Marilyn Manson @ CMJ MusicFest
By Jeff Apter
There are many perceptions of Marilyn Manson. The most common, in no special order, are that he’s a baby eater, a Satan worshiper, and a diligent iconoclast. But he’s also a polished raconteur, as he proved at the 1997 CMJ music talkfest in New York City this September.
In case you’ve been locked in a wardrobe for the past year or so, Manson’s CD, AntiChrist Superstar, returned self-mutilation to the charts. Since then, he and his unholy posse have crisscrossed the globe, poisoning minds and committing acts of demonic madness -- or so various right-wingers would have us believe. In the process, Manson has caught more headlines than a megalomaniacal politician could ever dream of. Upholders of moral values have run him and his graveyard crew out of town, parents have done everything bar tying their kids up to prevent them from being exposed to his evil ways, yet his album and tickets keep on selling. Yep, it must be the work of the devil.
But why was Manson here at CMJ, a music biz get-together: isn’t it a classic case of preaching to the perverted? Well, I guess that the lanky Manson is no fool. He realizes the power of the media. He knows there’s no better way to spread the word that he is more than a hellish Halloween rock act than to chat up several hundred music biz types in the one afternoon. And, admittedly, he did it well, capably fielding questions that ranged from the likelihood of an assassination attempt (he finds this “thrilling”) to fashion tips.
Speaking of which, the chatty Manson cut a dapper, deathly figure, relying on your basic blacks and reds, obligatory shades obscuring much of his deathmask face. His dress sense aside, the strongest message to emerge from Manson’s half-hour standup routine -- apart from the fact he should host a talk show -- was that his patience with his critics is truly wearing thin. It wouldn’t take a degree in psychiatry to work out that the relentless assault on everything Marilyn Manson -- typically initiated by social do-gooders, religious lynch mobs and political movers and shakers -- has left its scars.
“I haven’t burnt down churches, cut off my genitals or kicked nuns in the kneecaps,” he informed the gathering, his anger more obvious than the fact he could use some sun. “Those urban myths about me simply contain varying degrees of nonsense. For instance, no, I was not Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years.” (He said this, I swear.)
“Anyway, the purpose of all those rumors was to undermine me,” Manson explained, somewhat unnecessarily. “It made me wonder whatever happened to ‘love thy neighbor,’ or ‘judge and ye shall be judged.’ See, what my critics don’t realize is that I have found God, but I’ve found him in a different way.”
As Marilyn continued to sift legend from fact, he disclosed there is some element of truth in the mutterings, unlike, say, Richard Gere’s reputed interest in gerbils, or the strange story about the contents of Rod Stewart’s stomach. (Don’t ask.) “Everyone’s heard the stories of sex on stage,” Manson stated. “And yes, there were a couple of instances and it’s not to say I won't do it again. But, hey, I’m an entertainer -- and I hate virgins. I strongly believe that if you haven’t been fucked, don’t talk to me.” At this point the crowd started to fall about. Yes, Marilyn Manson has a sense of humor.
But what has made Manson the space oddity he is? In no particular order, he holds the following beliefs and/or institutions responsible for the mess that is American society (of which Manson is the hellish end result):
1. Organized religion (no argument there)
2. Television (even though MTV plays his clips to death)
3. Advertising (of which he is a master).
“Just different elements of underlying fascism,” he drawled. “We’re all monkeys in this world. When we try to get beyond that we just hurt each other.”
Manson also discussed his original motivation for becoming a rock’n’roll agent of evil. Don’t blame bat-biter Ozzie Osbourne, despite Manson’s recent cameos on the Ozzfest tour. (Manson: “I admire Black Sabbath for creating heavy metal, but their audience were drunk white guys wanting to beat me up for wearing pantyhose.”) And no, it wasn’t because of a mysterious Satanic symbol that appeared on his bedpost late one night.
In reality, the big motivator for Manson becoming the Freddy Krueger of rock’n’roll was seriously notorious rappers 2 Live Crew. Manson confessed, “They were my biggest influence to start up a band. But as a skinny white kid from Florida, I’ve gotten away with a lot more than they ever could.” (In case you’ve forgotten, 2 Live Crew were banned from coast to coast; while music lovers rejoiced, anti-censorship advocates had their gravest doubts confirmed: repression truly does rule if you let it.)
Another curious revelation from his CMJ chat was that peculiarity runs deep in the Manson clan. His father went as far as to dress up, Kiss-style, at the first concert he and young Marilyn attended, “and I’ve turned out all right,” Manson deadpanned. “Parents should let their kids go to my concerts,” he continued, “then they can come home and ask serious questions about sexuality and violence.” These are two issues which, to Marilyn, are “what’s great and what’s destructive in America right now.”
“The end of the world is all we have to look forward to -- I’m just pushing the fast-forward button and letting you enjoy the ride,” he surmised, before departing for a date at the MTV awards with the Spice Girls.
So what did all these Manson musings prove? Well, regardless of whether you dismiss Marilyn Manson as a third-rate shock-rocker, a bored middle-class 20-something out to annoy his parents, or a genuine manifestation of the evils that plague American society, he sure knows how to charm a crowd.