The Charles Manson – Dennis (“Beach Boys”) Wilson Connection

Well. Here is something I’d never heard about before, never once in all the years since I first read the grisly details of Sharon Tate’s murder in the Sunday newspaper’s Parade magazine when I was just a kid under ten years old.

Cult-leader and killer Charles Manson and Beach Boy drummer and surfer Dennis Wilson were friends. For a while, at least. Good enough friends that Manson and his “family” of young women lived with Wilson for several months. Good enough friends that Wilson convinced the Beach Boys to include a song written by Manson, who had musical ambitions, on their album 20/20.

For reference, on the off chance that you don’t know who Charles Manson is, here is a photo. You can tell by the source that he’s not the most upstanding citizen.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is Dennis Wilson, playing drums with the Beach Boys in 1964.

Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And here, in a 1971 promotional shot for the film Two-Lane Blacktop.

Universal Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While I’m at it, here is Sharon Tate, who was murdered in her home with several other people by the Manson family in August 1969. This photo was a publicity shot for Tate’s appearance in the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls.

20th Century-Fox; Restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I haven’t yet seen Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but over my Christmas break I began reading Tarantino’s novelization of it. It’s not quite the genre or style of book I usually read, but I’m enjoying it. Tarantino’s writing style sort of reminds me of his films: quirky characters, nonlinear narrative, shifting points of view, playful refusals to judge while at the same time delivering commentary on characters and situations.

I’m really enjoying the way fact and fiction are so mixed up in this story. The book’s title, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, captures this well. Not only is it a tale about Hollywood as it actually existed once upon a time, but it’s also a complete fairytale about events that (emphatically) never happened.

So I’m reading along (with little prior knowledge of the film’s/book’s plot) and being surprised by the introduction of a young blonde hitchhiking to Hollywood who turns out to be Sharon Tate. And then finding out that one of our main characters lives next door to Sharon and her new husband, Roman Polanski. I know how this will turn out. Until I discover a few chapters later that apparently it won’t. Something about a flamethrower. Tarantino’s little leap forward in time regarding this is disconcerting and is inserted into a discussion of how the main character had too much to drink the night before because he is bipolar, a diagnosis he won’t learn of until much later in his life but which he understands at a future date (even further into the future than the future flame-throwing incident) to have also been the cause of his good friend Pete Duel’s suicide at yet another future date. (Duel was a real person, whom I remember from television and whose death shocked and saddened me.) Anyway, as the strange insertion of future flashbacks implies, the Sharon Tate murder is apparently not going to go down exactly the way it did in real life, and it’s also apparently going to be really fun for us as readers to experience the bad guys getting their just desserts.

Which brings me back to the main bad guy, Charles Manson. I knew as early as the Parade magazine article that Manson and his “family” had gone to Sharon Tate’s house looking for Terry Melcher, who did not live there. And I knew that Manson’s actual target was this Terry Melcher, who I also knew was Doris Day’s son. This constitutes the entirety of my previous knowledge. I had no idea that Terry Melcher was a big shot in his own right, apart from being Doris Day’s son. As it turns out, he was an important producer in the music industry.

Anyway Manson met Terry Melcher through his friend, Dennis Wilson, who was one of the Beach Boys. WHAT??? After the flamethrower incident, which I knew was totally fictional because it directly contradicts real-life facts, I figured this Dennis Wilson appearance was fictional, too.

NOPE! True fact.

Dennis Wilson’s connection to Charles Manson began when he (Wilson) picked up hitchhikers who turned out to be women in Manson’s “family.” Manson showed up at Wilson’s house later that day, and the whole cult commune lived there at Wilson’s house for several months.

Several months!

A very weird story, and one that does not appear to be especially hidden, as there’s a lengthy section about this interlude in Wilson’s life in Wikipedia’s article about him. Plus that song Manson wrote even has its own Wikipedia article. Apparently, Manson knew Wilson well enough to have observed tensions between him and his Beach Boys siblings/band mates, which is the song’s subject matter.

