From The September 2000 issue of "Dazed And Confused"
Article by Chris Campion.
Love him or hate him, Marilyn Manson is hard to ignore. Throughout the horrors of the columbine massacre, it was Manson whose name was cursed again and again as being the man behind the ultimate American nightmare - a life lived in pursuit of a vaingloroius pursuit of death.
As the release of his third album is set to coincide with the US elections, the Manson Myth has become embroiled in a national debate with international consequences where guns and "righteousness" go hand in hand with scapegoats and witch hunts. Question is, what's more scary - Manson, or the establishment he's set himself up against?
Antichrist. Messiah. Celebrity. Pariah. Marilyn Manson, the death cult leader everyone loves to hate, is a dark star whether the religious right like it or not. Reflected in the media eye, the politics of violence swirl around his life and art like curls of smoke and broken mirrors. And in responce he poses a question with ironic self-detachment: Is adult entertainment killing our children? Or is killing our children entertaining adults? Turning cherished ideals inside out and upside down is typical Manson fare. He's fond of playing games based on dichotomies and contradictions. Pitting saints against sinners, the haters against the hated, and the powerful against the powerless. "The Third And Final Beast" lives on a long and winding road that snakes its way on concrete veins through the hills separating "Holy Wood" and the "Valley of Death". He lives in a house that crawls up a steep incline. From the bottom, where there's a pool and two storey guest house that doubles as a studio, it looks as if the main building is nestled in a canopy of vegetation above the clouds.
A Manichaean figure who plays on his supernatural reputation, Manson insists on meeting after dark. And on his territory. When introduced, he rises from a black swivel chair in the low-lit studio, his tall, gangly frame extended by the stacked heels of casual black space boots. He has a handshake like a world leader and a gaze that's both impenetrable and impossible to avoid. A trademark contact lens turns his left eye into a milky white ball. Its microdot pupil is offset from the horizontal. Looking at this is like staring into the sun, so disorientating that your first instinct is to look away.
Reseated, he begins by flipping through a selection of CDs and playing unmixed versions of tracks from his latest album, 'Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death)'. Stripped to the bone, raw power punk rock blasts from two monitor speakers, which book-end a stuffed model of a reclining Bambi. Manson's recorded voice snarls interstellar symbolism on the first track "Cruci-Fiction In Space". On another he seems to adopt Lennon's sneering sarcasm while playing off lyrical riffs lifted from 'The White Album'. In contrast, "The Fight Song" is a three minute adrenal power charge with a singular message. Other songs bear titles like "Disposable Teens" and "Target Audience".
Thematically the record finds Marilyn Manson drawing a direct line of fire back through time. Placing himself in the centre of the American Nightmare, he relives the dream in reverse. On a metaphorical level, the "Holy Wood" represents a wooden crucifix flipped on its side so it resembles a gun. Cock back the upper arm and it shoots a magic bullet of mercury encased in gold. The projectile first careens through Columbine High School killing 15 and wounding 23. Then splinters the spindle hole of Mark Chapman's copy of 'Double Fantasy' and several hours later fatally pierces the side of John Lennon outside the Dakota building. While the bullet flies silently over the Hollywood Hills on a muggy August night in 1969, another cruciform instrument of destruction slices through celebrity skin and bone. Sadie Mae Glutz, Manson Family matriarch and erstwhile Church Of Satan go-go dancer, stabs Sharon Tate to death in a frenzied attempt to silence her machine-like death rattle. Oblivious, the bullet moves ever onward, approaching its final target. It arches a sharp left along Deeley Plaza on November 22, 1963 and accelerates the final few steps towards immortality. On the Zapruder film it is seen burrowing its way into President Kennedy's head at 33 degrees, spraying ossified bone marrow and bloodied brain matter across the virginal pink suit of his long-suffering but loyal wife in a holy communion of death.
In the gospel according to Reverend Manson, this is the mediated murder of America's Christ at his Last Supper. The point being that in America death isn't really death anymore unless someone can capture it on film and sell the rights to network TV. There the killers are celebrated on 15 minute segments between National Rifle Association commercials. And society points the finger of blame for its own guilty pleasure at the nearest convenient scapegoat. Religion, politics and violence are caught up in a whirlpool of negativity that fuels public debate and outrage in the United States.
