Marilyn: A Re-Examination
LA Weekly piece By Greg Burk on January 10, 2001
IT'S ALL MARILYN MANSON'S FAULT. Violence. Drug abuse. Disrespect for authority. Rejection of religion. Lack of values. All the bleeding sores on the soul of youth except acne and orthodonture. And maybe those, too. He's responsible. Kill him, and the wounds will heal.
A lot of people want you to believe that. And they aren't limited to the kind who smite their progeny for misquoting Corinthians. Marilyn Manson wants you to believe it, too. Being the devil is his job.
Or one of his jobs. Many know Manson as Antichrist Superstar, God of Fuck: the self-mutilations, the burning crosses, the buttless pants, yeah, yeah, yeah. Few realize that he may be the most complete rock performer ever, the one who does the most the best. And even fewer understand him as something more complicated than a god.
But we'll get to that. Right now, let's blame him for something else.
MARILYN MANSON GOT GEORGE W. Bush elected. The real ballot-box Satan isn't Ralph Nader, an idealist trying to influence politics from within. It isn't the variety of Floridian GOP vote benders, who were just carrying on their old-time traditions. And it isn't the U.S. Supreme Court, which no historian expects to be objective. No, the force that established this very special scion in the Oval Office penetrated from outside the system, when Marilyn Manson declared that he would vote for Bush. Would a crucial few hundred fans in Florida, launch site of Manson's music career, switch votes on his example alone? No question. Manson offered his endorsement to say something upsetting, which is part of his job. But he also did it out of spite. The Gore ticket's Senator Joe Lieberman publicly blamed Manson for the 1999 Columbine High School killings, and has described Manson's rock band -- also called Marilyn Manson -- as "perhaps the sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company." And let's not forget that Al Gore's wife is the righteous Tipper, whose Parents' Music Resource Center led the mid-'80s anti-obscenity witch-hunt that tried to censor Manson precursors-in-outrage like WASP and 2 Live Crew. (Maybe Manson didn't know that Dick Cheney's wife was after his hide, too.)
World political influence speaks for the power of the Dark Side, sure enough. But backstage after his show at Hard Rock Live in Orlando, Florida, two days after Election Day, Manson is modest.
"I wish that I was in a position where I could actually encourage people to make a logical choice," he says -- thoughtful, likable, only the white contact lens in his left eye remaining from his 16 tons of concert regalia. "I don't think there was a logical choice, that's the problem. It's two piles of shit, and you're trying to pick which one stinks the least." Manson does manage to get his own twist of amusement from the political show, though. "The best thing about the election is that their names are very similar to sex and violence. Bush and Gore, the two things that make the world go 'round."
When you're having a little talk with Marilyn Manson, everything's cordial, relaxed. But out in the restaurants and shuttle buses of Florida, the post-election atmosphere is nervous. The waitresses and passengers smile but don't volunteer their vote selections. "Some coffee?" "Hope it don't rain." Okay.
Drive along its freeways, glance over miles of flat scrub forest: Florida is the lowest state in the nation, highest point 345 feet above sea level. This is where bottom-feeding supermarket tabloids the National Enquirer, the Star and the Globe maintain U.S. headquarters. This is where the Elian Gonzalez farce played out, and where most of the drugs come in. This is where Marilyn Manson first picked up a microphone.
In addition to sunshine and oranges, Florida has much in common with California. There's a Hollywood, Florida. Orlando is home to Disney World and the municipality's own Universal CityWalk. So it's natural that when Manson changed residences, he would pick Hollywood, California, where he's lived for the past three years.
Did the amusement-park aspects of his stage show draw inspiration from Uncle Walt?
"About eight years ago, I used to like to take LSD and go to Disney World, because it kind of transported you back into time, and you're like a child again. The one thing that scared me the most was, I was going through Frontier World, and they were selling these big, I guess they were, like, chicken legs. They looked like something from the Flintstones, and these people were gnawing on 'em, and they just had grease all over their faces, and meat was coming out of their mouths. And there were all these sea gulls flocked around, and it looked like the people were eating the sea gulls, and the sea gulls were eating the scraps, and it was this big cannibalistic freak-out."
