'SO, MARILYN MANSON IS A SENSITIVE GUY. I'M NOT ASHAMED'
Ooh matron, and the devil was good to his mother, we suppose. Seriously folks, do not second guess Marilyn Manson, lest you be very, very wrong. NME finds him in his Los Angeles studio supping diest coke and weeing like a mortal. Nurse! The screams!
"I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you"
Helter Skelter - The Beatles
It was so quiet and hot on that night of August 8 that the killers would later claim you could hear the ice rattling in cocktails all down the Los Angeles canyon. It wasn't, all told, a great night for bloody and outrageous murder. Too sticky, too peaceful. But the music and Mr. Manson had told them to kill, so they had to obey.
Thirty-one years later to the day, and the irony of the anniversary of the Manson murders isn't lost on the 31-year-old Marilyn Manson, as he sits on a sofa in his studio on a hot and eerily quiet Los Angeles night. For Marilyn Manson shares more with Charles Manson than merely the last name he purloined from him.
"Today's August 8," he notes, wryly raising an eyebrow.
"How convenient for your article."
On August 9, 1969 police found the brutally stabbed, bludgeoned and shot bodies of pregnant movie star Sharon Tate and four friends at her Beverly Hills mansion. The next day, they discovered that an LA couple called Leno and Rosemary LaBianca had also been ritually stabbed to death at their suburban home.
This time, though, among the slogans daubed in blood on the couple's wall was the legend 'Helter Skelter', the title of a song by The Beatles from their White Album. The finger of blame no longer pointed at drug dealers or burglars. Now a full blown witch-hunt was on, and the prey was hippies.
The loveable Liverpool moptops were never implicated, though. Instead, eight members of a hippy sect called The Family were found guilty of murder, along with their leader Charles Manson.
Although Manson wasn't present at the murders, it was alleged that he ordered their execution after hearing messages in two songs from The White Album; Piggies and Helter Skelter. It was the moment when the Love Generation's lofty ideals of peace, love and understanding were ripped to shreds forever.
"Good," says Marilyn Manson. Although he has a certain amount of sympathy for The Beatles' plight.
On April 20,1999, he was sitting in a hotel in Chicago as the news flickered from his TV screen that two teenagers had entered Columbine High and shot 13 of their schoolmates dead. He immediately knew what to expect.
"They're going to blame this on me," he wearily informed the room.
Minutes later, a news reporter appeared on camera and said that the perpetrators had worn white face-paint and Marilyn Manson T-shirts. It wasn't true, but the die was cast. Another cultural witch-hunt was on and this time America had Marilyn Manson in its sights. He wouldn't get off as lightly as The Beatles, though, because The Beatles were never seriously blamed. Marilyn Manson, however, was ludicrously and gleefully accused of incitement by politicians, the media, even the entertainment industry.
The resultant storm forced Manson back into his Hollywood mansion, where he weighed up his options. For three months he stayed in and debated the pros and cons of just disappearing, or facing his tormentors face on. He chose the latter.
"'99 was a pivotal year," he says.
"As was 1969, the year of my birth. The two years share many similarities. Woodstock '99 (where rape and mass looting were rife), became an Altamont (the Rolling Stones concert in 1969 where the Hell's Angels beat a fan to the death) of its own. Columbine became the Manson murders of our generation. Things happened that could've made me want to stop making music. Instead, I decided to come out and really punish everyone for daring to fuck with me."
He pauses and takes a sip of his Diet Coke.
"I've got a big fight ahead of me on this one. And I want every bit of it."
"Don't hold me responsible for the decor," apologises the Dark Prince, as he scans around a lounge above his recording booth.
"I did a studio piece for Rolling Stone, and the guy got everything completely wrong. He said I had a rifle when it was an automatic machine gun. He said I had a wolf's head when it was a baboon's head. No eye for detail these American journalists."
For the record, Marilyn Manson has neither a baboon nor wolf's head. He has the head of a youthful American lad, albeit crowned by long, lank, black hair. He wears huge square sunglasses, minimal make-up, black shirt and leather trousers, and cute little fingerless black, woolly gloves.
He's courteous and dry, as well, his sense of humour and irony more acute than most multi-million selling rock stars living in Hollywood. Are all Satanists this sweet?
