The Times, They Are A-Changin'
Denton, Texas, was only fifty miles from Copeville,
but it meant being on my own. North Texas State
University was attended mainly by people with
country Texas backgrounds a lot like mine, but
it was away from home.
It was September, 1964, and I was going to be
Joe College. My parents expected great things
from me-after all, hadn't I graduated from Farmersville
High with honors? I expected freedom.
In other places around the country, students
were taking off in new directions that would not
only lead a whole generation to a radical break
from the comfortable fifties' womb we'd all grown
up in, but would destroy that world forever. We
didn't know or care about all that in Denton.
For us, college still meant fraternities and hazing
and driving down to Dallas with a fake I.D. that
got you into German beer halls where you drank
out of pottery steins and sang along with a polka
The only drug anybody knew much about was Dexedrine,
brought over the border from Mexico to keep you
awake for finals cramming. It wasn't until my
junior year that dope was ever even talked about.
By then rumor had it that one of the guys was
smoking marijuana in his room sometimes, but it
was not considered cool, and at N.T.S.U. there
was nothing more important than being cool.
Cool meant parties and beer and women-the
same as high school but more of each. Cool was
dressing well. I started buying new clothes, wide
ties and button-down shirts and a camel's hair
blazer with metal buttons. I combed down the crew
cut and let it grow a little-the barber called
it the Ivy League look.
We weren't that interested in classes (my grades
soon showed it), and if anybody ever talked about
politics he meant civics lectures on a bicameral
legislative branch, not people in the streets.
We were proud to be Americans-if we thought about
it. We would have undoubtedly said communism was
bad, if anybody bothered to ask us-communists
wanted to bury us. The world outside was simple;
Lyndon Johnson was "a good of boy" from
Texas and nobody really knew much about some kind
of military assistance we were giving over in
It was a time when you thought of the Golden
Gate, not the Haight, when somebody mentioned
San Francisco. If we'd have seen a man with hair
to his shoulders we'd have called him a "pansy,"
not a "hippie," and a beard was something
you let grow over vacation on a dare, then shaved
After living for eighteen years in the same white
frame house in Copeville, I suppose I felt pretty
mature moving into a student residence hall near
the campus. I woke up the first morning with the
exhilarating realization that I could do whatever
I wanted and nobody would care.
My roommate was a junior transfer from Texas
State in Austin, and from the very beginning I
got in with a group older than I was. They knew
how to dress, where to take a woman, and had a
reputation for being a little wild. I was impressed.
I also learned fast. When frat rushes started
during second semester, there was no question
where I'd end up. I'd already been careening around
campus in Pi Kappa Alpha's old fire truck with
the rest of the boys for several months.
Part of the fraternity initiation was a scavenger
hunt. It was more than a game; your being pledged
depended on getting every item on the list. And
PKA tradition made it clear that there was more
than one acceptable way to pick up what you needed.
My partner and I had to find, among other things,
four typewriters. Through the beer-soaked fog
that traditionally surrounded events like this,
I remembered the typing class at Farmersville
High School, with row on row of battered Royals.
Getting them was easy-break the glass, open the
door, giggle a lot, and shush each other boozily.
It seemed extremely funny. The next day, with
a throbbing hangover, four typewriters, and the
certainty of being caught, it seemed extremely
Rather than have them find out from someone else,
I went to my parents myself. They took it hard,
and as we drove into McKinney, the county seat,
to talk to a lawyer, I fumed to myself that they
couldn't have been any more upset if I'd committed
The lawyer was Roland Boyd, a Texas gentleman
of the old school, whose family had been close
to my mother's people for several generations.
Because I turned myself and the typewriters in,
or-possibly-because Roland's son Bill was county
district attorney at the time, I was not even
booked. But to be sure I didn't get the wrong
impression, Mr. Boyd took me into his paneled
conference room for a stern talk about staying
out of trouble in the future. I assured him I
would. As he sat talking to me about my fine high-school
record and my parents' feelings, neither of us
could possibly anticipate those same parents sitting
in that same room four years later, asking him
and his son to represent me on a charge of murder.
