Earlier this year, the world nearly lost Marilyn Manson. The God Of Fuck wanted to die.
Now he's back, with a hit single, a greatest hits collection and a brand new hunger for chaos and destruction
The last six months of Marilyn Manson's life have been the bleakest he had ever faced.
During that time he decided to give up music for good. He decided he didn't want to be Marilyn Manson anymore - that he was sick of performing onstage and constantly playing up to an audience. He was afraid that his mental health has been ruined forever.
The lawsuits, that vilification, the hassle was all getting too much. Worse still was the nagging fear that music just wasn't providing the same kick anymore. Then he decided to play the role of a child molester alongside Asia Argento in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, based on the novel by JT Leroy. He pushed himself to the limit, keeping his role as close to the bone as possible, repeatedly coming off the set punched, bloodied and beaten.
It led directly to the darkest video of his career - for the song (s)AINT. It was, he says, a completely honest mirror to the world he was living in, that nothing within it was faked. That video features the singer snorting coke from the bible, masturbating, vomiting, slicing himself up and having graphic sex with both men and women. You're unlikely to see Cat Deeley introducing the video on CD:UK any time soon.
It affected him so much that current greatest hits album Lest We Forget - The Best Of was to be his farewell to music. And all the time he was thinking about suicide, about ending it all because he couldn't go on. He can't tell you how many times he nearly went through with it.
All this is now, apparently, behind him. Today Manson's in The Zeta Bar, next door to the Park Lane Hilton in London. It's been opened especially for him. He's enclosed in a screened-off section of the bar, legs crossed and sitting to attention on a sofa and is not entirely what you expect.
He's not the same intimidating danger to the world as he's been portrayed. Instead he's small and nervous. His eyes, coloured by a vivid contact lens in his left eye and heavy black make-up, shift down and to the right constantly. Occasionally he looks you in the eye, a piercing stare. He uses it sparingly but randomly - not when he's being particularly forceful, more when he wants to check you out.
First he sends the absinthe he is sipping back to the bar - it's too weak - then he shakes hands and waits for the questions. His immaculately made-up eyes give absolutely nothing away except, perhaps, that he is tired, and wants this to be over.
For someone who claims to be subversive and provocative, a greatest hits album seems to be a very traditional move. Why do it? why now?
"There's a feeling of politics and people in the air at the moment, the same feeling there was in 1969. That was the year I was born and it was also the year that everything changed. Nothing has been the same since 1969. I feel like we're about to have another one of those times. This greatest hits is a way of putting things to rest and deciding what I do next musically. I wanted to remind people of everything I've done and to put all of it in a position where it could be seen."
It's called Lest We Forget... Are you worried your star is on the wane, that people will forget you?
"It seems impossible at this point for people to forget me. It's not that I feel I've made my mark, or that I take the attention for granted, but I don't you can ignore me yet. The title is more because of the symbolism. Lest we forget is always associated with memorials. It commemorates fighting; it commemorates 10 years of fighting to get where I am.
I wanted to sum up everything I've done so far. That's the reason I covered (Depeche Mode's) Personal Jesus, it wrapped up everything in one slice of pop culture. It was first released in the same year I started the band and recording it now closes one chapter and opens a new one. It's a farewell to the past. When I took the words Marilyn and Manson and put them together, I was summing up pop culture in two words. Now Personal Jesus says something more than anything I could say myself right now."
This is the way Manson talks. Every question is treated with the utmost seriousness; it's given a long and intelligent-sounding answer - even those that are yawningly mundane.
But nothing is ever answered directly. Everything is treated as theory and it comes in a wave of low-pitched bluster. The answers are immediate, rarely does he pause between the end of the question and the beginning of the answer, but every question is turned, so a sliver of an answer is given, enough to keep you interest, before the conversation is brought back to what Marilyn Manson wants to talk about. And he always has something to say because he's good at playing the game, good at playing Marilyn Manson, good at keeping himself hidden. Listen...
You don't like to give yourself away. Why do you need to disguise your personal life?
"I try to be as open as I feel I need to be. It's never possible to insert your entire personality into an interview or a meeting with somebody. I've always tried to point out the same thing ever since I started: I'm just like everybody else. The only difference is that I'm more prepared to show my flaws than most. The flaws are what make a person. People are surprised by how normal I am, how like everyone else I am."
This sounds like a preposterous comment. Just look at the photos alongside this feature - how many of your mates look like that?
It also happened to be true. He's not the intimidating God Of Fuck in real life; he's sane, rational and a good deal more human than he appears. His interests in the world, though, comes across not as love for life, but as a curiously observed experiment, real life as distorted, through the eye of a lens or the flicker of a television screen. It's impossible for him to see life any differently, though - Marilyn Manson's raison d'etre has always been to embody, to subvert and to define popular culture. There's a sense that it's all been getting a bit much for Manson of late, though.
