The Death Parade
Marilyn Manson is forever blurring the lines around his public persona and perpetually re-inventing himself, while simultaneously reminding us of what got him here - into our faces - in the first place. Having more than made his point as a shock-rock ringmaster, tabloid headline-grabber and thorn in the side of conservative America, he branched out into modest acting roles, movie soundtrack contributions and the scoring of films. And then, as if things were ever in danger of getting too predictable, The Dark One threw another curve-ball last month with his debut art exhibition of softly disturbing watercolours, over two night in the heart of Hollywood. But in the midst all this shape-shifting confusion, Manson brings us a refresher course in what he's still best known for - and arguably what he does best - with the release later this month of his Guns, God and Government DVD/video documenting the 2000/2001 tour of the same name, and 30 minutes of bonus behind-the-scenes footage (on the DVD only), directed by Manson himself, titled Death Parade.
Chatty and Eloquent-as-ever Manson, taking a break from mixing his still-in-the-works Golden Age of Grotesque album, explains why he chose to release a concert DVD now. In his live show, which allows Manson to flex both his audio and visual muscles, the logical and all-embracing pinnacle of the man's artistic expression?
„I started out with the belief that image, performance, songwriting and message were all on an even playing field - as well as people's reaction and interpretation of what I do. I consider the audience in some way as part of the art. A nd I guess the most powerful element is often the live performance, because it combines everything and is very physical - I have the scars, both physical and mental, to show for it." (Death Parade vividly illustrates Manson's wounds - literal and metaphorical - through expletive-laced backstage tantrums and dressing room first-aid footage).
The Guns, God and Government DVD encompasses performance footage from all over the world and boasts state-of-the-art production values and crystalline 5.1 sound quality.
„Making the DVD was a lot more entertaining than I'd expected, because in the past we were limited to releasing something through our record company and there was an extreme amount of censorship. As for putting the viewer in the 'next best thing' to being at the concert, nothing's going to replace actually being there, but I can get as close as possible and make it just as interesting in it's own way. A lot of people think it has to be beginning of concert, and of concert, with no confusing experimentation, but I didn't care if it went from Moscow to LA in two measures of a song - I just wanted to show everything that I got to see."
For those who witnessed the shows on that five-month tour, Guns, God and Government will be a haunting reminder of the spectacle, in a lot more detail than most arena seats can offer and with a sound quality no PA system will come close to. For viewers who've never been part of a Marilyn Manson show, the shameless ambition of the production (Manson arrives on stage in a chariot drawn by to Roman-esque slaves, performs on stilts, dons a Pope style outfit and displays a huge backdrop of a crucified baby) and the raw vitriol of the delivery will be a shock to the system.
The Death Parade backstage footage, some of which was shot on Manson's own camera, is like a hundred other candid rock videos, yet he's confident that his band's touring culture is uniquely intense. „I wanted to make it as a short film, something you could watch over and over. It's got funny parts, scary parts, X-rated parts - things that I've never been allowed to show before! This is a real good look into what it's like to be involved in this mess that we've focused into an organized, chaotic tornado!" Death Parade captures the now passé shots of titty-bearing, frenzied fan behavior, hand-held on the road mayhem, and bootleg concert shots, tinted and tainted with the darkly dangerous sense of sexual adventure and taboo flirtation which has always been part of Manson's god-like, morbidly mystical aura. It's a film of extremes of human behavior, good and bad, grotesque and gorgeous, as manifest in the bizarre traveling circus which is a major rock 'n' roll tour. Cameo appearances from Eminem, Ozzy and Slipknot add to the color and the chaos of this fast-moving short, amidst repeated scenes of a highly-strung Manson often berating those around him.
„Hopefully the DVD will make people feel like they can laugh at me when I'm getting pissed-off, just like I can" chuckles Manson. „I want to show people that what I do is serious, but I don't take myself so seriously that I can't laugh! I have a good sense of humor and people don't get to see that a lot." „I scored the Death Parade like it was a short film" he recalls „I did things that were so unconventional that the people in the studio were like 'You can't put that there!' and I was like 'I don't care!' I've been experimenting with extremely low and extremely high frequencies and how they affect your mind and body. I actually played Death Parade for my webmaster and his wife, and she has some form of epilepsy. It started to make her have a seizure and I had to turn it off! It was interesting - I felt bad, but it was exciting to know that I'd made something that powerful!"