Sweet enough to only drink Diet Coke, which he does by the gallon - and it goes right through him. He makes the short journey to the bathroom three times during our hour- long audience, curiously only flushing twice, while the loud flow of urine hitting the bowl is clearly audible - but only once. Maybe limited toilet privacy is one of the perks of a pact with Lucifer.
"This Diet Coke is not good for that," he explains.
"I'm sure you'll mention it. Very British of you."
Even Satanists seek artistic approval, though, and NME can feel Manson's curious gaze behind those shades as a studio hand blasts out seven tracks from his forthcoming Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) album. Here's what we tell him when the playback's finished: it's harder, angrier, louder, dirtier than '98's Mechanical Animals. And much better too. It's brutal rock'n'roll that steam-rollers the opposition (yo, wassup, Korn and Limp Bizkit) like a tank division. This, he likes.
"We live in good times. It's a time for chaos, a time for revolution. A time for rock'n'roll to come back. And that's what I want to do with this record. Making the last record was partly to go against the grain because everything was heavy. Korn, Limp Bizkit: it was all about being the heaviest. I wanted to make a melodic record. This record is designed to remind people - without wishing to sound old - exactly how heavy music should be made. It's not hard to be heavy, you just turn the guitar up really loud. There's no science to it. I wanted to make a heavy record that changes your mind, that makes you think about more than just... 'Nookie'.
"This prepackaged angst is very popular. They're angry about something, but they're not real clear why. Someone at their record company told them it was a smart thing to do. I, however, have plenty to be mad about; I just try and focus it in a very artful way. Otherwise I'd have just gone on a rampage of punching everyone I saw and releasing it as a video."
Marilyn Manson sees links between Holy Wood and The White Album beyond the Manson murders and Columbine too.
"Holy Wood...' is kinda our industrial White Album in the sense that it's very experimental. I play a lot of keyboards, we switched things around, wrote in the desert... it's experimental and when I think of experimental I think of The White Album. "Also, The White Album had a lot of very subversive messages on it. Ones they intended and ones that may've been misinterpreted by Charles Manson. To my knowledge, it's the first rock n' roll record that's been blamed and linked to violence. When you've got 'Helter Skelter' written in blood on someone's wall, it's a little more damning than anything I've been blamed for. Holy Wood is a tribute to what that record did in history. It's very inspirational for me.
"Really, the tragic things that happened in 1999 - I tried to turn into something positive that says something intelligent about man and violence. I didn't run, and instead of being beaten down by those who want to blame music and entertainment for those violent incidents, I point out that they cause it. They're the ones who raise kids to be idiots.
He wants to tell you a story through his albums, too. And he wants to tell it in reverse. The story starts with Holy Wood and connects back through his previous two albums, Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar, to form, ahem, a "triptych" (there will be a novel to detail the story in January). It charts the fall from grace of Adam Kadmon (the Hebrew name for the first man), an innocent who is given the fruit of knowledge and tries to create a revolution with music. Society, unfortunately, takes his revolution and turns it into a product, so much to our narrator's chagrin that he kills his revolution - which means killing himself.
The story is semi-autobiographical, he says, but only because what he wrote about in Antichrist Superstar actually started coming true.
"I was being grandiose, saying that I would be this icon that would have a lot of power in my hands and be able to decide many people's future. That ended up being true. Life imitated art and the story started writing itself. Mechanical Animals represented the middle of the story and Holy Wood ties all the pieces together at the start. It's a parable."
All of which may be a clever way of papering over the artistic cracks some critics spotted in Mechanical Animals.
"A lot of people miscalculated that Mechanical Animals was a failure and sold less than Antichrist Superstar," he insists defensively.
"In fact they sold equally well".
Or it may be a brilliant narrative device. Either way, Manson sees a bigger picture in his head than any other rock star.
"I think so many things at once, that I usually can't explain it to people. I think of a story, of a picture, of music, all at once. Holy Wood deals with our relationship with Christ, and how we outgrew that. John F Kennedy became the new Christ when he was killed on television. I don't think anything challenged the crucifixion of Christ before then, or since. You wonder how it would've been had the TV crews been at the crucifixion of Christ.
"Some people say that Christ died of old age, they just threw the crucifixion in as a myth. Who knows how Jesus died? Maybe he died of old age, maybe he died of syphilis. I don't know if I came up with the answer while making this record, but I do know that by looking at these things I created a story. And if the story ends the way that I wrote then we're all in a lot of trouble. Everyone is always worried about the world ending, but the world definitely deserves it the way we've acted, myself included."
