Does the thought of Charles Manson's making money off the new Guns N' Roses album turn your stomach?
That was the reaction many in the music business had upon hearing that the bonus track on Guns N' Roses' new album, "The Spaghetti Incident?" was a version of "Look At Your Game, Girl" -- a song first recorded by Manson. In fact, the album had barely been in record stores a week before law-enforcement and victims-rights groups began expressing outrage.
Even David Geffen, head of the entertainment company that released the album, was appalled. "I would hope that if Axl Rose had realized how offensive people would find this, he would not ever have recorded the song in the first place," Geffen told the Los Angeles Times. "The fact that Charles Manson would be earning money based on the fame he derived committing one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century is unthinkable to me."
Money is, indeed, the sore point here. According to the California Board of Corrections, for every million copies the band sells, Manson would receive $62,000 in royalties.
tTC But Rose, in a Nov. 30 statement, says the band had no intention of glamorizing the mass murderer.
"The reason we didn't list that song on our album is we wanted to downplay it. We don't give any credit to Manson on the album; it's like a hidden, bonus track." Indeed, the packaging for "The Spaghetti Incident?" doesn't list the song or mention Manson anywhere. It simply follows "I Don't Care About You" after a 12-second silence.
Rose says what appealed to him about the song was that "it's about a woman who has thrown things away. She thinks she's gaining love but basically she's gaining sadness.
. . . The song talks about how the girl is insane and playing a mad game. I felt that it was ironic that such a song was recorded by Charles Manson, someone who should know the inner intricacies of madness."
Rose denies any knowledge of Manson's having a claim to royalties from the song. "It is my understanding that the song was written by Dennis Wilson," Rose wrote, adding that in any case, he was donating any personal profits from the song to an environmental group.
At press time, no one was able to confirm authorship for the song. But Beach Boy drummer Wilson, who died in 1983, was known to have been friendly with Manson, and the Beach Boys did record a song he co-wrote. (And, in 1982, punk rock group Red Cross recorded a version of Manson's "Cease to Exist" on its album "Born Innocent.")
Geffen spokeswoman Bryn Bridenthal admits "there is a copyrightin the name of Charles Manson," but says so far the label has yet to determine who really wrote the song.
According to Billboard magazine, the song first appeared as a track on the 1970 album "Lie," a presumably bootlegged Manson collection issued by Awareness Records following the Manson family's 1969 L.A. murder spree, in which actress Sharon Tate and six others were killed.
The album, comprising '60s demos cut by aspiring musician Manson,is in print today. Its distributor, Performance Records, contributes proceeds from its sale to the Victims of Violent Crime Fund, an arm of the California attorney general's office.
Bridenthal points out that the existence of a copyright doesn't necessarily mean the mass murderer would profit from the recording. "We don't know it to be a fact that the royalty payments would go to Manson, and that's something that we're investigating," she said.
So far, the controversy hasn't slowed sales. "The Spaghetti Incident?" goes on Billboard album charts at No. 4, just ahead of "The Beavis and Butt-head Experience." According to SoundScan, it sold nearly 190,000 copies its first week.
Local retailers haven't seen any backlash over the Manson track.
Roberta Cowan, general manager at An Die Musik in Towson, says the album has sold "pretty well" at her store. "I see people all the time looking at it," says Jodi Watts, a clerk at Record & Tape Traders in Catonsville. Even though she's heard customers comment on the existence of a Manson song on the album, it hasn't seemed to affect sales any.
There have been reports Geffen will drop the song from future copies of the album, but Bridenthal says nothing has been decided. "Legally, that's the band's decision," she says.
Nonetheless, Geffen Records president Ed Rosenblatt has already issued a statement regretting "more sensitivity wasn't exercised" in including the track. "We are looking into what might be done to mitigate this situation, and plan to provide support for the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau." Doris Tate was the mother Sharon Tate.
And though some might read this whole episode as one more piece of intentional outrage on the band's part, Bridenthal insists that "if anybody had any idea of what this was going to become, it would have been a very different thing. The truth is, they don't go looking for trouble. It just happens to them."
HEAR FOR YOURSELF
To hear "Look At Your Game, Girl" call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800, 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County) and push the four-digit code 6105 after the greeting.