An Interview with Uncle Acid About His Strange Fascination with Charles Manson
In support of his band's new record 'The Night Creeper,' the English stoner-rock shaman named Kevin Starrs talks about his obsession with the bizarre man that is Charles Manson.
Uncle Acid is loitering in the lobby of the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. On tour in support of his band’s new blood-drenched concept record, The Night Creeper, the English stoner-rock shaman known to his mum as Kevin Starrs is wearing Chuck Taylors, black jeans, and a T-shirt. His long stringy hair is pushed back behind his ears as he eases into a sofa and laments the fact that we weren’t able to do our interview at Sharon Tate’s gravesite, which was the original plan for this feature. “Everyone slept in pretty late this morning, so there wasn’t enough time,” he sighs. “It’s too bad. I really wanted to go. Hopefully we’ll have time to take a ride up to Cielo Drive tomorrow.”
That’d be 10050 Cielo Drive (now 10066 Cielo Drive) in Benedict Canyon, where members of the Manson Family murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate, her unborn child and several of her friends on August 9, 1969. It remains one of the most notorious and horrific crimes in American history, with bizarre tangents that extend into the music world (the Beatles, the Beach Boys), the film world (Tate was married to director Roman Polanski) and made a drug-crazed drifter named Charles Manson into our national bogeyman. When we last interviewed Uncle Acid, we touched on his Manson fasciation, discussing his cover of Charlie’s “Get On Home” and the now-infamous Uncle Acid t-shirt emblazoned with an illustration of Tate and Manson embracing each other while wrapped in the American flag. This time we decided to go whole hog—or piggy, as the case may be—and dedicate an entire interview to Starrs’ Manson fixation.
Noisey: We were supposed to do this interview at Sharon Tate’s grave, but it didn’t work out. Why are you interested in that particular site?
Uncle Acid: I think visiting any sort of grave is interesting. I’d love to go visit Humphrey Bogart’s grave as well if I could find out where that is. It’s just something that’s interesting to me. I don’t know why.
You guys made a tT-shirt for Maryland Deathfest last year that featured an illustration of Sharon Tate and Charles Manson embracing while wrapped in the American flag. Was that your idea?
Yeah, it was a collaboration with the tattoo artist that drew it. I just love the idea of good and evil coming together and embracing in blood, wrapped in the American flag—the drama of it all. People love it. It was a perfect design, I think.
There was some backlash, though.
Some people didn’t really get it. They were like, “Why are you selling that?” It wasn’t in bad taste, though. It’s just giving people the garbage they expect. True celebrity death—people are fascinated by it.
And it sold out instantly, I’m sure.
[Laughs] Yeah, it did.
When did you first hear about Charles Manson?
Oh, probably when I was about 15 or something. He was like the bogeyman, this scary guy—this serial killer, as he’s been described. You kind of believe it until you read into the story more and you realize, “Wait a minute. This isn’t the guy he’s portrayed as in the media.” He’s someone else.
He’s probably the only so-called serial killer who never actually killed anyone, which seems to be a distinction that’s lost on most people.
There you go. [Laughs] It’s unreal. It really is.
Have you read many books about him?
I read that [prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi’s] Helter Skelter rubbish, but it was good to learn that side, which is what people were told. They believe it as if it were fact. I read the [Nuel] Emmons book, too [Manson In His Own Words]. And then there’s that big, thick one. They just redid it a couple of years ago. The Manson File, is it? I can’t remember. It’s great, though. It gives you more facts and dismisses a lot of the Helter Skelter nonsense.
Growing up in England and absorbing all this Manson stuff, do you think it warped your image of America in some way?
I suppose maybe, yeah. You think, “Oh, it’s just a bunch of outlaws over there.” But then also that people just accept what they’re told by the media: “This guy’s a serial killer.” Okay, so he must be a serial killer, I guess. They don’t bother to dig into things. But then you come here and realize that’s not true. You meet people who know that it’s bullshit. I think that’s changing more and more. I think politics in this country are maybe changing for the better.
