After 18 months of planning, Marilyn Manson is ready to usher in The Golden Age Of Grotesque. Religion and shock tactics are out. Sex, art and Mickey Mouse ears are in.
"You certainly can't be a fascist when you are into fashion. So let's put on our best suit, here comes the GOLDEN AGE"
From the journal of Marilyn Manson, June 2002
It's nine o' clock in the morning in London, which makes it 1 AM in Hollywood. On the other end of a transatlantic telephone line, Marilyn Manson - singer, musician, painter, erstwhile Antichrist Superstar - is sounding a little, well, tipsy.
"'The Theatre of the Grotesque' is based around going against Naturalism." he's saying.
"Going against safeness and what is to be expected, and letting your imagination run free because people don't need or want to deal with what's going on in the real world. Of course you have to care, and have responsibility as a human being, but there's a time for escape and a time for entertainment."
Manson is hardly slurring his words, but there's a looseness to his tone that isn't normally there. Given the hour in LA, it's a reasonable assumption that a drink or two has been imbibed at some point.
But then that's understandable. The great work he's devoted his life to for the past 18 months is complete, and he's ready to unveil it to an unsuspecting - actually make that semi-suspecting - public. And if he wants a drink to celebrate, then who are we to stop him?
"Every great empire is based on art. It eradicates countries and gender and race," he continues, on the sort of roll that generally make up his entire conversations.
"But art is always such a pretentious, intangible thing that is talked about over cigarettes in coffee houses. We're ready to change the face of art, and bring it to a level where it belongs. To the level of the people."
Marilyn Manson has just put the final touches to his fifth album, The Golden Age Of Grotesque. It is, if its creator is to be believed, by far the best thing that he's ever attached his name to. It will also, he says, be the most surprising, astounding, memorable and offensive (although not necessarily in that order). It's safe to assume that Marilyn Manson is immeasurably proud of his new record.
"It's hard to sound proud without being pretentious," he says, "but I've worked every day for the past year-and-a-half. And it's because I enjoyed it, I've never considered it work."
Mildly inebriated or not, Marilyn Manson talks with an articulacy not normally gifted to musicians. Neither as deep voiced or as drawling as you might imagine, he has an unerring habit of taking conversational left turns without ever losing sight of where he's going. Or more specifically, talking about things on his own terms.
"It's about being at a time in your life when you realise, just like you did when you were a kid, that there is no reason to believe in the rules that the world has set up for you," is his explanation of the primary driving force behind The Golden Age...
"For example, if you didn't know about gravity, you wouldn't be able to climb a tree. I don't really care that I didn't take saxophone lessons, so I'm not afraid to play one. I don't really care that I'm not supposed to make a record the way that this record sounds. This record is something that I feel represents my personality better than anything I've ever done. I managed to capture something I haven't done in the past. Strangely by letting go."
"Of the standards. The expectations. The rules."
If Marilyn Manson's last album, 2000's Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley of Death) was a direct reaction to the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings, then The Golden Age Of Grotesque is a reaction to Holy Wood itself. Manson describes the latter as "an album that was very dark - a very necessary album for me to make, in that it was exorcising a lot of pain and demons, and a lot of punishment that I received for things I wasn't responsible for.
This record was letting go of the past, closing that chapter, almost starting from scratch," he says of The Golden Age...
"Going back to the beginning and realising that this is the reason why I started this, the reason why I wanted to become a rock star.
I had a strange man-with-a-child's-brain approach. I did things that most; quote-unquote, professional musicians would smirk at. I can't figure out where E or G or F or any fucking letter is on the keyboard. But I can play beautiful melodies and terrible melodies. That's about using your imagination, not maths. Music should never be mathematical."
The burgeoning swell of confidence that surrounded Marilyn Manson during the creation of The Golden Age Of Grotesque was strong enough to withstand the departure of longtime bassist/partner-in-crime Twiggy Ramirez last year. The reasons might remain vague - both parties remain on seemingly amicable terms - but the end result is in no doubt: as a band, Marilyn Manson is better off without Twiggy.
"I've surrounded myself with people that believe in me," he elaborates.
"I collaborated with Tim Skold as a producer, and by some twist of fate, he ended up becoming part of the band. He believed in it, and I saw his belief in the same way I see it in myself. And that inspired all of us, it brought us together. We just feel really assured with what we've done. That's not cockiness; it's very matter of fact for us. We know who we are and what we want to say, and we don't give a fuck who's listening".
