Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Son of Man Son

Mathew Roberts, lead singer of Rise of the Son, claims to be the son of Charles Manson, spawned during a LSD orgy in San Francisco. He was raised by adoptive parents in Rockford, IL, but when he grew up, he moved out west to CA, and his girlfriend convinced him to track down his birth parents.

He eventually got hold of his birth mother who said that she wasn’t sure who his dad was (remember the orgy)—until she took a look at him, and pegged Manson as papa. At some point, Roberts was suddenly hit by the realization that he was living quite close to Spahn Ranch[1] -- the Manson Family headquarters. “‘That blew my mind,’ Roberts says. ‘Here I am, right near where all that stuff took place. Here I am, playing in a band, dating strippers, conspiring to take over the world, and I’m like Oh, my God. Do I have any freewill at all? You know, I’m, like following in this guy’s footsteps completely! That really freaked me out. I was in a spot where you can’t really tell anyone because you’re gonna look like a crazy person.’” (Read the full interview here.)

It sounds like Roberts was especially freaked out by the realization that he had moved so close to the Mason family ranch. That was, after all, his first point of comparison (“Here I am, right near where all that stuff took place”)—but even beyond that, note all of his metaphorical comparisons to place: “here I am” in reference to current activities (playing in a band, etc.); “I’m … following in this guy’s footsteps” in reference to life’s pursuits; and “I was in a spot” in reference to a quandary.

This sense of geographically-induced epiphany really meshed with the LoS obsession with decoding "place"[2] -- so I’ve dwelt on this story a bit (so to speak). There are any number of ways to interpret this tale: perhaps Roberts is a lying publicity hound, or perhaps it's all true but there's a Manson-ic weirdness about it. Let's chase down a more interesting path: it's possible that Roberts is simply delusional -- and, well, as it turns out, there are handful of syndromes that are triggered by places. The French, for some reason, seem to have a better handle on describing this category of conditions (or at least it appears that way when I try to read about it on the internet); they call it syndrome du voyageur; specific syndromes include Jerusalem Syndrome, Florence Syndrome (more widely known as Stendhal Syndrome), Paris Syndrome, and Indian Syndrome.[3]

I’m going to focus here for a bit on Jerusalem Syndrome, because it feels to me like it is the most relevant to the son of Manson tale, as it is particularly wacky, particularly dangerous, and particularly malleable to my gross misinterpretation. This has been a bit of rabbit hole for me lately; jump on in and let me be your guide.

An article in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJ of P) identifies three types of manifestations of the Jerusalem Syndrome. “Type III” Jerusalem syndrome is best suited for our purposes. It manifests itself among tourists who have no previous symptoms of psychopathology but apparently simply go crazy in Jerusalem. At first they feel anxious. Then they ask to leave their tour group, go back to their hotel room, excessively groom themselves (clipping nails, etc.), strip their clothes and don their bedsheets in the form of a robe, go outside shouting bible verses or singing hymns, and finally move on to preaching on a religiously significant site. At some point along this series of stages, they come to believe that they are a manifestation of some important religious character—perhaps John the Baptizer, or Jesus. The syndrome culminates in a psychotic rampage, as the would-be holy man injures and perhaps even kills people, sets buildings on fire, etc. Later, after a couple weeks away from walking about Jerusalem, they go back to normal and forget that the whole thing even happened.

In one notorious case in 1969, Denis Michael Rohan tried to set fire to al-Aqsa mosque and caused significant damage, leading to massive rioting and international political repercussions. The mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam -- and it is also regarded by some to be in the way of the construction of the Third Temple, a key eschatological concern among some groups of fundamentalist Christians.

According to that BJ of P articled linked above, between 1980 and 1993, “1,200 tourists with severe, Jerusalem-themed mental problems were referred to” Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre. And apparently this full series of steps (except, perhaps, for the last one) happened 42 times over a period of 13 years -- a figure that will cause the numerologically aware to sit up and listen (although I’m not going to tell you why, bwahh-ha, ha, ha!).

