Charles Manson is shown in this photo from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Jun. 16, 2011. Reuters

Jailed for 44 years, Charles Manson made his way back into the national conversation after falling seriously ill and being transported out of prison Tuesday. The cult murderer invoked the phrase “Helter Skelter” as inspiration for the murders of seven people on two August nights in 1969. After all these years, the meaning behind those two fateful words— and the Beatles song of the same name— remains murky.

Manson led his cult following, known as the Manson Family, to murder seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate in 1969, in an attempt to ignite a race war in the United States. Convinced the Beatles were sending him a message through their music, Mason invoked “Helter Skelter” to call his followers to action.

Shortly before the murders took place, Manson allegedly told his followers “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.”

“Is it a conspiracy that the music is telling the youth to rise up against the establishment because the establishment is rapidly destroying things? Is that a conspiracy?” Manson asked when he eventually testified on the stand for the crimes. “The music speaks to you every day, but you are too deaf, dumb and blind to even listen to the music … It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says ‘rise.’ It says ‘kill.’ Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music?”

Charles Manson is shown in this picture from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation dated Jun. 16, 2011. Reuters

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, Helter Skelter means “in undue haste, confusion or disorder” or “in a haphazard manner.” And the lyrics to the Beatles song of the same name seem innocent enough.

“Do, don’t you want me to love you
I’m coming down fast but I’m miles above you
Tell me, tell me, tell me, come on tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer
Helter skelter, helter skelter
Helter skelter”

For their part, the Beatles said little about the invocation of their song as a justification by Manson. In a 1980 interview with Playboy, however, John Lennon said he wasn’t troubled by the fact that the lyrics were interpreted in a destructive manner.

“No, it has nothing to do with me. It’s like that guy, Son of Sam, who was having these talks with the dog,” Lennon said in the interview. “Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the “Paul is dead” thing or who figured out that the initials to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid.”