For the character in Manson's three album story, though, the world ends in suicide.
"That's what I've always asserted. If you don't like the world, it's all in your head. It only takes one bullet to kill the world. Americans have a desire to protect people from themselves. If people don't want to live, let them do what they want. I heard the story the other day of a crazy person in New York who lit himself on fire trying to kill himself. Someone put the fire out. This guy is, like, 'Great, now I have to live as I was but with all these terrible burns.' So he grabs a bottle and stabs himself in the neck. Blood is spouting everywhere, so the other guy grabs the bottle out of his hand. Then, the burned man grabs a brick and whacks himself in the head, but the police turn up, put him in an ambulance, and guess what? The guy survives. So he's burned, his head is smashed in, he's black and blue, and all he wanted to do was die. I felt bad for him. Then I found out he'd tried four times previously. What a failure. If you can't get it right the first time... Jump off a building. Use a gun. It's well documented. No need to be so extravagant."
Do you fear death?
"I think if I was sitting looking it right in the face now, I'm sure there would be some trepidation. I'm not a person who lives a safe life or worries about the repercussions of my lifestyle. At the same time, I wouldn't go bungee jumping. If I'm going to risk death, there should be some value, although I can't say doing drugs is valuable. I mean, the amount of money it costs... I gotta use the restrooms, this Diet Coke..."
There follows a brief interlude for a silent, Satanic piss, and much shuffling.
"(Emerging from the toilet)The fear of death is promoted in America because it's the greatest motivating factor to get money from you. That's what the church is all about, the idea you can buy your way into heaven. Give ten per cent of your money to the church, and when you die you go to a better place. Well, if that's what Christians believe, then I'm not going to complain if they all die. If you're going somewhere better, good. Stop breathing my air. Fuck off!"
Marilyn Manson is a huge sports buff. It may come as a surprise, but there's nothing he likes more than packing a hamper of cold cuts and cool beers and taking his actress fiancee, Rose McGowan, down to see the Los Angeles Dodgers play ball. He's also a big fan of wrestling. And speedway.
Well, no. Of course not. Marilyn Manson hasn't much time for mainstream culture, be it sports, movies or music. Recently, he's been reading a lot about different forms of mysticism, and in depth about alchemy, which he is very interested in because it "predates Christianity." And yet, he still lives amongst the superficial glitz of Hollywood.
"Well, I don't leave my house that much," he says, a little sadly.
"And living in the type of situation I do, if I don't leave my house it could be anywhere in the world. An average day is waking up, trying not to feel too hung-over because of the absinthe from the night before, and then working on whatever I have to do. When I tour it'll be the same, only more hung-over, unfortunately. It doesn't matter if I'm in Hollywood or not."
Is your drug-taking still as extreme as you documented in your autobiography ('98's excellent The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell)?
"I don't think so. It's for a different reason now. It used to be self-destructive. Now drugs are more... medicinal. Acid? No, I won't be taking acid again. I have enough demons already. I don't need any more."
Not long ago, Manson went to a Hollywood fancy dress party. He attended undisguised - "Why wear a costume when I am one?" - and spent the evening sulking in a corner. After a while, an acquaintance asked him what his problem was and Manson said, "I can't see who anybody is, so I can't tell who I hate the most."
"That's how I feel about Hollywood. But it has a lot of history here and I really pick that up. The house that I live in is where the Stones lived when they were writing Let It Bleed. There's a lot of musical history in that house. I was watching Cocksucker Blues and there's a clip where they're shooting up in my living room. I enjoyed that... I can't say, though, that it doesn't seem almost reasonable why Charles Manson carved a swastika on his head and went on a killing rampage. Because, at times, this city can make you feel like that. I like to live in a place where things aggravate me because aggravation is inspirational. I lived in Florida and hated it and wrote lots of songs there. If I lived somewhere where I was happy, I'd grow fat and old very quickly."
Would it be possible to find somewhere where you're totally happy?
"I'm too cynical, right. I'm only happy when I'm making music or performing. Or having a monkey climb on my head for British magazines."
What would you be doing if you couldn't perform, if you couldn't articulate the way you feel?
"I'd probably be making crystal meth in a bathtub and selling it to schoolchildren. Or I'd be behind bars for sitting in a clock tower taking out college students."
