"I'm sorry, I'm still in my pajamas."
Marilyn Manson (the person) lounges wanly on the bed in his Cleveland hotel room, dressed in a lightweight cotton nightshirt adorned with stripes and paisleys. He looks a bit like a hospital patient.
Over on the next bed, Twiggy Ramirez twitches restlessly, flicking a cigarette lighter. He's already dressed for the day - all in black. With his sunken cheeks and pale, soft skin, he resembles an androgynous death's head, crowned by a mass of jet black dreadlocks.
Even without his 'Joan Crawford exhumed' stage makeup, Manson is still an imposing figure. His mismatched eyes - the left one looks like a blurred negative image of the right - create a demonic effect. And thanks to the fright masks tattooed on his forearms, when he rests his chin on his fist meditatively, two strange faces, one atop the other, stare out at you.
Onstage, he towers on mile-high jackboot stilts, dominating the stage like an armed sociopath dominates a room full of schoolgirls. Profoundly ugly and violently disturbed, Mr. Manson lacerates his torso, Iggy Pop style, and assaults the microphone with a grand mal seizure of screams, sobs and death-threat croaks. His bullhorn harangue rises above the infernal din set up by bassist Twiggy Ramirez, keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, drummer Ginger Fish and newcomer guitarist Zim Zum.
Marilyn Manson (the group) has been banned in England and in American towns like Mormon stronghold Salt Lake City. Their newest album, Antichrist Superstar (Nothing), definitely won't win them any new friends among guardians of public morality. But if you're a frustrated teen trapped in an ugly tract home you may well feel that these ghouls are singing your song.
Satanism, sodomy, pornography, drug abuse, child abuse, transvestitism, fascism, psychopathy, rape, murder, self-mutilation and cruelty to animals... Marilyn Manson certainly has its collective finger on all of America's hot buttons, and knows what it takes to shock the Nineties. It's a tough job in these desensitized, media-stupefied times of ours, but they figure someone's got to do it, and they do it well. Very well.
Marilyn Manson came out of the swampy depths of Florida, land of death metal and giant insects. Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor discovered them and produced their 1994 debut album, Portrait Of An American Family and released it on his Nothing label.
The band began to develop a rabid, ahem, cult following, which grew larger with the release, in 1995, of Smells Like Children. That EP yielded the band's first big MTV video hit with Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), a cover of the eighties Eurythmics' hit. Antichrist Superstar (also produced by Reznor) seems very likely to propel Marilyn Manson to even greater heights of media infamy. And that is exactly how their gangling, obsessed frontman planned things from the start.
Anyone would seem a little more vulnerable than usual in their jammies, but Manson turns out to be downright polite. When he isn't terrorizing audiences or worshipping the Devil (he's a member of the Church of Satan), he does a lot of reading. The new dark prince of shock rock announces that he's shocked - deeply - by the current state of American society.
"America is dead already. But it doesn't see that it's dead. It's a ghost. America needs to be born again. That sounds almost Christian, doesn't it? In a way, I'm the ultimate paradox. I'm very much opposed to Christianity, but most of my values are something that Jesus might have preached."
Rebirth, it turns out, is what Antichrist Superstar is all about. Equal parts autobiography, prophecy and social commentary, it details the weird metamorphosis of a character named 'Wormboy' into some kind of winged creature, Angel or devil? That's for you to figure out.
Manson vaguely hints that the record mirrors some dark, painful transformation in his personal life. His band certainly underwent a change during the making of the album. Guitarist Daisy Berkowitz left early in the recording process, leaving Manson, Ramirez and a few specials guests (Reznor among them) to handle most of the guitar work. The resulting album is a fully realized effort, a chaotic conflagration of industrial corrosives and sleazy glam rock backbeats.
Meanwhile, Berkowitz's guitar slot has been filled by the above-mentioned Zim Zum, who is the only band member not to have the first name of a famous beauty and the surname of a serial killer. Those yin yang monikers, incidentally, are another part of Mr. Manson's master vision, designed to express the inherent hypocrisy and self-contradictions of media-hypnotized America: the glamorous surface and the ugly violence underneath. Antichrist Superstar, Manson hints, foretells a time in the not too distant future when all that ugliness will break through the surface in a big way.
