Mad Game: The Music of Charles Manson

Trying to make sense of Charlie’s music

Manson performs his music in prison

Have you ever wondered what the hell Charles Manson was singing about? I mean, his whole world revolved around trying to get a music deal in the late 60s, right? We’ve even been told that frustration around his music going nowhere is what led (in part) to the murders. So what the hell was this dude singing about?

Manson was not just a solo performer, although he is credited as the sole author of his lyrics. His ‘Family’ was an extension of him personally and professionally, and he believed he would be performing with them (at least in order to get a record deal, after that he probably would have dropped them all like hot potatoes). What was it about the collaborative (on the surface) experience that made him believe that this was the avenue to pursue success and fame in the music industry?

Largely, it was because in 1968 it was all about the bands. There weren’t a lot of soloists during that era (the singer/songwriter era followed this one, but this particular phase was dominated by musical groups or bands). And the one band of most significance in Manson’s view was The Beatles.

I thought I’d explore Charlie’s philosophy and viewpoint through his lyrics. I did this to a lesser degree in The Manson Family: More to the Story (published 2019 by Swann Publications) but I wanted to explore this idea further. So let’s look at a few of Charles Manson’s songs:

Always is Always

Always is always forever
As long as one is one
Inside yourself for your father
All is none, all is none, all is one

It’s time to call time from behind you
The illusion has just been a dream
The valley of death and I’ll find you
Now is when on a sunshine beam

So bring all the young perfection
For there us shall surely be
No clothing, tears, or hunger
You can see, you can see, you can be

This song strikes at Manson’s obsession with the idea of Now: a concept he originally learned during Scientology auditing. Compounded with the use of LSD, NOW is nothing, it’s dropping out, it’s erasing what’s been programmed into your mind. But ultimately, it’s “the valley of death” as he sings and all those ‘young perfections’ (young people) who come to him ultimately wind up inside him, their father and all certainly is none. All is one — that is, him. They become him. They are absorbed into him. The illusion is the dream they leave behind to become Manson.

Cease to Exist

Pretty girl, pretty, pretty girl
Cease to Exist
Just come and say you love me
Give up your world
C’mon you can see
I’m your kind, I’m your kind
You can see
Walk on, walk on
I love you pretty girl
My life is yours and
You can have my world
Never had a lesson
I ever learned

But I know we all get our turn
I love you
Submission is a gift
Go on, give it to your brother
Love and understanding is for one another
I’m your kind, I’m your kind
I’m your mind
I’m your brother
I never had a lesson I ever learned
But I know we all get our turn
And I love you
Never learned not to love you
I never learned

“Cease to Exist” is famously the song that Manson allowed the Beach Boys to perform and release. He was never credited for the lyrics (nor did he earn any royalties) because he signed away those rights to drummer Dennis Wilson. Wilson had been stumping for Charlie ever since he met ‘The Wizard’ as he called him, allowed Manson and his Family to live rent-free at his home for months. The song was signed over as acknowledgement for what Wilson had done for Manson, and also what he was still promising to do. After all, a successful song (even a B-side as this wound up being) is a great calling-card in the music biz. But the Beach Boys changed both the title and lyrics of the song (it was called “Never Learn Not To Love”) further pissing Charlie off.

In the song, he sings both that “I love you, my life is yours” and “I’m your brother”. Seems rather passive-agressive. As though Manson wants the girl to BELIEVE he loves her, but then he’s going to step back and let the relationship become platonic. “We all get our turn”…? I mean, Charlie was a sex trafficker. Who’s to say this isn’t about forcing a girl (by first pretending he loves her) to sleep with other men? “Submission is a gift — give it to your brother”! Or maybe it’s just about those crazy orgies the Family were having.

Dennis Wilson sings Manson’s song in the 2nd half of this video

Devil Man

I’m singing blues:
The devil man swings blues
High away! Devil man

There are many roads to that man
And they join a central plan
How bout you girl?
You gotta choose when the devil man swings the blues
You could be among a chosen few
Come on girl I’ll work with you
The guitar’s tight
These monkey bites
Devil man
All the right
You can choose when the devil man swings blues
Devil girl- loving you
Yes yes
Ah yes, you can’t do that
Twist and twirl spin and whirl
Ride away devil girl

What were you thinking
Come on man we got something better to do
Give a jack no matter what we do
He’ll take you down where you fear to tread
Down to the pit with Satans bed!
Keep your silver
Keep your gold
All we want is your evil soul

Give your evil soul… to yourself
Open your eyes and be, Rather than seem to be!
Can you imagine, if there were no laws:
There would be no laws to be outlawed!
There would be no outlaws!
Can you imagine that!

yeah, make up your mind. Don’t let your mind make you up.

