|I'm Having A Hard Time Fitting In|
|Interview with Marilyn Manson|
|Date||September 12, 1998|
'I'm Having A Hard Time Fitting In'
No way! Marilyn Manson having trouble fitting in with his new Hollywood neighbourhood?!! Look at him. He's just the kind of person you'd ask for a cup of sugar (if you manage to get past his pellet gun). ET stay home: Roger Morton (words) Kevin Westenberg (photos).
"And in the death as the last few corpses lay rotting in the slimy thoroughfare the shutters lifted an inch in Temperance Building high on Poacher's Hill and red mutant eyes gazed down on Hunger City..." - David Bowie, 'Diamond Dogs'.
High on Lookout Mountain, red mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City. No, honestly, they really do.
With the help of a pair of blood-tinted contact lenses, the glam gargoyle's eyes are genuine fake mutant red and we really are high on a celebrity-infested hill, gazing down on a twisted city. This is not some Diamond Doggy Ziggy Art Zombie fantasy projection. This is a tête-à-tête on a silver-screen hillside with the best Hollywood rock nightmare this decade.
The occasional Antichrist has a dead good view over the City Of Angels. For a year he's been living up here in a wooden house amid the star-burb of multi-million-dollar shacks on Lookout Mountain (take a left off Sunset Boulevard and make like a snake through the foothills).
The two-story building shows few exterior signs that its inhabitant is the Prince Of Perverse. A boxed Barbie doll set rests against an upper window. At the far end of a tennis court-sized swimming pool, a battered mannequin leans against a hedge.
There's not much out of the ordinary. But the vista from the edge of the terrace is out of this universe. He can see ‘til the end of the world.
In his year in California, Doctor Dysfunction has spent many a night up here, vaguely off his trolley, coming down from an encounter with the glitzy cockroaches below. At night, LA's twinkling lights merge with God's glittering dome and it seems like he's hanging from the firmament. Ladies and gentlemen, Marilyn Manson has been floating in space. No wonder he's been acting a bit strange lately.
"It seems like being on another planet looking down on the earth up here, because the city looks like space at night with all the stars," drones Manson in android-vampire tones. Don't the neighbours stare when you land in your space pod?
"Oh no. I'm very much from here. It's just I'm having a hard time fitting in, that's all. Not that I necessarily try to."
Now there's an understatement. Superficially, Marilyn Manson has not been trying to fit in at all. Since shedding the skin of his Ohio and Florida childhood as geek Brian Warner, he's been busy playing high-stakes mind games with the USA.
Aided by his band, he has spent the past decade cavorting in front of the Stars and Stripes, seeking attention for activities that include hardcore blasphemy, self-mutilation, sexual humiliation of fans, excessive drug consumption, grave-robbing, enema competitions, murderous malice aforethought, Satanism, anti-Nazi satire, mock gay fellatio, befriending chickens, taking the piss out of rock stardom, making stompy industrial music and wearing manky codpieces.
The last time we looked, the God of Fuck was America's favourite hate/snigger figure. Blink, and guess what? The nation that's attempted sacking its President for fibbing about oral sex has rewarded rock's wiliest miscreant with a mountain of dollars, a gaff in Hollywood and a place on the High Table of glitterati.
So what exactly does Beelzebub do when he finds himself hugged by the mainstream?
"The plan with 'Antichrist Superstar' was to say that no matter how far people see me as ugly or different, the emotions I'm expressing are inside everybody," he drawls. "So infiltrating the mainstream has helped me to drive home my message that everybody is Antichrist Superstar. I was just the one that was brave enough to get out there and say that."
In the overbright conservatory of Manson's retreat, his eyes slither behind phat '70s sunglasses. The shades might scream Elton John, but there's a no way you can converse on a lowly personality level with MM. We are, after all, dealing with a total construct here.
"I consider what I do to be Pop Art," it says. "So there's no reason that it shouldn't be mainstream because it's important that there are more counterculture ideas in the mainstream otherwise the only thing the kids hear is Hanson and the Spice Girls."
What does it make you think about America that you can be so well rewarded for playing on society's fears and wiping your arse on the Stars and Stripes?
