Boston After Dark
p. 1, (12, 13). Vol. III, Number 7
February 15-21, 1972

Mel & Charlie's Women-

The Souring of Street Life

Some reflections on Ed Sanders' The Family,

Mel Lyman's Mirror at the End of the Road

by Ellen Herst

This isn't a book review. It's my response as a woman to reading all the gossip about Charles Manson and Mel Lyman. And, more than that, a response to the whole of hippie / freak culture and the "place" of women in it. I mean, it may be total drag to spend your life at the dishwasher, washing machine, supermarket etc, — and of course we know that — on the other hand it's not exactly a groove to hustle on the street, bake bread for your hippie farmer, serve the God incarnate, commit murders: to name a few options.

Sanders can say "in his universe women had no soul. They were to be slaves of Man" (p. 198), he doesn't see that Manson is not a universe unto himself. Shocked as I am by the particular viciousness of Manson's treatment of freak women (or by Calley's and other Gl's torture of Vietnamese), I'm not really surprised. Nor am I at a loss to understand why women take it. When I was 21 I had a boyfriend who reminds me of Manson and Lyman in more ways than I care to remember, and I still carry with me the fear that I, like Susan Atkins, etc., could be dominated by some man.

You see, Ed Sanders is stuck with the idea that Manson is some kind of evil genius. Or that he was under the influence of various evil cults — like the Process or other obscure California Satanists. But satanists are, just as Manson is, the symptoms of a diseased culture, not its causes. To use them to explain him is like using the Hell's Angels to explain Altamont.

skip to Lyman section...

Sanders' horror at Manson is a relief after the initial response to all the trial publicity, which led people to feel protective of him as a "freak like us." In fact, certain sectors of the Left, grooving out on his offing some rich white people, were big apologists for Manson; and Stew Albert, one of the original Yippie leaders, (writing, thank God, in the New University Review where not too many people will read him), still sees Manson as a "real victim," totally ignoring the ways he victimized women.

Now I know that Charlie's working class and has been an outcast all his life and that Nixon's even worse. But I still think he's a bad guy, just as I think that the Hell's Angels and Rusty Calley are bad guys. On the other hand, I don't think focussing on Manson or Lyman as evil geniuses is useful. The evil they practice is the evil of sexism that each has adapted to his own needs. In the case of Manson I was struck by his early history as a pimp - since that is how he operates throughout his career. Sanders says that when Manson was first in jail he spent a lot of time hanging out with pimps, trying to learn from them how they controlled their women. His first arrests, as a "common" criminal, were for transporting women across state lines for purposes of prostitution. The way women were used in the Manson family was a freak version of prostitution; they were sexual bait to get bikers and other men to join the family; loving care from 15-year-old girls kept 65 year old George Spahn from kicking the family off his ranch. To an incredible extent Manson thrived off the resources of women: they scrounged for food in the garbage behind supermarkets, did ripoffs, etc. To say nothing of the endless list of women with money and connections who turned them over to Manson: a stockbroker's daughter; a teacher with an $11,000 trust fund; a divorcee who contributed a good part of her $2 million settlement; Linda Kasabian, who was welcomed into the family after ripping off $5,000 from one of the men she had been travelling with, to name a few.

Living off women, is of course, what pimps do. How progressive of hippie men to have liberated themselves from the confines of straight jobs so that they can go and do likewise. How fortunate for Mel Lyman to have fallen in love with Jessie Benton, falling heir to a great deal of Thomas Hart Benton's property in the bargain. On a less lavish scale, freak women everywhere end up doing the same: in the country turning over their welfare checks; in the city, turning tricks. A worker from Project Place said:

"Place had a sort of hostel here at one point which was really bad and had a whole prostitution ring going... There's a group of kids, and what they do is the women come over to the runaway house and try to get women to go out prostituting. Somebody has done that to them, some guys, and that's what they're into for money."
Since there is practically no way for women on the street to get money (dope dealing — the basic hustle — is the exclusive province of men), many women do end up being prostitutes, although this is mainly the case with junkies. And that hardly means an "independent income." Jobs are very hard to get and, as one worker from Bridge said, "some women do get jobs, but then after all the other shit they end up supporting the men down there."

