Interview:1997/01 Apocalypse Now

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Apocalypse Now
1997-01 CMJ cover.jpg
Interview with Marilyn Manson
Date January, 1997
Source CMJ New Music #41
Interviewer Kurt B. Reighley

Hand-wringing parents and church officials spend a lot of time decrying Marilyn Manson for his infernal music and blunt opinions on sex, religion, drugs and other hot-button topics surrounding adolescents. In their backwards way, they understand what's really scary about Marilyn: his charisma.

With his tremendous appeal, Manson has rallied the disaffected youth of America behind him. Meanwhile, music critics belittle his band for its sophomoric blend of heavy metal, industrial and goth cliches. Both these traditionally oppositional camps are in for a rude awakening with Antichrist Superstar, for everything leading up to Marilyn Manson's fourth record has clearly been a dress rehearsal.

The first record Marilyn Manson ever owned was Alive II by KISS. Like most excited young fans, he aspired to meet his heroes. Last summer, he got his wish. "Gene Simmons was wearing his make-up, so at least it was the experience I wanted," admits Marilyn.

But his adulation never approached the devotion his own fans display. "I loved Kiss, and I loved Alice Cooper, but I never identified with them on that kind of level, because both of those bands were always very specific that their show was an act. And they liked to separate themselves from it, so it never interested me. Because I wanted to meet what was on stage. I didn't want to meet some old guy who plays golf."

Now Marilyn makes exactly the music he always wanted to hear, secure in the knowledge that the man who makes those records, puts on the concerts, doesn't end when he leaves the public eye. And he ensures that his cult knows it, too. "Meeting people. I wouldn't be anything they wouldn't expect me to be," he insists.

After a riveting MM performance in Milwaukee, one of the first stops on the band's Dead To The World Tour, the faithful wait patiently to commune with their idol. Although the audience at tonight's gig was a balance of males and females, 95% of the fans who have scored aftershow passes are teenage girls. When he finally greets them, his supplicants come at him with the full flush of their vibrant young emotions; their fluttering hearts set the air vibrating. They ask him to sign anything they can lay their hands on, as they stand before him quivering with excitement. Many hug and kiss him. He exhibits nothing but warmth and grace.

"I consider myself the opposite of the archetypal sex symbol," he confesses, baffled by his own appeal. "I'm not anything like Brad Pitt or Antonio Banderas. But maybe it's the taboo element of my image, which is almost deathlike, that attracts them. Because people always gravitate towards death, because of their fear of it. It exhilarates them." In a world where even sex and violence have been rendered increasingly blasé, death is the ultimate verboten thrill.

"I should be the last person that they should be attracted to," he chuckles, "but for some reason I'm not." Marilyn Manson fans of both genders are steadfast in their devotion. As we watch them scurry around the venue lobby, the amount of effort some kids have put into getting dressed is surprisingly touching: one six-foot boy in a baggy clown suit, sporting an immaculate blue mohawk, looks simply breathtaking. MM's new record Antichrist Superstar (Nothing-Interscope) has only been out for two days, but already there are those who know all the words. Before it had even gone on sale, the album had shipped over 500,000 units, and it will debut on the Billboard charts at #3.

Marilyn finds all this very encouraging. "Each time someone listens to the new album, or comes to the show, it's one step closer to being the individual that they really want to be. Which is, to Christian America, the apocalypse. Because in their eyes, being yourself is really forsaking God. That's the way I see myself, and our fans, as an Antichrist figure. Antichrist to me is not only one person, but the collective disbelief in Christianity."

Antichrist Superstar chronicles the personal and spiritual rebirth of Marilyn Manson, as he learns to stop crawling on his belly in the darkness, and is transformed by the swirling forces of change that have gathered around him. Divided into three sections, the 78-minute work begins with the blistering "Irresponsible Hate Anthem" (laced with tender sentiments like "Just kill everyone and let your God sort them out" and "I wasn't born with enough middle fingers"), and culminates in the chilling "The Man That You Hate." Produced by Trent Reznor, Dave Ogilvie and Manson himself, the disc is ambitious in its scope, musically and aesthetically, and easily outstrips MM's contrived earlier offerings.

"This is the definitive Marilyn Manson album, everything that we've been working up to," says Marilyn the morning after the Milwaukee show, propped up in the bed of a Holiday Inn, trying not to antagonize muscles stretched during last night's performance. "Everything up to this point was carefully placed stepping stones. This record is something that I've wanted to do from the beginning. It was just a matter of the right time, and the right time is now."

Many of the songs were culled from dreams, and tap into Marilyn's evolving philosophy that the past and the future dovetail in our spirit - that it's all inside us, right now. "I've learned to approach my life like an old-fashioned movie camera, in that all of the frames are contained in the camera, all of the pictures are there. But you're only allowed to see one at a time." With Antichrist Superstar, Marilyn pops the camera open and lets the reel spool onto the floor, to be consumed whole.

The album also reflects a maturation, especially lyrically. Although Manson's wicked sense of humor and childlike zeal still shine through, the gaily colored costumes and toys once associated with the band are receding into the background, as has the desire to settle for pure shock value. "This record is much more extreme in its dynamics of emotion." concedes Marilyn. "In the past, things were a little one-sided. Now there's just as much vulnerability as there is power. There are certain songs that I now find performing really hard."

Rather than send the crowd off into the night chanting one of the big hits, the show closes with "The Man That You Hate," leaving a disturbing sense of resignation hanging in the air.

The Dead To The World show is a white-knuckle ride, starting with the opening church set that quickly falls into ruin, surrounded with a fence of impaled fallen angels (try finding that at Home Depot). But even though a tremendous amount of thought has clearly gone into each snowflake, the meticulous presentation doesn't feel contrived, thanks to the intoxicating amount of energy Manson pours out.

