Scary Monster, Super Freak
by Sean Pulmer
It's a typically sunny spring day outside Reverend Marilyn Manson's downtown Toronto hotel room but it may as well be midnight. The singer, in town to talk up Marilyn Manson's EP Smells Like Children and the new LP Antichrist Superstar, sits with the blinds closed, just a single lamp illuminating the otherwise darkened room.
Theatrical? Yes. Pretentious? Probably, but not inappropriate. Manson and his bandmates - bassist Twiggy Ramirez, new guitarist Zim Zum, keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy and drummer Ginger Fish - have made a career out of being theatrical and outrageous, starting with those names: a collusion between American female icons and male serial killers. The Reverend, who was ordained into the Church of Satan by founder Anton LaVey himself, has torn up Mormon bibles on stage, toured with and befriended Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and genuinely frightened parents across North America with his peculiar brand of spooky rock & roll excess.
In person, Marilyn Manson is Mom and Dad's worst nightmare made living flesh. Spider-web tattoos on his wrists poke out from shirt cuffs. The white contact lens in his left eye and the black one in his right are unspeakably eerie. Dressed in a natty black suit, red dress shirt and black tie, Manson looks for all the world like the devil incarnate. But his freakish apparel belies the man's charming personality and active intellect. In fact, the soft-spoken Manson is the nicest Satanist I've ever met.
We're here today because Marilyn Manson's update of the Eurythmics''Sweet Dreams(Are Made Of This)' has unexpectedly pushed the band into the international spotlight. Manson's version exposes the sexual dread which was only implicit in Dave Stewart's lyrics ('Some of them want to use you/ Some of them want to get used by you/ Some of them want to abuse you/ Some of them want to be abused') and drags it naked and screaming to the surface.
The song's success has prompted misguided fans to accuse Manson of becoming a corporate rock whore. But as he points out, he has no control over what the public buys. "I'm sure people will have that idea [that the band has sold out]," Manson agrees. "The thing is, I've only gotten more dangerous and closer to the edge. I haven't changed what I'm about. I've always wanted a lot of people to hear what I have to say. I've always wanted to be a rock star. It wasn't something that I was trying to avoid because I think people need an anti-hero to come along and show them the other side. And the more people that hear that, the better."
Manson is used to being misunderstood, especially where his religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are concerned. For the record, Manson is a Satanist, not a devil worshipper. It's a fine distinction, to be sure, but an important one because Satanists worship nothing except individuality. Satan is merely a convenient symbol of that independence. "The devil has always been misunderstood, " the Reverend explains. "I think 'God' and 'Satan' are just two words like 'Marilyn' and 'Manson'.
"Philosophers and writers like Hegel and Nietzsche and LaVey have all tapped into that idea of the two sides of man and finding a balance between the two extremes. So many people don't know anything about the extremes and they live their lives on one side or the other. But I like to look at myself as a balance between those two extremes."
Manson may have balance in his personal life but his music definitely leans more towards Satan than God. Produced by the band, Trent Reznor and long-time Skinny Puppy knob twiddler Dave 'Rave' Oglivie, Antichrist Superstar continues the heretical lyrical stance which got Marilyn Manson banned from Salt Lake City while touring with Nine Inch Nails. Besides the album's fundamentalist-baiting title, the first single 'The Beautiful People' features Manson hissing the refrain: 'The beautiful people, the beautiful people/ It's all relative to the size of your steeple/ You can't see the forest from the trees/ You can't smell your own shit on your knees'. "The new record is something that has been written for quite some time," Manson says cryptically, "and it's actually something that - if we were to speak on our terms right here - won't be written for several years because it's a record that I've found has been written a long time from now. But I've managed to, by paying very careful attention to my dreams, obtain this album, and I find it to be something that has happened a long time from now.By I've managed to bring it into modern terms."
Bringing rock & roll into 'modern terms' is exactly what Marilyn Manson is all about. At every opportunity, Manson challenges America's behavioral standards and moral values, revealing in his outsider status. It's a sentiment expressed in Smells Like Children's closing track, a cover of Patti Smith's 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger' in which Manson proclaims proudly: 'I am the all-American Antichrist/ ... I am your shit/ You should be ashamed of what you have eaten'. Become what you are and don't be ashamed,is Manson's message. "It's like the Superman theory that Nietzsche had," he says. "I think every man and woman is a star. It's just a matter of realizing it and becoming it. It's all a matter of willpower. You know, the world is just how you see it. If you want to have other people tell you how you see it, then you can. But if you want to look at it, then it's limitless what you can do. That's why I don't feel the need to ever have to be one person. I can be as many different people as I like. It's a matter of 'should you follow the rules that the world has set up for you?' or 'should you make your own?'. I choose to make my own."
Part of that process for Manson involves experimenting with his personality to the point of self-destruction. "Everything's a bit of a science project with me," he says. "I'll spend weeks at a time doing different types of drugs - or not doing different types of drugs - just to know that I can or can't. I love becoming very close to chaos,and in it I find comfort and control. Friends that I've had in the past... think that I have multiple personality disorder."
Manson scoffs at suggestions that his new found success will mellow him and his music. "I think as long as you know what you're doing, you have the upper hand," he offers. "It's ultimately more Satanic to infiltrate the mainstream and to manipulate the corporate machine itself to do what you want it to do. So everything I've done and the success that we have received is quite. I wouldn't say contrived, but it's something that I've made happen because I wanted it to. And like I said, I'm never going to change what I'm about. I'll just constantly make the world change around me. "That self-confidence doesn't come easily. "Sometimes the hardest thing to believe in is yourself," Manson says. "Never mind trying to believe in God or the President.Believe in yourself. Because in the end, you are God - and the President and whatever you want to be."
It's times like these, when Manson starts giving advice to his fans, that parents get the most uptight. Who's this weirdo trying to influence my kids? And why are they listening to him? Marilyn Manson may be a freak (let's face it, he is) but his intentions to rouse teens out of their social apathy into following their hearts - are admirable ones if his methods and beliefs are suspect. "It was in high-school," Manson says of his personal awakening, "[and] I was terrified that the end of the world was coming because they kept telling us [in Christian school] that the Antichrist was going to come, and to live you'd have to denounce Jesus or you'd be killed. And when that never happened, I finally realized that the Antichrist was something that was a part of us all: it equals disbelief in Christianity. And I realized that the things that terrified me as a kid were things I was going to grow up to be. So now everyone's fear of the end of the world and this fear of the terrible Antichrist person is all coming true because of that fear itself." He pauses. "I am something that America has created out of its own fear."
So if Marilyn Manson is the personification of that fear - the Antichrist Superstar - what frightens Marilyn Manson? He answers without hesitating. "Myself."