What Does "Helter Skelter" Mean In 'Aquarius'? Charles Manson Was Obsessed With The Beatles

The two-hour season premiere of Aquarius showed Charlie Manson's frustration with prison acquaintance Ralph Church. Manson repeatedly insulted Church (who is a character created for the show, not an actual associate of the killer's); used racial epithets to describe Church and his men; and warned his own girls not to sleep with or eat the same food as the black men who made themselves at home at Spahn Ranch. Finally, he poisoned Church and his company by spiking their soup with poisonous mushrooms. It's early yet, but it seems that this second season of the show will focus on Manson's racism and hatred, growing ever more insistent and explosive as the civil rights movement becomes more visible. You may be wondering what a Beatles song has to do with the Manson Family's killing spree. What does "Helter Skelter" mean to the real Charles Manson?

Like the actual killer, the show's version of Manson is also a music fan and aspiring singer-songwriter. Two of his followers have just introduced him to the Beach Boys member Dennis Wilson in Aquarius — an association that's based in fact — and Manson sees this as a golden opportunity to score a recording contract. And, like many of his contemporaries, the real Manson became consumed by the Beatles; he considered their music the harbinger of a cataclysmic racial conflict to come.

In a Biography Manson special, Vincent Bugliosi, Manson's biographer and the chief prosecutor in the cult leader's trial, confirmed that the Beatles' White Album became an integral part of Manson's delusions. The whole work, Manson interpreted, was a prophecy of a race war between blacks and whites. The song "Blackbird" was a call to "the black man to rise up against the white man," Bugliosi explained Manson's thinking. According to Bugliosi's book, Manson also believed that the track "Piggies" was a prophecy about the white establishment being forcibly brought down. "Helter Skelter" became ingrained in Manson's twisted philosophy and he adopted the term to describe the mission of his Family. To Manson, that song described "the last final destructive war among men on the face of this earth," Bugliosi said.

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Aquarius is building to the infamous killing spree inspired by this "prophesied" end-of-days scenario and by Manson's own pettiness. The season premiere showed members of the Family at the sites of the Cielo Drive murders (where actress Sharon Tate and friends were killed) and the LaBianca murders (the home of a couple unknown to Manson but who lived next to a house where he once attended — and was thrown out of — a music industry party.) According to CNN, the real killers used the victims' blood to leave messages like "Pigs," "Death to Pigs," and "Helter Skelter" for the police to find.

Manson used his "Helter Skelter" doctrine to convince his Family that they were chosen to be left standing after this deadly race war. All they had to do after kick-starting the conflict was to "hide out in a 'bottomless pit' near Death Valley until [Manson] could emerge to assume leadership of the post-revolutionary order," CNN reported in a 40-year Tate/LaBianca murder retrospective.

Former Beatles member John Lennon was asked about Manson's violent interpretations of the band's music in a Playboy interview in 1980. "It has nothing to do with me," Lennon said. "Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the 'Paul is dead' thing or who figured out that the initials to 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid."

As for how Aquarius will continue portraying Manson's racial views, we'll just have to see.

Images: Vivian Zink/NBC (2)