My first encounter with Marilyn Manson actually begins a few years earlier than this interview, while working for Thrust Magazine in Tampa, Florida. At that time, the band was known as Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids and called Ft. Lauderdale, Florida home. Their underground legion of loyal fans seemed to grow almost daily. And they were constantly on the verge of success. The cult that built itself around the band became an extension of the band's own creative extremism, and when Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor formed his own label, Nothing, he signed the elusive Marilyn Manson.
Always drawing a response, always drawing some kind of attention somewhere, it didn't take long for a cynical world of rock and roll to embrace the blasphemous and shocking Mr. Manson into their fold and after completion of the band's first full length CD for Nothing, Portrait Of An American Family, and performing at the CMJ showcase in New York about the same time, the band engaged in a full length tour with Nine Inch Nails, and across the country, community censors fired their shots.
There was the incident that took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Marilyn Manson was paid by the building manager of The Delta Center not to perform that night. At the end of the show, Reznor brought Mr. Manson on stage, and the two informed the crowd in attendance of the venue's censorship practices. While haranguing the promoter, the facility and the city of Salt Lake, Mr. Manson ripped pages from The Book Of Mormon out and threw them into the audience. Later these actions caused both Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails to be permanently banned from the venue.
When the tour arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, members of Jacksonville's Christian Coalition petitioned the city government to ban such performances in public facilities. As the proof in the pudding for their demands, Christian Coalition coordinator Max Kerrar appeared in the Florida Times-Union holding up a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, the now infamous and collector's item special that reads, KILL GOD. KILL YOUR MOM AND DAD. KILL YOURSELF.
Of course, if Mr. Kerrar had bothered to actually read the smaller print on the T-shirt, he would have found this message instead: 'Warning: The music of Marilyn Manson contains messages that will KILL GOD in your impressionable teenage minds. As a result you could be convinced to KILL YOUR MOM AND DAD and eventually in an act of hopeless 'rock and roll' behavior you will KILL YOURSELF. Please burn your records while there is still hope.' Apparently Mr. Kerrar was going for the same impact and shock value as the band.
And it worked. Playing their own devil's advocate, the controversy generated by The Christian Coalition of Jacksonville Florida followed Marilyn Manson. Upon their return to Jacksonville later that year, Marilyn Manson were on their first headlining club tour and the December 27th performance took them to the privately owned Club Five in the city's "hip" district of Five Points. This time, as part of "an undercover adult entertainment investigation," several police officers entered the building and arrested Mr. Manson.
The police report reads: "During the concert (Mr. Manson) pulled down his pants exposing a simulated black penis and began to rubb [sic] it. He squeezed it several times and squirted an unknown liquid on the crowd. He continues to play and... pulled down his pants exposing his buttocks and made no attempt to pull his pants up." Opening band Jack Off Jill's lead vocalist Jessica was also arrested for solicitation of lewdness and the pair spent the next sixteen hours in jail. Almost six months later, Marilyn Manson returned to Jacksonville and to Club Five, intact and wired in front of a sold out crowd while opening for Danzig. Outside of a power failure just before the band's last song, nothing stood in the way that night of a Marilyn Manson performance. Like most things in life, it comes down to a question of who holds the most toys. Pow Pow Pow.
Ironically, the power failure that closed Marilyn Manson's set prematurely was an appropriate symbol of the hidden reality of Marilyn Manson's wild rampage through American Fear and Paranoia. The two traditional forces of good vs. evil found a common meeting ground in Jacksonville, Florida and a full scale cartoon war ended with the villain triumphant. The Christian Coalition tried to stop Marilyn Manson, but found themselves instead looking at the dark mirror of the world they created. Marilyn Manson is their perfect child, saved as a fetus to prove the true value of the American Family. The Contract With America is out, and it's an APB for Marilyn Manson.
Relaxing at a friend's home in New Orleans Louisiana after completing the Danzig tour, Mr. Manson, who speaks with a slight reptilian accent clears the air regarding Jacksonville, the new record, talk shows, and rock 'n' roll in general.
Leslie R. Marini: Suppose you tell me 'in your own words' what happened in Jacksonville? Basically, who threw the first punch?
