Guns, God and Government: Interview with Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson speaks about his sensitive side, today's youth, and the new album he's on tour for, Holy Wood.
By A.R. Goldyn on June 19, 2001
To most, Marilyn Manson is merely an outspoken, vulgar shock rocker full of rage, and he has become the favorite scapegoat for right-wing activists, an adversary to parents and a voice for many a rebellious teen.
Beneath the heavy makeup, raucous antics and riotous stage persona, though, Manson is human -- and surprisingly quiet, calm and gracious offstage.
"I've always been very sensitive, and I think that, to me, would be obvious to people," Manson said, "but I guess they missed that. If you're going to have an extreme emotion like anger in a song, or extreme sadness, then it means you also have to have all of the other emotions. ... But I'm sort of overly sensitive, and I think a lot of times people will talk about me like I'm not a person or criticize things that I do or criticize the way I look or just any of those things. It still affects me like it would anybody else."
In the Beginning ...
Before he became an enigmatic mega rock star, Marilyn Manson was Brian Warner, a quiet boy from Canton, Ohio, who attended Christian school and whose family was not dysfunctional. After high school, Warner moved to Florida and began working as a music journalist in Tampa. He developed definite opinions about what the Tampa Bay area's music scene lacked, and soon after meeting a likeminded musical bunch, Warner transformed himself into Marilyn Manson -- a paradoxical moniker conceived from the names of two of the most famous people of the 1950s and 60s: sex kitten Marilyn Monroe and mass murderer Charles Manson.
The other band members adopted similar names -- such as Gidget Gein and Olivia Newton Bundy -- and became Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids. The band flourished in the south Florida music scene and earned several South Florida Slammie Award nominations.
In 1993, the band shortened its name to Marilyn Manson, but its fans still knew it. That summer, Marilyn Manson won the coveted Band of the Year Slammie. During the same year, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails noticed Marilyn Manson and signed the group to his new Nothing Records label. Since then, Manson, the man, has remained rooted in the spotlight, and love him or loathe him, everyone knows of him.
Marilyn Manson + the Heartland = Opposition
When Manson visits heartland America, Manson he expects opposition. After all, only weeks ago, religious protestors in Denver rallied against the band's Ozzfest performance scheduled for late June.
Manson said he had assumed that people no longer blame entertainment for violence in society. Such is not the case, though, which is fine with him; his job remains to say what is on his mind and to support others who do the same.
"I'm not on a crusade for free speech," Manson said, "but at the same time, I like the fact that America is supposed to stand for being yourself and being creative, and I grew up enjoying art and being inspired by all the people that were silenced in their time."
On May 10, Manson reacted to the Denver protest by posting a statement on his official Web site: " ... In response to their protests," Manson wrote, "I will provide a show where I balance my songs with a wholesome Bible reading. This way, fans will not only hear my so-called 'violent' point of view, but we can examine the virtues of wonderful 'Christian' stories of disease, murder, adultery, suicide and child sacrifice. Now that seems like 'entertainment' to me."
Manson said he understands his role in the cycle and does not take criticism personally, although it was frustrating for him during the band's early years. Now, he said, he knows his place in the world and is unfazed by opposition.
From Tragedy Grows Art
In the wake of Columbine, for which many blamed his music, Manson responded by secluding himself inside his home -- Harry Houdini's former house and the site where the Rolling Stones recorded their 1969 release, Let It Bleed -- where he studied ancient philosophies and wrote his latest album, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). Holy Wood strays from both the death-metal edge that rails through the band's 1996 Antichrist Superstar and the glam rock of 1998's Mechanical Animals. On Holy Wood, Manson's songwriting skills are honed, the music is a melodious mix of rock, industrial and goth, and Manson reveals another side of his multifaceted self.
"I think over the years I've learned a lot about the way that you write," Manson said, "the way certain things you can do in a song create certain reactions to the listener. And I've just tried to experiment with that in a lot of different ways over the years -- whether it be a sound that maybe makes someone feel a certain way or a certain sequence of words or being heavy or being quiet, and just learning about dynamics."
As heavy music became the trend during recent years, Manson took his music in the opposite direction, which spawned Mechanical Animals. On Holy Wood, though, Manson said, he needed to express himself with a bit of brutality.
"Whenever I used volume or heavy guitars, it was used for a reason, and I think that's going a little bit further than most of my contemporaries do nowadays. I think it's too simple to turn up your guitar really loud; I wanted to make sure there was a reason for it, so the record has a lot of ups and downs on it. ... I think that Holy Wood is a record that came out in a time when it would be hard to attach to for a lot of reasons because it has more layers than most music that's out right now. I think it's something that will continue to grow on people, much like Antichrist Superstar."
