Interview with Nikolas and Zeena Schreck from Obsküre Magazine by Maxime Lachaud, September 2011
First of all, let me tell you that I was quite impressed by this one thousand pages volume of this new edition of the Manson File. I must also say that we are honoured that this work is first translated into French before it being released in its original language.
Nikolas : I’m glad you enjoyed it. There was a method to my madness of publishing it in French first. European audiences have always understood the nuances of my work better than most of my fellow Americans. Then there’s the many ”French Connections” to this case, beginning with Roman Polanski’s birth in Paris in 1933, one year before Manson’s birth. And if Polanski’s old friend Voytek Frykowski hadn’t followed him into French exile, would the drug dealing disaster that exploded in Polanski’s house in 1969 ever have happened? Then there’s Bobby Beausoleil, who set the catastrophe in motion and who Manson calls ”The Frenchman”. On a more personal level, I fell into the Tate-La Bianca rabbit hole in Paris, where I saw Polanski’s Le Bal du Vampires in 1967. Watching the film, I was struck by what I now feel was an uncanny premonition of what was to come. Twenty-six years later, the actor Ferdy Mayne, the star of that very film which first drew me into this web, revealed some of the hidden circumstances of the Cielo Drive slayings to Zeena and me, which was the genesis of this book. Also, Camion Noir is continuing a long tradition of subversive American books being published in France before they hit Anglo-Saxon shores that goes back to the Olympia Press.
Zeena : On a more mystical level, the French edition for me was also directly inspired by Sethian gnosis. Nikolas originally intended to have the English and French editions released simultaneously. Concurrent to signing the contract with Camion Blanc, we were negotiating with two other English speaking publishers. But sometime between correspondence exchanges, something strange happened during the creation of my God Bless Charles Manson suite. While working in the darkroom on the piece, "You don't see the light," it became clear to me that we should withdraw negotiations with any English speaking publishers for The Manson File. This wasn’t a rational thought but a "message" in the developing darkroom while the chemicals were at work slowly bringing the religious iconography of that piece to view. It was crystal clear. And I know where it came from. Seth is the god of many things. He is known as the God of Foreign Lands and of Sovereignty. He is the Awakener and the Severer. He is the god who breaks from his native land and is always in exile. He is the god of oases and crossing borders. He is the same as Abraxas. And Abraxas, as you know from Le Dossier Manson is who has guided Manson in his own sovereign struggle through the borderlands of his mind, in the "hallways of always" - what he refers to the prison he's been in so long. Another thing: In the darkroom the only light is red. Seth's color. So the conditions were ripe, the message was clear, and I received it. This book needed to be released into the world first in a form Foreign to its author's and subject's native language. And in its native language it will maintain its Sovereignty, free from the shackles of potential censorship or selective editing.
Nikolas, it’s been 25 years that you have worked on the Manson case, that you have made research and tried to find what really happened. Where did you find the energy and the will to work on such a project? What did fascinate you on a personal level to get so involved in this story?
Nikolas : There’ve been many times since I began staring into this bottomless pit when I didn’t have the energy to carry on. After the banned Radio Werewolf benefit concert for Manson in ’87, the first Manson File in ’88 and my film Charles Manson Superstar in ’89, I was totally burned out on the subject. When interviewers asked me about the case, I’d tell them I was finished with the topic. Even though my affection for and supportive correspondence with Charles continued, I got sick of the pop culture merchandising of his image. I also realized that for every intelligent person my work enlightened about Manson, it encouraged many more idiots to adopt him as a safe subcultural consumer product with no more depth than a T-shirt or a tattoo. Once something revolutionary becomes a cool toy for hipsters, I lose interest. But even after that, a steady stream of people on all sides of the Manson universe continued to provide me with unknown pieces of the puzzle. As these clues mounted, I saw that my work wasn’t over. I learned that the ”copy cat killing” explanation for the murders I’d previously accepted was wrong, and was just as much as a cover-up as the ”Helter Skelter” theory. In 1993, a close friend of Dennis Wilson interviewed me for a BBC show about Manson’s music, and confirmed my suspicions when he revealed some of Wilson’s secret knowledge about the case. Shortly thereafter, Zeena and I befriended Ferdinand Mayne. He told us about the role a drug-dealing actor of his acquaintance played in his friend Sharon Tate’s murder. That led us to the inner circle of Hollywood figures who broke their silence about what they knew. From then on, the information came to us. It still took a long time before I accepted my moral obligation to reveal the truth about what happened, a task which required an immense amount of detective work. As for my own fascination with this saga, I could offer you a glib explanation but truthfully it’s mysterious even to me. Ultimately, I got enmeshed in this cosmic riddle due to ancient karmic bonds with all those involved that needed to be resolved. In that sense, writing this book was an exorcism. Or should I say a Texorcism?
Zeena, Le Dossier Manson tries to put some truth in a story which is rather based on myths and fantasies than on what really happened. Can you clear up for us the myth about the relationships between the Manson family and the Church of Satan? Were they just at the same place at the same moment or were there much more intimate connections between the two?
Zeena : The story of how there came to be a perceived connection between Manson, Polanski, and The Church of Satan could be a book in itself. And although I’m centrally positioned with all the data to pen such a volume, I have no interest in that endeavor so this answer will have to suffice.
It's well known that my father hired Susan Atkins as a stripper for his Witch's Review night club act in San Francisco. Bobby Beausoleil's involvement with Kenneth Anger, who was very enmeshed in my family's lives at the same time, has also been well documented. But those two drifted into my family’s orbit independent of each other. And these brief connections were made before Atkins and Beausoleil even met Manson. Even when the news of Beausoleil’s murder of Hinman reached us, which came to us personally via Anger, we had no knowledge of the name "Manson". Only when the news broke about Susan Atkins’s involvement in the Hinman and Tate murders did we recognize Atkins and first heard media talk of her supposed "guru". But we just assumed she was the type of drifter there were so many of in the 60's that got "passed around" from one group to the next, looking for a leader.