The Hard Rock show a couple of hours earlier has gone down a scream with the Orlando flock, a mixed bunch. One rock kid to another rock kid in the john, discussing a mutual acquaintance: "She wants somebody to kiss her fuckin' heinie. You go home with her. She likes you. I'll go party." A gay restaurateur around 30 tries to cadge backstage passes. A muscleman with skin grafts all over his legs shows off his scars in spandex short-shorts.
Tonight, they unite. But in 1998, Manson's core fan base, many on the green side of 20, waved knives over his Mechanical Animals CD, griping that it was too melodic -- not everyone would agree, but you have to consider the source. To some extent, the artist has accommodated the malcontents. After being scapegoated in the media as a motivator of the Littleton massacre, even though he wasn't on the Top 66 playlist of suicide killers Klebold and Harris, Manson required little urging to show his teeth in the face of the hostility. So hardcore fans will be happy to discover that his new Holy Wood album and Guns, God & Government World Tour bring more of the snarl.
Showtime. The band signal their intentions by opening with "Irresponsible Hate Anthem," from 1996's Antichrist Superstar, the collection that solidified Manson's rock-god status. The song is thrashy, furious, hooked with a grinding, tortured guitar riff and Manson's famous "I wasn't born with enough middle fingers" slogan, which he yells with throat-scarring recklessness as he spreads devil-bat costume wings. This vibe will be revived in Holy Wood chunks such as "The Fight Song" and "Burning Flag," but Manson shows that rage isn't all he's got in his bag. He learned in 1995 that he could deliver a more than passable torch ballad with his cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"; tonight, the song's huge dynamics provoke the expected emotional response from the assembled misfits, who're especially aware that "Some of them want to abuse you." And when, on "Tourniquet," Manson pleads, "Take your hatred out on me," recent history loads the words with an extra layer of meaning. The Bowie-esque gasp of "Great Big White World" and the stupefied blues of "The Dope Show," both from Mechanical Animals, vibrate with powerful despair. And hallucinatory stagings of Holy Wood selections (we're charged not to reveal details) not only bring the lurching "Cruci-Fiction in Space" to full realization, they push the groan of "Valentine's Day" over the top into a thrill-filled hell.
Though the current tour's visuals are stripped down some, and Manson is playing mostly in smaller venues than he did on his 1999 excursion, the resulting sharper focus on the music and the musicians brings its own rewards. The band is made up, coifed and threaded out in this year's corpse-jester couture. John Lowery, called John 5 because he's the group's fifth guitarist, looks like a dazed child, but after two years he's been fully absorbed into the band, his tactile command of simple riffs demonstrating why he's been a choice of musicians ranging from K.D. Lang to Rob Halford. The drummer, Ginger Fish, injects a sense of rhythmic tension without which pounders such as the galloping "The Beautiful People" might have come off flat. Madonna Wayne Gacy, called Pogo (John Wayne Gacy's clown name) by everybody, teeters on his spring-mounted keyboard like he's stuck to a live power line, scattering fistfuls of horror-movie squeedles, carnival countermelodies and just plain noises. Twiggy Ramirez, Manson's main songwriting conspirator, flops around like a broken doll while banging out big, doomy bass lines.
Neither press coverage nor Manson PR concentrates on these guys' considerable chops; that would be too, like, musicianish, and this is a show. Manson himself is always ready to hype the group's image with personal caricatures. Since the guitarist and drummer aren't drunks or dopers, he finds other ways to staple their pictures to the post-office wall: "John's a sex addict -- but not in a fun way. Everyone has a way to hide from reality. And Ginger, Ginger should have a psychiatrist look at him. He's the most dangerous person in the band." That must be because he's quiet. In a backstage buffet room after the show, Fish's sweet young girlfriend of the moment, asked what kind of music he listens to, says, "I think he'd say that what he really prefers is silence." When the drummer, small and shrew-faced, arrives, he sits next to her and collapses facedown on the table.