Yet I never heard a whisper of any of this in all the decades I’ve been aware of the murders and of Charles Manson in general. That includes the book and movie about the murders, Helter Skelter, that came out in the mid-1970s when I was in junior high and high school. If Wilson showed up in either of those, I sure missed it.  

Here are links to the relevant Wikipedia articles in case you’d like to see for yourself 🙂

Wikipedia article on Dennis Wilson HERE.

Wikipedia article on Charles Manson’s Beach Boys song HERE.

Posted in Books and reading, History | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Self-portrait in red bathrobe among dirty dishes

I’ve been sick the past week and a half with what I assume is Omicron, despite being double-vaxxed, boosted, and perpetually masked. Drugstores have been sold out of Covid tests, and lines at drive-up test sites are several blocks long. Police had to shut down a testing site near our house, in fact, because traffic was so snarled. After trying and failing to get a Covid test early on, I gave up. Because really, knowing exactly what virus I have doesn’t even matter. It’s not like I’m going out and spreading my germs around town. Plus I’m not sick enough to go to the hospital, so regardless of whatever the specific virus, the treatment is basically the same: drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest until I recover.

Which brings me to today’s photo. I’ve been wearing my bathrobe a lot this week. The dirty dish situation is not horrible, but there are always plenty of them lying around the kitchen counters. Earlier today I was standing next to the sink and noticed my long, stretched-out reflection in the handle of a metal travel mug. (No one is traveling, but the lid keeps coffee nice and hot.) It was such an odd, striking image that I had to take a selfie. Kind of reminds me of an elongated, stylized angel on a Christmas card, except I don’t think angels wear red. Those are pots hanging from the rack over my head like the Sword of Damocles, by the way.

As people have noted elsewhere, this is a strange virus (if indeed what I have is Covid). Every morning brings a new adventure. How will I be sick today? The symptoms morph continually from headaches to sore throat to earaches to upper-back pain to nausea to stuffy nose to cough, etc., etc. And all I can think is: Thank God these symptoms are all I have. Thank God the vaccine and booster were available in time to keep me and my family (because, of course, we all got sick together😂) from getting seriously ill enough to require hospitalization.

(Several hours later . . . )

I’m watching the Green Bay Packers game tonight and suddenly realize that for the first time in 10-11 days I feel GOOD! Like, not sick! Now that could be because we are totally beating up on the poor Minnesota Vikings (score: 20-0 at the moment) and I’m high on endorphins, but maybe it’s because the virus is finally gone? Just like that? I woke up with a headache a week and a half ago and now I feel fine?

If this is my Covid story, I’m glad it’s so boring.

Posted in Life, Photography | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Remembering “The Day of Ahmed’s Secret”

I’m watching documentaries on PBS tonight about the Great Pyramid of Giza (aka the Pyramid of Khufu, Wikipedia article HERE), and seeing bird’s-eye views of the pyramids situated right next to Cairo reminded me of this heartbreakingly sweet children’s picture book that my daughters regularly checked out of our public library when they were young: The Day of Ahmed’s Secret.

Written by a mother-daughter team (from Kenosha, Wisconsin, I later discovered, which is just about an hour’s drive south of Milwaukee), the book tells the story of Ahmed, a boy who delivers butane gas to customers all over Cairo in his donkey cart. The pyramids stand silent beyond the city’s chaos of color and sound as Ahmed cheerfully goes about his day and looks forward to the evening, when he will share an important secret with his family.

Sadly, neither of my daughters remembers this book today. However, thanks to the Internet (YAY!!!) I was able to find not only the authors and illustrator (Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, authors, and Ted Lewin, illustrator) but also this YouTube video of someone reading the book aloud and turning the pages so you can see the illustrations. Isn’t that wonderful? If you have a few minutes, watch and listen to the story. And then tell me if you don’t tear up a little when Ahmed reveals his beautiful secret at the very end!