"It shows that America thrives on its fear. It always has. Marilyn Manson is like a train wreck or a long form of suicide and people live vicariously through it. Sometimes I do things that a lot of people wish they could do. If they don't wish they could do it they enjoy being amused by it or enjoy being disgusted by it.
"So people in America have always had a fascination with things they don't understand, and sometimes if they don't understand it and it scares them too much then they want to destroy it. And that's why a lot of people hate me as well. Because it's such a volatile thing."
Don't a lot of these ideas get neutralised as they're absorbed by capitalism?
"No, because capitalism and money-making is part of my message as well. I say that everything is a lie and you just have to pick which lie you like best. While condemning Christianity, I point out that rock'n'roll is just as blind and fascist. And I include myself in my indictments...That's the only way that you can really comment on society as long as you put yourself in it. So none of that holds me back. It just adds to what I do."
As the first lesson endeth the sun dips enough to outline Manson's equine silhouette against the mirrored wall behind him. It's probably the only reflective surface that Manson has allowed to frame him without cracking it first.
"Few things are more of a turn-on that beauty disfigured," - MM, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell
Plastic protuberances are nuzzling into NME's groin, there is animal slime all over NME's hands and a set of gnashing teeth are getting closer. This is not, however, a torture treatment meted out by Manson for not having read The Beginner's Guide To Nietzsche (four words: Christianity is for weaklings). It's just one of his Boston terriers playing slobber-ball with the journo.
Manson's pet dogs, Fester and Bug, are not, however, just any old dogs. They are diamondo dogs. They have been photographed for Rolling Stone, name-dropped in British style magazines and are already more famous than Brian Molko will ever be. There is a Eurocentric tendency to view Manson's ability to waffle on moral philosophy and reflect glory on to his dogs as the gauche product of retarded goth worship in the States. Wrong.
A botched fusion of Alice Cooper and King Kurt does not notch up three million sales for an album, 'Antichrist Superstar', or put your autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell, into the bestsellers list. Seventeen-year-olds are not so easily duped. When the video for Manson's corruption of the Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' lodged in MTV schedules in 1995, it stopped the dull grind of the rock machine dead. No-one had taken this much care to articulate their nightmares.
On 'Sweet Dreams...' and the subsequent mini-masterpieces for 'The Beautiful People' and 'Tourniquet', Manson worked with surgically sharp directors Dean Karr and Floria Sigismondi. The videos, along with the photos of Joseph Cultice, the Dead To The World stage show and the hell hospital 'Antichrist...' sleeve - the whole wriggling sack of Manson's horror insects in callipers imagery - hit a nerve.
Compared with his impact as an effigy for Perversion Chic, Manson's winding up the Christian right was a sideshow. Yes, there had been Ministry or Thrill Kill Cult or any number of precursors, but Manson was more extreme and more accurate in summing up the simmering rebellion against the Health Reich propaganda of US TV ideology.
Never mind that the music was patchy (difficult but not impossible industrial metal), the presentation was genius. His neurosis-tweaking parade of prosthetics, scarification, handicap, death, mental illness, murder, surgery, cross-dressing and child corruption was super-smart mass psychology. And, hey look, it worked. Cultural commentators in the States are now obliged to rank Manson as amongst the top ten most important people. One mag just listed him in a planet's most influential top 50 alongside Don DeLillo, Irvine Welsh and the Coen brothers.
When Manson sounds deranged (which he frequently does) it's because he's spent half of the last decade struggling round with the zeitgeist on his shoulders. The weight of it explains a lot about the nature of the new (fourth) album 'Mechanical Animals (album)|Mechanical Animals]]'.
"I think Marilyn Manson has become the zeitgeist for America," he declares flatly. "It's become an adjective for when something's shocking or perverted. They say that's very Marilyn Manson. So I've definitely got America's attention and most of the world's attention, that's why 'Mechanical Animals' is a really important record. I want to deliver an album that had songs that would express to people what was going on inside of me, not just deal with Satanism."
Do you think you've made a difference, culturally?
"I think I've opened up a lot of people's minds whether that's about the way people look, or what they believe in. I'm not Jesus Christ, but I come as close as I can when it comes to getting across my ideas and showing people the way I look at the world."
What do you feel about the word 'goth'?
