The Golden Age Of Grotesque Interviews

NY Rock

Marilyn Manson
2003 May

Marilyn Manson's outrageous attire and outspoken behavior make it easy for detractors to label him as nothing more than a shock rocker. But much to their chagrin, Manson is back - stronger than ever - with his latest release, The Golden Age Of Grotesque...

Despite all your achievements, some still think if they stamp the label 'shock rock' on you, that will explain it all...
"I've always had a desire to be provocative and to make people think. It wouldn't be any challenge for me just to be shocking. There has to be more to it than just provocation. There has to be art in it. For a lot of people, art always sounds like some painful thing that you have to do in school. It's not. It's imagination. It's creativity. It's imagery. It's performance. My art has always been a way of expressing individuality, my personality, and myself.
If some people are shocked by it, then there is nothing I can do about it. There is nothing I WANT to do about it. Instead of just letting themselves be shocked, they should sit back and ask themselves why are they shocked and maybe develop a new kind of view, find a new way of looking at things. Maybe their appreciation of art will change with the way they view art. I'm sick of people who think art has to be beautiful and pleasing to the eye. Art can be beautiful, but at the same time it can be scary, grotesque, and frightening. It doesn't make it less valuable.
Who defines art anyway? Hitler tried to define art and outlawed some of it by calling it degenerated and decadent. Hitler imposed his will and banned art he considered immoral. I'm not sure if the people who adopt those phrases and try to ban my art are aware of the implications they carry."

But are you playing right into their hands by calling the new album The Golden Age Of Grotesque?
"My art has been called grotesque often enough in the past. I thought the title The Golden Age Of Grotesque would be more than fitting. If you look 'grotesque' up in the dictionary it means 'departing markedly from the natural, the expected, or the typical.' For me, that is simply another word for individualism."

What is your personal definition of art?
"Just because you create something doesn't make it art. Like when you make something, it's not art. It isn't complete until somebody else receives it. It doesn't matter if they hate it or like it, but it doesn't become something until someone else hears it, sees it or experiences it in any way."

Do you see yourself as an artist or an entertainer?
"Entertainment can be art if it's used in the right way. Unfortunately, we grew up with the idea that entertainment is some lesser form of art, less valuable, less sincere, less worthy of our attention. I don't agree with it at all. I think any art that is able to move people, that somebody else feels something while they experience it, then it is justified and worthy, no matter what label it has or from which genre it comes. That's the kind of art I want to bring to the people, but I don't think that is something heroic. I only want them to understand that I need their reaction. It's not complete before somebody else experiences it. That is another reason why I publish it. In the past, art and entertainment were often seen as different. I disagree with it. Art can be entertaining and entertainment can be art. But there is a difference between an entertainer and an artist - an entertainer will stop when they finished performing but artists live for art."

Going back to banned art, you ran into trouble in the past; people tried more than once to ban you, claiming that you are a danger to society and such...
"People who think that I am a threat or danger to the way they bring up their children or a danger to their religion and morals should examine their morals and their upbringing. If it is so fragile that a single person like I am can be such a threat to them, then do they really believe in their teachings? If their teachings are as great as they claim they are, then I shouldn't be able to upset them.
I'm surprised that most of the people who think I'm a threat to morals don't mind professional wrestling. After all, where else do you see such a glorification of violence, dressed-up heroes in weird clothes, men in skin-tight lycra and fancy outfits who openly engage in vicious, anti-social acts?"

Many of your detractors seem to be very religious, almost religious hardliners. Do you think they take religion too far?
"The people who want to crucify me for my so-called violent views should sit down and read The Bible. They should examine the virtues of wonderful 'Christian' stories of disease, murder, adultery, suicide and child sacrifice. In comparison to the stories in The Old Testament, I'm surprised that they don't find my songs far too tame and boring for their liking."

You are working together with Gottfried Helnwein now, one of the more influential visual artists of our time. How did that come about?
"I met Cyril Helnwein (Gottfried Helnwein's son) at the opening for the movie Resident Evil. Tim Skold and I were invited. As a tribute to the Vienna Actionist Art movement - in which people like Gottfried Helnwein and Günther Brus were involved - I painted myself completely black and I painted Tim white and put him into an outfit Brus once wore and got arrested for wearing. A young guy came up to me and told me, 'My father would like to meet you', and handed me a book. On the first page of the book was a picture of Brus who looked just like Tim in that outfit! That's when I knew I had to call Helnwein immediately and we clicked and started to work together right away."