After the media depicted Manson as a "satanic" cult leader, The Church of Satan, with its then very "law and order" and pro-Hollywood public image as counter-culture to the counter-culture stance needed to take a hard-line opposition to the murders and the so-called Manson Family. There was also the fear that someone might leak the fact that Susan Atkins had been directly associated with a Church of Satan event, which would’ve been a public relations disaster at the height of LaVey's popularity. So, LaVey granted numerous interviews in part to take the opportunity to do damage control to avoid guilt-by-association media accusations. Many of his early 70s interviews in my files underscore the difference between what he thought the Manson Family, and even the victims - who he also disliked for their "hippie aesthetic" - represented as opposed to the Church of Satan ideology. Even during Manson's trial, one of the Manson girls wrote a standard form letter asking The Church of Satan for help for his case. My mother filed it away, never to speak of it again until she met Nikolas many years later and gave him a photocopy of it. But to her it was just something to be filed away under "nut cases" - "do not respond", which certainly makes it clear there was no prior connection between the two groups.
Without a doubt, the media’s inaccurate portrayal of the Tate-LaBianca murders as ”ritual” and the Manson "Family" as a satanic cult directly led to satanism as we experienced it from being thought of as a "fun cocktail party", a devilish Playboy-After-Dark, to something dangerous that needed to be stamped out. By the early '70's, by the time Helter Skelter came out, there was a marked shift in the difficulties The Church of Satan had to deal with both publicly and privately in terms of daily harassment and vandalism to our home, death threats, letter bombs, telephone abuse, murderous stalking, kidnapping, murder and rape threats against my sister and me, and accusations of sacrifice, murder, and what later became the full-blown '80s "satanic panic".
So it went without saying that after 1969 The Church of Satan's party-line, for its own survival, was to distance itself from anything to do at all with Manson and his associates. This was a firm Edict passed down from the Black Pope himself. No, I'm not joking, it was deadly serious. In interviews, we were not to even suggest flirting with the very idea of an association with the Manson Family. My father’s cover-up of his having known Susan Atkins succeeded until she let the cat out of the bag in her autobiography, which led to a new wave of problems for The Church of Satan. You’ll notice that even in some of my own interviews as High Priestess of the Church of Satan prior to meeting Nikolas I dutifully maintain my father's party-line about that topic. That’s how firmly The Church of Satan was Anti-Manson.
Until 1988 when Nikolas contacted LaVey to interview him for a book he was doing on satanism in general. When my father saw the treatment Nikolas gave a notorious reviled character like Manson in The Manson File and noticed the media attention it got, I watched LaVey's attitude about Manson change over night. Old LaVeyan satanism's ego stepped in and thought, "If he can do that for Manson, what could he do for ME???" LaVey promptly presented Nikolas with a bright red membership card to The Church of Satan and proclaimed him an "Agent" which basically meant, "I'm flattering you into wanting to write The LaVey File." I was living in Los Angeles at the time and heard from my father about this writer who came to interview him, who'd written a book on Manson. In the past year, I'd already begun to notice that Manson and I were always on the same T.V. shows together, and wondered if Manson wasn’t being as falsely portrayed by the media as I was. Gradually, I began to back off of our party-line about Manson and just leave it out of my interviews. But when my own father who was so rabidly hostile to Manson called me in Los Angeles and told me I've got to see this guy Nikolas on an upcoming TV interview promoting his The Manson File, I thought my father had gone senile. You can imagine after the previous years hearing this sudden turnaround in attitude about Manson and how shocked I was. This was totally against everything he stood for. But anything to get a similar book about himself which might rehabilitate his image too.
There was absolutely NO public connection between The Church of Satan and Manson until 1988 when I was invited to perform at the 8-8-88 rally as the High Priestess of the Church of Satan. By the way, there’ve been numerous reports that Anton LaVey either attended that rally or performed at that rally. Let's set that record straight once and for all. He wasn't there at all that night in any way whatsoever.
After Nikolas completed Charles Manson Superstar, LaVey's insistence on a similar documentary about himself, as with The Manson File, grew even more emphatic. I'll allow Nikolas to describe the details in another forum. Briefly, video footage was shot and the beginning of a Video Werewolf documentary like Charles Manson Superstar for LaVey was begun. But LaVey made the conditions so intolerable that Nikolas put an end to the production. In short, Manson was more professional and easier to work with than LaVey. Now, twenty years later, the historical background is long covered up. People would like to conveniently forget that I've got documentation. We find extremes on all ends claiming wildly differing versions of revisionist Manson/Church of Satan history. On one extreme we find the very squeamish Church of Latter-Day Saint LaVey who believe that "Manson = Nikolas Schreck" so there can be no mention of anything to do with Manson whatsoever. On the other extreme, you've got fantasists like my very own mentally challenged offspring, who ignorantly spout whatever pops into their heads to whomever holds a microphone in front of them, without a clue about what they're talking about. People like this, whose need for attention is so out of control will babble anything, no matter how ludicrous. My estranged son for example is quoted by credulous "authors" and "journalists" as saying that Manson actually co-founded The Church of Satan with LaVey, Susan Atkins, Bobby Beausoleil et al. And the pea-brain journalists never question if this fantastic cast of characters he describes makes any sense, but report it as fact. Nor do they do just a little extra fact checking. They might learn that Manson couldn't possibly have helped found The Church of Satan in 1966 while incarcerated at Terminal Island Prison! Nor could Susan Atkins since she wasn't yet employed by LaVey in 1966 but a little too busy with two boyfriends on a cross-country robbery spree. This sort of rewriting of history is at the other extreme of the squeamish but rather of anything goes, make it up as you will.
Most of us have read about the Manson case through Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter which was obviously a romanticized horror story rather than an account of what really happened. This new book is a kind of answer to all the false things that were written in this book. Nikolas, Bugliosi is now quite old but do you know if he is aware of your research ? And what kind of reactions did you receive?
