Not dazed by the all-glittering reputation, Alfie Crippen embarked upon a search for the truth about Marilyn Manson and his merry band of cross-dressers
To make a point everybody understands - adolescents and pre-teens in particular - you have to exaggerate. But when a person's view of life is belied by discovering the world, yet has the self-awareness and self-assurance of an amoeba and is unsure of emerging sexuality, Marilyn Manson appears to be a saviour, or at least an answer. Manson can speak for a generation because his fans have yet to formulate their own agenda: they do everything without giving an alternative. It is deconstructive critique unfolding before our eyes.
Having been musically educated by MTV, most Manson fans reject their parents values without realizing that this is a band who are remaking the music their parents listened to. Watching Manson now is like seeing an elongated version of Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie circa 1972. First we have the coloured contact lenses substituted for Bowie's real eye colours, then there's the body-hugging suit that reveals so much about the androgynous nature.
The final spin on this ode to Ziggy is that of arch-media manipulator. Let's face it, Manson is less a musical entity, more a great PR machine. As for the root of the Marilyn Manson 'band', they are far more a concept than a true outfit.
What we can believe in, despite the proliferation of entertaining lies and half-truths in Manson's autobiography, The Long Road Out Of Hell, is that he is a reaction to his upbringing by a puritanical society, a response to environment that is easily shocked yet privately likes nothing better than indulging in a spot of Coprophilia if no-one is looking.
The vociferous public 'defenders of morality' are the same clandestine voyeurs of the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee love show. This ethical duality is both the fuel and essence of Manson: he knows how to misguide the media, how to antagonize people, how to use his insecurity to undermine other people's and how to shove the visual truth about our sexual 'sin' down our, er, throats. Isn't it fitting that the most God-fearing USA states in the bible-belt also have the highest percentage of incest, Manson asks?
Still, that's nothing for guardians of family values to worry or be alarmed about, for no musician - and he should be afforded this attribute - has ever changed everything. And as Manson himself knows only too well, all these 'attacks' merely add credibility. To target him as being worthy of attacking only inflames his value further.
In his service to the performing arts, the Manson show is an amalgam of great rock moments, an encyclopedia of concert cliches. We have Ziggy's off-the-shoulder glitter number, making him look like Tarzan in drag, a dose of the Alice Coopers, a pinch of the Iggy Pops, a touch of Skinny Puppy, a slice of Pink Floyd, a pulpit for personification and rally-like background drapes), all topped off with Michael Jackson-style genitalia grabbing. Phew, you almost feel like applauding the researchers alone!
The end result is not a rock-macabre show but the opposite, this Brian-man is rather innocuous. Like the remake of Psycho, Manson is a translation of a standard with new logo for the MTV generation. How long can it go on with the endemic increase in ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) among rock devotees?
He is also an incredible opportunist who wouldn't cite anybody as an influence: he merely sees it as returning a compliment. Until Boy George stated that he admired the Cleveland boy, there had been no mention of Culture Club from Manson's lips. Now, however, pop's Liberace is one of his main inspirations! Who next? Kylie Minogue?
In short, Manson is fact and act. He acts until it becomes a fact, then discards it when he's found a new image to wave and flag.
So will the real Marilyn Manson please stand up...
How much of this Marilyn Manson rollercoaster ride is guided by market forces and how much is your real, and dearly-held, creative statement?
"There is nothing pre-meditated about this band, it is all instinctive. It's natural and there's bound to be a development with every new record. There were expectations after Antichrist Superstar, but I wasn't taking any notice. This band has its own life, its own destiny and we are trying to fulfill it."
Has your ambition increased with the realization of how much you can achieve?
"My ambitions have increased, but I've always had big plans for this band. Maybe I've become more aware of the ways in which to achieve what I want. I've seen the true potential of ourselves in this industry, compared to only seeing the possibility of what might be prior to Antichrist...
You appear to be frequently misunderstood. Has this ever provided you with sleepless nights?
"No, not at all, people who are supposed to understand it do so, and as for the rest... You know the old cliche of 'You can't satisfy all the people all of the time'? Personally, I think that the opposition is rather good. Causing certain hostility among others is very beneficial to us."
There are a lot of rumours about you. Do you often laugh at them?
"I do about the ones I'm aware of, because it would be impossible to hear all of them. There are some stories which are so absurd: how people can believe them is beyond me! But I know it's better to be talked and written about than be ignored. You struggle and fight to establish yourself. Once you're up there you realize you can generate publicity without doing anything. Bad publicity is better than none, that's for sure."
Generously augmented by your autobiography, one presumes?
