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Gentle Children, With Flowers In Their Hair

It began one night when I was driving out Sunset Boulevard toward the beach, heading home to Malibu. By then I'd sold my T-Bird and had an old 1935 Dodge pickup. Hitchhikers were pretty common on Sunset, and I pulled over to pick one up. When he told me his name was Dennis Wilson it didn't mean anything to me, but when he said he was one of the Beach Boys I was impressed. I remembered all those surfing songs banging out of my brother's room back in Copeville and grinned to myself, wondering what he would think if he could see me now-with Dennis Wilson taking a ride in my truck and explaining how he'd wrecked his Ferrari and his Rolls Royce so was having to use his thumb.

When we got to his house in Pacific Palisades he invited me in. Rolling up the long driveway to what had once been Will Rogers's mansion, I played with the idea of what it would be like to tell my brother about the time one of the Beach Boys had me in for coffee. When we went inside it was all I could do to keep my mouth closed. I'd never been in a place like this before-it was a long way from a three-bedroom frame house in Texas.

The first thing I saw when we came into the kitchen was a heavyset, bald-headed man with a big gray beard pouring down his chest, sitting at the table with a few girls. He introduced himself as Dean Moorehouse. Over the next few months Dean and I would become friends, despite the fact he was twice my age. I was to find out that he'd once been a Methodist minister, that up in Ukiah, California, after the Family left San Francisco, he'd gone after Charlie, ready to kill him for seducing his daughter Ruth (the one the Family came to call "Ouisch"). Instead of killing him, though, he ended up worshiping Charlie as Christ, after Charlie turned him on to LSD. Since then, he'd given up whatever Christianity he'd once held and become a kind of wandering guru, teaching a lot of people in the film and music industries that true "awareness" and real "religion" came through opening yourself up with acid. When people became aware, according to Dean, they could be free to die to themselves, to die to their egos. Then they would understand that Charles Manson was the reincarnation of the Son of God. Finding out all this came later, though. That night in the kitchen he was just a fat old man with a greasy beard, trying to look like a hippie.

Almost as soon as I came in he said there was somebody I should meet in the living room. I followed him.

There he was-surrounded by five or six girls-on the floor next to the huge coffee table with a guitar in his hands. He looked up, and the first thing I felt was a sort of gentleness, an embracing kind of acceptance and love.

"This is Charlie," Dean said. "Charlie Manson."

There was a large ashtray full of Lebanese hash sitting in the middle of the coffee table, and pretty soon Charlie and Dean and Dennis and I were lounging back on the oversize sofas, smoking. Nobody said much. As we got stoned, Charlie started playing his music, softly, almost to himself.

Here I was, accepted in a world I'd never even dreamed about, mellow and at my ease. Charlie murmured in the background, something about love, finding love, letting yourself love. I suddenly realized that this was what I was looking for: love. Not that my parents and brother and sister hadn't loved me, but somehow, now, that didn't count. I wanted the kind of love they talked about in the songs-the kind of love that didn't ask you to be anything, didn't judge what you were, didn't set up any rules or regulations-the kind of love that just accepted you, let you be yourself, do your thing whatever it was-the kind of love I seemed to be feeling right now, sitting around this coffee table getting zonked on some of the best hash I'd ever had, with a rock star and a fat old hippie and the little guy with the guitar who just kept singing softly, smiling to himself. It occurred to me that all the love in the room was coming from him, from his music.

Suddenly the girls came out of the kitchen and started serving us sandwiches they'd made-organic, full of sprouts and avocado and cheese. It was as if we were kings, just because we were men, and nothing could make them happier than waiting on us, making us happy. We all lay back and listened to Charlie sing to us about love-make love to us and for us with his music. I'd never known such peace.

Late that night at my truck as I was leaving, Dennis smiled and told me to come by anytime, take a swim in the pool, whatever I wanted. I drove out to Malibu, knowing that whatever had been going wrong in my life would be okay now. I'd found what really mattered: love between people, love that made all the old ideas about love as romance-or love as your parents pushing at you-just fade away. Charlie Manson was the first person I'd met who really knew what love was all about.