Posted in Books and reading, Life | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cley Advent Windows 2021

These are some of the Advent windows in our village. A total of 45 windows are decorated to make our village look like an oversized Advent calendar. …

Cley Advent Windows 2021

What a lovely idea talked about in the blog post shared above from Dina-Hanne Siebers and her Fab Four of Cley family, including the two wise Bookfayries, Siri and Selma. I love reading Dina’s popular blog (“The World according to Dina”) and learning more about life as lived in her corner of the world, especially the always-astute observations of Siri and Selma.

For more info about the advent calendar windows of Cley next the Sea, here also is an article from the North Norfolk News. And for some background on this charming, historical coastal village in the UK, here’s a link to the Wikipedia article.

Posted in Creativity, Life | Tagged , , | 3 Comments


Just a couple of photos from a gray day in Milwaukee. I actually took these pictures over a month ago (October 22), but as today is another gray day, I decided to share them. Sometimes, like today, I’m feeling “gray,” I guess. Which I suppose is better than feeling “blue.” 😀

This first picture I decided to title “Go!” for obvious reasons.

I was not taking a photo of the stoplight so much as documenting the Highway 32 sign above it. The little red arrows are the insignia of the 32nd Infantry Division, and now the 32nd Infantry Brigade. After some impressively fierce combat in World War I, the 32nd became known as the Red Arrow Division (for “piercing” the enemy line). The French nicknamed them “Les Terribles,” which captures their fearsome nature pretty nicely. (Wikipedia article on the Red Arrow Division HERE if you’re interested.)

Looking at this photograph again today, I decided that I really like the vertical and horizontal/diagonal lines. Plus I like the way the stoplight dominates. Actually, as long as I am identifying things I like about this picture, I guess I would also give a shout-out to the colors. Just a very nicely balanced composition of color and line even if I do say so myself!

The Starbucks I regularly go to down the hill from my office at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) is situated in Red Arrow Park, which is part of the Milwaukee County Parks system and contains both the “Slice of Ice” ice-skating rink and the large red granite Red Arrow monument. (See a photo HERE in a post I wrote several years ago after a man named Dontre Hamilton was killed in the park by a police officer within several feet of the monument.)

Anyway, the day I took this photo it was because I had just noticed the little red arrows on either side of the number for the first time, and I thought it was interesting. No other state highway sign has markings on it like this.

The second photo is one I took right before getting ready to leave work that October day. I was the only person left in the building, and when I took some paper to the shredder bin, I just really liked the colors and lines that I was seeing through the window next to it.

When I was titling this photo, I almost called the large reflective building in the middle the “Municipal Building,” because that’s what everyone refers to it as. But then I realized that it must have a more specific name, so I looked it up and discovered that it’s officially known as the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building. Frank Zeidler was mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960, one of several socialist politicians to serve here. (Another was his brother Carl, “The Singing Mayor,” who resigned from office in 1942 to join the Navy only to be lost at sea, perishing off the coast of South Africa.)

I used to work with Frank Zeidler’s daughter Anita at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I have not thought about her in at least 25 years, ever since leaving for MSOE, having kids, etc., so I looked her up to see what she’s been doing. Sadly, I discovered that she died a few years ago. Anita was a really nice person. I want to put this statement out into the world since I have a blog and can do that. Just a really nice person who I’m sure is greatly missed by all who knew her❤️ (Here’s the article I found about her death in 2018.)

So that’s it for today. Just some rambling “gray day” thoughts that don’t exactly fit with the title of this blog post.

Although I suppose one could say (if one were seriously committed to making such a stretch) that this gray day gave me the green light to inspire that rambling 😀

Posted in History, Milwaukee, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

4 chords to rule them all

I remember thinking when I was about 11 or 12 years old that pretty soon there would be no new music. Because how could people possibly continue creating new songs? There was only an octave’s worth of notes, iterated multiple times on a piano keyboard. Twelve notes, including black keys, from C to B. I guess a full octave would be C to C, but you get my point. How could songwriters keep putting out so many different songs when they only had those 12 notes to work with? Yet songwriters are obviously still going strong like 50 years later.