Marilyn Manson: Yeah. From what I recall, when we played with Nine Inch Nails in Jacksonville, there were rumors and warnings and threats that I'd get arrested for my performance, but that night I went ahead and performed as I wanted, and I didn't censor anything for Jacksonville's sake, and nothing really came of it. The next time, between then and the time we came back on our club tour, we had gotten a lot of threats from The Christian Coalition, in conjunction with the Jacksonville Police Department that our show wasn't going to happen. So, when we arrived in Jacksonville the day that we performed on our club tour, I spoke with the manager of Club Five, and I asked if there was anything I should be taking into consideration, or anything I should be concerned about as far as performance and I was assured that I was to go on with everything as I planned, there were no problems.
So, the show went on as planned, and towards the end there was some nudity, and apparently there were some undercover cops in the crowd, right after I got back from the dressing room they arrested me, and I spent sixteen hours in jail, a lot of harassment from a lot of Baptists, police officers, things like that. I got out, and we weren't gonna play the show at Club Five on the Danzig tour, but, we felt we didn't want to let down any fans we may have in Jacksonville, so we went ahead and did it. There weren't any problems, but as if an act of fate, before we had to perform our last song, the power died out.
You know, for a brief, fleeting moment, I thought that was part of the show. But knowing the venue I know otherwise. And after seeing you perform in various places this year, all the shows are very unique. Are your performances more spontaneous than planned?
Yeah, it's all depending on what kind of mood I'm in. I'm a very moody person, so instead of making that a fault, I try to capitalize on it, and I express whatever I have to at any given moment and that's why sometime things come out offensive to some, it's because I'm just expressing myself how I feel, a lot of people are afraid to say what's on their mind, but I think if more people did, then things would be understood better.
I guess it's safe to say that you're a product of your environment.
Yeah, and I think my environment is a product of me now. I think, now, as the scales begin to tip, and I have an influence on what's around me, I slowly see things changing more to my liking, through how our fans interpret what we do and how they start to change their life-styles.
Basically, what is your responsibility to your audience?
If I can at least make people want to ask questions, at least make them want an answer, want the answer, I don't really have the answer necessarily, but if I make them want something more than what they're given on MTV, in commercial radio, then I think I've accomplished something. Because now, the idea of individuality, is just completely misinterpreted by kids growing up. They are sold individuality from MTV, they're told how to be cool, they're told what they're supposed to like and they think they're being rebellious because their parents don't agree with it, they're just being part of an anti-trend.
According to your bio, Marilyn Manson is "the all American anti-Christ bathed in talk-show trash, here to help hysterical housewives wallow in their own suffering." You've also appeared on Phil Donahue, and of course the name Marilyn Manson evokes the two images, beauty, Marilyn Monroe, and evil, Charles Manson. How do you interpret this mass voyeurism that is American Culture?
I think America is all a talk show, I think, right now, we're on a talk show, and the people who read the article that you write will be a part of the same talk show. It's just people find their own lives so boring that they have to live vicariously through other people's misfortunes and daytime dramas and all that, it's what America has become. People are too lazy to live their own lives, so they'd rather watch other people's lives and try to stand in judgement from their couch and judge other people for what they're doing. The talk show hosts don't even realize they're a part of it, I see shows about, like for example if they were to have me on there, they would probably have someone who's family was murdered by one of the serial killer's names who's part of Marilyn Manson, and the talk show host would probably ask me how I can capitalize off of other people's pains and make money off it, when that's what the whole talk show is about, and that's exactly what he's doing, and he's playing this part, wearing this good guy badge. What I'm saying is, they miss the point about what I'm saying just by them having a show like that is proving my point. They're not exposing me, my whole point is everyone's a hypocrite, you just decide which lie works for you best. It's just like the amusement park mentality. People see a sign that says ride at your own risk, that's what they want right away, that sense of danger.
How was your Phil Donahue experience?
I think it came full circle because talk shows were part of what spawned Marilyn Manson. I think to be on there was appropriate, but I didn't think there was any way of actually getting my point across because people aren't really there to talk about the problem or try to solve the problem, they're only there to pick sides.
It's like for me, it's not pro-life or pro-choice, how about dealing with the real problem, maybe birth control? That's just an example of how I would interpret a war between two sides, nobody wants to deal with the problem, they just want to be on a team, and that's the way talk shows are. I was surprised that more people weren't attacking me, because I expected everyone to just team up on me, but they actually didn't. I found it to be kinda boring. I thought it was kinda, very low key, compared from what I expected it to be.
So it was anti-climatic.