"An album, you spend forever on, but it's really just a blueprint for a performance." he explains. "That's where I feel at home: on stage. So I would take just as much time preparing my place to live. I like to step on stage and feel as overwhelmed as somebody in the audience would." In the second half of the show, when red and black banners unfurl and the band marches on stage in chrome helmets, it is almost impossible to delineate where Marilyn - poised behind a podium - ends, and the throng of kids pumping their fists in the air begin.

"That moment is actually a statement on the relationship between performers and their audiences, totalitarianism and fascism," says Marilyn, who stresses that the show has no intentional Nazi symbolism, which represents an ideology he views as wholly antithetical to his own. But does he honestly expect the crowd to discern these points? "It's possible. If not, they felt great to be a part of it for just that moment."

"America is so fascist, but it's so hypocritical about it," he continues. "The Beautiful People" is a statement on the fascism of beauty. With commercialism and television, everything's completely dictated to you, and if you don't fit into the status quo, you're made to feel not as good as everyone else. The type of totalitarianism that Antichrist Superstar suggests is a group of individuals, banding together to change what the mainstream is. It's like a pep rally for the apocalypse."

Despite Manson's tirades against Christians and other "decent" Americans, he knows you must recognize the traits of the enemy existing in yourself to find victory. "In explaining things to people, I've come to terms with [the fact that] a lot of my goals are very Christian, in the end," he admits. "Because people no longer appreciate the taboos of sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, I have to take them as far as they've ever been taken before, on a grand scale, in order for the world to realize that we have to start over. It's very much like the mythology of the Bible, the end of the world, and the Antichrist, and people are made to make a choice about their faith. I think certain elements of that are correct."

Ultimately, spirituality should be a mercurial system of beliefs that can evolve and change. The important thing is how you apply your belief to your conduct. "When you have a discussion with [Christians]," observes Manson, "they have this penchant for 'it's written in the Bible, so it's true.' And that's the only thing they can fall back on." These days, Marilyn rarely bothers to tangle with such zealots.

"I've taken elements from the Bible, from Satanism, from Nietzsche, from Freud, from Darwin, from Dr. Seuss, and the Kabbal. I couldn't narrow it down to just one thing. My whole take on anything is, I find it completely boring to be one person." Countless critics have taken Marilyn's dichotomous nature as proof that what he's peddling is just shtick, a calculated persona. Which is half right. It is calculated. It's also completely sincere.

"I'm very much a part of everything I do, all the time. Now I've found myself with a new personality of Antichrist Superstar, so there are roles within roles." He's still getting a handle on just what he's tapped into with this added dimension. "Antichrist Superstar is the empowered me, the final evolution of Marilyn Manson... that we may not even have gotten to yet. I went through a transformation on the record, but I also feel like that transformation happens on a daily basis. And on a lifetime scale, it hasn't completed itself yet. There's elements of the record that are prophetic. I talk about things that obviously haven't happened yet, that are going to happen."

Marilyn's propensity for such far-reaching comments hasn't always gone down well, even with those closest to him; rumors of friction between Manson and Reznor constantly abound. "I've always gotten flack for this from everyone that I work with, even working with Trent. I've always seen things as being where they are now, and I see things farther ahead." He knows what he wants, he's sure he can get it, and he maneuvers accordingly.

And in order to achieve these goals, some changes have to be made along the way. "I've found that the most important criterion for anyone is that, if they don't believe in what I believe in, it's just not gonna work." For years, Marilyn felt that former guitarist Daisy Berkowitz viewed the band as no more than a very lucrative day job. "That was always very soul-destroying for me." He dreaded the impact Daisy's departure might have on the music, but finally Berkowitz left the nest. Marilyn moved forward, and realized the thing he'd dreaded losing for so long was actually his biggest obstacle.

"Going into this album, there were a lot of musical ideas that he really couldn't understand. When he left, it was trimming away the last piece of fat that was holding us back from being as strong as possible. Not to say that his work with us wasn't good, but it was something that Marilyn Manson had grown out of."

That's Marilyn Manson, the band. Sometimes, the distinction between the group and the individual becomes difficult to make. Marilyn Manson singular likens the situation to the Holy Trinity, except with more members. He stresses that Antichrist Superstar was of tremendous importance to bassist Twiggy Ramirez and keyboard player Madonna Wayne Gacy, and adds that Ginger Fish, who joined on drums around Smells Like Children, and new guitarist Zim Zum (who had to move in with Marilyn until he'd passed muster) are increasingly vital factors in the MM equation.

For Marilyn Manson, everything's happening at once. And that's just how he wants it. "In the end, it's all about belief," he remarks. "It's like when you're a kid: if you believe something, then it really happened. We've stumbled into a new era as individuals in our band, where we're open to believing anything. I consider our lives to be very supernatural at this point. Not like something you'd see in a horror film, with lightning bolts coming out of my fingertips, but so tuned into the very frequencies that everyone operates on, that I find myself not even having to communicate sometimes. Things just get done, on a very supernatural level. That's exciting."

In the here and now, Marilyn Manson will be touring throughout 1997. The band is looking forward to visiting South America, a continent that's known to thrive on loud music and larger-than-life personalities. "America used to be that way, pre-Nirvana, and I think we're coming back to that era," concludes Marilyn.

"Without being self-aggrandizing. I've seen the little tidal waves that I've caused in the music industry, and how people are becoming more evolved in their imagery, and there are lots of new Marilyn Manson-esque people. But I don't get mad at those things. It's like, there's one real Santa Claus," he grins, "but there's a lot of fake ones at the mall."


Credit: DirectorNo5819