This Australian musical comedy group, The Axis of Awesome, noted that the same four chords underlie many pop songs, and they made their case brilliantly in this video (which was posted 10 years ago, but which I was only just introduced to by my daughter about two months ago).

It occurs to me that there’s a metaphor here for all creative practice. If you know these four chords, you can improvise a melody that harmonizes with them, and that can lead to a song.

One of the “sneak peak” clips from Peter Jackson’s “Get Back,” the Beatles documentary streaming on Disney+ right now, shows the exact moment that Paul McCartney lands on the melody for the song “Get Back.” If you watch this clip, you see Paul playing a series of chords over and over, lightly singing an exploratory test melody. (John is apparently “late again,” which Paul notes in another version of this clip before beginning to play. I chose this clip instead of that one because this one shows the exact moment Paul nails it.)

It’s interesting to watch the way Ringo and George sit there quietly with Paul while he works out his musical thoughts, just very patiently supporting him with their presence. George yawns, Ringo appears to be zoned out. But we soon realize they are actually very engaged despite their silence. As soon as Paul hits on the melody we recognize as “Get Back” (at about the 1:11 mark), George perks up. He begins to accompany Paul on his own guitar, and tells him yeah, it’s good; musically it’s great. Paul keeps playing, and then Ringo joins in, clapping out a beat.

It’s exciting to see this classic song coaxed into existence!

And circling back to the “4 chords” video, it’s also reassuring for all of us non-Beatles to realize that creativity is a process of building, block by block, upon what already exists. There’s a foundation of the familiar, of the already known, and our job is to search out a new melody that fits atop this preestablished pattern.

Years ago I wrote a blog post on a man called “Mr. Patent,” Marvin Johnson, who was a research fellow at Phillips Petroleum with over 200 patents to his name (link here to read “Creativity, “Mr. Patent,” Keith Richards, and me). All you need for a patent, he said, is a unique solution to a problem. Your idea may build on top of lots of other people’s work, but if it incorporates something new to comprise a unique solution, it may be patentable.

We don’t have to start from scratch to be original.

Just like songwriters can use the same “4 chords” but add a new layer of melody on top and have a hit song. Or, as in the case of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” maybe even win an Academy Award for Best Original Song!

Posted in Creativity, Music, Popular culture | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Remembering the “typewriter era”

Students in my freshman-level technical communication course were intrigued by our discussion today of document design during the “typewriter era.”

We were examining some memos from the early Microsoft Windows period, right about the time that people were beginning to understand how the new features available in Word (allowing for easy switching among font styles and sizes, for example) could open up document design possibilities far beyond what typewriters could afford, which was basically little more than capital letters, underlining, indentation, and numbered/bulleted lists. What prompted our discussion of the “typewriter era” was an example of supposedly “good” document design, in which a memo’s subject line was a string of all-caps words that were practically unreadable thanks to this “design” element.

The class moved on to other topics related to report structure and document design. Eventually we were looking at first-level, second-level, etc., headings and subheadings. The document we were looking at, I told them, was from a really old business writing textbook. It was clearly typewritten, but I liked the strategies it gave for differentiating among the various levels of headings.

When there was a lull in the conversation, one student raised his hand. How, he wondered, did someone center a heading on the page using a typewriter? In Word, you can just click on the “center” button to position the text in the middle of the page. (Or press Ctrl + E. Remember those shortcuts? Remember how, before the mouse, those “shortcut” codes were your only recourse?) If you were using a typewriter, my student asked, would you have to measure?

Why yes! I realized. You would.

In fact, typewriters came with built-in rulers.

self, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To create a title (or first-level heading) on a page, as I recalled, first you’d have to count how many characters it contained, including spaces. Then you’d position the typewriter carriage to align the space where the keys struck with the center of the paper. You’d backspace half the total number of characters and then type the complete title or heading. Voila! Perfectly centered!

