Cults

From the mid 70s through the mid 80s, I did a lot of driving. I was making cold calls, primarily in California. All over California. I must have made 2-3,000 cold calls. There have been times in my life I refer to as photographic moments. When what you have witnessed is permanently embossed in your mind.

I was driving in downtown San Francisco on a small street or alleyway behind a huge complex on Geary Street. In retrospect, the date was fairly easy to narrow – a few days after November 18, 1978. It was an old synagogue as I recall, and in the back had to have been easily over 100 old cars – probably closer to 200, with crates and trunks that looked ready for shipment. I remember seeing a lot of wooden crates with addresses painted – or stenciled – on them.

It was truly a strange sight, and then it hit me. Those trunks and wooden shipping boxes would never be shipped.  It was the back of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, and I realized that probably every owner of all those was probably now dead.

On that November day, he and over 900 of his followers literally drank the Kool Aid, laced with cyanide.

When they were in San Francisco, they were known and courted by many politicians, from Jerry Brown on down. Jim Jones delivered the votes. Of course, after that November day, you couldn’t find one who would talk about their association. But in Washington today, there are some prominent Democrats at the pinnacle of power, aided by Jim Jones and his followers back in the 70s.

I was having lunch today with a friend who was a former newspaper photographer for decades, and he was saying that he knew one of the journalists killed along with Congressman Leo Ryan by Jones’ followers at that Guyana airport.

Then today I was looking at a program on DirectTV on the Realz channel, about Charles Manson. Some time ago, I wrote here on how crazy the year 1968 was. You think these days are tumultuous, these rioters today are amateurs compared to those in the 1960s.  Well, 1969 was close behind. It had the good and the bad.  Among the bad? I would say this was California’s most notorious murder since the Black Dahlia in 1947.

And the Tate-LaBianca murders were all orchestrated by Charles Manson.  And in the Reelz program, I learned something new about that day 51 years ago. Manson, besides having a Messianic Complex as all cult leaders, believed that he was quite a song writer. A couple of his followers knew the Beach Boy’s Dennis Wilson, who led them to record producer Terry Melcher.

In an article published that year, hilariously titled “Dennis Wilson: I Live With 17 Girls” (boy, did that living arrangement backfire!), Wilson tells Record Mirror: “I told them [the girls] about our involvement with the Maharishi and they told me they too had a guru, a guy named Charlie who’d recently come out of jail after 12 years. He drifted into crime, but when I met him I found he had great musical ideas. We’re writing together now. He’s dumb, in some ways, but I accept his approach and have learnt from him.”

At first Dennis Wilson was taken by Charles Manson, and his unorthodox lifestyle. Manson was a struggling musician, and Wilson provided him the types of contacts necessary to achieve his dreams of stardom.

Wilson introduced him to record producer Terry Melcher, who Manson later felt slighted by; his home was the scene of the tragic Tate murders after an enraged Manson mistakenly believed Melcher still lived there (my highlighting).

Wilson also financed recording sessions with Manson and his older brothers Brian and Carl, who produced approximately 10 songs for a debut album — the results of which most likely will never see the light of day. (The perverse possibilities of Brian’s nostalgic, honeyed production mixed with Manson’s message are almost too much to bear.)

In August 1968, Manson threatened Wilson with a bullet, and the relationship swiftly broke down.

Sharon Tate and her friends were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As were Rosemary and Leo LaBianco.

All cult leaders, besides the Messianic Complex, seem to isolate their vulnerable followers from the rest of society. Manson and his followers lived here.

This was one of the stranger ones in my area of the country.

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