"We're like a heavy metal Nostradamus," suggests Manson, sitting up on his bed, demurely drawing the hem of his nightshirt down over his hairy shine.
By all accounts, you were terrorized by fundamentalist Christian bugaboos when you were growing up. Is what you're doing now an outcome of that?
Manson - "In some ways it's reactionary. But in some ways it's just the transformation that mental terrorism triggers. I don't regret my exposure to Christianity as a kid. It made me grow to have more insight and to want to find a bigger truth."
There are also stories about a weird uncle.
Manson - "That's my grandfather, actually. I grew up about half an hour out of Cleveland. My grandfather had a weird obsession with a lot of deviant things: pornography, lewd lingerie and stuff like that. He had a train set down in the basement that he'd switch on when he was masturbating. He was intriguing to me as a kid. I kind of talk about that on one of the songs on the new album, Kinderfeld."
Were you abused as a child?
Manson - "I'm not the kind of person who would go on a talk show and cry and complain that I was sexually molested. But at the same time, there are different elements of abuse. The definition isn't always as cut and dry as some people think."
How did you get from Ohio to Florida, where Marilyn Manson began?
Manson: "My parents moved with a job change when I graduated from high school, and I went with them. When I got to Florida, Twiggy was one of the first people I met. He was in another band at the time. Later on, after I formed Marilyn Manson and after Portrait Of An American Family came out, our original bassist had a real bad heroin problem and he was dismissed from the band. Twiggy originally was a guitarist, but he switched to bass."
Where did you guys first meet?
Twiggy Ramirez: "In a mall."
Manson: "If you want the whole story, we met in a mall, and he and I would stand at the pay phones. They have these little carts in the malls where these girls sell jewelry - earrings and stuff. And we would call up this one girl who was selling those photo t-shirts. We kept making death threats against her until she left he mall in tears. That's when we first started to get along together - in an act of maliciousness at the mall."
Is Marilyn Manson your first band?
Manson: "Yeah. I never sang before, or wrote any music, but I had a lot of lyrics. I hooked up with our former guitar player and we wrote a few songs together. That's when I decided that this is what I would be doing with my life."
Ramirez: "I was in a number of black metal bands before Marilyn Manson."
Florida is death metal heaven... or hell.
Manson: "Yeah, Twiggy was in a rival band - a death metal band, thrash metal..."
Ramirez: "Black metal."
Manson: "Right before he joined Marilyn Manson, we had two different side projects together. One was Satan On Fire, a fake Christian death metal band we started because we wanted to play at Christian nightclubs. Twiggy sang and I played lead bass. The premise was that we were a death metal band that was singing for Jesus. We wanted to infiltrate Christian nightclubs and cause havoc. But then we also formed another side project together called Mrs. Scabtree, where I played drums and Twiggy was the lead vocalist, dressed up like a black woman."
Ramirez: "Videotapes of that are floating around."
Did you ever actually infiltrate these Christian nightclubs?
Manson: "Well, we never really got that far. But we did have a song out that we got them to play on the radio. It was called Mosh For Jesus."
Ramirez: "The Mrs. Scabtree single that was played on the radio down there was called Herpes. It mentions all the local girls who had herpes."
Must've been a very long song.
Manson: [laughs] "It was a venereal disease anthem many likened unto The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner [by English poet Samuel Taylor] Coleridge. It had a balladesque quality."
Did you become Marilyn Manson before or after forming a band called Marilyn Manson?
Manson: "Before. The name Marilyn Manson was something I was using just to write. It was a pseudonym I had taken on because it kind of defined my style, what I was saying: the juxtaposition of diametrically opposed archetypes that then philosopher Nietzsche is about - philosophies that God is man. Marilyn Manson brought together the whole metaphor of America. And phonetically, the way it flows, it almost sounds like 'abracadabra'. It has a real power to it. So right from the first time I wrote it down, I knew that that was really all that I wanted to be."
And when did you become Twiggy Ramirez?
