Interview:1999/08 Keeping the Fear Alive: Marilyn Manson
|Keeping the Fear Alive: Marilyn Manson
|Interview with Marilyn Manson
- "I have nightmares every night about all sorts of different things, I've actually come to enjoy them -- I've come to enjoy fear." [Marilyn Manson, 1997].
In the aftermath of Littleton, the concert cancellations "out of respect for those lost in the school tragedy", the twice postponed "Coma White" video (most recently out of "respect" for the funeral of JFK Jnr), one can only wonder what kind of fear the shock-rock god of the 90s actually enjoys these days. Surely "respect" and Marilyn Manson has got to be some kind of oxymoron. Has the Anti-Christ superstar seen "the light" since sharing his thoughts on fear during the first of two interviews I did with him? Or is this just another facet of Marilyn Manson -- the enigma of the MTV generation?
While Manson's comment about enjoying fear may read like headline-grabbing bravura, his voice showed no sign of sarcasm -- he has a deadly serious point to make: "The only thing that scares me is to lose the power and strength of my own individuality. I wouldn't want to become like the less creative people. I look down upon the less informed and the sheep-like, whether it be Christianity or not (I've grown tired of complaining about Christianity actually), people who are content with sitting in front of their TV and not being creative or not making their own opinion -- I look down upon these people the same way people look down at apes as being a less evolved version of themselves. Once you experience so much, you go through a transformation like I have, you can't expect people to understand what you're trying to do -- it's beyond their experience and really something they can't comprehend. Yet it's something that people will get to in their lives if they want to -- but you know ... some people never want to."
Love him, loathe him -- or perhaps purposely just try and avoid the inevitable coverage, Marilyn Manson has made quite an impact upon the world we have lived in over the last three years. If you don't think so, then how come we have all these bands like Orgy, Incubus, Korn and Rammstein glamming themselves up, cutting the harder-edged groove currently being embraced by the industry, and basically watching each other's film clips to see which move to make next -- all the while subconsciously taking visual shorthand at every Manson appearance. Not for a minute am I suggesting that these other artists are not inventing music in their own right, it's just that credit must be given to the guy that opened a lot of doors. Yet while paving the way for others to be included on the "guest-list", Manson is still being asked for ID at every turn.
Since crashing upon the musical arena in the wake of "Goth/Industrial/Darkwave/Electrodance Revival # 4" thanks to Mr Trent Reznor and his commercially successful Nine Inch Nails, Manson has captured the imagination of youth and brought the stage alive again like it was in the 70s when live concerts were events. His unashamed arrogance, elitist attitudes and merciless opinions on religion and institutionalised conformity are nothing new but have a freshness and originality because of the raw delivery. The music, unfortunately has always taken a back road to the media sensationalism, yet it must be good otherwise he'd have faded away along with the endless imitators and bands with "attitude". The music IS good -- in fact if more doubters looked beyond the hype and reflected on what the man is actually saying, they may find his thoughts quite positive.
The first time I spoke to Brian Warner (Manson), he'd just completed an Australian tour with a one-night-only show at Sydney's Enmore Theatre (1997). The show was a success and cemented Manson as more than just a one-trick pony. Theatrics, in-store appearances and TV interviews, he's never shy at self-promotion. He pulls them all off in a well-spoken and reserved manner despite the camera flashes and the news exposes that crucify the artist as he goes about his work. His voice coming over the phone line seems worlds away from the face-painted banshee that wiped his arse with the American flag on stage.
Manson, in fact, is a bit of an interviewing dream as he's quite quick on the return and very stimulating conversation. But let's not forget that the man actually used to be a music critic before changing his name and forming an internationally successful rock band -- he knows exactly what he's doing! Perhaps that's why he's the only artist I know of that gets fat pay cheques NOT to play in certain cities of the United States.
Is he happy with his mantle in the public consciousness? "It's something that I've brought upon myself," he told me. "It's also something that "Mechanical Animals" deals with -- just being a part of that soulless world and playing the game. There's certainly a lot of sarcasm and I deal with that on this record ... The album is very sterile, it's a metaphor for the lack of emotion I see the world having with people suppressing their feelings. The record is very hallucinatory and often sees people as androids or "other things" posing as people and looking like humans -- but they have no soul."
Manson continues, "I have definitely pushed the boundaries ... over what is acceptable and raised a lot of issues with concerts and albums on a lot of different levels. For me the media is another part of my palette when it comes to expressing things, I don't see any reason to limit that to one thing. Everything that has come across in the media came across the way I'd liked it to -- even if it was negative. They still wasted their time to talk about me!"
