CONFESSIONS OF AN ALL-AMERICAN ANTI-CHRIST
By Eric Snider
Black tattoos adorn alabaster skin. Long, straight ebony hair spills down his back. He is a study in leanness: lean frame, lean face, slender arms. One eye is brown, the other is cats-eye blue, courtesy of a contact lens. He is wearing long beat-up shorts, beat-up boots and a beat-up black T-shirt.
Meet Mr. Manson -- a.k.a. Marilyn Manson -- sitting on a ratty couch backstage at a nightclub during a late afternoon in December. He looks impossibly nocturnal, as if a bright light would make him recoil.
Earlier in '94, under the aegis of Trent Reznor's Nothing label, Ft. Lauderdale-based Marilyn Manson -- a five pieced band once called Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids -- released _Portrait of An American Family_, an album so explicit it wears two Parental Advisory stickers. Over grinding, metallic guitars and thunder beats, Mr. Manson growls garish lyrics about kinky sex, gun-toting revenge, self-loathing, horror, and pain.
It's not so easy being controversial these days. There's a lot of competition. But, at the moment, Marilyn Manson is one of the most vulgar rock acts on the scene. And with a conservative political mindset gaining control in America, the Manson family might need to break out the flak jackets.
The first salvo has been fired: Mr. Manson was busted at Club 5 in Jacksonville on Dec. 27 for "violation of adult entertainment." A police report alleges that during the concert Mr. Manson pulled down his pants to "reveal a simulated black penis and began to rub it. He squeezed it several times and squirted an unknown liquid into the crowd. He pulled down his pants, exposing his buttocks, and made no attempt to pull his pants up."
For Mr. Manson, it was just another night at the office. The fake phallus is a regular part of his act. Suddenly, a bust. What bothers Mr. Manson most is not the impending legal hassles, but that his lawyers have insisted he not comment about the arrest. So he dances around the subject.
"The people that are trying to bring down all the conservatism on us, all the political correctness, are the same people that created Marilyn Manson," says Mr. Manson. "They're the same people that raised me on caffeine, sugar, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, violence on TV, pornography. Now all of a sudden people can't handle it anymore. It's NutraSweet, PG13, less violence on TV. It's too late for that. They _made_ Marilyn Manson. Marilyn Manson, to me, is a representation of my generation, my culture. By the same token, I think that that conservative mentality needs to exist for Marilyn Manson to exist. And if Marilyn Manson, and what it represents weren't here, they probably wouldn't be here either. We are reliant on each other."
Mr. Manson speaks introspectively, answering each question with thoughtful articulation. He rarely makes eye contact, and when he does it is with those twin-tone orbs, which he says represent the duality of the artist: the Marilyn (as in Monroe), the soft provocateur, the insinuator; and the Manson (as in Charles), the evil manipulator. These characteristics are in all of us, he says.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Manson is an enigma. One moment he seems vulnerable, like when he speaks of his days as a non-churchgoing kid in a Christian school. At other times, he is defiant, especially when he talks about his battles with the Christian coalition in Jacksonville, who have launched attacks on his explicit stage performances and, he feels, were somehow involved in the Jacksonville bust. He is a relentless social commentator, pointing out what he perceives to be the lies and duplicity that permeate our culture. Marilyn Manson is here, he says, to provide a reality check. He also readily admits to being a hypocrite, just like the rest of us.
The central enigma about Mr. Manson is this: Where is the line between the image and the real person? He claims to be an "entertainer." He likes to stir up trouble for trouble's sake, but seems sincere about his social agenda. "Basically, I live this life, I'm stuck in this life," he says evenly. "I don't exactly know how to describe it, but Marilyn Manson is a 24-hour thing. It's not something I can turn off."
Mr. Manson prefers to keep his real name confidential. He grew up in smalltown Ohio surrounded by conservative values and conflicting messages. "I was pumped full of fear," he says. "Fear about Armageddon, fear of going to Hell, fear of the devil coming to me in the middle of the night for listening to heavy metal music. When none of these things happened, one day I woke up and realized I couldn't believe in these things. I had to find an alternative to be a happy person. So I basically did everything I was told not to do. They told me not to listen to Black Sabbath, so I listened to them. I read a lot of taboo literature -- Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey.