It's your basic no-win situation. Women with money and resources of their own are trapped by the promise of love and sexual gratification which some male holds out; younger women, especially runaways, have no recourse except to turn to men for some kind of security, [line unreadable]. Manson, the security, as lethal and imprisoning as it turned out to be (two women walked 28 miles barefoot to escape from the Death Valley hideout, since leaving voluntarily was not permitted), was quite real. Mary Brunner, Lynne Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins had a "home" with Manson for over two years. Compared to the experience of many runaway girls — a different crash pad every few days and as many, if not more, men as pads — the Manson family was some sort of haven. What a straw to clutch at. In fact many of the younger women that Manson picked up had along history of kicking around and being kicked around in hippiedom. And Manson, at 33, took them out of all that.

In the street the pattern of older, more experienced men preying on younger women seems typical. A Bridge worker said:

"The women tend to be much younger than the men; they're a lot of men who're in their 20's and really been out there along time, and they've learned things about the world ... women on the other hand are young, they're frightened." (Bridge)
But it isn't just the men's experience (a lot of male runaways have their parent's permission to leave home and so end up living on the streets longer than women) that puts them in a position of control. It's their access to money (through dealing) and thus to apartments that makes women totally dependent on them for survival, more so even than women in straight society, who aren't hassled by the cops if they walk out. I talked with C—, a 17 year old who first ran away from home at 15, and who has now gotten out of that scene:
"Guys have apartments and they just take in chicks, especially runaways, cause they know you can't do anything about it... It happens to a lot of girls... I was in Texas and I was [line unreadable] and I was really tired. I had just had a miscarriage... he decided he's not going to let me crash unless I ball him ... it's three o'clock in the morning: 'you ball me or you go out in the street' ... I couldn't go out in the street, I had that court warrant on me, and I couldn't go out in the street at three o'clock in the morning. So I had to do it. You don't get any choice: you either do it or you get busted."
What becomes painfully clear after even minimal investigation of the street scene is that it's a perfect set-up for men. Women have absolutely no alternative. Which is not to say that male freaks have it "easy" ("guys sometimes have a harder time finding a place to crash cause the other guys are out taking the women in" —Bridge worker), but that in life at the bottom, men always seem to end up on top:
"A lot of them are on these power trips trying to control you... a lot of girls fall under the guy's power... there's a girl I know right now she's 16, she living with this guy. She doesn't want to live with him, but she doesn't want to go home. And it's a choice of living with this guy or going home... usually you'll pick living with the guy. I always did." (C—)
Now a dealer with an apartment (who will generally control the other people crashing there) is not on the same level as a guru with a quasi-empire. It takes a lot more money and more permanent surroundings than the street provides to get a full-scale family operation going. But the real specialty of Manson, Lyman and other gurus, is the fantastic philosophy and practice of control and ego obliteration. Manson's dicta for women included. cutting off all their hair; renaming them (well, that's not so new); forbidding them to speak anything but gibberish to their children; forbidding them to ask questions and to use the word "why"; and, of course, the age-old use of violence and threats of it. Sanders' book is full of accounts of incredible beatings and abuse. The rationale always being that in some way the women wanted it.

What I find most insidious is the extent to which Manson used sex — by all accounts he was some kind of super stud — to dominate women. This form of control is frightening because it's so hard to see through — since pleasure, itself, which is hard to come by, becomes used against you. How many of us have run into those types who tell you, "you'll never leave me, cause you'll never find anyone else as good." It's interesting to note how other men seem to identify with Manson's prowess: Nick Tosches, in Fusion (Dec. 24), after having praised Sanders, which would seem to indicate that he shares his indictment, can find nothing more fitting to say in conclusion than, "They say he was a really good lay though." Stew Albert equates Charlie's sentence with sexual deprivation, labelling it "compulsory masturbation." Well you know that just confirms all my basic suspicions about your typical male heavy, or your typical male — that he thinks that being cut off from a supply of willing and helpless females is a terrible and unjust fate. It's enough to make many of us choose a course of voluntary masturbation: better sticky fingers than bloody hands.


