Interview with Metal Hammer magazine, August 2000
WELCOME TO HOLY WOOD
Public Enemy #1 has decided to talk. Why? Because 'we people' need to ask our questions. So as the world gears up to receive a new album and book, Ibrahim Michael explores the man and myth that is Marilyn Manson:
Few artists manage to simultaneously repulse and excite as much as Marilyn Manson. Having burst onto the scene in 1994 - a year when much of the rock world was morning the death of grunge and it's ubermeister Kurt Cobain - the former Brian Warner has since completely transcended his rock star beginings, establishing his provocative, chaotic, contradictory character as a bona fide cultural phenomenon.
Following two years of near media silence since the release of his last studio album 'Mechanical Animals' and autobiography 'The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell' (1998), the year 2000 will also bear a book and an album. Lauded thus far as the final chapter in a seven-year trilogy, 'Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death)' promises to be his hardest, most brutal output to date - quite a claim for a man who has been almost universally branded by the moral majority as sick, subversive and proof - were it needed- of society's total degradation into total anarchy and oblivion.
But there's more to it than that. Manson is undoubtably a master of theatrics; a master of constructing realities that define, then bolster, his status of public enemy #1. For all the anti-establishment tactics and shocking imagery he creates - "Anyone can write songs, but I create chaos", he boasts - there is a strategy, contemplative thought and clinical consideration behind all he says and does. Not least his absence from mainstream media of late, havinf previously stated the internet would be the only way he was going to communicate with humanity.
"I think when I said 'only', I should have said 'primary'", begins Manson, as usual choosing his words carefully.
"Because it's the most effective way for me to speak clearly without anyone editing or re-translating my ideas. So it may have been a little misleading to say 'only'. And at that time it was the interim between albums, but now the album is coming out, I think it would be unfair as a former journalist to deprive you people of asking your questions."
If this is chaos, pray show us conformity - Tony Blair would pay handsomely for the planning nous behind this kind of spin.
Rewind. When Marilyn Manson was revealed on the world stage, there's little doubt he will put the shock back into rock as we know it. Yet with many more acts claiming extremity as part of thier raison d'etre - Slipknot for one - how does the man plan on differentiating himself this time around; to keep the music fresh as well as the style and stage show? With confidence it would seem...
"I don't really try to compete with other bands," he offers. "I think I just do what I feel suits me best. Musically, and particularly with this album, we achieved a different plateau - I think I put a lot more thought and sophistication to what I do than some bands that are doing that. I don't dislike any of the bands that are doing that, I think it's great that people care enough to make more of a performance out of what they do. So I think it's just a matter of me giving everybody a break for two years after becoming a pariah in America. Now I'm back to remind them who does it best and also give them a real reson to hate them with this record. It's sure going to give them plenty of ammunition to fire with."
Ammunition is something Manson knows all about, having been on the receiving end of the American establishment most of his career. Moral degredation and teenage violence are the acusations, yet the evidence is scant. Indeed, the link between rock stars and inciting trouble is nothing new, although Manson has perhaps made matters worse after taking half his name - and indeed some lyrical inspiration - from the worlds most notorious serial killer, Charles Manson, who in turn was said to be 'inspired' by content of The Beatles 'White Album'. (The other half is of, Marilyn Monroe.) Needless to say, there are those, including Manson, who believe the establishment is merely seeking a scapegoat for the ills it has itseld created. But why him?
"I'm obviously an easy target," opines the singer, "because I put myself in a position. The simple answer is because they're stupid! The more complicated an intelligent answer would be because it's propaganda. It's something that I address in my book. I use a metaphor for this other reality that I created; a story, and it comes across on all three albums put together. I really try and answer that question, so maybe I say it better with music and in the book than I could put to you in a few sentences. It's easier to say that they are simply stupid."
Stupid or not, 'they' have been effective. The gruesome scenes of April 20 1999, where 13 children were injured in a horrific gun attack at Columbine High School in Colarado, USA put the words 'creating chaos' into sharp contrast for Manson. The moral majority were quick to point fingers, resulting in the band cancelling a string of shows. Few would argue that the accusations were way to simplistic, yet the kind of pressure must have a devastiating effect on anyone, even the seemingly unshockable Manson.
"It was a battle that wasn't worth fighting," he states. "Because I wasn't the enemy, and they confused me with the problem. They found it easiest to fight me, and I wasn't going to be part of the circus that they were trying to create. In the end the media wasn't concerned with looking for a solution to why this happened or why things like this happen. They have always happened. They were looking for a headline to sell, whether it's the commercials or whatever it is, and I wasn't going to give them that. So I wrote songs and that's what I focused on."
The music. Ah yes, that's why we're here. With such a powerful collection of experiences on which to draw - some self imposed, some not - presumably Manson has plenty of emotion to throw into the record.
