The Relationship Between Neil Young and Charles Manson... Mar 16, 2011 - by Mark Wallace
Neil Young is an elder statesman of rock, Charles Manson a notorious mass murderer, but their paths crossed for a while in 1968, with interesting results...
In 1968 Neil Young and Charles Manson were both wannabe songwriters on the Topanga Canyon scene, Young right at the scene’s centre and Manson hovering jealously on the fringes. Young, of course, had already achieved a certain amount of prominence in his time with Buffalo Springfield, who had had a minor hit with “For What It’s Worth”, and he had released his self-titled debut album to a muted reception. Manson’s track record was less promising, as he had spent much of his life in correctional institutions, but now he had made some influential friends, notably Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who was trying to get Manson a record deal, and who introduced Manson to Young. Coincidentally, Young and Manson share a 12 November birthday, but separated by 11 years: Manson was born in 1934, Young in 1945.
1968: Young meets Manson
Young remembers Manson as being “a little uptight, a little too intense. Frustrated artist.” (McDonough, 287) However, when Manson picked up his guitar and played a few songs, Young was strongly impressed: “[He] made up songs as he went along, new stuff all the time, no two songs were the same.”
Young recommended Manson to Mo Ostin, president of Warner Brothers, but it never got any further. Reminiscing years later, Young was clearly still somewhat enthralled by Manson’s force of personality: “He was an angry man. But brilliant… He sounds like Dylan when he talks.” (McDonough, 288) He went even further: “He’s like one of the main movers and shakers of time – when you look back at Jesus and all these people, Charlie was like that.”
1974: “Revolution Blues”
On Young’s 1974 album On the Beach, he included a song about Manson, “Revolution Blues”, culminating in the couplet: “I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars/ But I hate them worse than lepers, and I’ll kill them in their cars.” Subtle it’s not, but a pretty extreme sentiment for a rock star, one illustrating just how far Young has deviated from the gently melancholic country rock, the “Heart of Gold”-type stuff, that is still what he is most publicly known for.
For his part, Manson said in a 1995 interview from prison in California that all his old musician friends “didn’t give a sh*t” – except Neil Young, who once gave him a motorcycle. (McDonough, 287) When Young’s biographer related this to Young, he seemed oddly pleased to have won Manson’s approval: “So Charlie remembers me too, huh? Everybody else ripped him off. I gave him a motorcycle. I turn out to be a good guy.”
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