By Courtney Jerk
“Outside of whatever historical interest this record may have, it is the work of a man who was as good a singer/songwriter as he was a human being…
-Kenneth M. Cassidy, on LIE: The Love And Terror Cult LP
The other day, my mother and I were sitting in the living room, when I decided to do a little experiment. I told her that I wanted to play a song for her, and that I wanted her to tell me what she thought about it. I played “Look At Your Game Girl,” from the LIE album. While it played, I asked her if she liked the song. She said that she did, and asked who was singing. I didn’t answer her, and instead asked if she thought that the man singing had a good voice. She thought that he did. I waited until the song was over to tell her that it was actually Charles Manson singing and playing guitar. She scowled, and immediately tried to take back everything she had said just moments before. My mother acted as though she had been duped into spilling some kind of juicy family secret, or like she had just admitted to owning all of David Haselhoff’s albums, even the hard to find imports like Hooked on a Feeling. Nothing so horrible, fortunately
Many people have called this album worthless, a novelty. Something that people investigate out of a morbid curiosity, only to be vastly disappointed at the quality of the material on the record. Perhaps a morbid curiosity of sorts is what attracts people to it in the first place, but LIE is by no means a worthless album. Manson had a knack for melody, and the songs on the album have a quiet, beatnik folk quality to them reminiscent of much of the music popular at the time.
The first song on the album is “Look At Your Game Girl,” the track that my mother inadvertently admitted to liking. The song is one of the highlights of the album; it’s only about two minutes long, but catchy and quite lovely. The shining point in this song is Manson’s voice, which has an unexpected emotional quality, and is very expressive. By no means could this be considered a “bad” song by anyone, and it would not be out of place on an oldies station.
The second track, “Ego,” is a strangely hypnotic song about the subconscious. Starting off slow and gradually constructing an intensity, it’s quite easy for one to imagine how this song would sound if performed by a full band. It’s also revealed that while he’s no Dylan, Manson is not bad with rhyme schemes, either. “You get afraid you’re gonna act like a clown/and you get mad when somebody puts you down/your heart’s a-pumpin and you’re paranoid to jump…”
“Mechanical Man” is the third track, and one that has been covered by other artists over the years. Marilyn Manson’s “My Monkey” uses some lines from this song: “I had a little monkey and I sent him to the country and I fed him on ginger bread. Along came a choo-choo, knocked my monkey coo-coo, and now my monkey’s dead.” The song is a chaotic blend of Manson’s chanting lyrics, backup female vocals, and an array of other small instruments, like maracas.
The fourth track, ironically titled “People Say I’m No Good,” is a mournful song lamenting the fact that Manson just really doesn’t fit in. Apparently he has been the scapegoat for the world’s problems many a time, and the real emotion in his voice does nothing to hide his unhappiness about this. “Do I really look so strange…” A lot of people at the time certainly thought so.
“Home Is Where You’re Happy” is another song that has been covered by a modern day band: the Lemonheads remade this on their album Creator. Clocking in at a mere 1:28, it is one of the more upbeat and positive songs on the album, about being free to do whatever you wish, as long as “you’re strong in your mind.” The lyrical work in this song is some of the best on the album; although it could come across as cheesy to some, Manson pulls it off and makes it sound genuine. Incidentally, the Lemonheads’ liner notes from Creator also contain a photo of Manson with various thank yous to members of the Family, and Evan Dando once appeared on MTV’s “120 Minutes“ holding a copy of the LIE album.
The twangy guitar in “Arkansas” combined with the country style lyrics and the eerie female backing vocals make this one of Manson’s most unique contributions to the album. Based solely on the lyrics alone, this song could have been written by any number of country singers from the time; admittedly it is a little odd to hear Manson say “gosh durn fool,” but this quirk renders it one of the more likeable songs on the album.
“I’ll Never Say Never to Always” is a forty-one second sing-along by the female Family members that were recording with Manson. It’s a catchy little tune, though simultaneously extremely creepy. The band Psychic TV did a version of the song under the new title, “Always is Always,” in 1983.