Nikolas : Based on my observation of Bugliosi’s violent reaction to a colleague who confronted him with the many inconsistencies in his Helter Skelter cover-up in the 90s, I decided it would be a waste of time to interview him directly. However, considering my frequent critique of Bugliosi during my interviews on mainstream American television and radio in the late 80s, I’m sure someone as concerned about his ”good reputation” as Saint Vincent must be aware of my accusations. Some of my sources for the book were private detectives and law enforcement personnel who worked closely with Bugliosi during the trial, so they may have mentioned my research to him. But knowing his modus operandi as well as I do, I’m sure Vince would just dismiss me as a heinous lunatic fringe ”Manson follower” and ”conspiracy theorist”. He was assigned to do a job for the powers that be in Los Angeles and he was handsomely rewarded for pulling it off. I’m sure he’s not losing any sleep on my account.
One of the main points of the book is that what happened at Cielo Drive was a kind of vengeance between drug dealers and everything in this story was linked, in a great part, to the drug traffic and criminal activities that were taking place in this house. So what was the role of Manson in all that and had he a role at all? In other words, this argument can be felt as provocative in some ways because some people can think that you try to suggest that Manson was innocent.
Nikolas : If I said ”1 plus 1 equals 2” some people would say, ”There he goes, being provocative again!” I’ve never said Manson had no role in what happened. It’s just that he played a relatively minor supporting role, whereas Tex Watson, his supposed ”follower”, was the sole instigator of the Cielo Drive carnage. My book establishes the precise degree of Manson’s guilt and/or innocence not only for the Tate slaying, but in all nine counts of murder he was convicted for. I’ll limit my remarks here to the Cielo Drive episode since that’s the one you asked about. Manson was aware that Watson had a grudge against Frykowski and Sebring after they sold Tex and his girlfriend Linda Kasabian a defective solution of the new drug MDA and he knew the couple planned to go up to the Polanski home to get back at Frykowski and Sebring by stealing their drug stash. What’s been erased from the public record is that Manson, Watson and the girls had all partied at the Cielo Drive house many times, going back to when Manson’s musical patron Terry Melcher lived there over a year earlier. Melcher even let Tex live in the Cielo Drive guesthouse before the Polanskis moved in, so there’s nothing ”random” about this. Not only was this revenge robbery Tex’s plan alone, Manson didn’t order anyone to be murdered, for the simple reason that dead bodies of people you know tend to attract police attention, something any competent crook wants to avoid. As you say, the crucial fact that’s been concealed about the Hinman, Tate and La Bianca murders is that they resulted from the mutual drug dealing activities of the killers and the victims. They were typical underworld disputes between two criminal factions that turned deadly. Manson’s only role in the Cielo Drive incident was that he participated in the desperate attempt to erase evidence when this routine drug theft went wrong. That makes Manson an accessory to the crime, as he acknowledged during at least one parole hearing. But it’s a charge for which he should have served 12-18 years maximum rather than a lifetime sentence. After his arrest, he was offered an eighteenth-month sentence if he testified about what really happened, but he stayed true to the criminal code of silence. In fact, a major reason why he’s still locked up is because of his own refusal to talk about it. All three Manson trials were fatally flawed by major judicial errors and malfeasance by both defense and prosecution. Based on those legal technicalities alone, including the fact that he was deprived of his constitutional right to defend himself, Manson would have been freed decades ago if he was anyone else. So what I argue in my book is something much more complicated than Manson’s innocence.
Other people talked about this drugs use and abuse in the underbelly of Hollywood’s milieu. You quote Michael Caine who spoke about a party with Manson and his girls at the house of Mama Cass from the Mamas and Papas. I also thought of the movie Mondo Hollywood in which we see Jay Sebring, Bobby Beausoleil and many others who are mentioned in your book, as if all these very different people had all one common point: acid and LSD. How would you describe the Hollywood of that time?
Nikolas : A non-stop psychedelic orgy whose drugs were supplied by the same East Coast Mafia syndicate running the movie studios and record companies which employed the celebrity orgiasts. It was an open secret that the 10050 Cielo Drive house in which record producer Terry Melcher lived and which Roman and Sharon Polanski later rented was the center of a swinging acid and orgy social circle. This endless party spilled over to the Woodstock Drive home of the Mamas and the Papas singer Cass Elliot and the Sunset Boulevard mansion of the Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson as well as the villa owned by Elvis Presley. That incestuous scene had been going full blast since 1966, even though it began with the earlier excesses of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. One of the main sources for acid and cocaine for this exclusive clientele was Jay Sebring, whose hairdressing business was a front for an organized crime enterprise funded by a New Jersey Mafia family. This was the already wild situation Dennis Wilson brought his new ex-con musical discovery and lover Charles Manson into in 1968. When Wilson introduced Manson to his young live-in friend and dope dealer Charles Watson and his show biz colleagues Terry Melcher, Sharon Tate, John Phillips, Mama Cass and the agent/realtor Rudy Altobelli, the stage was set and the cast was selected for the bad trip that happened one year later. As my book uncovers, a major motive behind the Helter Skelter cover-up orchestrated by the entertainment industry and the L.A. legal establishment was preventing the public from learning about the secret lives of the stars who invited Manson and his circle into their mansions, their recording studios and their beds. Zeena’s art accompanying ”The Beverly Hillbilly” chapter in my book captures the spirit of late 60s Hollywood better than any words could.
What I liked very much in your book is that you emphasize the fact that Manson was a Southern boy, a ”redneck” and farm boy from rural Kentucky, brought up in Southern churches and listening to country music. And when we listen to his music, this aspect is much more obvious than the supposed influence of the Beatles (but once again, it was Bugliosi’s fantasy). He seemed to speak quite a lot to you about this ”hillbilly” upbringing. It leads to very interesting social questions: Is a ”hillbilly” an outcast in modern American society? Is it impossible for this class of people to be accepted in artistic, intellectual or other urban circles? Is the case of Manson a kind of allegory or metaphor of the discrimination that can be felt when you are a ”redneck” from the South? Of course, I thought of some books like Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto, but, according to you, how is this rural background manifested in Manson?