There are two widely accepted theories concerning the cause of Jerusalem Syndrome -- and a third theory that is less mainstream.

The first popular theory involves the idea that people are simply overwhelmed by being immersed in what they consider to be holy places -- compounded with the various stresses of travel like culture shock, lack of sleep etc. -- and they snap. This same basic interpretation is pretty much the same explanation given to the other syndromes du voyageur. You see, people go to Florence and are dumbstruck by the beauty. Or people (more specifically, Japanese women) go to France and are dumbstruck by the crassness and the lack of cobblestoned streets. Or people go to India and go nuts because it’s crowded.

The second theory is that it’s bullshit. There are two key arguments here. First, people go crazy everywhere, so do we really see a statistically significantly increase in tourists going batshit in Jerusalem? Second, nobody has fully documented the background of the “sufferers” of Jerusalem syndrome—so how can we be sure that all these people weren’t delusion before going to Jerusalem? Bolstering this argument is idea that Jerusalem serves as a magnet for people who were already suffering from religiously-tinged psychosis.

The third theory -- the one that’s not mainstream -- is much more interesting. Suppose that Jerusalem itself actually causes people to become (or believe that they have become) holy people -- completely independently of the cultural and religious significance of the area? That doesn’t make sense until you understand where the argument is headed: Was Jesus just a man who was struck by Jerusalem Syndrome which made him believe he was a holy man -- like Paul, thunderstruck on the road and suddenly, "Pow"! He's super evangelist!

Here LoS obsessions bisect the curious case of Roberts. And we have many questions.

For starters, is there a California Syndrome (not that one) that turns you all kookoo? We're treading here, I think, on Philip K. Dick's turf -- for he believed that modern day CA was actually ancient Rome, masked by aliens to confuse us poor souls. CA has certainly long been a magnet: conquistadors drawn to the seven cities, ‘49-ers drawn to gold, dust-bowlers and immigrants drawn to a land of plenty, hippies drawn to the summer of love. Each of these dreams has a nightmarish side: the genocide of the natives, ‘49-ers piled into make-shift towns full of violence, dust-bowlers and immigrants trapped into slavery, the Manson family murders.

One of the really disturbing things about Roberts is that I get the sense that he really *wants* to be Manson’s son. It’s like we are seeing in Roberts someone drawn to the dark side of CA. This is a complete reversal: Instead of a dreamer sucked in and shattered, we have someone actually drawn to the destruction. Maybe this is why it is almost comforting to think of Roberts as a lying publicity hound. Then we can pigeon-hole him as chasing the dream, seeking to be a rock star, and we can sense a “justified” fate in his future, where his lies lead to a dark turn. But if he is drawn to the darkness of CA … does this mean that the dream has changed and we’re a society seeking destruction -- or is does it just mean that Roberts is simply nuts?

Of course it’s much more fun to imagine a CA syndrome, to imagine that CA itself casts a spell, the actual place in-and-of-itself, completely separate from the cultural icon it has become. Maybe it’s the geography: The deep dark stillness of the red wood valleys up north, or the bleak deserts in the south, or the end-of-the-earth feel to the Pacific lapping the western shores. Or maybe it’s a curse, perhaps bloody genocide or slavery or nukes have drafted our true manifest destiny: To chase dreams but catch nightmares.

Okay, okay, I know that I’m writing all hamfisted, dunce and clichéd. I slob here, and I’m sorry. So let me end by looking to a wonderful passage by someone else: Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon”:

Oops, sorry, lost my bookmark. You'll have to find it for me.


[1]Surely someone has made a XXX spoof off the Manson family called “Spawn Raunch” … or maybe that’s just entirely too tasteless…

[2]See for example, Platzangst, Sacred Waters, and Journey to the Center of the Earth" for starters.

