Marilyn Manson: Manson Family Values
By John Pecorelli
“Music is one of the only things that matters. I don't even think kids care who the President is... I think if someone like Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson were going today, they would be rock stars.” —Marilyn Manson
Dateline: Thanksgiving Day, 1995, Omni Hotel, Detroit MI:
“I don't think I can even sit at the same table as you,” mutters Twiggy Ramirez, flipping a lime wedge at me. Marilyn Manson's gaunt, cross-dressing bassist is pissed off that I've asked for the traditional word of prayer before we cut into the Thanksgiving bird. Okay then, I say, the least we could do is ponder what we have to be thankful for this holiday season.
“I'm thankful I have two middle fingers,” sneers lead singer Marilyn, showing them both to me. “I only wish I had more.”
“I refuse to even eat,” puts in keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, whose bald head and half-foot devil goatee have him looking like a cross between Vladimir Lenin and Nosferatu. “How could I endorse any holiday that symbolizes cooperation among peoples?”
At this point Marilyn announces his plan to sodomize me later, after which he'll “devirginize” Donny Osmond, who's staying in the same hotel, too. I tell him I think Donny's been married, and is no virgin.
“I meant with this,” Manson proclaims, holding up his fist, which is well-stocked with large, horned rings.
That was my first encounter with the Manson family, not exactly holiday dinner at home with Mom and Sis. And Detroit ain't high on most people's list of winter vacation meccas, either. But what better place to ponder the decline of American civilization than the economically battered Motor City, and who better to ponder it with than bisexual, flag-burning, devil-worshipping, teen-sex-mongering, you-name-it-they'll-smoke-it, self-proclaimed “Antichrist superstars” Marilyn Manson?
“I think our band is simply America at its truest,” Marilyn told me at the time, sporting pinkish sequins instead of eyebrows across his bone-pale face. “Caffeine, sugar, violence, drugs—these are all the things we were raised on. And as things start to get more and more out of hand in America, everyone's trying to take it all back and give you NutraSweet and PG-13 and safe sex,” he says calmly. “But how can they take it away and try to start over? It's like we're listening to a cassette tape of the end of the world—I just want to fast forward it and turn it up louder.”
Now we're on the eve of 1996, sitting comfortably in Times Square's Millennium Broadway hotel, 28 floors above the 400,000 partiers gathered outside for the world's largest New Year's celebration. While Marilyn Manson's show at the Academy Theatre will be over early, he's got no desire to join the festivities.
“Fuck celebrating,” he says tiredly, reclining on the queen bed. “Fuck having fun. Fuck loving everybody. What good does that do?”
Perhaps not surprisingly, my initial question regarding Marilyn Manson was not a complex one: Are these guys for real? After all, there are those who claim Manson is not so much a rock-and-roll group as a cartoon drama premeditated for maximum offensiveness (and the free publicity it garners). Regardless, Manson is playing the moral minority like a deck of cheap tarot cards: In the past year alone his group has managed to enrage everyone from PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals) to the Christian Coalition. Even members of British Parliament have gotten into the act, trying to ban the band's Trent Reznor–produced debut album, Portrait of an American Family, from English record stores, calling it “an outrage against society” (an endorsement most extreme artists can only dream of). But after so much of Marilyn's figurative and literal devil's advocacy—he is, after all, an ordained reverend in Anton LaVey's Church Of Satan—you can't resist wondering if some of the critics have a point: Is Marilyn Manson simple shock rock, a band whose actual music is to be taken lightly—if at all?
“I would say if that were the case we could be a lot more offensive,” winks Marilyn. “I mean, if our music didn't matter, we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation. I think anybody can say what I want to say. Anybody can look like I look. But if the music isn't something that people can identify with, it's not going to matter... I think in the end Marilyn Manson is definitely a band, and we like to write songs. But at the same time I think things need to be powerful, need to hit you in the face these days, because there are so many things in your face, and everyone's so desensitized.
“You really need to pummel them to get your point across.”
