November 30,

“Six degrees of separation” is that game in which you unite very distant concepts, people, animals or things, in six steps that reveal that everything can be connected.
Maybe this pastime originated from a playful reading of chaos theory is nothing new. That’s why, instead of settling for only six degrees, we’re making up a map of connections with… a million degrees of separation!
This is a Universal History of All Things told through the links that united these seemingly unconnected facts. Miqui Otero unconsciously slides down the sledge of free association of ideas in this holistic craziness in instalments.
Each episode of this epopee has six degrees as a sign of respect towards the original reference. But as that famous The Wire claim used to say, “Everything is connected”: the end of each episode of A million degrees of separation will always be the beginning of the next one. And thus, we’ll go on to infinity and beyond..

illustration by
Sergi Padró

A million degrees of separation

by Miqui Otero

Chapter V

In which we dwell on the spectacular relationship between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan. And about how close the latter was to the most devilish sect in history thanks to his daughter and to Dennis Wilson, the only one of the Beach Boys who could actually surf, in a California that thanks to Charles Manson was becoming more and more like the movie Surf Nazis Must Die. Manson was a Doris Day fanatic and lover of the song “Qué será, será”, the same that a certain Johnny Thunders brought to Spain on the day he lost it completely during a bullfight, ended up dressed as a matador and with his tail between his legs.

A million degrees of separation – O Production Company

There’s only one place in which it doesn’t matter how bizarre one’s profession or multiple drug-addiction records are, a place people from any race, size and condition can enter, where the most valued thing is show business and fame is capitalised to such an extent that humans talk about themselves in the third person. That place is not America. That place is not Celebrity Big Brother. That paradise is, in fact, the election campaign to become Governor of California.

During the 2003 campaign, Arnold Schwarzenegger was almost the sanest candidate. Well-known for having a chest perimeter almost bigger than the state he wanted to govern (154 centimetres) and acknowledged by the Guinness World Records Book as “The most perfectly developed man in the history of the world”, he debated and opted to the position against, for example, (an irony, since the tiny African American actor had become quite famous in countries such as Spain thanks to a show entitled, precisely, Arnold). Other wunderkind candidates were Larry Flint (erotic press tycoon, on a wheelchair after having survived an attempted murder and also diagnosed as bipolar), Mary Carey (a porno actress whose motto was “Californians prefer them blonde” and exchanged her services for votes) or (a comedian known mostly for destroying melons and watermelons on stage).

Swarzie was finally victorious in the battle against those Greek demigods. It was, among other things, thanks to the sentence that closed the last chapter of A Million Degrees of Separation. He finished his speeches with his legendary “I’ll be back”, so he didn’t only manage to become governor, but he was as of then known as Governator, a blending of governor and Terminator (A little parenthetical remark: the candidate to the Catalan elections for party “Junts pel sí”, Raül Romeva, debuted in the world of literature with his novel Sayonara Sushi, a probable reference to Terminator that only not many managed to spot).

Arnold’s political career had started way before, though. Let’s remember that he’d been a witness to Tejero’s coup, our very own Terminator with his three-cornered hat, but his true idol was someone else: Ronald Reagan. Also governor of California in his time, without a doubt an actor with the same wide palette of facial expressions as Arnold himself, he won the elections to the presidency of the United States in 1980, on the same year that Swarzenegger became a US citizen and was part of the campaign, first making calls and giving out flyers and afterwards raising funds for the Republican Party during that same year’s elections.

Although Ronald Reagan is not exactly known for any epic parts played in his movies, he is quite famous for having uttered sentences fit to appear in any James Cameron film: “When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat”. In fact, Reagan became history by starting from a very modest place. Remember than in the Back to the Future saga, doctor Emmet Brown, before the information provided by Mcfly about who’d inhabit the White House years later, he answers: “Ronald Reagan? Then who’s vice-president? Jerry Lewis?”. But he soon got used to things and would even end up giving the plane he used during the 1980 campaign the name Free Enterprise II. Not even in Con Air they would have dared such a thing!

Arnold has confessed in more than one occasion that since he became governor he’d always made himself the same question when faced with a problem. If Billy Wilder had a sign in his office saying “How would Lubitsch do it?”, he had another one with the legend: “How would Ronald Reagan do it?”.

Hero of heroes for Wall Street cocaine-fuelled capitalism, Reagan lived only two degrees of separation away from the worst hippy nightmare. He touched someone very close to Charles Manson, although who really did it was his daughter: Patti Reagan.

Patti would end up appearing on the cover of Playboy, writing texts in which she called her family every name in the book and performing in series such as The Love Boat. However, one of her signature characteristics was her fascination for bad guys: she dated Kris Kristofferson and Bernie Leadon from The Eagles. But one of her brief lovers was Dennis Wilson, the only member of Californian band The Beach Boys who could actually surf (and was quite good at drinking too).

