MARILYN MANSON has had a wild ride of late. From bizarre interviews to issuing threats to journalists, he's got us wondering what the fuck is going on. So it shouldn't be any surprise that we got far more than we bargained for on the LA leg of the Mayhem tour.
It's dark enough in Marilyn Manson's dressing room that your eyes take a moment to adjust, the air conditioning gently whirring the room to a perfect temperature, like how you'd imagine a vintage wine cellar, the black drape across the door giving the impression that you've entered a fortune teller's tent at a circus. Marilyn nods his gigantic bodyguard away and offers a glass of Absinthe.
No thanks: it makes me go a bit mental.
"Mental?" Marilyn raises an eyebrow I as if intrigued, but hands over an already-opened beer. Given The God Of Fuck's reputation, or at least his perceived reputation, taking an open beer from him could be risky; it could be laced with roofies, liquid acid, ground-up human remains... who knows? But fuck it, it's been a long day and, despite ringing ears and sunburn, it's about to take an unexpected turn. Marilyn, reportedly shell-shocked after his recent treatment by the UK's tabloids and steering clear of the press, is about to give Metal Hammer one of his most candid interviews, turning our allotted five minutes (the most any band is doing today) into almost an hour. We were only here to review the show...
The notion of reviewing the second annual Mayhem Festival, at San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California, in any traditional sense, is completely absurd. By midday the temperatures are nudging over 100 degrees and, side-by-side, the Jagermeister and Hot Topic stages are situated so you have to look directly into the sun or get a mouthful of dust and stray elbows venturing into the pit for a better view. Sure, it's a great day for rock at an historic venue (the site of the first Ozzfest back in 1996. for starters) with a line-up that includes Cannibal Corpse, God Forbid, Behemoth, Trivium, Killswitch Engage, Slayer and, of course, Marilyn Manson.
But, make no mistake, this can be a hostile environment: there have been numerous gang beatings here in past years and today Nazi skinheads openly sport swastika tattoos, while overaggressive cops look for any excuse to fuck with people, keeping an unnecessarily keen eye on the Nevada and California Hell's Angels in attendance. Add to that the fact that 'for your safety' no outside water, food or umbrellas are allowed, the recommended eight glasses of water per day costing $40, and the best you can do is watch a couple of bands back to back before finding some shade like the hundreds of kids crammed under the Union Ice Company truck trying to catch its drippings. It's not too far from here that former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner died from heat exhaustion on a road trip last year and sooner or later someone will die here too if the policies don't change. And they'll probably blame Marilyn Manson.
Highlights from the two stages include The Black Dahlia Murder, who whip up a tornado of sound and demand to see us "banging our sweaty-assed heads", Cannibal Corpse, who offer such revolting classics as Cum Blood, and Trivium, who think that American crowds can be louder than Europeans. Despite A Bullet For My Valentine frontman Matt Tuck "struggling with the heat", the UK's only representatives on the tour open the main stage with a slick performance of their heavier songs, followed by Killswitch Engage who don't, mostly because guitarist Adam D seems to think he's in Mötley Crüe and keeps demanding to see girls' tits. Thankfully we can sneak away for a quick chat with Slayer, who consider this a hometown gig even though it's in a different county, and were one of the bands here on that first Ozzfest 13 years ago.
"This [venue] changes names every year and then people come to town and they don't know where the fuck to go!" laughs guitarist Kerry King.
"It used to be brutal for other bands. If you were in front of Slayer they'd throw shit at you until you left. It's still every bit as crazy. I expect chaos out here today! There's a lot of cops out there though; it's the first signing I've done where I've had cops with me and I'm like, 'Wow, this is weird...' But then when it's LA and Slayer there's definitely shenanigans."
For the record, Kerry thinks it's "kind of cool" that Slayer were banned from playing LA for nearly a decade after a riot at the Hollywood Palladium in 1988. So Slayer do tonight what Slayer do best: War Ensemble, Dead Skin Mask, God Hates Us All, flames, pentagrams, a new song called Psychopathy Red that'll rip out your spleen and slap you around the head with it. You know the score. Unrelenting and brilliant. By comparison, Marilyn Manson struggle early in their set, with opener We're From America actually getting booed. But the crowd warms to the hits, Disposable Teens. Sweet Dreams, Irresponsible Hate Anthem and finally The Beautiful People. It's not their best show, but by no means their worst, a triumph of sorts over the kind of audience who will shout "Slayer!" for 20 minutes after they've played.