I came back the next day to swim-and then the day after that. It seemed I was always having some reason to take Sunset into town, and on the way back to Malibu I'd turn up that long driveway. By day, the place was even more impressive-huge ranch house, separate servants' quarters, an Olympic-sized pool and bathhouses set in unbelievably lush tropical gardens and surrounded by gigantic eucalyptus. Gradually the peculiar domestic situation at the house sorted out: Dennis leased it, but he spent a lot of time away on tour. While he was gone, Dean Moorehouse unofficially ran the place. It turned out that Charlie didn't actually live there; he spent most of his time out at Spahn Movie Ranch, just coming into town every so often to see the girls, go to parties, and promote his singing career. Three or four Family women lived at the house, along with several other girls who were friends of Dennis's.

Life was very laid back in that Sunset scene. The girls went out on garbage runs every day, getting perfectly good food that was tossed out into the bins behind Brentwood and Palisades supermarkets. Eventually I started taking them on their runs in my truck and I found out that before it was wrecked they'd used Dennis's Rolls Royce for their foraging trips to the dumpsters.

We smoked dope a lot, we lay around, and we listened to music. The music was always there, always going, singing and making a world-saying there was something beyond the senses, something brighter, wilder, truer-saying that love was all that really mattered.

People came and went, a peculiar mix of young dropouts like me, drug dealers, and people in the entertainment business. It was a strange time in Hollywood. It had become chic to play the hippie game, and the children of the big stars partied with gurus like Dean and Charlie and listened to them and bought drugs from them and took hippie kids to bed and let them drive their expensive cars and crash in their Bel Air mansions. Everybody felt aware and free. After August 1969, all that would change and those gentle children with flowers in their hair and tabs of acid in their pockets would suddenly seem menacing and dangerous. The Beverly Hills-Hollywood circuit would snap shut like a trap.

Eventually Rich and I realized we weren't going to be able to keep paying rent on the Malibu house. We hadn't sold anything, grass or wigs, in months. When we had an opportunity to sublet the place, we did-and after a couple of weeks of staying with a dope dealer I'd gotten to know in Westwood Village, I piled all my clothes and stereo and tools and wigs into the back of my truck and moved into Dennis's house. Everything looked good: I didn't have to pay any rent, I had my own room in a mansion, and the girls took care of the men as if they were princes. It was hard to believe that six months ago I'd been on the verge of going back to Texas with my tail between my legs.

Now life was one big party. Rock musicians and hopeful singers like Charlie, actors and hopeful actors, girls who didn't do anything, producers like Terry Melcher (Doris Day's son), talent people, managers like Gregg Jakobson, and stars' children would all come over to the house and it would be a drug circus. Charlie always managed to show up for the parties. And he did it well, playing the free, spontaneous child, the holy fool, turning his self-effacing charm on a pretty young celebrity's daughter with twenty different kinds of pills in her purse, giving her a ring and asking her to come join his Love Family. She kept the ring but drove home in her sports car with her boyfriend.

I'd been afraid of anything heavier than grass since my experience with the rosewood seeds, but seeing all these beautiful, sophisticated people who could spend half their lives on one kind of high or another made me think again.

The first thing I tried was cannabanol, a synthetic hash. This time there was no blue fog, no sense of things collapsing on me, no violence welling up from inside; this time it was all love, a tremendous physical feeling of oneness and caring. It was what I'd felt that first night listening to Charlie sing, only more. It was love that flowed through your body like thick syrup in your veins, warming wherever it went, making you so "one" with the person you were with that you'd have laid down your own life for him or her, and it wouldn't have mattered because you were so "one" that the distinctions between the two of you hardly existed anymore. It was a kind of connection even deeper and better than sex.