Manson has cut a jagged path along the trail of public perception. There are fans that will die for him, there are punters that would rather see him dead -- there are very few in between. It's all or nothing with Marilyn Manson and the mere mention of his name is enough to spur some weak-minded individuals to start crossing themselves while dropping to their knees in fear of certain doom -- and he's just a rock star!
I asked Manson how he felt about his attitudes to non-conformity being reciprocated by a legion of fans conforming to his own image.
"It's an irony that's looked at on "Anti-Christ Superstar"; it's the idea of by destroying one form of communism you create another, or that rock 'n' roll in some ways is no different than Christianity. Sometimes what I'm fighting against is myself. It's still an interesting point though, I think that our fans sometimes are more intelligent than people think they are. Being part of something else rather than the mainstream can be healthy to a certain degree, and I think it's the first step to people finding themselves. Identifying with me helps them get away from everything that they're fighting against and I think that this is just a first step -- not a goal or final evolution to their personality, just a first step."
It can be difficult to take in all Manson says and not step back with an outstretched finger claiming "You're full of shit mate!" Yet through what rights of passage does one have to endure to have their words considered profound and not simply arrogant self-absorption? We are always ready to proclaim an artist as "genius" or "extraordinary" with the help of hindsight -- and usually the artist's own death -- yet rarely acknowledge such greatness while the poor sod is still alive. Michael Hutchence is only the most recent example -- the last INXS album was critically burnt at the stake, yet the lead singer was heralded as an icon with "true rock star quality" following his sudden death. If he were alive today, the majority of the music world simply wouldn't give a proverbial!
Manson of course is very much alive, consistently pursuing the art of communication and aware of what can go wrong in the translation: "Some people say that God works in mysterious ways," he says, "so too does my version of God which is basically art really ... and individuality. Even when things seem negative, they're very positive and vice versa. So as far as bad press/good press -- everything translates into the big picture for me. I don't expect everyone to understand what I have to say or what I do all at once, or maybe even in my lifetime."
All Manson's work is self. With the album title, "Anti-Christ Superstar", rather than actually promoting himself as the new "devil", Manson was mirroring the public's perception of him as an evil artist. He played out the role of persecuted creator who became the scapegoat for the natural curiosities of youth, an Anti-Christ that told kids to think for themselves, thus becoming a superstar in the process. Come to think of it, didn't Jesus Christ himself have the same problem? All the great "prophets" and icons of religion -- Buddha, Mohammed, Christ -- experienced moments of revelation which they then tried, in the face of fierce opposition, to tell others about. As Manson has said on many occasions, this is something that we are all capable of -- it's all about fully realising who YOU are. It's got nothing to do with religion, which is for those who lack the confidence, or are unable, to think for themselves.
"I like wonder and amazement, whether that be through confusion, shock or horror. Whatever the way people interpret that in their life. I like people to be awe inspired, something that stops people from speaking -- whether or not they like it or not, I'd like it to take their attention and make them think for a few minutes!"
Manson's belief in self-actualisation is nicely exemplified in the opening track to his "Anti-Christ Superstar" album, "Irresponsible Hate Anthem". In the album's credits he states the song was recorded live on February 14, 1997. Anti-Christ Superstar was released in 1996! You see Manson believed that by the time our calendars had reached February 1997, he'd be a musical superstar on top of the world. Not bad eh!
Manson's thoughts on another controversial cultural icon -- David Bowie -- reveal just how aware he is of the whole superstar process. Manson has this to say about the chameleon: "Bowie and I have often nearly crossed paths several times. When I did the "Beautiful People" video, he used the same director shortly after, plus has collaborated with the same people as I have done Trent Reznor a prime example!." Almost chuckling, Manson continues, "I think ... he knows that I know what he used to know! He may look in my direction to see what I'm doing, as I have looked in his direction for inspiration".
So who exactly has influenced whom? Obviously the musical and literary icons of rebel culture have prepared the canvas for Manson to freely create his own images -- William Burroughs, Bowie, T-Rex, Alice Cooper -- yet it has to be acknowledged that in the immediate music climate, Manson's influence is such that his presence is discussed in the halls of American government as a "dangerous" man -- someone who stands accused of persuading American youth to kill each other and disrespect the law, both man-made and divine. More importantly, however, apart from turning a rather dozy period of music into an adrenalin rush-- Manson's made an impression on the entire world by forcing everyone to pause and "think for a minute". He's created another level in the dialogue about, and the evolving nature of, censorship and morality.
Let's hope Marilyn Manson never becomes a cliche of his own ideals, or worse still a man who regrets his "earlier days". In an industry of "follow-the-leader" corporate safety nets, Manson is one of the few truly stimulating and original minds around.
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