I found this post from Alan Cook to be rather interesting. It’s about how Charles Manson interpreted the lyrics from the Beatles’ white album to be about a coming race war, somehow also tied in with the Second Coming. “Helter Skelter” in particular has come to be associated with Manson, as that became his name for the apocalypse he thought was coming. Not that this is at all fair to the Beatles, as there’s nothing in the actual song to support Manson’s interpretation.
It seems like his obsession with this album is mostly just because it was released around the same time he was first planning out his crazy schemes to bring about Armageddon. With people like him, it can be literally ANYTHING that serves as a trigger. I remember coming across someone on Usenet who thought he was getting secret messages in the songs of Weird Al, of all people. There’s a common theme of people with schizophrenic tendencies thinking that popular songs and the like contain messages meant just for them. Not that all of these people are anywhere near as deranged as Manson, but the freaky interpretation in and of itself is not that uncommon.
Manson was very much obsessed with the pop music of his day. In many ways, he was basically a hippie, except without too much fondness for the whole peace thing. He had also studied Scientology, which I’m not sure I knew before. Manson managed to befriend Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, and the two of them would hang out and jam together. The Beach Boys song “Never Learn Not to Love” was a reworked version of something Manson had written.
Incidentally, Black Francis has mentioned that the Pixies song “Wave of Mutilation” was inspired by how Manson had written for the Beach Boys.
The original title of the song that became “Never Learn Not to Love” was “Cease to Exist,” and the first line of the Pixies song is “cease to resist.”
When Manson got on his Helter Skelter kick, he started trying to contact the Beatles by mail and telephone, exhorting them to come join the Manson Family in Death Valley for the upcoming revolution. He also had an interpretation of Revelation in which the locusts of Chapter 9 were the Beatles, which I guess isn’t much weirder than other takes on the book that I’ve seen.
Speaking of “Helter Skelter,” does Paul McCartney still perform it? Having heard samples of his newest album, I don’t know that I could imagine him singing it now.