"Anna" of Fort Hill and a portrait of Mel Lyman:
free sex and dishwashing

Boston's own happy family, the Fort Hill commune, under the supreme guidance of Mel Lyman, shows striking similarities to the Manson menage: total submission to the will of one male and total subjugation of women. Lyman's method is softer than Manson's, since the mode of control is romantic, rather than violent. He has worked out a whole myth about woman as slave:

"If a woman is really a woman, and not just an old girl, then everything she does is for her man and her only satisfaction is in making her man a greater man. She is his quiet conscience, she is his home, she is his inspiration and she is his living proof that his life, his labors, are worthwhile. A woman who seeks to satisfy herself is the loneliest being in God's creation. A woman who seeks to surpass her man is only leaving herself behind. A man can only look ahead, he must have somewhere to look from. A woman can only look at her man ... "
(from Avatar, quoted in Rolling Stone, December 2, 1972 [sic])
I find men like Mel Lyman, who dress up their total contempt for and exploitation of women with a whole poetic trip and who palm themselves off as romantics, rather than tyrants, among the most sinister. It made a whole lot of sense to me when blacks said they would rather deal with the Klan than with Southern Liberals.

In his book, Mirror at the End of the Road, Lyman, with incredible self-pity, depicts himself as the hopeless romantic, the victim, rather than the predator:

"If ever it can be said that I have any outstanding weakness it is a weakness for beautiful women... It DEVOURS me, that certain look in the eye of the female... I become a quivering tortured ravenous hunk of jelly."
(April 11, 1966, Cambridge)
The myth of the helpless male provides a convenient rationale for responding to each new infatuation, for deserting the present female companion in favor of the new, all-consuming love. Of course it's Lyman that gets to do most of the consuming:
"My advice is to hold still while I devour you.
My advice is to give me everything you have.
My advice is for you to crawl inside of my
aching heart and soothe this gnawing need."
(Sept. 1965, Woodstock)
Lyman hasn't cultivated the harem in the same way as Manson, but he does have four wives (according to Rolling Stone, Jan. 6, 1972) at present and an innumerable list of past affairs and marriages, all chronicled by him, as manifestations of his undying love for the human race. Mirror at the End of the Road is dedicated to "Judy, who made me live with a broken heart," and we are all meant to share in his grief at the loss of his own true love (perhaps all the successive ones have been necessary to make up for this incalculable tragedy). Since we have no report from Judy, who ended up in a mental institution in Kansas — apparently she wasn't "ready" to appreciate what a good thing they had going — we can only imagine what the affair may have been like for her:
"Baby I'm very very sick, sick at heart, sick wholly... All our problems and now my disease build from the same sore. Tonight you had to leave me to go study, yesterday there was a reason, tomorrow there'll be two reasons: School, parents, friends, justifications, lies. I want you wholly... you must once again put me off another day for your trifles... You're spread much too thin for my taste. You're a spoiled child who wants everything... You fear motherhood, being a wife, anything that will demand anything of your selfish self."
(March, 1963, Waltham, Mass.)

Now your average hippie guy and street freak doesn't have the elaborate poetic and financial power of Mel Lyman (8 homes at Fort Hill, a brownstone and loft in NYC, a duplex in Buena Vista, two houses in LA, 280 acres in Kansas, according to Rolling Stone — pretty good for an ex-folkie who just wants to be God), nor the satanic mystery of Manson, but he can make the myth of love work for him. Despite the incredible toughness and seeming emptiness of street life, most women who stay in it still hope to find some new man, some new pleasure that will make it bearable.

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Mel Lyman