Ironically, Guns, God and Government comes hot on the heals of Manson's latest exercise in public perception distortion - his Golden Age of Grotesque art exhibition over two days last month which, as Manson explains, was a natural, organic development for him as a creative being:
„As a kid, I always used to draw - I wanted to be an artist. But I happened to find satisfaction in singing, and for a while I forgot about painting and drawing, though I always continued to use that part of me in my image, my make-up, video, art direction and photography. Painting was something I started doing again during Mechanical Animals to just get away from things, to find a place where I was able to express the things that I wasn't really able to do within the confines of music. Because the good thing about painting for me is that there's no-one else involved - there's no-one else in the room, it's silent, it's me, the paper, the brush, the paint and whatever's coming out of my head. And there were no demands - I didn't have to create something catchy that the radio was going to play or would live up to the expectations of my previous albums or please people who like me for a certain reason, I appreciate my fans and I try to give them what they like - and what I want them to grow with me too, so I hope they're open-minded, but at the same time I'm not going to be self-indulgent and do something that's going to forsake their trust and the faith they've put in the band. But with painting, all of that stuff's gone - this is just for me. I did it because I like it." „And so I was starting to build up quite a collection of paintings, I would give them as gifts to friends - that's why a lot of my work is portraits - and people kept saying 'hey, you should show people', so I put it on the website an interest developed. After we finished the last tour I started to develop this plan, this excitement, aesthetic and attitude. The Golden Age of Grotesque was not about making a record, it wasn't about having an art show, it was about creating a golden age…of grotesque - about bringing back the desire, the need, the demand, the excitement of entertainment, of art, of fashion, of attitude. I thought we were getting to a point where TRL (MTV teen music show) had created a destructive musical environment where bands are censoring themselves so they can get played on it - they're making safer songs to succeed! I don't want to produce anything safe! So the art show was one step towards my new attitude - which was really my attitude from the beginning, but now is much more focused - to not create walls between music, painting and performance."
Manson is confident that his increasingly multifaceted expression marks a high-point in his career to date: „Having the experience of doing this for as long as I have, I'm able to say 'Fuck this, I'm going to do whatever I want' - and in a way that looks and sounds better than anyone else! So it's not contrived, it just is what it is, it works, it's my time - if I've had a peak or not had a peak, or was on top of my game or off my game, whatever analogy you make it doesn't matter anymore, 'cos all bets are off! Now is my time and The Golden Age of Grotesque is all of it. And the things that I've got coming in store are things that I don't even believe that I'm going to pull-off!"
Manson's exhibition was attended by a who's who of Hollywood luminaries and the paparazzi were out in force, suggesting that Marilyn Manson - like his good buddy Ozzy - might be making the shift from being a cutting-edge rock 'n' roll singer and icon to the disenfranchised, to becoming a broadly accepted media figure. It's almost as if Manson is developing his own cult of personality where he's famous not just for one facet of his work or another, but simply for being Manson, for being him:
„It's really about entertainment," expands the double-M, „and me not being ashamed to say 'I'm an entertainer'. That doesn't mean it's all fake, it doesn't mean it's an act. I'm an actor - I don't know what's real and what's not real and I don't care - it's just Marilyn Manson. I have always felt that way and maybe I didn"t do a good enough job to get people to that point, and maybe now I am - or maybe the world wasn't ready for it."
And, despite enjoying the embrace of mainstream Hollywood at his exhibition, Manson still regards himself as an outsider.
„I'm not like other people, and I don't want to be like other bands. I don't consider myself a musician as much as just a dandy in the Oscar Wilde sense - as someone who is always putting on a show, and not for anyone but themselves. I'm sure that some mainstream people find me an oddity. I understand that some people might like my paintings as an investment 'cos they consider me to be so dangerous that the value may go up, because I may die at any time."
And, while Manson is perpetually putting himself in the public eye, he claims to be partially oblivious to his own infamy: „I forget that people know who I am and I don't go out enough to really be a part of the whole celebrity phenomenon that goes on here [in Hollywood] - the starfucking nonsense. I work way to much to have time for that stuff! I don't function in regular society in a way that most people would assume, and that's the bottom line for why I create anything that I do - that's my way to communicate."