Track 8 on the album is “Garbage Dump,” yet another song that was remade by the infamous transgressive rocker GG Allin on his record You Give Love A Bad Name. Not really any lyrical genius at work here, as the majority of the song consists of “Garbage dump, Oh garbage dump…” etc. I did catch myself singing it after a few listens, however. Go figure.
“Don’t Do Anything Illegal” is a trance-like song that once again employs the use of those creepy female backup vocals and what seems to be some kind of hand held drum. This is one of the more forgettable songs on the album, as there really isn’t much to it except for the hypnotic sounding lyrics and droning background accompaniment.
The next track is “Sick City,” one with neither backup vocals nor accompanying instruments, only Manson and his guitar. This is another song that could easily find itself under the wing of any number of contemporary acts, with a naturally solid translation. The guitar and Manson’s stark lyrics give the song a very lonesome feel. “What can I do? I’m just a person/This is the line you always seem to hear/You just sit, things get worse and/You watch TV and drink your beer.”
“Cease to Exist” is the song that was recorded by the Beach Boys and re-titled “Never Learn Not To Love.” Manson’s voice at times during the song is reminiscent of Van Morrison; his lyrics are honest and genuine and his vocals have the kind of sincerity that is unexpected to one unfamiliar with Manson’s music. One of the best songs on the album.
A subject that Manson had become familiar with early on in his life rears its head on the next track, “Big Iron Door.” Only slightly over a minute long, it’s a soulful song about being locked in a jail cell. Manson’s voice is forlorn as he sings about the slamming of the “big iron door.” It’s obviously something that he’s experienced before, and will experience for an even longer period of time a few short years from the recording of the album.
“I Once Knew A Man,” the second to last song on the LIE album, is one where Manson’s voice sounds the most emotional and raw. His shaky vocals bring to mind a number of folk ballads that have been recorded over the years, however, there is a haunting and distant quality that is not found in many performers today. One of Manson’s best qualities was his voice, which despite what many will try to say, was actually quite good.
The album comes to a close with “Eyes Of A Dreamer,” one of the best tracks found on the album. It is an idealistic take on a world where one is free to do whatever he wishes; a somewhat positive take on a situation, and at certain points sounds as though it could have been written by a hippie during the same time period… ironic, considering Manson was strongly anti-hippie. There is a small break in the song with no vocals, in which Manson shakily strums his guitar as though trying to keep up with the beat of the song. Although it isn’t the best guitar work you’ll ever hear, it suits the song well and makes it one of Manson’s most endearing efforts.
It’s interesting to ponder the possibilities of what might have happened had Manson actually signed a recording contract. Would his music have been popular? Would he still be around today? What kind of impact would he have made? Although written off as a historical novelty by most critics, the LIE album contains a great potential and power. Manson was a talented man, though many will refuse to ever admit it, and one questions the objectivity of those critics who dismiss the record.
While a contract might have prevented the murders that brought Manson international infamy, Manson the musician’s popularity may have lead to cataclysmic consequences. The world will never know, but Manson’s music is like a bizarre portal into some fantasy timeline that has splintered off from our own reality.
“He had this kind of music that nobody else was doing. He would sit down with a guitar and start playing and making up stuff, different every time. It just kept comin’ out, comin’ out. Then he would stop and you would never hear that one again. Musically, I thought he was very unique. I thought he had something crazy, something great. He was like a living poet.”
-Neil Young, on Manson’s music.
“My music is not music. It’s a rap, a talk. Nothing I do over. I do it once from the soul in a trance. It’s not entertainment. I’m not a clown or an actor. I’m not in trade, nor am I running for office. I’m a prophet calling out warnings of ATWA. I’m authority from god. Here is the trouble. We come out with new. Others grab it, run and make movies and TV shows with distorted bits and pieces of the real for money and approval and rock n’ roll stars. That cuts it off.”
-Charles Manson, on his music.
Editor’s Note: If The Parable of Arable Land by the Red Krayola is a good record, then so is LIE.