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Now on vinyl: Charles Manson on guitar

Manuel Vasquez, co-owner of a Hollywood boutique, has compiled songs recorded in prison by the convicted mass murderer and created a new album with the killer's consent.

September 03, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Manuel Vasquez with copies of albums containing the songs of Charles Manson. Vasquez has befriended Manson in prison and believes his followers carried out the killings of August 1969 on their own.
Manuel Vasquez with copies of albums containing the songs of Charles Manson.… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Manuel Vasquez defends the unusual product he's selling. But not everyone's buying it.

Vasquez is the 26-year-old co-owner of a boutique who produces records in his spare time. His latest release features music written and performed by convicted mass murderer Charles Manson.

"I've gotten some hate mail from it. There are people not appreciating the release of music by him," he said. "People say they don't understand why I'd want to associate myself with this or why I would be interested in releasing it."

Even his parents tried to talk him out of pressing and selling the 40-minute vinyl album.

"They're in their mid-50s and they grew up with a fear of Charles Manson," Vasquez acknowledged. "They don't want to have anything to do with him. They asked why I was doing it and did I know what I was getting into — did I fully understand the extent of what it means?"

Vasquez's Highland Avenue shop sits squarely in the middle of where Manson's rampage played out Aug. 9, 1969.

Manson, 77, was accused of being the mastermind behind the murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, three of her friends and a teenager in Benedict Canyon. The next night, Manson Family members killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their Los Feliz home.

Manson and three members of his gang were convicted of the killings in 1971 and sentenced to death. That was reduced to life in prison the next year when the state Supreme Court abolished California's death penalty.

Vasquez said his interest in the case began when he was in junior high school and heard family members discuss it. He found himself wondering what Manson had done to become "branded the boogeyman of America," Vasquez said.

Vasquez researched the case on his own and decided he didn't believe the court's finding that Manson had issued the order to kill Tate, hairstylist Jay Sebring, screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and 18-year-old Steven Parent, a friend of the caretaker of the estate who lived on the property.

He said he believed Manson's followers had acted on their own and has befriended Manson in prison, communicating with him mostly through the mail.

"I usually tell people that the perspective they have of Manson is what he was convicted for in 1969, not for what he became in prison," Vasquez said. "He is somebody who is obsessed with ecology and saving the earth, the environment and animals. Life is his obsession, not death."

The album's title, a vulgarity that means wasting time, reflects Manson's own description of his guitar playing that was recorded in the 1980s in a room above the prison chapel at California Medical Facility in Vacaville. Manson later gave the tape recording to a friend who eventually passed it on to a third person. After years of "badgering" that person for it, Vasquez obtained the tape last year.

With Manson's encouragement, he said, he set about creating an album.

Vasquez turned to the funding website Kickstarter to raise several thousand dollars to pay to have the album cover printed and 500 copies of the record pressed. The Kickstarter donors are listed on the liner notes included with each album.

For the album cover, Vasquez enlarged a 3-inch-square drawing of a geometric design done by Manson for the back. He used a sketch of Manson done by a fellow inmate for the front.

In the six weeks that the album has been out, Vasquez said he has sold about 200 at the Beauty Is Pain Boutique he operates with his girlfriend, fashion designer Rio Warner. The records sell for $18 each; Manson, now incarcerated at Cochran State Prison, does not get a cut, Vasquez said.

"It's really low-fi, mono," he said of the recording's sound quality. Manson's half-dozen songs are untitled and are interspaced on the album with his poetry and commentary.

Vasquez's album is hardly the first to feature Manson's music. Over the years about 20 vinyl or CD compilations have been produced. The songs on the new album have never been released, however, Vasquez said.

According to Vasquez, Manson's nasal, bluesy folk music-like sound won't appeal to everyone.

"I don't think there was ever a chance for mass popularity of his music," he said. "Most people won't like it. It probably requires an acquired taste."

But his album is selling well. "They're going so fast I may have to do a second pressing," Vasquez said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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