Talk of The Devil
by Gary Mulholland
Please allow Marilyn Manson to introduce himself. He's the lanky-limbed, white-faced freakshow whose knowing fusion of sex and Satanism has made him the scourge of the American Moral Majority - and a hero to thousands of truculent teens. Must we fling this pop at oor filthy kids?
"Marilyn Manson will commit suicide on his Halloween concert by blowing up the venue and everyone in it". "I heard that Marilyn Manson is a member of a cannibal group and he really is black and he bleached his skin". "Marilyn Manson had his girlfriend's eye removed so he could fuck her in it". "Marilyn Manson also fucked a donkey up the ass on stage - the same night he swallowed a cat whole!"
The subject of these rumours is obviously having a quiet day. As far as the Time Out snappers and helpers can ascertain, he has come to this Los Angeles photo studio without furry animals, surgical implements or explosive materials. In fact, the lanky streak of rocky horror is resplendent in a cream suit and seems very amenable, explaining that he never wants to be photographed in black ever again. At one point, he asks the TO people what the journo coming to interview him is like. "Oh, he's cool", they reply, "not too stupid."
"Good," nods Marilyn Manson, the pride of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "I may not lie to him too much."
What exactly the gangling rock star wants to lie about, I'm not sure. The truth is much more interesting than anything he can dream up. He is, after all, a self-styled antichrist superstar who has hustled his way to riches and infamy through the applying of copious gothic make-up, the unleashing of much melodramatically dark pop-metal with industrial trimmings, and the perceived encouragement of Satanism among middle-America's impressionable youth. While implementing his rock masterplan, the onetime poet, journalist and pupil of Heritage Christian School, Ohio, has indulged in enough demented on-the-road behaviour - on and offstage - to redefine the parameters of Rockpig cliches, and provoke a furious backlash from those noble guardians of American values, the Moral Majority. It wasn't that rabid coalition of right-wing power-brokers and fundamentalists nutters that posted those rumours on the Internet, though. That was Marilyn Manson fans. And his real name is Brian Warner.
But the real life killer is also one of the main reasons we're here, in a studio overlooked by the Hollywood sign, on the famous hill where Manson now lives near those other American show-biz stalwarts, Diana Ross and Johnny Mathis. It is called The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, it is written by Marilyn Manson with the help of Rolling Stone journalist Neil Strauss, and it is the best rock autobiography this non-industrial/metal fan has read since Iggy Pop's "I Need More". Not just for its warts 'n' all honesty, or even its breathless and sardonic descriptions of hideous rock excess. But for the intelligence with which it shows how an ordinary backwoods loser, dismissed by everyone, goes about embarking on a long and glorious revenge, without ever sparing its author from the most damning judgements of his own sharp intellect. Plus it's laugh-out loud funny to boot.
'The Long Road...' trawls through his miserable creepy childhood; his discovery of those All-American teen staples, metal, Satan and horror stories; his fumbling first attempts at sexual relationships; the nastiness of Christian school; his long affair with the long-suffering Missi, through infidelity, abortion and inevitable break-up; the invention of the Manson persona and stage act; and fairly uncomplimentary judgements of his first recordings, '94's 'Portrait Of An American Family' and '95's 'Smells Like Children', which featured his first real breakthrough, a brutally effective version of the Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams'. But even his record company, owned by Manson mentor Trent Reznor - leader of Nine Inch Nails, friend of David Bowie, darling of the US industrial scene and owner of the house where Charles Manson's family murdered Sharon Tate - thought Mazza was doomed to cult popularity until 1996's 'Antichrist Superstar'. A concept album following Manson's slow and painful transformation from Brian Warner, miserable 'worm' to Marilyn Manson, first horseman of the rock apocalypse, it went multi-platinum in the States alone and continues to be an essential fashion accessory for the nihilistic white teen. It includes Manson's one great musical moment thus far, 'The Beautiful People', and was such a nightmare to make it pushed Manson into what he now admits was a nervous breakdown.
