The Man Who Fell To Earth
by Paul Elliot
The Antichrist Superstar is no more. In his place stands the alien messiah. We have come to Hollywood to meet the new incarnation of Marilyn Manson - a spaceage playboy who’s re-discovered his emotional core, become immersed in glam decadence and engaged himself in a mission to save rock ‘n’ roll.
Hollywood, Los Angeles. The giant TV set in Kerrang!’s hotel room is tuned to a specialist God-bothering channel on which the silver-haired host of ‘Praise The Lord’ turns to pious crooner Pat Boone and implores, "What happened to our music, Pat? Where did all those good songs go, those sweet, romantic, clean songs?"
Pat is at a loss for an answer.
Less than a mile away along Sunset Boulevard, a huge painted effigy stares down over the mid-afternoon traffic from the roof of Tower Records. The luminescent figure has a shock of red hair, sinister red eyes, nipple-less breasts and an indeterminate bulge between its legs. It’s skin is alien-white.
To rock fans, this is the new glam image of Marilyn Manson. To the millions glued to ‘Praise The Lord’, it is evil incarnate.
A half-hour cab ride from Sunset leads to Culver City and a photographic studio, where the ‘real’ Marilyn Manson has just finished a Kerrang! Cover shoot. Manson moved to LA from Florida a year ago to make his new album, ‘Mechanical Animals’. Since arriving in the City Of Angels, the self-anointed Antichrist Superstar has found a new celebrity girlfriend in Rose McGowan, fired another guitarist in Zim Zum, and made the best record of his controversial career while re-inventing himself as rock ‘n’ roll saviour come end-of-the-century-glam rock icon.
But why Hollywood? Clearly, a deviant like Manson would delight in mixing with the elite of the American entertainment society - his house is set in the Hollywood hills, where the original Manson Family undertook their shocking killing spree in 1969 - but he didn’t come here just for fun. Hollywood, he says, provided the perfect inspiration for the new music. Moreover, as Manson prepares to begin his own movie career, this is definitely the place to be.
The Manson movie - based on the new album, its title remains undisclosed - is rooted in the tradition of such fanciful celluloid rock follies as The Who’s ‘Tommy’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. Coupled with the dazzling ’Mechanical Animals’, it could turn Marilyn Manson into the biggest rock ‘n’ roll star of the new millennium.
Suede’s glam rock throwback ‘Coming Up’ booms across the white expanse of the photo studio as Manson slips out of gold PVC pants into a creaky red leather pair and dons bulbous shades. The look is half rock god, half insect. He sips water and speaks in low, croaky tones as he describes the genesis of ‘Mechanical Animals’.
"Moving to Hollywood, I experienced a rebirth. I’d stripped away all my emotions in the past and I started to get them back. Living in this strange city I felt almost like a child or an alien, and the more I got my emotions back, the more I saw that the rest of the world had less and less. I started seeing people as the mechanical animals I talk about on the record."
Manson concedes that he was a monster, cold and hard, when he made his last record; the filthy, fucked-up ‘Antichrist Superstar’.
"‘Antichrist Superstar’ was a really gruesome transformation," he reveals, "physically, mentally and musically. It was conceived and written while I was enduring a lot of physical pain. I was unable to feel anything emotionally. This record is the polar opposite. The emotional pain is what started to come back as the numbness wore off, as I began to feel empathy and things like that. It greatly affected what I had to say.
You’re not going soft?
"No, but I feel more vulnerable on this record, more alienated. Not necessarily robbed of power, but faced with more of a challenge.
"I feel like a lot of people would have assumed that ‘Antichrist Superstar’ was as far as I could take what I was going to do, musically and with my imagery. But now I find myself at ground zero; I’ve just started and I’ve got a long way to go.
"My main goal with the new record was to put life back into rock ‘n’ roll, to take things back to the basics and make a real rock album. Right now, the only thing that can save rock ‘n’ roll is this album," he says, not arrogantly but matter-of-factly. "Otherwise rock will disappear like it did in the disco era of the ‘70s, when rock music was just disposable hits by bands no one cared about and dance music dominated. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.
