The High End Of Low Interviews

The Stool Pidgeon

Marilyn Manson
2009 Jun 25

HE PROMISED US CHAMPAGNE AND CAVIAR. BUT NOW HE'S ONLY CAPABLE OF DELIVERING COLA AND CRISPS. TO JOHN DORAN. HE'S BECOME LITTLER MORE THAN THE GOD OF FUCKING ABOUT.

Today the God Of Fuck is merely the Petty Officer Of Fucking About; the Local Ombudsman Of Mildly Irritating Behaviour. He's locked in his suitably grand room at a Park Lane hotel with plenty of absinthe and 'a young lady friend'. A wide-eyed reporter from a London free title eventually comes down the stairs declaring him to be "leathered"; saying that the lanky industro-goth was striding round his room with the girl tossed over his shoulder chatting bare nonsense. Seasoned veterans of idiotic American rock star behaviour, we pack up and go home leaving a business-like but inexperienced guy from the BBC alone in the foyer waiting dutifully for an interview. Predictably, his copy, when it appears online a few days later, is a riot of non-sequiturs; a throbbing psychedelic grotto of drunken nonsense. It isn't the poor hack's fault. Simply, the God Of Fucking Can't Be Arsed. He's become the Bursar Of Talent Seepage; the Heir Of Nothing In Particular.
A few days later, he blows out the rearranged Stool Pigeon interview as well, and not only has he sacked us off, he hasn't even turned up to his pre-tour rehearsals in Germany.
"No one knows where he is" says his PR guy. The world tour starts in 48 hours.
Of course, none of this would be remarkable if it wasn't for sheer weight of 'I can't be arsed' emanating from Brian Warner's seventh long player, The High End Of Low. His albums have been patchy efforts for some time now - since 2000's Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) to be precise - and apart from the occasional mint single (mOBSCENE springs to mind), Manson has made little effort to change things. If it weren't for his distinctively battered, shlocky and operatic brogue, some of the songs on The High End Of Low wouldn't be out of place on a Nickelback album, or a recent outing by Oasis.
The album was written after some young actress or other left him. He can't have thought much of her if this is his elegy to their relationship. He certainly doesn't think much of you, if you're still one of his fans. In fact, he must think you're a clueless and tasteless idiot.
Even Trent Reznor, his former mentor, recently called him a "dopey clown" in Spinner magazine: "He is a malicious guy and will step on anybody's face to succeed and cross any line of decency. Seeing him now, drugs and alcohol now rule his life and he's become a dopey clown. He used to be the smartest guy in the room. And as a fan of his talents, I hope he gets his shit together. During the [Downward] Spiral tour [in 1994-95] we propped them up to get our audience turned on to them and at that time a lot of the people in my circle were pretty far down the road as alcoholics. Not Manson. His drive for success and self-preservation was so high, he pretended to be fucked up a lot when he wasn't."

When we eventually catch up with Manson the next day, it's clear he has indeed been putting in a lot of time at the coke face, hoofing lines of chisel up his prodigious nose; belting fat slugs of Charleston straight up his nozzle until he can't hear what anyone else around him is saying. It's hard to tell from a straight transcript, but he motor-mouths, runny-nosed and sniffing, at 100mph through the interview like a long-faced jabberwocky competing in a verbal Wacky Races, either oblivious to or unconcerned with the questions that are being asked.
It wasn't always thus. After an almost painfully normal and nerdy childhood in the 1970s and 1980s, Brian Warner moulded himself into goth provocateur Marilyn Manson (named by combining the first name of an iconic beauty and the last name of a notorious killer - a formula that has served other collaborators such as Twiggy Ramirez well). He formed The Spooky Kids (the original incarnation of the act still surviving today) in 1989 influenced by industrial bands such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, but with a much heavier emphasis on the glam and the grotesque. In fact, they took the industrial metal blueprint and amped up both the image and the transgressive nature of the lyrics but, importantly, added a pop accessibility to the music. The combination was dynamite. He went on to sell 44 million albums worldwide and was arguably the most iconic figure in rock of the 1990s; the evil Elvis to Eminem's Sinatra.
And this is what makes his failure to climb out of his artistic slump depressing; this fallow period of the not-so naughty noughties. Because even after fighting his way through a snowstorm, he's still one of the most interesting and intelligent people this newspaper has ever had the privilege of speaking to, and his off-the-cuff gibbering would put the faux-intellectualism of most musicians to shame. The trouble is, Manson has turned out to be our generation's Alice Cooper and not our David Bowie. And you only have to talk to him for a few minutes to realise that he could still be so much more... if he had the inclination.


