MARILYN MANSON - 'ARTIST OF THE YEAR'
Marilyn Manson worked hard for the title in 1996, recording their vehicle for World Domination, taking their fascist freakshow on the road and offending conservatives along the way.
John Pecorelli returns to the Manson camp to discuss the concept behind the new album, people's increasingly distorted perception of Marilyn and the band's uncertain future.
Plus a surprise appearance by Marilyn's dad.
"With where I'd like to see America go, I'm exactly the type of person that needs to be influencing young minds... But maybe the world deserves to die, you know? So why not just enjoy the ride down - put the pedal to the metal, put your middle finger out the window, and run over as many pedestrians as you can on the way to hell?"
Last year I spent the holidays with so-called "shock-rock" troupe Marilyn Manson. Never having met the boys, but well aware of their penchant for all things debauched, I expected to part their company with my head shaved and my ass bleeding - and not at all happy about it.
Sure, they gobbled every drug in sight [Acid, Tuinal, Coke, Rohypnol, X, etc.] and fucked pretty much everything they couldn't gobble, all the while espousing Social Darwinism, world destruction and general misanthropy. They made me watch Jeffrey Dahmer video footage, incessantly played King Diamond (whom they found amusing), repeatedly grabbed my ass, and forced me to shake hands with MTV VJ Kennedy.
They were vile, pessimistic, completely irresponsible - and a blast to accompany. Easy story, I figured. Angle: Satanic Holiday Sleazefest.
But as I was transcribing the interviews later, a darker side of the band, especially of their singer, Marilyn, emerged. Marilyn's sincerity is often called into question by pundits, but I was startled by his honesty regarding some fairly unflattering issues. And it seemed clear from listening to those tapes that this is more than just a rock-and-roll act to Marilyn. Aside from battling conservatives (be it in politics, religion or rock journalism), Marilyn was also enmeshed in a personal fight: whether to use his newfound power to try to improve a few things, or to just flush if away and contribute to society's general decline.
Now, with a shit-hot-selling new album [Antichrist Superstar] and a much-expanded fan base that has certain long-time fans screaming, "Sellout!" Marilyn Manson's situation is more poignant than ever.
Meeting up with Marilyn in Cleveland near the start of the band's international tour, I found the man completely gracious and 100-percent candid - as always.
Pretty nice guy, the Antichrist.
"IF SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF - fine, you know?" chuckles Marilyn, reclining on his dressing-room sofa with his third glass of red wine. Outside the room is chaos: roadies, band managers, security crew and publicists scrambling to get everything in place for Manson's elaborate live show this evening at Cleveland's sold-out Agora Theatre. Oblivious to the ruckus, Manson continues.
"Suicide is that person's option. But you can find enjoyment in life; you've just got to gave an outlet. And I wouldn't know what to do after I was dead anyway," he laughs, pausing for another swig of red.
"Where would I go? Who am I going to piss off next? I guess if I was clever, my ultimate goal would be to become a born-again Christian, earn my way back into heaven, kill myself, go to heaven, fuck everything up, then invite Lucifer back up and have a good party. That's my only happy outlook on suicide."
Marilyn offers some wine.
"But they won't let you into heaven if you kill yourself, right?" I ask, sticking with my Red Hook ale.
"I guess not," Marilyn says with a shrug.
"But I could always call Kevorkian."
"What book is it that has a character who kills himself to make some sort of political point, hoping to create a mass movement of suicides?" I mumble.
"I think it was..."
"Something by Kurt Cobain," he wryly cuts me off.
"Well, the problem there is that supposedly only one guy copied Cobain," I point out.
"You know, a friend of mine said he preferred the Sid Vicious suicide to the Cobain suicide because Sid Vicious had the sense to kill his irritating girlfriend first."
"The ironic thing is that Courtney Love was in [the movie] Sid And Nancy."
There is a loud knock on the dressing-room door. Earlier, Manson keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, then 48 hours into a "hygiene strike" to protest the lack of shower-equipped motel rooms in his travel package (and none too happy about it, stuck in East German military wool for two days), had tried to get in, so we're a bit leery.
The knocking persists. Finally, Marilyn puts his wine down, walks across the room and cautiously cracks the door. In struts a middle-aged man wearing a two-piece blue suit, lizard-skin cowboy boots and a mawkish grin. Under his suit jacket is a black shirt with a collar - complete with the new Manson lightning-bolt logo.
"Hey, Pops," Marilyn says.
Marilyn introduces me to his honest-to-God biological father, Hugh Warner, a Florida furniture salesman who's at the Cleveland gig to check out his son in action - again.