Back among the Pikes (our campus nickname), it
started to seem a little funny again. It was,
after all, part of our reputation to be riding
just over the edge of the law occasionally. A
year later, when a beer bottle tossed drunkenly
out of a car destroyed a boy's eye, that reputation
took on a darker tone. Even though I wasn't involved,
my minister in Copeville took the opportunity
to write me a long letter of concern. His major
point was the assurance that he did not condemn
the whole house through guilt by association,
but what I noticed most was his comment that incidents
like this were one reason the Methodist church
opposed drinking. The rules again . . . . I wasn't
interested in what he had to say about character
and moral stamina. I wasn't interested in the
counsel and prayers he offered. I was too busy
Life was a succession of parties, interrupted
by a minimal amount of studying. Except for a
fraternity track meet where I ran the high hurdles,
I didn't get involved in sports at college; they
took too much time and effort. Sitting over drinks
at Lou Ann's in Dallas, or making a run to our
local college tavern for beer, I'd think that
this was what life was all about: having good
times with your buddies. Swing-dancing to the
Five Americans, or persuading a girl I'd still
respect her, I'd think back to my last few years
at home and wonder how I'd survived all my parents'
rules and old-fashioned attitudes. Even then-fifty
miles away with my own apartment and a new 1966
Coronet 500 and a boat and all the friends I could
want-even then they were still in the background,
checking up on me, asking about the girls I saw
and what they were doing at my apartment so much,
asking why my grades weren't what they'd been
in high school, urging me to start going to church
again. It was love that made them concerned, but
at the time all I could sense was oppression.
Even away from Copeville, the world I'd grown
up in was stifling me, putting limits on my freedom.
I began to think maybe I needed to get even farther
By the time I started my junior year, I even
had an idea what "farther away" would
be like: California. My generation wasn't the
first to get hooked on the special, somehow magical
appeal of the Coast. There had been the perfect
climate, the orange trees, then Hollywood and
the chance to become a film star (our democracy's
answer to royalty). In the sixties, California
meant beaches and surfing and endless summers.
When I was still at home, my brother had collected
almost every album the Beach Boys made and, although
I wasn't that into music, I heard them from behind
his door, singing about "California Girls"
in a way that made Texas women seem a little less
exciting than they had before, singing about the
surfing that was some kind of golden fantasy for
us, but a way of life in California. I could never
have imagined that one day one of those superstars
would take me into his home and introduce me to
an aspiring rock singer named Charlie Manson.
Even if I didn't live the music the way some
did, the message got through; the music was all
around you. By the time the Mamas and Papas released
"California Dreamin'," we were all doing
it. Then Richard Carson one of the Pikes who'd
gone through pledging with me and later moved
to the West Coast, came back to Denton for a visit.
You couldn't exactly put your finger on it, but
he was different. We all noticed itlonger sideburns,
a different way of dressing, an ease in his manner.
We kidded him a little and made jokes among ourselves,
but inside I envied him the freedom he seemed
to have found.
I was living pretty expensively, between the
parties and the women and the trips to Dallas
and keeping up the boat and repairing my car after
five or six different accidents-most of which
involved a little too much booze. My new roommate
during junior year was working for Braniff Airlines
at Love Field outside of Dallas and he didn't
have to say much to convince me that a job with
the airline would beat the onionpacking plant
at home hands-down. It was a glamorous world,
exciting and new. You were eligible for free flights
(I'd never ridden on a plane), you wore a good-looking
uniform, and you got the chance to meet stewardesses.
We all knew about stewardesses.
I was hired as a baggage boy, driving tractors
loaded with luggage to and from the planes on
the graveyard shift. I kept up with school halfheartedly
during the day and squeezed parties in between.
One weekend I scored impressive points with my
friends by taking a girl on a three-day date to
Acapulco. There were other trips down to Mexico
as well, and those first few flights were some
of the most exciting moments of my life. I'd grip
the arms of the seat during takeoff and feel the
rush of power go through me. Peering out the window,
I'd watch the tiny, cramped world I'd grown up
in disappear and I'd know that finally I'd gotten
out from under everything that wanted to hold
me down-all the small-town pettiness and ignorance
and piety that my home and family represented.
I was soaring, I was my own man, and I was very
pleased with what I'd become.
I began work at Braniff in January 1967, and
that spring, while I was taking off for Mexico
and making the rounds, of nightclubs in Dallas
with a series of stewardesses, Charles Manson
was released from McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary
in Washington and moved to the Haight-Ashbury
section of San Francisco where he spent the spring
starting the Family. At that point in my life,
if anyone had told me about this short ex-con
who'd spent seventeen of his thirty-two years
in penal institutions, I'd have written him off
as a loser and gone back to the primary business
of my life-having a good time.
I worked for Braniff all summer, and as my senior
year approached, Denton looked more and more uninviting.
