Consider Brian Warner, aka Marilyn Manson. Few popular recording artists are so equally scorned and celebrated. Some see in Manson a champion of individuality and freedom of expression. Others see offensive shtick; re-fried Alice Cooper. Few are in the middle.
He's Antichrist Superstar, a man rumored to be ordained by the Church of Satan; an artist whose lyrics and cover art have sparked outcries from religious groups. His song titles alone can send parents into conniptions: A little Cake and Sodomy or Irresponsible Hate Anthem, anyone?
In 1999, it went beyond image. Manson was accused, albeit falsely, of inspiring Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Neither killer was a fan, and the scapegoating became a theme of Michael Moore's Oscar-winning documentary film Bowling For Columbine, in which Manson appears.
Last fall, Manson returned with The Golden Age Of Grotesque, which is not only the title of his latest album but also the theme of his highly publicized gallery of watercolor paintings. The artist himself calls it the theme of a decadent, new creative chapter in his life.
During a recent phone interview he discussed his notoriety, that new creativity and what fans can expect from him Saturday when Ozzfest rolls into Auburn's White River Amphitheatre:
How's the tour going so far?
"I'm having a swell time, strangely enough, considering that I don't usually go out in the sun, and summertime is probably my least favorite time of the year. It strangely adds a different, surreal setting to what I do on stage."
Your stage show is always pretty dramatic. How will your new Grotesque Burlesque theme translate?
"The show is sometimes very much like Berlin in the 1920s. Sometimes it's like Disneyworld on ecstasy. It's one part political rally, it's one part cabaret. It's just kind of trying to thrust chaos and order into each other to create a big question mark that makes people think about what I represent, who they are and what's going on in the world.
We have a lot of different instrumentation. We have two nude girls playing piano for the title track (The Golden Age Of Grotesque). I'm bringing out the saxophone and standup bass. Sometimes we have four drummers. And that's just the musical side elements of it."
You've said vaudeville and Weimar Germany were big influences on the album.
"Berlin and Hollywood at that period were both very symbolic, because Berlin was a place where artists were being really discriminated against and being called degenerates if they had unconventional ideas. I think there were a lot of parallels and still are.
It's important to make sure that art remains dangerous, that people can have that freedom of expression that America wages wars to protect. That's my only way of being patriotic in a time when I've never been able to agree with any sort of politics, especially those that discriminate against me. I make sure America is an exciting place that's worth living in by doing what I do."
You describe this as a personal era for you, and not just in your music. How does your artwork play into that?
"Well, I'm just tryin' to show people that it's about imagination. If you've got the ideas, you can make them happen. You don't have to be people's definition of a musician or an artist.
It was very liberating. It made me more creative going into this record knowing that I was able to take my ideas and execute them in other areas."
It sounds like you're having more fun now than, say, a few years ago.
"It's just a different outlook on things. I feel like there's a bit of triumph in knowing that I've survived so much of the world trying to destroy me, kind of symbolically proven with Bowling for Columbine and its acceptance and people hearing what I had to say.
I think it made people realize where my place is in the world; not understand me more, but realize that I'm not something that was of the minute, and never have been."
Would you say that a few years back, with the Columbine accusations, was a low point in your career?
"Fortunately, fear is part of the creative mechanism if you're able to make it that way. I took what could be defeating, and made that a reason to exist; sometimes just because I wanted to prove people wrong, sometimes because that's all I could do to survive personally."
What's something we don't know about Brian Warner, that might surprise people that just know the image?
"That I have a small white cat."
What's its name?
"Her name's Lily."
That's not a very Marilyn Manson name.
"Lily White is her name. In the past there have been rumors about me killing animals on stage and all sorts of absurd things. But I've always been an animal lover - not in a sexual way."
What are some of the most outrageous rumors you've heard about yourself?
"The best one, which I was actually arrested for in Italy, is someone reported that I tore off my own genitalia and threw them into the crowd. And the police actually believed that and they arrested me, and I had to show them that it wasn't true."