I want to ask you about the role of transgression in rock music, where transgression is going, and even if the outrageous, controversial rock star of the late 20th Century might be redundant.

"I think by its nature it's redundant. You can't really ever make any art without getting someone's attention... constantly. You have to say something differently, constantly. Dali said that anyone who doesn't steal isn't an artist and you have to take things and make them your own, and then when you've done that, you have to realise how not to cannibalise yourself, but how to transform constantly. This record I've just made allows people to witness that I've made a transformation. All music comes from heartache and all music comes from pain and suffering. That's never going to go away, so it's how do we learn to adapt to the fact that the whole world is able to talk really loud now? You know, everyone's a journalist now - everyone's got an opinion - and I think that just levels the playing field. Andy Warhol told us that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes and he was very accurate. So we have to invent new ways to make it interesting to other people because we're trying to appeal to other people. You have to make this conversation interesting to someone else who wants to read it."

One of the last things Plato wrote was - and I'm paraphrasing - what's got into the kids? The kids have gone fucking mental. So that thing of fearing what the next generation is up to has always been with us. But I'm also talking about the hyper-acceleration of culture. Say, for example, if you had written a song like your new single Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin'-Geddon as the follow up to Lunchbox at the start of your career, people would have found it a lot more shocking than they do now.

"Oh, I think it is completely un-shocking and completely intentionally redundant and that was the whole point of it. I really go out of my way to make that fit into the record. In the context of the record, it refers to something I said that day going to the studio. It was my commentary on how shameless and hopeless and uninteresting things are now. When you have to put 'goddamn' and 'motherfucking' into a title that already has 'Armageddon' in it... you know! I was just making a point. Anyway, I didn't write it - The Bible wrote it - I just added a couple of new words to it. If it were Scrabble and I just threw the letters down and they came up that way, would it be my fault that they ended up in that sequence? [laughs] Not really. I just pushed the button. Cue applause. And people clapped. Canned laughter. You know what the worst thing about canned laughter is? That everyone on the tapes for canned laughter is dead now. So it's a room full of dead people laughing at me."

What is the primary role of the transgressive rock star? Is it to provide a safe space for kids to rebel in? Is it to hold up a mirror to society?

"No, it's for girls. It's so you can get girls. Perhaps not everyone should be simplified in rock n' roll or art. It's not a girl in everyone's case. But I think the only reason anyone makes anything is because they want to connect with somebody. And I think with rock n' roll it comes down to being a rock star. It's not oversimplifying what I do to say that; it would be simplifying the reason why I do it. I've said it right from the beginning: that I wanted to share the same feeling that I think everybody has. And I wanted to be a rock star because you get away with doing and saying things and not having to do other things. You sidestep the thing you see in front of you - this horrible future of 9-to-5. Slavery dressed up in the form of a pay cheque. Right now if I had to do something else, or if I was not able to do what I do, I don't think there would be a point. That's not being cynical - it's just that I've seen so much. I couldn't work like an everyday person. I think I work harder than anyone I know - it's just that sometimes my work is doing drugs, drinking and taking my pants off in front of girls. Sometimes it's writing words that get me to the point where I can take my pants off in front of girls; sometimes it's writing a melody; sometimes it's getting back together with my best friend [Twiggy Ramirez] and taking his pants off while he is playing guitar."

Was there much mutual uncloaking of trouser regions going on between you and Twiggy now that you're making music together again?

[laughs] "Well, I think there was, really. I made that comment metaphorically, but I guess I've spent 10 years saying: 'Why can't we find the right guitarist to play the guitar parts that Twiggy wrote?' And it was right there in front of my face. The guitar is like the microphone and it has to be played with... feeling. Sometimes you play from your dick and sometimes you play from your heart, but not from your wallet or not from your head. It has to be instinctual. The stuff that he played on this record was how I felt inside. We were going through the same things emotionally, even though you can never compare these things. I never say to someone, 'Oh, I know how you feel.' You never know how someone feels. I write a song and say, 'This is how I feel.' And if people can relate to it, they can put themselves into it."

You're known, in the terms of American rock and alternative music, as the most far-out person going. You're the God Of Fuck...

"I did like it when the NME... and the NME have shat upon some of the greatest artists. I saw an anniversary issue where they said 'Diamond Dogs: The End Of Bowie'... So they called me the God Of Fuck-All and I liked that. I thought that was pretty good."

It's not even a dis to you, is it? It's a bold statement of nihilism...

