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Charles Manson

"Charlie called me when he was arrested ... He said 'please put out my music'"

--By Mike Jahn               

The following is the text of my August 23, 1970, syndicated column, which was distributed to daily newspapers in nearly every major American city by The New York Times Special Features, and printed in their Sunday papers.

Phil Kaufman is a friendly, slightly plump man of 35 who has spent the past months hustling a record album by Charles Manson, the man accused of murdering eight persons, including the actress, Sharon Tate.
And he has done it as successfully as one can hustle such a product. He was in New York recently to sign the agreement and the album, called "Lie," will soon be distributed nationally by ESP-Disk, a New York avant-garde jazz record company.

"Lie" was recorded in the years 1967-1969 and consists of 13 songs by Manson, accompanied by members of the Family. The jacket is a reproduction of the Life magazine cover of Manson, with the "f" cut out of the Life logo. It was released through underground channels in Los Angeles and San Francisco several months ago, after established record companies declined to become involved.

The agreement with ESP-Disk will give the record its first national distribution, and depending on the extent to which Manson is successful at becoming the Caryl Chessman of the 1970s, it may even make some money.

Kaufman was in the large apartment that serves both as headquarters for ESP and home for the company's owner, Bernard Stollman. His long brown hair was brushed back and he talked rapidly and somewhat nervously through a large handlebar mustache while Stollman tried to fall asleep on a studio couch and two underground press writers set up an elaborate camera and tripod.
"I met Charlie in prison, at Terminal Island in San Pedro," said Kaufman. "I was there for bringing in dope from Mexico, Charlie for stealing a check from the mail."
"Charlie got out in 1967, I got out in 1968. When I was released I went to live with him for two months. I tried to get him to record, but he was always too busy fooling around in the desert. He could have had a recording contract, but as soon as it was time to sign the papers he would split for the desert. He would never stay in one place long enough. Everybody who heard his stuff wanted to record him, though."

Whether this is true is beyond verification, since people who were involved with Manson on a business level no longer talk about it. However, an "informed source" says that those persons who had considered recording Manson were more interested in him on account of his being the center of a weird scene out in the desert than in his music.

Kaufman kept pressing Manson to record, he says, and as a result they had a falling out, and Kaufman left the Family. "Charlie called me when he was arrested (in the Tate murder case). He said 'please put out my music.' When he was conducting his own defense he was only allowed three phone calls a day. He used to call me every day, five days a week. He was very anxious for his music to be heard."

"I took the tape to every record company in L.A.," Kaufman said. "They all said 'hey, you got a nice thing, kid, but it's too hot to handle."

So he raised $3,000, pressed 2,000 copies of the album himself, and had it distributed on the West Coast by the same people who did the first underground album, "Great White Wonder," a collection of pirated Dylan tapes. He has not yet gotten his money back on it, he says, but hopes that the ESP distribution deal will take care of that situation.

Why did Manson change his mind about putting out a record? "He thought it would offset the yellow journalism. You know, it's gentle music. It's not slash, maim, kill," Kaufman said.

Why does Kaufman persist in hustling the Manson album? "Because he asked me to. We were in jail together, you know." Kaufman claims he only wants his $3,000 back, and any profits over that will go to Manson. However, great music business fortunes are made in song publishing, and the publishing rights to Manson's songs are owned by Phil Kaufman and Bernard Stollman.

Why does Stollman want to have Charles Manson on his roster when every other record company has turned him down?

"I believe that if Charles Manson had come to me a year or two ago with the same project, I would have put it out," he says. "Now that he's notorious, it's doubly important for the album, to come out. It gives us a portrait of a human being who has been painted by the media in very one-dimensional terms. I think he should be examined, in the same way we examined Hitler. Nobody objects to 'Mein Kampf being published."

"Anyway," Stollman adds, "we're a label that's known for sticky properties. When I told our distributors about the Manson album, nobody was surprised."

What he says is definitely true. Of all the record companies in existence, ESP-Disk is one of the few that have never sacrificed integrity for commercial purposes. They let their artists do what they want, and sales be damned. Also, with such groups as the Fugs on the roster, Charles Manson is not so strange an addition.

Musically, the Manson album is less than appealing. The recording is not very good. There is one song, "Look At Your Game, Girl," which sounds quite professional. Manson's voice sounds surprisingly good, somewhere between Jose Feliciano and Dr. John, the Night Tripper. The rest of the album is generally poor. Musically, it's a conglomeration that becomes a droning noise after a short while.
Lyrically, it might be called first-level acid poetry. Rather sophomoric, like what you might expect from someone who just discovered LSD and a guitar.
All the backup is done by members of the Family, Kaufman says, and they never will make it as studio musicians. The most interesting facet of the record is that it reinforces press accounts of life with Charlie, such as living off day-old food thrown out by supermarkets, described in the song, "Garbage Dump." Still, as a contribution to the sounds of the seventies, it all seems a dubious enterprise.

When I was leaving home to go talk to Kaufman, I asked my wife if she felt I should tape the interview. "Tape it," she said. "You can always sell the tape as a record." Maybe I should have.

In the course of finding and downloading the cover of "Lie," I tripped over the following URL. I guess this is what inmates do these days instead of making licence plates -- they develop websites. www.squeakyfromme.org

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