Ramirez: "When I joined the band. I liked Richard Ramirez because he was into heavy metal music. And I chose Twiggy [after the Sixties fashion model] because she was androgynous. She liked to dress like a little boy."
How did you hook up with Trent Reznor?
Manson: "One of the very first Marilyn Manson shows we played was with Nine Inch Nails and Meat Beat Manifesto in Miami Beach. Ironically enough, the last show that we played with NIN was also with Meat Beat Manifesto, about two weeks ago. So we've come full circle. But Trent and I met around the same time Marilyn Manson was formed. We became friends, we had a lot in common. We kept in touch over the years, and when he started Nothing [Reznor's record label[, he wanted us to be the first band on it."
What kind of impact would you say Trent Reznor has had on your music?
Manson: "It has varied. On Portrait, his involvement wasn't that heavy. Those were songs that we had been playing live. So we kind of recorded them that way, and a few suggestions from him.
On Smells Like Children, we sat down with him on more of a producer/band level and talked about arrangements. And on Antichrist Superstar, his involvement was even more than it had been in the past. That was something we wanted. He would bring in a guitar part or something like that now and again. These are songs that Twiggy and I had been writing for the past year-and-a-half to two years, on the road. We translated them from different dreams I'd been having, that he and I talked about. But we wanted to go to an outside source like Trent and have him put our vision together, because we were just too close to it.
We were thinking about working with a lot of other producers: Bob Ezrin, for example. But we decided that, since he knew us best and we get along together, that it was best to go with him."
Why did Daisy leave the band?
Manson: "On tour last year, our relationship became very turbulent. There's always been an element of friction there - one of those singer/guitar player tension things. But in our case, it never really jelled into a good working dynamic. From the beginning, Daisy was always more concerned with representing his own style, which wasn't always what I wanted. I always had the song or the album in mind. I'm always looking at the bigger picture. Sometimes his vision was a little narrower.
When we were writing this record, his participation was very minimal. In the past, he had been the predominant songwriter, so there were a lot of problems there. We wanted to approach this record in a much more experimental, open-minded way. I wanted to play guitar, Twiggy wanted to play guitar. We wanted to go into it like The [Beatles'] White Album.
These songs come from places that the songs on the first record didn't come from. We really tapped into the subconscious - staying up four days in a row, sleep deprivation, all sorts of unmentionable acts of self-torture. These things, I guess, were real alien to Daisy. He wasn't into making life into art. He looked at it more as a job, whereas we embraced life and art as one.
It wasn't a nasty decision for him to leave. He played on three songs on the album and co-wrote a couple of songs, and then he went his own way. Twiggy played most of the guitar on the album and I played on a couple of things. Trent played guitar on a song or two. We tried using different things, rather than conventional guitars. Our keyboardist has a hand-held Roland keyboard and he likes to use it like a guitar."
Who does the heavy, distorted chording?
Manson: "Twiggy, for the most part."
Ramirez: "I played 85 to 90 percent of the guitar parts on the album."
What kind of gear did you use?
Ramirez: "I don't even remember. I just used whatever was in the studio. I'm not a very good lead player. On one song I recorded some leads from Iron Maiden's Piece Of Mind [Capitol/Castle 1983]. There was a reverse button on the recorder, and I played it backwards into the pickup of the guitar itself. You could never tell. Well, now you can."
Manson: "We were open to all kinds of things. At some points, I used a guitar with just a high E string on it. And we used all kinds of different tunings. Our new guitarist, who just joined the band, is now spending time figuring out the tablature to everything. He had to lock himself away in a room.
We were in a different state of mind when we made that record. So sometimes we're not even sure what we did. It was very stream-of-consciousness."
A lot of the guitar sounds like it was recorded direct.
Manson: "In some cases, it was. I've always been a fan of direct guitar, mostly because we do our demos on four track and record the guitars direct. A lot of times that just got translated over to the master recording."
Ramirez: "On one song, there's actually a recording of a bass part that's mic'ed but not plugged in."