"My contemporaries are Garth Brooks and the Spice Girls. They’re not doing anything rock, but they’re doing things on the same grand scale that I like to do things on."
You’ve said previously that an outsider like yourself must enter into the mainstream in order to subvert it. Is this the philosophy behind the new record?
"I just wanted to approach this album from a different point of view," he shrugs. "I’d assumed the role of destroyer on the last record. This role is more a saviour.
"I wanted to write songs that were more personal and dealt with specific emotions. The music had to really compliment that, but there wasn’t a conscious effort to make more accessible songs. There was simply an effort to write songs that would make people feel differently to the songs on the last album. In a sense that makes it more accessible, but it’s not just for the sake of pop.
"even if it was, that’s okay too," he adds with a smile. "I can appreciate the Spice Girls and Garth Brooks in the Andy Warhol sense of it - pop art."
Manson could simply be taking the piss when he says this - his manner is so deadpan, it’s sometimes difficult to know when he’s joking - but it is true that ‘Mechanical Animals’ is a more pop-slanted record (stronger songs, slicker sound, smarter hooks), just as his new image is cleaner, if resolutely pervy.
And he is definitely not fibbing when he says that his new music is inspired by David Bowie’s classic 1972 concept album, ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’, which effectively set the template for ‘70s glam rock. Likewise, Manson’s new androgynous alien image owes much to Bowie. Check out the cover of the latter’s 1973 album ‘Aladdin Sane’ for irrefutable proof.
"I have great admiration for David Bowie," Manson confesses. "Queen and T-Rex and Kiss were all big for me when I was growing up, and this record reflects the music that meant a lot to me as a kid, while bringing it up to date."
Glam rock is back?
"As it should be," he states. "It’s never really been gone for me. eighties metal peaked with Guns N’Roses. Nirvana and the grunge era was a reaction to that, and Marilyn Manson is a reaction to regain what grunge robbed music of; its personality, imagery and iconography."
Apt, then, that it was to LA - glam rock’s spiritual home in the ‘80s - that Marilyn Manson should go to make the last great glam record of the 20th Century. However, unlike the dumbed-down pretty-boy metal of LA has-beens like Motley Crue, Poison, Warrant and Ratt, Manson is making stylish, street-smart, decadent glam rock, redolent of his ‘70s heroes yet full of ‘90s sonics and attitude.
‘Mechanical Animals’ was written mostly by Manson and his chief henchman, bassist Twiggy Ramirez, in a house that the pair shared in the Hollywood hills, and it is here that Twiggy hosts a barbecue party following Manson’s Kerrang! Interview. Only Manson himself is absent - dining with Rose McGowan - as the band, including new guitarist Johnnie 5, gorge themselves on a veritable meat-fest.
Twiggy throws beer cans into the canyon and fools around with his new fart-spray. Keyboard player Pogo - aka Madonna Wayne Gacy - worries onlookers as he fiddles with a handgun.
"We wrote most of the songs in a room we call The White Room which I had painted all white," Manson explains. It looked out over Hollywood, which kind of represented space to us. The theme of whiteness comes up a lot on the album, representing a void empty of colour and feelings and emotions. We were trying to fill that void with the songs.
"Most of the material was written and recorded at that house before we hired producer, Michael Beinhorn, who helped us apply the finishing touches. For the most part, I had a very specific vision of what I wanted to do and how to do it."
Including writing a song, ‘I Don’t Like The Drugs’, which sounds like a De Leppard hit from 1984?
"Def Leppard?" he says, arching a shaved eyebrow. "That’s such a strange comparison. I guess I’ll have to hack off my arm and beat my wife with my good one!"
