The most dangerous man in America?
photo: Giles Duley
|Interview with Marilyn Manson|
To be frank, Select is scared. All pop stars get the devil in them occasionally - throwing bandmates into swimming pools, stealing the cutlery from hotels, projectile vomiting into ashtrays after one too many Hooches. They all have their scamp-like moments. But Marilyn Manson, industrial goths from Florida, have the devil - sorry, The Devil - like, in them.
Madonna Wayne Gacy, Twiggy Ramirez, Zim Zum, Ginger Fish and Marilyn Manson himself are fully paid-up members of The Church Of Satan, they smoke human bones for kicks and they’ve shat in Evan Dando’s bathtub. Runty back-benchers and scabby tabloids alike were frothing at the mouth last time the Manson visited our shores - there were vivid descriptions of the torturing of small pets onstage, eating human excrement and worshipping Adolf Hitler.
The Star summed them up as “nasty, pro-violence and sex-crazed”. The Sunday Express reckons that Marilyn Manson “believe in the ultimate triumph of evil”. None of this has much to do with their music, a vague redesign of the old Revolting Cocks/Nine Inch Nails grindcore model. You do a little thing like declaring yourself the new Antichrist and look at all the fuss you cause…
In America, things are a little heavier. Around the time they got the cover of Rolling Stone and their third album – the spunkily-named “Antichrist Superstar” – entered the Billboard charts at number three, Marilyn Manson started to attract the attentions of the Moral Majority. After severe pressure, Marilyn Manson’s ‘Kill Yourself - You’re Already Dead’ T-shirts were withdrawn from sale in thousands of shops.
Marilyn Manson himself has had no fewer than 50 death threats from far-right evangelical Christian groups, and, when the band play a show in Florida, they’re more likely to be read their Rights than play an encore. Giving onstage blow-jobs to Nine Inch Nails and mutilating yourself with broken bottles clearly doesn’t endear you to the state of orange juice and Disneyland. Manson’s pale, voodoo-painted face regularly looms from magazines – one eye normal, the other with its iris blasted white, as if he’d viewed a nuclear explosion while winking. Frankly, it’s not something you’d want to see pressed against the window at night.
On top of all this, we’ve heard Marilyn Manson have discovered a new drug high caused by snorting the mail-ordered oceanic organisms called Sea Monkeys, and they forced Billy Corgan to try it. It turns your wee white and it takes your body two years to get over it.
Yes, Select is scared.
We’re meeting Marilyn Manson himself, in his home town of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and he’s an hour late. In this hour, we’ve found out a few interesting things. Things that have put our minds at ease somewhat. Like: his real name is Brian. And: he lives at home with his parents. Plus: he got his first erection looking at Daphne from Scooby Doo. Could all these facts possibly apply to someone who has declared themselves the 16th Antichrist? Or is this whole thing a wind-up: a tongue-in-cheek take on the kind of schlock once purveyed by Kiss… just Gene Simmons with a wonky eye?
Six feet four inches of bone and leather enters the hotel lobby. His skin is deathly white and the unbuttoned, black lace blouse frames a collection of scars that puts Richey Manic to shame. On his fingers he wears half a kilo of jewellery – skulls, teeth, a black widow spider set in amber. His lipstick looks like Very Berry from the Rimmel range. Sunglasses are welded to his face. The fat tourists and sweaty, suited businessmen shrink away.
“Hello,” he drawls. “I’m Manson.” He folds himself on to a large sofa and sits impassively. People on neighbouring sofas move away.
“I got lost on the way,” he semi-apologises, “I never really hang around this area. It’s all golf courses and swimming pools.”
Of course, it’s a big fibby excuse – even though plain Brian Warner was born in Ohio, he moved to Fort Lauderdale when he was 16, and his parents’ house is at the ‘very’ end of posh. His dad is a Vietnam vet – he sprayed Agent Orange in the war, before being demobbed and getting a job as a furniture salesman. Both Mr Warner and the pre-pubescent Antichrist were frequently called in for government medical tests, to see if Agent Orange had affected their DNA. Could this be how Brian’s – sorry, Manson’s – eye became so scary?
“Huh huh huh!” Manson’s laugh almost hurts – two low notes like a tractor being jump-started on a cold day. “Huh huh. No. It’s a contact lens. It gets pretty itchy.”
The young Manson was a sickly child – he was in hospital four times with pneumonia and became rather difficult to handle after spending long periods in seclusion.