Pogo rushes in wearing a clownlike smile that backflips his depressive image, his eyes jerking randomly around. He talks fast. Really fast. Back-patted for his musical contribution, he's conflicted. He always liked guitars better than keyboards.
"In a strange way, I almost hate what I do," he says. "I don't even know if they can hear me sometimes." But Pogo does like being a rock star. "What other job can you spit on people and berate them, and they pay you for it? Plus, somebody actually hands you a beer and encourages you to drink it, and then lets you, like, smash things."
Who's Pogo spitting on? The fans? Manson always makes a point of respecting his legions. Most likely Pogo's just doing his best to say something obnoxious. It's his job to be a substance-abusing contrarian, too; he's been known to sniff Liquid Paper on camera. On one Web posting, a music forum on Napster-type free Internet downloading, Pogo complains that pirates are "taking drugs out of my mouth every time they do that."
Twiggy Ramirez hunches his long bones into the room. It almost hurts to look at him. Lipstick is smeared around his mouth, black gunk around his eyes, as usual. His speech is chattery and grating. His movements, spastic but somehow rhythmic, cause his long, omnidirectional dreadlocks to fly around his head. He radiates crazed, diffuse energy.
Cut to Marilyn Manson, in a room set aside for the formal interview. Fingertips touching, he sits on a couch in tea-ceremony quiet. Unlike Twiggy, he moves slowly and rarely. Their pairing recalls other rock polarities: Jagger-Richards, Lennon-McCartney. Two candles on a coffee table slightly offset the dusky dimness. Every feeble ray of light is drawn to his pale skin, so he emits a slight glow.
Manson has dragged a gauzy black T-shirt and black pants over his delicate, lanky frame. He looks younger than 32. His nose is large and witchy, dominating a gently pointed chin on an elongated-egg head. His thin black hair, parted in the middle, hangs straight down to his Adam's apple. He has no eyebrows, but you don't notice the absence at first, just the wide-open effect it produces. The white contact lens in his left eye looks almost natural in this light; the right eye is indeterminately colored. His whiteface makeup has been washed off, and his skin is clear considering the routine pore-clog.
Most of Manson's facial communication comes from the subtle movements of his slightly off-center mouth, which is full-lipped but not large. When he smiles, it's just a flicker in a corner, like a geisha, showing no teeth. His voice is low, his enunciation very soft. He speaks slowly, but gets a lot in. Tonight he's got a froggy throat and a sporadic light cough. Caught a touch of something?
"A little touch of the rock & roll lifestyle." It's unclear whether Manson means the nightly shredding of his vocal cords or something else, but he says he's had his throat examined, and the docs have given him the thumbs-up. "You make your body a place where germs and diseases don't want to live by filling it full of alcohol and drugs," he chuckles. "Then you'll be fine."
Manson is the last to downplay his drug consumption, and when the subject of journalism comes up, he says he admires gonzo inventor Hunter S. Thompson -- met him a year or so ago and keeps in touch. He says Thompson is still drawing vigorous professional and physical breath despite a reputation for excessive substance intake. "I think there's some sort of preservative in the lifestyle. It kind of keeps you in suspended animation. When you stop, then that's when it all comes winding down for you."
Manson was even a journalist (rock) himself for a short time; he simply redirected that energy into his music. "I feel that there's still a strong amount of journalism in what I do, because I'm really just looking at the world and giving people my opinion."
In his opinion, the world sucks. Manson sees a lot of people oppressed: for being young, being different, having sex, liking violent entertainment, liking drugs. Manson enjoys sticking the oppression back up the oppressors' asses, pointing out that the godly folk who want to ban sexual and violent images are always quoting a book that's filled with sex and violence; that they kneel before a symbol as brutal as any; that religion and television, as John Lennon once sang, are dope, too; that repressing outsiders has always been the way powerful people have reinforced their own power.