Oh yeah - the other reason we're here. Because anyone who provokes slavering, screaming teenage girl lust while making himself so deliberately repulsive, who has received numerous death threats yet continues to bait middle America's Christian coalition with utter fearlessness, and who has never said in interview 'Well, it's just about the music, knoworrimean, la? I'm mad for it, me! Fancy a spliff' etc ad tedium, is obviously more interesting than any comparable British rock stars at present. Pop isn't a matter of grooves and songs - it's more important than that.
Marilyn gets touch-feely
MM: "I feel like...I've landed on a planet where I'm not from. And things are too over-intense for me, everything I touch, taste or see is overwhelming. Because I don't think I've really felt anything for five or six years."
I have just accused Marilyn Manson of making music that lacks any human element. Rather than being insulted, he immediately agrees. As we recline on a sofa in the echoing expanse of the studio, the creamily adorned stickman seems typically Californian... that is, laid-back, confident and a little impenetrable in his buy-eye mirror shades. The low sardonic tomes are recognisable as the voice of the book, but he honestly admits that his music so far has been 'just...brite force', and that he admires our very own Tricky - with whom he has collaborated on an unfinished project - for his 'range of emotions'. We will be shocked, he thinks, by the work-in-progress new album due later this year. I tell him how much I like the book.
MM: "Thanks. I think a lot of people will walk away from the book thinking, well that was really fucked up, but it was funny, and maybe I woulda done the same if I'd been that position. I wasn't trying to explain myself, I just make people realise that they're not that different from me. Except I usually go all the way, while most of then only go half the way."
Manson has been living in LA since last October, and says that the city is the major subject, along with the 'ugliness of fame', of the new record. I ask him if California's obsession with heath and cleanliness is as pervasive as it seems.
MM: "Yeah well, most of America's like that. California's just too complicated to explain in one conversation. It's best described as... from where I live on the hill, looking down on the city, it's like floating in space. Even the stars seem below you...it can be very depressing. So there'll be a lot on this record about the darkness behind the California smile."
GM: So this isn't the 'Marilyn gets mellow in California' album?
MM: Erm, no.
The Manson Family
One of the most moving passages in the book is when Manson returns to Florida for his cousin's wedding. At the old house, he goes alone into the basement where, through his childhood, his grandfather had gone to play with soiled ladies' underwear, masturbate over films of women fucking animals, and wipe the mucus from his tracheotomy tube. The young Brian had spent spooked quality time spying on the man who was seen as the family monster. Twenty years later, he looks around the filthy room and decides he has grown into a similar monster. It's a genuinely disturbing moment of self-revelation and loathing.
MM: It's strange, because all my life I had my own ideas as to what monsters were, in terms of people. My grandfather was, in the perception of my family, a depraved pervert who was too scary to love. But as I got older, I realised that that's how America looks to me. So for the first time in that moment I related to him. But he's dead now, so...
GM: And what would you say to him?
MM: I probably would've asked to borrow his dildos.
The nearest the book gets to a happy ending is the unlikely pride Manson's parents have in their son's success - to the point where his father begins introducing himself, 'Hi. I am the father of the God of Fuck.”
MM: Year, that's probably the strangest thing about my family. They're still married and they care about me. Which is kinda weird in America these days.
Well, he is called Marilyn
You seem to go to great pains in the book to deny you're homosexual, even making up a piss-take set of rules for those who aren't sure about themselves, eg you are gay 'if you discuss art for more than 45 minutes...If you've ever worn a beret...If you're not thinking about tits right now.”
'Heheheh. Well, it was mainly to be funny, because it's so often asked of me, and there were so many rumours about me performing oral sex with someone on stage. So I thought I would create some everyday rules, something light-hearted, based on jokes we make on the road.'
Most jokes are at the expense of The Smiths...
Heheheh! I started on a roll and I just couldn't' stop. Hurhur. I actually like The Smiths and have most of their albums. That's the most incriminating part.'
Have you ever met Morrissey?
'No. I wish I coulda got my picture taken with him. That would've been right up there with me and Santa Claus.'
Manson vs women
Women in the book - apart from Missi and your mother - are represented as unattractive victims or beautiful bitches who have come to steal your soul. Would you agree that there's a misogynist element to it?