Except we don't know what we're listening to, at least not just yet. The basic information might already be out there, - The Golden Age Of Grotesque will feature 15 tracks, included among which are mOBSCENE (the first single), Use Your Fist And Not Your Mouth, Slutgarden, and Better Of Two Evils. We've even seen something of the 'look' created via Manson's collaboration with artist Gottfried Helnwein - roughly Mickey Mouse meets Papa Lazarou, in black and white (there are more photographs at www.helnwein.com). He'll even reveal that "people can expect a more sexual Manson, strangely a more manly Manson" this time around. But the specifics - that is, the sound, the lyrics, the whole package - are still shrouded in secrecy.
"We've made a record that invites people in who might not have wanted to listen before, but doesn't close out people who have already been listening" is what he is willing to say.
"And that's not by making a safer record. Technically, if we were to hold it up to MTV's rules, it would be the most offensive record we've made."
In what respect? Musically? Lyrically? Philosophically?
"Just free-speaking. I use profanity more than I have before. Not for the sake of being shocking, although anything that's shocking is good. We live in a world where we've seen everything, so anything that gets your attention is fucking good and you should respect it. I've learned that. I've also learned to tip my hat to a lot of people who I may not agree with or even like, but who have turned my head."
"Oh, you can pick anyone from Eminem to Justin Timberlake to System Of A Down. They've all done something that worked, whether we like it or not, and we can't take that away from them.
It's a matter of being able to let go of your competitiveness. I don't feel like I have to outdo this band or that band. I know what I'm going to do is the best that I can do, and I'll know that most people will feel the same way."
The third track on The Golden Age Of Grotesque is Doll-Dagga-Buzz-Buzz-Ziggety-Zag (something that Manson takes the time and care to spell out and hyphenate correctly). The title was inspired by legendary scat singer Cab Calloway ("Though not 'scat' in the fecal sense," is his dry postscript).
While the album remains a sealed box in musical terms, Manson will wax lyrical about the inspirations and influences that helped shape it. There are the people - as well as Calloway, he nods to Oscar Wilde and the loose collective of radical artists and agents provocateurs (collaborator Helnwein among them) who were dubbed the Viennese Actionists. Then there are less tangible things, the places and periods that cast a shadow over the album - the golden age of Hollywood, with all its glamour and artifice; the anti-communist witch-hunts, moral censorship and rampant paranoia of the McCarthy era; and most obviously of all, the gilded decadence of the Weimar Republic, that period in which German history between WWI and the rise of Hitler and hedonism became blurred to the point of invisibility.
"Without being specific, I can say that this is far less religious and political in its themes," he says.
"I've done and said what I need to in those terms - I don't feel that there's any further I can pursue them artistically. I've taken metaphors like Weimar Berlin and the censorship of fascism, and I've compared that to where we are today. All of these things occurred during a period of fear and war, so it couldn't be more appropriate right now."
Manson plans to deliver his vision on a grand scale. The tour that accompanies The Golden Age Of Grotesque will be called The Grotesque Burlesque.
"The Grotesque Burlesque takes what we've done in the past and brings it to a completely different level. This is about making everyone a part of your creation. It's realising that art is more than music, more than the people who listen to it, more than the people who play it - it's the combination of all that. Gottfried Helnwein is someone who knows how to artfully provoke. He would take some of his creations and he'd bring them out into the streets. The streets will be coming to me. The Grotesque Burlesque is about me not boring myself with conventional standards at this point in my career - the idea that I have to be standing in this spot, in front of these people, playing music this way. They might laugh at it, they might cry, they might be a part of it - but no one will forget it."
When Marilyn Manson talks about The Golden Age Of Grotesque, he sounds assured, confident and proud. But he also sounds like a man determined to have fun at any cost.
"I've surrounded myself with people who accept me for what I am and don't want to change me," is his reasoning for his current state of mind.
"With Dita (Von Teese, Manson's girlfriend), I have someone who has faith in me as a companion, I have a band that has faith in me as a leader, I have fans that have faith in me as Marilyn Manson, and I'm not going to let them down. This record is 15 tracks, straight to the point, and there's nothing that I could take off or add to it. People might not think it's the most perfect record in the world, but it's the most perfect Marilyn Manson record I've created. Everyone who has heard the record really gets my personality from it. It has sarcasm, it has wit, it has cheap childish nonsense..."
"It relishes in the happiness of disregard for adult rules. This record is Peter Pan incarnate."