"No, I think it's pretty funny. I think it's pretty funny because it's someone not realising that you can't be me without having a pretty good sense of humour. That's the point. My name's Marilyn Manson. People think I'm going to come across all serious. Do I have to go to work and be all serious and be aggressive and the God Of Fuck and whatever? I have to laugh about it, really."

This is relatively serious: I was thinking about the fall of Rome. Contrary to this idea of wailing and gnashing of teeth, the overall theme was one of boredom. If you're public enemy number one of American society - which you are to some, I guess - what happens when people become bored of you? What happens when people aren't shocked by you anymore?

"Well, I think journalism is in a sad state when I know that it is the proper thing to say that Marilyn Manson is not shocking. It's been like that from the beginning; it's never been proper to say that I'm shocking. Jane's Addiction recorded one of the most influential records in my life, Nothing's Shocking. Were we ever shocked as kids? No, we were fascinated. When in Rome, get a caesarean section. They invented that you know. On this album, I feel like I can hear myself when I listen back to it, almost becoming Nero at the end of it and saying, 'You know what? If I can't have love I'll burn everything down.'
But that is a cliché.
I think this record is about the fact that we all give up something because we want to have the thing we cannot have. And for most of us it's always love or someone to understand us - not to fit in, but it is to fit in. People try and fit into a pair of jeans - fit in with the crowd. Some people try to fit into a porn star. And it's trying to connect. Someone always gives up their wings to be mortal - to try and obtain that unobtainable thing. But it's when you give up the wings... that's when you don't get it. So I have to be reminded the hard way that I was the person who spent the later part of my earlier life saying, 'Don't afraid to be yourself.'
And I think I started being afraid of being myself because I was worried that being myself wasn't what I should be any more, because, as a person who is so critical of everything, being me wasn't going to be interesting enough anymore. I had to just let go. Do you know what I mean?"

No.

"A kid shot his teacher last week and said, 'Hail Marilyn Manson.'
If that keeps on happening and I keep getting blamed for it... and I suppose I should be blamed for something if my name is included in a sentence that ends with a bullet instead of a full stop. But is it my fault? Is it the world's fault? Whose fault is it? I don't know. Is anyone else saying my name?"

Well...

"Is anyone else saying my name and shooting people? Or are people saying I believe in Jesus Christ: 'Bang!' I believe in Islam: 'Bam!' I believe in America: 'Boom!'"

But that's not...

"So it is sadly impressive that something like that happens. But, at the same time, as a critic of the world, I think it doesn't really matter what I say or do anymore. Apparently it does, though. Maybe it's mattering in the wrong way sometimes, but I don't think I'm being irresponsible."

Rewind for a second. I've read about the case that you're talking about. [Fifteen-year-old Justin Doucet who, during a recent tooled-up rampage, managed to kill no one, despite shooting at his teacher at point blank range and then himself in the head.]
Doesn't the blame for this lie squarely at the feet of those opposing change to gun law? Doesn't the blame lie with the gun industry in the United States?

"Mmmm. You could, I guess, start with that, but do you think that kid would have stopped with that train of thought just because he couldn't get a gun?"

Of course he would have!

"That if there wasn't a gun, he wouldn't have done it with a pencil? I don't mean writing! Obviously it would have been great if he had done the same thing with a pencil! Which is fortunately what I chose to do, if we're speaking in broad brushstrokes and metaphors.
There is a very fine line between artists and killers. That's what separates art from commerce. Art and spirituality go hand in hand. But politics and religion are not spiritual - they take things out of the world. That's not to say that you can't believe in God. For me, God is the concept of making something. If you don't have hope for the future, then you can't be an artist - there's no point. Everyone thinks I'm a nihilist or a fatalist and I came dangerously close to thinking like that over the past few years. It was when I started to think that I don't have any feelings any more, so why bother? That is the end. Boredom. Boredom leads to drugs. Boredom leads to, 'Let's invent new things because we've done them all.'
It's funny that you bring up the Roman Empire because the kids have always been too cynical and grown up too fast. Kids are senile now. They forget. They have no history. It's Twitter, Twitter, download, download. I don't care about any of that. What are you saying? What do you have to say? Can you say something? Can you say something that is passionate? And sometimes, yeah, do I want to shoot some of these people? Sure. You should be worried about what I'd do, if you're worried about what my music does. There's gonna be a day when I shoot someone and it's gonna be myself or someone who says the wrong thing to me and I'm not afraid to do it. I don't want to go to jail and right now I don't want to die, so you have to make that choice. Are you stupid or are you passionate? Pick between the two. And sadly, when kids go wild, it's stupid. When Kids Go Wild! It's a new TV show and they're going to put my music on the soundtrack!"

