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He sounds like any musician over the phone, like any burnt-to-a-crisp rock star who spent the previous night burning down the shed. He is, by turns, thoughtful and distracted, animated and weary. He crunches on a cup full of ice as he contemplates his answers, which are never inarticulate and are, on occasion, even glib and silly. Over the phone, this man--Antichrist superstar, androgynous destroyer, enemy of the state, Lucifer in Revlon--could be anyone: any guy in a band, any bored millionaire doing a little pre-show P.R., any dude you rode bikes with during your childhood summers. The distance of a phone line that stretches from Denver, where he performed one night earlier despite death threats and calls for boycotts, to Dallas creates the necessary, if small and surprising illusion. Marilyn Manson--when heard but not seen, when stripped of makeup and contact lenses and self-inflicted scars and his traveling flea circus--is just another, y'know, dude.
He is no longer the most hated man in music; Eminem gets more play on Joe Lieberman's CD player these days. Manson's album releases are no longer seen as signs of the forthcoming apocalypse; he might as well have distributed last year's Holy Wood (in the valley of the shadow of death) direct to cut-out and used-CD bins. He no longer shows up on MTV or The 700 Club. But he would insist he likes it in the shadows--better to sneak up on people. The devil is merely in hibernation.
Only a few hours before this interview, Manson--the man, the band--had performed at Denver's Mile High Stadium as part of Ozzfest, headlined by Black Sabbath. The show marked the first time Marilyn Manson had performed in the Denver area since Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris gunned down 15 and wounded 23 classmates at Columbine High School in April 1999. The band had been scheduled to perform at nearby Red Rocks shortly after the shooting, but canceled--too much negative press, too many bad vibes. And Klebold and Harris weren't even Manson fans--too poppy for their tastes, in fact.
This time, he wouldn't back down. This time, the performance was to climax in chaos, with picketers surrounding the stadium and Manson onstage reading from the Bible--a revival of the fittest, good facing down evil in a battle for the teen-age souls. But the night went off like any other: Only 35 protesters, more or less, showed up, and Manson gave a show like any other. He briefly read from the Bible (the crowd, said one colleague, showed little interest in his sermon), then introduced "The Fight Song" off Holy by exhorting the crowd to beat up "every priest that said we were going to hell...I want to hear you scream 'Fight!'" The audience of 24,000 did as they were told. There, there, you good little automatons.
"I wasn't shot, so other than that, everything was OK," Manson says of the Denver show, with a small laugh.
Then, word came the morning of this chat that Manson had agreed to meet with the man who most wanted to keep the band out of Denver: youth pastor Jason Janz, leader of a group called Citizens for Peace and Respect, whose Web site takes Manson's lyrics out of context in order to, ahem, prove that the former Brian Warner promotes, among other things, hate, death, violence, suicide, drugs and "the attitudes and actions of the Columbine killers." As it turns out, the dialogue was at Manson's invitation--but the meeting, he says, will only take place at Janz's expense and at Manson's convenience.
"If that jackass wants to pay and come to L.A. when we're done with the tour, he can come and talk all day long," Manson says. And what, exactly, would Marilyn have to gain from the experience? "It would amuse me to show him I know more about the Bible than he does. That's about it, really. It's a matter of me making a point to say that, 'I'm willing to hear your opinion, even if you're not willing to hear mine.' It was a challenge."
Take pity on Marilyn Manson. Really. It can't be easy being Brian Warner, who's too often forced to defend himself against things he hasn't even done or said. He's rock and roll's best scapegoat--a freak in mismatched contact lenses, Alice Cooper with a real agenda, a musician who's rarely ever given credit for the brilliant noise that makes him relevant in the first place ("The Fight Song," in fact, smells like Blur's "Song 2"--hardly the soundtrack of the apocalypse). When he began the band more than a decade ago, he couldn't play an instrument at all; Marilyn Manson ("The Magickal Music Band," as it was briefly...well, never really known) came into being simply because the then-music journalist-cum-frustrated poet simply got tired of being on the wrong side of the interview. He interviewed Debbie Harry, the Red Hot Chili Peppers; he wrote bios for Yngwie Malmsteen and other "metal assholes," as he wrote in his 1998 autobiography The Long Hard Road Out of Hell. But none of his subjects was more interesting than the dark thoughts in his own head, so Warner, with no visible talent or training, took the stage and let it bleed.