Divorce. Depression. Desperation
How Marilyn Manson pulled himself back from the depths of despair...
The hotel room is dark, with curtains closed against the heat and sunshine outside. Through the gloom, hunched up on a chaise-longue in the corner, is Marilyn Manson, a 38-year-old bent-backed shadow of a man in brown tinted aviator sunglasses just light enough for him to see you, dark enough for his eyes to remain invisible. On his lips is a trademark smear of crimson lipstick but otherwise, in the half light, there's no other make-up visible. He wears black leather trousers, a T-shirt, jacket and a wary grin. He's on his feet, briefly, for a handshake then back, slumped almost protectively in his seat. He sips a tall glass of absinthe - it's lunchtime - and rests it precariously on the edge of the sofa.
"All I've done is talk, talk, talk," he says, his voice a flat, monotone croak.
What he's been talking about his new death and vampire obsessed albumEAT ME, DRINK ME, dark slabs of music hewn from a more desolate, more personal stone than ever before - music that's been inspired by perhaps the most difficult and painful year of Marilyn Manson's life.
EAT ME, DRINK ME is a bleak album. It sound like you've been through a lot in the last year.
"Some people look at it as dark and bleak. I look at it as dramatic when it comes to the idea of romance. It's much more about me emerging from the flames of a car crash of a life than the actual car crash of the life."
So a rebirth?
"Yeah - there are a lot of resurrection themes that go through the album. It's me making an ascension out of my fall..."
Marilyn Manson likes to talk like this. He likes to keep things obscure, as conceptual and unspecific as possible. He can take an age to form an answer or bat it straight back from the hip, he can pause for an eternity between words or gabble in low-pitched bluster but rarely does anything get a straight answer.
That's not to say, though, that he doesn't reveal anything. This "car crash", according to Manson, started on the day he married burlesque model Dita Von Teese in December 2005. Von Teese filed for divorce on December 29, 2006 - barely a year after their wedding. In that short time Manson had been, in his own words, "beyond suicidal", a drowning, unfeeling wreck who was floundering desperately to find some meaning, some purpose in his life.
How were you feeling at that time?
"I was in a position where I couldn't feel fear, anger or anything - I just up all hope. I realised that I didn't like being me. A large part of how I felt came from getting married and there being an expectation for me to become someone else or to change or better myself."
Was that an expectation forced upon you?
"I don't know if it was meant to be put on me but that's how I interpreted it. I was expected to change a lot of about myself."
"Just who I am. I was in a position where I had no identity. I didn't know why anyone would like me because I didn't have anything to offer. Then I got to a point where, because of that, I had nothing say artistically."
"I really didn't like the idea of being me. I didn't like the way the world thought they understood me or that they thought they'd figured me out. Mostly I didn't like the act that I couldn't make something that would effect a person that I was with. Musically my tastes were different from my ex-wife's - it was very much a case of opposites attracting. But after a while I didn't really know if anything I did made any sort of impact on her. I can't feel like I'm a person or feel validated unless I can make someone else feel something. Maybe she [Dita] loved the idea of me more than all of the things that really make up the whole Frankenstein that is me."
Did you love her?
[For the first time his voice is charged with a little emotion, a slight raise in pitch]
"Yes, I never changed my feelings about her. Maybe I approached marriage for the simple reason that I didn't want to ever be alone in the world. I thought that I'd found someone who was willing to take on romance in the way it's supposed to be. Maybe that wasn't right for her."
It's interesting, this, because it's the first question Manson has been directly asked about his ex-wife. So far, it has been he who has steered the conversation, he who's in charge. And it is he who talks unprompted about his divorce - a subject that most people would shy away from.
Manson, however, is extraordinarily candid from the outset. And so one or two things could be happening, you think, that either he's using the media to have a dig at Dita or he's using her and the divorce to get press for his new record. Neither of which paints him in a particular flattering light.
"I don't want people to assume this record was about my divorce," he sniffs.
And perhaps it is an unfair thing to wonder, especially as Manson is so open when talking about that depression that descended over him towards the end of his marriage.
Were you suicidal or just very depressed?
"It was worse and less describable than either one of those words. I've been both in my life but this was different because I just didn't feel anything. I didn't care about anything. It didn't matter what happened. That, to me, is the worst. If it were something as easy as changing one thing in your life, then I wish I could have done that. But it really had to come from another place that I don't understand."
How had you sunk so low?
