Once, in a more innocent, pre-9/11 era, Marilyn Manson was considered by some to be a genuine threat to our youth and way of life. He’s still big now, at 43, but it’s just that our other boogie men got a lot bigger. In the decade after 2003’s chart-topping The Golden Age of Grotesque, Manson’s sales consistently shrank. Critics began dismissing him and he became more famous for his series of movie-star pals and companions (Rose McGowan and Evan Rachel Wood are former fiancées) than his once thrilling singles and disturbing videos. The new Born Villain (out May 1 on indie label Cooking Vinyl) finds Manson and longtime collaborator Twiggy Ramirez re-charged and determined. The videos are worthy of his nightmare oeuvre again, and Manson’s oddly faithful cover of Carly Simon’s 1972 classic “You’re So Vain” (with Johnny Depp) has already got us discussing his music again. Here, Manson reveals how he avoided the reality-TV abyss and got his gloomy groove back.
VF Daily: Do you find yourself reflecting on the past much at this stage in your life? It seems like the time to begin, biologically.
Marilyn Manson: I’ve been thinking about the transition I had to go through to start making music. [Before starting the band] I went to Kinko’s with a drawing I did of myself. I printed [it] up myself and put the flyers on cars. I did not even have music created. But that confidence, or arrogance, led me to end up having to make music. I realized that people were going to come see this show—I had created some sort of excitement. My dad being a salesman taught me you can sell anybody anything if you’ve got the ability to believe.
But I guess after I made The Golden Age of Grotesque and after dealing with Columbine—where I got blamed with something that I did not do—I had to deal with the [start of a] whole era which probably made [critics] like you disenfranchised. Dissatisfied. Dis-engaged, anything with “dis” in it.
A sort of creative wilderness period?
The celebrity era. I’d grown accustomed to becoming a rock star and dealing with that and enjoying it. Dealing with it. Hating it sometimes. But then “celebrity” came along. Now there are people who are only famous for being on TV, and that change in the world is hard to understand for people who did not grow up in the same era that we did.
Right. I imagine having to share the public stage with people who are famous for reasons that seem so much more facile must be difficult. And weirdly lonely. I am thinking of the item on Page Six from last fall where you literally had to put your own rock-star behavior into a context for people.
All that was accurate.
I’m sure. And when I read it, I thought, “Well, it’s the frog and the scorpion.” Like, “I told you I was a scorpion. This is what a scorpion does.” This is what a rock star does, but respect for that seems to be fading. The rock star has become a victim of celebrity culture in a way.
You’re not a victim if you just own what you are. When you just said, “The frog and the scorpion”—right now I’m gonna suck your dick with someone else’s mouth ’cause that was a good quote. It’s exactly what I was talking about. And by the way, again, that Las Vegas story, everything in it was true.
You sound like you’ve had some hard thinking since we last heard from you, and the new music sounds like it’s benefitted from it.
I got my stones back. It’s very simple. I looked back and I had to admit to myself and come to terms with—no one wants to say they’re having a comeback. It’s the cliché; “Don’t call it a comeback.” But I realized before making this record [that] I didn’t like who I was. Everyone obviously knows who I am for whatever reason and that is a fact that I have to deal with. But I am not going to take that as something that I can rest on. Living in Hollywood you can go to a bar and you’re famous, and someone will suck your dick in the bathroom. That’s not a challenge to me.
I had to prove to people that I have what it takes to be what they wanted from me. I wanted to show them the redemption. That’s why I like the shows Californication and Eastbound & Down. You see a character that’s a total fuck-up but you want to believe that they’re gonna rise above it. I started to feel so misunderstood in my personal life that I started to feel like I had to be understood in my art. On the last two records I made (2007’s Eat Me, Drink Me and 2009’s The High End of Low), I was trying to make people feel what I was feeling—which wasn’t a good idea, especially because I was feeling shit. Check mark number one: don’t do that. Don’t make records that make people feel bad.
You would create anyway because that’s how you express yourself, but for pleasure, you enjoy provoking people.
Well, I do now. That was the problem. I’d forgotten how to enjoy doing it. [When I was making this record] I lived alone—except with my cats. I put everything I own in storage except movies. I let my unconscious and subconscious just run the show, and I knew if I wanted to become something, I had to put limitations on myself. If you give me a piece of paper and a pencil, you only have so many options: You can stab someone with it. You can write a love letter. You can draw a picture. You can wipe your ass with it. You can make paper cuts. There are only so many options, but those limitations really create strength and from that comes creativity—which is what I had from the beginning. Nothing in front of me, no money. I had the pen and the paper, like when I first had to hustle the guy at Kinko’s into printing the flyers for free.
How did you come to record a cover of “You’re So Vain” with Johnny Depp?
Because [of] where he’s at in his life. This record isn’t about anybody. The previous ones might have been perceived as being about this girl or that girl—and that’s what art was never supposed to be about. When I listen to my favorite songs, Bowie and the Beatles, I don’t think about who the fuck they were with when they wrote ’em. I just think about how it makes me feel. And [Johnny and I] both thought it was hilarious to do that song, that it would just be us staring at each other. That’s our relationship, funny.
It’s melodically true to Carly Simon’s original. Has she heard it?
She actually did. And liked it