Just because there was not much of a reaction either way from the audience. They were so confused. They didn't have any reaction, they didn't know whether to hate me or like me or be scared of me, I think they were just, they didn't have time to decide, and by the time they decided, the show was over.
Wasn't the forum centered around the death of a kid who died at Club L'Amour in Brooklyn during a Life Of Agony show?
Yeah! The big question was, should kids be allowed to slam or not to slam. That's not the question. The question was: 'If someone's stupid enough to jump off a stage and they kill themselves, that's what they deserve.'
You can't expect to jump off a stage and not hurt yourself. That's just plain ignorant. Even the parents of the child who died agreed with me. Nobody in the audience really had any other point to make other than, 'rock music is the reason why today's youth is so fucked up.'
Well, obviously these people needed something outside of themselves to blame for their problems. That is the function of the Devil in traditional Southern Christian religions, and it seems to be the function of Marilyn Manson for these same groups, or it can be an exhilarating experience for those so inclined to a more diversified view.
Sure, Marilyn Manson is the same thing for me. I'm into that balance of positive and negative in the extremist forms, and that's why people don't really understand a lot of things I'm saying. They can't understand how I can open up the show with something from Willy Wonka and close the show with Rock 'n' Roll Nigger by Patti Smith. It doesn't make sense to them. But that's what I'm about. Extremes. Extreme positive, extreme negative. I find that gray area that you find in the middle, that is what I find works for me. It's just, I'm extreme in anything I do. In America, and mostly due to part of Christianity, we're taught to have such watered down feelings, y'know, 'love thy neighbor', 'love thy enemy'.
Y'know, if you love everyone around you, if you love everyone, then what does love mean? That's the kind of mentality we have. That's not the case for me, if I hate something, I despise it with all my heart, and if I love something, I would never ruin it for anything.
What's the extreme positive for Marilyn Manson?
I think by being ourselves, and saying really what's on my mind, it lets a lot of people feel like it's okay for them to do the same, and I think it gets a lot of people to let out things that they've got pent up inside of them, whether that be positive or negative, they have a chance to get it out when they listen to our CD or see us perform.
You've said, "Marilyn Manson is the harvest of thrown away kids, and America is now afraid to reap what it has sown." Of course, the imagery of growing up in Talk-Show America is very relevant in your own themes. So many parents fail to communicate with their offspring.
You can't hide the world from children, because they just want to look for it more and they find it the wrong way for the wrong reasons. So, I think if you share a little bit of truth when you're raising your kids, you have a better chance of them growing up to be responsible adults like myself. [laughs]
Let's backtrack a moment here. Before the show that got you arrested in Jacksonville, didn't you request a meeting with the area's Christian Coalition group?
Yes, I did. I wanted to meet with them, and, whether it would result in an argument, I had no plans of arguing, I was just going to speak my side of the story and let them say what they wanted to say, but they refused to do so. That was only just to show them that I had some courtesy, because it's really not even my responsibility to waste my time talking to people like that, that I have nothing to do with, but I wanted to show them, that look, I'm a person that's willing to talk and discuss ideas, and talk about whatever you want, but they were too afraid for whatever reasons.
True power comes from accepting responsibility for your own actions, your own thoughts and not blaming others. This dynamic is what really scares these groups, because they lose control. It's important for them that people not think for themselves.
That's the thing, if you want to be an individual, then you have to accept the responsibility of that. That goes for everyone, people in America, they all want to have the freedom to do and say and read and listen, watch whatever they want, but people don't want to accept the responsibility if they get themselves into trouble, they want to cop out and say, well, I did it because of that, I did it because of this. If our music made more stupid people kill themselves, I'd be the happiest person.
Well, I'd like to thank you for your time today, and before we close up, why don't you indulge in a little shameless self-promotion. You're back in New Orleans now, and working on some new stuff, which of course Trent Reznor is assisting you with.
We just finished the Danzig tour, we're kind of recovering from that now, and we're working on B-sides for our next single, and our new video for Dope Hat, which is also our new single. It's gonna have the long awaited recording of Sweet Dreams that we've been doing on tour that everyone keeps asking about, and it's gonna have some other B-sides which may include Screamin' Jay Hawkins I Put A Spell On You, Patti Smith's Rock N' Roll Nigger and some interesting interpretations of our own songs that are much different than they appear on Portrait Of An American Family. We're writing songs for our next album, we'll be working on maybe in September.