Central to Manson's Golden Age of Grotesque vision is the long-anticipated album of that name, which seems set to usher in a whole new musical chapter for MM [he had just finished mixing the first track when we spoke]. Gone is long-time collaborator Twiggy Ramirez and in has come new right-hand man Tim Skold [of KMFDM], who initially teamed-up with MM to create the Resident Evil movie score. Manson is embracing more electronica than ever (though the disc's still heavy on guitars) and lyrically exploring comparisons between modern society (particularly his native LA) and the decadence of 1930s Berlin, while redefining himself as an art-school dandy of that period. He shows not a flicker of panic regarding the disc's somewhat sluggish progress to date:
„This album started out as something that I figured would be done quite quickly because of the level of excitement and inspiration. However, the level of excitement and inspiration made me not want to waste time or be self-indulgent, but to perfect it in a way that it would deliver as much as I promised it would. The album was not difficult to create, but I wanted to make sure it had everything it needed and didn't want to rush anything. So I didn't expect to be just now finishing the first mix, but I think that it's a good thing because everyone is going to be genuinely amazed - and I say that without any sense of ego, I say that with pure common sense and objectivity. This record does everything I've ever wanted to do with any element of art. I find it to be my greatest achievement and the greatest achievement of the band as a whole."
Clearly, Manson's parting of the ways with Twiggy Ramirez earlier this year still weighs heavily upon him, but he doesn't closed the door on the possibility of their re-connecting in the future: „Twiggy leaving the band was the toughest decision I had to make, because we were such great friends. But he wouldn't have been happy and I wouldn't have been happy because I needed more from him and he wanted something probably different. Maybe someday things will come around again and we'll be able to be the same, because there's a great part of me that misses him as a friend. The band will not be the same - and it's not meant to be. I don't want it to be the same! This is a new, stronger and more confident unit. It's not one of those cases like Guns N' Roses where they replace people it's not the same. Marilyn Manson has always been about his energy and connection. But that's not to say that anybody in the band has been replaceable or interchangeable."
But hasn't Tim Skold replaced Twiggy in Manson's creative universe, assuming the role of chief collaborator?
„No, I don't think he's taken Twiggy's place. I think that there was a new setting creatively and, as far as being a collaborator, Tim reminded me of what got me to where I am. It's weird, our collaboration, 'cos the things I've done without him and the things he's done without me are completely in like the things we've done together. People will be very happy with what this is as long as they don't expect it to be a replacement of some sort. This is a new thing - not a different version of the old thing. It's a new thing that makes you not care that there was an old thing! It's evolution!"
Manson's fully aware of how he got to - or returned to - his current creative nirvana. Part of the man's strength as a communicator in his sense of how his life relates to - or perhaps is - his art.
„I'm glad my life is where it is. I've gone through a lot of stages: as a kid I felt like there were a lot of people who beat me down. When I got older and got involved in the music industry there were a lot of people who wanted to hold me head under the water. I feel like I rew out of all that. I proved myself, I earned my marks. And then I got into a relationship at a point in my career where I was really trying to go where I am now, but I found myself once again in a situation where I started hating myself because people would make me feel like I wasn't a good person or I wasn't good enougj at what I do. Combine that with the world judging me and blaming me for Columbine and I think I got dangerously close to the point where I didn't want to do this. And, as music and art for me go hand-in-hand with life, I probably came close to a point where I would have been another page in the history book - not the one that I'm going to be! Then things turned a corner and everything started to come back - the dreams, the delusional self syndrome that I found myself enveloped in in the past came back. But now everything's just rolling along and it's exciting, 'cos I don't know what's going to happen next. But whatever it is that I came close to losing is back and stronger than ever, so I couldn't be more happy!"
So, after a lifetime of resisting the naysayers and shrugging off put-downs, does Manson seek anyone's approval for what he does? Who does he respect, who does he regard as his peers?
„Fans" he retors. „That's really all it comes down to. There are plenty of other artists that I respect, but the fans are who the music is for. I've learned that you can create what you need to deal with your demons, to express your sense of humor, to do whatever it is you need to do as an artist, and at the same time you can also please the people that are listening to it. Because you have to remember that you're one of them, and that's what I come back to. I'm just the guy that I was before [the fame] - I'm the guy who likes music, who likes to make it - now it's just bigger and it's not just about music. It's the Golden Age of Grotesque and we're all a part of it - you're either with me or against me!"
Marilyn Manson seems set to remain famous for something - music, painting, acting, scoring movies and who knows what else - for the rest of his life. Perhaps one day people will be surprised to learn that he once sang in a rock 'n' roll band and the Guns, God and Government DVD will serve as a brutal reminder of his onstage genius. You have to wonder if Marilyn Manson could even exist without fame, without the media's glow, without being able to publicly push buttons and make waves.
„I can exist without fame" he deadpans, „but I don't think that I'd enjoy my life as much, without an audience. Sometimes it's just my cat, sometimes it's my girlfriend - and at better times it's an arena full of people who are oart of what I'm feeling. I am a loner, but I don't like to be alone."
