Mindhunter and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood used real Charles Manson songs
It’s been 50 years since followers of cult leader Charles Manson murdered nine people in Los Angeles, and segments of the Manson story have appeared in two of this summer’s biggest releases: the second season of Netflix's Mindhunter and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The projects cast the same actor to play Manson, but they also had something else in common—both made use of the cult leader’s music.
Before orchestrating the murderers, Manson pursued a career as a singer-songwriter, crafting forgettable, predictably late ‘60s psych-folk tunes. For a time, he befriended the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson, who allowed Manson and his followers to live in his home. The locations of the Tate-LaBianca murders both had ties to Manson’s musical ambitions. Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski’s home had been previously occupied by producer and one-time Manson acquaintance Terry Melcher. (One of Manson’s followers later said that the home was targeted in order to intimidate Melcher, who refused Manson a record deal.) Rosemary and Leno LaBianca's Los Feliz home was located next door to a house in which music manager and Manson friend Phil Kaufman had once stayed.
In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the cult leaders young followers are shown singing happily while dumpster diving in LA. Stereogum reported that the song they sang was called "I’ll Never Say Never To Always," and that it was penned by Manson himself.
Once Upon a Time doesn’t point out that Manson wrote the tune used, but Mindhunter tackles the cult leader’s music head-on. In the fifth episode of Season Two, FBI Agent Holden Ford plays Manson’s song “Cease to Exist” to his colleagues in preparation for his interview with the killer. “He’s not bad,” Ford concludes. The song plays once more over the episode’s closing credits.
The Beach Boys apparently agreed with Ford, as they released a reworked cover of the song, retitled “Never Learn Not to Love,” as a B-side in 1968. Manson, who died in 2017, allegedly sold the songwriting credit to Wilson for a one-time payment and a motorcycle. But the cult leader later reported that he put a bullet in Wilson’s bed after becoming enraged upon learning that the Beach Boys drummer had altered his lyrics.
After Manson’s capture, Kaufman released an album of his recordings. Subsequent releases have followed, including a bootleg album Manson recorded on tape while at San Quentin. Over the years, his songs have been covered by musicians including Marilyn Manson (who took the cult leader’s infamous last name for his stage name), Guns N’ Roses, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
In the end, Manson's oeuvre amounts to a collection of slight, rather dull folk tunes that would likely have been completely forgotten were it not for his infamy. Luckily, according to Tarantino’s music supervisor Mary Ramos, the cult leader’s estate doesn’t profit from the use of his songs. “We wanted to find out—because there’s a publisher that owns that music—to find out what happens if this is used, where the money goes, etc,” she told Variety last month. "And there was a trust set up for the victims and no one even associated with the Mansons and the Manson family makes money off of that song."