"It's very American to glamourise, celebrate and worship death and then feel guilty about it and want to punish your children for it," Manson drawls in a measured tone, designed to make every word embody the truth. Seated on a black leather couch, his profile is silhouetted by the blue-grey cathode ray glow of a surveillance camera monitor.
Rock'n'roll being the province of the devil - the greatest fear of a country still essentially puritan in nature - and Manson being its most prominent, provocative and articulate proponent, it was fairly obvious that the blame for America's teen violence would land at his door.
After all, his persona is built on the myth of the bogeyman. And for much of his career, he has presented himself (and his band) as a child-corrupting, drug-munching pagan monster straight out of the pages of Grimm's Fairy Tales. To his delight, he recently found out that his image has been used in a haunted house ride. "They're not even scary pictures," Manson adds, somewhat disappointed.
He further reveals that a 1963 copy of Life magazine featuring Lee Harvey Oswald on the cover hangs in his bathroom, "so that I can look at it every time I piss".
While Manson is seemingly vilified for merely pointing out hypocrisy, many of his pop peers get away with murder; on a musical and philosophical level. "The term I coined for that is the God Band-Aid," he proffers mischieviously. "Any type of dilemma that comes up, that's what these people pull out. They get arrested for stabbing their girlsfriend or shooting somebody in a club, then it's all about God. Britney Spears has the God Band-Aid taped right over that, allegedly, un-deflowered pussy of hers. It's well taped with the God bandage. And Puff Daddy is the King of the God Band-Aid. He's a mummy at this point. He's so wrapped up in that."
Yet no one blinked when Puff Daddy pushed himself to the limelight and made a mint celebrating his dead friend, all in the name of God. And then was literally crucified in the video for Nas' "Hate Me Now". Manson has a copy of the unedited video. It's one of his cherished possessions. He also got hold of the actual nails that pierced the false idol from an unspecified source. "To me," he chuckles, "that's almost as great as having the Spear of Destiny." He keeps them in the attic of his house inside another prized artefact, the skeleton of a seven-year-old Chinese boy.
Beyond claiming that "America is a breeding ground for mass murderers and serial killers because the media encourages it", Manson makes no allusions to the effect that the Columbine scapegoating had on him personally. But during a live video link speaking at the Disinfo.con convention in New York in February this year he appeared maudlin and withdrawn. Even his record company were anxious as to his state of mind, and whether he had been overwhelmed by the chaos that surrounded him.
"When first writing this record there was a period when I really didn't leave my house for three months," he explains. "I didn't go anywhere other than this room, my bedroom and the attic where I like to be alone. And y'know, I didn't really think to much of it, but a lot of people were worried or concerned that I wasn't going to come out of there."
Post Columbine, his house was like a prison surrounded by teeming media packrats looking for blood. Backed into a corner, Manson says he was put in the position of "sitting back and getting fucked in the ass or kick everyone's teeth in". He chose the latter. "This record is basically a big 'fuck you'," he says unequivocally. "It's a total declaration of war".
The house also added to the sense of alienation that saw him recast himself as Omega, a glammed-up, androgynous alien, the parodic protagonist of his previous record, Mechanical Animals. At night, he has said, he felt like he was living in a space capsule looking down on a diseased city built on dead stars.
Historically significant as the home of '30s starlet Mary Aston (the female villain in The Maltese Falcon, whose salacious diary of extramarital sexual exploits leaked to tabloids during a 1935 custody battle for her daughter Marilyn), the house also bears the psychic imprint of The Rolling Stones who stayed there during the recording of Let It Bleed in 1969, a pivotal year in Manson's chronology.
Marilyn Manson was born Brian Warner on January 5, 1969. The precious few years that separate him from many of his peers, no doubt contribute to his sense of self and purpose. As he fondly points out, the year of his birth is mired in death. The death of a hippie, the death of the American Dream, and the death of rock n' roll, all attributable to Charles Manson, the Vietnam War and the Rolling Stones' performance at Altamont... but not necessarily in that order.
