Marilyn Manson Has a Secret
It's not the animal carcasses, the satanism, or the self-mutiliation. The most shocking thing about the world's most premier ghoul-rocker: his Republican tendencies. By Tucker Carlson
When he's not touring or recording a new album, Marilyn Manson, America's most self-consciously offensive rock star, likes to watch The O'Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel. Manson doesn't always agree with Bill O'Reilly, the show's conservative host. But he sometimes does. And he always finds O'Reilly entertaining to watch. "I like him for that," Manson says.
Other times, Manson tunes in to talk shows, Maury Povich or Jerry Springer. Manson watches these with horrified fascination. "I'm amazed to see how backward humans have gone on the evolutionary chart," he says. It has become something of a "hobby," Manson says, "to figure out what the people are saying. It's gotten to the point where whites and blacks on shows like that have adopted some new language that I am not privy to. Because I cannot understand a word anyone is saying. They're screaming."
What they're screaming doesn't make sense, at least not to Manson. "I don't know if you could define it as a white or black accent. It just sounds like a less intelligible accent. It's really hard to understand what people are saying, between the beeps and the shrieking and the shoe throwing."
It can be amusing. But it also, Manson explains, can be profoundly annoying. "One thing that offends me is bad grammar. That makes me more pissed than anything in the world, as someone who respects the educational system or someone who just respects the way things are intended to be in America. We have the ability. There's no reason that people can't simply use decent grammar."
And not just decent grammar but clean language. Marilyn Manson doesn't like excessive swearing. "I don't generally use profanity just for the sake of it," he replies, when asked to name something that is repugnant to him. "If I do it, I'm generally being sardonic, or it's the legitimate or only way to express an angry thought. If you use too much of anything, it becomes watered down. If every other word is 'fuck,' then what's the barometer of fuckness? It's like, if everyone was cool, what would the point of cool be?"
Manson spends a lot of time thinking about things like this and about popular culture in general. He is not impressed by what he sees. Take rap music, for instance. "The larger portion of it," Manson says, "is not technically music." Music "is defined by a melody and by lyrics." Most contemporary rap, by contrast, is "base, simple, lowest-common-denominator" noise that consists of "people spending three and a half minutes bragging about how much money they don't really have, and about how many cars they don't really have the money to buy, and about how many 'bitches' and 'hos' they've been slapping around, to a drum-machine beat. It's not really advancing any sort of art form."
In fact, it's even worse than that. Vulgar, mindless entertainment, Manson has concluded, is not merely aesthetically unpleasant, it is harmful to the national IQ. "The more bad movies, bad TV shows, and bad music I hear," he says, "the dumber I think it's making America."
Marilyn Manson is explaining all this as he sits in his manager's office, a darkened room on the second floor of an unmarked building in West Hollywood. Manson is wearing thick black sunglasses and high-heeled boots. His skin is chalky white, almost cadaverous. His arms are covered with sleeves of grotesquely morbid tattoos-cobwebs and grinning devils. He sits almost perfectly still as he speaks, with his hands in his lap. He looks like a ghoul. He sounds like Bill Bennet.
He is a bit of both. In his professional life, Manson sings songs about death and hatred and alienation. Yet despite his day job, Manson lives a remarkably sedate, even bourgeois existence. He rarely goes to parties or out to dinner. He shares a home in the Hollywood Hills with his fiancee Rose McGowan and two Boston terriers. He likes animals. He spends a lot of time working. He doesn't smoke. He has never tried heroin. He can't drive a stick shift. He is notably soft-spoken, with near perfect diction. He pronounces "either" with an "eye." He is very close to his parents, who live nearby and often come to his shows. "I talked to my mother today, in fact," he says with no apparent embarrassment. "They're very proud that I'm doing something that I enjoy. My mom was always a big Elvis fan, so it works out. I'm kind of her version of Elvis."
It is admittedly an unorthodox version. This is the one that cuts himself with broken bottles, dresses in women's clothing, and has given another man a blow job onstage. The version that releases albums called Antichrist Superstar and Smells Like Children, who records songs with titles like "Cake & Sodomy," "Fundamentally Loathsome," and "May Cause Discoloration of the Urine or Feces." This is the version of Elvis with a deep interest in Satan.
But this is also the version of Elvis---the Elvis-like version of Elvis---with a gutlevel respect for law and order, Republican leanings and a belief that, as Manson himself puts it, "people should be responsible for their own actions."
This version happened to be watching television last summer when the L.A. Lakers won the NBA championship. Outside the civic center in downtown Los Angeles, a crowd of fans started a small riot. "I watched these people setting a police car on fire, and no one was doing anything about it," Manson says. During the televised commentary that followed, "a lot of people were discussing the event and saying it was a symptom of, or a reaction to, poverty. I watched it, and every single person that I saw smashing that car or lighting it on fire was wearing a very expensive L.A. Lakers jersey. I don't think it was a poverty issue. I think it was a mob mentality." Manson says he was "offended" by the whole thing.
Offended is a curious reaction for Marilyn Manson. Manson is a man who has spent a lot of his life thinking up new ways to offend other people. He is a connoisseur of offensiveness. In public he takes pains to look as repulsive as possible. On tour he behaves like an animal. By his own cheerful admission he has urinated on groupies, snorted cocaine off toilet seats, and spit on strangers. He drinks absinthe. During a concert in Salt Lake City, he shredded a copy of the Book of Mormon. While living in Florida in the early 1990's, Manson made a Christmastime habit of lifting baby Jesuses from nativity scenes and replacing them with rotting ham. In one memorable scene from his autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (written with New York Times reporter Neil Strauss) Manson steals human bones from a New Orleasn graveyard. Back in Los Angeles, at a party in a Sunset Boulevard hotel room, he chips off bits of a rib, drops them in a pip, and smokes them.