New Manson, same outrage. Some things, it seems, will never change. The evening after Twiggy’s barbie sees a suited Mazza mingling with A-list celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck at Rose McGowan’s birthday party, yet he remains a sick boy at heart. He might not act like a circus freak 24 hours a day (at Rose’s do, he is a dapper, welcoming host), but it’s difficult to imagine the actress’ parents glowing with satisfaction when told that their young daughter is dating a gender-bending rock pig named Marilyn Manson. Unless, of course, they know him as Brian.
The real Manson, or Brian, is not easy to fathom. During interviews, Manson is sharp, witty, even charming. Always dry and controlled. Manson knows precisely what he want to say to the press, and sick jokes about Def Leppard’s one-armed drummer Rick Allen are part of the fun; part of what makes him the most controversial and enigmatic figure in rock music.
Ditto his autobiography. ‘The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell’, which was publisher earlier this year. It offers some compellingly ugly insights into the Manson/Warner psyche, but the author is not telling all. He dishes the dirt, but he does not let us in.
Manson claims that he has grown more compassionate since he finished the book, but he remains unrepentant over the damage it may have caused to the family, friends, lovers and fans humiliated within its 269 pages.
"Sometimes I thought about people’s feelings," he muses, "but most of the time I thought that, for the sake of entertainment, brutal honesty was best.
"I wrote it without describing how I felt, because a lot of the times I wasn’t feeling anything. I also thought if I described the events well enough, with a lot of detail and sarcasm, then people would feel how I felt and I wouldn’t have to tell them. They’d feel it for themselves.
"Writing the book helped me complete the transformation to a more emotional being. But reading the book, I don’t regret any of it. I think I learned from everything. I tried to ensure that however fucked up the situation I got myself into, the way I told the story you couldn’t help but relate to it on some level, or at least find it amusing."
Most of the book is amusing, but on at least two occasions Manson and his band push the joke too far. Firstly, when a deaf fan ("She could feel the music") is decorated with cuts of meat before Pogo has sex with her and - shocking even Manson - yells ‘I’m going to cum in your useless ear canal.’ Secondly, when Manson and tour ‘prankster’ Tony Wiggins strap guileless fans into a backstage torture trap in order to extract painful confessions from them.
Tell Manson he is a terrible cunt and he merely laughs.
"I think it was about finding limitations, experiencing things, experimenting with other people, finding out what the levels were of use and abuse," he argues. "In some ways it was a bizarre science project. It was more like Mengele, but still a science project.
"I consider myself an artist, and when you’re creating things honesty is an important part of it. Whether you’re writing a song or doing an interview or painting a picture, it’s all art to me, and sometimes it’s just for the sake of art. Like, if sometimes I do something ridiculous like put meat on a deaf girl. Despite how base that is, that to me is art on some level and I find amusement in that. If it makes people laugh, it’s art. Comedy is art as well."
And the atrocities performed by American serial killer Ed Gein, the way he fashioned masks and jewellery from the body parts of his victims: is this art?
"It was for him," Manson sniffs. "Everybody has their limits. I’ve always felt that there is a direct relationship between the phenomenon of serial killers in America and pop stars. From way back, America has sent out the message that criminals, people like Jesse James, people that go to extremes and become outlaws, are praised and recognised in the media, the same as pop stars. And I’ve also found that serial killers take as much care in what they do as artists do. That’s their way of expressing themselves, and the only thing that separates them is your discretion."
Speaking of which, do you not feel that your ex-girlfriend Missi deserved a little more discretion than she was afforded in the book? You put every detail of the relationship in there, even her abortion. Then she is written out of your life in a single paragraph. And this, you claim, is someone you loved.
For once, Manson pauses and stares awhile at his rubber boots before answering.
"I didn’t feel the need to go into the details of how that eventually disintegrated, but I did include the journal entries that corresponded to it. When I was finishing the book I hadn’t really severed things completely, so it was kind of up in the air at the time. So there wasn’t a final answer on what had happened."
What is love?
