Marilyn Manson deserves a holiday, assuming he can ever actually take a break. You could be forgiven for wondering whether there's anywhere he can escape to, or whether escapism wasn't the whole reason d'etre in the first place. So it's appropriate that he's temporarily relocated to New York, the non-stop city, the city that doesn't rest.
It's typical too, that he's having trouble with accommodation. One hotel asked for a $10,000 deposit in case he wrecked the place, a fear based, yet again, on misinformation. Maybe the owners thought he stooped to that kind of petty vandalism. Maybe they thought he was just your typical rock 'n' roll star. What is for certain, and this really is a recurring theme of the Marilyn Manson myth, is that they didn't know what they were dealing with.
I'm staring into the eye of the storm, in a deputized hotel room secreted 23 floors above New York's Time Square. Down below, information pours out into the clogged heat via LED, LCD, fluorescent tube and cathode ray. The arcane figures and acronyms of the DOW Jones index race across their ribbon screens, leaving you in the thrall of your own ignorance, and a few blocks further down, a digital clock counts out the last days of the millennium. Marilyn Manson's eerie, non-blinking contact lens has the effect of making him look like some unholy stricken visionary, his eye tuned-in to a different frequency, as though it were a mark from above. For a man who has split a nation, who has received death threats, bomb threats and bans, who has been accused of bestiality, pedophilia, rape, and ritual sacrifice, who has boiled the religious into a dark age fervor of hatred, and who has inspired passions in his followers that take some to the brink of self-destruction, he appears remarkably serene.
As an entity, he's been spread across the media, and the internet in particular, like wildfire, impregnated with lies and obsessions, and filtered through America's dark heart, where everybody wants a piece, carved out to feed their own private demon. But Marilyn Manson wrote himself. Hasn't he become unreal by now? He crosses his legs demurely.
"Well," he drawls, "It's never been real in the traditional sense to begin with, because I've always felt that reality is what you make it. I've always tried to live my life in the supernatural, in super-reality. So things have become more interesting, but I don't think they've become any the less real."
Some rock stars, Kurt Cobain being a good example, would have found the attention, and more importantly, the misconceptions, overpowering. Can he not see any parallels?
"I feel very much in control of what I've become. That's probably the difference. Even the negatives, even the hate elements of what people perceive me as, are just part of what Marilyn Manson has always been. It's always been about being a ball of confusion, just to get people scattering, because that has people thinking, has people talking. I think I am the source of endless conversations in many households, confusions between parents and children, anger amongst religious groups, and that in itself is an important part of culture. It makes people think. People are thinking more about religion, people are thinking more about sexuality, they're thinking about the way you're allowed to look, what you're allowed to say. I could be idealistic. I could warn so much more, but sometimes, something as simple as that is quite powerful."
Everyone who reacts to Marilyn Manson whether through fear or adoration, finds themselves in some way exposed and transformed. He has a habit of amplifying people's true nature - the bigotry and venom lurking in the Christian psychology, the church's fascism, the aching hunger for more building up within his fans - to the point where everyone in on the act takes on a specific role, becomes a parody of themselves.
The Marilyn Manson phenomenon has become theatre, a vivid portrayal of what is actually one of the most fundamental stories of all, the rite of passage. Marilyn Manson himself is no exception. He's the prime example.
"I feel that this last year, making the album Antichrist Superstar was something that each person has to put themselves through to really become themselves. Everybody has to go through that sort of transformation in their own way. So now I feel more like me than ever. Because Antichrist Superstar, in a sense, has come and gone. I've been through it and now I want to go beyond it and write a new album with a new perspective."
Does it feel like the end of a stage for you?
"Yeah, It was kind of like a climax to a lot of parts of my life and instead of becoming an ending, it's now become a beginning, because now I've gone on to become something else."
Leading up to that, when was the first time you realized that 'normality' wasn't enough?
"I always had that feeling growing up. Nobody ever really believed in me or had the faith to think I could become something, so there was always a sense of wanting to show everybody that they were wrong. So I think that has always been there.
I guess I dreamed of Marilyn Manson. It was kind of symbolic, shedding my name and the things that I grew up believing in, becoming a new person."
Was there also an internal process of change?
"Most of it was internal, and a lot of it, the way I wrote about it, was metaphors that related to the world and rock stardom, but most of the transformation was inside me, believing in myself, because no-one else ever had. I think that's where most of the change took place."
Do you feel as though you still have traces of your former self, Brian Warner, with you?
"Oh, yeah, I don't really think I'm a different person. I think Marilyn Manson defined what I always wanted to be. So I don't think I'm an entirely different person, I'm a highly evolved state of what I used to be. What man is to an ape, I am to what I used to be."
If there's one aspect of the Marilyn Manson story that cuts through to the heart of the Christian identity, it's the fact that it's a story of evolution. That if there's one thing his Christian opponents hate more, I'm about to discover, it's the fact that he's linked it to their own most powerful belief of all, the belief in Armageddon.