“Being in hospital kinda warped me,” Manson says with deadpan relish. “You’re around dying people ; deformed people; disturbed people; artificial limbs on sore stumps. I collect artificial limbs now – it’s one of my more recent hobbies.” All this time in hospital explains the recurring themes of illness in ‘Antichrist Superstar’: references to guts, abortion, wasted muscle, blood, torn skin, scars, leeches, scabs… it’s not a very well album.
After all this early exposure to death and suffering, the infant Manson’s thoughts started to turn to the darker side of life: he spied on his grandfather constantly, until he finally caught him playing with a toy train set and masturbating, “He had throat cancer, and growled through a tube in his neck. He’d wipe the spittle off with his handkerchief – the same one he masturbated into. The train set would run to cover up his growls.”
These tracheotomy growls seem to have influenced Manson’s singing voice greatly. Lyrical inspiration seems to come from his illness, fear of death, and “finding a foetus in a can in the street when I was about ten”.
We call that Spam in England.
“I call it a chorus. Huh huh huh. I’m drawn to things that scare me. I want to confront them. Death, the Devil, illness, disease, unhappiness – I’ll take them all. This stuff interests me.”
Already a rather disturbed child, the teenage Manson became heavily involved in role-play, and this was where the persona of Marilyn Manson started to surface. All of Manson’s band take their first names from movie stars and their surnames from criminals and serial killers – we just have to take their word for it that there’s a mass murderer called Mr Zum. Zum. Manson and Co. started torturing instruments and the concept of musicality in 1993; as a low-rent Nine Inch Nails, they soon attracted the attention of Trent Reznor. Once Marilyn Manson signed to his label, the band started to experience success.
“Yeah, we knew we were doing OK when someone threw a scorpion onstage. Scorpions are one of the few things I’m scared of, and, y’know, someone had taken the trouble to find out and get one.”
One of the other things that Manson is scared of is Christians. Having attended a Christian school where heavy metal songs were denounced as evil, Manson was never over-keen on the Crucifix Set. Now various factions have threatened to assassinate him. There’ll definitely be no cards at Christmas. In fact, there’ll be no Christmas.
“I hate Christmas. I like to go around and replace the Baby Jesus in the nativities with a boiled ham. Huh huh huh. I get death threats every month. I know there’s someone somewhere who thinks he’ll be doing the world a favour by putting a bullet in my head.” He pauses. “It does worry me. I can’t sleep without tranquillisers.”
So scorpions and Christians are the only things that scare you?
“Yeah, yeah,” Manson pauses.
“Oh, and this amusement park ride in Ohio called The Demon Drop – it’s like an elevator shaft that just drops. That’s real scary. I thought I was going to throw up last time I went on that… Oh, no thanks, don’t smoke. I’m allergic.”
After ten minutes in his company, it’s rampantly clear to Select that Brian is as cute as a button. His deadpan, almost camp delivery and mournful face don’t ignite any spark of fear – rather, they inspire happy comparisons between Marilyn Manson, self-declared Antichrist, and Marmaduke, the cartoon Great Dane from Marmaduke And Friends. Still, you never can tell with evil. It can come in the blandest of disguises. We decide we’re going to have to clear up a couple of moot points.
Manson – have you ever eaten poo?
“No. Huh huh. I guess it mightn’t taste good.”
Manson - have you ever tortured baby animals?
“No, although I’m willing to try. Huh huh.”
And what about your new drugs, Sea Monkeys? You made Billy Corgan take it! Surely you were being a weeny bit evil there.
“Sea Monkeys? Oh, yeah. Do you know what they are?”
The New Killer Drug From America.
“No, no! They’re, like, little fleas that live in the sea,” Manson chuckles. “You can take them out of water and dry them out into a white powder. You can leave them for years – but when they come in contact with moisture, they come alive again. Billy thought it was coke and he snorted it. He’s gonna have little fleas living in his sinuses for two years. He’s pissing out little prawns! Huh huh huh.”
The whole ‘smoking human bones’ thing, then – that’s a tabloid lie too, huh?
“No, we did that,” he says, suddenly serious again. “What happened was, when we lived in New Orleans, Twiggy and I had collected a big bag of human bones. They can’t bury the dead properly in New Orleans – the ground is swampy and it shifts around. So, if you go walking in a graveyard, you’ll see hands and leg-bones poking out. So we were carrying this bundle around for a while, like an extra relative or something.”
Manson starts “Huh huh-ing” again.
“We were in LA with some people who thought they were hip. I don’t particularly like people who think they’re cool. So I convinced them that smoking bones was the New Crack. Everyone chipped some off the bones, and put them in the pipe.”
And? Do you see exotic visions? Did you cross the Styx into hell?
“No, I just got an awful headache. It smelt awful. Like burnt hair. Urgh.”
Do you worship Hitler?