[3]I'm aware of a handful of other "place" syndromes that are less place-specific including:
* Ruben's syndrome--which is characterized by inappropriately, publicly sexualized behavior while viewing "high" art (like masturbating in front of a Ruben's painting in the middle of an Italian museum)--and is arguably as localized in Rome as Stendhal's syndrome is in Venice.
* Airport syndrome, in which previously "normal" folk basically get all wacked out at an airport, bumping into people, temporary amnesia, etc.
* Mean World Syndrome is perhaps stretching the definition of "place" too far?

If you've heard of other geo-triggers or place-related-syndromes, let me know; I'm curious.


  1. hey, daurade -- did i properly pluralize "syndrome du voyageur" as "syndromes du voyageur"?

  2. Yeah, this is correct. Actually, though, I propose there is only one syndrome and that we have names for certain manifestations because that's where we have the most tourists. Millions go each year to India, Paris, Florence etc., so it's more likely a few of these will flip out.

    There's no Des Moines syndrome only because there aren't very many tourists, for example.

    But then again, these are pretty potent places; I imagine a lot of people go as the fulfillment of a life-long dream, so the release of all that pent-up longing may have something to do with it.

    Also, I wonder if this is related to the hippy-ish New Agey idea that certain places are "power centers" of some kind....Taos (NM) and Sonoma (AZ) come to mind. Hence the high concentration of New Age people in those towns, old hippies, etc.

    Or, on a smaller level, the Feng Shui thing, where the disposition of furniture, their alignments, etc. can have a positive or negative effect on one's well-being, both physical and mental.

    I actually beleive that, btw, though I'm not sure if it's for the same Feng Shui reasons. Architecture, geography, the physical environment on every scale. Not sursprisingly, this theme keeps coming back up on LoS....

    Cool post! California Dreamin', Californication, California Über Alles. A world of its own....

  3. Yow, I love this. Upstate New York is such a place, at least in the early 19th century. The great awakening religious revival is said to have shot across upstate new york like a canon. Joseph Smith unearthed the book of mormon in a field near Elmira New York. The Handsom lake, dissolute Seneca sachem had a religious revelation, quit drinking and revived the spirits of his people. There have been new agers here since the stone age.
    I felt the radiation of place in parts of Australia and Greece. and a professor I had, a madman, very reminiscent of the Classics professor in Donna Tartt's Secret History, was always going on about the Judean desert infecting people with fanatic religious beliefs and frenzies. California is indeed a place that constellates utopian dreams and nightmares. I think of Joan Didion's Play it as it Lays, a nihilistic pop art portrait of LA,movies, drugs, the place without the myth, other than evaporation and destruction.

  4. i should edit! Then Handsome Lake I meant. not the Handsome lake

  5. Dang. And here I thought 42 was the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

  6. @ Anonymous:

    ho, ho -- very good! you got it ... but why 42 over *13* years? there's the rub, the reintroduction of mystery and purpose for something, etc., etc. ...

    you might, by the way, enjoy this, if you're okay with the "f" word and the "c" word and a few other words: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

  7. @ jon:

    Yes! E. v. W.! The east coast is keepin' it real! Them LA fakers be f*cked!

    Let's get it on!!!

  8. Nah, seriously, Jon,

    There's this telling and ongoing debate between hikers up the pacific crest trail and the Appalachian trail. Those on the PCT feel that they have the glory b/c their mountains are higher. But those on the AT shout about how their mountains are bigger from base to crest--and have fewer switch backs.

    I know that I sound off topic--but the point is that there is a new-nes about CA, while the mountains of upstate NY are old, old, old. When I think of creepy woods, I'm thinking east coast firs that're deep and ancient.

    I'm thinking of Washington Irving, here.

    I do believe that some terrain has some power ... and upstate NY--yep.

  9. I said Sonoma (AZ) above but meant Sedona! Oops.

    "There is a specialized New Age tourist industry in Sedona, where the "Harmonic Convergence" was organized by Jose Arguelles in 1987. Some purport that "spiritual vortices" (local vernacular is "vortexes") are concentrated in the Sedona area at Bell Rock, Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, and Boynton Canyon."