Manson delights in his own creepiness. For his upcoming tour to promote Holy Wood, his new album, Manson has paid a designer to make a set of clothes from "dead animals---and not in the traditional leater-shoe, fur-coat sense." Manson's outfit will include shirts fashioned from skinned goats' heads, with horse-tail epaulets and various other flourishes that incorporate "rabbit carcasses and ostrich spines."
Teenage boys love this sort of thing, and Manson works hard to titillate his fans. But it's not all for effect. His latest acquisitions, he says, is the disassembled skeleton of a seven-year-old Asian boy. "I might make it into a chandelier." Manson also collects prosthetic limbs. "I have just scores of legs and arms of all sorts, the most interesting one being a small one from a one- or two-year-old child." But his favorite limb comes from and adult. "A guy came up to me after a show and he had a prosthetic leg and hip. He took it off and gave it to me and walked away on crutches. He said, 'I want you to have this.' Which was really moving."
You get the sense that the hardest part about being Marilyn Manson, apart from having to accept fake legs from fans, is coming up with new ways to shock and appall. It may sound like a simple job, smashing taboos for a living. But at a certain point you must begin to wonder, How many taboos are ther to smash If you're already a rock star who wears sunglasses indoors, how many truly transgressive things are left for you to do?
If you live in Hollywood, you might start by assaulting the conventional pieties about race and gender. This seems to be Manson's next project. Beating up on Jerry Falwell is yesterday's rebellion. Everyone does that. Questoning identity politics, on the other hand---that's edgy. Manson does it with relish but not for the usual reasons. He is bright but he is not an ideologue, and he does not think deeply about politics. Manson makes culturally conservative noises, because in his environment at the moment this is a genuinely contercultural thing to do. It irritates the majority. Manson's first instinct is to raise the middle finger.
"There began a new area of political correctness with Hillary and Bill," Manson says, meaning the Clintons. "When you start encouraging people to protest or complain about superfluous things, it begins to be annoying to me and it begins to be damaging to people's creativity and behavior." In particular Manson blames "white liberals, who in ther platform are trying to pander to a black vote." Their pandering, he says, creates racial tension. "You've got white people being mad at black people not because of what the black people did but because of the white liberals creating some sort of agenda."
The results, Manson says, are poisonous. "Say, for example, I got into a car accident, and the person I got into the car accident with was non-Caucasian---whether he as Asian, black or Mexican---and it was my fault. It could be considered a hate crime. It's gotten to that. In Canada, I think, if you make a joke about someone's weight, sex, or race, it's a hate crime. We're not that far off in America, and it's starting to infringe on the right to free speech."
Manson believes the country already has become a whinier place. "Every day I see a new thing. You've got these people complaining about gays in the Boys Scouts. You've got people complaining about not enough black television programs. You've got people complaining about not enough women priests. I'm thinking about complaining about not being able to be a Girl Scout. It's crazy. I believe strongly, more than anybody, of course, in civil rights, because that's part of my stance. But I think in the Clinton years the door got opened a little too far, and a lot of nonsense has been let in. People will stir up shit just for the sake of stirring it up. Eventually everybody's going to be complaining about something.'
From time to time Manson complains too---mostly about his childhood. He grew up in Canton, Ohio, as Brian Warner. He went to Christian school. His father managed a Carpet Barn. With some exceptions (his grandfather was a part-time transvestite who collected bestiality porn) Manson's family was relatevely normal. But Manson was an awkward child with unusually long earlobes and few friends. He listened to Kiss. He read science fiction and wrote dark poetry. He played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. He felt, he says now, "disenfranchised." "There is no support group" for kids like this, Manson says. "There is no one marching in front of the Democratic convention saying, 'What about the outcast, pimply-faced white teenager who gets beat up in school every day?' That's what I was. There was no one there to stick up for me."
Manson sees himself as the defender he never had, as an advocate for teenage misfits everywhere. Holy Wood and the novel of the same name Manson soon will release both raise the question of adolescent violence. Manson, in his music and in his fiction, puts the blame squarely on uncaring adults. "Teenagers aren't considered human beings in some ways," he says, a bit melodramatically but with total seriousness. "Until you turn 18, you don't really have any rights, so in a sense you don't really have a soul. You're not really a real person. I think that's how a lot of teenagers feel in America."
It is obviously how Manson felt. The experience of being a teen dork turned him into a self-described "across-the-board misanthrope," as well as an "elitist." It has made it diffficult for him to identify with groups, much less with any single political movement or party. "I don't want to give the impression that I dislike one group more than the others," he often says. "I dislike them all equally."
Perhaps not entirely equally. Manson can't stand Clinton or Al Gore, and he loathes Joe Lieberman, who was one of many politicians to suggest that Manson's music was responsible for the shootings at Columbine. (Manson's book jacket carries a quote from Lieberman calling Manson's band "perhaps the sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company.")
On the other hand, Manson likes John McCain, whom he considers "open-minded." George W. Bush seems like a fine guy too, "If I had to pick, I'd pick Bush, and not necessarily by default," he says. "I know I don't support what the other team is about."
Marilyn Manson has always lived on the fringes. Now he's getting truly radical.