What Charles Manson and Bon Iver Have in Common

Categories: Bon Iver

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Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver is a mild-mannered hipster heartthrob who crafts his rustic, emotionally fragile-seeming folk-rock in a secluded Wisconsin cabin. Charles Manson is a babbling former cult leader rotting away in a California state prison for an infamous murder spree. According to Pandora Internet Radio, they're a lot alike.

See also: Live: Bon Iver and Frank Ocean Are Trying to Break Your Heart

Pandora, of course, is a pioneering music streaming type that boasts some 200 million users. You set up Pandora "stations" based on artists or songs you like, and Pandora does the rest, populating the station you've created with artists who have similar sounds. If you set up a Bon Iver station, you will eventually hear one of Manson's gruff, atonal songs, "People Say I'm No Good" (a title that makes quite the understatement), slither its way out of the speakers.

Manson was an amateur singer/songwriter who got frustratingly close to the '60s West Coast rock vanguard and, as we'll discuss in a minute, much of his material has long been available. But it's vexing that Pandora plays would think users would want to hear his songs based on the approval the listener has given a man who serenades yoga classes.

How did Charles Manson get onto Pandora? Did a committee in a room somewhere debate the decision? Manson tracks can also be heard on Spotify and Rdio. These streaming sites are redefining the pastime of listening to music and in doing so they were delivering a convicted killer with megalomaniac tendencies more listeners than he could have ever received before. Any qualms about that? We set out for answers.

But first, Manson's discography. American's least favorite houseguest recorded a few demos during the years he spent hoofing around California with a guitar on his back. Even though he made a few industry connections while sharing his growing harem of confused drop-outs with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, Manson never got to put out a record --that is, until he became the most famous criminal.

As he was on trial for what was then the most shocking set of murders anyone had ever seen, a music industry contact named Phil Kaufman with whom Manson had done time in the early '60s, got ahold of his self-recorded demos and compiled them onto a 14-track, 30-minute record. (Fun historical aside: Kaufman went on to a long career as a roadie and was part of the posse that stole Gram Parson's body and immolated it in the Joshua Tree National Park.) ESP-Disk, a New York City label specializing in free jazz and underground rock, released the album under the title Lie: The Love and Terror Cult. At the time, label founder Bernard Stollmam told The New York Times, "I think [Manson] should be examined, in the same way we examined Hitler. Nobody objects to Mein Kampf being published."

The songs were scratchy imitations of the anti-establishment flower-children music of the day, even if they were a little harsher than the ones Judy Collins was recording. According to District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi's bestseller Helter Skelter, the prosecution enlisted a folk music expert to analyze Manson's songs. "Somewhere along the line, Manson picked up a pretty good guitar beat," he reported. "Nothing original about the music. But the lyrics are something else. They contain an amazing amount of hostility ('you'll get yours yet,' etc.). This is rare in folk songs, except in the old murder ballads, but even there it is always in the past tense ... Very spooky"

After ESP folded in 1974, Lie was periodically out of print but available on bootleg. Meanwhile, low-quality prison recordings permeated the darker corners of record collecting and tape trading cultures, supposedly originating from places like San Quinten and Folsom prisons. Every now and then, a fringe label somehow got ahold of one and received a bit of press for releasing it. (Manson Direct, a site run by his two most reliable outside-world contacts has a list.) Compilations of songs, spoken-word poetry, phone interviews, diatribes, guitar tuning, tape hiss and occasional coughing made their way through double-cassette decks and CD burners, as Manson remained the object of both morbid fascination and a small truther-like movement that believes he is innocent and was defamed by The Establishment to be held up as an example of what happens when you take LSD and obsess over The Beatles.

Today, Manson's stuff is more available than ever. In 2005, ESP-Disk was revived from the massive graveyard of defunct labels and resumed issuing Lie, as a deluxe edition with bonus tracks (because every album released from 1965 to 1993 must, at least once, be rereleased as a deluxe edition with bonus tracks). Then, Magic Bullet Records, a real record label (home to All-American Rejects and Boy Sets Fire) started releasing Manson's prison output. Two albums have come out so far, with two more supposedly to come. As for the style and quality of Manson's prison work? L.A. Weekly's Paul T. Bradley, one of the few critics to evaluate a piece of it, dubbed it "a rudderless stream of poorly recorded brain diarrhea set to guitar-strumming."

And whereas Manson's songs were once only available through record shows, edgy urban CD stores and seedy friends with tape trading connections, the ones released by competent labels are now on iTunes, Amazon, Spodify, Rdio and Pandora--the same places where kids stream One Direction tracks, moms buy Adele songs and homebody freelance writers search for something like Bon Iver.

See also: Can You Tell the Difference Between Charles Manson's Biography and the Bee Gees'?

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10 comments
jonmichael02302
jonmichael02302

Manson may not be the best of decision makers but he sure can sing & play that guitar! For a man who's spent the past 40+ years in prison, he sure has managed to put out a lot of records! One just released last MONTH! The record is called "Charles Manson; The lost Vacaville Tapes," & man was I shocked at how good it was! Best Manson music I've ever heard!

mattylatty
mattylatty

@villagevoice *YAWN!* I suppose they should censor Phil Spector and Leadbelly's work from the library as well.

underworld.productio
underworld.productio

I just wanted to get some information across to the general public that I have released a New Charles Manson album consisting of 13 never before heard Charles Manson music that are from 1983 while at The Vacaville Medical Facility.

Charlie had everyone in his inner circle looking for this lost tape for over 20 years, well I have the music, and my production company has the legal rights to the music.

I have constant contact with Charlie, and he is extremely excited to be able to hear this music which he describes as "the best music he has EVER done". As can be heard in vocal conversations between him and I talking about, the album, and everything else.

This Album release will be unlike any other album ever put out of Charlie's music. The 33 1/3 LP has been up for sale since 10/3/13 and has been selling very well, and getting rave reviews. There will be a total of 1000 Albums pressed, however the first 200 Albums will be Limited Edition albums which will include items personally owned, played, worn, or written by Charles Manson himself. The first 200 Albums will be numbered, and produced on a tie dyed designed Album. The remaining 800 Albums from the first pressing will also have sporadic items from Charlie included in them also. All 1000 of the Albums will be accompanied by a 20 page, 12 x 12 color, glossy, photo book of unseen photos of Charlie, items owned by Charlie, and clothes worn by Charlie.

The Album is titled "The Lost Vacaville Tapes".

This will be a release like no other, and has been digitally remastered to eliminate any background noise, etc.

It is being released under my production label Underworld Productions, Inc. based out of Chicago Illinois.

For additional information or a peek at some of the stuff that you may see, and a sample of the music, feel free to take a peek at my website which is: prime minister of the underworld dot com

Should anyone have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me thru my website prime minister of the underworld dot com

AliLozoff
AliLozoff

@BillCorbett i'm about to snap mine. might have to watch episodes of Ferndale Tonight to get over today's media cluster%&@*.

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