I genuinely think kids from pretty much any country in the world would go mad and kill people if they were allowed to. And by allowed to, I mean if there were guns in the family home or local shop that were easy to get to.

"Well, I agree. I agree. In fact I instruct everyone who works for me to not allow me to have a firearm [laughs]. Because if I'm getting into obvious trouble, that's where it starts. If you have a lethal weapon near you, that's the beginning of stupidity - it's always the temptation. It's the Garden Of Eden; it's the fall from grace. If you see the way to destroy something, you're going to destroy it because you see how it's all been created and you get frustrated. I'm getting riled up by this conversation! You're getting transgression out of me! It's the story that will never end because there are not enough ways to shake everybody in the entire world. You can't grab everyone and shake all of them."

But what about...

"With stuff that I said on Antichrist Superstar [second album]... I'm glad I said that stuff. At the time it was a great cum-shot in the face of people. They were shocked and were like, 'Woah, that tasted terrible and I didn't really like that.'
I'm not saying the same thing on Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin'-Geddon. I'm not even getting close to it."

I'm going to change the subject here and quite cravenly appeal to your intellect by asking you to again look at transgression, not just as it applies to you but to the history of pop and rock...

"Okay."

In the beginning rock 'n' roll was a hotbed of subversiveness, whether that was underage sex (Jerry Lee Lewis); homosexuality, or the suggestion of it when that was an absolute no-no (Little Richard); and what I guess would have been called, negrophilia (Elvis Presley).

"Er, did you just say negrophilia or necrophilia?"

Negrophilia.

"Yeah, you’re correct. I’m sitting in Berlin doing this interview. I was very fascinated with Berlin because of the birth of expressionism when artists would be killed for saying, 'I'm going to paint the sky purple,' and at the same time they [Nazis] were cursing and damning swing-dancing and using expressions like that [negrophilia] and 'the downfall of society'. They weren't around long enough to point at rock 'n' roll, but they were there to point at what it came from. Last night I was stuck watching television and saw the new Eminem video in which he makes a parody of Jailhouse Rock and I started thinking how relevant Jailhouse Rock was to modern imagery in modern society... So I'm sitting here thinking about Jailhouse Rock and thinking, 'Wow, if this video were done today it would still be unbelievably offensive. I can't imagine what it would have been like then."

Yeah, the thing about...

"It's all criminals, rapists, murderers etc. Dancing to this guy with a hairdo and fucking hips. It's unbelievable to me. And if you think about what is the downfall of the world - what destroyed everything - rock 'n' roll did. That's where it started. Well, it is and it isn't. Rock 'n' roll is the soundtrack. When they started putting it on television, that’s when it became a real problem. When you combine visuals with audio it's a very powerful medium."

What about...

"It's propaganda. It's Triumph Of The Will [Leni Riefenstahl 1934 Nazi propaganda film]. It’s where Wagner made opera productions that had swastikas and Hitler, who had a homosexual obsession with Wagner, said: 'I love the way that looks, I'm going to do something with that. I'm pissed off because I'm a bad watercolour artist.’ Everything is about transgression. Every war. Think about nature where you have a female peacock..."

Peahen.

"Whatever, pick an animal. They go with a male from another tribe and then they run back to the male from theirs and he is like, 'I will defend you and I will kill everyone.'
That is the central transgression, so everything is about relationships and everything is about girlfriends, and rock 'n' roll defined it because rock 'n' roll happened at exactly the same time as media transformed. Rock 'n' roll happened when colour television was invented. Ironically, JFK was killed the week after colour television came out. Or was it ironic? I would say not. If you want to have a million-hour long conversation with me, go and look up [multinational aerospace manufacturer] Lockheed Martin on the internet. You will be so shocked. They also invented the LP record, and the colour television. They also invented satellite, and every bomb ever dropped. They invented the black box. They owned the twin towers, and the plane that flew into them. Then you become very cynical and angry about the fact that it's not a coincidence and everybody since the Roman empire has figured out: 'Let's cause people to fight each other and let's sell them ways to do it.'
And rock 'n' roll became the one thing that really fucked it up for them because they weren't in charge of it. So they became in charge of it. And don't think that it's a coincidence that the people who invented all of the control invented the way to hear rock 'n' roll."

Who are the most important transgressive figures?

"Citing them? Number one: Elvis Presley. Number two: Jim Morrison. Number three: Sex Pistols. Number four: David Bowie. And that's just in my life growing up as a kid..."

