‘It was a set up’: Exploring the Beach Boys connection to Charles Manson’s grisly crime

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Was the legendary Sharon Tate murder, though typically chalked up to random violence, more closely related to the Beach Boys than anybody guessed? Al Jardine discusses the connections, and how Charles Manson’s failed music career may have lead to this viscous 1969 crime.

Manson had met with Beach Boys associate Terry Melcher the year before, trying to get some of his music published, Jardine says. Melcher, however, turned Manson down — but not before inviting Manson over to his home at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angles. That house was subsequently leased to Roman Polanski and Tate, only to become a grisly murder scene at the hands of the Manson Family on August 9, 1969.

“I never talked to Terry about that,” Jardine tells Artie Lange. “I imagine he must have just been stigmatized. Can you imagine?”

Manson Family member Susan Atkins later claimed that the crime was meant to send a message to Melcher, though others have disputed that narrative. Manson and Melcher were introduced by Jardine’s late bandmate Dennis Wilson, who had become fascinated with Manson after what Wilson thought was a chance meeting with Manson Family members Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey.

“He moved in on Dennis; it was a set up,” Jardine says. “Manson would always have the girls out on the highway, hitch hiking — and Dennis always liked a pretty girl. He picks up the girls, takes them home … and Charlie comes back with a bus, and moves in.”

Wilson eventually reworked a Manson-written song, originally called “Cease to Exist,” into the track “Never Learn Not to Love” for the Beach Boys’ 20/20 album in 1969, recording with Carl Wilson at their brother Brian Wilson’s home studio.

The relationship was ultimately torn, Jardine says, over a threat Manson made to Dennis’ son. Wilson and Manson also reportedly came to blows over the changes to “Cease to Exist,” which Dennis performed along with the rest of the Beach Boys on a April 1969 episode of the Mike Douglas show.

“Charlie was looking for a leg up,” Jardine says. “He wanted to [get into the music business] in the worst way.”

Melcher, who was in a pre-fame group with Bruce Johnston, continued to work with the Beach Boys — later co-writing their 1988 charttopper “Kokomo.” He served as a background vocalist on 1966’s Pet Sounds, and introduced lyricist Van Dyke Parks to Brian Wilson in advance of their work on the SMiLE project.

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