Charles Manson Was a Decent Musician, Not a Decent Human Being

Chill out, Bon Iver fans: Pandora's recommendation is an apt one

Charles Manson Bon Iver Justin Vernon Pandora Internet Radio Station
Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, and the Family's Charles Manson Photo by Getty Images
Chris Martins WRITTEN BY
Chris Martins

Hey world, Charles Manson was into music, and he even made a good amount of the stuff. In the nascent days of that whole cult-building thing, he and a rotating cast of female hangers-on crashed for a few months at Dennis Wilson's Southern California home. The late Beach Boys brother even paid for Manson's studio time, so confident was he in the abilities of this unusual guru/con-man who'd come into his life.

Manson was locked up (for good) before any of his music got distribution, but a label called ESP-Disk released a great deal of it, while an imprint called Magic Bullet has put out some material he's recorded behind bars. And now users of Pandora Internet Radio are bumping into Manson jams while listening to Bon Iver, Village Voice reports in a tone that's a bit more "How can this horrific thing be?" than "Hey, that's funny."

The paper's stance is understandable — Manson was behind some incredibly heinous crimes that came to represent the death of American innocence and the worst outcome of hippie ideals. The fact that his music wasn't heard until after his incarceration meant it'd never be judged on its own merit. And, to be fair, the man's only traceable connection to the horrific Tate killings was the fact that an influential music producer who snubbed him once lived at that same house.

To the Voice's credit, they answer the "How can this be?" question quite well, reaching out to representatives of not only Pandora, but Spotify and Rdio as well — all three services offer access to Manson's music. The Spotify fella said the music, in and of itself, didn't raise any red flags (it shouldn't as it's perfectly in line with a great deal of '60s folk). The Rdio lady said they hadn't known it was there. Pandora took a real stance on the matter, though.

"We build the collection from an inclusive point of view, considering long-term cultural and historical perspectives in addition to current popularity," said curation manager Michael Addicott. "In the specific case of Charles Manson’s music, it is historically relevant and we collect music like this deliberately." The Voice dug a bit further and learned the ESP-Disk and Magic Bullet oeuvres are included in the bulk catalog of aggregate distributor The Orchard.

All of which is totally interesting and worth exploration. For the uninitiated, Pandora and like services use algorithms to flesh out their "stations" — you pick Bon Iver, and the code will populate a playlist for you, which may include Manson. But it's curmudgeonly and alarmist to declare, "[Pandora] can't tell the difference between a Grammy-winning Starbucks favorite and walking symbol of drug-addled depravity." After all, Manson ain't walking very far.

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