Charles Manson Now by Marlin Marynick is a autobiographical tale of the author’s misadventures trying to meet and befriend the most infamous man ever, Charles Manson. The book is also an attempt to show Manson as he is today and the thoughts of his closest friends on the inside of the prison system, as well as the outside, and ends with the meeting of Marynick and Manson inside Corcoran Prison in California.
The name Charles Manson itself brings many feelings out of many people. It’s a name so infamous and vilified in the public media that the truth behind the man is usually overshadowed by hyperbole, so much so that the truth of the man is rarely glimpsed. He is usually seen as a raging psychopathic, lunatic, mass-murderer or a counter-culture iconic anti-hero. Marynick does a great job of stripping past the public perceptions and letting him experience Manson on his own terms. It’s not a very enviable position, and while it’s a path Marynick didn’t deliberately set out on, but didn’t shy away from it once he was on it.
The book follows a rather simple format. There is first an introduction written by Charles Manson which has nothing to do with the book or anything at all, and is pretty hilarious. The book proper starts here and has a chapter by Marynick alternated with a chapter having some of Charlie’s writings, and continues in this fashion until the end where a brief history of Manson’s life is given.
Marynick describes himself from the outset as an outsider, and into weird things following his mother’s suicide. Shortly after this he found a copy of Helter Skelter, the first link in his life to Manson. He describes his time in school as being misunderstood in school due to his eccentricities, and how his teachers and peers perceived him to be evil. This led him to see how public misconception can cloud people’s judgements when it comes to the truth of an individual.
Marynick then recalls about how he became a psychiatric nurse and relates several strange and horrifying tales about some of his patients over the years. He balances this by reiterating the point that he believes part of the therapeutic process is by him having a true bond or friendship with these people, without judging them, and treating them with as much dignity as possible. With some of the stories I wondered how anyone could stand to be in the mental health profession, much less be friends with the people he described. However, from my own experiences with mental illness with both myself and people in my family, I respect and understand his viewpoint and commitment to his profession, as well as it’s importance to the lives of his patients.
Marynick during his work meets someone who has claimed to written to Charles Manson. Marynick reads the letters and decides to make contact with Manson himself. It’s at this point the main story gets rolling and becomes increasingly bizarre and intense. Marlin from this point makes friends with a couple friends of Manson inside Corcoran and talks to his friend Stanton LaVey (adopted son of Anton LaVey) about The Manson Family’s ties to the Church of Satan.
Stanton, for his part, comes across as quite possibly insane, and a bit of a pompous douchebag. He speaks about how the Church of Satan follows him around in helicopters everywhere he goes and how there is a Satanic plot to control America. He doesn’t really give a whole lot of details, supposedly for fear of his life, but does say that the Manson Family is an off-shot of the Church of Satan (family members Tex Watson and Susan Atkins were both former members of the Church of Satan), and that the killing of Sharon Tate and her family was ordered by the Church. Stanton also claims that Richard Rameriez had ties to the Church of Satan and was doing their bidding. This part of the book is the hardest to digest. It sounds like something out of a paranoid 1970’s horror flick, but it also for some reason comes across as very sincere. Either Stanton is telling the truth or he’s a paranoid schizophrenic. One of the most interesting things though is that Stanton flat out admits that the Church of Satan is about the worship of the dark lord. A lot of apologists for Satanism try to say it’s about the worship of “self” or the “earth”. It should be noted that according to Christian texts that Satan is about the worship of self and indulging in behaviors that are contradictory to God’s teachings and basic common sense. Satan appeals to the ego, tricking people into beliefs and habits that are destructive to them. Satanism espouses the same viewpoints as the villain in Christian texts, and is exactly why it takes it’s name from him. It’s not “Earthism” or “Selfism”, it’s “Satanism”. What it worships is flat out stated in the name.