Nikolas : Charles is the last Confederate soldier, holed up in a cave, waiting for the rebel yell that means the South has risen again. His revolutionary and ecological ideas as well as his free-form Christian mysticism can be traced to his hillbilly roots in a traditional love of the land, connection to animals, deep religiosity, and distrust of the federal government, which many rural Southerners still see as the diabolical invention of the hated Abraham Lincoln, who they view as a despot who destroyed the Constitution. The social questions you pose are very important to understanding why Manson is perceived as the archetype of Evil in America. In the late 1960s, when Manson emerged in the media, the murders of Kennedy in Texas and Martin Luther King in Tennessee were still fresh, as was the violent Southern opposition to the civil rights movement. There was no more stinging insult among the liberal intelligentsia and the hippie counterculture than ”redneck”. So, yes, a hillbilly like Manson is definitely an outcast in U.S. society, whose norms are dictated by a media controlled by East and West Coast urban intellectuals who regard Southerners with contempt. Despite this bias, Manson’s rural outlaw Southern authenticity was embraced by the rock music elite. His persona fit perfectly into the country rock fad popular among the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters springing up at a time when Dylan and the Rolling Stones flirted with the Nashville sound. If the Capitol Records Manson LP and rockumentary Terry Melcher and the Beach Boys were preparing to release in ‘69 hadn’t been rudely interrupted by the murders, Manson would’ve had a career in the vein of The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson, more Lynyrd Skynyrd than Helter Skelter.
Of course, a writer puts much of himself when he writes such an investigative work, and sometimes I had the feeling of reading more about yourself than about Manson himself, especially when you talk about his Gnostic shamanism. We know about your interest for the history of religions, your analyses are very interesting, but don’t you think that’s putting too much intelligence in the logorrhoea of Manson?
Nikolas : One man’s logorrhoea is another man’s Logos. As I say in the book’s epilogue, there’s no such thing as an ”objective author”. I openly reveal my prejudices in this book rather than pretend at scholarly impartiality. I’m not claiming that Manson himself defines his spiritual insight in the language I used to analyze it. What makes him a remarkable figure in contemporary Western mysticism is that an uneducated self-described ”dummy” and common criminal attained spontaneous realizations identical to the most profound teachings of Gnosticism, shamanism, Sufism, Tantra, and Christian mysticism. The Manson myth claims that he merely spouts a con-man’s half-baked double talk borrowed from popular occultism. By comparing Manson’s metaphysics with these ancient traditions, I sought to demonstrate that he possesses a genuinely prophetic and visionary wisdom of universal initiatory value. I really believe that he’s an ”outlaw shaman”, with all the contradictions that phrase implies. Having had the privilege of learning from several realized spiritual masters from many religious lineages, I can testify that many of my conversations and religious debates with Manson have been on an equally insightful level. Privately, the person Charles is very different from the Manson act he puts on for the media. If he hadn’t been dragged into a series of Tex Watson’s drug robbery scams, Manson would be revered today as a religious teacher and as a force for positive change instead of being doomed to his current status as a media monster. That’s one of the many tragedies of this case.
One of the most delicious part of the book, and one of the funniest ones, is the part in which you speak of Manson’s homosexual tendencies, his fantasies about Cary Grant, and his refusal to have sex with Robert Conrad and Peter Falk. There is even, if I remember well, the suggestion of a sexual relationship with Dennis Wilson. What’s your point of view on all that? Do you think it’s true or part of Manson’s provocative talk?
Nikolas : Not only is it true, there’s much more to the neglected homoerotic aspect of the case than there was room to include. Manson really did become involved in the closet Hollywood homosexual underworld when he parked in Cary Grant’s space in the Universal Studio parking lot. And he’s told me in great detail about other closet cases in the music and movie industry who he serviced as a ”rough trade” male prostitute, clients he calls the ”secret suckers.” Manson’s relationship with Dennis Wilson was so intense it even made some of the girls in Charlie’s commune jealous. One of the many show business secrets the Helter Skelter myth covered up was the then career-destroying fact that Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys’ only sex symbol, was a promiscuous bisexual, who, like Manson, was notorious for fucking anything that moved, regardless of gender. Worse still for the Beach Boys innocent public image was the notion of their macho dreamboat drummer being sodomized by a man reviled as the most sinister serial killer in history. While none of these escapades would shock anyone today, these were deep dark secrets even in the ”free love” atmosphere of the late 60s. But these hidden homosexual hijinks aren’t just celebrity gossip – they led directly to the murders. Manson first met Dennis Wilson while buying dope from their mutual friend, the gay drug dealer and musician Gary Hinman, who also discreetly serviced Hollywood homosexuals. Bobby Beausoleil only met Hinman, who he killed, because he was trying to get away from Kenneth Anger’s unwanted advances. The Hinman connection led directly to Wilson introducing Manson to his live-in friend Tex Watson, who Manson and several other sources allege was also an active bisexual. Again, much of the secrecy this case is enshrouded in was meant to obscure the kinky lifestyles of the rich and famous and their sexual slumming in society’s lower depths.
The portrait you make of Voytek Frykowski, one of the persons who were killed at Cielo Drive, is just terrifying: he killed Sharon Tate’s dog, he sodomized Billy Doyle in a public humiliation ritual that was apparently shot on video. Where did you get these pieces of information? What kind of person was this Frykowski, who was also a close friend of Polanski?
Nikolas : Polanski’s autobiography describes how Frykowski accidentally killed Sharon Tate’s dog Sapirstien. It’s also mentioned in several other accounts by people who knew him. Frykowski’s public rape of the drug dealer Billy Doyle is chronicled in police reports, since homicide detectives investigated this incident immediately after the murders in search of motives. Doyle sold the bad MDA to Frykowski that Frykowski then sold to Tex Watson and Linda Kasabian, which, in turn, motivated their revenge robbery on August 9, 1969 that ended with a stoned Frykowski getting killed. Every source described Frykowski as a brutal self-destructive drunk with an uncontrollable violent streak. Even the day after the murder, Polanski said Voytek was a ”loser” who he should have thrown out of his house. Sharon Tate hated this dangerous houseguest dealing drugs to strangers from her living room, even though her ex, Jay Sebring, was doing the same thing. Tate’s mother later admitted that Sharon bitterly complained that she wished Polanski would get rid of Frykowski in the days before her death. But the most interesting puzzle about Frykowski is how an exile from a Communist country during the Cold War could travel freely in the USA without a proper visa. As I explore in the book, one layer of secrecy surrounding the murder investigation had to do with what the FBI and other agencies suspected about Frykowski’s intelligence connections, since he knew many Polish exiles who were CIA agents, some of whom also died mysterious deaths.
