Being Marilyn Manson means never having to say you're sorry, except maybe to yourself.
Rock's top boogeyman of the moment isn't about to repent his embrace of the old sex-drugs-rock 'n' roll ethic. His 1998 autobiography, "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell," exults in the decadence of it all.
The apocalypse probably will come before Manson apologizes to the Christian fundamentalists who crusaded against him in 1997, painting him--with wild exaggeration--as a debauched Satanist whose performances were a string of morals offenses.
But by taking Manson's "Antichrist Superstar" album title and persona literally, rather than as more of the same ol' sex-drugs-rock 'n' roll-is-here-to-stay, those who tried to ban his shows succeeded mainly in turning him from an MTV staple into a household name. Tinky-Winky the Teletubby should have it so good.
Nor is Manson showing any remorse over his latest extracurricular dust-up: a backstage incident last November in New York City in which Craig Marks, then an editor for Spin magazine, contends Manson made a death threat and had bodyguards throttle him because Manson had been bumped from the magazine's cover.
Manson, whose real name is Brian Warner, denies any such little Caligula behavior and recently responded to Marks' personal-injury civil claim with a countersuit for defamation.
No, what Manson regrets, sort of, is displaying a softer, sensitive side on his new album, "Mechanical Animals."
"I showed the world more of myself and my emotions for the first time, and it left me now with a bitter feeling that I gave away something that [people] didn't appreciate or understand," Manson said in a recent phone interview from his Los Angeles home, before embarking on the twin alterna-titan tour with Hole that stops Saturday at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. "I did something I normally wouldn't do. It's out of character for me to expose so many nerves."
Challenging the Mainstream
Manson's disillusionment doesn't stem from the album's reviews, which have been largely favorable about his turn from techno-metal and Alice Cooper-like horror-rock imagery to a sound, tone and theatrical guise grounded in David Bowie's androgynous glam-rock role playing of the early to mid-'70s.
Sales have been considered disappointing for "Mechanical Animals," although the album is approaching the 1-million mark, according to SoundScan. For all the attention "Antichrist Superstar" got, it was a middling sort of hit by today's standards, with sales of 1.5 million.
"A lot of the media has misconceived [the new] record as not selling well," Manson said. "I think because I'm so famous, people expect me to sell as many records as Celine Dion or Puff Daddy. But what I do is always going to be controversial and challenge the mainstream as much as I can. I can't consciously put something out for the masses, something innocuous. It's my job to slowly infiltrate [the mainstream]."
Maybe Manson's uneasiness about revealing himself is a sign of growing pains. The dissipated, world-weary figure he cuts on "Mechanical Animals" contrasts with and, for all its alien trappings, is far more human than the raging hellhound of "Antichrist Superstar." On that album, Manson played an ambitious nihilist who hates the world but is driven to conquer it anyway as an act of defiance and degradation.
Staying in the boogeyman role could have gotten him typecast, he realizes, and consigned him to the one-note rock theatricality of Alice Cooper and KISS.
Whether he regrets showing a more sensitive side or not, Manson knows it's necessary if he's not going to become another of dress-up rock's cartoon creations. He insists that there's something personal and real underneath the ghoulish or glamorous greasepaint and the prosthetic female breasts that are foundations of his image-weaving.
"Everything I ever draw upon is from my own dissatisfaction with the world," Manson said. "My first dissatisfaction has always been with religion. I found that was the real panic button to press with the last album. I didn't try to pursue that much further with this one because I thought I'd said all that was on my mind with regard to that. The thing is not to become a cliche. A lot of people expect me to be associated with Satanism or tearing up Bibles, and I think what I do goes way beyond all that."
Manson says "Mechanical Animals" began coalescing about a year and a half ago; at the time, he was beginning a relationship with actress Rose McGowan, to whom he is engaged.
"I haven't looked at marriage in the conventional sense, as far as settling down. I look at it as putting faith in another person, which has always been hard for me to do. That was a big step, finding someone I can believe in," Manson said.
"Finding love really for the first time in such a state of desperation and ugliness that I was in at the time kind of set the tone for this record. I think love may have added a dimension or a perspective that normally wouldn't have been there . . . a part of me I normally wouldn't access, a level of empathy."
Which brings Manson to a crossroads as he contemplates where to take his persona next. The textbook direction would be toward growing maturity and insight, maybe even the uncovering of a kernel of idealism that could redeem the world he loathes but conquers in "Antichrist Superstar," then relinquishes as vanity and emptiness in "Mechanical Animals."
"I'd like to hope that I finally reach the balance I've always talked about that my namesake represents," he said. "Then I can have the extremes together, existing at the same time. Maybe that'll just leave me in a state of manic depression. Maybe it'll take me to a higher level."
Or maybe the boogeyman triumphs. Manson says his after-the-fact reservations about showing a vulnerable side might make him swing the other way.
"It makes me feel almost how I started with 'Antichrist Superstar.' I can almost imagine the next record descending back into darkness and hopelessness."
'A Dark Sort of Fairy Tale'
For now, Manson has a full agenda. Getting along with Courtney Love of Hole is a complicated but not impossible proposition, he said.
During an Australian tour that preceded the current U.S. trek, "Sometimes we fought and argued; sometimes we hung out and had a drink.
"Courtney thinks she knows everything," he said. "I try to set her straight on who the real rock star is. Courtney is a celebrity, but I think I'm the real rock star between the two of us. We represent something entirely different, but there's something I really respect in what she does."
Also on the horizon is a feature film Manson aims to shoot this summer, starring himself and fleshing out the character and concept of "Mechanical Animals," with an album of new songs to go with it.
"It's a dark sort of fairy tale about Hollywood, dealing with love and fame and power," Manson said. "It's in the tradition of great music movies like 'Tommy' and 'The Wall.' "
One wonders whether there is a flicker of "Citizen Kane" in Manson as well--a "Rosebud" moment of innocence that preceded the rampant hedonism, the drive for fame and power, and the deep disillusionment chronicled on his albums and in his memoir.
"I wish I could be 14 again," Manson said. "Sometimes you wish that you could have all the imagination you have now and still say the things you want to say now, but that they could be in such simpler terms. [I wish] I was with my friends playing games and making up stories, and it wouldn't have to be something the whole world is waiting on or scrutinizing."