"I think the '60s were such a strange time in history and ended in such a brutal way," he says, "which I think was appropriate and well-deserved. With Altamont and the Manson murders, the way 1969 came to a close couldn't have been scripted any better. And the '60s began with Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. The fact that they represented such extreme opposites and died on the same day created some kind of schism or strange gateway."
The war-mongerer and the psychedelic philosopher are the gatekeepers of the portal that Manson slipped through. Covert military psychological experimentation with LSD and other mind-altering substances were rife in the 1960s. Wanton experimentation with biochemicals on the general populace followed suit.
In Vietnam, the US military dropped Agent Orange, a defoliating chemical (produced by Monsanto), on both the Vietcong and American troops. Manson's father, Hugh Warner, was a helicopter mechanic for the covert military crew involved in this operation. Up untill his teenage years, Brian Warner was taken to a government research centre studying the after-effects of Agent Orange on the children of Vietnam veterans.
As Manson recalls in his 1998 autobiography The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell, every other child in the study group except himself was either suffering from a degenerative disease, spina bifida or paraplegia. Being singled out as the control in this experiment could explain Manson's desire to identify and align himself with the freaks and the disenfranchised.
"I've always had an affection for prosthetic limbs," he confirms. "I don't think it's a sexual thing. But I do find myself drawn to amputeesarebeautiful.com, which is a strange website. I don't know what it is but I am attracted to deformity and things of that nature. I like to find beauty in that, and not in an exploitative way. I like flaws. I think they're the most exciting part about humans. I think that difference is what keeps us from being like machines and the things that we create."
Upstairs in the studio's sparse anteroom, a selection of Manson's possessions are carefully arranged. Among them, crutches and encrusted prosthetic limbs are slumped in one corner. An amputated mannequin of a little girl with a smiling visage lies across them. On a speaker stack in the opposite corner sits a bell-jar housing Manson's chainsaw-wielding claymation double from Celebrity Death Match. On one wall hangs a large wooden icon of Christ on the cross. Across the room, an antique white Mellotron takes pride of place. Two posable wooden hands sit atop it each flashing the sign of Mendes. Between them lie two decapitated doll's heads. A bible that looks heavy enough to batter unbelievers to death sits on a stool, as well as a book called Bloodlines Of The Illuminati. Manson is using it to research his lineage, which he believes goes back to the founders of the Bavarian Illuminati in 1776.
Outside of his idiosyncrasies, Manson's biography reveals a fairly typical '70s childhood. He grew up an only child in Canton, Ohio and attended strict religious school. Parental conflict fuelled hi alienation. His rebellion was fixated on classic '70s rock'n'roll like Kiss and AC/DC. In his book, Manson claims he became a pimp and a hustler for heavy metal at school, selling dubbed tapes as a quick fix of satanic subversion then stealing them back from lockers at recess. Music also formed an escape route from the outer world to a rich inner one, a move fortified by an early obsession with Dungeons And Dragons.
"I think the attraction was that because your life isn't satisfying to you, you have to put yourself in another life. And that's something to say about how kids feel. That they're born dead or just unwanted, living a life that isn't theirs' with someone else telling them what to do."
As he got older, he longed to be the next Stephen King or Clive Barker and unsuccessfully submitted his first short stories to various publications, before stumbling into journalism, which provided the catalyst for leaving his human skin for that of a more ambivalent creature. "I realised that the people I was interviewing were far inferior to what I imagined I would some day be," he says, laughing. (Debbie Harry, Malcolm McLaren, Trent Reznor and Anthony Kiedis, all former interviewees, shouldn't be too disheartened at this revelation.)
In 1990, Warner took the first step in the transformation from lesser mortal to "Antichrist Superstar" and adopted the name Marilyn Manson.
And now living in Florida, he gathered a band of local misfits around him, who he christened The Spooky Kids. They made a name for themselves locally and eventually got a break as the support slot to Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor snapped them up for his fledgling Nothing label, which would provide the door that Manson was seeking to become the perpetual thorn in the mainstream.