The trouble with being labelled 'shocking' by the so-called moral guardians is that there is a temptation to come to the defense of the accused by denying that they're actually shocking at all, even though the evidence may be staring at you from the other side of the dock.
The typically English response to Marilyn Manson has been to pass off the hysteria as a storm in a teacup despite the fact that America is a fucking huge teacup, reducing everything to cartoonish insignificance. That's incredibly lazy. There is a story to be told, and the only way to understand Marilyn Manson is to get involved, to credit him with that power, watch him take effect.
[Illegible] might have been the most obscene performer that ever lived, Diamanda Galas might understand the rues of religiously sanctioned hatred and its context in far deeper detail, and yet they never incited the same kind of reaction that Marilyn Manson has. They were never as adept at narrating their own story, never quite as accommodating. We didn't recognize ourselves in them.
Of course Marilyn Manson is shocking. And if you accept that, you have to ask yourself how and why, on what assumptions that shock is based. Because the drama that unfolds has implications for all of us. You have to decide where you stand. There are no spectators.
The title of Antichrist Superstar sounds as though it was calculated to shock.
"Absolutely, and the symbol for the album is the universal symbol for 'shock hazard', which I thought was ironic. That was why I chose it. It has a very powerful, totalitarian element to it, which is very rock 'n' roll. But I think it described perfectly what I set out to do. And what I predicted I would have done was to become a superstar by going against the mainstream to become part of the mainstream, by opposing it, by accepting the paradox of that.
People complain and say that I'm portraying Nazi imagery, but I would be one of the first people that would be destroyed by the Nazis. That's the irony, that I'm making fun of Christianity in saying that it's fascist, but at the same time, I'm saying in rock 'n' roll it's all the same."
Do you think that every decade needs something more to be shocked by?
"There needs to be someone who leads the pack and changes the boundaries that have been set by the people before them.
The Beatles once said they were bigger than God. Maybe only in America could the reaction to that statement have been so violent.
I've said that Marilyn Manson was bigger than Satan, because people align me with Satanism, only seeing half of what I represent. I don't think Satan has done quite as well as I have in the past year, or made the Christians quite as mad."
They seem to think that you're his embodiment.
"I am to them. To me, I don't consider myself evil, or what I do necessarily wrong. But by their definition, I'm probably as bad as you can be, which I aim to fix, because I want to destroy their definitions."
Imagine a middle-aged woman growing up in the mid-West, whose whole life has been based around the Christian creed. Then you come along and say it's all shit. You can see how she's going to get a little pissed off. Maybe people react the strongest, not just because you're denying their God, but because you're taking away the structure they've built their lives on.
"I think you're right. That's why I hope that what I say affects a generation that hasn't built that structure yet. Because I grew up with that structure too. So that's why it was just as hard for me to try and decide what I believed, if I was going to be in charge of my life, if I was going to be a victim or I was going to be in control.
I think that a lot of people are afraid that it's easier to not think, it's easier to just accept things and to not question them. When you question them, you have to start worrying about believing in yourself. And so many more people are content with just being told what they believe.
"People can't even decide if they like a rock album. They have to read a review. 'Well, it's got five stars on it - I think I'll buy it.' People in America, by nature, prefer to be told what they think than to think for themselves. It's just a matter of fear.
"Once you cross that line and you make that transformation, you can't imagine being that other person you used to be. Itís just like Nietzsche's Superman, the idea of mankind in general, to someone who's experienced so much more, is like a lower form of intelligence. You should have pity, in a way."
Particularly in America, religion seems to have even less sympathy for mankind than you do.
"Right. Here, religion is more of a hat that people put on when it's convenient, if they're trying to make money or to make themselves feel as though they have something worthwhile in their life. I don't think people are really spiritual in America, I think very few people here even have a spirit. It's a lot different in Europe, people have a greater appreciation and understanding of music and art, and want to discover and find meaning behind it. Here, people would rather sensationalize. That's why Marilyn Manson has always been a mockery of sensationalism. When people are mocking me as a gimmick, I'm mocking gimmickry."
You could also take the view that religion is actually fundamental to America, it's just that because it's also such a capitalist country, making money out of it is the only tangible means they have to measure their beliefs. Do you feel that you are engaged in a cultural war as much as a religious war?
"Or even political, because it's really a struggle of power. It's not even so much about God, it's who's going to control the minds of America's youth, because it's who wants to take their money. Do they want to buy my records or do they want to throw the money on the offering plate. So I don't think a lot of times they care what their kids are listening to or thinking, they just want to make sure that they're listening to them.
But I'm trying to set people free and let them be controlled by themselves. I'm not trying to control them, I'm trying to open their minds. In a sense, that's controlling them, but by destroying one part of Christianity, you're creating something very similar. I think that if you know that - at least, going into it - it's not as dangerous as what you're destroying."
But you found your own sense of freedom without a guide. Was it more of a disposition than an actual change?
