Hate mail and threats of litigation have befallen a Hollywood shop owner selling previously unreleased music recorded by convicted murderer Charles Manson, in the 1980s, in the prison chapel of the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
Manuel Vasquez, a 26-year-old LA native who in his spare time produces music, says the project was the culmination of years of interest in the infamous cult leader.
"I just couldn’t believe that one person could be public enemy number one and be the embodiment of all evil. I had to look into it for myself, and what I found wasn’t as extreme as everyone had always conveyed," he said, adding that Manson deserves a retrial.
Vasquez co-owns the Beauty is Pain Boutique with his girlfriend, fashion designer Rio Warner. In 2008, the pair opened the Hollywood shop not far from where Manson’s grisly rampage went down in August 1969. Manson was accused of ordering the Aug. 9, 1969, murder of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others at a Benedict Canyon home in the hills above Los Angeles. The next night, the gang killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their Los Feliz home, where the words "Death to Pigs" and "Helter Skelter" – a reference to a Beatle’s song – were written on the walls.
Manson and three of his followers were convicted of the killings in 1971. They were sentenced to death, but that was reduced to life in prison the next year when the state Supreme Court abolished the death penalty. In April, Manson was denied parole for the 12th time.
It was no surprise to Vasquez that the latest release of Manson’s music garnered push back, but said it was meant to celebrate the now-77 year old's art. Drawings by Manson and another inmate make up the album's front and back covers, pictured below.
I see it as a time capsule of a time in history and of a very misunderstood man," he said. Vasquez describes the 40-minute long album titled "Just F---ing Around" as "off-beat blues that just keeps going on and morphing into difference psychedelic chambers" with "some really good, funny stuff."
Manson’s music references incarceration, freedom, ecology and the environment, Vasquez said, adding that the album doesn’t focus on death or destruction, as many may assume. The separate tracks on the album have been left untitled, a decision Vasquez made to keep from “coming up with my own conclusions” about Manson’s guitar playing, songwriting and spoken word.
Vasquez produced the album through his label, Records Ad Nauseum, with the help of 27 backers on the project-funding website Kickstarter. Two of those backers pledged $1,000 or more toward the $4,000 project."People really liked being able to be a part of getting this historical document made," Vasquez said.
Those who donated to the album’s production received credit on the album’s insert, which includes photos of Manson and members of his Family. Donors who gave $50 or more received "a vial of sacred soil" from Spahn Ranch, the primary residence of the Manson Family during the late 1960s. Still, Vasquez said, he didn’t think they were going to raise enough money, which took about a month to collect."There really wasn’t much support, more people were going against it then for it," he said.
The album was released in May, but Vasquez said no one was paying attention to it until a reporter from the Los Angeles Times visited the shop on a fashion assignment. Vasquez seized the chance to show off his new project.
"From then on, it blew up," he said.
Vasquez said he expected the spotlight to bring backlash, but threats of litigation from a man claiming to own the rights to one of Manson’s poems, printed in the album insert, came as a surprise.
"I think it’s totally bogus," Vasquez said.
The release has nearly sold out. Vasquez printed 500 albums and sold 300 – at $18 a piece – to buyers from as far away as Australia, Japan and Belgium, he said. The response has Vasquez mulling a second printing.
"In the mass population I could see people wanting to view it as a weird, freaky, morbid thing," he said. "But I also think of people wanting to hear some true outlaw music.
"A lot of people just do this or they do that, and Manson really does what he says. He has strong convictions."
The album’s sole singer and songwriter, who won’t receive any royalties from the pressings, had praise for the release.
"I sent him a record and he sent me [a letter] back saying that he liked it," Vasquez said.
Personally, I think this record producer is trying to present Manson as some kind of renegade folk hero. He is exploiting a most heinous crime for his own gain. Wrong, wrong! Celebrity is something that Manson feeds on and hero worship is the icing on the cake for him. Are we approving what Manson and his gang perpetrated now?? Tell me what has gone wrong with western society. Where are the values we grew up with?? HELP!!