"I think it's a narrow interpretation of what I do. There's definitely certain things that are inspired by goth music, by groups like Bauhaus and Joy Division. I think we're a rock band. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, there's no reason to. People can call it whatever they want. I had black hair so people said we were goth. Now I have red hair so people say we're glam.
One the index of how seriously Manson should be taken is to run through how many other 'respected artists' he intersects with. His autobiography opens with a quote from David Lynch (who gave him a cameo in Lost Highway) saying how Manson reminds him of Elvis. Thereafter it's easy to put up arguments linking Manson's macabre world with those of Damien Hirst, Gummo director Harmony Korine, Terry Gilliam or Leigh Bowery. Even Edgar Allen Poe and Hieronymus Bosch fit in. So doesn't Manson worry that (being a pop singer) he'll just be remembered for the clothes?
"I hope they appreciate what I've done for fashion," he says. "I've seen my inspiration with Gaultier and Alexander McQueen over the years but I've also been inspired by them as well. I'm just not limited to music. I think that's too boring."
Do you own a pair of sneakers?
"I think I have a pair of black sneakers. But I only wear them regretfully. There are certain elements that people could identify with my life. I have dogs. I eat food. I put my pants on the same way other people do. I'm not particularly that different when it comes to the way I live my life or operate, but I just look at things differently."
Do you sneak off while no-one's not looking and dress up in Tommy Hilfiger or Adidas?
"No. If I wanted to do something that would just be part of my life. There's no reason to hide anything."
"When people ask, 'Well is it an act or isn't it?' it's both. I mean my whole life is an act, but that's my art." - MM, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell
The hallway of Manson's rented retreat is strewn with guitar cases. To one side there's a large dark room where the majority of the work on 'Mechanical Animals' took place. At a glance it could be any rich American rock band working up here, but a few odd things catch the eye. The darkened room contains the front section of a stuffed ram. A plastic tentacle studded with fake jewels sits in the mirrored room at the front. One of the books lying in a pile on the floor is a homicide detective's photo memoir of cut-up corpses, naked hermaphrodites and Siamese twin cats.
For sure it isn't Sharon Tate's house, where Manson worked with his ex-ally and sponsor Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor on the first MM album 'Portrait Of An American Family'. But with MM bassist Twiggy padding around zombie-like in a plastic crown, the scene would be slightly unnerving. If you hadn't read Manson's autobiography, that is.
Reading Manson's book, however, changes the perspective on Beelzebub Brian. Within the Hammer Of The Goths excess there's enough honesty about his unshaggable geek teens, his time as (horror of horrors) a music journalist in Florida and the strategy that went into inventing the band to undercut much of the psychopath posturing. In the biog, when he meets his Church Of Satan mentor Anton La Vey, Manson is impressed by how little he gives away. But perhaps Brian gave away too much.
"I think I showed as much as I wanted people to see," he says, rubbing his gold 'SEX' ring with a nail-varnished finger. "I've always respected Anton La Vey for his presentation and charisma. But that's something that becomes second nature. When I wrote the book I didn't discuss my sneakers. I basically told people what I felt they wanted to hear and what I felt like telling them."
Now that one of his old masks has been peeled, the new game for Manson is not scaring the moral majority with the notion that he's Satan, but scaring them even more by claiming to be, er, human. The most shocking thing about the new Manson opus is the number of times he uses words like 'emotional' in connection with it. What happened?
"After the last tour and writing a book it made me look at things differently," he explains. "I think I went through a grand transformation, because my desire was to be the strongest person I could be, to be like a Nietzsche superman. What I hadn't anticipated was that to be this strong person also includes vulnerability and that's what gives you strength. You can't have one without the other. So this record is about dealing with all of your weaknesses as well."
A touchy-feely God Of Fuck is not an easy concept. Today, folded into a chair in his see-through Lycra top and spangly pants he seems about as emotional as a dead stick insect (sorry, alienated stick insect) but that's all part of the profound paradox of it all. Having tunnelled into the Hall Of Fame by the zombie route, Brian has had time to think. Like a caricature of a caricature from an early-'70s Bowie album (sing now: "wonderous beings jaaaaded of life"), he's been sitting up on the hill of supermen attempting to disassociate his brain in two, reading Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K Dick, and Huxley's Brave New World (well, Bowie already did Orwell's 1984) and picking at the soul burns from his scary celebrity.