Marilyn's had time to cool off after his show, half an hour, maybe more while we sit in a brightly lit production office answering questions from the aforementioned bodyguard: "Have you interviewed Manson before? Who for? When?" All for five minutes' interview time. Not that Marilyn Manson isn't a household name: he was in Bowling For Columbine, he's sold a lot of records, he's even been on Family Guy and The Graham Norton Show. Your mum knows who he is. Hell, even the President knows who he is. He's that dude that you love to hate. But still, five minutes! Come on!
But now here we are with an apparently clean slate, free range and a beer, and caught slightly off guard. And Marilyn wants to talk. Thankfully a recent interview with UFC fighter Dan Hardy, for Hammer's Defenders Of The Faith, provides the first question. He wondered how much of Brian Warner was left, or had Marilyn Manson taken over completely? Marilyn speaks slowly, every word considered.
"I think I've started to understand, in the midst of essentially having an identity crisis over the past year or two. not knowing or understanding who I'm supposed to be, that there's a part of me that has to go on stage and be in front of strangers, sharing my most intimate thoughts and there's part of me that does the same thing, but with people I know. So it's not two different people, it's more trying to come to terms with exposing your deepest secrets in front of people you don't know and in front of people you do know. For me. sometimes it's easier to do it in front of people I don't know, which is kind of fucked."
Marilyn goes on to discuss the semantics of nihilism, basically giving an answer that takes up our allotted five minutes. On cue the bodyguard appears, but Marilyn simply says "talking" and the giant vanishes. We move on to other subjects, easy conversation about goth music, artists, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin... Marilyn voted for the first time in last year's election.
"I wanted to be able to say I was there when they voted the black guy in!"
At least Barack Obama's got a good excuse if it all goes wrong: just blame Marilyn Manson. Apparently there was another school shooting a few months ago, perpetrated by a 15-year-old called Justin Doucet.
"Of course I started getting blamed for every school shooting." says Manson, "but at this point I feel pissed [off] if I don't. I want credit where credit is due if I'm gonna get crucified and have FBI surveillance, get concerts cancelled and go bankrupt for things like Columbine. Recently there was a circumstance where there was a kid who said, 'Hail Marilyn Manson!' and shot [at] his teacher. That would be a circumstance where it would be more legitimate to point the finger at me. but it wasn't pointed as hard as Columbine where it wasn't [legitimate]."
How come they always look at the record collection and not the bookshelf? Guaranteed half of these people have a copy of The Bible.
"Well The Bible" says Marilyn, who tore one up on stage tonight, still a brave move in these parts, "is the first and foremost educator and learning device and the origin of merchandise - the crucifix. But if you take it as literature, reality or however you want to take it, it's not the book that people should be standing behind to accuse others of being a source of violence by creating entertainment, because that's all it's filled with! If I get in a position of arguing anything with Christians, and I went to Christian school so I know The Bible like the back of my hand - which looks pretty rough from blood packs, self-mutilation and fun - I tell them that there is nothing more violent than The Bible. If they made it into a real movie and not something with Charlton Heston then it would be something I'd watch."
Having long since overrun on our scheduled five-minute interview, we get to the subject of the late and very great Hunter S Thompson, who, it transpires, Marilyn met through mutual friend Johnny Depp.
"Hunter was someone I was very close to and most recently one of the people I've known who died and he was fully hated by the powers that be," he says.
"I had a weird relationship with Hunter where he'd call me on a nightly basis - well, night, morning, whatever - for three years. I don't know if it's because I was the only one who kept the same hours as him, but he'd call me at five in the morning like. 'Hey Manson! Shit-eyes!' He called me Shit-eyes, which is one of the funniest things ever! I get a call from Johnny, maybe six or seven years ago, at four in the morning: 'Manson, you've gotta come down to The Viper Room! Hunter wants to meet you!'