These aren't original messages. You might even say they're obvious enough to be hardly worth sending. But the fact is, almost nobody, especially (no surprise) in mainstream media, is sending them. So it's interesting to observe not just the knee-jerk anti-Manson vitriol you'd expect from right-wingers, but the sniffy dismissals he's been getting recently from such sources as Spin ("a seventh James Bond movie without any new gadgets") and The New York Times ("stuck, writhing in the amber of his mass-marketed ghastliness"). Quite apart from failing to appreciate the artful balance Manson has struck between his own growth and his audience's expectations, critics often don't look beyond the top layer of shock and blood. If they did, they'd find him harder to dismiss.
For one thing, the shock and blood are damn good; Manson has thought out his image far beyond the level of all previous rock splattermongers, many of whom have sunk to cartoonhood by drawing themselves as one-dimensional ghouls. As Manson told Robert Hilburn in 1998, "Everything I express comes from the same place . . . taking the opposites and putting them together." So he's tagged himself Charles Manson and Marilyn Monroe, and given his band similar names that match mass murderers with female entertainers, while also recognizing murderers' entertainment value and goddess worship's subtextual morbidity. He brings the same approach to critiques of religion, politics, history, marketing, media, parenting, sexuality, love and morality. Frozen in amber though he may be, Manson will not soon run out of material.
HE USED TO CALL HIMSELF THE REVEREND MANSON in his earlier days, when he was more interested than now in emphasizing his honorary ordination by Anton LaVey into the Church of Satan. But he's no soapbox preacher or sloganeer. Or Satanist, really. He's more of a poet.
They slit out throats Like we were flowers And our milk has been Devoured.
--"The Speed of Pain"
Your world is an ashtray We burn and coil, like cigarettes The more you cry your ashes turn to mud. It's the nature of the leeches, the virgin's feeling cheated, you've only spent a second of your life.
--"The Reflecting God"
If you die when there's no one watching Then your ratings drop and you're forgotten But if they kill you on their TV You're a martyr and a lamb of God
--"Lamb of God"
Manson's lyrics personalize his concepts and his emotions, make them resonate. And his music strikes mind, heart and body: Most people who've pegged him solely as a heavy-metal moshmaster have never heard any of it, or were distracted enough by his weird images that it didn't sink in. That's too bad, because Manson's most impressive growth has been as a musician.
And his music has never been bad. Manson first reached a mass audience in 1994 with his major-label debut, Portrait of an American Family, which, though uneven, features great rock songs such as the hooky "Lunchbox" (about one kid's choice of schoolyard weapon) and the horrific "Get Your Gunn" (themed after Dr. David Gunn, the abortionist murdered by a pro-life activist), both of which the band still plays in concert. The next full-length offering, Smells Like Children -- a cut-up of covers ("Sweet Dreams," "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger"), remixes, sound experiments, prank phone calls and other oddities -- is worth hearing at least once while stoned.
Then he broke through. Somehow, after heroic drug abuse, bitter infighting and epic time-wasting in decadent New Orleans, Marilyn Manson barfed up Antichrist Superstar in 1996, and it turned out to be just what grunge-weary American youth had been waiting for. It's harsh. It's hateful. It's energetic. It's loaded with anthems. It's the one fans can't get over, the one they want to hear again and again.
Manson himself, though, when the time came to put the next album together, wanted something new. He was pushing 30. He was growing up, and he felt ready, for the first time since he was a child, to feel. He endured prolonged stretches without drugs. He thought about what it means to be a human being, about the dreadful risk of love, and about the role of a rock star. Changing co-producers from the industrial-minded Trent Reznor to the more laissez-faire pop craftsman Michael Beinhorn, Manson and band made Mechanical Animals, which switched back and forth between full-bore rock ("Rock Is Dead") and exquisite beauty ("The Last Day on Earth"), devoting the maximum of songwriting skills, studio polish and pure passion to both. Released in 1998, Mechanical is one of the greatest albums of its decade. Naturally, fans were puzzled by it and critics weren't ready for it. But Manson had attained full command of his art.
