It's December 2009. Forty years after the city of Los Angeles marinated in its own collective night terror in the wake of the Manson Family's grisly killing spree, Roberts cups a microphone in his hands on stage at the Cat Club, a rock-and-roll boîte on the Sunset Strip, and launches into a driving industrial-goth anthem that has the same name as his band: "New Rising Son." He's about a foot taller than the founder of Helter Skelter Inc., but he seems to share Charlie's talent for transfixing a crowd. The chorus of the song, in part, goes like this: Fuck this/ I don't need it/ The devil's only son is going to save you from the holy one/ Dad you are my motherfucker funky chicken space brother/ Did you ever love my mother?/ I guess about as much as I loved you.
"I'm pretty proud of those lyrics," he says later. "People sometimes get mad at musicians, but that's the healthy way to explore those things—through art. This is what's festering in my subconscious."
When Roberts first heard from his mother about the alleged Manson connection, he was disinclined to believe it, although he wanted to know more. When he started asking questions, he says, she became hostile, so he dropped the subject. He became convinced that he was Manson's flesh and blood only later, in 2002, after he started writing letters to him in prison. Manson responded quickly—in a week or two—and his nearly indecipherable chicken-scratch missives contained details that, according to Roberts, suggested that Manson had been present at the orgy. Manson referred to him as Lawrence Alexander. He also mentioned a story that Roberts had heard from his mother about a day in 1967 when her father had chased Manson off his property and called the future cult leader a "white-trash biker bandit." When that first letter from Manson arrived, Roberts was living with a bandmate, bass player John Eckert, a short dash from the Spahn Ranch, the exurban enclave that had served as the Manson Family's headquarters in the late sixties. "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 free will 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."
"You could see that he was going through some kind of identity crisis," recalls Eckert, who runs a medical-marijuana dispensary in the San Fernando Valley. "He was unsettled. He was confused. He came in and said, 'Check this out, I got a letter from Charlie Manson, bro.' Here you are, hanging out with this guy, and suddenly there's a strong possibility that he's Charlie Manson's son. I mean, how do you take something like that?" For his part, Eckert was uneasy—among his concerns was the shroud of darkness the news cast over New Rising Son. "If we stand on the quality of our songs alone, we're a good band," he says. "We might've done better without the Manson thing. It's a negative for a lot of people. They don't take you seriously."