I haven’t used a typewriter in 30+ years, but it was amazing how it all came back in a flash. Like remembering how to ride a bike, I guess. And it occurs to me that typewriters may have all the potential for hipster cachet that vinyl records carry. 🙂

[UPDATE, December 11, 2021: I just learned that Michael Nesmith (of Monkees fame) died yesterday. Link to the Variety article HERE. I’m leaving this update here because in the comments following this post I mentioned that Nesmith’s mother invented Liquid Paper, a paint-based correction fluid used by typists to white-out mistakes. It’s so weird that his name would have come up in my life just a week before he died when I haven’t thought about him at all in years. I guess that’s how it happens sometimes. RIP to a man who made my childhood brighter❤️]

Well, there’s only one way to end a post on typewriters. And so, without further ado, here is the incomparable Liberace (West Allis/metro-Milwaukee native!) performing “The Typewriter Song” on his “other keyboard,” complete with a mini-candelabra 🙂

Posted in Creativity, Digital society, History, Life, Milwaukee, Popular culture, Teaching | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Happy Fibonacci Day!


Round . . .

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel . . .

So begins one of my favorite songs, and it popped into my head this morning as soon as I realized that today was “Fibonacci Day.”

And what is Fibonacci, you may wonder? Or maybe not 🙂

It’s a number, sort of. Only better! A Fibonacci number is actually a sequence of numbers in which each individual number is the sum of the two preceding numbers (starting from 0 and 1). Wikipedia article HERE.

Hence the fact that today is Fibonacci Day: 1123 🙂 (0+1=1; 1+1=2; 1+2=3)

Check out this visualization of the Fibonacci number sequence here. Each square contains an array equaling the square of the number displayed.

illustration of Fibonacci number

克勞棣, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Now check this. 

illustration of Fibonacci number with spiral

Jahobr, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the spiral that shows up in nature so many times, via seashells, sunflower heads (seeds), pinecones, etc. It’s also the basis of the “Golden Ratio” (Wikipedia article HERE) that characterizes classical art and architecture.

How do I know these things? Well, Walt Disney, of course! And his wonderful 1959 animated movie short Donald in Mathmagic Land. (You can also search for and view it on YouTube if the link below doesn’t work.)

The section talking about the “Golden Ratio” runs from about 2:45-13:40. But I recommend starting from the beginning. I was hooked from the moment Donald the explorer observed that all the trees in this strange new world had “square roots.”

Anyway, when I realized that today was Fibonacci Day, I thought about “Windmills of Your Mind” (Wikipedia HERE). This was the song from the title sequence of one of my favorite movies, The Thomas Crown Affair (the original 1968 film starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, Wikipedia article HERE), sung by Noel Harrison (son of Rex! today’s trivia 🙂 ).

Since thinking about the song put me in mind of that fabulous title sequence, I went and looked it up so I could waste two minutes enjoying it.

But guess what????

Even though I remembered that the title sequence is a fragmented collection of rectangles, I never realized till TODAY (Fibonacci Day 🙂 ) that it is inspired by the Fibonacci “Golden Spiral” (Wikipedia HERE).

The fragmented-screen style continues (after the opening scene of the getaway driver’s job interview) with all the bank robbers (dressed in hip 1960s Mad Men “disguises,” complete with straw fedoras and Ray-Ban sunglasses) getting set into motion (via Crown’s one-word command to “Go.”) from their myriad locations of origin to converge on the scene of the heist for this one moment in time and this one moment only.

The perfect crime! One that can be solved only by the super-genius, fashion-forward, heavily hairstyled and eyelashed insurance investigator extraordinaire, Vicki Anderson.

Hmmm, I don’t see a clip of the actual bank robber online, which is too bad. It’s one of my favorite movie scenes. But fortunately I own this movie, so I think perhaps I’ll celebrate Fibonacci Day by watching it tonight.

The 1968 film is worth seeking out if you’re ever searching for something new to watch. Very stylish in a self-consciously hip late-’60s sort of way, and much better (imo) than the 1999 remake, although I do love the Magritte bowler-hat returning-the-stolen-painting scene’s homage to the 1968 bank-robbery scene. Plus, the 1999 version does have a (spoiler!) happy ending, which, given the era’s nihilistic tendencies, the 1968 version (spoiler!) does not.


