Why the Beatles’ White Album Was Played at Charles Manson’s Trial
In 1969, terror and paranoia swept through the film and music communities of Los Angeles after actress Sharon Tate, Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and 18-year-old Steven Parent were brutally murdered in a house on Cielo Drive.
In a bizarre twist to an already sensational story, the Beatles' White Album wound up being played in court during the subsequent murder trial of Charles Manson, who claimed to have planned the killing spree because of messages he believed were buried in the music.
Manson was the self-styled leader of a group of quasi-hippie misfits called the Family. He had once entertained notions of a career in music and had long been a fringe character in L.A.'s music scene, hanging around with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson and even recording a demo at his expense.
Manson's paranoid delusions eventually led him to conceive the notion that the lyrics from certain Beatles songs – most notably "Helter Skelter," "Revolution 1," "Revolution 9," "Blackbird" and "Piggies," all from the White Album – were calling him to stir up racial unrest in order to bring about a race riot in which the black population would rise up against the white population and topple the existing order, creating a situation in which he and the Family would be installed as the new hierarchy.
Accordingly he made plans for what he called "Helter Skelter" – an elaborately preposterous scheme in which he hoped to foment unrest by murdering prominent white citizens and blaming those murders on the black population. The Tate murders were part of a string of killings the Manson Family committed toward that end before being apprehended and brought to trial.
The White Album was played in court on Jan. 19, 1971, during the Manson trial for the murder of Tate. Jurors listened intently in order to ascertain if the Fab Four had, indeed, called Manson to his nefarious deeds through song, but when it turned out that – surprise! – Manson and his followers were murderously crazy, they were subsequently convicted and sentenced to death.
The death penalty was abolished in California in 1972, which automatically reduced Manson's sentence to life in prison. He had been denied parole on several occasions until his death in 2017.
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