I saw how crazy I'd been to turn my back on all this good feeling, all this awareness and openness and love, just because of one bad trip. I tried peyote, then mescaline, then speed, then some synthetics you smoked with grass. Suddenly the whole world opened up like a flower that I'd never seen except as a bud. Colors came alive, throbbing with energy; simple objects became fascinating in their textures and shapes and mass; things like the sky or a blade of grass or a girl's hair could make you laugh for crazy joy. Time and space suddenly weren't the constants they'd always been. When you were on speed, time could race past you, jerk to dizzy starts and stops, leap over itself all together sometimes. Solid objects could become fluid, dripping into new forms like something out of a Surrealist painting. Music wasn't just sound; it became a physical thing, bathing you, rolling over you like breakers, sweeping you up and carrying you with it while you felt it inside as well, picking up the beat of your heart until the music was truly "within you and without you," just like the Beatles sang.

Dean Moorehouse took me on my first acid trip. Now it wasn't just the external world I saw differently. It seemed the LSD opened me up to what was inside me as well. Suddenly I saw myself as I really was, all the elements, all my past and hang-ups and fears and attitudes laid out in the searing light of truth. Again, there was no fear, no violence, just letting myself go with the changes, letting things slip away like glass beads falling slowly through my fingers. You could be at peace because nothing had to be hassled anymore, nothing had to be fought. It might hurt to let go of some of that past conditioning, some of what you'd been, but it would heal in the wash of what you could be free to become.

When I started taking acid, Charlie was not an important figure in my life, not personally. But Dean talked about him constantly, was practically an evangelist for the "gospel according to Charlie," and the Family girls carried on the theme. They said that each one of us has an ego, a desire to assert ourselves and our existence as something separate and cut off from the rest of life around us. We hang on to that ego, thinking that independent self is the only thing that lets us survive, thinking without it we'd perish. But the truth is that we all are one, all part of the same organic whole, no separate me or you, just ripples in the one wave that is life. True freedom means giving up ourselves, letting that old ego die so we can be free of the self that keeps us from one another, keeps us from life itself. "Cease to exist," Charlie sang in one of the songs he'd written. "Cease to exist, come say you love me." The girls repeated it, over and over-cease to exist, kill your ego, die-so that once you cease to be, you can be free to totally love, totally come together.

They kept urging me to join the Family, the life they had together with Charlie. Charlie, they said, had died more completely than anyone, not only in this life but long before, on a cross. In becoming one with him, in dying to ourselves so we could really unite with him, we could become one with love itself, with "God." Every trip Dean and I took together, it all made more and more sense. But I still clung to my ego, my sense of self-sometimes in fear, sometimes in stubbornness. I wanted the love they were talking about, but I wasn't sure I could pay the price.

When Charlie came around, it almost seemed possible. When he looked at you and saw everything there was inside of you and loved you anyway, it seemed worth the risk. One day, when he'd driven down to the house in a school bus he and the Family had decorated with hanging silks and beads and a huge wall-to-wall bed, I walked up to him and gave him the keys to my truck and said that it and everything else I had were his. For years I'd struggled to accumulate all I could: the right cars, the right clothes, the right things that would somehow complete what I thought was missing inside me. Now I gave all that, everything I had, to Charlie. Suddenly I felt very free. There was nothing tying me down, nothing I had to be responsible for. Charlie's girls had been right; material things imprisoned us, poisoned us, kept us going in the false sense of self that took away our freedom to die.

By this time, more of Dennis's friends had moved into his house, including Gregg Jakobson, who'd recently left his wife. One night on the way to a party two of them gave me my first sniff of cocaine. At first all it did was make my gums and nose numb, like going to the dentist, but then the rush came and once more life was better, "with a little help from my friends."

Life flowed on through a long easy summer. Then, in August, while Dennis was away on tour again, Dean started putting pressure on some of the women in the house to go to bed with him. Word got back to Dennis, and pretty soon his manager told us that the lease was due to expire and we'd all have to be out. When Dennis returned to L.A. he avoided us, moving into a place at Malibu with Gregg, not far from the beach house Rich and I had leased.

I had nowhere to go, so when Dean told me he had to drive up to Ukiah for trial on an LSD charge I decided to go along. Until the problem with the women, Dean had continued to be a sort of spiritual advisor to Dennis, and he apparently still had that status with Terry Melcher, because he told me that Terry was loaning us his Jaguar XKE and a credit card for the trip north.

