If you didn't see Marilyn Manson at some point in 1997, you either spent 12 months in a commune in the Canadian wilderness, or it's time to get your eyes checked and realize that there was no Edward Scissorhands sequel. Gigs, festivals, award shows, weddings, funerals - if there was an appearance to be made, Manson was happy to make it in the name of shameless (and ruthlessly efficient) self-promotion. If one rock star took over all forms of global entertainment media and terrorized them with a mixture of hype and hysteria, Manson was that man. And anyway, The Devil was always charming, wasn't he?
Manson also made a pretty decent industrialized glam-rock opus; his second album, 1996's Antichrist Superstar, became a multi-platinum benchmark for '90s mall-teen rebellion, sparking youths all across America to break out their older cousin's Goth gear and pilfer Mom's eyeliner. Manson subsequently played all over the world, irritating pompous politicians everywhere and enjoying yet further celebrity every time some podunk town tried to have him banned (i.e., New Jersey). Needless to say, Manson nearly always won.
These days, Manson has a new album, Mechanical Animals, which will undoubtably see his black star rise further still - and prove once and for all whether or not The Devil really has all the best tunes. Add to that his recent autobiography, written by Manson with help from music journalist Neil Strauss, cleverly titled The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell.
So what of the Cleveland-born, Florida-raised Manson? Just how sincere a Satanic majesty is he? LAUNCH took a deep breath and filtered through Manson's life to try and come up with the answers:-
What were your early childhood thoughts like?
"For years I was terrified about the end of the world; they drilled the ideas of Armageddon and The Antichrist into our head, so for years I had nightmares. I think finally, after many years, I realized that 'it' wasn't going to happen and that the person in my dreams was me."
Did you ever try to explains those fears to your parents or teachers?
"There's something about Christianity that doesn't require tangible proof, they leave you to operate on faith alone. I had the desire to ask questions but I was a little to afraid to actually do so. My parents weren't really religious - they sent me to private Christian school initially simply because it was supposedly a better level of education - but I always still felt ashamed of my fears over it all."
Where did you find respite or comfort?
"Escapism was the way out. Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, things that were way-out. Then when I was 12 or 13 playing Dungeons & Dragons was a big thing, and it was also considered very bad for kids at the time in America. People were blaming it for everything from kids killing themselves to cult associations. The big key to it, though, is that you role-play, you can be who you want to be. Which is what Marilyn Manson became to me. I didn't wanna be me anymore, not because I was ashamed of it, it's just I had the desire to be something else. Instead of it being just a role, however, I took it further and 'became' it."
Was school traumatic?
"In Christian school, I didn't have many friends because I was one of the few bad kids. I wouldn't bow my head for prayer - in fact, I'd steal money from girls' purses during prayer. So I started misbehaving really badly because I wanted to go to public school. When I did get kicked out, all the kids in public school really wanted to kick my ass because they knew I'd been to private school. So I never really had too many friends there, either. That's why I was so into my imagination."
Was your childhood generally a portrait of typical family life?
"Probably. I don't buy into the American tradition that whatever problems you're having in the family, or however badly someone's betraying you, when the holidays come around everything's okay, it all washes away. Which is why I've never been a big fan of holidays. Neither was my father, actually, and holidays still seem a little phony."
What prevented you from becoming a violent lunatic?
"People like me, and I've found from reading books about other people who feel cheated by society, have two paths they can go: It's either being an artist or a mass murderer. I've found a real close relationship between musicians, writers, and painters to some of the American serial killers. They had the same kinds of background, only at some point they chose a different path and way to express their anger. Some regard it like an art form. But America encourages it by the way they treat people. Look at people like Jesse James - who was just as underhanded as Ted Bundy - he's a folk hero."
What have been the three most ugly things you've encountered?
"The first thing that was really terrifying, and I'd forgotten it until recently, maybe blocked it out of my mind... I found an aborted fetus in a coffee can in the weeds across from my house. It was really weird, I didn't know what it was. I asked my parents thinking it might be an animal, and they told me it was an animal. I asked them about it again a couple of years ago and they said yes, it had been a fetus. And I saw a really terrible traffic accident. The guy got out of the car and he was holding his forehead, he let go of it and the whole top of his head collapsed over his face like a curtain of skin and he fell over and died in a pool of blood right there. There was a woman who'd been in the other car just screaming and screaming. She wanted me to hold her, she kept on asking me to hold her."
"No, I didn't, and I felt bad that I didn't. It was a tough thing. The other thing was my grandfather, who collected trains. He kept them in the basement and I discovered that when he had the train set on it was masking the sound of him masturbating to really deviant pornography. He had a deviant porn collection, women with horses and ducks and pigs and, oh, every sort of thing you can imagine. It was exciting and scary at the same time. Me and my cousin used to spy on him and it became a sick joke. He had throat cancer so he couldn't speak, he'd just bark. It was like something out of a horror film."
You seem much more into the calmer side of Satanism.
"Yeah. My personal beliefs have always been based on Nietzsche's 'Will For Power', the idea of Satan and God being two words like Marilyn and Manson, describing sides of your personality. But when I talk about 'Satanic philosophy', the Christians want to ally that with Rosemary's Baby, which is about worshipping the Devil. That's not at all what I'm about. At the same time though, knowing what Christianity thinks, I don't mind pissing them off. They want The Devil so sometimes I give them The Devil, because I don't feel the need to try and win them over. If people want to think about what you're saying, they will - you cannot make people change. But that's what they're always trying to do. They really think I just woke up and didn't bother to read The Bible - but decided I didn't like it."
Don't you have your own code of ethics?
"I absolutely have a code of ethics, which are sometimes very similar to Christian ones. Where I differ is that I greatly disbelieve in the idea of 'pity'. In old cultures, 'pity' was looked down upon, but Christianity promotes that kind of thing. If you look at animals and get into a bit of Social Darwinism, the strong survive and the weak are really only there for the strong. We live in such a confusing culture in America, I'm sure Europeans laugh at it - I know I do. You've got so many people full of political correctness, they're bitching on about 'Why can't everyone be equal and just get along?' - yet America is based on capitalism, which is about if you're better you can have more money than the next guy. So you have mixed messages, and it's no wonder that people are out of their minds. I also dislike the idea of loving everybody because it cheapens the idea of love. If you love your neighbors and enemies, then what sets apart the people whom you really love? The things I care about and love I'd do anything for, and the rest of it is something I have no concern for. People confuse Satanism with fascism and Nazism, because it's about being strong-willed, but that's wrong. Racism and sexism make things too easy for people. If I were to say, 'I like all white people', there'd be plenty of ignorant white people getting a free meal-ticket out of me. Any kind of generalization is not only often cheating yourself but also giving more people more credit that than they probably deserve. My attitude has always been about intelligence. If I was a totalitarian leader, then I would largely base things on intelligence. Intelligence is tied into what you want."
In that case, aren't your fanatical followers against everything you believe in?
"I find that eventually they take steps forward on their own terms. I always tell kids that if they want to be like me, be yourself, because that's what I'm doing. I look at our fans as a family to me. I don't look down on anybody as being a follower, because even though they're listening to what I say and looking to me for leadership, I feel in their own way they're taking another step towards being an individual."
Have you ever found a Christian side to yourself?
"I've seen it, it's happened to me many times. But me showing a Christian side is like a Christian going out and getting drunk and fighting or something. I'm not a complete misanthrope--sometimes, for me, it's living wildly just to do something that's very Christian. To do a random act of kindness is like living on the edge for me. The equivalent would be somebody else robbing a convenience store."