You have talked about a malediction concerning the persons who try to find the truth about all this? Have you encountered some special problems and magical events that make you believe in this malediction?
Nikolas : I know that seems absurd to materialists unaware of the role unseen spiritual forces play in our lives. But experience has shown me that this is a very real phenomenon that should be taken seriously. Contrary to what one might imagine, I don’t think this malevolent power has much to do with Manson himself. He’s only one of a long list of people fated to be involved in a case much bigger than him. One example of the malediction is the almost unbelievable series of tragedies that have dogged Roman Polanski’s whole life. Then there’s Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. When he was drunk or stoned, which was most of the time, he told his friends about the true circumstance of the killings, dismissing the Helter Skelter legend as ”bullshit” and suggesting that he bore some motivating responsibility for the crimes. He kept threatening to write a book that would tell the true story. I believe his death by drowning was a result of the curse. Closer to home, one summer day in 1987, I was collecting the material for the first Manson File. I’d had trouble making a copy of the coroner’s drawing of Gary Hinman’s wounds, which clearly showed how his ear had been sliced by Manson’s sword a few hours before Hinman was killed by Bobby Beausoleil. The copy kept coming out wrong so that I had to look at this picture again and again. That night, I was attacked by unknown assailants who cut my right ear off. If that wasn’t magical warning enough, as soon as I got to the hospital, a social worker told me that I was eligible for financial compensation from a fund Doris Tate, Sharon Tate’s mother, had set up for victims of violent crime in Los Angeles. A magician ignores such obvious synchronicities at his peril. In the mid-90s several investigative journalists interviewed Zeena and me about what we’d discovered about the hidden facts of the murders. None of these sceptics believed Zeena when she warned them that this was a black hole one should only approach with spiritual precautions. When they researched what we told them they were hit by instant bad luck, unexplained violence, mental and physical illness or financial catastrophe. Even while getting this new edition of The Manson File into print, a ridiculous number of obstacles delayed its completion. This happened so often, every time my editor called to tell me the latest problem, he’d say, ”the Manson curse strikes again!” After a few decades of this kind of thing, you feel like you’re trying to open a locked door that some demon’s holding shut with all of its strength.
Zeena, there are links between your own story and the story of Manson, and you have crossed each other’s paths several times. What does he represent for you today?
Zeena : I almost feel that I know Charles too well at this point to put words to our relationship and the bizarre connections we've had to each other before we even knew each other, that he was like the patron saint that brought Nikolas and me together, and that he's brought many very wonderful things into our lives that people would find difficult to imagine. For this reason, I felt I really needed to connect to Charles and the saga that has become his curse in this lifetime through the nine-fold artpiece I created God Bless Charles Manson. I feel I've come to know this person in ways that can't be described in mere words. Even when I was doing the transcription of Nikolas's interview with him for the book, getting every nuance of his special language, I got into his mind and understood him on a level of love and compassion. Many people who think they understand Manson, because they think he's cool or interesting or funny, or "mean", think they understand him. But they're only understanding a projection of themselves. He's said as much. But when I got into my artwork and carefully placed the details of his own formulae of positives and negatives, lightness and darkness, mirrored images, Abraxas as the counterforce to all duality, I believe I came to understand Charles in an even deeper way that often brought tears to my eyes while working on the whole project.
To end up with Manson, why is there such a fascination for him in America? I have talked to many American artists, lately with Lydia Lunch, and he is still, like some famous serial killers are (even though he did not commit any murder himself), a source of inspiration for those who shared the ”American nightmare”. Why is it so?
Nikolas : The pop cultural fascination with Manson is mostly inspired by the fantasy Bugliosi manufactured than by the real human being. Manson’s telling the truth when he says that he’s a mirror in which people see in him what they’re capable of seeing. We need to separate the positive inspiration he exerted on many of the people who met him during his pre-notoriety 1967-69 phase from the legend which consumed him after his arrest. Even in his own lifetime, he’s become just as much of a myth as King Arthur or Bluebeard. And like them, the myth doesn’t have much to do with the historical reality. Some anti-Manson obsessives are convinced he’s Satan incarnate. They’re vicariously excited by the idea of hypnotic powers turning innocent ”followers” into sex slaves and mindless killers of random strangers. When I explain that that wasn’t what happened at all, and that it was a squalid drug robbery, they react with the same indignation of Christians presented with facts that cast doubt on the literal truth of the Bible. At the opposite extreme, there are equally fascinated Manson admirers who naively believe he’s a harmless Santa Claus figure, a saint martyred by the pigs because he wanted to save the trees. These dreamers tend to be in denial about his long criminal history as a thief, pimp and drug dealer with Mafia ties going back to the 50s. They don’t want the complicated details about the crimes to intrude on their simplistic fantasy. When the first flying saucer sightings took place, Carl Jung theorized that humanity projected the suppressed archetypes of all of their buried religious fears and hopes onto these inexplicable apparitions. Manson, too, is an UFO who touches some deep chord in the human imagination. The mystery of the fascination Manson inspires is rooted in the equally mysterious nature of charisma itself, which was originally understood as a gift from the gods. That’s why I predict that in centuries to come Manson, for better or worse, will be remembered as a religious figure. I should point out that nobody’s more bemused and amused by this weird fascination with his person than Manson himself, who recently asked me, ”How the hell did I get this life?”
Of course, we remember you as the leader of Radio Werewolf. Musically speaking, what did you work on since that time? Have you had other projects? Are you working on new stuff? Is it very different to your earlier work? Are there plans for re-releasing your past records?