The end result of the lofty introspection can be heard clearly in 'Mechanical Animals' vision of a numb mass populace and commentary on his own magazine-cover hollowness. "I'm as fake as a wedding cake", goes the opening line of 'New Model'. You don't even have to listen to the lyrics. The song titles say enough - 'Rock Is Dead', 'I Want To Disappear', 'The Dope Show', 'Posthuman', 'Disassociative'. The should-get-out-more quotient is high.
"A lot of the album is about fame," blinks the Tin Man Machine. "It deals with the vulnerability of living in a place like Hollywood, how sometimes I deal with the pain or pressure by being sarcastic and being a caricature and being glam rock. And then the other half of the record is what's underneath that. When you're in a city like Hollywood and you're filled with glitterati, the next day is always so much more painful when you're alone.
"It's not a place that generally accepts everyone. People treat me like a sideshow attraction. 'The Dope Show' is kind of a glam anthem, a 'We Are The World' for all the drug addicts in Hollywood, I guess."
There is nothing on it that's shocking particularly, unless you count the drug references.
"No, I don't think there was any desire to, I think the only thing I was being provocative about was the human soul and that I have one. And it's something I'm concerned with, that I think that mankind is generally slowly making himself less and less relevant with his own creations."
You mention suicide in the title track ("I'm just a boy playing the suicide king"). Is that something you've considered?
"Er, not so much in the contrived sense of the tortured artist that wants to commit suicide, but it's hard just to survive spiritually or emotionally. It's just hard upon one's constitution to try and survive when the world is beating down on you so hard...And maybe some day I can't fight it anymore. When I'm optimistic I fight against it but when I'm least optimistic then I just give in to it."
There isn't any hint of emotion in Manson as he muses on his mangled psyche, but clearly the 'sensitive artist' in him has been affected by turning himself into a cultural effigy. Beatles fans will be disturbed to hear that the album's penultimate song, 'Last Day On Earth', was inspired by listening to John Lennon and, erm, imagining.
"It made me think about all the people who would love to shoot me and the hopelessness of it all," he says. "I could easily give in and become a tragic figure like him, or Marilyn Monroe or JFK. Half of me is very nihilistic and very self-destructive and the other half of me is just trying to hold off the rest of the world. So it's like a real struggle. I think in the end I would be happier if I killed myself than if I let some idiot Bible-thumper shoot me. But it's always a struggle with optimism to want to even exist. The only thing that really makes it worthwhile is being able to create music."
Surely there must be other reasons to trudge on? What techniques for having fun do you have?
"Erm, making music and performing is probably the thing that I enjoy the most and I also paint and I'm going to be exploring that a lot more in the future. I enjoy going to movies, that's probably my big love."
Have you thought about golf?
"No. I don't like any sports at all."
Iggy and Alice Cooper were big golfers.
"Not for me".
What about volleyball?
"No...maybe archery so I could shoot some of my neighbours."
Do you have a telescope up here?
"No. I have a pellet gun so I can shoot my neighbours with it when I get drunk."
For a moment there he's on the brink of laughter. But all that happens is a guilty smirk emerges. It makes him look about 12.
"The key to changing the way that people think is to change what's popular. That's why rather than submit to the mainstream, you have to become it and then overcome it." - MM, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell
That someone who's spent their career slamming together dualities - horror and glamour, male and female, morality and depravity - should inspire both mockery and respect with his music is entirely appropriate. The product of Manson, Twiggy, Pogo and Ginger Fish's labours on the hill (guitarist Zim Zum recently left) is a collection of deeply gauche, irradiated Numanoid'n'Sisters Of Mercy rawk anthems. But taste, of course, is the enemy of art, and this is Lucifer plays pop with a view to selling ten million albums. Which is definitely not to be snickered at.
Manson says a lot of sound things about pop. He describes most recent American rock as "a bunch of shit really, it makes you want to break their guitars." Radiohead and Pulp, however, get his blessing. For the older (or younger) readers he even makes overt the Bowie connection - "I think that he knows I'm thinking the way he probably did when he was my age."