"Maybe, but all I tried to do was be honest and tell my story. Ever since we started out we were causing very strong opposition, we used strong images to cause a reaction, but nothing of this magnitude. But that's the true nature of rock 'n' roll. We're happy that there are still things that can cause controversy. Everything has become too safe, too sanitized and it's necessary to shake up the world a bit, to wake it up from its television-integrated reality.
Everything has been pale for far too long, so unhappening that the world needed a band like us to shake it up again. In a country like America, that is supposed to be free, you're told what to eat, what to like, how to think, how to behave by the media, and TV specifically. I felt that that needed challenging because it's already against freedom of choice, thought and expression.
There have always been challenges to order and the norm. Elvis shocked by shaking his hips, The Beatles had long hair, Bowie dressed up..."
You can't deny that you have certain influence over your audience. Do you feel any responsibility?
"My only responsibility is to entertain. That's all I'm concerned with. The rest is beyond my control as I can't control the way that a song is going to be heard, understood and interpreted by individuals. I do what I do, then present it in the most entertaining way I know how. That's all.
I don't feel I can take the responsibility because it's really not me who is doing it all. I'm only re-stating the questions, everything had been written a long time ago and defined by our forefathers. I ask the questions that need answering, again maybe because the standpoints have changed.
What people have always been afraid of is facing their dark side. I have no problem with it. If you do, then you avoid looking the truth in the eyes.
Music presentation has been very dull for a long time. We're the ones who've brought the fun back to it all. There's really nothing worse than seeing a rock band watching their guitar strings and nodding their heads like donkeys. You need something big, something out of this world, something really theatrical, and that had been missing from music for far too long.
Look at it this way: grunge killed stardom, all the musicians wanted to be ordinary people, just like their fans. We are the complete opposite, we wanted to bring the glamour and personality back, the showmanship. Grunge never interested me. I wanted theatricality, a big statement and that required an image that had to be extreme to emphasize the visual side and to make a point."
Doesn't it detract from the pure power of the music?
"Not at all. I totally believe in the power of music, but on an individual level. I definitely don't believe - like in the old days - that music can bring a 'revolution' or a major change in anything. There are moments when that happens but it's hard to see it happening again in a big way.
I do believe that we are capable of doing it, but whether the environment is suitable for it. I don't know. Still, that is not my main aim. I'm here to present challenging music in a different way."
How original do you consider yourself to be?
"A fair bit, although nothing is really ever new. It's a reinvention of a kind, as everything is these days. Everything comes back eventually, but whatever trend is reinvented it's always with a different angle. What worries me is that there will come a time when grunge and facelessness will re-emerge when we helped it to be put away."
Having seen you live, I haven't noticed much alteration to the musical presentation post Antichrist...?
"It must be new to some extent, but when Zim Zum joined we were still like a new band. It was easy for him to put a stamp on our live sound. It's a bit more difficult to alter our sound now because it's more settled and defined, but there are bound to be new elements in it. We'll just wait and see if it does [change]."
Could it be that the essence of the band hasn't changed?
"I've always considered this band to be me and Twiggy, the rest are only musicians who help us bring our musical and stage visions to life. We've had a lot of personnel changes over the years with people leaving or being fired, so it's a question of staying power, having a belief in the head, and faith in being able to deliver what we set out to do. It's better to have a change sometime, rather than be stuck in an unhappy situation."
How important is the attitude of the band members and do they have to conform to your ideology?
"The attitude of the band members has never been very important, it was always something that was understood, quietly. The whole concept of this band is mine and people get used to it while working together. There is nothing deliberate like lessons in Marilyn-isms.
Early in our career we had a little questionnaire which people had to fill in. It wasn't serious, but we wanted to see where people's heads were at. It was rather interesting."
Twiggy once told me that KISS were 'always fake'. Can't the same 'false idol' charge be held at your door?
"No, we are very real, this is us, this is our true selves. It might not have started like that, but we have growing into these characters you see onstage, being photographed, on television. I know that the other members feel that these once alternative egos have taken over a bit to the expense of their true selves."
When everything is said and done, it's still only entertainment though...
"Of course it is. I think it's also wrong to think kids emulate their rock idols, or attempt to kill themselves because of a song. They react to not being understood by their parents. People pass on the guilt to somebody else, so they don't have to face their own responsibilities.
My take is that we give our fans a sense of liberation. They can feel free to be themselves for a couple of hours which they can't do every day. They can do it without feeling guilty about it."
But Brian Warner must take off the public image of Marilyn sometimes presumably?