Manson: "That might have been on Wormboy. A lot of guitar elements went into that song. The most exciting part, I remember, was the middle section. Twiggy and I recorded it on a min-cassette recorder. It wasn't even the same tempo as the rest of the song. We started with the speed and made it fit. It doesn't even sound like a guitar anymore. It sounds like a wind chime or something."
What about compression or noise-gating on guitars? The Beautiful People has a supersaturated, hardcore type of chording, but it's incredibly tight, like there's a gate closing down at the end of each chord.
Manson: "That's just Twiggy. He's played in a lot of death metal bands, so his playing is pretty tight."
Ramirez: "A good right hand!"
Manson: "He always says he has a good right hand. I always thought he was talking about masturbating, but he's talking about guitar playing."
Ramirez: "Nothing is as it seems on this record."
Manson: "Sometimes what sounds like a drum machine is actually real drums. And vice versa."
Ramirez: "Sometimes we'd play live with a drum machine hooked up to an amp like it was real drums. But then we'd go back and erase the drums and put on better ones. Sometimes we'd record one guitar track, and then there are other songs that have 27 guitars."
Manson: "Antichrist has more than 27 rhythm guitar tracks..."
Ramirez: "...and five lead guitar tracks."
Who plays the lead on Angel With The Scabbed Wings?
Manson: "That was Danny Lohner from Nine Inch Nails. We were looking for a lead part that day and he happened to be in the studio. We asked him to do it and he whipped that part right off, on the spur of the moment."
Ramirez: "I was awake for about five days prior to our recording that. I couldn't function in the studio that week."
What about the guitar lead on Tourniquet?
Manson: "That was one of the guitar parts that Daisy did."
That's a nice lead. Those note bends sound so wasted.
Manson: "Yeah, I always thought that was his finest work there, but he always hated that song. That's an example of how he and I always differed in opinion."
Was the song Tourniquet - or the whole album, for that matter - at all inspired by the film The Silence Of The Lambs?
Manson: "No. That's strange. I saw the movie, of course."
The insect imagery and the whole theme of metamorphosis is reminiscent of that film.
Manson: "That's interesting, but the metamorphosis theme really comes from my studies in Social Darwinism. There's been the theory of man as a worm that then transforms into an ape, and finally into a man. There's also a reference to Milton's Paradise Lost: The 'Undying Worm' [John Milton's epic poem tells the mythic story of Lucifer's rebellion against God, ejection from heaven and the creation of hell - GW Ed.] Revelations also speaks a lot about the worm, and man's pupa stage. But I look on it as being both a beginning and an end. There are always cycles that repeat themselves. Even as I've gone through a transformation in making the record, I feel as if I'm still in a process of transformation. It's all very autobiographical. I wouldn't say anything inspired it other than things I've read - the ones I've mentioned and books like Antichrist by Nietzsche.
Just by the title, people might perceive it as a Satanic album. And it is. But people's perception of Satanism is a little different from mine. I consider it to be a record about individuality and personal strength, putting yourself through a lot of temptation and torments, seeing your own death and growing from it. In the end it has an almost positive, even Christian element to it. But it's by seeing everything else that you get to that point."
Is Antichrist Superstar a concept album?
Manson: "I consider my life a concept, and the record is a soundtrack to that." Ramirez: "We're from Florida, and people go there to die when they're 64. People go to New Orleans to die when they're 20."
There are stories of you guys collecting bones from graveyards.
Manson: "Yeah, Twiggy was big on collecting bones."
Ramirez: "I had a big bag of them. I left them in my apartment, under the mattress, when we moved out of New Orleans."
Manson: "There were rumors that those bones belonged to our former drummer, who we set on fire. But that can't be confirmed. I'm more into collecting a lot of these things. [points to a heavily ornamented object on his night table] This is a monkey skull, used in Tibetan death rituals. But Twiggy was big on collecting the remains of New Orleans residents."
Ramirez: "From the 1800s."
The ground is really swampy in New Orleans.
Ramirez: "Yeah. The bones just pop right out. You can pick them right up."
Manson: "At one point, he actually smoked some of the bones."
Did you get off?
Ramirez: "I didn't smoke it in the privacy of my own home. I got these other people to smoke it, and I had to take some down myself as well."