Over beers and Camels at the hotel bar, Madonna Wayne (a Schopenhauer freak and Ramones fanatic) is markedly less contemplative about the issue. Sporting an exquisitely loud black and red t-shirt (“the colors of fascism!” he notes gleefully) that reads “I Love Satan,” Madonna Wayne cackles, “Why would I want to look like I have some kind of office job, like most of those plaid-shirt college bands, when I'm in one of the only professions there is that allows me to look completely fucking insane?!”
Twiggy just sighs, toying with the hem of his floral sun dress. “I think the rock star today is dead,” he says quietly. “My stage persona is closer to who I am than my true identity. When I became Twiggy Ramirez it sort of overcame what I was,” he smiles. “I think people can change their identities on the turn of a dime, and I don't think that means being fake... You're cheating yourself if you just wanna be one thing when you can be everything. Identity is much bigger than one single thing—but sometimes they call that schizophrenia,” he chuckles.
“Everyone is so worried about being real, being themselves,” Twiggy concludes, “that I think our image actually adds to our message.”
The message, in short: fuck authority. The long version, of course, is a bit more complicated, dealing with the complexities of modern American culture: the inherent contradictions between capitalism and Christianity, the hypocrisy of moralists, the struggle to retain individuality in a consumer society, and, of course, a healthy dose of sex, violence, and Satan. Borrowing from glam, goth, death-metal, punk—hell, name your poison—Marilyn Manson brew up a foul elixir that is pure adolescent fantasy, and one so rife with taboo and aggression it's sure to rile up mom and pop back at the trailer. And there's the frontman Marilyn, looking like a cross between Alice Cooper and some modern-day transsexual Willy Wonka, lending typically powerless teenagers a voice against all the societal structures they're being forced into—something very fundamental in the spirit of good rock and roll.
Twiggy's description of his band is less dramatic. “Well,” he hesitates, “we're probably somewhere between the Village People and Slayer.”
“It's powerful, fascist music mixed with make-up and sex,” cuts in Marilyn. “It's things that don't belong together. I like what Boyd Rice said about us. He described our live show as, ‘T. Rex at Nuremburg: It was violent and everyone wanted to fuck.'”
If Social Darwinist avant-prankster Boyd Rice exaggerated, it wasn't by much. The extreme nature of the music aside, the spectacle itself is both grotesque and entertaining:At a Detroit show, Manson carves up his chest with a bottle, Iggy style, and invites the obliging “cunts” in the front row to spit in his wounds. Lurching around under a giant Ouiji board backdrop, with eight lynched Howdy Doody dolls hanging in clumps around him, the skinny, panty-clad singer douses himself with beer, simulates sodomy with the mic, and regularly challenges local obscenity codes, once fellating Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finch at a Miami gig at which Marilyn's own parents were present.
“It was the end-of-the-tour period where bands are like playing pranks on one another,” Manson explains. “He was trying to egg us on, running onstage, making a spectacle. But instead of being made a fool of, I embraced the situation: I grabbed him and pulled his pants down and sucked his dick,” he laughs.
But Marilyn's sexuality isn't always so playful. In an especially visceral rendition of “Sweet Tooth” at Detroit 's St. Andrew's Hall, he glares into the eyes of a young female fan and screams, “I want you more when you're afraid...” At another show he asks, “How many of you little girls want to come up onstage,” then, pausing to listen to all the teenage shrieks, adds disgustedly, “and get fistfucked?”
“I've always had more of a morbid and ugly fascination with sex,” Marilyn told me later. “I had this weird grandpa who just died last year from cancer, he had one of those tracheotomies. He couldn't speak, just kind of barked in gravely grunts. He spent most of his time in the basement where he had these train sets and what we discovered when we were about 12 is that whenever he'd turn the trains on he was always masturbating, heavily, to all these real extreme fetish mags, like enema mags and gay porno.
“This was my first real introduction to sex—I guess that's how I started forming my ideas. Sex has always been an ugly thing for me, not necessarily in a negative way. I've always found horrifying things exciting, like pictures of naked women that have been murdered or something were always more arousing than just your standard Penthouse magazine pictures.”