After beginning as a yeller, he's even become an extremely expressive singer. "I absolutely did not deserve to have a record deal, the way that I sounded," he says. But he never sought professional guidance. "It's just practice over the years. I was always afraid to take lessons, because I thought that they would unlearn the rawness, the characteristics that made it likable. I think that I've kind of come into my own."
The year of Columbine saw the release of a live album, The Last Tour on Earth -- a powerful document of a band that walked through fire, as well as an ideal summation of what Manson is about; the curious listener should start here. And into the middle of November's presidential election fell Holy Wood, with Manson himself co-producing along with engineer Dave Sardy, and a new sound-manipulating partner entering the picture in the form of Nitzer Ebb's Bon Harris. While its spiritual theme and its layering of violent musical and political images from around the time of his birth attain the highest level of conceptual complexity yet, it simultaneously reaffirms all Manson's other virtues and completes a trilogy of studio albums that ranks with anybody's best. He's been rewarded by a condemnation from the Catholic League.
Meanwhile, Manson has subjected a bagful of other arts to his full treatment. His stage props, makeup, clothes and lighting are extravagant and artistic. His promo videos, directed with a surrealist fashion-show sense of composition and color by the likes of E. Elias Merhige (Shadow of the Vampire), R&B video director Paul Hunter and veteran D.P. Samuel Bayer, don't look like anything else on MTV; in fact, they're the only thing on the network worth watching. Two tour-documentary videos, Dead to the World and God Is in the TV (the latter also featuring all the Manson promo clips), are twisted, tightly edited and fascinating. Manson has always taken painstaking care with his photo images; Holy Wood, in particular, is an art book as well as a CD, and its photographer, P.R. Brown, will be exhibiting his collaborations with Manson in Hollywood this month. Before we leave the visual realm, it should be noted that Manson draws well and is also a remarkably distinctive painter.
Now to the verbal side. Manson's 1998 autobiography with Neil Strauss, The Long Hard Road out of Hell, is the most self-abasing and funny piece of rock mythology ever written. A Manson-penned novel based on Holy Wood will be published soon. His interviews, which he considers as important as his songs, flesh out his ideas with wit and concision. And his Web site, www.marilynmanson.com, is swollen with regularly updated info, as well as a sampling of choice Manson propaganda: "Is adult entertainment killing our children, or is killing our children entertaining adults?"
This litany of Manson's accomplishments, bludgeoning though it may be, is necessary to put him in historical perspective. And a look through the rock pantheon quickly narrows the field of comparable artists. In terms of their music and their godly stature, Elvis, Lennon, Hendrix and Morrison are in their own categories, largely because they're dead. James Brown is James Brown. Dylan is Dylan. But in terms of scope (the images, the books, the talk, etc.), only two pop stars compare to Manson: Bowie and Madonna; excluding the inconclusive evidence as to whether any of them can act (Manson's working on his own screen career), Manson at least matches up to both, art for art, and often excels. In terms of impact, Bowie's and Madonna's longer runs have established them as can't-fuck-with-'em entertainers. Manson is already that and more.
THE CANTON, OHIO, YOUTH OF MARILYN MANSON -- Brian Warner to his parents -- is often described as normal. It wasn't, unless it's normal to be exposed to your grandfather's bestial pornography, molested by a neighbor kid, smothered by a burglar, devastated by the poisoning of your pet dog and tormented by the potential genetic consequences of your father's Agent Orange contamination. Young Brian's mother doted on the sickly child; his salesman father was chronically absent.
A breeding ground of pop misfits, Ohio is the home of Devo, the Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Chrissie Hynde, payola DJ Alan Freed and, more recently, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Brian was a misfit, too, especially at Heritage Christian School, an institution he attended through 10th grade, where he swallowed frequent doses of hell and the Antichrist. He began having nightmares at an early age, and continues to have them today.
Brian made an early exit from Heritage -- where, his autobiography says, he sold albums by forbidden artists such as Judas Priest at inflated prices; according to a Manson interview in Q magazine, he also stole money from girls' purses during prayer sessions. Finishing his formal education at the public GlenOaks High School, he wasn't popular.