Marynick then talks to current followers of Manson, a girl named by Charlie as “Star” and an older man named “Graywolf”. It’s hard to believe that people knowing what they know about Manson would follow his “teachings” in our current day and age. Star and Graywolf live by the teaching of Manson of “ATWA”, that is “Air, Trees, Water, Animals”. It’s the hippie culture given another name, made worse by the rantings of a schizophrenic. Marynick doesn’t judge them though, he paints them as nice people who were kind to him. He lets the reader infer for themselves how messed up these people are, especially when Star expresses that Manson’s desire to preside over the armed forces of the US and designate each branch of it to protect each part of ATWA (i.e. the Army for animals, Navy for water, etc.). Star says how “ahead of everyone else” Manson is. This is one of the scarier parts of the book because you realize how much power Manson still has over people, all these years later.
The author then talks to a close friend of Manson, known as “the authority” who relates the story that Manson did not order the execution of Tate or her friends. He says that it was a botched drug deal between Tex and one of Tate’s guests that ended in bloodshed. After this happened, the media made Charles Manson out to be more than what he was: a master manipulator and embodiment of evil incarnate. Charlie, for his part, embraced the role and thus the media circus happened around him that still exists to this day. Marynick doesn’t say whether or not he believes this to be true, but he seems to believe it reasonable, and that Manson has been imprisoned unjustly.
In the end Marynick meets Manson and the result is a bit anti-climatic. Marynick doesn’t ask Manson any real tough questions(besides asking Manson about his past as a pimp, to which Manson talks about the only women he pimped was his mother who sacrificed so much for him), which fits with Marynick’s M.O. to be friends with the guy. He is successful with that as he and Charlie have a nice visit and Manson asks him to come back the next day.
It’s a well-written and interesting book that moves at a pretty brisk pace. The only problems I had with the book is that it is called Charles Manson Now. The title leads the reader to believe Manson will be the primary subject. It’s more about Marynick’s quest to meet the man more than anything else. Meeting Manson would be more apt. Another problem I had is that Marynick is overtly sympathetic to Manson’s self-inflicted plight The book has a feeling of being in love with the idea of meeting Manson and how “cool” all this evil stuff is. Marynick and others comment on Manson’s thoughts and how ingenious they are. It tries to paint Manson as a brilliant but troubled man whose bold ideas and circumstances beyond his control landed him in prison.
All of that is undercut by the inclusions of Manson’s rantings; he goes out of his (as per usual) way to show how unhinged he is. Most of his stories involve prisoners he knows who have raped and killed without provocation in order to prove how “tough” they are. It’s clear from any of his writings or rantings that Manson is deeply disturbed and downright evil. Some will try to make the case that Manson does this to reflect back to the world what they think of him. However, it should be noted that an innocent person will not go out of their way to make the entire world believe they are guilty of some of the worst crimes imaginable, and actively endorse killers and rapists. One story involves a person named “Butcherman”. The book doesn’t make clear if Butcherman was a real person or just a figment of Manson’s mind, but it involves a rapist-murderer who committed his crimes to show a woman he was Jesus (the problems with this are self-evident). While in prison, a guard mouths off to Butcherman in his cell, and Butcherman cuts his own ears off, eats them, and spits the chews remains at the guard, telling him “If I can do this to me, imgaine what I can do to you!”. Manson thinks this guy is a strong-willed heroic figure. Given Butcherman’s crimes (real or imaginary), it’s hard to see him as heroic, much less the genius Manson believes. The idiot pulled a Van Gogh on both his ears in an environment where hearing and seeing are both vital to survival.
With that said, the book is worth reading if you are into Charles Manson and his impact on pop-culture. It’s also worth reading to a have a different, more humanistic, portrait of Charles Manson as a person versus his media perception. Manson is a fascinating person and a discussion of him is worthy for several books but it’s irresponsible to glamorize the man, and Charles Manson Now, despite good intentions, crosses this line at several points in the story
If you wish, you can write to Charles Manson.
Charles Manson B-33920
P.O. Box 3476 4A4R51
Corcoran, CA 93212