"Well, I don't think I felt as though I ever belonged. I always felt like an outsider. One thing that occurred to me is that there are certain people that don't really belong on earth, that each has the potential for such greatness, but something with the potential for each greatness also has the obligation for such terribleness, and some people belong somewhere else. I don't know where that somewhere else is, but I feel like I don't belong here, that I can say what I have to say, just like other people."
So where does one escape to? As ever, into the arms of something larger than them. In the light of the recent attacks, do you feel that Marilyn Manson has become a sign of the times?
"It is a sign of the times, but it is no different, really, from the Beatles or David Bowie or Jim Morrison or Elvis Presley. There's always someone for each era who sums up the moment and I think that's what I've become, but maybe more potent than the ones before.
But I think that it's just as necessary as the story of Jesus in The Bible. I think he was a person like all the ones that I've mentioned, and like myself, someone who came from beyond everyone's understanding, and had ideas that people couldn't grasp, and some people wanted to worship him, and some people wanted to destroy him.
I think, strangely enough, he's more real to me than Christians would like to believe. Thatís what I'm exploring on the next album I'm working on. If Antichrist Superstar was about my relationship to the story of Lucifer, his fall from grace and wanting to be your own God, what I'm writing now is my relationship to the Me of Christ on earth, as a martyr."
Do you really see your battle in Biblical terms, if on a smaller scale?
"I think so, and I think not even on a smaller scale. John the Baptist, when he sat down - and probably he was on a lot of drugs - and wrote The Book Of Revelation, it was clearly open to so many different interpretations, and Christianity evolved so many of its own folklores. There's really no mention of an Antichrist figure in The Bible at all. The only time the Antichrist was mentioned was earlier in The Bible, when people who disbelieved the teachings of Jesus were considered the Antichrist. It was more a body of people, it wasn't even a figure.
So I studied it more and more, and it was always interesting me, because I thought that if there was going to be an Antichrist, particularly in this era, it would be an entertainer. That's the form of media with the most possibilities, more than politics, or religion, because it is politics and religion in one.
I was always really terrified of the idea of the end of the world, but as I got more into it, I felt like that was what I wanted to be the centre of. I didn't want to be just some person. So I think there's a lot of close relationships, basically, to what's happened.
Y'know, maybe it's intentional, me pushing it that way, or maybe it's a prophecy. I remember reading Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he mentioned that there will come an age when an Antichrist will really capture the hearts of everyone, will fascinate everyone by its own destruction, and he would hate himself to become himself.
I read that just recently, and that really described a part of my life as it happened. I think a lot of people have been intelligent enough to have the insight to predict things like Marilyn Manson. I don't think they were necessarily speaking about me specifically, but it seems to fall into place"
The funny thing is, it does fall into place.
A few blocks down, the clock's still ticking. And I'm thinking, the closer it brings us to zero, it's not madness that we stray into, but a terrifying rite of law, where everyone assumes the power to judge, where everyone tries to reduce God into human terms as their own personal witness, the only guide we're given the authority to take us past midnight.
I actually believe in Marilyn Manson, I take him at his word, if only because he's got the story straight. I know the one about the Apocalypse, how anyone with the arrogance (not necessarily a criticism) to believe that they're their own God, always assumes the end of the world is nigh. So the story goes, the moment He comes down to see us for what we are (and surely that's what Marilyn Manson is all about to be seen for what you really are), that's it. Over. Wipe-out. Judgment has been served.
It's only a story. Isn't religious imagery, even the Apocalypse, invoked as metaphors for what are, basically, very human urges?
"That's the way all literature has been. I don't see why The Bible should be any different. It's just a book. I know it's interesting the era we're in now, because so many people think that technology is so involved, but I think a hundred years ago, people thought the same thing.
In The Bible, Armageddon was very immediate. They weren't speaking about our time, they were talking about ten or 20 years from when they wrote it, and it's always been the same. There's always been the fear of mankind bringing about its own destruction.
I think it's interesting now, because, especially with trips to Mars and science becoming so involved, in some ways, it's poised to disprove, finally, the existence of God. But at the same time, maybe it's poised to prove the existence of God, but not in the way that we've always thought it to be, that God is part of man."
Christians on the one side, the kids on the other - who, primarily, is Marilyn Manson trying to affect?
"I've tried to debate with Christians, and I'm just tired of it at this point, because they always like to fall back on the idea that it says so in their Bible, and that's their only defense. They don't have any other tangible defense. So I'd much rather speak to someone who has a fresh mind. The younger you are, the more you hold on to what I try and hold on to, which is really magic, which is the idea that if you believe something, if you have a dream, it can come true.
What kids don't realize growing up is that people don't really care whether they're Republican or Democrat, they don't care if they're Christian or Satanist, they only care about making money. People just end up being played as part of that. That's fine with me. That's what America is. I'm not saying I hate it, I'm just trying to show people what it is."
This ultimate paradox is that locked into the freakish figure of Marilyn Manson, the vivid green blusher, the scars just visible beneath his vest, isn't just an exemplary Christian, but an exemplary American too.