So I go down and he went into his whole thing with firearms and narcotics, as would be expected, nothing less than super-dramatic in the best way, but not trying, and we automatically bonded. Later along the line he told his friends, and it became well known, that I was the only person he was afraid of because I could stand toe to toe with him!"
Strangely enough, gigantic bodyguard notwithstanding, Marilyn can seem a little intimidating and unapproachable, a role he perhaps enjoys. A few years ago, when he toured the UK with Disturbed as support, he took it to the extremes of forbidding people to make eye contact with him so that everyone had to look away while he passed.
"Oh. I was taking the piss!" he chuckles, and you wonder if he ever belly laughs.
"It was partly because I'd heard in high school that Prince won't let people look him in the eye so I'm just gonna say you can't look at me. The other part of it was [the movie] Blue Velvet. 'Don't you fucking look at me!' But it was 100 per cent taking the piss!"
Isn't it weird having that power?
"I just like to see what I can get away with!" Marilyn shrugs. "When else are you gonna do it?"
"I've been in different places in my life and the bad times, which I'd consider to be a year and a half ago, before finishing this record, I bordered on being a person who has nothing to lose and that's a dangerous person. There's a lyric on my record, Leave A Scar: 'I'm well aware I'm a danger to myself, be aware I'm a danger to others'.
Everyone was so concerned, but if you're so concerned then you're not doing anything about it. You're content with living off the proceeds of my insanity! But then, no one can tell you how to fix yourself if you're fucked up no matter what they do and I never wanted to be the guy that was in AA. I went to an AA meeting once and I got asked for an autograph and I'm like, 'This is not anonymous! This is stupid!'
But as far as being dangerous or unapproachable or scary, I think on this last record I was able to capture my personality a little bit better than I have before because the songs appear in the order that I sang them, which I've never done before. The first song is very much murder/suicide and that's where I was. I was in a relationship where it became a theatrical thing for my ex-girlfriend. It was like, 'I wanna kill myself and I said 'OK' and got enough narcotics and a fucking gun and said, 'We're gonna do this but I'm gonna kill you first because I don't trust you!'
I stopped myself from doing it because I laughed at the situation. I looked at it and I realised it was ridiculous! It's like in True Romance when she's beating the guy up, going, 'You look ridiculous!'
I'd not written anything up until then and the next morning I wrote that song."
What do you feel about all the tabloid press you've had recently?
"First of all," says Marilyn, still too dark to make him out clearly, "the whole arrival in London was a clusterfuck because I was waiting to see my girlfriend Stoya and she got detained at Customs because of me; she was bringing my wardrobe and it was considered firearms because there were bullets in the outfit. Then all the tabloids said I went to the Metal Hammer awards and left, but I never even got there! I got to the point where I couldn't believe they were just going to straight out lie and say things that didn't exist. Of course I'd want to go to something that was honouring me, but I couldn't go and they said that I went and walked away, then wanted to fight somebody! I remember when tabloids were tabloids and confined to grocery stores, but the internet changed that and the UK, unfortunately, is the epicentre of that. But then I remembered that at no point did I ever want people to say good things about me, but I also never wanted the people who believe in what I do, and that's not limited to fans; I don't want them to see something based on a circumstance that I need super powers to control. I simply put on my website 'Death to all lying journalists'."
Doesn't that affect every interview? How can you trust someone you're talking to?
"Well you're not very inconspicuous!" smiles Marilyn.
"And if you're gonna say something then simply stand behind what you say. A lot of writers hide behind anonymity or say things recklessly and of course they know the hassle of suing and libel, but what they don't know is it's very easy to find where you live and buy a baseball bat! Freedom of speech doesn't come with a dental plan! The thing about the British press is they think they're very clever and I find them to be very amateur. But that doesn't really matter because there's nothing you can say or do to me in the press that's worse than what's already happened."
There is a lull, ear still ringing and the whirr of the air conditioner.
"OK, it's time for me to have sex," says Marilyn abruptly. There's no sign of any roofies kicking in so it's probably time for us to go. Unless, of course, Marilyn's got any good drugs. Ever the gracious host, he waves his giant away one last time and closes the door.