The Strife Of Brian
In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, America's media turned Marilyn Manson into the most vilified man on the planet. Three months after the tragedy, he is finally ready to talk about the most difficult time of his life.
The light is starting to fade. It's around 8:50 pm and the backstage area at Milton Keynes Bowl is being cleared to allow Metallica to walk to the stage.
Elsewhere in the backstage compound, Marilyn Manson has finished drying himself off following a rather fraught Big Day Out set involving an attempt to dive into the crowd to tackle a fan who had thrown a particularly well aimed bottle, and a mini onstage fracas with drummer Ginger Fish. Then again, Manson's recent past has been fraught in more ways than one.
On April 20, when teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked in to Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and opened fire on their classmates, killing 13 people, Marilyn Manson was the man who the world's media chose to blame. "Killers Worshipped Rock Freak Manson," screamed a headline in The Sun.
In the wake of the massacre, Manson has kept interviews down to a minimum. Scrapping their US tour, the band have been working on new songs for the follow-up to Mechanical Animals. Manson himself has been busy painting and working on a script for an as-yet-untitled movie.
On this three-week European tour, however, Manson hit the headlines again when he walked offstage following sound problems at MTV's Southside Festival, inspiring the crowd to riot.
Despite constant attempts to justify himself, the spectre of Columbine hangs over Manson and his band. Quite how much they've been affected by the events of three months ago, we're about to find out.
As the first chords of Metallica's Breadfan ring out across Milton Keynes Bowl, manager Tony Ciulla directs me to an inglorious cabin dressing room. Reclining on a couch, Manson has wiped off his make-up. Gone is the red triangle on his forehead, his stage basque and his studded wrist-bands. Despite the fact that he is travelling with fiancée Rose McGowan, Marilyn is alone and clothed in a demure black shirt, pinstriped trousers and a black fedora hat. His thick, silver-framed '70s shades make it difficult to ascertain whether he is actually looking at you when he speaks.
Sipping on a bottle of water, he seems a million miles away from the man who, an hour ago, was introducing I Don't Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me) with a flamboyant roll call of stimulants. In fact, it's hard to work out whether this is Marilyn Manson, rock star and self-appointed Public Enemy Number One, or plain old Brian Warner.
Either way, he is friendly and - after discussing Kerrang!'s reporting of the Columbine witch-hunt ("Thank you for that support, you guys were the best," he says) - we get down to talking about the situation that he finds himself in right now. Manson, it seems, is ready to talk.
Looking back at what happened in Colorado, how do you feel now?
What happened in America is exactly the kind of thing that made me want to start this band. It's why I chose to name this band Marilyn Manson and point out exactly what is wrong with America. It's ironic when you think about how people reacted to things.
What most people don't realise is that for me, the extent of what I would call my art - to use a stupid word like that - is not just limited to my music, but it's also about people's reaction to my music. If something like that happens, the way people react to me is expected - and it's a true test of prowess, whether that's mental, physical or however you want to look at it. It's prowess that allows someone to survive through that.
It's like Aleister Crowley who, in his time, was destroyed by the press. They called him a Satan worshipper when he was one of the greatest philosophers and magicians of his time. I look at it on that kind of scale. Some people looked at things on such a simple scale they thought that that was the kind of publicity that I wanted. All I can say is that that's not what I wanted. There's a great difference between what I do and what people accuse me of.
How did the whole Columbine episode affect you personally?
It made it difficult for me to make an effort. It was a hard year. It was a pitiful year for rock music and I felt I was trying to do something very rock 'n' roll and melodic that proved to kids that rock is more than aggression and heavy music. I felt we were going against the grain. Then, all of a sudden, you have this feeling that the whole world is against you for a very different reason.
It was very different from the whole Antichrist Superstar period, where having the whole world against you felt good. For me, personally, it was very tough; but I feel like in the end everything happened for a reason and I feel like I'm more inspired than ever to go and make the new album.
We played a new song in our set, Astonishing Panorama Of The End Times. It was originally written for Antichrist Superstar but we didn't use it on that album - it'll be on the next one. It was actually rejected by MTV because they requested a song to be used for Celebrity Deathmatch. I wrote a song that was directly referring to these events that were happening in America and they thought it was too violent. I thought the fact that a show called Celebrity Deathmatch would say that anything was too violent was very ironic. It made me laugh. It made me realise that I'm still living in the same world as I was 10 years ago when I started to write music.
After you were blamed for influencing Harris and Klebold, did you fear for your life and think that a group of Christian extremists might put a price on your head?
Those type of attacks were actually more extreme with Antichrist Superstar. Strangely enough, everything that the press and politicians dug up to blame me for what happened in Colorado were all things from my previous albums.
The last tour in America was not received with the same kind of resistance. There weren't as many death threats as there were the last time. I wasn't that concerned about that, I was more concerned, as an artist, about the welfare of art. I was concerned that everyone would suffer. I had to stand up for everyone. If I didn't say what I had to say, everyone suffers. I mean, they pulled episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer off TV because they were meant to be too violent. Our movies are turning to a total crock of shit now because they want to play it safe and churn out the blandest stuff in the history of film-making because of the reaction to what happened, and that's sad. That's why I'm so inspired. It's affected the new album and the statements I was going to make on the record. It's made them more important.
The movie that I'm going to make is going to be the ultimate payback, the ultimate statement to a world that's full of shit. I can't wait to make them wish that I was never born.
So let's talk about the movie.