Manson: "But it was worth it, because later on that night we wrote 1996 together. It must've had some kind of speedy effect, because that song is fast."
Ramirez: "It smelled like burnt hair - like when you set your hair on fire."
In addition to being Antichrists, are you guys also the antithesis of grunge?
Manson: "Grunge is almost retro now, so I think it'll be making a comeback and we can like it again. Grunge had a gimmick of 'we have no gimmick'; their image was no image. I guess we are the antithesis of that. We're not in denial of rock stardom.
As a kid I got a lot of personal inspiration from people like David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Gary Numan and even Annie Lennox - people who are icons and have a very strong presence. So it's no surprise to me that I would continue in that same vein. For all of us in the band, the idea of image and music go hand in hand. They're equally important. Virtuosos and people who are very musical tend to disregard image. But I feel it's really important."
Of course. Rock is performance.
Ramirez: [displays a souvenir program book from a concert by the Seventies band Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. He points to one of the figures on the cover.] "Ray Sawyer knew all about that."
Manson: "Ray Sawyer from Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show - I think he put out his own eye just so he could achieve that eyepatch look."
Ramirez: "I love Dr. Hook. He's also missing a leg. His Sloppy Seconds is by far one of the best records ever recorded."
Manson: "That record talks about having sex with minors, has numerous accounts of cocaine abuse and alcoholism, and then it closes with a bonus track called Looking For Pussy. I'm almost offended by it. But I think it's fantastic."
That was the Seventies. It was a very hedonistic era.
Manson: "I think that's due for a comeback."
What do you think of the term 'shock rock', as applied to what you do?
Manson: "If I wanted to be purely shocking, I could do so much more that would really be offensive. I just try to express myself in a particular way that grabs people's attention, but it's never about shock value. It's a vehicle to express myself and get people to listen. There's so much out there to see, you really have to make things powerful in order for them to leave a mark."
Who do you feel closer to in spirit, Alice Cooper or KISS?
Manson: "That's hard to say. In the grandness that we aim to achieve, I'd say KISS. But however much I love Alice Cooper's music, I was always a little disappointed in his offstage separation from his onstage persona. That was always a letdown for me as a kid, because I don’t ever consider myself a different person onstage and offstage. I definitely have two sides to my personality: Marilyn and Manson. And on this new record, that's further split into Marilyn Manson and Antichrist Superstar. So I don't feel you ever have to limit yourself by saying, 'This is who I am when I'm that person'."
What about Iggy Pop vs. the New York Dolls?
Manson: "Definitely Iggy and the Stooges. We are the Stooges of the Nineties. They were completely nihilistic and had an utter disregard for fashion or musical style. The mixes on their albums were fantastic because they were terrible. The song 1996 on our new album is very Stooges-like in its unbound noisiness and its chaotic guitar soloing."
Were you into any of the Goth bands, like Bauhaus?
Manson: "Bauhaus is one of our absolute favorite bands."
Ramirez: "Daniel Ash and David J, as far as guitar and bass combinations go, were a really big influence."
Manson: "I've always liked Bauhaus, and Joy Division to a minor degree. But really the Ziggy Stardust era of Bowie and Diamond Dogs were the big influence - particularly on this record."
Ramirez: "Actually, Daniel Ash and David J stopped by when we were recording our record. Daniel likes to be called 'Spider'."
Manson: "I don't know why."
Would you say Marilyn Manson has been the target of more harassment from the hysterical right or the hysterical left over the course of your career?
Manson: "That's hard to say. I'm sure this record is going to get a lot of grief from both - which I like. I love balance. I don't like to discriminate in who I piss off, I want piss everybody off."
What shocks you?
Ramirez: "I can't define the word 'shocking'."
Manson: "I get shocked by people smoking cigarettes sometimes. I get shocked when I go to a mall, just by the way people dress these days. I get shocked by watching talk shows. People's mentalities are so far below what I would consider standard. SAT results should be directly linked to a death sentence. Those who don't reach a certain score would be executed."
Keep talking like that and they'll put you up for president.
