A couple of evenings ago, for some reason or another, I got to reading about Charles Manson and his “Family” on the web. I had read the book Helter Skelter decades ago and hadn’t thought much about that case since. But, as noted, my interest was drawn back in, and with the Internet, we can dive in as deep as we like.
A few thoughts occurred to me on reading this material. First, Manson’s personality type seems to be the Seven, with his emotional health down around the pathological level. Not surprising given his horrific childhood.
Consistent with my theory that all cult leaders are Sevens, Manson’s Family certainly seemed to fit the same unhealthy-self-styled-Messiah-Seven-plus-his-devoted-followers pattern that describes Scientology, Hari Krishna, World Wide Church of God, People’s Temple, and pretty much every other cult I’ve ever looked into. So not much interesting or new there.
A second thought came to me reading about ATWA — Manson’s “Air, Trees, Water, Animals” organization. Basically, the psychopathic, murderous Manson Family also happens to fancy itself as proponents of love, holism, and nature. This perverse humor reminded me of Right to Life people who demonstrate their love of human life by bombing abortion clinics. Also brought to mind the American public and both political parties who, in 2002, listened to Mr. Bush’s “We’ll bomb Iraq into democracy and they’ll thank us for it” speeches and didn’t so much as blink.
But the above two thoughts are dead-end ones for me. That is, I’ve “been there, done that” on those thoughts. So they don’t interest me much anymore. But a third thought did interest me.
I thought about Charles Manson getting out of prison in March of 1967, and walking straight into ground zero of San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.” Through 1967, Manson had spent more than half of his life in institutions, including prisons, reform schools, and orphanages. That Spring, Manson was the human equivalent of those crazy self-raised elephants about which I podcasted a few months ago.
With 100,000 young “flower children” from across America and around the world flocking to Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of 1967, the predator Manson found easy pickings among the more troubled and insecure of these children. Thus began the “Family”.
But what really interested me about San Francisco’s 1967 Summer of Love is that that summer marked the public emergence of psychedelic rock. If you’re not sure what that is, watch this short video. That’s it right there — in style, lyrics, and melody.
The interesting thing to me about psychedelic rock is that it is so obviously a child of the Sixties. In some way, it helps define what we mean by “the Sixties”, as distinguished from the “Fifties”. For example, some of those 60s versus 50s distinctions include:
Another way to put it is: picture yourself as a middle-aged parent in 1967. You’re one of those crew-cut “gray-flanneled” “organization” types who went to college, got married and started a family in the suburbs in the 1950s. You’re sitting there in front of your TV, watching Ed Sullivan or some such show, when all of a sudden nice Palo Alto-private school-bred Grace Slick pops on the screen in that video linked to above. As you fall out of your chair, you’re thinking: “What the f@$k is that!?”
Anyway, this reminded me of a theory about which I have podcasted concerning music. Basically, my theory is that music is simply a form of emotional communication. If that communication “speaks to us”, then we experience a pleasant physical response, such a “goose pimples” or tingles. But if it doesn’t speak to us, the “music” can feel like painful noise.
In 1967, when psychedelic rock emerged in all its full Fifties-burnin’ glory, I suspect that this music spoke movingly to much of American youth, but at the same time, harshly to their parents and grandparents.
So that observation then got me wondering: Does every American turning produce a new form of music that helps define that turning? When I say “turning”, I am referring to the social framework described by authors Strauss and Howe in their book, The Fourth Turning. As I have written, I believe that that book predicts an upcoming People vs. Corporations crisis in America.
As I noted in the above paper, these turnings give rise to the notion of generations, i.e. Boomers, Generation X, and so on. During every turning, one of the generations is going through its youth — i.e. 20s, give or take. I believe it is during youth — after childhood but before middle age — that music is able to speak most clearly to us. That is, as youths we are most open to identifying with the current emergent genre.
So my question about American turnings and music can be restated as: Does every generation of American youth have its own unique genre of music that its parents might not much like, but which genre showed staying power?
Psychedelic rock fits this profile nicely. Its staying power is evidenced by the bands the Yardbirds and Pink Floyd. The psychedelic Yardbirds of the 1960s morphed into the hard rock Led Zeppelin. Similarly, the psychedelic Syd Barrret-led Pink Floyd of the 1960s grew into the “ponderous” Floyd of the 1970s that many of us fondly remember.
So there we have one piece of the puzzle:
What about the other turnings? Do they all have defining genres of music? Read on …