The one thing that can be said about it is that, strangely enough, the movie, in its deepest interpretation , is somewhat anti-violence. However, that means in order to appreciate the lack of violence, you have to show people what true violence is . The movie is, in some ways, a love story, so in order to appreciate it in that sense you have to inflict extreme things.
Some of the things that I've hinted at on Mechanical Animals - which is the basis for the movie - will be in there. Moreover, some of the things that I kind of talked about on Antichrist Superstar are, more importantly, what it's about.
What about the plot?
It's about a person who is disillusioned with what he thinks the world is, and he grows up and becomes what he thinks he wants to be. He realises that what he's become is everything he's always fought against.
In a sense it's very Shakespearean. It's a very traditional story but the way I'm going to tell it is with extreme, never-before-heard-of concepts. I wanted to have a very traditional story so people don't get lost. The way that I show violence in this film will be in a way that no one has ever seen.
In what way?
It's going to make people re-evaluate their feelings on violence. It's going to make people really wonder whether they're hating it or glorifying it. I really want people to think about that, but not in a stupid PC kind of way where people say, "We should stop glorifying violence." I'm studying the idea of man's nature to be violent.
To me, I'm going to show people that I have a really new outlook on religion. I have a true belief in Christ in a different sense than Christianity has portrayed. I have a different interpretation of Jehovah, the Old Testament God, than the one people have portrayed. And a different interpretation of Satan.
If it helps people to visualise it - because I don't want to talk too much about it now - the people that I've taken a lot of my inspiration from would be Kenneth Anger, Philip K. Dick, JG Ballard: people who took very powerful symbolic ideas and took the time to really see what makes the world go round. I've taken these symbols and I want to tell people a story that kids aren't going to see in a Hollywood movie, or in a music video or on a regular rock record. I want to do something that - whether or not it's well received - makes a very important statement towards people's spiritual lives.
In some ways Christianity should thank me and in some ways they should hate me, because I'm really going to pull down the curtain on them. And not in the way that they expect me to. I'm not going to say things like, "God doesn't exist" or "Let's worship Satan." The film will say: "God does exist, but it's not the God you've been lying to us about all this time."
On a personal note, do you feel you've been dehumanised by the way in which the media have treated you?
I think in some ways I've been more humanised. I've had time to look further. I think a person with a closed mind is the most dangerous person, so for me to say that I've figured out the world and spirituality would be a very ignorant thing to say. Because of everything that's happened, I've come to terms with things I never believed I could come to terms with. That's what I'm going to show the world on this next record. It's going to blow a lot of people's minds, but I hope it makes people feel a lot better about themselves.
Sticking with the personal aspects of your life, obviously you and Rose are engaged. Are you thinking of getting hitched?
Yes. We're going to get married. We just bought a house. I don't feel as though that's settling down. I think it's great that I've found somebody who respects what I do and gives me the ability to do what I want. I have someone that I trust and it's hard to find someone that you trust in this world, especially for someone like me. So I feel lucky that I'm in that situation. In no way does it feel like settling down - it feels liberating to me. It think the idea of always trying to find someone you can believe in is much more painful than having that person.
Everyone expects that Marilyn Manson should have a wedding day that's like a freak show and over the top. Will it be?
It's hard to say. I hate to fulfill people's expectations. The obvious thing would be to do the opposite. I'm going to do what makes me and her happy, and I'm not sure I care what the world thinks about it. It's got nothing to do with anyone else.
Will you get married in a church?
Hmmm. I don't think so. And not for the reasons that people would expect. I think churches are very powerful places. I don't like traditional ceremonial things because often people forget the importance of what you're doing. It's the same with magic. They think it's about saying "Abracadabra" and having the right ingredients. It's not about that. It's about willpower. I think love is the same way. It's a question of asking what you're trying to do. You're trying to make a bond, and you don't need a church to do that.
On the subject of relationships, how have you found things within the band? Are your relationships different due to what's happened?
We've gotten very close on this recent tour because of what happened. I think everybody, more than ever, feels the way I do. I think that we realise that we've been in this together for a long time, even the people who have just joined us. We know we're the only friends that we have in the world and I think that we finally realised that. When all's said and done we care about each other, even though that's hard to say. We realised that we like each other and we understand each other's idiosyncrasies. Musically, we're in a very strong groove. We feel like a band for the first time, which is really strange. We wanted that on the last record, but we were missing a few ingredients. I think now we feel very strong.
In terms of what you want to achieve now, are you at a crossroads?
I think I've discovered my key to whatever's going to happen next. I was pushing myself to find it with Antichrist Superstar, and I think Mechanical Animals was kind of me criticising myself. I was mocking myself, and that's something that people will have missed about the Omega character on that record.
The songs had a very sarcastic attitude that was really a mockery. Not to say that I don't like the record, because I love it, but it wasn't as understood as maybe it should have been.
I'm not sure if I can say that I have become less human now because of what's happened, but from now on I will become less accessible to the world. I will only speak through what I do.
I plan on doing an art show with my paintings because I've got a lot of pleasure from doing them recently. I don't like it when rock 'n' roll people do an art show, but for me I was always an artist. At school, it was my first love. I remember trying to paint Iron Maiden's sleeve for Live After Death for art class. It means I don't feel bad about doing the art thing.
So for me, next year will probably be the best year of my life because I will be able to fulfill a lot of my dreams by putting out a lot of my art, by making a movie and by putting out an album that will really define Marilyn Manson as a musical force.