‘Charlie Says’ captures mind of Manson through music


While watching the new film “Charlie Says,” audiences will find themselves bobbing their heads along to the offbeat psychedelia of ’60s bands such as Love, only to suddenly be confronted by music from the notorious cult leader and killer Charles Manson.

That’s because the movie features new recordings of four songs written by Manson, including “Look at Your Game, Girl” and “Garbage Dump.”

“In context, it’s such an important part of the story,” director Mary Harron tells The Post. “You can’t really separate Manson from his musical ambitions.”

The album cover of "Lies" by Charles Manson.
The album cover of “Lies” by Charles Manson.Handout

“Charlie Says,” in theaters Friday, explores the Manson family murders” not through the perspective of Charles Manson — played by Matt Smith of “Dr. Who” and “The Crown,” who actually sings in the flick — but that of three of his female followers. The film traces the lives of Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) in the commune where they lived with Manson, as well as their ensuing time spent in prison for murders committed in the summer of 1969 under his command.

But the movie focuses much of its time on Manson’s desperate desire to become a rock star. Sharon Tate was murdered, after all, for being present at the former home of music producer Terry Melcher, who had rejected Manson after an audition.

“It was after that dream died that he turned more [toward] his paranoia about the coming apocalypse and all the rest,” says Harron, who helmed “American Psycho.” “But really if he could just have had a record contract, I think the story would have been very different.”

Manson’s songs were written into the “Charlie Says” script, and it was up to music supervisor Sean Fernald to clear the publishing. He tells The Post that he initially thought about the ethics of using music created by a man responsible for such evil.

“Ultimately, I decided that it was in the spirit of a historical re-creation to facilitate the reproduction of these lyrics and these melodies,” he says.

The songs were originally recorded by Manson in the late 1960s, and an album was put out in 1970 by music tour manager Phil Kaufman, who did time in prison with Manson. The independent label ESP-Disk eventually distributed the album, “Lie: The Love and Terror Cult.”

Fernald secured permission to use the Manson songs from ESP-Disk’s current manager, Steve Holtje. Holtje tells The Post that Manson, who died in prison in 2017, was never legally allowed to profit off the music.

A more whimsical scene of Manson and his women from “Charlie Says.”IFC Films

The founder of the label, Bernard Stollman, died in 2015, but Holtje recalls his rationale for making money off a murderer’s infamy.

“Bernard’s feeling about Manson was that the establishment used him as an example of everything that was supposedly wrong with hippies and the left and the people who were protesting the war,” Holtje says. “[He believed] they made him out to be the bogeyman, when in fact most of [that movement] was literally about peace and love.”

Holtje, who has been with the label since 2010, admits he personally “struggled” with the ethics “at first,” but declines to explain further.

Charles Manson, the man who murdered Sharon Tate, at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif.
Charles Manson, the man who murdered Sharon Tate, at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif.Albert Foster/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Beyond the album Manson released, another of his songs was recorded by the Beach Boys, as member Dennis Wilson was a pal of Manson’s prior to the Tate murders. Manson’s “Cease to Exist” became a B-side called “Never Learn Not to Love” for the group in 1969, though Manson was livid that he wasn’t credited and that some of the lyrics were changed. Wilson, who died in 1983, was tight-lipped about his friendship with Manson following the murders.

“As long as I live,” Wilson told Rolling Stone in 1976, “I’ll never talk about that.”

Fernald says he was denied permission to use the song for “Charlie Says” and wasn’t given a reason as to why.

“But I can imagine it’s still an open wound,” he says.

Essentially, Fernald says, Manson’s tunes provide necessary authenticity to the film, without glamorizing the music. That’s to say, the movie isn’t exactly encouraging kids to go stream the tracks on Spotify. Luckily, the quality of the music makes that unlikely, anyway.

“For such a crazy person,” says Harron, “his songs are surprisingly bland.”


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