Hear me, o healing world: Charles Manson is dead, gone. In the words of the real Jesus: It is finished. Reports are that in his handwritten will, Manson wrote: “I'm not in the best spot to rest in peace.”
“Good riddance!” crowed Geraldo Rivera, on national television when the end finally came. (Like him or not, Geraldo did one of the best in-person interviews with Manson ever, back in 1986. “Come on Charlie, stop bullshitting me!” he shouted, to Manson's face. To which all Charlie could answer was a quiet, polite “OK.”)
But book publishers will always love Manson, the way they do Hitler; no one can say when the endless flow of books on these two fascinating killers will ever (i.e., never) end. This new book is “the real deal on the real wheel,” to use a Charlie-ism: Dianne Lake's Member of the Family (William Morrow, $27.99) is a firsthand reminiscence of life with the Manson Family at the Spahn Ranch, back when she was 15 and her Manson-given name was Snake. (Deborah Herman is her co-author.)
Like Susan Atkins' memoir, Child of Satan, Child of God, this book comes from the POV of a religious, born-again ex-Mansonite. The difference is, unlike the repentant-but-guilty knife wielder Atkins, Lake was no sinner while she was in the Family; she was just a happy hippie who was perhaps too eager to please everybody. As the book records, she never left the commune, even after realizing her peace-and-love Family had soured into something malignant.
Chalk it all up to misguided, '60s hippie child-rearing. Lake recalls her artist father dropping out and finding drugs before uprooting his family from their middle-class life in Minnesota, then getting so caught up in the flower-power moment (circa '67) that he invited a slew of strangers to move into the family home in Santa Monica: a prelude to Dianne's future life with the communal Manson clan.
Yes, the book is a horror story, but the real horror comes late in the game, following the initially “nice” meeting of Charlie and his girls, who'd all so easily seduced her: “There was something different about this group of girls and about Charlie. … They were affectionate like best friends … it didn't seem fake … they weren't trying to outdo each other in their outrageousness, as was true … at the Hog Farm,” another L.A. commune of the time.
It's good to remember that the late '60s was an age of hippie communes all across the country; the Manson Family just turned out to be obsessed with starting a violent, right-wing racial revolution. They sure looked and sounded like hippies, though, which must have confused the counterculture.
The book's highlights include Lake's firsthand memories of day-to-day Family rivalries, and her own response to the surrounding descent into madness. If you've ever wondered what the innocent Mansonites thought about the guilty ones, then read this book:
“As I struggled to keep my emotions in check, I found I was less surprised by how Susan and Leslie [Van Houten] gleefully described their roles in these murders. In the time I'd known them, I'd never fully believed in their ability to feel for others. Patty [Krenwinkel], however, was a different story. Learning … of her involvement … left me heartbroken.”
Lake's in-depth chapter on the time Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson spent with Manson is worth the price of the book, highlighting the incredible fact that Dennis considered Manson to be his guru, mere months after the band had been hanging out with The Beatles' guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in the summer of '68. This must have blown Manson's mind at the time, but he used the connection to his advantage, naturally.
“Charlie made sure if Dennis needed some loving, we were there for that, too,” Lake notes, summing up the veteran pimp's Family hustle with Wilson.
It didn't work out, of course. “As hard as he tried, nothing [Manson] could do would suddenly produce a record deal. … It seemed his power … did not extend to the record business,” she records.
The souring of Charlie's musical dreams, of making it as a rock star, spelled the beginning of the end.
Lake took no part in any murder, but she does recall noticing Van Houten coming home early one morning (“she had been out all night”) mysteriously burning “a brown purse and some credit cards” in the fireplace, “which started to smell awful.”