But Manson gigs aren't merely explorations of sexual ugliness. Fascistic elements are involved that can be downright creepy. That Marilyn Manson enjoy one of the most fanatical followings in rock and roll, almost like satanic Deadheads, is apparent after just a few days with the band: In New York, a pair of teenage girls pop backstage with the word “manson” freshly carved into their chests, while another shows up with a copy of Joanne Greenberg's I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, a barely legible inscription scrawled on page one: “Mr. Manson, U are my hope and everything. U make my life tolerable.” In a Detroit, a young couple pleads with the Reverend Manson to seal them in marriage.
Perhaps recklessly, Marilyn occasionally uses this fan devotion to dabble in mass psychology. The charismatic singer will pause the set to lead the crowd in a sort of anti-pep rally: “We hate love, we love hate!” At one point in Detroit during the band's typical encore stunner, Patti Smith's “Rock And Roll Nigger,” he and the audience flip each other off in an eerily Nazi-like salute, chanting, “Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate!” Next to me is a middle-class white girl, barely pubescent, screaming it with every fiber of her small body, thoroughly immersed in the violence of the moment.
The following day, in the back room of the band's tour bus (where a copy of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's Occult Roots of Nazism lays conspicuously), Marilyn addresses my observations with characteristic bluntness.
“I just like to see what happens,” he says, emphasizing each syllable. “I'm interested. It's always been a bit of a science project for me: I like to find out what scares people, what excites them, what makes them angry.
“But you ultimately need to accept responsibility for your own actions,” he continues, the Stooges' Fun House blaring in the background. “I'm perfectly aware of that—I've gone to jail for things that I do onstage. People love to scapegoat and shove the responsibility off on somebody else. Parents are always blaming heavy metal and horror movies for teen suicide, but it's the deprivation of things that the kids love that drives them to these desperate means, I think. It's not in the music; it always starts in the family. And anyway, I've always said if more people killed themselves over heavy metal that's fine, too. It's just less stupid people in the world,” he chuckles.
Twiggy barges in on the interview, looking a few shades paler than normal.
“I'm so mad,” he blurts. “Remember those drugs yesterday that made me sick? You know what that was? Heroin!”
“Really?” asks a disbelieving Marilyn.
“Yes. I pulled a total Pulp Fiction and didn't even know it!” he yells. “I thought, ‘Well, it's white,' and she said, ‘Here's some drugs for you and Marilyn.' I go out and cut ‘em up, and think, ‘This tastes funny—is it speed or something?' It was horrible. It was like I played in a coma.”
Twiggy exits, and Marilyn gets back to the topic at hand, the fact that sometimes the live show seems closer to Nuremburg than T. Rex.
“It's one of those old clichés about performing when people say sometimes there's a magic that happens between the audience and the performer and certain nights it really clicks,” Marilyn says. “But that cliché's kind of true, because different nights you really tap into something powerful and I think it's not unlike a lot of the things that those people—you know, Antichrists of the past—tapped into.
“There'll be nights where you move a certain way and the whole crowd reacts to it and it's very powerful,” he continues. “To me that's the closest thing to black magic—or whatever you'd want to call that unexplainable supernatural force—that I've come to. A lot of people, my being associated with Satanism, come up to me after the show and say, ‘Do you practice satanic rituals?' and I tell them, ‘What do you think you just saw?'”
Marilyn decides to hit the malls the next day, wanting to pick up some new pantyhose and a few CDs. While we're waiting for the car in the hotel lobby with Twiggy, drummer Ginger Fish hurries by with a young woman, careful not to look our way.
“That is called the ‘Walk of Shame,'” Marilyn grins crookedly.
“When you leave the hotel with a woman that looked a lot better the night before,” finishes Twiggy.
The woman spots us and comes rushing over, alone, introducing herself and giving Marilyn and Twiggy a peck on the cheek.
“Poor thing,” murmurs Twiggy when she's gone, “she had to sleep with Ginger just to kiss us...”
“You see, elitism exists even within our band!” Marilyn chuckles.
“You must be a band!” announces a large black woman passing by, dragging her two children over to us. “Who are y'all?”
“Krokus,” Twiggy offers sincerely.