Depending on where you're standing, Marilyn Manson is either at a creative and career crossroads or at the height of his powers. He's received acclaim for his soundtrack work, is already one of the better musician-turned actors, and his art exhibition was a celebrity-studded success. But, for now at least, it's his music that the majority will judge him on and, while the GGG DVD vividly captures the sheer scale of his magnificently menacing past performances, it'll be the Golden Age of Grotesque CD that dictates Manson's contemporary relevance. He's a hyper-intelligent individual who's more than astute at reading the public's mood and - as a former music journalist himself - working the media to his advantage, so there's every reason to believe he'll pull it off again. Your move, Manson.
THE MANY MASKS OF MARILYN MANSON
Over the years, Manson's adopted a broad variety of different characters and guises - some have been fully-fledged alter-egos, others less rigidly defined aspects of his ever-evolving identity
Brian Warner: aka Worm Boy:
The self-deprecating title later adopted for the naive, victimized non-entity, before he transformed himself into the title character of the heavily autobiographical Antichrist Superstar through sheer force of will.
The Child Catcher:
Early Manson imagery was a toxic candy store of the outrageous, carefully wrapped in iconography borrowed from children's entertainment such as the books of Dr Seuss. The dominating visual influence for Manson himself, however, was the Child Catcher, the disturbing villain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The Reverend Manson:
The singer confirmed his credentials as an antichrist by being ordained in Anton LaVey's Church of Satan, before embarking on the notorius Dead to the World tour, where he stalked the stage in self-inflicted scars and surgical supports, or took to the lectern to preach like some quasi-fascist, hellfire preacher.
Manson's first independent identity - a decadent rock star so bloated with his own self-importance and anaesthetised by drugs and obsessive fan adulation as to have almost totally lost contact with reality. This is a styly self-indulgent slice of self-parody.
It was never clear whether this extraterrestrial androgyne was the next evolutionary step on from Omega, or merely another facet in that character's fractured reality. What was clear was how much this owed to English rock legend David Bowie, particularly Bowie's performance in the surreal science fiction movie The Man Who Fenn to Earth.
White-faced and shaven-headed, Manson adopted the eerie, enigmatic Mercury persona while in self-imposed, cyber-exile after he became a scapegoat for the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School near Denver. Merury - an important element in the arcane discipline of alchemy, as well as the Roman god of magic, poetry, thieving and communication - was his bleakest role to date.
The self-described Ghetto Dracula and Arch Dandy of Dada. The newly self-confident singer insists he will lead us into his Golden Age of Grotesque without recourse to roles or alter-egos, entering the 21st century devoid of camouflage, allowing the world a glimpse of Marilyn Manson.
GLOSSARY OF THE GROTESQUE
Manson has never been afraid of layering his lyrics with esoteric concepts, to help the listener navigate the territory being explored by Manson.
As a philosophy - the idea that we are all inevitably and ultimately doomed, so the purpose of life becomes the pursuit of pleasure and experience regardless of the consequences. As culture - art or literature obsessed with erotic extremes and morbid moods, and concerned with beauty or impact rather than morality. As a person, someone prone to self-destructive self-indulgence, leaving the individual morally weak and phisically unhealthy - but creatively inspired.
Derived from macabre and sexual art found in ancient Greek and Roman excavations by early archeologists, who dubbed such obscene yet appealing imagery 'grotto-esque'. Grotesque later became a catch-all term for anything that was both compelling and repellent - anything so disturbing or ugly as to become fascinating.
Though derived from a medieval French term, vaudeville came to describe the popular vareity shows that had their heyday in the USA in the early 20th century, where entertainers would perform light-hearted skits and sketches to entertain working Americans. The term 'vaudevillian' means anyone who works in vaudeville, though can also describe anything that is colorfully over-theatrical with a slightly sleazy spin.
Vaudeville's more disreputable cousin, burlesque shows aimed at a more adult audience with programmed featuring smutty comedians and scantily-clad girls. While cinema spelt the end for vaudeville in the 30s, burlesque survived into the 50s by showing more skin, and burlesque theaters became the forerunners to the strip joint. The expression 'to burlesque something', means to mock it in a vulgar fashion.
A movement founded during World War One motivated by those who felt that art seemed empty and meaningless in the face of so much horror and death. Dadaism is art as nonsense, and nonsense as art. It was surreal, whimsical and nihilistic, and aimed to destroy the boundaries between artist and audience. Dadaism prefigured modern art and was an influence on punk.