El Coyote is Movieland’s idea of a Mexican restaurant: The lighting is garish, the margaritas stiff. Waitresses clad in petticoated, off-the-shoulder cotton fiestas have been serving, as they call it, “authentic California-style Mexican food” to actors and others since 1931, but the blood-red leather booth in the back played host to its most infamous party on the night of August 8, 1969, when actress Sharon Tate dined there with Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger. Later that night, the group would be slain by followers of Charles Manson in Tate’s home at 10050 Cielo Drive. Tall, blond, and forever gripping a camcorder, odd-teur Jon Aes-Nihil (director of the gory cult classic Manson Family Movies) gathered his unusual band of miscreants for “the Last Supper” this past Saturday night, as he has done every August 8 since 1979. Manson’s long-standing appeal? “It was the first time the hippies struck back,” one diner commented. Or was it?
Never a true crime buff nor serial-killer dilettante, I had long viewed Manson symbolically — a guitar-strumming ecoterrorist with a Messiah complex, who effectively extinguished the Age of Aquarius, but on this, the 40th anniversary of the Tate/LaBianca slayings, a different picture emerged.
Manson, suspected of being both an FBI informant and agent provocateur, may well have been a patsy. “The FBI took out the Black Panthers, the Yippies, the Weather Underground, and it’s a contention that the murders were orchestrated,” author Adam Gorightly pointed out between sips from a margarita. Manson’s connections to military intelligence, the Church of Scientology, government-sponsored mind-control experiments and the ’60s occult underground ripple through The Shadow Over Santa Susana, Gorightly’s definitive Manson tome, recently rereleased by Creation Books.
Manson referred to his family as “slippies,” and only grew his hair long in the months preceding the murders; but because of Manson, “it was a long time before you saw longhairs portrayed in a positive light.”
Aes-Nihil’s group of historians, writers, musicians and filmmakers traded stories of the weird, twisted Hollywood of old, attracting the attention of a pudgy industry type who, with no prompting, described the “peaceful vibe” surrounding Tate’s house when Trent Reznor recorded “Helter Skelter” there with a not-yet-famous Marilyn Manson. Archivist Aes-Nihil (short for “aesthetic nihilism”) poked his ever-present camera in the man’s face, adding to the hundreds of hours of Manson-related footage he’s acquired over the decades, smirking all the while.
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In all the years I’d known Aes-Nihil, I’d always thought it was the Family’s creep factor that had attracted him. But “there’s infinitely more to the Manson thing than Tex Watson killing people,” he explained. “I’m obsessed with the effect the murders had on the ’60s, since I was there, part of a group somewhat like the Family. When the story came out, we didn’t believe it for a second.”
A man of few words, he resumed shooting the party’s chatter: Church of Satan founder Anton La Vey had cursed Tate’s husband, director Roman Polanski, after they’d had a falling-out on the set of Rosemary’s Baby. Drug-addled orgies at the house on Cielo Drive were filmed and later sold on the black market by crooked LAPD cops, who’d stolen them from the crime scene. Family member Patricia Krenwinkel, in correspondence with researcher John Judge, swore she had been a victim of mind control. The acid Manson gave his followers was allegedly of the same, government-issued variety “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz had been dosed with while in the military. Standard dinner-party conversation.
Gathering the assembled for a postdinner portrait, Aes-Nihil continued: “Charlie and Sharon [Tate] have been baptized in the well of eternity via mass culture and universal myth. As for Charlie, he’s a modern-day Nietzsche.” This is apparent, he says, in Manson’s unedited interviews. “If a lot of what Charlie has said had been attributed to someone who is politically correct, it would be hailed as genius.”
I heard him out, knowing that many people don’t, and smiled for his camera.