“No. Ask me about The Wonder Years. I was supposed to be in that as a child actor. That was another thing the tabloids have got all wrong.”
You were in Family Ties instead?
“Huh huh. [Pause] No, I’m supposed to have had two ribs removed as well, you know.”
Any particular reason?
“So I can give myself blow-jobs! Huh huh! This stuff amuses me.”
Well, the Evil Geiger Counter is still registering nothing, but it’s best to make sure. Select steels its nerves and suddenly sounds terribly British. Now, look here, Manson. This whole ‘badness’ thing. You call yourself the Antichrist and refer to yourself as evil. Do you harm people? Are you cruel or nasty at all?
“No more than anybody,” Manson explains, cheerfully. “There’s obviously two sides to everyone. I have a morality that’s not that different from Christianity. Instead of turn the other cheek, I believe in karma. If someone harms me, I want to harm them back – unless their life is so miserable that just waking up themselves is the greatest punishment. I don’t feel a need to hurt people. I have an outlet for that – music. But there’s subtle stuff that everyone misses, like the more… charming elements in someone like me. That people may like me and be affected by what I say.”
It’s at this point that you realise that all this shock-horror stuff has to be put into the context of a fundamentalist Christian society like America: somewhere where abortion, homosexuality and the majority of other religions are dismissed as ‘evil’. All this heavy-handed Devil-stuff Manson’s employing is to make a point. Unfortunately, once you know he’s called Brian and he wouldn’t hurt a fly, it all seems a bit silly.
“We perform the song ‘Antichrist Superstar’ on a podium with banners, and it’s a kind of sarcastic Nuremberg/TV evangelist thing.” Manson goes on, like Alice Cooper and Richey Manic’s love-child. “We’re trying to say, It’s all stupidity. In the way people react, there’s not much difference between the Marilyn Manson audience, a Nazi rally and a revivalist Christian meeting. And still we get called the evil ones! I find,” Manson says, stretching, “that people’s definition of evil is that which they find distasteful. They’re too chicken to stand up and say, I, personally, find this distasteful, so they justify it with this weird morality.”
Are you sure your fans are getting this complex message? Heavy industrial goth isn’t the best medium to spread the word.
“They’ll see it. And it doesn’t matter if they don’t,” he says, lightening up. “It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. But I do intend to move more into the mainstream. Marilyn Manson is just the first phase.”
Right. And the final phase?
“Oh, a chat show. Chat shows used to be really good here – celebrity mysteries, mass murderers. Now it’s just white trash calling each other ‘hoes.’ I want to bring back the showbiz element.”
Later this month, Marilyn Manson are bringing their titanically doomy bletherings to Britain. If you enjoy lyrics about suppurating wounds, then hie you down to the ticket office. There’s a coupla tunes in there too - ‘Tourniquet’ and their version of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, which is enough to convince you that Annie Lennox wore those Minnie Mouse ears to cover up her horns. Other than that though, you’re better off reading the interviews. Does Manson relish his UK jaunts?
“I like England. It’s very grey, but that suits me. My make-up runs in hot countries. I can’t sit around in a restaurant seeing people smiling and having lives, because they don’t know the things I know. And I see a lot of gloomy faces in England, so I feel at home there.”
Well thanks. Did you get time to check out any of our bands while you were over last time?
“I like Oasis, in my own way,” he confesses. “I like their attitude. Radiohead kick – that album was my favourite of last year. And I’m friends with Tricky – we’re working together on something at the moment. Hey, if we’re going to start doing the photos, I have some make-up to attend to.”
Through the closed bathroom door, Manson reveals that the most evil thing he regularly does is “wipe my dick on the hand towels”. After all the ladies in the room give him a hard time about it, he apologises, and climbs on top of the TV.
“What was all that about population crisis?” he asks, trying to look at the TV news between his legs. “I’ve got a solution – I’ll put more backwards messages on my records. That way, we’ll get rid of the stupid ones. I’ve done some messages like that before, but teachers and parents always take it the wrong way. I’m just trying to help! Hey, do you want me to get in the refrigerator? We could get some cool shots there.”
Why, if you’d care to…
“Yeah! This is cool! Who are you again? Select? You’re much more fun than Kerrang! – whenever they do pictures, they just get us to open a can of beer and go, Wa-hey!” Curled up in the fridge; six feet four inches of leather, scars and mournful, alien eyes, Brian the excited heavy metal kid calms down, and concludes in his Manson voice, “And I’m not really a ‘Wa-hey!’ kind of person.”
At which point, one suddenly remembers that Viz’s Pathetic Sharks hadn’t quite got the hang of this ‘scary’ thing, either…