Nikolas : My first post-RW musical project was completely removed from the bohemian subcultural milieu I’d spent so much time in. I conceived, organized and produced Sir Christopher Lee’s first album as a singer, a logistical and artistic intercontinental challenge that encompassed opera, country music, and Broadway musicals. That expanded the musical horizons of my own work. Since then, I’ve composed many songs and longer instrumental pieces, and now that I’ve finished a series of forthcoming books, the first of which to be published was the new Manson File, I’m recording a solo album. Yes, it’s very different from Radio Werewolf, but my voice, my preference for the keyboard and my penchant for the minor key probably offers some continuity to what came before. We’re frequently asked to record new Radio Werewolf music, or to go out on a Radio Werewolf ”comeback” tour. Going backwards doesn’t interest me at all, so that will never happen. But because new generations keep discovering Radio Werewolf, we’ve agreed to put out a re-release of the beast from its cage. It doesn’t really matter that Radio Werewolf withdrew from the field of battle so long ago. We still get mail addressed to ”Radio Werewolf” as if it’s still in operation. The Frankenstein monster that escaped from our lab now lives a posthumous life independent of its creators.
That band was quite difficult to classify. In its first period, it was quite rock-oriented, not so far from a theatrical ”batcave” sound (the song ”Cadillac Hearse”), then there has been a more dark ambient/ magical side (The Lightning and the Sun) and finally the more spoken-word oriented side, with sermons based on a minimal accompaniment of organ and percussions. Looking back on that band, was the message more important than the music itself? Did you consider yourself as a musician or more like a man who had a spiritual mission and a message to tell?
Nikolas : When I’m writing a song I never think about what genre someone might label it. I’ve been condemned to the Gothic and Industrial ghettos, but none of the ten musicians who did official duty in Radio Werewolf, including myself, had any interest in those styles of music. The ”Werewolf” in Radio Werewolf refers to the shapeshifting inherent in lycanthropy. That’s why I presented a different persona in each performance and recording just as we used whatever musical form suited the subject matter rather than limiting ourselves to one fixed mode of composition. For instance, from the early RW period, ”1960 Cadillac Hearse” draws on early Beach Boys hot rod tunes and corny horror novelty records circa 1964-65 without a trace of the usual whiny and suicidal ”Goth” sound. A theatrical character piece like ”Triumph of the Will” could’ve come from cabaret or a Broadway musical and certainly doesn’t fit into the Gothic genre. As far as ”The Lightning and the Sun” being more magical, all of our music followed magical principles, including the songs that don’t announce themselves as obviously ”occult”. I prefer the German phrase ”Tonkunstler” or ”sound artist” to ”musician”. The spiritual mission you mention was inseparable from the musical vehicle that conveyed it. When I left the USA and went to Egypt in 1983, I intended to renounce worldly life and settle down there to devote myself to quietly mastering the art of magic and meditation with a commune of like-minded souls. But I was given divine marching orders that told me to go back to the West with what I’d learned and confront the forces of ignorance and repression directly with the power of sound. RW’s music and message were equally important, as in our many instrumentals, where pure sound absent any verbal overlay was the only means of communication.
Love Conquers All remains my favourite album of Radio Werewolf (especially haunting pieces like ”Barbarossa” or ”Heidentor”). Do you think you had reached the ending point at that moment and said all you had to say?
Zeena : Not an ending, but as the first part of Love Conquers All symbolizes, a new beginning. When we recorded that album we'd come to a stage where Radio Werewolf's ritual performances at various magical and sacred sites in Austria and Germany caused us to realize that what we were doing was mutating into a strictly religious phenomenon. After you've had intense initiatory experiences at such sacred genius loci it changes your consciousness and spiritual sensitivity so that you can't go back to the mainstream music marketplace. When I wrote the songs "Heidentor", "Barbarossa", "Pleasure Dome", "TWO", and "Luchorpan" I found I was tapping into the same timeless mystical experience that inspired some of my favorite religious music such as Messiaen, Hildegard von Bingen, Satie's Vespers and his mystical compositions. Those songs mark a turning point in my initiation that eventually led me to renounce worldly life in general and make my spiritual development my main priority. After you've seen behind the facade of a stage set you can't take the play seriously any more. In other words, you can't go backwards and regain your ignorance, you have to move forward.
Nikolas : Love Conquers All was the climax of the journey from darkness to light our publicly available album-length recordings takes the listener on. The Fiery Summons, as the title indicates, invokes the Fenris Wolf, Abraxas, and the other spiritual forces required for the rite. Songs for the End of the World‘s evocation of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, was the necessary act of destruction and opening of empty space, the long night of the soul the initiate passes through to be reborn. Love Conquers All is the dawn of a new creation, the rising of the alchemical phoenix from the ashes. The three vinyl sonic magic talismans released in between the albums served to seal each stage of the transformation and to effect augmenting magical changes in the material world. However, that was only all we had to say to a public forum. After Zeena and I called a moratorium on public performance and the conventions of the mainstream music industry after a rally in Switzerland, we recorded and performed several esoteric Radio Werewolf transmissions which were only made available on a sworn contractual basis to initiates who signed the Werewolf Order pact. If we’d stayed within the limits of the alternative music scene we would have become dancing bears offering what could be misunderstood as escapist entertainment. So we created a purer vehicle that clearly separated spirituality from show business.
There was also this cover of ”These Boots Are Made For Walking”, which was very surprising at that moment. Was this song just a kind of joke or something much more seriously ironical with a special meaning?
Nikolas : ”Seriously ironical” is the mot juste. By that time, we’d endured years of right-wing Christian fundamentalist police and media harassment during the ”Satanic Panic” witch hunt. Our albums were declared ”Jügendgefährlich” (dangerous to youth) by the notoriously irony-free German government, thanks to some overly sensitive left-wing cultural commissars. And our reputation made us what Zeena called ”the world’s most banned band”, so that our concerts were carried out like secret military operations. Our Sinatra tribute had a deeper encoded meaning, but it’s also a deliberate self-parody of our image, a reaction to all of the heavy seriousness with which we were regarded. Black humor, sarcasm, and irony were always essential to the Radio Werewolf experience. But because we kept unsmiling poker faces throughout the public part of the rite, only those on our wavelength got the joke. Loki, a deity central to Radio Werewolf, is a trickster, a cruel cosmic comedian who breaks boundaries through laughter, mockery, and inappropriate behavior. As with our song ”The Last Laugh”, humor can serve a deadly serious purpose. What appears to be a joke can touch on hidden truths a more sober presentation wouldn’t get across. In describing Radio Werewolf to one interviewer, I quoted that line from a Bee Gees song that says, ”I started a joke that got the whole world crying.”
