- Whither the singularity? In a review of Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Enlightenment, Adam Kirsch asks whether—in our era of perpetual “disruptions”—we’ve outgrown the questions posed by the radical philosophies of yesteryear. In short: we are not as modern as we think! Or, at least, we’re about as modern as we’ve been for a few hundred years: “But the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were one of those rare periods when a lot of people cared, because their sense of the world was decomposing so dramatically … If everything you thought you knew was wrong, how could you ever be confident that your knowledge was correct? Where does knowledge come from? What is matter made of? Is there a God, and, if so, what kind of being is he?”
Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, may be loosely based on the Manson murders, but it isn’t really about Manson at all—it’s about the women around him, those attracted to life at the edge of the world. Though the book circles around the blunt facts of Manson’s crimes, it sidesteps the particulars, reducing him to a pitiful, failed musician named Russell whose only talent is tending to his wilting garden of devotees. Instead of dwelling on him, the novel follows fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd, who’s increasingly enthralled by one of the older girls in Russell’s circle.
Cline, a winner of The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize, writes with the kind of beauty the painter Agnes Martin once described as “an awareness in the mind.” “Marion,” Cline’s story in the Review’s Summer 2013 issue, opens with the line, “Cars the color of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways.” The Girls is set against a dreamy, at times abstracted, California landscape. Her descriptions shimmer on the page: trying to mimic a girl she admires, Evie stands straighter, “holding my head like an egg in a cup”; a teenage boy’s room reeks of masturbation, “a damp rupture in the air”; girls are “swampy with nostalgia.”
Though she’s encouraged by the warm response The Girls has received, Cline eschews the public eye. “I’m used to the isolated part of writing, the part where you’re doing a lot of work alone, in solitude,” she told me. When we spoke on the phone last month, she’d just landed in LA for a reading. I asked her how long she’d be out West. “Just another week or so,” she said, “and then I’m at large.” Read More
Adolescence, pen pals, and the Manson girls.
When I was thirteen, I had a yearlong correspondence by mail and over the phone with Rodney Bingenheimer. A peculiar icon of the sixties and seventies, Bingenheimer had opened a famous club on the Sunset Strip; he was a live-in publicist to Sonny and Cher, he accompanied David Bowie to London, and through his adjacency, his fandom, and his prescient taste, he eventually achieved fame himself.
We had met briefly on the sidewalk of my small hometown when I walked past a café table where he sat with a group of friends. He was a lackluster presence, not even as tall as I was—red hair cut into a chunky bowl, wearing a blazer over a shirt printed with a Red Army star. He was fifty-five then, though to my thirteen-year-old self he looked much older. His voice had the tremulous, feminine quality I would later read about in memoirs of the golden days of Los Angeles, his eyes slightly out of focus.
“Tell her she looks like my first love,” he half whispered to the group surrounding him, a group casually dressed, but alert with the nervous air of support people. They repeated his words to me, obediently.
“Give us your information,” one of his group said, all brisk business. “He’s very famous,” someone else said. “He invented the Ramones.”
Rodney blinked at me like a tired cat. Read More
Charles Manson’s Lie: The Love and Terror Cult was released forty-four years ago today.
Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who surfed. Accordingly, he embraced a more, let’s say, briny side of the beach-bum lifestyle—he’s the only Beach Boy you can picture actually sleeping on the beach, living out of the rusted trunk of some boat of a car, feeding the gulls, rolling spliffs, letting himself go. His excellent solo record, Pacific Ocean Blue, proves how undervalued he was in the band. But his work on “Never Learn Not to Love,” the B-side to 1968’s “Blue Birds Over the Mountain,” proves that he knew how to wield a red pen.
First, some obligatory exposition. It was Charles Manson—yes, the—who first wrote “Never Learn”; he called it “Cease to Exist,” and when his friend Dennis Wilson, that Beachiest of Beach Boys, asked to record it, he was thrilled. Or rather, he would be thrilled, he said, if Wilson agreed to one condition: he was not to emend Manson’s lyrics in any way.
He did, of course; he retitled the song, rejiggered the verses, tossed in a bridge, and quietly published the song as his own. Manson, as you can imagine, was pissed, and threatened to kill Wilson, but when the former turned up on the latter’s doorstep, it was apparently Wilson who beat the piss out of Manson, not the other way around.
As befits a story starring a cult leader, this is a tale full of apocrypha and lurid curlicues—hitchhikers, bullets, group sex culminating in group gonorrhea—but the lyrics, not the diseases, are our interest here. Read More