Nancy Reagan declared back then that she was “fan number one” of Mike Love, that other beach boy, extreme right wing and full of complexes, who had the nerve to call his daughter Summer (Summer Love). The biographer José Ángel González Balsa explains in the biography Bendita locura, that the FBI investigated this seemingly perfect band and ruled that they had “problems with alcohol, divorce and psychiatric disorders”. That didn’t stop Nancy, and didn’t stop her daughter either. Ronald Reagan kept on considering them, despite all, the perfect California band and invited them with all the pomp to in front of half a million people. Then he showed them the White House. He was relaxed because Dennis was no longer part of the band and so wouldn’t end up hiding in the restroom with his daughter Patti: he’d died in 1983.

A million degrees of separation – O Production Company
A million degrees of separation – O Production Company

Dennis Wilson was the most womaniser, libertine, honest and addict of the Beach Boys. Maybe that was what seduced young Patti Reagan. But on top of that, the hippy dream’s black beast had fascinated Dennis. Nope, not talking about Richard Nixon here, but Charles Manson. 

The drummer met Manson in 1968. One day he went back to his house in Malibú and there was that goblin with the mad face waiting for him. Dennis asked him whether he was going to hurt him and Manson answered: “Do you think I’m here to hurt you, brother?” Manson and many girls from his Family stayed at Wilson’s house like that brother in law that comes to visit, stays far too long and drinks too many beers.  He lost around 100,000 dollars, most of them in penicillin for gonorrhoea.

Manson had musical interests. He was obsessed by the song as is well known, and ended up recording an album with some very inspired songs. Back then, when they were friends, he asked Dennis Wilson time and time again to introduce him to Terry Melcher. Manson thought that the music producer and son of Doris Day could really launch his career as folk singer.

Melcher didn’t, but Manson never forgot the gesture. When the occultist leader and his Family killed seven people in the Cielo Drive massacre, they left the Polanski mansion, after murdering his wife Sharon Tate (eight months pregnant), singing the Doris Day hit: . An apparently cheery song about a future we’re never told about was the soundtrack for the end of the hippy future played in the garden of the said L. A. mansion. “An omnipresent feeling of terror and paranoia pervaded the city”, wrote film historian Peter Biskind.

A million degrees of separation – O Production Company

That’s how southern California, a pop Arcadia of eternal summer, coconut milkshakes, beach bonfires and “three girls for each boy”, became tinged with blood. Many years after that, in 1987, a movie about surf and death would be filmed there: . Set in a post-apocalyptic future (an earthquake has played havoc with all the Californian coast), some surfer bands looking as if they are just back from a rave party at the Monegros desert fight over what’s left of it. The lords are, however, a bunch of followers of great Adolf and the youngest nazi surfers look a lot like the Manson Familiy’s acolytes (swastikas included). The film was an effort by the Troma production company to dignify its filmography (very dignified in my opinion), and was premiered in Cannes in 1987.

But let’s go back a bit. Because some people tend to forget about the person whom had rented to the Polanskis the mansion in which the most famous Hollywood murders took place: it was Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son. Charles Manson, the guy who’d end up in jail and with a swastika tattooed between his eyebrows, was the devil’s seed that aborted the countercultural dream way before the yuppies got hold of their first gram. That same psychotic Family that abandoned the Polanski mansion singing:

Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother what will I be
Will I be handsome?
Will I be rich?
I tell them tenderly
Qué será, será,
Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see.
Qué será, será,
What will be, will be.

A million degrees of separation – O Production Company

The relationship between this song and blood and destruction doesn’t end up there. Johnny Thunders, who’d been a member of the New York Dolls and was also leader of the Heartbreakers, re-launched his career in 1985 with an album entitled, precisely, Qué será, será. At the time, the Spanish language must have obsessed him, because he visited Madrid to perform in cultural programme La edad de oro. wearing a hat from Jaén (he’d probably discovered Tío Pepe) or a matador green and gold suit that perfectly fits his heroin-addict complexion. While he sings, for example, Just Another Girl disguised as a torero, he keeps on spitting out “olé”. He looks more at ease with bullfight culture than Ava Gardner herself (she only liked one thing more than bulls: bullfighters). However, we’ve recently found out that a few hours later he declared the whole planet anti-bullfight.

The very particular and hilarious music critic Oriol Llopis, who back then worked in La edad de oro, explains it quite well in his memoirs La magnitud de la tragedia. Llopis was our Spanish Nick Kent, a sort of Keith Richards who had . With a penchant for records that talked about, among other things, heroin, which he re-sold to magazines he worked for in order to afford the substance, Llopis was quickly considered by Thunders as his soul mate: the Spanish critic did for him a full Bienvenido, Mister Marshall Malasaña punk-rock style. At a given moment, Thunders, the baddy that wasn’t afraid of anything, that only feared fear, insisted that he wanted to go see bullfighting. Llopis took him to a corrida: “When we got out of Las Ventas and back to the van, Thunders, the world’s hardest rocker, vomited. He thought everything had been too bloody and horrible”. A month after the Thunders episode, La edad de oro invited to the programme another band that was even harder than Thunders. But what stone is harder than a diamond? Who were those chosen ones? Los Chunguitos.

A million degrees of separation – O Production Company

The dice are rolling for the next stop of A Million Degrees of Separation. But you can still make your bets: Who will be on it? The Sex Pistols, Afrika Bambaataa and the Profumo case? Or else The Clash, Federico García Lorca and the Dreyfus case?

Miqui Otero