"I'm never anything but Marilyn Manson, this is me. This is my reality and not just a stage persona. This is real and there's nothing fake about me. This is it and nothing else really matters to me. And it shouldn't to our fans either.
It might appear as an image, but it is reality, being has become reality. Even if the other members take their stage personalities off, that is not important. We are what we are in Marilyn Manson and out of it means really nothing. But these are not masks, just performing faces, it is the only impact of us that matters. Outside of it there is nothing really, it has no meaning to anybody. What we do is very real and we are not putting it on just for shows."
Vinnie Paul of Pantera told me how nice a man you are offstage, but he could understand your 'evil' stage act that is hot with the younger fans...
"Which is just fine, thanks Vinnie. If you are to affect any change it has to be from an early age as people have formed their tastes by the time they reach their late teens. If you influence people at that age it remains with them for a long time. Maybe for the rest of their lives. Pantera is not my kind of a band, but I respect them for what they've done and how they've stuck to their guns. Not many people do that and it's very disappointing for rock music."
You once said, "Everything is a lie, you just pick up the one you like the best": does that include yourself?
"The whole of showbusiness is such a massive lie. It's a lot of pretending and it gives no solutions. It's not concerned with truth, it's only about entertaining. But being unreal can start appearing to be real. So we are just as guilty of the showbusiness aspect."
A lot of the media people are fundamentally challenging you now about how actual all of this really is.
"It is and it isn't real, it doesn't matter. It can be taken both ways and still be equally valid. As long as you're asking yourself questions, the effect is the same. The question is not whether it is us acting when we do things or simply because it's who we are - it all adds up to the same thing."
...wasn't a member of Marilyn Manson when their debut album, Portrait Of An American Family was made - it being a supposedly 'live in the studio' recording of a band at the time. However, he has since become the band's main co-songwriter.
You came in after the first album. Since then the band has continued to replace guitarists as soon as they've finished a record. It's all a bit Spinal Tap, isn't it?
"What happened to us is something that just happened, history repeating itself. I came in to tour Portrait, and appeared on the scene, but I wasn't involved with the writing or recording of that album.
At the time of Antichrist Superstar, Daisy Berkowitz was gone, and then again, after completing his guitar parts, Zim Zum had to pack up. I don't think there's a pattern emerging, it's just a coincidence, and I don't see Spinal Tap developing. Hopefully by the next album we'll not have our guitarist record it and another tour it."
How much input have you had in creating this Manson monster?
"A fair bit. It's like a science project for Marilyn and myself. We created all this and remodelled our characters so that they've come to replace our own identities. Our true selves have somewhat disappeared and now we are Marilyn Manson."
Although you operate under the band's name, the spotlight is on Marilyn, which makes the rest look like rank-and-file. Does that cause any friction?
"This is Marilyn's own baby, it's been his dream for such a long time. The only way for us is to follow his lead and work within it. We used to refer to him as 'Antichrist' and the rest were the Four Horsemen."
The change of image has become expected because you have to re-evaluate it to maintain its shock value. Was there any pressure to do so?
"No, it was a natural progression to go with the new musical direction. If we started complying with the public's wishes and only rehash what they expect and really want, then we would be cheating ourselves. We're not like that. Everything we've done has been different to what went before. We are very honest in our work and have never given any answers, but leave it up to listeners to decide.
Each of our records is very honest and represents what I felt when I was writing music and Marilyn was writing lyrics. It is only a reflection of the moment of creation and it is developing. I have no idea where it is going to go next."
Does the recent spate of hotel trashings and the chaos that surrounds you still mark Marilyn Manson as a band capable of causing moral panic?
"I'm glad that there is stuff left in rock 'n' roll to challenge society. You can drive people crazy just by questioning their basic beliefs.
When you do that you actually question the essence of life. For instance, Antichrist Superstar was not anti-religious, it was about being your own Antichrist and about the world, the way you view it - it's different for everybody - and the way that you destroy it. On the personal level, not the global, not anybody else's and how you then rebuilt it..."
This music recorded on Mechanical Animals is the kind that parents of your core fans used to listen to. Are you trying to win over the previous generation in your quest for world domination?
"I don't know if that was what we were aiming for. Our original influences were The Stooges, David Bowie, Bauhaus, Black Sabbath and even Slayer and Iron Maiden. This time a different set of influences became dominant. Maybe we wanted to show the parents that what we were doing is not controversial, that it's not corrupting their children. At the people criticizing us actually promote to the world what we are doing, they are adding fuel to the fire, explaining what we are trying to explain.
The truth about the band is a lot more extreme than the stuff that's been watched, written or made up about us."