What were the reactions to the work you created together? Some of the photos are a bit unsettling...
"It was funny; we released some of the photos without commenting what they were or what we intended to do with them - if they were the cover for The Golden Age Of Grotesque or not. Not even our record company knew what they were for. They assumed they were for the cover artwork and got quite angry, 'What the fuck should we do with this cover?!?'
So I told them not to worry about it; it's not the cover and showed them the one with the Mickey Mouse ears. It freaked them out even more. But that's how I deal with people who think they're the portraits of authority."

You don't seem to be the type who lets himself be bullied by authority or record-company execs...
"When they were bugging me about the new material, I recorded myself when I was talking to my cat for half an hour and told them it's the new single. They really freaked out and wanted to get me institutionalized. I bet they were checking out ways to get out of the contract because of a mental-illness clause."

Your lineup seems to change with every album. The latest member to drop out was your friend Twiggy...
"Twiggy told me himself that he wasn't happy in the band anymore. He felt creatively worn out and his enthusiasm was gone. So from that point on it was pretty clear that we had to part musically. Twiggy was not only the bass player, he was also a friend and of course I could have tried to persuade him to stay, but I don't think I would have done him or the band any favors. It's important that you like what you do. The way I act and behave, what I do, I do it because my heart is in it. I do it because I like and enjoy it and feel the need to be like I am. If I ever reach that point where I have to do certain things because people expect that from Marilyn Manson, that's it then. Then I'm out. Twiggy felt the same way. I accept it and wish him the very best for whatever he does and that he finds happiness there. We're still friends, but musically we had to go our different ways. We always thought with each new album we can push the band one step further and I still believe that, but sometimes it is quite an effort and it can be hard. There are no hard feelings at all."

He even dropped the moniker Twiggy. That was quite a surprise...
"I really never thought it would happen, but maybe he is trying to find a new identity for himself and wants to go his own way musically. After all, the name Twiggy Ramirez is still very connected to Marilyn Manson and that could be the reason. There was never a doubt that he is a great musician in his own right, but maybe he wants to make it easier for the public to recognize and acknowledge that fact."

You teamed with Tim Skold as your producer and then he became your bassist...
"When Tim Skold joined us as a producer, he put in the same energy and enthusiasm I put in. Personally, I think he is one of the best producers I ever had the pleasure to work with. In the past, we seemed to have the tendency to put too much on an album. It was almost an overload. On The Golden Age Of Grotesque, we worked more detailed, so that every song expresses exactly what we want it to express. It's sometimes easier to focus on something if there isn't too much around it. Like a painting, if there is too much in the painting you get distracted a lot easier by the multitude of images instead of concentrating and focusing on what it's really trying to say and express."

Sounds like you are having a ball.
"We are currently in a very creative phase. There is so much in music and art that the public hasn't heard or seen and one of my aims is to approach things I've neglected in the past. I experimented with the vocal parts and tried new ways to sing, explored new avenues and abilities I have with my voice, a lot of the vocals on the album are first takes, something I've never done before. For example, the title track was written and recorded the same day."

So you're going for a more spontaneous approach?
"Sometimes when things are too thought out, they simply don't have the same energy to it anymore. So a certain rawness to things can be far more intellectual or inspire more conversation in itself than something that's purely expounding intellectual ideas. Some of the greatest things are actually quite simple."

You often stress that you're a product of the US, but at the same time you try to have a global view. How does that work?
"People will always have imagination and fantasy. You find that in every culture and every language. I want people to be creative and not censor themselves. Self censorship is the worst censorship ever. If somebody else forces censorship on you, it's not as hard as if you do it yourself, because then you still have your thoughts and nobody can control them. But if you censor yourself because you want to be "normal" and to try to fit in, then you don't even dare to think certain thoughts.
I hate the idea that children have to grow up with a fear that won't let them think freely. One should never be afraid to think anything. One should never be afraid to say anything. Of course, there are laws, morals and rules because we all live in a society, but I think art should widen the boundaries, push the envelope of certain rules a bit. After all, that's what makes a civilization. It doesn't matter which art form is used to do it - if it's music, literature, architecture or any other art form."

And your job is to widen the boundaries?
"I'm not arrogant enough to believe that the world couldn't exist without me, but for me all those things are important and who knows; I might inspire somebody. And inspiration doesn't always have to come from something you like. And somebody I inspired will create something great, just because he liked or hated something I have created."