Posted in architecture, Art, Creativity, Life, Movies and film, Nature, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Remembering the “Star Hustler”

There was a partial lunar eclipse visible from Milwaukee last night, which I really wanted to go outside and see but which I didn’t because I also needed to be asleep at 3:00 a.m. so I could do my job today. Sigh. Someday when I’m retired, I’m going to stay up all night and then sleep all the next day any time I feel like watching an eclipse of the moon!

Meanwhile, all this eclipse talk started me thinking about the night sky. I found this neat video from NASA previewing November 2021 activity, and I assume this is part of a regular series?

And then this video got me to remembering this really bizarre but fun “show” that used to run on PBS called “Star Hustler.” Do you have any recollection of this? It was a five-minute filler that would run (weekly?) at the end of a programming hour, late at night if memory serves. I loved the “host” and his somewhat cheesy delivery, but what made this gimmick work was that, as with the NASA video above, the show’s content was highly educational and made me want to go outside to see the night sky phenomena for myself.

The episode below provides some “night sky” background on where the expression “in like a lion, out like a lamb” came from. I realize that little knowledge tidbits like this are, like, the very embodiment of the term “trivia.” But isn’t life richer and don’t you feel more grounded in the world when you expand the number of “trivia” portals like this one via which you can connect “this” with “that” and make sense of the surrounding chaos?

One final video, as long as I’m at it. I couldn’t remember what the “Star Hustler” was called at first. In my Google search I kept finding references to “Star Gazer” instead, which confused me because I knew the title was something stranger than that. Finally I stumbled across this Wikipedia article on the show, which cleared things up.

Apparently the show was SERIOUS educational astronomy for the first few years, until a producer told the star, Jack Horkheimer, to make it more accessible to a broader audience than fellow astronomers. From which directive, the Star Hustler persona was born. It worked! I was hooked the first time I saw this guy with a comb over strolling along in his windbreaker atop a pathway in space that looked like the rings of Saturn unreeled. And I stayed hooked because his enthusiasm was so infectious and the show’s content so interesting.

The show continued with the “Star Hustler” title until it was undone by the Internet. Mid-1990s search engines were not particularly smart. Apparently when people searched online for information on the PBS show, the top results returned were for Hustler magazine. (Please don’t even ask. You really don’t want to know anything more about that magazine. I hope. Ugh.) At which point, the “Star Hustler” name was dropped and the “Star Gazer” name adopted.

Here’s a nice (and brief) documentary about the “Star Hustler/Gazer” star, Jack Horkheimer.

Posted in Life, Milwaukee, Nature, Popular culture, Science, Television | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

The toilets under Milwaukee’s boulevards

Well, I can’t resist sharing this ARTICLE about the discovery of secret underground bathrooms beneath the flowery landscaping of Milwaukee’s boulevards. The median strips are pretty ho-hum today, but when I first moved to Milwaukee in the early 1980s, our boulevards were world-class AMAZING! The first time I ever saw the gorgeous bird of paradise flower (Wikipedia article HERE) was in maybe 1983 as I was driving along Humboldt Boulevard.

Sigh. The world isn’t what it once was. Appliances are no longer built to last a lifetime. A half-gallon of ice cream is now 1.75 or even 1.5 quarts, because we’re apparently supposed to be dumb enough not to notice that everything is downsizing in order to raise prices. And flowers (and even trees) are extravagances that cities can’t afford to maintain on any kind of scale.

On the other hand, I suppose once we’re all living in the Metaverse, we can have as many virtual flowers as we want. We’ll just need VR headsets or other XR devices to see them. And sadly, no one has figured out yet how to digitize scent, so we won’t be able to enjoy them that way. But no matter. By then COVID (“Covid”? Or entirely lowercase “covid”? Or whatever, because who even cares?) may have stolen humanity’s sense of smell anyway.

Gee, sorry about this. All I meant to do was share a fun article. And then I actually went and wrote a downer of a post. I assume I’ll be in a better mood next time!😄

Posted in Digital society, Life, Milwaukee | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments