Nowadays, it's almost reassuring that the Republicans (in particular, the Christian Right) and Democrats (in particular, Joseph Lieberman) can actually agree on one issue: Marilyn Manson is the face of all that's evil and just plain wrong with the entertainment industry. So identified was the band with disaffected youth that, in the wake of the Columbine tragedy, they were cited as a cause. The group freaked, canceled their ongoing tour and laid low, licking their wounds. Holed up in the Hollywood Hills, Marilyn meditated, read and wrote until he and the country came to their senses. Well, now he's back with Holy Wood - the final installment to the multi-platinum trilogy [that] begun with Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals - a forthcoming book, which follows his New York Times best-seller autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell, and a sold-out world tour. Did we say, back with a vengeance?
I heard that you met Lionel Richie at Mr. Chow's?
"Twiggy [Ramirez, his bassist] and I both have had this peculiar, semi-sardonic obsession with Lionel Richie. It's not a mockery of him; it's nostalgic. We stole his picture off a studio wall where he recorded. All of a sudden, at Mr. Chow's, someone taps me on the shoulder and it's Lionel Richie. He's like, 'Hey, it's great to meet you!'
Later, I came back from the bathroom and he's gone and everyone's like, 'Lionel wanted to say goodbye.'
And I said, 'Listen, Lionel Richie does not say goodbye, he says hello.' [both laugh]
There's actually a poster of him in our dressing room.
It makes you feel good, huh?
"Yeah, dance on the ceiling and all that."
Actually, I was laughing during your concert the other night, seeing your Rose [McGowan] with Penelope Cruz getting down. Most people wouldn't think of Marilyn Manson as the type of group to dance to, yet we couldn't sit down. The connection between you and the audience at your show felt like a religious experience.
"It's more so now because the record deals so much with the idea of revolution. Even though it discusses the failures of revolution and how you can't change the world - you have to change within yourself - I think the element of uniting against something really takes place at our show. It's the oldest thing in music. I just want to cause chaos. I want people to look at things differently. I want to turn things inside out. I'm an anomaly in that I am as famous as Madonna, but I'm not a pop artist that sells gazillions of records. What I do is very counterculture, but at the same time I myself am very much pop culture, so I'm in a really strange place. I enjoy it because now I can juxtapose me against me; I become part of my criticism."
It's hard for people to understand that someone who positions himself as a reactionary is more interested in pushing buttons than taking a position. What was misunderstood about punk was that it was more of an attitude than a statement. A healthy sense of humor was more important than the correct outfit.
"Exactly. There're a lot of bands that have a punk-like sound, like Blink 182 or Green Day, but the attitude is not the same. When I lived in New Orleans, there was a place called The Crystal. It was so Goth that you almost had to be a corpse to enter the building. Twiggy and I would go there with an Iron Maiden cassette. When these Goth kids were just getting their Goth groove on, we would throw on Number of the Beast and they actually tried to dance to it, 'cause they were taking it so seriously. They used to hate us. I'd wear a Raggedy Ann wig and a fluorescent orange shirt."
I was the DJ at Mudd Club, which was the major punk club in Manhattan. The owner would go outside and find the nerdiest people and usher them in. You'd have all these people standing there, wearing these little outfits that they had bought to look punk, going, "What's the problem?"
"That's like my theory about being cool: If everybody around you was cool then what would be the point of being cool? And anyone that takes themselves too seriously doesn't understand how to include themselves in their own criticism. Then they end up becoming a parody."
You've cited Nietzsche as a major influence. It's as if you're playing out his God and Superman philosophy, because every time you come back, you come back stronger.
"Right. I find that rebirth, resurrection, being able to constantly shed your skin and become something bigger and stronger each time is really the only thing that keeps you alive as an artist or as a person. After Columbine happened, I was almost in the mind-set of, 'Let's just forget art. This is affecting my life in a much greater way - I feel genuinely threatened leaving the house, there are people that wanna see me dead for something I didn't do.'
The media wanted to see my career over. I had to resurrect myself, personally, and realize what's really important to me, what keeps me alive. And that was making music. This record, and the attitude I have right now on tour, is very enthusiastic, very appreciative of the small things in life. I'm excited when I'm in a building filled with people wanting to listen to my music, excited when someone says, 'Hey, I just bought your record.'
I don't take things for granted anymore. I feel alive."
People blamed you for Columbine, yet the kids who were involved weren't even fans. You had nothing to do with it.
"That's true. I've also said that even if they were fans, that wouldn't justify it, either, because the biggest lesson to be learned from Columbine, that everyone missed, was: You're not listening to your kids. No one's listening, because everyone's too busy trying to sell something. And the media used Columbine as just one more campaign of fear. I laugh when I watch the TV news because it's death, disaster, disease, famine, AIDS, cut to commercial, Nissan, Crest, new maxi-pad with wings, back to death."
Let's talk about one of your great influences, the film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory .
"It's a great movie. If they remake it and ruin it, I'm gonna be very upset, unless I get to play Willy Wonka, because I could play that role like nobody else could. I really see that movie as a metaphor. I see Willy Wonka as Satan because he presents people with the temptation of picking good and evil, and they all pick evil. It's such a powerful statement to put into a children's film. The chocolate's a metaphor for sin. He's always tempting them with that and they always pick the bad thing. That just shows you man's nature. [Charlie and his grandfather] redeem themselves. Charlie wasn't giving up the Gobstopper so that he would win the chocolate factory, he was giving it up because he thought it was the right thing to do. He did a good deed that didn't revolve around his own greed. He actually did an honest deed, which is a rare thing. It had a beautiful message."
When you were a child, you were warned at the Heritage Christian School that there were hidden Satanic messages in the recordings of heavy metal groups that could be heard when the records were played in reverse. So, do you practice backward masking yourself?
"On every record, yes."
Oh, good. [both laugh]
"Of course. That's the first mistake that you can ever make with raising children or cats or dogs or whatever. It's not rebellion as much as it is curiosity. People always wanna know why. And that's another part of man's nature. That was the big thing that I got into when taking the time off after Columbine happened and writing Holy Wood. I looked at evolution and The Bible in a different way: Are we really affected by what we watch? Is it just our nature, or is it a combination of the two? I think it's man's nature to destroy himself."
What's your favorite conspiracy theory?
"That's a tough call. I'm really wrapped up in the Kennedy mythology. I think that's the one that has me the most. A conspiracy or just a confusion that I obviously have obsessed over is Charles Manson, in that it amazes me that O.J. Simpson could be free and Charles Manson would be in jail. Although he should've served time for things that he did, he became a political prisoner and a scapegoat for the '60s."
You were born in 1969, the year of the Manson murders and Altamont. But they're not your fault! [laughs]
"No, but it all becomes very relevant to me in some delusional way. There are so many strange conspiracies and links between things that tie back to me, that it makes me confused."
It takes a deeply romantic nature to create a world-class cynic. Your trilogy of albums was an exploration of your own struggle with emotions. Take us on that trip.
"People say, 'Your record's very negative.'
My answer is that if I didn't have hope, I wouldn't make the record. I started with emotionless aggression. You think that will provide an armor and you won't ever be hurt. That's your biggest mistake because the stronger love that you have means the stronger hate that you have; and the more vulnerable you are, the stronger you are."
You learn more when you're nice because people either drop their defenses and act nice or treat you like a fool.
"This is a lesson that I've tried to teach somebody very close to me. I won't name her name. I'm able to achieve more, get what I want and sometimes pay people back that have wronged me, when I do it in a nice way. It's more about the means to your end. Because I have another philosophy: If you give people exactly what they want, they'll kill themselves with it."