American society operates on twenty-year cycles. Two decades is about as long as the average American needs to forget all about whatever bothers them. Witness the 2016 election, with its cast of poltroons from the 1990s. People act like Bill Clinton never lied under oath. President of the United States: lied under oath. Even queried the meaning of the word “is”. You’d think folks would remember such a thing, yes?
In 1996, I was a huge Marilyn Manson fan. Having grown up on Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, I found Manson’s second (and best) album totally accessible as the dark opposite. I’d taken a promo copy of his debut, Portrait of an American Family, home from the record store, and spun it over and over. “Lunchbox”, sung from the P.O.V. of a kid bringing a gun to school to shoot a classmate, was my absolute favorite. I damaged my hearing with the feedback at the end. POW POW POW!
I even have the CD single of “Lunchbox”, featuring the grisly tucked-cock photo of Brian “Marilyn Manson” Warner. He is not the kid from The Wonder Years, “all growed up”. That was something that stuck pre-Internet, when people still utilized “word-of-mouth”. Same as the rumor that Warner had a rib removed so he could blow himself. You know what’s actually true? Manson talked Billy Corgan into snorting Sea-Monkeys at a party once. Really!
Antichrist Superstar is arguably Manson’s best album. The production design is lavish and layered; the liners look incredible, and they use the creases in the CD booklet to form new words, like a MAD “fold-in”. The album opens bereft of all irony, with the chant “WE HATE LOVE… WE LOVE HATE.” This segues into “Irresponsible Hate Anthem”, a song that makes Carl Panzram seem cheery in comparison.
I am so all-American, I’ll sell you suicide
I am totalitarian, I’ve got abortions in my eyes
I hate the hater, I’d rape the raper
I am the animal who will not be himself
Hey victim, should I black your eyes again?
You were the one who put the stick in my hand
I am the ism, my hate’s a prism
let’s just kill everyone and let your god sort them out
Everybody’s someone else’s nigger
I know you are so am I
I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers
I don’t need to choose a side
In 1997, I saw Manson and his band perform this album live in Atlanta. It took forever before they started their show; David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs played from beginning to end over the amphitheater P.A., revealing Manson’s obvious admiration of Bowie. When the coda of “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” began its skipping, the crowd took it for the vamp before the star’s appearance, until the lights failed to dim. (Diamond Dogs is the DNA of Manson’s experimental album Mechanical Animals, which although not great, does yield a few delights.)
Being part of a thrashing audience during a live performance of “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” was like safely rioting. Manson had lights and sound like a fucking laser show, and the band was louder than God. I’ll never forget how Manson sang “Minute Of Decay”, one of his best tunes, crouched in a white spotlight, swaddled in bandages. I swear to you: snow fell upon him. Then they killed the lights, burying us all in darkness for maybe ten seconds, before bringing back the lights in a blinding flash.
Revealing Marilyn Manson in full uniform, standing behind a podium, flanked by chrome-helmeted stormtroopers in front of fifty-foot banners. In seconds, dude. Seconds.
Much like “Marilyn Manson” is a melding of two 20th century headline names, Manson was pretty upfront about being the “90s version” of Alice Cooper and David Bowie. He felt like the good kind of by-product; a mocking descendant. A red-headed stepchild of American society.
“Beautiful People”, his peak, is musical Halloween candy. You love it even though it makes you sick.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that on the radio. I guessed who it was even before the vocals. The tonal shifts that begin with “HEY YOU WHAT DO YOU SEE” combine the screams and guitar to sand-blast the top layers of your flesh. The drums evoke primal rituals and sacrificial pyres. I burned out on the song because as soon as it ended, I started it over again. Perhaps 24 was the ideal age to enjoy the output of M. Manson.
Mechanical Animals came out at a time when I was doing a lot of drugs. That’s possibly why I defended it so voraciously, despite the Rose MacGowan influence. A truism in music made by males: as soon as the lead hooks up with a hot female, it’s over. This is the unstated goal of the heterosexual dude, and some girls know how to work it. Before long, you can acrimoniously destroy the band by uttering a single name: “Yoko”.
Regardless, MA is a decent album, and Manson totally commits to a new persona for one half; an androgyne called Omega (with a long e). Again, the design and art are bold and intriguing, using a futurist look that Manson would abandon in later efforts for variations on Antichrist‘s Goth blackness.
“Rock Is Dead” got a lot of play, and I guess it’s alright. Truthfully, I’ve found very little worth returning to after this point, although I did enjoy Manson’s weirdo movie Doppelherz, which accompanied 2003’s The Golden Age of Grotesque. Burlesque goddess Dita Von Teese appears somewhere in it, but I’m not really keen on going back and looking for her. Manson pulls great tail.
In 1995, I had a bunch of adventures trying to own an “uncut” version of Smells Like Children. As far as I know, one does not exist. There is an acoustic version of “Cake and Sodomy” that has bleeps in it, which I took for censored obscenity, and returned the EP to the store. Decades later, I learned that the bleeps were likely there to cover a person’s name and not a dirty word.
The acoustic “white trash” version of “Cake and Sodomy” is performed by Tony Wiggins, Danzig’s tour bus driver, who Manson described as “a vacuum cleaner for sin”. He is the creep repeating “say fuck Frankie” on “Fuck Frankie”. Twiggy Ramirez, Manson’s original bassist, claimed in an interview that Wiggins tried to kill the band members.
A final anecdote; as you probably are aware, Marilyn Manson is/was a LaVeyan Satanist, and a great admirer of its founder, the late Anton Szandor LaVey. A friend of mine was a frequent guest and confidant of LaVey’s, and relayed to me a story; a night of song and revelry that was interrupted by a visit from none other than Marilyn Manson.
Manson came bearing a gift; an original painting, rendered by boy-raping killer clown John Wayne Gacy. LaVey, always cordial, thanked Manson for thinking of him, and after some pleasantries, Manson left.
LaVey casually tossed the painting onto a chair by the door, and returned to the piano. When my friend noted this action, LaVey said “people think I care about that sort of thing. I don’t.”
They resumed their revelry and song.