Monday, November 17, 2008

2. "Charles Manson, Superstar"

My first encounter with Krishna Venta occurred on a February night in 2004 while watching the rather flaccid documentary “Charles Manson Superstar.”

As a general rule, my late night viewing habits center on lighter fare, such as reruns of “Frasier” and “Everybody Love Raymond,” engineered to provide viewers with the temporary escapes from reality necessary for relaxing and eventually falling asleep.

This one particular week in 2004 was an exception.

Periodically, my interests veer into the darker corners of life, and in these moments I find myself in the mood to read something from the true crime section of a bookstore - provided the focus of the work is the detection part of criminology as opposed to the details of a crime itself. Criminal psychology, probably because I have never taken a college course devoted to it, is a related alley way I periodically enjoy trodding, and it was for this reason I had secured a copy of what was purported to be the most extensive Manson interview available on DVD.

For three nights in a row, I bypassed the adventures of the Barone and Crane families in failed attempts at making it through what proved to be the perfect cure for insomnia: seemingly endless footage of Manson philosophizing ad nauseam in his often incomprehensible and repetitive verbal jazz stylings.

The saving grace of the film, if indeed there is one, are those moments in which the filmmaker breaks away from Manson’s diatribes and engages in narration designed to provide the viewer with the back story on Manson’s life.

It was during one such break that I first heard the words:

"Manson’s use of Christian terminology may have been inspired by a man who once walked a similar path. Francis Pencovic was a burglar, con man, and petty criminal who spent much time in prison before he changed his name to Krishna Venta in 1948 and announced that he was the Christ Everlasting. In the 1950s, Krishna Venta built his Fountain of the World commune in the Santa Susanna Mountains, not far from the Spahn Ranch where Manson and his Family would settle over a decade later. Like Manson, Krishna Venta’s following consisted mostly of young female disciples. They were given different colors according to their temperament and aptitudes much like Charlie’s Rainbow. Krishna Venta was killed in 1958 in a dynamite blast ignited by a jealous husband who disapproved of the guru’s sexual teachings, but his legend lingered in the area to inspire Manson to attempt to take over the cult years later. Atop this skull-like rock formation at Fountain of the World, Manson held crucifixion rituals that culminated in Family orgies." © 2002 Screen Edge

I would later learn this recitation, which had lasted literally all of one minute, was both an oversimplified encapsulation of Venta’s life and largely incorrect factually. At that point in time, however, all I knew was what I had just heard. And I was hooked! I found myself sitting bolt upright, stunned, my heart racing. The black and white photos of Venta, coupled with the references to the 1940s and 1950s as well as the words “prison” and “dynamite,” had ignited within me the history geek that lives to uncover lost and forgotten relics of the past and who often exists more comfortably in the past than in the presnt. I then recognized the rush overtaking me that follows an encounter with a subject of history about whom I know I will have to spend hours getting to know. Recalling my first exposure to author B. Traven, mathematician George Danzig, and singer-songwriter Jandek, these were emotions I knew well.

Had I known at that time the extent to which the history and mystery of Venta’s life would come to overtake my own, I might have run the other way. Might, but probably not. I had to know more. Tennessee Williams once said “Make voyages! - Attempt them! - there's nothing else,” and that night I fell asleep excited at the knowledge that I was about to set out on yet another journey.

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