Manson: "I also feel that there should be some sort of 'ugly' law for buying musical instruments. If you don't look good, you shouldn't be allowed to buy a guitar. Unless you're completely ugly, like us. That brings us to a whole different level."
Ramirez: "You gotta be really ugly."
Manson: "Fantastically ugly."
Do you have a rap sheet?
Manson: "I've been arrested twice. I was gonna get arrested another time, but I fled the scene of the crime."
You were arrested for things you did on stage?
Manson: "Yeah, I've never been caught for any of my other criminal activities, which take place on a daily basis."
What did you do on stage to get arrested?
Manson: "Well, one time they accused me of masturbating on stage, which wasn't true. I was only nude: I wasn't masturbating. Another time they arrested me in Florida because I was wearing a jockstrap on stage, and there was nothing covering my ass crack. And apparently that's against the law. This is Florida."
Like Jim Morrison. Geez, the same old stuff.
Manson: "Yeah, nothing real glamorous. I got away with burning the American flag on many occasions. Previous to our touring experience, when we were still in Florida as a local band, I once had sex on stage, and on many occasions I've been nude with other people on stage. I never got arrested for any of that."
What was it like in jail?
Manson: "Well, I didn't make any friends. Unfortunately for me, I had lipstick all over my face and was wearing a pair of leather pants and a Prong t-shirt. In a way, I guess I was lucky. Most people were too afraid they would catch something from me to try to rape me, so they didn't bother me. I didn't have too many problems. It wasn't fun and I don't want to do it again. But it wasn't such a big deal."
What kind of groupie action does this band attract?
Manson: "There seems to be a wide array. There are old ladies at truck stops sometimes who've seen us on Donahue. On a couple of occasions they've tried to ask us into the restroom. Older ladies, like in their forties."
Ramirez: "Older ladies with their daughters, sometimes. They'll offer their daughters and themselves in the lobbies of hotels."
Manson: "And there are always young guys. When they ask for autographs they want to get kissed also. There are all sorts of people that gravitate toward us, and it's strange, 'cause I don't find us very attractive. But, you know, we try to behave ourselves."
How'd you find Zim Zum?
Manson: "We held auditions while we were doing the album, and he came from Chicago. He plays on the first track on the album, which is a live track. It hasn't really been recorded yet."
Ramirez: "We've figured out time travel. It's all, like, radio waves."
Manson: "It's hard to explain it in simple terms. Our keyboardist uses his computer with a lot of old Hebrew Kabbalism and numerology - complicated equations that only he understands. But that, combined with extreme drug abuse, has given us the ability to capture and record things from different eras. We recorded Irresponsible Hate Anthem in February of next year, and for Antichrist Superstar, we recorded the Vienna Boys Choir in Hamburg, Germany. So, uh, you figure it out.
I saw a movie yesterday that made me feel like I wasn't out of my mind. I believe that when you give your imagination enough room to run wild, the borders between what's real and what's not can be crossed and interchanged and swapped. Even something as stupid as that Walt Disney movie, The Santa Clause has the theme that belief is really what makes things real. That's a key to everything we do."
How did your eyes get to be the way they are?
Manson: "That's a mystery to be left unknown. I'll tell you this much: Everything about me is fake. The color of my hair. I've had plastic surgery. I've had my earlobes removed. I've damaged my eye in order to flaw myself. My whole life has been a process of making myself asymmetrical on purpose. In the end it may even come to removing a limb or something, because I have a great fascination with prosthetics and a large collection of prosthetic legs."
Ramirez: "If you get prosthetic limbs, you'll stay around longer."
Manson: "You can be immortal. You can actually make yourself all out of fake parts."
What are you guys doing for Halloween?
Manson: "We're playing in New Jersey. I guess there's nothing really exciting about that."
It could be pretty frightening.
Manson: "Halloween is always weird for us. I mean, that is one of our favorite holidays. But the cliché that every day is Halloween for us is kind of true. Everywhere we go, people think that we're in costume. Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes it becomes annoying. You're just going to get something to eat and people will say "What show are you going to?" And you say, 'I'm going to get a sandwich.'"
What's next for Marilyn Manson?
Manson: "Big tits!"
Ramirez: "On us, he means."