I have no doubt who the devil is in this song although Manson probably saw it differently. “You could be among a chosen few, Come on girl I’ll work with you” again seems like pimp talk. “Don’t let your mind make you up” sounds like more mental manipulations and trafficking jargon. As though whoever this song is being sung to has no ability to make up her (or his) own mind.

During the summer of 1969 Charlie talked to this crow like it was his best friend. Some say he called the crow ‘Devil’.

Garbage Dump

Oh garbage dump oh garbage dump
Why are you called a garbage dump
Oh garbage dump oh garbage dump
Why are you called a garbage dump

You could feed the world with my garbage dump
You could feed the world with my garbage dump
You could feed the world with my garbage dump
That sums it up in one big lump

When you’re livin’ on the road
And you think sometimes you’re starvin’
Get on off that trip my friend
Just get in them cans and start carvin’

Oh garbage dump my garbage dump
Why are you called my garbage dump
Oh garbage dump my garbage dump
Why are you called my garbage dump

There’s a market basket an’ a A&P
I don’t care if de box boys are starin’ at me
I don’t even care who wins de war
I’ll be in dem cans behind my favorite store

Garbage dump oh garbage dump
Why are you called a garbage dump
Garbage dump oh garbage dump
That sums it up, in one big lump

I claim all these garbage dumps
In the name of
(The garbage pickers of America)
(The garbage pickers of America)
(The garbage pickers of America)

Oh but it smells
Oh pew … yeow

The Family got much of their food from dumpster diving, but groceries weren’t the only cast-offs they subsisted from. Everything they had was someone else’s garbage. For months they lived in a house called the Spiral Staircase (I have a long article forthcoming in the months ahead about the history of this place) in Topanga Beach that was virtually unlivable but the owner allowed them to stay.

But ultimately, the most significant cast-offs were the Family themselves. Many of these young people had been abused, neglected or even thrown away by their own families. Sure, some had runaway but the majority felt as though they had nothing to return to. Lynette Fromme’s father told her during a fight when she was 18 years old to leave and never come back. Susan Atkins’ father was tired of her and moved away.

Many of the young people in the Family rejected their own kin as establishment and bougie and antiquated in their ideals, but many more had suffered abuse at the hands of their families. Several were molested by members of their families, most were emotionally abused. Patricia Krenwinkel’s older half-sister was a drug addict, who relied on her younger sister to care for her young child. Charlie wanted credit for taking in these people, for providing for them, for “claiming all these garbage dumps” but in the end, he threw them away just like their own folks had.

A documentary with Patricia Krenwinkel

Look At Your Game, Girl

There’s a time for living
Time keeps on flying
Think you’re loving baby
But all your doing is crying

Can you feel
Are those feelings real
Look at your game, girl
Look at your game, girl

What a mad delusion
Living in that confusion
Frustration and doubt
Can you ever live without the game

The sad, sad game
Mad game
Just to say loves’ not enough
If’n you can’t be true
Oh, you can tell those lies
Baby but you’re only fooling you

Can you feel
Are those feelings real
Look at your game, girl
Look at your game, girl

You feel
I those feelings ain’t real
Then you better stop trying
Or you’re gonna play crying
Stop trying

That’s the game
Sad sad game
Mad game
Sad game

“In the lyrics for Look at Your Game, Girl, Manson describes a lost and manipulative young woman (perhaps Susan Atkins):

When he sings ‘what a mad delusion — livin’ in that confusion’ Charlie seems to be saying that he is clear-headed and knows what’s happening but the woman in question is confused, muddled by the mixed messages of the ‘real world’. When he sings ‘you can tell those lies’ — he is negating anyone else’s experience or perspective by calling them out as liars. There was only one truth in his world: Manson’s.” — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications

Manson with Susan Atkins in court

Have you listened to Manson’s words and music? What other messages have you found in them?

Learn more about the life of Charles Manson, and the crimes of The Family by visiting

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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