Another pause. "A commitment, I guess, to respect someone else’s feelings and share things that you care about with someone else."
Are the people you love those you despise the most?
"I thought so when I was growing up. But after what the last few years did to me, the way that I feel now, how I’m appreciating emotions again, I don’t think I behave that way now. I value the things that I love now."
Who do you love: your parents? Rose? Twiggy?
"Ha ha ha. In different ways, yeah. Twiggy’s like a brother, my best friend. He’s not going to get fired."
And if people don’t believe half of what’s in your book, does it matter?
"Not as long as it entertains you. To me, your imagination is just as real as things that happen."
The most incisive lyric in ‘The Dope Show’, the first single to be taken from ‘Mechanical Animals’, goes: ‘They love you when you’re on all the covers/When you’re not, then they love another.
"It’s like Oscar Wilde said, ‘They love you when you’re pretty and when you’re not, they’ll love someone else’," Manson smiles knowingly. He boasts of being an "adept" shoplifter, but his true genius is for rock ‘n’ roll mythology and pop-culture manipulation. Even a fame-junkie like Courtney Love, whose new record ‘Celebrity Skin’ is set to contest chart supremacy with ‘Mechanical Animals’, could learn from Manson, who generously offers advice.
"Courtney lets anger confuse her art. She uses her heart instead of her mind. Her heart gets in the way."
This is Manson’s time and he knows it. He has a record which insiders at his record company, Interscope, believe will sell upwards of five million copies in the US alone. And he has the ultimate scary/sexy rock star image.
In the video for ‘The Dope Show’, Manson looks like he’s from another planet - The Manson Who Fell To Earth - reeling around like a smacked-out alien messiah, fake tits flapping in the wind. At the song’s climax, cops in pink uniforms snog as Manson metamorphoses into a rock star insurrectionist in red glitter and stackheel boots.
"If you present yourself as something so terrible that you can’t be any worse, if you assume the role of Antichrist Superstar, if you start at the very bottom, you can only go up," Manson beams.
Is Manson himself ready for superstardom? Criss-crossing his skinny torso are dozens of self-inflicted scars; trophies from early gigs where audience apathy provoked Manson to turn on himself. Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’, the album Manson loves so dearly, end with a song called ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’. The wounds on his chest imply that Manson is another potential victim, another Richey Manic, but Manson insists that such self-loathing is a thing of the past.
"Looking back, I think it was for a lack of feeling things emotionally. I tried to feel things physically. I put myself through a lot of physical pain. I think I’ve grown out of that."
What have you lost by being Marilyn Manson?
"A rib, according to a lot of my fans!" he cackles. " I think I’ve lost the freedom of being anonymous. I’ve lost the ability to be part of ‘normal life’. But I think that’s a fair sacrifice to make for the freedom of expression and the audience that I have."
An audience he’s retained by shrewdly reinventing himself quicker than people can get bored of him.
"I reinvent myself before I can get bored of myself," he counters. "Anyone who remains static is not only unimaginative but is being safe. The real safe thing for me would be to make another album like ‘Antichrist Superstar’, look the same way I looked, and say the same things in interviews. But I’ve grown tired of that. There’s lots more to explore."
To many - above all, to those who despise him - Marilyn Manson will always be the Antichrist Superstar, an affront to morality and a threat to society. But can a rock star truly be so powerful?
"I think so," Manson insists. "As a kid, I was always taken by the film ‘Wild In The Streets’, where a rock star leads a revolution of teenage kids, takes over the world and makes all the adults live in these LSD concentration camps where they’re fed drugs every day and turned into vegetables. At the end of the film, a little boy asks the rock star how old he is, and the rock star realises that he has now become an adult and he is to be destroyed by his own standards.
"I thought that was an interesting parallel to the way I have approached the whole pop star thing. Eventually I too will be destroyed by my own standards, but until then I will destroy as many people as I can.
"How seriously should you take me?" he half-smiles. "As seriously as you take yourself."