You've just hit on something important there. When rock 'n roll started it was an assault on all fronts - underage sex, violence, death, crossing the racial divide, sexuality - but only some of these things got taken to the full extent. Why on one hand did Mötley Crüe get to take the heterosexual sex thing to its logical conclusion and...

"They didn’t do a good enough job..."

...and artists like yourself have explored fully the interface between totalitarianism and the rock show, but no one really has even muddied the waters of incest or underage sex or even homosexuality to any great extent? I mean, in 10 years time, will we have a rock group comprised of openly paedophilic men? They could be called The Paedos In Speedos...

[laughs] "It's funny you should say that because I have a [1995] record called Smells Like Children, you know?
And I had a conversation prior to its [The High End Of Low] release where I was told to take the song called Pretty As A Swastika off my album. I did and this was not pandering to censorship [the track is now called Pretty As A $]. Their censorship choice was made purely because of money. They said, 'Take that song off your record because there are two things you can't do in music - you can never say anything anti-Semitic, and you can never say anything about paedophilia.'
I said, 'Thanks for telling me that. I'm going to go ahead and combine them for you on a song and then I'm going to shave a swastika into my girlfriend’s pubic hair and make her wear pigtails.'
But it's not advocating either one. They're hateful! It's a statement. I didn't invent the words and symbols that everyone associates with me, and I didn't invent any sort of profanity. I wish I could make up a new curse word, but they've all been made up already. Can you blame a kid for taking building blocks with letters on them, throwing them down and having them they spell out 'fuck a kid' or 'kill your parents'? No, you can't, because it's what's in your head. So raise your kids. Let them read books, and let them make their own choices. Don't tell people how to think, they get mad. And then they'll either kill themselves or kill you."

Isn't the real barrier...

"Listen, I have to go in a second and rehearse... they're waiting for me."

Look, isn't the last barrier homosexuality? People run up against it all the time - people like Bowie and yourself (and you're not even gay), and other actual homosexual rock stars...

"Most of them are homosexual, we just don't know it yet."

Where are all the gay rock stars? Where are all the rock stars who were supposed to come out after Rob Halford of Judas Priest? If you took all the members of Metallica, Slipknot, Machine Head, Nickelback and Anthrax, I could guarantee you that at least two of those guys have had penetrative sex with another man, and fucking enjoyed it. Surely the most rebellious thing you could do if you're a musician now is to be gay?

"Yes."

I like to think that one day we'll have another Sex Pistols moment because there's some new crunk band: four gay black rappers who perform naked with erections and then suck each off between songs.

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right. It is the ultimate taboo and I think it was brought up in a film that was very well done and I recommend it, called Dahmer, about [serial killer] Jeffrey Dahmer. They were talking about what is the most rebellious thing you can do and they said homosexuality was going against nature essentially. But it's not necessarily against nature. It only became against nature back on page 53 of The Bible or whatever. Sodom and Gomorrah: you've got a city named after ass-fucking, which is pretty fantastic. They burned it to the ground. I got beat up by skinheads in south Florida when I started Marilyn Manson because Nazi skinheads thought I was a Jewish homosexual; straight-edge skinheads thought I was a Jewish homosexual drug addict. It's stupid people who have just enough intelligence to read something that someone more stupid than them wrote and then they get confused and want to fight themselves, but they end up taking it out on other people. I mean I'm not gay, but I've had Twiggy's penis in my mouth. It wasn't erect and neither was mine. Neither of us are queer."

Who hasn't had Twiggy's penis in their mouth?

"Nicely said. Who hasn't? But I'm not afraid to face that ultimate rock 'n' roll thing. I like to be able to look out in the audience and see girls first and then guys. Not the reverse. But I was in the front row of a Judas Priest concert, so maybe I could have gone the other way! People, when they find out, are stupid: 'If you suck my dick I'm gonna beat your ass!'
That's kind of the attitude. 'But if a gay guy sucks my dick he's a faggot!'
It's aggravation and fear and that does feed a great deal of rock 'n' roll music: Madonna, Prince, Bowie, everyone who has toyed with sexuality. I thought that I hadn't, but I'd forgotten all about Cake And Sodomy on the first record, so I guess I've got amnesia when it comes to that. I guess I try to drink a lot so I'll forget the bad things I do. People try and get rid of the problem, but you can't get rid of it. I don't understand why people keep on trying. Every religious figure likes to do those things and it's so exposed now. Essentially that's why people become priests - because they have homosexual desires and they want to silence them. But wearing a collar doesn't stop you from being a cocksucker. And that's your pull quote right there."