"In my marriage I was left alone because my ex-wife's career has taken off. I was viewed as not being a good husband because I didn't support her by following her all over the world, as she did with me at first. I'd say to her that I couldn't go with her to enjoy her success because I needed to work. Then she'd return home and I had to tell her that I hadn't got anything done because I had been so depressed. She'd get angry. But I couldn't explain and I can't be mad at her for not understanding."
That must have been a hard situation to be in.
"The worst part of being depressive is the shame. you know that you're better than what you've become but you can't change anything. Then people think that you don't love them enough and that you don't care. I couldn't explain that, if I didn't care about myself, then how could I care about anyone else?"
But Marilyn Manson did care about someone else. While his wife was touring the world, trying to establish her own name, he met 19-year-old actress Evan Rachel Wood, start of 2003 film Thirteen and Manson's new, explicitly sexual video that accompanies the single Heart-Shaped Glasses.
He was lonely, he says, when they first met. He had no one else to talk to, he says. And so he played her a new song of his called Just A Car Crash Away, and he watched the reaction of this 19-year-old fan.
Was her excitement attractive to you?
"I saw how much this one song had affected her and that's really what relationships are about. When I saw that, I felt like I wanted to make music again. Suddenly I felt challenged again. I wanted to seduce this person. I wanted to make someone else feel that I had something to offer to the world."
Did you feel needed?
"When I met Evan, I saw myself in someone else. She's not like a sister, she's like a twin. She liked all the things that other people had convinced me were false. I realised that's why I had stopped wanting to make music and why I disliked so much about myself."
Suddenly, through all of this, a picture emerges. Manson needs approval at all times. His reasons for the split with Von Teese centred on her inability to validate him by liking his music. The catalyst for his relationship with Wood, meanwhile, was her love of one of his new songs, the fact that she worships what he does, "the most important thing," in Manson's eyes.
The worst of it is, you suspect, that he seems entirely unprepared to reciprocate, unwilling as he was to support Von Teese as she travelled alone across the world to build her career. Willing as he is to use the teenage Wood by stripping her nude in his new video before making on-screen love to her in a way looks designed to anger or hurt Von Teese.
In fact, through it all, he comes across as slightly desperate, an insecure egomaniac requiring a steady diet of reassurance and support - a once hell-raising, world-changing artist becoming middle-aged and questioning his relevance.
A lot of what has happened to you recently seems like a cry for attention, for encouragement. Were you just desperately insecure?
[There's a long, long pause...]
"No. Not so much insecure because, when I was depressed, I didn't have any fear. I wanted one last safety check in life before I checked out. This record was that last tiny shred of hope that there was something that was worth living for."
So it was the record that saved you?
"Well, if you say it then it sounds less clichéd than if I say it. But, yes, it was. This record and my life are completely tied together. If the record didn't exist, I wouldn't exist. I'm not so much in debt to this record as a part of it. This is the most I've put my personality into an album. I'm not afraid for anybody to see that, either."
Were you searching for your place in the world, wondering if you were still important?
"In terms of still being relevant - I think a person is relevant as long as they have something to say and this record is one of the most powerful things I've ever said. Part of me thinks I should be mad for not thinking of this way sooner, part of me knows that I wasn't good enough to make a record like this before."
A tap on the shoulder from Manson's record company assistant and the interview is over. He stands, briefly again, for a handshake on the way out, then settles himself back down on the chaise-longue, head in the air, bored-looking.
It's outside the hotel corridor that it strikes you. It's there that you realise Manson, for all his talk of finding himself a place in the world, is destined to be permanently excluded, always lonely, the eternal outcast. Because there he is inside his room, shutting everything out with temperature control, a security guard on the door and curtains drawn against the real world. A man alone in his artificial construct talking about the need for real feelings, when, in fact, everything he's searching for is out there waiting for him.
MARILYN MANSON'S NEW ALBUM EAT ME, DRINK ME IS OUT NOW ON INTERSCOPE
"DOWNLOAD, HERE I COME!"
Are you looking forward to playing Download?
"I'm really looking forward to performing again. For the most part I recorded this new record alone, lying down on the floor but, on a few occasions I got some people into the room because I have really got back into the idea of being a singer. It means that I really want to play live again because I want to see the reaction on people's faces."
Will it be a dramatic show?
"Very much. It will put the Mechanical Animals show to shame. A lot of people have said this is a very goth-driven album and, though that's not something I set out to do, Download still seems like the right place to launch all of that."