Interview:1994/07/17 Manson Dwells On Dark Side

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Manson Dwells On Dark Side
Interview with Marilyn Manson
Date July 17, 1994
Interviewer Sandra Schulman
Special to the Sun-Sentinel

Marilyn Manson is the ultimate oxymoron band.

A contradiction within itself, this Broward band's purpose is not to offend, but to enlighten. This week will see the release of its first major independent label release, Portrait of An American Family, on Nothing/Interscope Records. It has been a long, strange trip for this controversial band with a heart of darkness to reach the national spotlight.

The band originated from an idea by its intense lead singer, a 25-year-old former journalist with long black hair, startling blue/green eyes and a lanky tattooed frame who now wants to be known only as Mr. Manson.

"I watch a lot of talk shows," he says, "and I was struck by how they lumped together Hollywood starlets with serial killers, just bringing everything to the same sensational level. But Monroe had a dark side with her drugs and depressions, and Manson had a true message and charisma for his followers, so it's not all black and white. I thought at first glance, they were the ultimate in opposites. It's part of the barrage of mass media contradictions kids are fed 24 hours a day on TV."

Well hey, mom and dad, the kids grew up and formed a band.

Following through on the name game, Manson assembled musicians who used stage names appropriated from Hollywood starlets and serial killers: Daisy Berkowitz (guitarist), Twiggy Ramirez (bass), Sara Lee Lucas (drums), Madonna Wayne Gacy (keyboards). The members are all in their mid-20s.

The message came first, then the songs and a live show to get it across.

The band's freakish live spectacles feature fire rituals, grinch dancing, skulls, Kiss lunchboxes, candles, bizarre costumes, tacky living room sets. And music. Horrifyingly good, loopy music, with discordant riffs that crawl under your skin and stay there. The soundtrack to every nightmare you've ever had. Songs like Get Your Gunn, with its searing lyrics on the mixed message morals of authority. And Dope Hat, on the false lullaby of drugs and its dealers. Some other song titles (and lyrics) are too obscene to mention.

"A lot of people misconstrue us as all negative energy and negative message," Manson says. "But it's basically saying if you don't raise your kids, people like us are going to. We're a true product of America and its environment. America showed us all this sex, violence and rock 'n' roll. Now they want to take it all back.

"I present it as a mirror, a freak show. It takes one to know one. The kids that get it have been subjected to all this. They know what it means."

Manson's main references for the songs are literary and cinematic, rather than musical, although the despairing poetry of Jim Morrison, the darker days of the Beatles and the theatrical stage characters of David Bowie can all be found in the mix.

"I like the taboo writers, like Anton LeVey, Alistair Crowley and Nietszche. My favorite movies were Willie Wonka and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I want to be my childhood villains."

On stage, Manson wears giant striped Dr. Suess hats or tall black Pilgrim hats, like an Edward Gorey cartoon character. He takes Polaroids of his leering face and tosses them to the crowd. He scowls and screams and lashes out. But the vocals are solid, the music is complex and tightly performed.

The band's home base club is the deliriously dark Squeeze, on the New River in Fort Lauderdale. Helaine Blum booked the group for one of its first shows in 1990.

"They came out right away as a big important band," Blum says. "They're really exceptional at self-promotion, the best I've ever seen down here. The concept gets people's attention, but then their music is what really hooks them. Since they didn't start out as the greatest musicians, I think it challenged them to be great. A lot of their songs, as weird as they may be, have become anthems. Mr. Manson is such an incredible performer, just extraordinarily riveting. Their straightforward shows are just as powerful as the ones with a lot of theatrics."

And how does Blum account for the large number of fans, particularly females, this band has?

"It's because the music is sensual, in its way," she says. "It has so much intensity that it pulls men and women in. They have really come a long way in a short time. Their huge fan base has always been there for them."

The pure and intense focus of Marilyn Manson propelled it to the top of the Florida rock heap in just three years. In that time it made demos for Sony Records, won a slew of South Florida Rock Awards for Band of the Year and Best Alternative band for 1992 and 1993. It showcased for label executives in Tampa, Atlanta and New York. It won a statewide award for Entertainer of the Year from Jam magazine. Jon Pareles of The New York Times said "Marilyn Manson are a more verbally explicit update of Alice Cooper ... trafficking in shock value and corrosive and unconventional tales of sex and violence."