"I could say after last year, after the many attacks that came upon me for teenage violence, it gave me a lot of fuel and a lot of anger that I needed to release. I would say anger is a very important state of mind on this record. That's one thing a lot of people ask about 'Mechanical Animals' because it wasn't an angry record. But I didn't feel I had to something to be angry about and I'm not the type of artist who would constantly put out the same record just because it works. That's what I see in a lot of metal music now, and I think it's funny. There's no reason for them to be angry. But I had a genuine cause to really speak out on.
As far as my mental state of mind, I really put myself in a lot of interesting positions for making this album. There is a lot of experimentation in locations in the deserts, and a lot of thought of Death Valley, and a lot of thought of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in comparison with the crusifiction of Christ, and in comparison with what will be the third and final piece in that sign of trinity that I dreamed up. I managed to drink twelve bottles of absinthe, which Van Gough had drunk when he cut of his ear. I didn't cut off an ear, but I think I really wanted to take this one further than I had ever taken anything. So physically and mentally, I took myself farther than I had ever taken myself."
The result is perhaps Manson's heaviest output to date; a noticable heavy metal influence that seems to be sweeping America at present with the likes of Slipknot and Static-X. As you'd expect, the outspoken one has his own views on this happening.
"Probably because someone like you told them it's popular, and they didn't know any better; that's the way it usually works. People are just too easily influenced, they are in a state of soullessness; they're kind of lost. I think we're in a crossroads culture right now, because we're in an information age and American politicians and families are trying their hardest to keep information from their children.
There is a great concern to protect the children at the expense of adults. It's causing lot's of damage to art and it's causing lot's of damage to people spirituality, whatever they may be, whatever they may believe in. They don't know how to believe anymore because they're getting too much propaganda. So for me, I did what I felt right, I wasn't trying to get back to what I did before or try and become what's 'happening' right now.
I think music never changes and I think peoples' attitudes never change. It just comes in a new package, and it comes in a magazine. A new batch of 14-year-old kids think it's new, and that's fine. I try my hardest to ensure people realise history and appreciate art. That's why I'm the first, through my website or interviews, to talk about my influences within literature, film or music because everything is disposable now. A kid might hear some new song that has a sample in it and they don't even know it's origin. And the song that came from has lost it's value. So it's imprtant that we kind of hold onto history in that sense - more in America than in other countries. That's my stomping ground to show responsibility some of the time."
Literature. Something with which Manson - remember he was a journalist in a former incarnation - still has great affinity. His 1998 autobiography was a bestseller in the US, and there is another on the way from the singers pen. As it turns out, it does not stand alone.
"I've written a book called 'Holy Wood' which this record is a sort of companion to," he explains. "In fact this record is really the first in the three-piece, long term creation that I started with 'Antichrist Superstar'. And I went backwards; 'Antichrist Suprstar' being the end, 'Mechanical Animals' the middle, and 'Holy Wood' being the first part. I think when people read this book, they'll see how the songs ended up tying together, because the story is someting I really had with me almost seven or eight years ago. And I've been kind of placing it out as I see fit, in a way I think America could handle at what times. So after the record comes out the book will follow and there may, or may not, be a film at some point down the road. There was a point where I was attempting to make the film at the same time as the album. There were plenty of people interested in working with me, but the material ws too controversial, both polotically and religiously with regards to violence. So nobody was willing to work on it.
I spoke with Alexandro Jodorowsky, a hero of mine, and my favourite film maker. He and I were going to work together on it, but I think we're going to work on some other projects instead. If the film happens, that's fine but I'm happy to tell me story in the book. First and foremost, I've always been a writer, and to join the movie with the book is unique - nobody has done it before.
The story first came many years ago, and it was just loosely floating around in pieces here and there. 'Antichrist Superstar' I always thought was the end of it and I worked my way backwards. So this is kind of the begining, the middle and the end all together. This one ties the three together. It always comes together when I'm writing a song; I'm thinking of an image.
The music came first, and then the book. I've also been spending a lot of time both painting and creating self portraits and imagery that I have on the website. Some of the photos on the site will appear on the album, and later in a fine art book of photography."
The 'creating chaos' theory is getting more shaky by the second as Manson explains his Star Wars-style inter relationships between book, art and albums two, three and four. One component, however, is still missing. What can this master plan's orchestrator reveal about the new image and live show?
"Well that just comes naturally when I start writing a certain way, it kind of affects the way I look and the way I act. A lot of people have a hard time understanding if I say that on the last album, the character Omega... while it may have been a character, that doesn't mean I wasn't living that character. As an actor or performer, or whatever label you would like to give me, I become whatever I create, and on this album I have become something quite different.
It's a little too soon to say specifically, but it will be a lot darker than the last tour, and probably even darker than the 'Antichrist Superstar' tour. Because there's such a dynamic to the story, and I think it will be very theatrical. I can't say anything else specifically. I just plan on putting on the best show."
We wait with baited breath.