When his father moved the family in 1988 after finding new work in southern Florida, Brian's social situation didn't improve much. He wrote reviews and conducted interviews, including one with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, for a couple of local arts papers. He managed a record store, from which he stole. He hung out in the region's extreme-music scene, wrote poems and turned them into songs. He formed bands, developed his ideas, and started performing as Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids, whose shows featured chicken entrails thrown into the audience and women crucified onstage. In 1990, the group opened for Nine Inch Nails -- an association that would become crucial later, after numerous changes of M.M. personnel, when Reznor signed Manson to his Nothing Records, a subsidiary of Interscope. But long before they were signed, they were magnetic, twice winning awards at south Florida's musical Slammies, for which Manson was also tapped as a presenter. Video footage from the 1993 ceremony shows him casual and polite. When an honoree fails to show up, Manson simply chucks the heavy trophy off the stage. "Excuse me," he inquires of an audience member, "did I hit you?"
Manson's career has always been successful, i.e., turbulent. Retail chains have refused to carry his recordings. Riots have attended tour dates. Church and parent groups have lobbied to prevent his band's concerts in their cities, spreading vast numbers of imaginative lies about child abuse, drug distribution and such in his shows.
As the '90s closed, the heat reached a high boil. A 1999 tour co-billing the Jesus and Mary of rock depravity -- Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love -- was spiced by sniping between the two deities, and ended with Love's band, Hole, huffing off before its slated dates had been completed.
"I knew it was doomed. That's why I scheduled it to begin with, because I just wanted to see her fall apart," Manson chortles evilly. "It was part of my amusement." Manson says Hole wasn't holding up its end in terms of audience response and T-shirt and poster sales. Love claimed Manson's massive staging was sucking up the overhead; according to a Manson press release, she even sued her management for the mental stress she suffered because of the pairing.
In scenes reminiscent of the Stations of the Cross, the tour staggered to hiatus thanks to events near the Ides of March in Southern California. Manson twisted his ankle in Anaheim and was advised by doctors not to perform the next date, at L.A.'s Forum. He went ahead anyway, and it turned out to be Hole's last show, with Love improvising a cover of the Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" by way of farewell. With the curse of Courtney still hanging over the stage, Manson came on strong, but fell on his own Golgotha, the ankle forcing him to stop the show after only a few songs.
"I've played with a broken nose before, with broken bones, bleeding out of all sorts of places on my body," says Manson, explaining that he just can't perform if he can't walk.
The tour was suspended briefly, then resumed. And on April 20 came Columbine. Manson dared to continue wearing a trench coat onstage after the shooting, then canceled the rest of his engagements, fearing that somebody might be hurt amid the media frenzy, and that one somebody might be Marilyn Manson. He says he didn't leave his house for three months.
"I expected to be glared at if I were in the Midwest or something," says Manson, "but I generally felt hated even in Hollywood, where I thought there would be some sort of camaraderie, because everyone was part of the entertainment industry. I don't think people genuinely disliked me as much as they were afraid to be associated with me, because it would jeopardize their jobs. So I had a lot of doors closed in my face, as far as movies and music and things like that. A lot of people were afraid. And now I can have my list of people who didn't stand behind me.
"You know," he says quietly, "I'll remember that."
Never sorry to spend time thinking alone, Manson meditated at the home he'd just bought in Hollywood. "I live in the same house where the Stones wrote Let It Bleed," he says. "It's . . . I don't know if I should say exactly where, but it's in the hills near the big cross that lights up. I almost moved into a house that had that in the back yard, but I thought that would really be a dead giveaway.
"I've never lived in a house before. I grew up in a duplex. I lived in apartments all my life with my parents -- we couldn't afford a house. So I feel fortunate that I've gotten to the point in my life where I can actually have a house, and I don't leave it very much."