Have you ever tried to correspond with Manson?
But you thought about it. I can tell by your expression.
Yeah. [Laughs] Actually, our merch guy has written to him for the past ten years but he’s never gotten a response. So I wouldn’t want to be disappointed in that way. He wrote to [Manson Family member] Squeaky [Fromme], too. He’s got a bit of a thing going with her, back and forth.
She’s been out of prison for a few years now.
Yeah, I think he’s got her address. But no, I’ve never tried to write to any of them.
Do you think it’s strange that Manson has loomed so large in the public imagination for so long? The murders happened nearly 50 years ago, and now he’s just an elderly prison inmate who didn’t actually kill anyone.
Yeah, he’s just a gentle old guy…
With a swastika carved into his forehead.
[Laughs] Yeah. But everything about that, the way it was handled, was expert propaganda in my opinion. The photo of him with the crazy eyes on the front cover of Life magazine or whatever. It was the perfect time to scapegoat someone like that. It was the end of the 60s—they didn’t want all this free thinking, this free love, so they gave everyone a scapegoat to stop it. They could hold him up and say, “This is what a hippie is. He’s a fucking serial killer. So all hippies are bad.” Everything about it was fucking nuts. It’s the injustice of the whole thing, like Nixon coming out and condemning him before the trial even happened. There’s so many things that are wrong about it. That’s what’s fascinating about it: He gets labeled as a killer, but he’s not.
He became more important as a symbol than for anything he actually did.
Yeah, yeah. But it’s interesting when you hear him speak. He says he’s God and the Devil at the same time. He’s exactly what they made him into. He’s just a reflection of society.
You covered Manson’s song “Get on Home” on the flipside to your “Mind Crawler” single in 2013. Did you get into his music around the same time you started reading about him?
Yeah, not long after. I was reading about what a great songwriter he was, how Neil Young said he was a mad genius, the Beach Boys connection. So I thought his music must say something. And it does. It’s great. It’s way out there. It’s completely nuts.
His songwriting is similar to how he speaks. When he can keep a coherent train of thought, it’s fascinating. The problem is that he tends to go off on nonsensical tangents.
A lot of that is maybe the drugs he’s getting in prison, fucking with his head a bit. But yeah, when he’s on, he’s on. He’s got a lot of good things to say.
Has Manson influenced your own songwriting?
The song “Poison Apple,” for example, is basically an ATWA homage: Air, Trees, Water, Animals. It mentions everything, and every night we dedicate it to Charlie because it’s the right thing to do. It’s an homage. And the term “poison apple” is a reflection of what people think of him in some ways.
Do people in the audience get bummed when you dedicate it to him onstage?
I don’t think so. I’ll just say, “This is for Charlie.” Some people get it and scream, “Yeah, Charlie!” There’s a few times where I’ve seen people in the audience with crosses on their heads and things like that. It’s pretty interesting. People get into it.
Your Mind Control record seemed to have a very Manson-esque, dark-side-of-the-American-60s vibe to it.
Yeah, yeah—the song “Devil’s Work” is a bit of a Manson song. The line, “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s work” is changed slightly from what [Manson Family member and convicted murderer] Tex Watson said. It was very much inspired by the whole thing.
If you could interview Manson, what would you ask him?
I’d be interested to know about the whole music side of it. What was promised to him? What were his expectations as an artist? What were the Beach Boys telling him? I’d love to know the actual truth behind all that because he doesn’t seem to have a nice thing to say about anyone in the music industry, apart from Neil Young, who I guess gave him a motorcycle. So I’d like to know his thoughts about all that.
He’s 80 years old at this point. It seems incredible that he’s still alive, given the life he’s led and the length of time he’s been in prison. Do you have any theories about that?
Could be the CIA got him and now he’s just a fucking robot. Maybe he’s an alien or something. But he’s always gonna be there, looming over everybody.
J. Bennett is a writer and also might be an alien.