that was distributed after Manson's arrest by record producer Phil Kaufman. Conspiracy theorists will enjoy the interview segment with James Mason regarding the Universal Order. 

'The White Album' by Joan Didion Charles Manson

‘The White Album’ by Joan Didion

No one describes the cultural reverberations of the Manson murders as acutely as Joan Didion in her 1979 essay "The White Album." She definitively marks August 9th, 1969 as the end of the decade and carefully explores the enduring sense of unease settled over California. The most directly Manson-related parts of the award-winning essay come from Didion's prison meetings with Linda Kasabian, who famously went on to testify against Charles Manson and family. She recalls picking out a dress for Kasabian in Beverly Hills to wear to deliver a testimony. The former Manson girl had requested a short velvet dress in emerald green, because defense attorney Vincent Bugliosi insisted she stay away from the long white dress. But all the while, Didion weaves subtlety horrifying details to reflect the strange fear that loomed over Los Angeles county in the months following the murders. 

Manson’s Lost Girls Charles Manson

James Dittiger/Everett

‘Manson’s Lost Girls’ on Lifetime

The Manson story as only Lifetime could tell it. Visually, Manson’s Lost Girls is a lot closer to 2016 than 1969, but still, the story plays directly into the same romantic notions of the Manson girls that inspired Emma Cline to write The Girls. Told from the perspective of Linda Kasabian, who fled the Manson family just before the first round of slayings, she meets the family after she's fallen on hard times and they take her in. The party scenes have a flower-crowned likeness to Coachella, but it does successfully portray the excitement, adventure, and awe that inspired countless young women to leave home and run away with the man they called Charlie. The drug-induced warmth and sense of invincibility work to rationalize Linda Kasabian and the rest of the girls falling under the spell the same psychopath they would eventually learn to regret ever meeting. 

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