It seems that the cracks in Marilyn Manson’s veneer are widening. The man who shocked and repulsed the listening public of the mid-90s, is falling victim to his own senses of love and passion. He might still be the ultimate posterboy for emotional dislocation, but as he explains to Nick Milligan in this exclusive interview, he is a deeply romantic individual and believes in true love – even if it devours him completely.
If you’ve ever purchased a Marilyn Manson album, then it’s likely that someone has said a prayer for your soul. In the early '90s, Manson's shock-act quickly rose to fame, revelling in the glorification of everything polite society considered profane and grotesque.
After all, Brian Hugh Warner had named himself after the world’s most renowned mass murderer, Charles Manson.
But despite the best efforts of the Church and world politicians to banish Manson from popular culture, a legion of young listeners didn’t want to be delivered from Manson’s evil – why should they? Here was a man who was essentially reminding the world of what Huey Lewis had said only a few years before him – “It’s hip to be a square”.
As a wide audience discovered through Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary Bowling For Columbine, Manson’s speaking voice is incredibly calm and measured. This is confirmed as he speaks to Reverb on a phone from America, where he is touring with Slayer. The Ohio native is verbose, articulate and intelligent. Considering his grim lyrics and the hellish way in which he presents himself, you quickly find yourself questioning why you thought he might conduct interviews via a mixture of backward echoes and split personalities.
GOLDEN AGE OF GROWTH
Manson was born to a Catholic father and an Episcopalian mother. Raised in the latter’s religion, he has spoken in interviews of being a social outcast and was often bullied.
In college he began studying journalism and found an interest in music articles. This would lead him to interview Trent Reznor, who Manson would go on to call his friend and producer.
Now, on the cover of Manson’s seventh studio album, Eat Me, Drink Me, we see the shock-rocker adorned in his trademark gothic make-up and costuming. However, musically and lyrically we are presented with a performer who is stripping himself bare. He is pushing his vocals into raw and subtle territory, and not relying on a series of guttural growls to evoke volatile feelings within the listener. And for the first time, this feels like rock – not ‘industrial metal’.
Manson explains that Eat Me, Drink Me, was the album he was always supposed to make. Working with current guitarist Tim Skold, who joined the band as a bassist in 2002 after the departure of Twiggy Ramirez, the duo constructed a series of songs that freshened Manson’s perspective of not only music, but his own psyche.
“I don’t regret not collaborating like this sooner – I don’t regret any music that I’ve made,” says Manson. “But [Skold] realised what I was trying to say and could play it without me trying to direct him. In the past I’ve always had to say to musicians, ‘I want this to sound sad’ or ‘I want this to sound angry’. With Eat Me, Drink Me, I was in a place where I didn’t think I wanted to make music anymore, but when I listened to the ideas that Tim was presenting, I realised that he was scoring the way that I was feeling. When I heard the music, I felt challenged.”
Manson continues, “Although I thought I’d said everything I could say, I haven’t said it all. In the past, I have not turned my magnifying glass on to myself. [This time] I wanted to talk about the things that people perceive to be vulnerable and human in me. It makes me realise that in a way, I consider myself inhuman, and also that I’ve been putting up a barrier.”
HOLES IN HAPPINESS
The past three years have been a series of personal highs and lows for Manson. After marrying American burlesque artist Dita Von Teese in December of 2005, the couple filed for divorce after one year. It was then reported that Manson was in a relationship with 19- year old actress Evan Rachel Wood, who starred in the film, Thirteen. Manson and Wood share a series of artistic, yet confronting simulated sex-scenes in the music video for Manson’s single, ‘Heart-Shaped Glasses’. Although the public is likely to criticise Manson for being twice Wood’s age, the video is such a blatant reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (particularly the iconic sunglasses worn by Sue Lyon on the poster for Stanely Kubrick’s film adaptation), it’s difficult to question his honesty and self-awareness.
Often asked to explain where the image of Marilyn Manson ends and where Brian Warner begins, the singer has become accustomed to the public’s struggle in understanding where he is coming from as an artist. “To me, it’s semantics. If someone wants to consider me to be Brian Warner or Marilyn Manson – it’s just words. I think that I’ve learned to evaluate in a different way. There’s onstage and offstage. It’s not as simple as me being Marilyn Manson onstage and then offstage I’m Brian Warner. Those two things are the same. But onstage I share all of my personal feelings with strangers. Offstage, I try to do the same with people who are close to me. It’s not just about taking off my make-up,” says Manson.
“I started to get lost in the year or so that I didn’t make a record . I didn’t know who I was supposed to be, what I was supposed to say, or how I was supposed to live my life. I realised in making [Eat Me, Drink Me] that I shouldn’t try and change one to fit the other, I should make Marilyn Manson and Brian Warner what I have always said that I believe – they’re one and the same. If I separate what I create from who I am, both will die. It shouldn’t mean that I’m a person that people can’t relate to. It’s not about words or names, it’s about how I convey my feelings,” says Manson. “I could not make people that know me feel anything, but I could make people that don’t know me feel something. I began to feel crippled.”
A breakthrough came with the song ‘Just A Car Crash Away’. Using minimal production, Manson delivers a vocal performance that is stark and dripping with sincerity. He played it to some of his friends and one of them started to cry. “I’m not self-aggrandising and saying that I am heroic within music, but if I can make someone feel something, then I have a reason to want to make more of what I do – what I do is who I am,” says Manson.
As the singer testifies, Eat Me, Drink Me, is a collection of songs that he couldn’t have written for his first album Portrait Of An American Family in 1994. Eat Me is a record that has been shaped through lessons learned and life experience. Manson has also explored himself through painting. “If I paint something, people can look at it and either like or not. I never translated that to music, because I thought that if someone doesn’t like the song, I can make them see the bigger picture. When I create a song, I think of it on a performance or visual level, and not a musical level. I never realised that I wanted to make a record that stood on its own without anything else – just the music,” explains Manson.
GHOSTS ON FILM
There is growing intrigue and expectation for Manson’s upcoming film project about the life of Lewis Carroll, which has been titled Phantasmagoria: The Visions Of Lewis Carroll. Manson’s girlfriend, Wood, has been rumoured to play the role of Alice Liddell, who is said to have been the British author’s inspiration for his famous heroine. Manson will play the role of Carroll and shooting will begin in late 2007.
“When I look back at the last year of my life, I didn’t realise that when I was working on the script, that I had more than just a fascination with Lewis Carroll or Charles Dodgson [Carroll’s real name]. This was someone who was a very fractured soul and psyche. He did not know who he was supposed to be. Looking back, this was very similar to where I was mentally. I think the story of Alice in Wonderland is essentially about identity. She gets small, she grows large and she doesn’t know what her name is,” says Manson.
ROMANCE IS NOT DEAD
In a time in his life when love is blossoming once again, Manson has become more aware of his desires as a lover and partner. He openly talks about his view of romance as “all of nothing” and acknowledges the effect this has had on past liaisons. “I’ve tried to project my idea of love on to other people around me. They may have loved me completely, but I’ve made the mistake of thinking that everyone has the same perception or expectations of love as me – which is not true. I take all the blame for past mistakes, because I expected people to think that romance was like Harold and Maude, True Romance, The Hunger, and Bonnie and Clyde,” says Manson.
Just when it seems like the Prince of Darkness may have mellowed, he adds, “Life’s not all peaches and cream, but at least I can still find someone to hold my hand and walk through hell.”
You can see Marilyn Manson at Sydney’s Hordern Pavillion on October 6. Eat Me, Drink Me, is available now through Universal.