I needed a change. Even Dallas night life and
discounted flights to Mexico couldn't keep me
free from that tight little world I'd grown up
in. The final straw came when I totaled my car
one night as I was leaving a nightclub and trying
to make it through a yellow light. The remains
of my Coronet 500, that moving symbol of all I
was and hoped to be, brought barely $800 as junk.
I decided it was time for a visit to my fraternity
buddy Richard Carson in Los Angeles.
I had a date with one of the stewardesses I'd
gotten to know at the airport a few days before
I left, and when I picked her up that night there
was a strange smell in her apartment.
"That's just a pot burning," she winked.
I didn't know what she was talking about. Later
in the evening, while we were at a dance club,
she explained to me that what I'd smelled was
marijuana and that we could buy some good stuff
from one of the band members. I was intrigued
and I was scared. I wanted to please her-and even
if weed hadn't been cool at Denton, apparently
it was cool here, so I approached the musician
nervously and a few minutes later we were on our
way back to her place, the proud owners of fifteen
dollars' worth of stems and seeds. I'd never seen
grass before so I didn't know the difference.
Like most people, I didn't get much out of my
first smoke except a scorched throat, but I liked
the feel of it, passing the joint back and forth,
relaxing, having an excuse to hang loose. When
the girl suggested that much better grass was
available in California, I agreed to try to bring
her back a lid.
A few days later I was leaning to look out the
plane window as we started the descent into the
Los Angeles Basin. It was smoggy as we crossed
over the mountains and the slanting sun turned
the haze into a kind of blazing, thick red stew.
It was like sinking into the mouth of a volcano.
The city seemed to go on forever, and I liked
it even before we landed.
From listening to the music you sometimes got
the impression that there was nobody in California
over thirty. The first thing Richard showed me
was Sunset Strip and I began to think the songs
were right. The rows of discotheques and clubs
and psychedelic shops were packed with young people,
and they looked different from any people I'd
ever seen before. The men wore beards and long
hair and beads; the girls danced along with nipples
outlined beneath their thin blouses. People played
flutes on the corner and walked barefoot on the
concrete. A girl brushed by me murmuring, "Grass?
Acid? Speed?" Rich took me into the famous
Whiskey a Go-Go, and as the rock blared I stared
at the dancers, couples moving to the beat in
the most unabashedly sexual movements I'd ever
seen in public. It was a long way from Texas and
if freedom was what I'd been looking for, I was
certain this was it.
Richard's tour included a visit to a buddy of
his named Paul Williams, a young songwriter nobody
had heard of at this point. He lived in a tiny
little room under a garage on the side of a hill
and couldn't even get anyone to listen to his
music. He played us one of the songs he was working
on. In a few years, he and I would both be famous-for
very different reasons.
It seemed like the whole weekend was a rush-we
drove all around Los Angeles. We partied and smoked
dope, and the California grass did what it was
supposed to. The lid I'd promised my stewardess
friend was easy to find. The pace was faster than
anything I'd ever know back home and the people
seemed looser, freer. I felt as if I fit in pretty
well, though later Rich would tell me I'd really
blown away a girl he knew, when she stopped by
his apartment and I stood up and called her "Ma'am"
when she came in the room.
Sunday morning Rich's brother Willis, who wanted
to be an actor and had changed his name to Ben
Brooks in hopes of sounding more professional,
took me to church. Knowing my background, I guess
he thought it would be what I expected. It was
a Religious Science congregation and seemed pretty
similar to church at home: lots of talking that
meant very little to me. I half-dozed through
most of it. On the way home, Willis told me that
what he was really into was something called Scientology.
The way he explained it, it was a whole new kind
of trip that combined the wisdom of some of the
Eastern religions with new scientific understanding
of brain waves and energy. He threw around a lot
of terms like "aware" and "beta"
and "karma" and I tried to act interested,
but what I was really thinking about was the girls
we were planning to see that afternoon. The last
thing I wanted to hear was something as complicated
and crazy sounding as Willis-Ben's new religion.
I couldn't have suspected that later some of these
same concepts, reworked by Charles Manson for
his own peculiar purposes, would end up directing
my whole life.
By the time the weekend was over, I knew what
I wantedbut it took three more trips before I
finally went home to my parents and confronted
them with the fact that I was moving to California.
They objected all the way up to the moment I got
on the plane on August 28. But I knew what I was
doing. At last I'd be totally my own man, totally
free, without anyone telling me what to do. That
was what it boiled down to: I didn't want anyone,
ever again, to tell me what to do. It sounded
so good. But in twelve months, Charlie Manson
would be telling me what to do.
(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray
Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications,
Inc. All Rights Reserved.)