'I had more of a misogynist outlook when I was growing up, which came from having my heart broken by someone who was very beautiful and unobtainable. That caused a lot of bitterness. But I've grown up. I don't think I've ever misused anyone because of their looks, but because of their intelligence. People have to choose a role in life. Either they're a user or they're someone who will be used, and those people should just be thankful that they're even useful.
A lot of people think the chapter about the deaf girl [I can't fully describe this episode involving water sports, a variety of cold meats, and a band member screaming 'I want to come in your useless ear canal' without a lawyer and a priest present. It's in the book - GM] is particularly abusive, but anyone who was there will tell you that the girl was more in charge of the show than I was. She want around and showed photographs to all of her friends - even my girl friend, which got me in trouble at the time. I'm not a saint, and I've never tried to be.'
Brimstone and faecal
The funniest things in the book, apart from those Internet fan rumours, are the affidavits fakes by various right-wingers in order to get Manson shows banned. One in particular is a masterpiece in which an 'eye-witness' charges that the band feed drugs tot he entire crowd, have a busful of kidnapped kids and various animals to be ritually abused on stage, and that Manson encourages the audience to rape each other. Of course, this is ridiculous. I mean, how much would it cost to provide cocaine for 3,000 teenagers a night?
Or that I'd be interested in giving away my drugs, and not using them myself. They were very creative, though. But that goes back to the old saying, “it takes one to know one.” These are people who accuse me of being depraved and sick, and here they are dreaming up things so offensive that even I hadn't thought of them. They've given me some great ideas. I should thank them.'
Did these people think you wouldn't use the law to fight back?
'I think they just thought the police would intervene and just shut us down. They forgot that this is America in the '90's. They tried the same things on Elvis, Madonna, Ozzy Osbourne, and have always been unsuccessful. Anyway, most time it was nothing to do with me or the kids. They were just using me as a forum for re-election or collecting money. And I used them just as much as they used me. I gave them some great on a Sunday afternoon, and they justified my entire existence.'
The impersonation of a fascist rally, complete with swastika-style flags, straight-arm salutes, and pyrotechnic rabble-rousing, aims a brave political broadside at both the religious right and stadium rock performers. Weren't you worried that you'd be completely misunderstood?
'A lot of people were afraid for me to do it. But I felt if I did it well enough, people would understand what I was getting at. In the end, it caused all the different reactions that I wanted. Some people thought it was great satire, others thought I was a fascist, others just blindly pumped their fists and didn't notice the irony.'
Did the ecstatic crowds ever freak you out?
Every night, That's why I chose to do it. It's something that's always fascinated me, from Hitler and Stalin to Bill Clinton and Jerry Falwell; the magic of crowd control. Combine that power with music and it's a feeling you can't get anywhere else.'
Werent you worried about the effect on your sense of perspective?
'No. But if I'd done it in the state I was in when I was making the record... I probably wouldn't have been able to execute it at all.'
At this point, Manson lurches off to the loo. Despite his dapper clothing and verbal confidence, the walk reveals a great deal about him. He's a clumsy flail of spindly arms and legs revealing the picked-last-at-games nerd beneath the meticulously constructed rock-star persona. I begin to think that Brian Warner is kinda...sweet. I decide not to tell him this.
In the book, you reveal a large appetite for drugs, weird sex and all forms of scatological debauchery. Yet you get uptight about smoking?
He laughs. It's probably because my father smoked so much when I was a kid and it represented a very adult thing. Same with coffee. I'm sure if my parents did drugs, I never woulda done drugs. And it seems a lot of effort for very little return. I'm just kinda practical. If I'm gonna smoke something, I at least want a reaction from it. It's gonna have to be human bones or nuthin.'
No, that one's a not a rumour. Manson and keyboard player Pogo aka Madonna Wayne Gacy (starlet-serial killer - geddit?) stole some bones from a New Orleans graveyard and attempted to smoke the shavings. Nothing much happened, except everyone puked. You take a great deal of pleasure from telling that story, don't you?
Well.. people find it so absurd. They don't believe the more ridiculous things that I've done. Which is the strange thing about my life, the funniest things are all true. Some of the more simple things I make up- like going to the mall.'
Ah. So you send a minion to buy those domestic essentials for you?