Mr. Manson is an ordained priest in the Church of Satan, but he does not believe in the devil. That would require acknowledging a Christian God. "LaVey, who started Satanism in 1966, is basically a very P.T. Barnum quality of person," Mr. Manson explains. "A lot of the things he wrote, I already believed. To me, Satanism was never about worshiping the devil. It's about man being his own god on earth. You do not worship anything except yourself.
"It takes on the original concept of Satan -- the opposer, the accuser, the greatest rebel of all time. There are a lot of ignorant people out there who call themselves Satanists, and this is where you get your lunatics from. They are people who acknowledge Christianity, they feel God is right but they choose to be wrong. They are gonna worship Christianity's devil. These are maybe the confused kids, who go off into deathmetal and shit, who don't understand where it's coming from, that it's not about hurting anything -- sacrificing animals, killing babies."
While he emits just one chuckle during an hour interview, Mr. Manson says he's basically a happy guy, although not in the jovial, back-slapping way. "A lot of people think I'm depressed or pissed off," he says. "I guess I just express happiness in different ways. A lot of people want to surround themselves with things like Marilyn Manson or car crashes or serial killers because they're so afraid of death, they can get close to it in a safe sort of way. It helps them appreciate life more. I read about these things and it makes me appreciate life, how good things are for me. It's about getting out all these fears and hatreds, which I'm showing to everyone else -- and myself. _That_ makes me happy."
But he recognizes that his message will not be viewed by many as a valued public service. "America will paint me out to be this terrible person," he says, "responsible for teen suicide, mass murder. I want to call their bluff. 'I _am_ the All-American Anti-Christ. Go ahead, be afraid. I am going to do all the things you think I'm going to do.' To them, it's the end of the world. To me, it's just starting trouble. I don't always have a good reason for the things I do. It's just to cause a little chaos. America needs it. Everything is so uptight. I do what I do. If I go to jail for it, so be it."
Opening for Nine Inch Nails in Tampa late last year, Mr. Manson did something on stage that even raised the eyebrows of those accustomed to his antics. According to Mr. Manson, the guitarist for Nine Inch Nails came out in an S&M slave suit. Manson proceeded to take guitarist's penis into his mouth in front of God, country and a bevy of 14-year olds. The rumor mill said it was an enactment. Mr. Manson says, "It happened. I didn't plan it out. It just happened. We ended up laughing about it later. Everybody seems so taken back by it. My parents were there. They weren't even shocked about it, so I don't know why anyone else is.
"Ever since then, people have been questioning my sexuality. Am I gay, straight, bi-sexual? To ask me that is to be ignorant to what Marilyn Manson stands for. Marilyn Manson transcends morality, and sexuality. He's a gray area. I don't like putting a label on anything."
Yet surely Mr. Manson can objectively understand how his actions on stage could shock some people.
"Yes, I see where they would be taken back," Manson acknowledges. "People's real fears start to come out when you do something like that. A lot of macho guys started calling me 'faggot,' wanted to start a fight with me. Why would they want to _fight_ me 'cause I did that? Obviously, it scared them. I'm confident enough with my sexuality where I can do something like that. Anyone who knows me knows I like girls."
So Marilyn Manson rocks on, a walking contradiction with a solid sense of self. "Within my personality, there's a balance between the Marilyn side and the Manson side," he says. "It's not as easy as the off-stage me and the on-stage me. I know that I've done much more disturbing things off stage than I have on stage. A lot of it has to do with me being a moody person. Some people view it as a fault. I have accepted it and turned it into my artistry. I try to be honest, but sometimes I act how I'm expected to act.
"I'm here to entertain. A lot of bands these days don't want to admit that. They think it's being phony. But in a lot of ways admitting it is more honest than those who try to deny it. I'm saying, look, everyone's a hypocrite. I'm willing to go beyond it if you can admit it."