    "An important part of the Harmonic Convergence observances was that many people congregated at "power centers." Power centers were places, such as Mount Shasta, California, and Mount Fuji, where the spiritual energy was held to be particularly strong. The belief was that if 144,000 people assembled at these power centers and meditated for peace, that the arrival of the new era would be facilitated."

    I think Lourdes and Međugorje fit this definition as Catholic power centers....

  10. @ Jon -

    I was a tad, er, "overserved" when I responded to yr comment early, so sorry if I didn't quite make sense. I was trying to allude to this sense of Rip Van Winkle ancient creepiness that I pick up from the deep woods on the north east US (almost a sense of trespassing), compared to the sense of the new in the west (more a sense of discovery).

    This is a Euro-centric error on my part, but to be fair, the sense of new vs. old is supported by the relative ages of the geological forces of the area.

    Anyhow--thanks for the comment. The more I hear about the upper NY area, the more intriguing it sounds.

  11. @ Jon

    Thanks, too, for mentioning Didion.

    "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" was the "unspoken elephant in the room" in this piece.

    I only read that collection of Didion's work recently, and she had a powerful impact on me.

  12. @ Daurade

    Shasta! I almost mentioned Shasta in this piece, and I certainly thought of NM and my visits with you there.

    Shasta links to me through Pynchon whose California "trilogy" was, along with Didion, in the forefront of my mind as I thought about this stuff.

    Not that I'm trying to compare what I wrote to Pynchon and Didion--I'm just acknowledging that they fed my brain, and when I read about this geographically-induced-craziness, they shaped my response.

    Anyhow--the Shasta legends are pretty great. I'm only vaguely familiar with them, but I understand, probably incorrectly, that they involve an underground city populated by "people" who escaped Atlantis...also, something about a few great Buddhists vanishing from the East only to be sighted about that Shasta mountain top...and, finally, big foot.

  13. Mountain tops have always been holy places, certain ones anyway, Fuji, Mt Carmel, etc. Hence the pyrmaids, skyscrapers....

    "I was trying to allude to this sense of Rip Van Winkle ancient creepiness that I pick up from the deep woods on the north east US (almost a sense of trespassing), compared to the sense of the new in the west (more a sense of discovery)."

    I agree with this! The west seems pure and bright compared to the east which is more murky and gurgling with layers of decomposing wet leaves, twigs, etc. Lovecraft spoke a lot of the ancient character of the east, New England, the mountains worn smooth by the aeons, lestt craggy than the Rockies, the Alps, Pyrenées.

    I got that Rip Van Winkle feeling once, camping in the Catskills on the way towards Massachussetts. Definitely some "werid vibes" in those hills.

  14. A not entirely unrelated volcano op-ed about our relationship to geography....

    "Meanwhile, a radar image of the volcanic crater appears to show a nightmarish face, which is reminscent of Edvard Munch's painting 'The Scream.' Coincidentally, it is thought that the masterpiece was inspired by the blood red skies caused by the powerful volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883."

  15. Just read this well-written article on Jerusalem Syndrome today.

    A couple of choice quotes from the article:

    * "The whole act of pilgrimage is deliberately intended as a kind of disorientation"

    * "The syndrome is a brief but intense break with reality that is place-related"

    The article concludes by noting that Lichtenberg (the psychiatrist in Jerusalem who apparently receives all such patients from the Jerusalem police) seems to be hoping that someday the police will bring him the real messiah!

    "Lichtenberg confesses [...] 'yes, I’ll admit it. There have been a number of people over the years who managed to arouse a certain hope that, hey, wouldn’t it be great if this person really is the One? So far I’ve been disappointed. But you never know who will walk through that door tomorrow.'"

  16. Recently heard that Rasputin's daughter is living in California ... could this possibly be true?

  17. Great article! The Messiah today would be ignored or disregarded as a cultist. Unles of course he managed some miracles. But even then.... :)

    As for Rasputin's daughter, why not? John Tyler's grandsons are alive, why not Rasputin's daughter? I also read that an old claim by some French guy that he's Hitler's love child may in fact be true!



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