The Beach Boys and Charles Manson are both synonymous with 1960s California for two very different reasons, representing both the good as well as the horrendous that The Golden State represented. The west coast music scene was a fishbowl which bizarrely meant that somehow, the Beach Boys found themselves recording a track written by a murderous cult leader.
Manson is the most notorious cult leader that the world has ever seen, his presence has left a scar on Hollywood ever since the brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate which the ‘Manson Family’ carried out upon his instructions in 1969. However, Manson’s dream wasn’t to make it as a ‘cult leader’ to start with, he initially wanted to become the next big musician of the sixties before his head got turned to the darker side.
In the summer of 1968, Manson thought that he’d landed his big break when two of his ‘family’ members, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey, were hitchhiking before being picked up by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. He then stayed the night with the women at his home in Pacific Palisades who, in turn, told Manson all about their experience when they returned to him.
The following day, shortly after Wilson’s encounter with the two women, Manson decided to make an appearance at the drummer’s house and he knew the musician’s weak spot for women. With that in mind, he knew what to bring as his welcome gift — which was like catnip to Wilson, leading to a friendship being born.
The pair then grew closer as the months passed and, on occasion, they worked together in the studio. Thanks to this friendship, Manson’s name started to get more notorious in the Los Angeles music scene. The Beach Boys then made the decision to buy a song from Manson titled ‘Cease to Exist’. However, Manson only agreed to the sale on the terms that would they would not change the track from its original format. However, Wilson decided that the song didn’t suit the band and instead transformed the material from being a bluesy number to a classic Beach Boys ditty—additionally changing the title and some of the lyrical content.
The track was renamed as ‘Never Learn To Love’, a song which was released as the B-Side to ‘Bluebirds over the Mountain’ in December 1968. Following its release, Manson believed if he did get the credit for this track then it could have been a career-changing moment.
Manson was beyond angered and even approached Wilson with a single bullet in his hand according to songwriter Van Dyke Parks. “What’s this?” Wilson allegedly asked, “It’s a bullet,” Manson reportedly retorted before adding, “Every time you look at it, I want you to think how nice it is your kids are still safe.”
Parks then said that Wilson wasn’t scared of Manson and went to “beat the living shit” out of Manson, allegedly reducing him to tears “in front of a lot of hip people”.
The whole incident is one that Wilson would rather have forgotten about and was arguably his darkest moment. “As long as I live, I’ll never talk about that,” Wilson told Rolling Stone in 1976 of his relationship with the Manson family and he stayed true to his word — he died just three years on from uttering this sentence and never opened up on that period of his life.