Antichrist Superstar was not the overnight success that many assume it was. The band toured for two years to sell 3 million copies, and Manson said the band members are devoting the same hard work to Holy Wood.
Holy Wood is the final member of the trilogy that began with Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals. Although his original idea was to tell a story through music about fictional characters, Manson discovered that he was actually telling his own story.
"When I wrote Antichrist Superstar, it came from some dreams that I had of where I might be in the future, and it was a sort of, obviously, grandiose vision of my world to come," Manson said. "As a person, I felt the need to live that out. So I started down a path of self-destruction, trial by fire, seeing if I could put myself through any test to become a stronger person. And luckily, I feel like I made it out alive from that."
Mechanical Animals succeeded Antichrist Superstar, and Manson said it explores coping with newfound strength and feeling emotions long suppressed.
Holy Wood, the story's beginning, was Manson's way of relating to his fans, revealing the feelings he had growing up "and wanting to fit into a world that didn't want me, and fighting really hard to get there." The album's deepest elements, he said, are idealism and the desire to start a revolution.
"If you begin with Holy Wood, the Mechanical Animals really talks about how that revolution gets taken away from you and turned into a product, and then Antichrist Superstar is where you're given a choice to decide if you're going to be controlled by the power that you created or if you want to destroy yourself and then start over. It just becomes a cycle."
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Intellectualism
An autodidact, Manson avidly pursues intellectual interests, which influence his music. Religion is one of his pursuits, he said. Although he attended Christian schools growing up, Manson became dissatisfied with the tenets of Christianity. He has openly sought alternative religions and spirituality, and his search brought vicious rumors and criticism from religious zealots -- such as accusations that he is a Satanist, which emerged after he met Church of Satan founder Anton Szandor LaVey. If anything, Manson is still searching for religion and understanding of his own mortality.
"I think to look like a good guy, you have to point out who the bad guy is," he said, "and I'm easily identified as that role because I have asserted myself in the position of a villain ... [Art is] also how the world reacts to it, and I have to step back and look at the whole thing. I create, like, a tornado, and everything around it is affected by it. So dealing with obstacles is part of my art form, in a sense."
Surprising to many is that Manson is articulate, thoughtful and intelligent. His intellectual pursuits enable him to analyze today's society and criticize what he perceives as disturbing.
"I was genuinely offended by 'Jerry Springer' the other day," Manson said. "I haven't watched it in a couple years, and I was surprised at the level of depravity it's gone to. It's almost like the gladiators now; we've become such voyeurs.
"But that's not the element that offended me," he continued. "I was more offended by the fact that something like that exists on regular television during the day. I'm offended that something like that can exist on television and people get mad at what I do. There's no perspective -- that's probably the thing that bothers me the most."
As indicated on Holy Wood's first single, "Disposable Teens," Manson is concerned about today's youths, their rights, and how they are treated.
"I think that when you're trying to find out why kids act up and do violent things, it's most likely because no one's listening and they have something they want to say. I think that's what music really does for people. As a kid, I not only listened to music, I think music kind of listened to me because it's a world where you can go and there's no judgments on you. It's kind of liberating that way. So when they blame music, that's offensive to me -- not personally that they're blaming me, but just as someone who likes music."
Manson's bandmates -- Twiggy Ramirez, Madonna Wayne Gacy, Ginger Fish and John5 -- also deserve credit for their work. The talented musicians remain in Manson's shadow, a position they accept, Manson said. They understand that Manson is the outspoken one who meets criticism, and Manson said, "I think they're glad that they don't have to hang by that as well." In the end, though, the five are a band, and Manson intends to keep it that way.
Nevertheless, Manson is the leader.
"I'm kind of a director. I would probably be suited best at directing movies because I really know how to make people do things ..." he paused before laughing, "And sometimes they're bad things."
Currently, Manson is writing music and creating sounds and soundscapes for the upcoming film From Hell, a movie about Jack the Ripper, featuring Johnny Depp.
Marilyn Manson, the band, is working on new material that Manson said will reveal new aspects of himself. So far, he is pleased with the album's development.
"The new stuff that we've just kind of started working on is, lyrically, probably headed more in the direction of more personal things than I've ever written about before," Manson said. "I usually talk about my relationship to the rest of the world or my thoughts on the rest of the world, but I think this one's going to be more about the things that I do that people don't know about, which may contain -- " Manson paused briefly for dramatic effect. Even over 3,000-plus miles of telephone wires, his satisfaction became clear as he announced how he will shock us next: "I think it will be a very sex-oriented record."