During the last half of 1999 and the first half of 2000, while writing and recording Holy Wood, Manson thought a lot about his parents and his upbringing. A Capricorn like David Bowie -- and, according to tradition, at least, like Jesus -- in 1999 he had turned 30, the age when Jesus began his ministry, which would end when the Nazarene was crucified at 33. The year of Manson's birth, 1969, had been the year of Woodstock, of the (Charles) Manson murders, of the Rolling Stones' concert debacle at Altamont and of Let It Bleed's release.
As a devotee of mystical pursuits such as numerology and tarot, on the latter of which the surrealist filmmaker [[Alejandro Jodorowsky[[ has given him some tips, Manson finds such coincidences interesting. He's always looking for patterns in his life.
"I started reading more about symbolism -- Jung and people like that -- and how symbols are all around us, and if you recognize them, you see the path."
To a large extent, Manson's parents have provided a reverse compass: Remaking himself from coddled nerd to self-mutilating superstar, from devil-fearing schoolboy to visionary Antichrist, has been a single-minded project. It must be gratifying to Manson that for several years his financial status has enabled him to support Mom and Dad, the symbols of his youthful bondage. Still, any obsessive opposition implies a strong relationship, even an attraction. Manson's choice of a cover song for the 2000/2001 New Year's Eve broadcast on MTV -- Cheap Trick's "Surrender" -- is interesting. "Mama's all right, Daddy's all right," goes the chorus, "they just seem a little weird."
Two of young Brian Warner's classmates at Heritage Christian School, Jeff Slingluff and Cathi Slingluff (formerly Miller) -- currently residents of Thousand Oaks, where Jeff designs guitar amps -- remember the parents as non-demonic. "They were extremely cool," says Jeff, relating how they drove Brian, another friend and himself to a concert by Rush (then a fave of Brian's) when they were about 13, and even waited for them in an adjacent bar till the show was over.
Manson's last two long-term relationships, with his Florida girlfriend Missi and with actress Rose McGowan, have been with women whose round, pretty faces look a good deal like old photos of his mother. And considering how little time young Brian spent with his father, the influence of Hugh Warner is substantial.
Dad is a retired salesman -- of furniture, among other things. "He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in a white dress," says Manson. "I think I got a lot from him. I think I inherited his drive, his motivation, and his . . . I won't say dishonesty, but the nature to try and pull one over on someone all the time." Entertainment, he says, has a lot to do with persuasion. And maybe there's some competition there, as well.
In the unauthorized Marilyn Manson biovideo Demystifying the Devil, ex-girlfriend Missi describes Hugh, who enjoys his reputation as the father of the God of Fuck (a term Marilyn borrowed from Charles Manson), as "always trying to be weirder than his son." There's a nice scene in Manson's own docu-video God Is in the TV in which Hugh seizes a pet dog and begins manipulating its penis. From off-camera, you can hear Manson's ostensibly embarrassed voice pleading, "Hey, stop playing with his pecker." But Demystifying features older footage of Manson himself engaging in very similar doggie porn. So which came first?
Manson's art has always shown a special connection with youth -- consider song titles like "The Hands of Small Children," "Kiddie Grinder" and "Sweet Tooth." David Lynch, whom Manson has called his favorite filmmaker and to whose hallucinatory Lost Highway the Antichrist contributed music and a bit part, says Manson and Twiggy, invited to his workplace, got along great with his kids.
"And that says something about them right there," says Lynch. "An excellent houseguest, Marilyn is. And completely professional, just fantastic, to work with. Y'know, he's an artist, and he's, I think, a very gifted modern musician." Lynch also describes Manson as "a regular guy."
"That," cracks Mary Sweeney, Lynch's film producer and editor and the mother of one of his sons, "is the pot calling the kettle black." She kiddingly refers to Manson as "Uncle Marilyn."
Manson even writes songs like a child. "If you operate under controlled chaos, it puts you back in a very primitive, childish state of mind," he says. "Because when you're a kid, you don't really think about the rules. And that's how I play as a musician. 'Cause I'm not schooled, and I couldn't even name the notes on a piano, but I can play melodies and I can write things. But I do it like a kid, and I find that that is something that keeps me going, and it's also artistically something that just keeps your imagination open. You're not limited. You just do it, and sometimes you come up with your best things."