You've recently appeared in two films, Party Monster and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Is that a way of creating different personae, different masks... possibly because you're getting sick of being Marilyn Manson?
"That's one of the questions I've been asking myself over the last six months. It's been difficult to come to terms with everything I am. Six months ago, I wanted to end it all, I wanted to say farewell to music, to not have anything to do with this anymore."
"I had to think very hard about everything I've had the chance to achieve. I had to force myself not to take those things for granted. I also had to decide no to tolerate a lot of things. I've never done things that were against the way I feel - except going to jail - but sometimes you're swayed into doing more than you really want to. At times that's certainly included performing in front of an audience. There was a time when I didn't want to go out in front of an audience again. It's strange, when I started out I had nothing to lose, but now I have a lot to lose."
"I'm about to get married, I have material belongings I don't want to give up. I have success; I have integrity, sanity and control. I don't want to give up any of those things."
Do you really still care about success?
"I care about it because it's how you wield power as an artist. I've earned the platform I can speak from."
So you're afraid of losing your platform?
"It's one of the things I've worked to achieve. I have a lot to lose but now it makes me want to gamble. It makes me more and more reckless in a strange way. Six months ago I wanted to lose it all, I didn't care about any of it anymore, so I gambled, I took a chance."
What was that gamble?
"sticking with it."
For most of the this interview, Manson has been leaning forward listening intently and answering questions in his slow drawl. He leans back now, away from the tape recorder, and starts looking to the ceiling. He masks his face with his glass of absinthe, his head hanging back, his chin high in the air in contemplation. Or just, perhaps, resignation....
Why take the gamble?
"I think it's because I still have a disgust for mankind in general and more specifically for myself. But I also have hope for both mankind and myself. For a while I thought I'd achieved most of what I wanted to achieve, but now I think I have more to create, more to offer. If I didn't have hope, what would be the point in creating things? Why would you want to create anything for a world you ultimately hate? There were times when I wondered whether it was worth it, though."
Have you felt suicidal?
[There's a long pause. Five then 10 seconds pass by. It's the only moment of silence in the entire interview and it's almost excruciating. 15 seconds... 20 seconds...]
"...Sorry, I was just trying to count how many times I've felt suicidal."
Why were you suicidal?
"Maybe it's a feeling of loss of control of your world..."
And here, Manson breaks off; this is clearly not comfortable territory for him. And so he does what he's used to doing: he diverts the conversation - entirely engagingly, his voice almost addictive - but it's onto theories and relatives, not real life. Like this...
"Everyone has a different world, there's a different centre to everyone's universe. I've always tried to maintain a world where there's not such a line between imagination and waking life. Most people have everything laid out for them: they go to school, they get a job, they die. I don't feel there's any reason to follow that, I want to act more like I did when I was growing up and those things were unimportant..."
So how does that relate to suicide?
"When I feel my world is threatened, I want to kill myself. Without my world, nothing means anything."
So you need to be in control at all times?
"Control is less important than it used to be to me. In the world I've created, I can let go of control."
But, if it's your world, you're intrinsically in control of it.
"Yes sure, but it's controlled chaos... I don't like to think about it too much... I don't think I'm content yet, though, or at the end of my cycle... Just because I'm releasing a greatest hits doesn't mean I'm done..."
With that, Marilyn Manson closes the topic - more clumsily than normal - but there's no more to be said about it today. Part of the reason for that is because those feelings have been pushed behind him. The (s)AINT video was an exorcism of the monstrous depression he suffered earlier this year. Music, for now, has returned as his first love, but making videos and acting are close behind.
He has, he says, no desire to be a film star, but still wants to act because he feels he needs to create, to push himself further and further. More tellingly, he also says he likes the feeling of someone else creating an image for him for a change.
As he stands to leave, shaking on his suit jacket, unfolding his slender frame, something curious happens. Suddenly it's as if he's been turned off, any trace of the humanness he's just exhibited disappears and, once again, he's Marilyn Manson - weird, asexual, arrogant and trouble. He barely looks around, standing like a bored king, waiting to be led to wherever he can relax and do his own thing - whatever that might be. And it makes you think you've been conned for the last hour, that the words haven't been coming from anywhere near his heart or head but from some computer inside him. In seconds he's become someone else entirely.
Then, suddenly, as if reading your mind:
"I went on to www.schizophrenia.com," he says, almost to nobody. "I looked at the self-diagnosis page and answered yes to every single question on it. I think I'm schizophrenic."
Then he sweeps from the room, not looking back.