Article:1997/02/24 MUSIC: Satan's Little Helpers

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Satan's Little Helpers
Article on Antichrist Superstar
Author David E. Thigpen
Date February 24, 1997
Source TIME Magazine

Satan's Little Helpers
By David E. Thigpen on Monday, February 24, 1997
TIME Magazine

Shock rocker Marilyn Manson and the band that bears his--yes, his--name can make even the most avidly sociopathic rap and heavy-metal groups look meek.

The band's controversial new album, Antichrist Superstar, a takeoff on Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1971 stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar, is a scathing social critique dressed up as a morbid rock opera. It portrays the rise of a supernatural demagogue who seizes power and leads the world to destruction. The album's 16 songs, including Tourniquet (which is getting steady play on MTV), wallow in nightmarish, frequently X-rated scenarios of occultism, suicide, torture, greed and mindless celebrity worship. "I'm so all-American I'd sell you suicide," Manson snarls over the sound of jackhammering drums and the buzz-saw scream of guitars. Manson, whose real name is Brian Warner, and his group have all adopted names of celebrity idols and serial killers. The keyboardist calls himself Madonna Wayne Gacy; the bassist, Twiggy Ramirez.

This toxic brew fascinates alienated teenage males, who have made Superstar a surprise hit. Since its debut last November, the album has sold more than 1 million copies and climbed as high as No. 3 on the charts, right behind Celine Dion and Kenny G. Rolling Stone magazine put Manson on its cover in January and proclaimed him Best New Artist of 1996. This week Manson makes his screen debut as a seedy porn actor in the David Lynch film Lost Highway.

How could such an outlandish performer find a place in the sanitized mainstream of pop culture? For starters, Manson is a natural-born showman with dark charisma and a knack for sensationalistic imagery. "This band has always been about pulling one over on the mainstream," he admits. Part Boy George and part Oliver Stone, Manson intentionally crafts his image to incite maximum shock. He often performs clad in jackboots and trussed up in leather. Onstage and off, he wears black lipstick and cakes his face in mortician's white, giving himself a deathly, freshly exhumed look.

Many of the band's most enthusiastic fans are Goths, members of a popular suburban youth cult drawn to black garb and death-rock music. Styling themselves after Manson gives them power: it strikes a blow against conformity and repulses their parents. Manson and his shock troupe never shy away from a chance to indulge in violent titillation. At a Florida concert last fall, Manson squirmed bare-chested on a carpet of broken glass. Conservative groups accuse him of devil worship. Two weeks ago, the band's Oklahoma City concert was picketed by Donald Wildmon's American Family Association.

Before he became Marilyn Manson, Warner, now 28, lived a youth of bland middle-class normality in Canton, Ohio. His parents, a furniture salesman and a nurse, sent him to a strict Christian boarding school, which, he later said, "turned me against the hypocrisy of organized religion." At 18 he took a job as a rock journalist on a tiny Florida paper before deciding to launch his own career in music. In 1994 he was discovered by Trent Reznor, leader of the popular band Nine Inch Nails and one of the architects of "industrial rock," an abrasive offshoot of punk and heavy metal. With his first two records, Portrait of an American Family and Smells Like Children, Manson quickly built a passionate following. It includes his father Hugh, who says he loves his son's music because it encourages kids to think for themselves.

Manson is not, of course, the first to wring fame out of ghoulish theater. Pioneer shock rockers Alice Cooper and Kiss made millions daring audiences to share the humor behind their fright masks. But Manson's act is shorn of all humor. What's left is lurid spectacle that conveys little meaning beyond its shock value.

Fantasy is as vital to rock as fake blood is to a horror movie. But it can become an invitation to trouble when the act overwhelms the actor. Last month two Goths who were arrested in a thrill murder in Washington state cited a passion for Manson's music. But Manson takes no responsibility. Says he: "Parents should raise their kids to listen to an album and know the difference between reality and fantasy." True enough, but it wouldn't hurt if Manson lightened up his own scary, easily misunderstood message. After a Los Angeles concert, a fan was asked what he liked best. With most rock stars "the makeup comes off when they go home," he said. "With Manson it's real."

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