11 December, 1993
Axl Rose recalled that it began as part of a “who do you think this singer is?” guessing game. His brother Stuart played a track that won that night’s competition hands down. The song was titled Look At Your Game, Girl. The singer? Tate/ LaBianca killings architect Charles Manson.
Axl was impressed with Manson’s recording. “I liked the words,” he recalled. “It’s about a woman who has thrown things away. She thinks she’s gaining love but she’s gaining sadness.” Eventually, the Guns’n’Roses mainman got around to taping a late night, acoustic, version of the ditty with the aid of his guitar-playing gardener, and the resulting recording became an unlisted bonus track on Guns’n’Roses LP “The Spaghetti Incident?”. Released by Geffen at the end of November 1993, the album, featuring a series of punk and metal covers, sold nearly 190,000 copies in the first week of release and entered the US charts at No.4 on December 11. At which point the sky fell in.
Billboard reported: “The California Attorney-General’s office is exploring the possibility that any profits made by convicted mass murderer Charles Manson from one of his songs on the new Guns’n’Roses album are forfeitable under the State’s so-called Son Of Sam statute.” Mike Van Winkle of the California Department of Justice also added a query. “Would”, he enquired, “Guns’n’Roses be covering this tune if it wasn’t by Charles Manson?” Patti Tate, sister of Sharon Tate, slain by the Manson family, called for the track to be taken off the album, while one victims of crimes support group, learning that Manson could make a quarter of a million dollars in royalties, demanded that Geffen Records should be boycotted nationwide and any attempt at monetary compensation by the label spurned completely.
Geffen, attempting to calm the situation, immediately issued a statement, allegedly signed by Axl Rose which read: “It is my understanding that the song was written by Dennis Wilson. To what extent Charles Manson is involved in the publishing, I’m not aware.”
“Manson’s a sick individual. Look at Manson and look at me – we’re not the same.”
Which was not what Axl was telling the press. Amid a series of interviews to promote “The Spaghetti Incident?” he explained, ”I felt it was ironic that such a song was recorded by Charles Manson, someone who should know the intricacies of madness” But had Axl recorded Look At Your Game Girl in an attempt to shock, to gain publicity? He claimed not. “Manson’s a sick individual” he protested. “Look at Manson and look at me – we’re not the same.” Even so, the media was unimpressed and pointed to the fact that the singer had already attracted massive criticism for wearing a Manson T-shirt bearing the logo “Charlie Don’t Surf”.
Not that Axl Rose was the first to cover a Manson song. Dennis Wilson had taken Manson’s Cease To Exist to the Beach Boys in 1968 after paying the man he called The Wizard “around $100,000” and announcing ”He sings, plays guitar, writes poetry and may be another artist on Brother Records.” In the guise of Never Learn Not To Love, it emerged as the B-side of the single Bluebirds Over The Mountain. Manson’s name was initially included on the composer credits but deleted when his crimes hit the headlines.
Both Cease To Exist and Look At your Game, Girl stemmed from Lie: The Love And Terror Cult, a Manson album pressed by Phil Kaufman and released on the ESP-Disk imprint in 1970 before being reissued to a wider audience on the Awareness label. Much covered or sampled by others such as Red Kross, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Lemonheads and, predictably perhaps, GG Allin, Lie is not the only Manson recording to attract those seeking inspiration in his poetry and music. Marilyn Manson has shown an interest in his namesake’s songbook, as have Psychic TV.
Returning to the main drift, what eventually happened to those royalties from Look At Your Game, Girl? The problem was actually settled within days of the album’s release when all monies accrued from the song’s inclusion on the Guns’n’Roses album were awarded to the son of Wojciech Frykowski, a Polish-born actor who had the misfortune to be sleeping on the couch at 10050 Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills, when Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins paid their deadly visit. And if the address is familiar to Nine Inch Nail addicts then it’s because Trent Reznor decided to move in during 1994, hauling a mobile studio with him, in order to record the band’s The Downward Spiral album, thus perpetuating Manson music link. As did, of course, a band from Leicester name Saracuse, who thought former Manson Family member Linda Kasabian’s surname was “cool” and promptly acquired it as their own.