Zeena : On the most obvious level, my recording of "Boots" was having fun with our public image. But there was a special meaning too that was communicated in the entire package. Don't forget that we are magicians, and that every aspect of what we release has a specific alchemical balance, from the costume I designed and wore in the cover photograph to the precise location at which that photograph was taken. I can say that I was working with the energy that comes from mixing extreme hypereroticism with humor and fear. But as with all magic, a talisman like "Boots" achieves its desired effect on a subconscious level. So I'd defeat the purpose if I explained the "special meaning." One of the problems with the downloading of music originally issued on vinyl in a sleeve is that the listener only gets the song itself without the necessary context that the package provides. When the original recording was presented as a magical object of art, and you're only hearing a digital distillation of the sounds without even the correct accompanying image, then obviously the special meaning has been lost.
I do not want to get into your personal life, I know it must be painful enough, but you were spokeswoman for the Church of Satan at the same time you got involved in Radio Werewolf, and you appeared in many TV shows and were a kind of ”public person”.
Zeena : Though it’s true I was "a kind of 'public person'", that wasn’t my own choice. As soon as I was born, my parents used me as a media prop for their circus act, like the family lion, the interesting artifacts, the antique cars, the Black House, or any number of accoutrements that made their "show" more interesting. They thrust me into their PR activities when I was still an infant, even before The Church of Satan existed. By the time I entered school, I was already notorious as the ”real Rosemary’s Baby”. Discrimination from teachers and schoolmates was my constant shadow once I entered the structured world of schools and rules and rights and wrongs. Nonetheless, I was raised to believe that this was our religion. I took it seriously and argued my Constitutional right to freedom of religion in school, because so many people in The Church of Satan took it seriously in those early days. We didn't know we were the suckers the High Priest was referring to when he quoted P.T. Barnum about a sucker is born every minute. We didn't know that we were all being conned by both the High Priest and his live in partner who everyone thought was his wife (my mother). And that old saying about blood being thicker than water isn't true because they lied to their own blood as much as they did to their customers.
Appearing in TV shows was the result of a specific event. In 1985, a US news show called 20/20 accused The Satanic Bible of being responsible for child daycare center molestations, animal mutilations, and the rest of the allegations we're familiar with now - but which were new then. I was working for The University of California’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety at that time. Prior to the night of that broadcast I never had any problem at work. Only close friends and colleagues knew who I was. But the morning after that show when the first co-workers came into the office, one person asked me, "What's your father's name?" Then I knew this was going to be a nightmare to deal with. I called my father and asked him what his media strategy would be to deal with this catastrophe. Nothing. He didn't care. As far as he was concerned it didn't concern him. It wasn't anything he needed to worry about. He certainly wasn't going out in public to do anything about it. He admitted that many media sources had already contacted him and he was just going to ignore it until it went away. I tried to convince him that this would only get worse if he didn't respond and that he really needed to get someone to answer calls quickly or it would be taken as an admission of guilt or suspicion. Finally he admitted he had no one to deal with interviews or media. I offered to help temporarily until he found someone. This was not what I'd intended to do with my life, I had other plans. After about the third TV interview the byline under my name, instead of the title "Magistra", mistitled me as "High Priestess". To me, my mother was the only High Priestess, so in my mind this was a big mistake. But my father's bitterness about my mother leaving him was so great that when he saw the caption, he was so relieved to have someone doing anything for him, his exact words were, "Well, I don't see anyone else around here doing anything for me. You may as well be the High Priestess." So from May 1985 until I left in April 1990 that's what I was. And to this day I have no doubt as to the blood, sweat and tears I poured into my dedication to that position and my work for that organization. I only regret that I'd been lied to since childhood about what it really was and that my dutiful nature was wasted on ingrates all the way around. But all for the better to have opened my eyes, which was very painful, as you pointed out, but necessary.
Now, as for Radio Werewolf: I should clarify how I became involved since there’s so much confusion about Radio Werewolf’s different phases. The notorious 8-8-88 Rally was the only time the old line up of Radio Werewolf and the yet-to-be new line up of Radio Werewolf worked together. It would be the only performance that Nikolas, the original percussionist Evil Wilhelm, and I ever performed live together. That marked the transition point spanning three phases of Radio Werewolf: 1) the Nikolas Schreck/Evil Wilhelm collaboration, 2) the solo Nikolas Schreck (The Fiery Summons), and 3) the Nikolas Schreck/Zeena collaboration. However, back in May of 1988, I went to see Nikolas and Gisela Getty and Non perform in Berkeley. This wasn’t specifically a Radio Werewolf performance. But Nikolas was reciting Ezra Pound’s poetry to Gisela's Japanese Kodo drum performance. I had a strong theatrical background with an emphasis on surrealism, Dada, and Expressionism but also in ancient Hellenic drama. Having no knowledge of the earlier Radio Werewolf performances, I came to the Berkeley performance fresh and its stark, streamlined delivery very much appealed to me. I'd known and dated many musicians, and though I'd supported them as artists, I never considered having anything to do with them professionally. I just had no interest. And to be honest, had I seen the previous Radio Werewolf, I also wouldn’t have wanted to do that type of music either. But when I saw Nikolas perform entirely to his own design with Gisela's accompaniment, I was very impressed. In retrospect, I'm very glad that the first time I saw Nikolas perform was a rare occasion like that. It gave me the opportunity to see who he alone really was. Based on that performance, we got talking about other performances we'd both done of a similar nature and out of that developed the idea to do something together but still it was too early to know that it would be Radio Werewolf. Perhaps something different, because things had not yet worked out the way they did between Nikolas and Wilhelm yet. When I'd shown Nikolas my artwork and a draft for a piece called "Bring Me the Head of Geraldo Rivera" inspired by the Geraldo Rivera TV interview with Manson prior to my meeting Nikolas, we began plans to do something together with that, which later became the Radio Werewolf EP of the same name. So it's not as though Nikolas simply incorporated his wife into Radio Werewolf, but rather we would’ve collaborated as equals on something regardless. That Wilhelm stopped participating in Radio Werewolf just allowed Nikolas to continue what he'd done with The Fiery Summons anyway, but with new collaborators. But really, Nikolas and I, and only a couple of months later, Kirby, all began working quite nicely together as a unit when we recorded Songs for the End of the World. So it was I who made the decision to work with Nikolas as a collaborator, not as a hired hand or a "back-up singer" to Radio Werewolf. In fact, we probably would’ve formed our own "other thing" if Wilhelm had continued on with Radio Werewolf and not pulled out. So it's all a matter of shifting collaborators.
I know you rejected the Church of Satan, your family, and what you consider to be lies, but do you think these thoughts have had an influence on the records you have made with Radio Werewolf or, on the contrary, do you see Radio Werewolf’s subject matters as something purer, devoid of these external influences?
Zeena : Overall, I try to reach something more transpersonal and religious in music, though the message might not be readily apparent. So, no, my experiences from my past and upbringing didn't play a part in what I brought to my Radio Werewolf recordings. Even the ones recorded during my time still in the Church of Satan. For example when I was working on The Lightning and The Sun. I would say the mindset that I was in when recording or conceiving of the pieces was so faraway from the influences you mentioned, not simply in terms of theme but in crossing over into other dimensions, and that feeling of absorption one gets when working on a composition that you know is linking to other celestial forces or entities, then you can't say that has anything to do with you personally or your personal human experiences in terms of a contrived thought that creates the piece. When I create music, I work it until I feel I've hit something that is connecting to whatever is the "not-me" eternal mental continuum that can in a more pure sense navigate other energies ancient or future to act as a medium. But I try to avoid what's popularly termed personal expression. For some people personal expression is a very rewarding form of artistic experience. But I tend to find it rather boring. Even though it can be cathartic, and I occasionally create things privately for such purposes. In the end, and this could have much to do with my meditation and spiritual practices as well, if there were to be some feeling of representation in my music of that nature, it wouldn't be entirely personal but rather an overall mood as experienced generally in the human condition.
Nikolas, have your vision of things changed since the late Eighties? Do you assume everything that you have said and believed in your early career?
Nikolas : My work since then makes it clear that I’ve renounced a great deal of what I said and believed in that early period. I’ve always been happy to admit when I’ve been wrong about something and to change my mind accordingly. In the late Eighties, I was an arrogant and vengeful blood-drinking theistic Devil worshipper with ”visions of swastikas in my head and plans for everyone” to quote the poet James Osterberg. In the years to come, to make a long story short, Zeena and I discovered that the Devil we thought we were worshipping was actually God. I know you Frenchies have a problem with God since you chopped your king’s head off, but bear with me. After some misguided wandering through the more confused depths of organized occultism, we founded the Sethian Liberation Movement in 2002 as a vehicle of this revelation. Another major change was our realization that the West was spiritually dead and that nothing will revive it. When we moved to Austria we began to reincorporate Eastern yoga techniques we’d learned as teenagers back into our practice. Slowly but surely, over many years, that led us to formally convert to the left-hand path of Tantric Buddhism, which is centered on generating the universal compassion we used to disdain and dissolving the very ego we used to glorify. That doesn’t mean that I now deny the existence of the Devil, by whatever name you prefer to call him. But now he’s more like an old friend I don’t have much reason to keep in touch with anymore.
What memories do you keep of the artistic exchanges you had at the time of Radio Werewolf and the energy that was going on at that time? Have you got a certain nostalgia about what was going on at that moment? Or on the contrary, do you think that everything was driven by a certain anger and disgust at the world around you?
Nikolas : Honestly, I have fonder memories of the more pleasurable exchanges of bodily fluids at that time than I do of some of the ”artistic” exchanges. I have no nostalgia for the ”good old days”. I know our activities from that more intense pre-virtual reality era have been idealized and demonized through the fog of legend. But when I look back, I see that my youthful naivete, idealism, and wishful thinking blinded me to the negative nature of much of what I was involved in. And it’s painfully obvious to me what terrible character judgement I used in choosing some of my collaborators. I do have positive memories of the actual creative work accomplished in the studio, the stage and the screen which has stood the test of time and continues to inspire our admirers and annoy our detractors today. And yes, Radio Werewolf, as a creature born in the ominous year 1984, was definitely driven by my anger and disgust at the grotesque conditions that ruled Reagan’s America. But my reactionary and destructive revulsion to the times was balanced by a creative urge to provide a positive alternative and a force of spiritual guerilla resistance.
What was your relationship to public performance as you were the leader of Radio Werewolf and as you participated in many TV shows? When we type your name on the Internet, we fall upon these TV shows, and a friend of mine told me he discovered you through these appearances? How do you react to that?
Nikolas : My performances drew on the discipline of traditional ceremonial magic and my early theatre experience in classical drama, the theatre of the absurd and musicals. On TV or in our concerts we were carrying out public magical rituals. One unbreakable rule of ritual, as in theater, is that you stay in character and you keep going no matter what happens around you, even if the curtains are on fire, the amps have blown and the audience is rioting. As for your friend learning about me from YouTube, that happens a lot, and it’s been a mixed blessing. It’s interesting when people from the former Soviet Bloc, the Middle East, and Asia who never encountered my early work contact me to share their positive feedback. The Internet’s illusion of immediacy makes it brand new for them. The same thing’s happened with young Internet-bred Radio Werewolf enthusiasts for whom the 80s and 90s are ancient history but who are even more fanatical than our original admirers were. And we’ve won plenty of new enemies too, who wrongly assume that our Satanic Televangelism crusade over twenty years ago still reflects our current position. The Internet’s random, digressive and fragmentary nature takes bits of audio-visual data out of their historical context. Mix that with information-overloaded multi-tasking attention spans that can’t focus longer than a Tweet and it’s very unlikely that the data received will be understood on more than the most superficial level. When someone watches these old programs on the web today they don’t grasp that when Zeena and I defended our religious beliefs on national TV in the last century, we weren’t providing entertainment. We were fighting a very real threat from a well-funded right-wing Christian political movement determined to persecute all occultists and minority alternative religionists. And Zeena had already been fighting that battle alone for four years before we met each other.