Last time the Warner family showed up at a Manson gig, you'll recall, Marilyn fellated Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finch on stage. It's too good: I ask Marilyn if he'd mind me having a few words with the old man for the story - a potentially damaging career move for the Antichrist Superstar, you know. As always, Marilyn is fully accommodating.
"I'm very curious what you think of the whole phenomenon your son is involved in," I ask Hugh.
"I love it," he says quietly, but without hesitation.
There is a long pause.
"Yeah?" I finally mumble, a bit non-plused. Marilyn bursts out laughing.
"He's my pride," says Hugh, full of fatherly conviction, "and I think it's absolutely wonderful."
"You have to understand," Marilyn cuts in, "my dad was not only sprayed with Agent Orange while in Vietnam, but I think abducted by aliens, too."
Marilyn laughs, while Hugh merely nods, smiling.
"Did you ever foresee this level of notoriety with Marilyn, er, Brian?" I continue.
"I knew he was going to be great, whatever he did," Hugh says warmly, while Marilyn fidgets at the hors d'oeuvres table.
"He's very dedicated, he does 100 percent. And I'm very proud of him - he's the 'God of Fuck'."
Marilyn laughs. "Okay, Pops, time to go."
Personally, no family member has ever called me "God of Fuck" (but then I never wrote a song about it, either). Ward and Beaver they ain't, but it's still an almost touching display of familial camaraderie - enough to make me wonder what the American family Association [AFA] would make of it. The fundamentalist Christian organization, based in Elvis' birthplace of Tupelo, Mississippi, had issued a dire-sounding press release within days of Antichrist Superstar hitting the charts - sounding the alarm for middle America to watch out for this new satanic menace. But I guess you can't really blame the AFA for flipping out. Most people, Christian zealots or not, figured the runaway success of Manson's take on Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) last year, and the resulting platinum sales of the EP from which it was taken, for some sort of freak hit. It was just one song, after all, not even a Manson original. After hearing the rest of the EP, those who bought Smells Like Children for Sweet Dreams would certainly not be back for more, and Marilyn, along with his gaggle of satanic troubadours, would be jettisoned back whence he came: cult status. Conservative America heaved a collective sigh of relief - for a few months, anyway, until Antichrist Superstar debuted at Number Three on Billboard's Top 200.
"This should serve as a wake-up call to parents everywhere," the AFA release declared, outlining the organization's plan to pressure major retailers, from Blockbuster to Wal-Mart, to "do the responsible thing."
In other words, to pretend the CD doesn't exist.
Marilyn, of course, ain't exactly quaking in his jackboots. To him and the band, this sort of thing is a matter of simple routine. In the past, everyone from People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals, the Christian Coalition, and members of the British parliament has attempted the strong-arm approach to silencing Manson, and only contributed to the band's record sales in the process. That irony certainly isn't lost on Marilyn, who looks at his antagonistic relationship with the censor-happy Right as a strange sort of symbiosis.
"We kind of keep each other in business," he told me last year.
That doesn't mean the band are immune to pocketbook pressures - or threatened by the possible inability to get their word to the masses (the motive depends on whom you ask). As Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez put it last year, "Compromise is inevitable sometimes. I mean, if you're banned in 23 states, you're not accomplishing much. No one's going to hear your message."
And Antichrist Superstar is rife with message, which is part of the reason groups such as the AFA are frothing. Manson admits to a heavy influence from '70s concept albums such as Pink Floyd's The Wall (not just in the autobiographical similarities, but in the exploration of the fascism of mass appeal - something with which Marilyn has been toying for years) and David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust (aside from the clear stylistic references, musically speaking, Antichrist Superstar is, in part, a rock star's account of the apocalypse). Couple this with the imposing, costly stage show and you've got all the hallmarks of (gulp) '70s arena rock. But Marilyn doesn't mind.
"Marilyn Manson would have fit just fine right alongside Ziggy Stardust and Alice Cooper, the Stooges, T. Rex - any of that back then. And apparently I'm gonna be the one that has to break my back to make rock music exciting again, because not too many other people are making the effort," he chuckles.
"I think it's a result of the grunge era of the early '90s, which made the rock star a bad thing," he continues quietly.
"But when I was a kid, you looked up to rock stars. And being a rock star doesn't mean you're an asshole. People expect me to be an asshole, so they treat me as if I were, which in turn makes me act like one. That's why I detach myself so much; it's because I can't win a lot of times... I bring this up because recently people have been acting a lot differently around me than in the past. Maybe as you become more popular, people get more fanatical. As an example, a girl tried to put out a cigarette in my eye a couple weeks ago. She was wearing a Marilyn Manson shirt," he says, smiling, "which I found slightly confusing."
"There's the other side of the equation, too," I offer.
"Apparently certain longtime Manson fans feel a bit betrayed by your current level of success."