Usually. Just because so many people are smiling and holding hands. It makes me nervous.'
Manson vs God
Virtually all Manson songs feature a near hysterical hatred of organised Christianity. Moreover, the book tries gamely to explain that Satanism is nothing to do with a beardy bloke with a pitchfork.
People will never accept Satanism, though it exists everywhere. There's nothing more Satanic than the way Christians exploit their followers. It also exists in all kinds of art, in out selfishness, in rebellion in its purest form, in any free-thinking area. But to be honest, I've grown tired of trying to explain it to people who are already living it. Why bother giving it a name?'
You state in the book that a person can only develop personal morality through experience...'You can't have a virgin tell you not to have sex,' he interrupts. 'It doesn't make sense.'
Fair point. But how far does it go? Do you have to murder someone before you can judge it as an immoral act?
That's up to the individual. If you kill someone you're gonna learn your lesson, because even if you thought it was right, society doesn't and you'll be sent to jail. So you have to weigh up your morality with the law and what's popular. Thinking a certain way and everyone hating you is different from acting a certain way and being punished for it. It doesn't work as a catch-all. If you're gonna kill someone just for the thrill of it, don't get caught.'
Manson vs Britain
What you do doesn't make sense in Britain. People just think you're a comedy goth. Does that bother you?
No. I think we're a very American band. I consider myself more a part of American pop culture than music or anything else. Marilyn Manson is a mockery of American pop culture. That's the best way Europeans could look at us - as a statement about American culture. Europe seems to be going through the same thing we did five or six years ago - the Runge era. Where there are no stars and being a star is a bad thing. It's probably part of a cycle, and maybe it's part of my responsibilities to help bring that star stuff back over there. I'll put it on my list of things to do today.'
Oddly enough, most of your musical heroes appear to be...
All of my heroes are European - Annie Lennox, David Bowie, Adam Ant, Gary Numan. Heh. That's the irony of it, I suppose.'
Who do you see as your current pop peers?
Well, strangely enough, the only people at the moment who I feel have a similar sense of humour and showmanship are the Spice Girls. 'Cos they've taken it to that extreme - a different kind of extreme to me - but with the potato chips and Pepsi. And that in itself is...'
..a pop-art statement?
What if I was to say that they don't mean to be? I mean, everyone in Britain is slowly realising that there is no satire or subversive intent - they're just making a large bag of money before everyone gets bored and banishes them to the seaside cabaret circuit. Would that matter?
Only in my respect for them. But I can appreciate them as a pop-art statement, so who cares if no one else does?'
Manson vs The Man
Okay, here's the ultimate rock-star dream scenario. At the end of 'Antichrist Superstar', the kids at the show do not go home sweaty and satiated. You have whipped them into an anti-authoritarian fervour. They run out into the street and riot. Soon, news spreads through CNN and, throughout America, the streets are ablaze. You suddenly realise you have inspired revolution. Good thing or bad thing? Manson pauses, but not for long.
'It would depend on what I did with it. It would be a good thing if it was used for positive ends. Like the movie “Wild in the Streets” [ a 1968 satire about a teenage takeover of America, with all the adults being force-fed LSD - GM]. Maybe we could gat all the people who don't think too much and give'em some drugs until they start to think a little more.'
What is the 'positive end'?
'A very selfish one which caters to my tastes. A place where artists, musicians, creative people were in control, rather than people who try and suppress thinking. Have those people be our workhorses - cleaning our brushes, so to speak.'
Blimey. You really do believe in the whole messianic power of rock'n'roll thing, don't you?
Sure, What else is there to believe in?'
Rage of innocence?
Despite Marilyn Manson's faith in the power of rock, history tells us that noisy guitars and outrageous performers provide the best youth safety-valve know to man. But, whether he makes his more emotional, 'human', record or not, the Manson persona has made its point. The targets and pressures may be different, but black and white American youth are increasingly united in directionless rage and alienation, acting out violent fantasies in a warped tribute to their disapproving elders. They look to people who seem to understand them for release. Former losers made good, like Brian Warner. Three days after the interview, two pre-teen boys open fire on a school playground in Arkansas, killing four girls and a teacher. One of them was taught to shoot by his grandfather.