He sniffs and takes another sip of Diet Coke.
"Or, I'd be the manager of an ice cream parlour."
Sometimes, Marilyn Manson cries. He is not cold-blooded. He is not heartless. He is moody. He is sensitive. He is vulnerable.
"Moody is a fair assessment. I wouldn't say I'm a manic depressive, but I'm a very sensitive person. A lot of people might miss that. To have an extreme degree of hatred or anger, it can't have any truth to it unless you have the opposite end of the spectrum too. I can also be very kind, loving and gentle. I can be very hurt by the things people say, someone who cries when something is tragic or sad. But in the blink of an eye, I'm the guy who will punch you in the face.
"So, Marilyn Manson is a sensitive guy. I'm not ashamed of that. On Antichrist Superstar I was trying to rid myself of my emotions. On Mechanical Animals I was relearning them. Now I'm flying the full spectrum again."
Given this fresh sensitivity, is it wise to want to "come out and really punish everyone for daring to fuck with me?" Wouldn't it be nice to just settle down with Rose, have spooky kids and buy the ice cream parlour?
"While I do enjoy fame, I haven't missed it over the last year of not being involved with the public. I don't feel that when the day comes and I pick up my retirement plan and head off into an old folks' home, I'm going to be be one of those people who misses it.
"I enjoy being feared. And not in a 'Marilyn Manson's spooky' way. People like to spoof me, make cartoons of me, portray me as someone who likes to shock. That's not me. Granted, I do things that are provocative. But shocking? It doesn't take any imagination to shock. To make people think, to push them somewhere they don't belong is harder. And I like pissing people off. If people aren't pissed off, they don't have a reason to exist. They need a devil. So, the notoriety and the ability to make small children cry at the grocery store I like better than the fame."
One thing that scares people most about Marilyn Manson is his Satanism. But Manson believes you can have a friend in Satan too, if you really want.
"I believe Christianity has changed a lot of what The Bible was really saying. I've always been attracted to the character of Lucifer because he was the original rebel. He wanted to be God and he didn't see any reason why he shouldn't be. I think God is whatever you're good at. To me, music is God. The Devil, that's whatever your enemy is.
"For me, people who consider themselves righteous are the Devil. I'm not scared of anything other than dangerous religious fanatics (not true! He's phobic about scorpions). The unity of the lamb and the lion, God and Satan, that's really what Marilyn Manson and the character through these three albums becomes. He starts out as the lamb, he's introduced to the lion, and when the lion eats the lamb, we have the end of the world.
"I always loved the Stones but it's strange the way they dabbled in the occult then backed off. Maybe they got in over their heads. I feel that I have a true understanding of man and... I wouldn't say the supernatural because things that are natural don't make sense to me. Supernatural is what I consider myself and what I do. Not in the sense of science fiction; there are things that are natural and things that are supernatural. I'm not natural. So I must be supernatural."
And when you're supernatural, revenge isn't just fun - it's conclusive. Right now, before he toddles off downstairs on his high heels to finish mixing his album, Marilyn Manson has a brief word for his enemies everywhere - and that might mean you, even if you don't know it yet.
"I believe you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I usually don't like to let my enemies know who they are because I'm planning the most diabolical and terrible ways to fuck them over for daring to do something bad to me. There's a lot of people who are close to me who have done things, and are currently doing things, to undermine me. But rather than letting them know I know, I just store these things. Maybe six years later they'll pay for it. I believe in my own self-imposed karma, because if God has karma he's very slow. I try and speed things up a little."
The witching hour approaches. Outside in the still, thick air, the lights of LA are slowly being extinguished as the city prepares for sleep. In Compton, a wayward bullet from a drive-by will claim the life of an innocent pre-teen asleep in her living room, but tomorrow nobody will try and discover what the gunmen were listening to in their convertible. The anniversary of the Manson murders has, nevertheless, passed without any other significant incidents.
Marilyn Manson, meanwhile, will greet the new day locked in the tomb of his recording studio, creating more bad news for America. But before that, one last question. What are his ambitions? He doesn't hesitate.
"Chaos. Destruction. Mayhem. Dancing."
What about the ice cream store?
"It wouldn't be so bad in the ice cream store."
That thump is the sound of shares in Haagen Daz hitting an unexpected all-time low.