In reality, however, the shift towards airplay aesthetics which Manson explains as an attempt to avoid "painting ourselves into a corner" is mostly because this is the first MM album where Trent Reznor hasn't been involved. The drugs and egos involved in making 'Antichrist...' in New Orleans ended their working relationship. "We're on speaking terms," deadpans Manson. "However, we haven't spoken for two years."
An extra enemy here or there can hardly make a great deal of difference to Manson's bruised soul. At just 30 he's pushed his lifestyle to the brink. Polarities snap at his heels. Test opinion amongst the music community of LA and you'll hear either that he and the band are "total assholes" or they're "really funny guys, they're just like Beavis and Butt-head when no-one's around".
Today is definitely not a cartoon performance. When he isn't making like a Martian spider for the camera, the glam ghoul murmurs earnestly with his manager, or glides around the house, a walking, droning, contradicting, 6ft 3ins anorexic '90s Warhol going about his art business very seriously.
On the cover of 'Mechanical Animals' Manson is depicted as a naked alabaster mannequin with breasts and shop-window male genitals. You can bet that his current girlfriend, ex-model, religious cult escapee and Hollywood actress Rose McGowan, thinks it's cool. In his book, Manson fantasises about Rose masturbating him while watching her role in Doom Generation. Subsequently he met her at an S&M restaurant and made out after a Gummo screening. She recently claimed that the reason neither of them have eyebrows is because they donated them to the Gallaghers.
"In meeting her before I wrote the record I think it changed me emotionally," he says. "It made me feel a lot of her pain. She's a very tortured person. And that probably plays into a lot of the tragic love story elements that exist on the record."
Do you continue to be sexually conventional?
"I have been since I've known her."
Do you think you have much to contribute to gender discourse?
"Absolutely, I've always loved extremes - extreme male, extreme female. 'Mechanical Animals' in particular, the imagery represents an androgyne and it's very android, and at the same time as being sexless it's both sexes as well. It's neutral. And that's the way that I've chosen to express myself, I mean even with the name Marilyn Manson."
Do most people still expect you to be this extreme figure going round fucking fetuses in a slaughterhouse?
"I'm not uncomfortable with that. You need it sometimes. I've been known to fuck a foetus in a slaughterhouse now and again, just to keep things exciting."
What's the worst thing you've done?
"That's hard to say, that's like 'Do I have any regrets?' and it would be hard to judge my actions without using society's standards. I'm pretty sure everything I do is the worst thing according to the rest of the world but I don't think I've ever really done anything that bad."
Do you ever think it's weird that for a long time few people noticed that your intentions were those of a social reformer?
"Well at the time I thought it was quite upsetting that they weren't understanding, but I think in retrospect it's built quite nicely. I wouldn't have wanted it any sooner."
But you are a social worker, really.
"Yeah. I guess so."
A lot of people have told me how nice you are. Does that worry you?
"It's a dangerous rumour. I guess I'm going to have to punch somebody in the face. I don't see any reason to be an asshole. I think I'm easy to talk to. Maybe because I care to have people hear what I say. I think I'm kind of a nice guy. But I don't give money to the homeless, I don't recycle, I don't care if animals were tortured to make my shampoo. But at the same time I try not to fuck too many foetuses in the slaughterhouse on any given day."
Which you could say about the average guy in the street.
"I mean, granted, I'd like to see the whole world die. But that's just a lifelong hobby."
Manson's hobby is not going so well. Mankind thrives, kind of. But as for the Ohio geek avenger's career, there's no argument that it has proceeded brilliantly. He has pushed America's buttons and been launched into the twinkling outer limits of fame. He has restored the words 'Pete' and 'Murphy' to the British vocabulary. And there's no sign of a let-up. Shock-rock is over. He's morphing into something insidious, leeching of LA glitz with the same perverse sucking action that he used on the Christian mumbojumbo of his childhood.
We leave him perched above LA plotting with his manager. The day after, Manson is due to visit David Lynch. The next night, who knows? Maybe dinner with Billy Corgan and a hexagram carved into Hollywood Boulevard. Of course Brian's not the Antichrist. That's Celine Dion. But as mass art ubermensch clowns go, he is the one American genius worth looking up to.