New Year’s Eve, 1968. In the hills above L.A., some people are gathered around a campfire when a bearded man among them explains that a war between blacks and whites in America is coming. More than that, the people around the campfire are going to start that war. More than that, the people around the campfire will not only be saved from this war, but will come out on top once the war is over. More than that, this war has been prophesied, and the prophets are speaking directly to the people around the campfire in a coded message.
The bearded man: Charles Manson. The people around the campfire: the Manson Family. The prophets: the Beatles. The coded message: The White Album.
Manson called this race war “Helter Skelter,” after the Beatles song. It’s quite appropriate, because a “helter skelter,” in British slang, is a descent, usually pretty rapid and dramatic. Under Manson’s prediction, the whites would have a descent (being exterminated by the blacks), and then the blacks (being exterminated by the Manson family). In a larger sense, Manson meant “helter skelter” to mean that (pardon my French), “shit was gonna go down” – and Manson and his followers were going to start it.
But the most bizarre, freak-out thing in this entire scenario – aside from the brutal and devilish murders of Sharon Tate and company – is that Manson took his walking orders from The White Album. Manson believed – and his followers believed – that the Beatles were speaking directly and exclusively to them in subtle messages laced all over The White Album. Every song had a significance that applied only to Manson and his “family.” Among the more interesting ones:
“Blackbird” – Black people are going to “arise” and slaughter the whites.
“Rocky Raccoon” – “Coon” is a pejorative term for a black person, so Rocky is black. Rocky’s “revival” meant that black people were going to come into power soon. Further, the prominence of “Gideon’s Bible” in the song – more specifically the line “Gideon checked out” – meant that the entire scenario was told about in the book of Revelation.
“Revolution 1” – In the lyric “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out,” John includes a subtle “in” right after he sings the word “out.” This indicates – in reality – that John was actually undecided whether revolution was needed or not. In Manson’s mind, this indicated that the Beatles all favored violent revolution, but had to keep silent because they were on a “peace-and-love trip.”
“Happiness is a Warm Gun” – Black people are supposed to arm themselves with guns for violent revolution.
“Sexy Sadie” – A reference to Manson follower Susan Atkins, who had been redubbed Sadie Mae Glutz even before The White Album had come out.
“Revolution 9” – Many things. Despite the fact that it’s a musical collage and thus has no lyrics, Manson thought he heard John shout “rise!” in several places (John was actually saying “right!”). The repeated words “number 9” are a reference to the ninth chapter of Revelation, which is when the “locusts” are released to torment mankind for five months. Also, Manson believed George was saying “Charlie, Charlie, send us a telegram,” which Manson and the other family members tried to do. In one section of the track, George actually does say something about a telegram.
“Honey Pie,” “I Will,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” and “Yer Blues” – The Beatles were searching and calling for Jesus Christ (because they love him). Manson had a huge Jesus Christ complex, believing himself to be the second coming of the man. Thus, the Beatles were calling for Charles Manson himself to join them in London. Manson family members were trying to get a message to the Beatles telling them to join Manson in Death Valley.
“Helter Skelter” – The whole thing in miniature. In the lyric “she’s comin’ down fast,” “she” would be America, and the “comin’ down” refers to the race war that the country will soon descend into. The song also contains a reference to the Manson family emerging from their supposed Death Valley underground hideout, which Manson called the Bottomless Pit (a reference to Revelation chapter 9).
With his “The White Album is forecasting the future” thing, Manson is creating what’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. He wants it to be true, so he’s going to make it true. Fortunately for everyone except Sharon Tate and the others who happened to be there the night of August 8th, he never got to. Manson, like the true megalomaniac he is, also thought the entire White Album was directed exclusively at him, that the Beatles were purposefully trying to tell him something in code. Once again, because he wanted it to be true, it was.
Let’s hope I can make this next comparison without being drawn and quartered by my fellow Christians.
Charles Manson started with a supposition and then found support for it in The White Album, despite the fact that support simply wasn’t there. Through creative arranging and sheer force of will, he made it say something that it just doesn’t say. He did the opposite of what scholars and seekers of truth do. He arrogantly supposed that his truth was more important than the truth his source (in this case The White Album) was trying to convey.
Is this not very similar to what we sometimes do with the Bible? The Bible, by the admission of the apostle Paul, was meant to teach us, rebuke us, correct us and train us (2 Timothy 3:16). It is NOT meant to be used as an irrational justification for what we already think. Yet this is what so many Christians do. They start with a firmly held belief that comes from themselves, search the Bible for a verse or passage that seems, without context, to support it, and then claim that that firmly held belief is biblical. This is NOT how we should read the Bible; we should actually do the opposite, as in start with the text, then earnestly seek the truth contained therein, and let your firmly held beliefs be formed and shaped by that truth.
We’ve seen it over and over again. “Hey, it’s not me; it’s the Bible.” The subjugation of women has “biblical” support, according to some complemetarians. Creationism has “biblical” support (and evolution suffers “biblical” refutation), according to hardline fundamentalists. And countless pastors have written books saying they have the key to a “biblical” marriage. You can find support in the Bible for any opinion you want.
In my mind, this is very similar to what Charles Manson did with The White Album. However, there are two notable differences. One is that Christians don’t use the Bible to support murder. Another – and one that makes what some Christians do even worse than what Charles Manson did – is that it’s easy to argue with The White Album. It’s much more perilous to argue with the Bible.
I’ll leave you with that.