“Can you sign something for me?” The woman digs through her purse, fishing out a Christmas card. Twiggy signs as “Jeffrey Dahmer,” while Marilyn opts for “Adolf Hitler.” She puts the card away without looking at it.
“Here, have some Christmas presents,” Marilyn says as the woman saunters off, tossing her a bag of demos he's been instructed to listen to by road manager Frankie Callari.
Later, at the hotel, Twiggy's beaming over his new CD purchases: an Olivia Newton-John greatest hits package, Rainbow's Long Live Rock and Roll, Lionel Richie's Front to Back, and a King Diamond disc that contains a written drug warning: “Stop the madness! Drugs are no fun.”
As lines of cocaine are drawn out over the King Diamond CD, Marilyn ruminates almost apathetically on some of the band's enemies. Predictably, the Christian Coalition pops up, whose power in Manson's home state of Florida has had the singer jailed several times already.
“In Florida , the separation of church and state is just not real,” Manson observes. “I think that's one of the reasons Marilyn Manson came from Florida . It's almost to create a balance between the conservatism and the tourism and the whole phony Mickey Mouse, sunshine bullshit associated with the state. The dark underside had to surface at some point. That's what happened...
“But I almost have a weird respect for Christianity,” he continues, putting in a Gary Glitter CD, “because I think somebody, somewhere must know that it's complete bullshit. They're in on the inside joke.”
“The people in charge of all those religions are very intelligent,” Twiggy concurs. “They're controlling a lot of mindless fuckin' people. Actually, I think they're the most satanic of all, which I respect.”
But the indignation is not limited to the Far Right. Animal rights group PETA has vocally protested the band's occasional use of a chicken in a cage as an onstage prop. Marilyn finds an amusing irony to the situation.
“In the past we had six-year-old Robert Pierce, who sang on our album, onstage in a cage,” he says. “We let him sing ‘My Monkey.' And my point to PETA was, ‘Where were you when this kid was onstage?' Which I think is a bigger concern than an animal used for McChicken sandwiches. I think a lot of these people, for lack of any other identity sometimes, have to identify themselves with things that they don't like and attach themselves to some sort of morality. I happen to like animals, you know, I have pets. But at the same time that kind of fanatical reaction to having a chicken in a cage —I think these people could probably spend their time doing more important things—bombing abortion clinics, for example,” Marilyn chuckles sardonically.
“So we'd stopped having chickens in cages,” he continues, “and they just kept sending the police to our shows to make sure like a year after the fact. I wrote them a letter stating, ‘Each time I hear our name brought up in association with PETA, I'm going to torture an animal in the privacy of my own home.' We haven't heard from them since.”
Even the band's own distributor, Interscope Records, was reluctant to carry them at first, concerned particularly with the serial-killer monikers. But when Trent Reznor (who signed Manson as the first act to his Nothing Records, solely on the strength of their demos) started shopping the band around to other distributors, Interscope relented.
Marilyn shrugs it off. “I think [Interscope] were just a little nervous at first, which is understandable. If they weren't,” he laughs, “then I must be doing something wrong.”
Marilyn's New Year's message to the crowd at the sold-out Academy Theatre is a simple one: “Rehab is for quitters!”
The band then plows through a tight, invigorating set which culminates in Marilyn giving Daisy Berkowitz a shove, sending the quiet, introspective guitarist careening over the monitors and down into the security pit. Afterward, the band fights its way through the Times Square crowd and piles into a van headed for a party at MTV VJ/irritant Kennedy's apartment.
Wandering around Kennedy's pad, filled with industry bigwigs and other musicians, it's clear Marilyn's not comfortable. “Look, there's J Mascis,” he says, pointing out the Dinosaur Jr. frontman. “We should kill him.”
A 30-ish long-hair pops over to us and offers Marilyn a pill.
“What is it?” Marilyn queries.
“It's X,” he proclaims, “it'll make you love everybody.”
“Sorry,” Marilyn snickers, “you've got the wrong guy.”
I wander around, picking up snippets of band conversation. Daisy, who looks almost conservative by Manson standards in green hair and P-coat, is having a weird reaction to a combination of hash, X, and booze. Twiggy comforts him with a reminder of far worse chemical gumbos the band toyed with during their brief relocation to New Orleans : Special K, crack, Tic Tacs, bits of human bone—in one pipe.