One nakedly emotional passage in The Long Hard Road out of Hell describes the day, well into the second trimester, when the abortionist's forceps terminated the gestation of a child Manson and Missi might have had. Would the Antichrist ever want offspring?
"I always feel like I have a whole room full of 'em every night." That's Manson's stock answer, and partly true. Then he amplifies. "But a part of me really does. I'd like to think I'd merged with someone and kind of passed on immortality in a way. But I think that could be greedy, and I think it could be selfish."
MANSON IS OFTEN CANDID. AND HE OFTEN MAKES things up, because one of his most important jobs is that of mythmaker. It's hard to tell what's "true." Classmates Jeff and Cathi Slingluff, for instance, don't remember anything about his stealing or selling contraband records. When confronted with facts contradicting his statements, he's been known to say, "I like the way I remember it better."
"He was very sweet and real quiet," says Cathi. "But I think everybody thought he was kinda weird."
"He was a very, very, very smart guy," says Jeff. "Very funny. He's the kind of guy that could be standing right beside somebody and be making faces at what they're saying, without them realizing it. Not really a troublemaker, pretty much a good kid."
Jeff does remember Brian trying to get reactions out of people -- by saying he'd stuck a Q-Tip up his cat's butt, for example. And he was obsessed with MTV. But Jeff thinks Brian got a lot from Heritage Christian School, and not at all what was intended.
"The school was a little bit nuts about music," says Jeff. "Brian and I were in wood shop together, and they wouldn't let me make a guitar, because they thought I might play rock music on it. Every week we had a chapel class, and it was, 'Burn your records. If you don't get away from your evil rock music, you're gonna burn in hell.' We'd take a month and study all the different types of rock beats and how they relate to African drumbeats that bring up rages and desires of killing and stuff like that. And sometimes I wonder if he just sat there and went, 'Whoa, that was a hot button, remember that one.' Because it would be the perfect learning ground to create the character that he is."
True/false, creator/product, genius/idiot. Flip a coin. Much of what's been reported about Manson here and elsewhere is . . . negotiable. His persona and music have a cut-and-paste quality to them. He's said that nothing new can be done in rock music. But the art form remains stocked with an arsenal of effective tools, from which Manson draws at will. He's copped to the visual and musical influence of Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses and others -- and he might as well; there'd be no point in denying it. From song to song, you can also hear snips of melodies directly pillaged from Black Sabbath, or the Beatles, or KMFDM, or Radiohead, or even War and the Eagles.
Not a problem. Marilyn Manson isn't one to flinch at being called a liar and a thief. Again, it's part of his job: agitator, trickster, destabilizer. No mythic figure should ever be too specifically defined, too clearly original. Some critics question whether Jesus ever existed, much less whether he was born of a virgin, and the confusion only makes the myth more durable. Manson's ambitions are on that scale.
And it's not just a power trip. Manson wants to change things for the better. "Everything that I say and I do is sincere as I can possibly be, and comes from whatever cold, hard rock of a heart that I have in my chest," he's told Metal Edge, and if you look at his work, this statement rings true.
But how much time does he have left to change the world? Will he be another Lennon? Sometimes it seems he hopes so. Will his body hold out? He has talked about being repeatedly hospitalized for the erratic, rapid heartbeat associated with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. He has also said he's no longer afraid to die.
Meanwhile, he has plans.
"I'm just trying to keep my mind open," says Manson. "I don't ever try and paint myself in a corner. I feel like if you're open to new ideas, that puts you in a position for rebirth, resurrecting. That's what keeps you moving."
Onward, to Calvary.
Marilyn Manson plays a sold-out show at the Universal Amphitheater Saturday, January 13. The photo exhibit "Holy Wood: Artwork From the Shadow of the Valley of Death," by Marilyn Manson and P.R. Brown, runs from January 18 to February 15 at The . . . Gallery, 1628 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood.