Would using the music of Charles Manson in a movie about him glamorize the notorious mass murderer?
That's the dilemma of the makers of a planned feature film of "Helter Skelter," from the book by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor at Manson's trial. Using the Internet, the filmmakers will solicit public input about that and other music elements for the film, which is in pre-production. (A TV miniseries was made from the book in 1976.)
"Music's such an integral part of 'Helter Skelter,' a primary motivation behind the catastrophe," says Kurt Fethke, the film's producer.
Not only was the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" co-opted by Manson as his concept for a race war, but the choice of the house where his "family" members killed Sharon Tate and several friends in 1969 also was allegedly tied to a rejection of the aspiring musician's songs by producer Terry Melcher, who owned the house.
Manson's songs have achieved underground cult status courtesy of numerous bootleg releases over the years, and reached mainstream attention occasionally--most prominently when Guns N' Roses added its version of "Look at Your Game, Girl" as an unlisted bonus track to its 1993 album "The Spaghetti Incident."
That drew protests from victims' rights organizations and others for reasons Fethke takes seriously. While he says preliminary discussions have resulted in several prominent rock acts interested in contributing to the soundtrack, including possibly recording Manson songs, he's not entirely comfortable with the idea. Although Manson would not get royalties under a law preventing convicted felons from profiting from their crimes, such use could inadvertently boost his pop-culture profile.
"Manson obviously recorded a lot of songs," he says. "I just don't want to head down the path of doing Manson songs and glamorizing him. I don't want [this film] to lead to a bunch of kids running around with 'Free Charles Manson' T-shirts."
Fethke's Web site, \o7 www.helterskelterthemovie.com\f7 , to be activated later this week, will allow the public to weigh in on the topic, as well as on other possibilities for the soundtrack, such as appropriate songs and artists--and to offer thoughts about casting the film as well.
The site is being designed by Mach 18, an L.A. company that has produced sites for many music and film projects and is up this week for a Webby Award (the Internet equivalent of the Oscars) for its design of Erykah Badu's "Mama's Gun" promotion on her \o7 www.erykahbadu.com\f7 .
Mach 18 is also this week launching a new site for Babyface, \o7 www.babyfacemusic.com\f7 , with a groundbreaking attempt to be truly global. Using the new Simple Object Access Protocol technology still in the testing stages, the full site will be available in 10 languages.
A NEW DAWN: Dawn Robinson has the unfortunate image as someone who's left two groups at their peak.
She split from En Vogue just as the R&B act was preparing to follow up its huge "Funky Divas" album. Her reason: lack of creative control and meager financial rewards. And last year she exited Lucy Pearl, a collaboration with Tony Toni Tone's Raphael Saadiq and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, just as that group's debut album was taking off--although she says the teaming was meant to have a limited life and she was surprised when the other two carried on with another singer for concerts.
Now she's in an act she can't leave: She's finishing her debut solo album, to be released in September by Q Records, the label owned by the QVC cable channel.
"I'm a bit apprehensive but very excited," the singer says. "It's exhilarating to be free, so to speak, but I'm kind of used to having someone else with me, if nothing else to share ideas or in interviews to finish each others' sentences."
But she says that she feels no sense of stigma for having left those two notable acts.
"Not at all," she says. "I have nothing to prove. I did what I had to do for my life. Sometimes you have to leave situations."
For the new album, she says, she only has to satisfy herself.
"I've co-written 80% of the material we've recorded," she says. "There were no battles, there's room to spread my wings. There were great things I learned from both groups, and we had fun together. But now it's my turn."
She's been working with several successful producers, including Pajam ('N Sync, Sisqo), Tavin Potts (Christina Aguilera, Monica) and the team of Ivan Barios and Carvin Haggins (Jill Scott, Musiq). She's taking the opportunity to explore musical territories not limited to mainstream R&B.
Meanwhile, her Lucy Pearl partner Saadiq is starting work on his solo debut.
ROOTED IN: With renewed interest in such American music projects as the reissue of the "Harry Smith Anthology" and the success of the bluegrass-based "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack album, an even broader collection is coming with "American Roots Music," a four-CD companion to a PBS series of the same name.