Love & Death in California

January 17, 2024

To some, he was a con artist. To some, he was a father. A god to all of the lost, confused children. To others, he was the leader of one of Los Angeles' renowned cults, The Source Family.

Father Yod — James Baker — was many things for the people of California in the 1960s. He made people feel like heaven; he had the voice of God. He shot airplanes out of the sky and killed with his bare hands. He lived as if sex, drugs, and rock and roll were tattooed on his chest as he led his children to live in the moment and to keep changing. Heaven was here and now, found in a framed picture of Baker hung at the center of the Source Restaurant.

Baker called the lost children of the 60s the fallen angels — the souls that painted California when it was still drenched in spirit. When counterculture emerged, the peak of the cult movement became shiny to those who challenged authority. A beautiful and chaotic divergence emerged, where part of California breathed in an atmosphere that teased them and aroused their need to ask themselves — What did they want most in life?

Was it love?

In and out, they breathed a haunting temptation. Meanwhile, everyone else stood still. They drove down Sunset Blvd and nodded their heads to Blondie. They ignored the unsettling presence in the air and held hands without a purpose or a question. To love, in California, was to be on the brink of danger. It was to walk over thin lines of temptation and devotion — but it was also the beginning of life. The beginning of California — what it was known for then and whatever it should choose to be now. The skewed energy that lingered in the sky seduced everyone.

Not a soul excluded…

In breathed the wide-eyed, innocent hippies before they knew the world was ugly. They were the young kids with no discipline who never thought they would cut their hair. They were the stars of Hollywood — the young, hopeful ones, the soon-to-be icons, the icons,  and then washed-up ones who remained as leftovers with open desires and broken hearts.

Sharon Tate was one of the young and hopeful. She faced Hollywood for several years in hopes of her big break, but was always cast for the same roles: The blonde ditz, the klutz. Her role in Valley of the Dolls was her most memorable, the helpless blonde. She was 23 when she met Roman Polanski — her 33-year-old co-star and director for her upcoming film, Fearless Vampire Killer.

While filming, Polanski grew mesmerized by Tate, and their on-screen romance led to a house, a child, a future. During this era, Roman Polanski was also young and hopeful, but unlike Sharon he was embraced by Hollywood, veiled rather than mocked by its charm. Once he became big-time with Rosemary’s Baby, he decided that the world was his — and so was every other woman in Hollywood. His lack of tall-dark-and-handsome meant nothing to the women of the 60s. His nominations, his upcoming films, and his inner circle, did.

Love, in California, was understanding the role you played and accepting it. It was the idea of a modern woman turning her shoulder. It was playboys, sex parties, and orgies because if you can, you must. It was finding a home tape of your husband, the father of your child, and another woman in your bed. It was questioning your role quietly, asking yourself if this is what you've always wanted.

Sharon Tate, once young and hopeful, now faded in youth and defeat in the eyes of Hollywood, did the only thing left to do when you’re an aging woman in California: play your role. She began her new life with Polanski at her house on 10050 Cielo Drive, swallowed whole by the air of the 60s, poisoned with the sins of temptation.

The house on Cielo Drive became a symbol of possibilities Hollywood once had for many, its allure starting with Beach Boys member Dennis Wilson, its owner before Tate and Polanski began their lives together, one of the many connections Charles Manson thought would be the catalyst for his dreams coming true. Back then, Manson was understood simply as a musician with a deep and unusual grasp on life, when his fantasies only involved making it in California and longing for record deals—until Hollywood rejected him, and his life rearranged as a collection of failed attempts and tattered connections with the only people who held his key into Hollywood. His delusions led him astray, and within his mirages, an impending apocalyptic race approached, and his ideals became the only thing that were real and true.

His appetite grew, and the sky danced in poison.

His followers inhale patchouli and incense. Whatever had felt like love in California was contaminated with a wicked thirst for something more. Manson’s dream was no longer music, but now cultivating his personal Hollywood, his own stardom, as he seeks glimmers in hopeless eyes, a glimmer that used to be his own.

He raised his followers at Spahn Ranch, where his ideals were distorted and disguised as "love." When they began to long for a new social order, he kissed them with deviant eyes, and promised that they could eventually live on their own terms by committing acts of devotion—safe from the impending society surrounding them. They smelled of marijuana and sex until the smell started to shift to something else — a hint of blood, a hint of the fame that Manson craved. But it was never love — his "love" became merely as good as revenge.

Meanwhile, in the heart of Beverly Hills, Roman Polanski continued to thrive and flourish in his own world, leaving Sharon Tate at home, pregnant with his child and walking barefoot around her house with her closest friends and ex-lover. Day to day, she lived through vignettes of Hollywood, longing for big breaks and looking forward to the next morning. They lived in Cielo Drive as the physical reminders of Charles Manson's failures rebirthed — into the living, breathing manifestations he could only dream of.

To look back at the 60s is to ask if there is such a thing as too much love — in the 60s — When IHOP was still House of Pancakes, and you drove down Sunset past billboards of Cher and Judy Collins, and a sense of belonging still burned. A love for passion, and the desire for love and community drove the spirit of California. When parking existed in plain sight, and people only called through telephone booths. When California was nothing but a headline, only starting to count its final days.

Love in the 60s became the creature that fed on the final zest of California and devoured its swelling insides. James Baker's loss of faith and confession to his children that he was no God, his love that he preached and flaunted that made his fallen angels feel like they could fly, diminished to ashes. The love that Sharon Tate longed for and Roman Polanski deprived her of by binging and feasting on the fruits of Hollywood was lost. The fallen angels cut their hair and realized the world was ugly.

The air filled with fumes of longing and desire, and what they had before was no longer enough…Love was no longer enough. Ready to implode…the final headline of the 60s rewrote the meaning of California on August 8th, 1969, just after midnight. In Sharon Tate's blood, members of the Manson Family spelled "Pig" on the walls of Cielo Drive in hopes of revenge and revolution — stripping the 60s of everything it had to give, taking the life of Sharon Tate, her closest friends, and her baby with it, taking the love James Baker once preached and birthed into hopeless hearts and souls. Today, Roman Polanski lives on through a name that remains full of life, while Sharon Tate's legacy was left halted in its place as a relic and a gruesome spectacle left to our imaginations. Today, James Baker is seen as a scam, a fraud, empty love.

The smell in the air finally went away. The sky cleared, burst into air reborn, and a spirit murdered.

The people of California, stood one step back—trust in humanity impaled, never the same.

To look back at the 1960s is to look back at love and its dangers — things one could only dream of feeling but proved impossible to maintain. Understanding the purpose of this era is an attempt to understand love as a constant fire — the purest and most sincere interest to live.

California in the 60s needed a leader; they needed hope, they needed love. They had nothing else in mind — This was how they ate.

There was something in the air in the 60s.

Layout: Emmy Chen
Photographer: Reyna Dews
Videographer: Maddie Abdalla
Stylists: Kyle Porter & Fernanda Lopez
HMUA: Floriana Hool & Lily Rosenstein
Models: Alex Basillio, Mimo Gorman & Nikki Shah

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