"Yeah," Marilyn groans, finishing off the wine.
"Obviously, all of our fans felt like Sweet Dreams was a big sell-out. But to me it was just a clever piece of cheese on a rat trap! A lot of innocuous mall shoppers bought Sweet Dreams and were then introduced to this whole new world of Marilyn Manson that they didn't expect. And ultimately that's the most devious thing you could ever pull off, and I don't think some of our fans appreciate the irony of that. I've never done anything that I felt compromised what the band was about in order to succeed - I feel like I've always utilized what the band was about in order to succeed," Marilyn continues.
"It's not just about me making money; that's the last thing I care about. This band has always been about pulling one over on the mainstream, about being a real-life joy buzzer or whoopee cushion, just to fuck with things because they need to be fucked with. Our fans should realize that, not get pissed off at us."
"Are you hearing that from the majority of your fans?" I ask.
"I guess not," Marilyn concedes, "just the die-hards. But if they really believe in it, they should be out on the street corner playing the album for people. It's about changing what music is about, it's about changing society. You don't wanna keep it a secret; it should be shouted off the fucking rooftops. In that sense it's not unlike Christianity. I remember hearing the same thing when I was a kid, that I should be out witnessing to other people. And it is the same. The only way that we're going to make a change is if we fight fire with fire."
No coincidence that Christianity pops up here in the "social change" section. Along with cigarette smokers (me) and Hootie & The Blowfish (nice to be lumped in with that ilk, thanks), Christianity is at the top of Marilyn 's laundry list. And Antichrist Superstar, he says, is not only a direct indictment of Christianity's "weak value system," but a direct attempt to demolish the old structure, to "bring on the apocalypse."
Now don't get me wrong: bringing on the apocalypse is good work if you can get it. But the notion that it can be done with a single album strikes me as a bit, er, ambitious. I mean, it's only rock and roll, right?
"How do you respond to people who say you might be taking this all too seriously?" I ask.
"I'd say that's perfect, too," answers Marilyn, not affronted in the slightest.
"That's the Marilyn and the Manson side of it, you know. It's only as serious as you want it to be. And if you want it to be serious, there's a lot to look into. But if you wanna just put the CD on and break stuff and fuck your girlfriend, then that works, too. It's both."
"Besides," he continues, "I see the Antichrist mythology different than Christians do. They see it as a literal apocalypse, the world being destroyed, you know, a rapture with Jesus coming to save them. But I see the Antichrist as an element that exists within everybody's personality. It's their rebellious side; it's their belief in themselves; it's their disbelief in the status quo of morality, it's their disbelief in God and Christianity. And I feel like it's my job to spur that antichristian element. There have been many other people - Caesar, Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey - who have cracked open the mythical gateways to the end of the world. I feel like the end of the world that I speak about is on a mental level; I see the apocalypse being the old-world mentality of Christianity dying off and something new being born - new individuality. In many ways that's just as terrible as an actual physical destruction for Christianity; either way it puts them out of business. That's really my goal, just to make people believe in themselves."
"That doesn't sound quite as nihilistic as some of the press you're getting..." I start.
"That's the battle that I kind of go through, even on the album. I wanted this record to be my autobiography. You can even break it sown into three personalities: the transformation from this vulnerable worm into this angel that the world sees as more of a devil - which is really a lot like the Lucifer character in The Bible: the fallen angel. And," he pauses.
"There's where the element of chaos exists and the uncertainty of whether I'm right: Am I really the bad guy or am I not? And the Antichrist Superstar to me is the very nihilistic, hopeless element of my personality that decides, 'Okay, I'm gonna take this power. I'm not gonna try and help anybody, I'm just gonna bring it all down.'"
It does seem a philosophy we can all, at one point or another, understand: fuckall and fuckology. But for Marilyn and his band it may have fairly immediate consequences: He told a reporter last June that Antichrist Superstar would either result in the end of the world or the end of his band. I'd say the latter is more probable - especially given the similar sentiments voiced by Twiggy, wearing that fancy floral sun dress of his, last year.
"I'd like to get as big as we possibly can - then destroy [the band]," he said.
"What would you do after?" I asked him, a bit thrown.
"Become a waitress."
I think he was serious, strangely enough. Which would be a damn shame: Aside from the musical loss that a Manson break-up would entail, the bottom line is that somebody has to be here to give the right-wing zealots hell (literally); somebody with some mainstream clout has got to "fuck with things because they need to be fucked with."
And while Smells Like Children going platinum (it's still on the charts, by the way) and Antichrist Superstar debuting at Number Three are marvelous achievements - we shouldn't forget that the Number Two slot that same week was occupied by Kenny G.
In other words, Marilyn, there is still work to be done.