Antagonism is part of his make-up. As a child, he was fond of wearing Halloween masks when accompanying his mum through the drive-in teller at the bank. "I would always jump out and try to scare the lady," Manson confesses. Frankenstein was one of his favorite monsters then. "It suits me well, considering my height and my uncanny good looks," he deadpans.
A man built from the body parts of others is as good a metaphor as any for the composite constitution of Marilyn Manson, whose alias is derived from a calculated mix of dead celebrity and celebrated killer. Similarly, elements of Manson's persona are scavenged from his forebears. The obsessive and assiduous unearthing of myriad allusions and references in Manson's work on some of his fan websites (like Illuminated and Songs Of Golgotha) goes so far as to suggest that his work is a meticulous autopsy of popular culture and philosophy.
Certainly the references pop up unendingly, buried into the mix as hidden messages and secret tracks, as if he's laying a trail of candy for his legion of fans leading right to the door of the witch's house. Some are downright obvious, others more arcane.
On a physical level, he takes from David Bowie's arch theatricality and androgyny. Alice Cooper's grand guignol, Iggy Pop's reckless disregard for self. On the Antichrist Superstar tour, backed by his band dressed as satanic shock troops, he played the role of a besuited political animal. Leering and screaming from a podium, he threw poses like Adolf Hitler one second, and flailed the next like a marionette with snipped strings. On the mental plane he invokes Aleister Crowley's magus trickster spirit and the carny showmanship of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, a close friend of Manson's untill his death in 1998. Thematically, he mines the man-machine dichotomy exhaustively explored by Philip K Dick, Nietzsche's nihilism and Crowley's gnostic philosophy. Distressed images are culled from photographer Joel Peter Witkin and filmmaker Alexandro Jodorowsky.
The latter was the inspiration for Manson to pen a film script for Holy Wood, on which the album is based. It was intended as a tribute and logical sequel to Jodorowsky's own Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre (or Holy Blood). But after a year of fruitless negotiations, he says, "I'm sad and proud to say that it was too violent for any film company to make. Even having Johnny Depp, who had agreed to play the role of the President, and me behind it, it just touched on subjects that were too controversial. Religion, politics and violence all combined together." Instead he turned the screenplay into a novel and collated an art book of images that were used as sketches for the film.
Painting is Manson's latest artistic persuit. An exhibition of his watercolours appears on his website. Sparse but creepy, they are reminiscent of the pagan landscapes and distended fairy tale figures of Emil Nolde (an artist branded as "degenerate" by the nazis).
"I have an over-active imagination, " he admits. "I can't write a song without thinking about a video or a story or a character or a painting, whatever it might be. I don't ever think on only one level. That can be overloading to some people. Sometimes I'll just keep it to myself until the appropriate time."
Certainly, only the initiated would have worked out that Holy Wood connects to both Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar to form a triptych. Like Bosch's "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" it traces the rise and fall of man through the intellectual and physical transformation of an individual named Adam Kadmon (after the Hebrew name for the original metaphysical man). The narrative also neatly dovetails into Manson's own personal mythology.
"It is a story about someone innocent who is given the apple of knowledge," he explains. "And has the naivete to think that they could create a revolution and take on the world. What happens is that revolution becomes another product. The world just chews it up and spits it back out as something more polished. Then that person finally realises what he's done. Unfortunately, it's too late, and the only way to destroy that world is to destroy himself, because he created it. As the saying goes, it takes one bullet to kill the whole world because it's all in your head."
"That's what I've learned over the years," he says, in a more reflective mood. "Now, I've come full circle because I've leart how to fight the fight. And do it because I think it needs to be done for no other reason than to cause chaos. That's part of my existence. I think anyone can write songs, but I genuinely create chaos. And I like to do it."
Even though his transformation seems complete, Manson's not about to end his world. Instead, he's about to reveal the ultimate irony. "I'm at a point in my life right now," he says slowly, "where I've actually been able to, in a way, fulfil the American Dream and be whatever I wanted to be. So I can die a happy man." He pauses for final thought. "If the word happy and my name can be used in the same sentence."
Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) is released in october.