In another room Madonna Wayne corners a fellow partier, animatedly sharing some suicide advice the son of an old war veteran gave him.
“If you have a shotgun,” he says excitedly, “and you pour a little bit of water down the barrel, and you put a big fuckin' deer slug in it, the shell will push the water up the barrel when it fires. The water actually scours the inside of your skull, it's like a high-pressure water cleaning, blows everything right out, like a guaranteed, can't-lose kill! Also, he said you can just hold a grenade right under your chin and pull the key—boom, ha ha ha!”
It's clear after an hour or so that everyone wants a new scene, and Marilyn and I eventually end up back at the hotel to conclude the interview.
Approaching five in the morning, with the sun creeping up on a new year, Manson becomes introspective, speaking modestly and openly about his true motivations.
“I think I've grown to become all the things that tormented and terrorized me as a child,” he says quietly. “Like in junior high school when I was constantly being bombarded with all this propaganda about Armageddon and the rapture, and if you're not born again you'll be left to suffer, the Antichrist—all these terrifying things that I was being lied to about. When I finally grew up and realized it wasn't true I felt almost obligated to make it come to pass, just call them on their bluff to pay them back for all the lies...
“Don't get me wrong,” he continues, “because I love paradoxes, but America's so confusing. Capitalism tells you if you work hard enough you'll be better than the next guy—but everyone's created equal. So what's it gonna be? And everyone's so down on child pornography, but then the big thing, just a year ago, was the waif model, who looked like a 14-year-old, flat-chested and skinny, dressed like a schoolgirl. I mean, they send out so many mixed messages it's no wonder there's Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers—they don't know what else to do. And then when you put the Christian guilt in there, that's when people just start breaking apart, you know. It's no wonder everyone wants to kill themselves and kill everyone else.”
Perhaps the key to this enigmatic performer, who publicly toys with every supposed social ill that Middle America abhors, from drugs and Satanism to bisexuality and fascism, lies in the convincing lyrics from “Lunchbox,” a melodic hard-rock anthem, and the band's best song to date: “The big bully try to put his finger in my chest/Try to tell me, tell me he's the best... And when I grow up/I wanna be/A big rock-and-roll star/When I grow up/I wanna be/So no one fucks with me.”
“It tells the story of how I developed such a chip on my shoulder,” Marilyn says. “It just goes back to high school and not being someone…” he pauses, “…that people liked. I think a lot of people can identify with that—getting your ass kicked a lot for being the skinny kid or whatever. And I think that gave me an ‘I'll show you' kind of attitude, which, after reading a lot of stuff on serial killers, I found I identified with them because they had that same attitude. But they didn't really have an outlet. I've found a lot of similarities between artists and musicians and serial killers.”
We talk a little longer, about the band's propensity for back-masking, about Marilyn being misquoted into a “voice of reason” in a Family Circle article on moshing, and again about the allegations that Marilyn Manson is merely one giant, ill-intentioned charade. Like everything else, Marilyn confronts the issue head-on.
“I'm almost inclined just to let people have their opinions,” he says. “If that's what they wanna think, that's what they wanna think. But I know that if Marilyn Manson were just merely a creation, when it was created six years ago, it is something that devoured its creator. Because it has consumed me and become everything that I am. And I really don't have anything else.”
Eventually the phone rings, and Marilyn explains that a friend of his is coming up to do some drugs. As I get up to leave, Marilyn tells me there's one topic we haven't yet addressed.
“I think a lot of people may misunderstand what type of person I might be,” he says quietly. “I consider myself actually, and this sounds almost funny, a sensitive person. I think that's why I've constructed such a hard shell around myself, because things do affect me a lot and I am probably pretty fragile on the inside.
“People think maybe that I hate everything, that there's nothing in the world that I love. But there are things that I care about enough that I would give anything for. I think it's just the fact that I'm hurt by... my dissatisfaction with so many things around me. It's like, I guess, just being offended by how much everything sucks, that I can't help but to be in a bad mood all the time.”
And here he cracks a smile.