We picked up the car one morning at Terry's house in Benedict Canyon, a rambling ranch-style place at 10050 Cielo Drive. It was the first time I'd been to the house, but it would not be the last.

Everywhere we stopped on our way up the coast there were "flower children." San Francisco may have soured, and the flowers may have been turning to plastic in Los Angeles, but that didn't stop the kids. We'd talk to them about Charlie and love and tell them to stop by Spahn Ranch anytime they came south. I'd never driven anything like Melcher 's XKE and, roar ing past Atascadero on the freeway several hundred miles north of L.A., I was pulled over and ticketed. As we drove on I crumpled up the citation and tossed it out the window. I never planned to be anywhere near Atascadero again. Two years later I'd be back, though-as an inmate of the state mental hospital there, nearly dead.

Dean's trial lasted only two days and then he was released on appeal. We were staying with a family he knew in Ukiahall of them freaks: parents and kids-and while we sat around turning on together I thought that this was what a real family should be like. The parents were laid back, sharing their dope with their children-everybody easy and no hang-ups. More and more, I identified my own family with only the negative things I'd felt were holding me down; more and more I forgot the love and caring that had been there, maybe never talked about much, but always there.

It seemed a shame to waste the car on such a short trip, so we stayed on for a few weeks, driving all over the Bay area, visiting friends of Dean's. I remember one night especially, making love to the Indian wife of a guru friend of his in the car and then driving back home with her to Dean and her husband and children to spend the night.

While we were in Ukiah, Charlie and some of the girls brought up the bus and it broke down on the way to San Francisco. It was around this time that several murders took place in the area. As intriguing as the connection might seem, however, no one in the Family was involved; we didn't even hear about them, as far as I can remember. All we knew at that point were love and Charlie and dope. The only death we cared about was dying to ourselves, inside.

Apparently I hadn't died enough, because when Charlie sent some of the girls to me to suggest I give him Terry Melcher's credit card so the bus could be repaired, something from my Texas past about honesty nagged at me enough that I wouldn't let him use it. Charlie wasn't happy-this proved I wasn't dead yet; I still had the delusion it was possible for anyone to own anything.

When we finally got back to Los Angeles, dropping acid all the way, Dean and I went to see Dennis at his place on the beach. He was still furious that Moorehouse had tried to seduce the women at the Sunset house and somehow, even though I hadn't been involved, being Dean's friend was enough to turn Dennis off to me as well. It was beginning to look like Charlie had been right-just because a person dressed like a hippie or did dope, it didn't mean he wasn't still part of the uptight American dream world of things and money and rules, still locked into ego, still undead.

Dean and I started looking for a place to stay.

While I was gone, Rich Carson had moved back into our place in Malibu with some friends of his, but they had no money for the next month's rent and were going to have to move out themselves. Charlie didn't want us at Spahn Ranch. I still had too much ego, he said, and he didn't want a horny old man like Dean going after his young loves.

Suddenly I felt very alone, and somehow Charlie seemed like the only hope I had. I had to prove myself to him. Finally I had him come down from Spahn with the bus, and he and I and the girls completely cleaned out the Malibu house, not just the rest of my possessions that were stored there but all the furniture I'd rented with the house. Driving back to the Valley we passed out things to anyone we met-I made a present of a two-hundred-dollar camera to a young hitchhiker we picked up-finally leaving most of the busload with an Eastern religious commune in the hills above the movie ranch.

Charlie still didn't want Dean and me with his people. Finally he gave us a tent and told us we could stay down by a creek below the ranch itself. But we were on our own, he said; we were no part of his Family. It was a long way from a mansion on Sunset Boulevard, but it was all that seemed left for me-I had no place else to go. The Family let us eat with them occasionally, and once or twice Charlie and the girls came down to our tent in the evenings and sang.

Then Dean had to go back to Ukiah for another trial and I was left by myself in the little tent by the muddy creek. At night, alone in the stillness, I could hear the sounds of laughter and singing and love drifting down from the Western sets on the hill.

Chapter Five Table of Content Chapter Seven

(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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