By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Later, he would say he never thought of himself as a musician, at least not early on. He fancied himself an artist--someone who isn't limited to music in terms of expression. Warner knew only that in order to get his point across--or through the heads of young record buyers--he had to create a persona larger than life. And larger than death. He envisioned Marilyn as a creature who hated everything, including himself; he thought of Marilyn as a short story come to life, a tale with an unhappy ending that climaxes with the destruction of the brainwashed--the suckers. Warner created Marilyn not out of thin air--he's but an amalgam of tattered old posters that once adorned an outsider's bedroom walls--but made him somehow scarier than any of his predecessors. Maybe that's because he's somehow more real, more relevant: If the cute innocent in all those old photos of Brian Warner could become the Antichrist superstar, who's to say it couldn't happen (indeed, isn't happening) to your kids?
"I think I just realized the first time out that I had some sort of element to my personality that people could identify with, and that made me feel obligated to expand on that and to keep doing it," he says. "As a kid, I always tried to entertain people, whether I was goofing around or drawing cartoons or dressing up in Halloween costumes at the wrong time of the year or whatever the case was. There's always been a bit of a desire to entertain people. That was my way to communicate, because normally I have more of a difficult time talking to people or being around other people. I'm usually quiet and keep to myself...
"I knew I had to be bigger-than-life from the beginning, because it's the way that I saw things growing up in the examples and icons I had in front of me, even people I didn't relate to, like Michael Jackson and Madonna or other people like Bowie or Prince or Kiss or Alice Cooper--any of the bands that were real rock stars. I knew that if I was going to do anything, I had to do it like that and even better if I could, because that was the only way I wanted to do it. It was also probably part of me being a journalist for a short amount of time and seeing a real lack of that at the time. When we started our band, it was in the midst of grunge being created and the anti-star era, where people were shrugging off any sort of celebrity idea. It wasn't a desire just for me to be famous; it was just a desire for me to be the biggest and loudest thing that I could be. I felt like nobody was giving me the answers that I wanted to hear, so I had to get on the other side of the interview and give those interviews that I wanted to hear."
Manson's image has always obscured the music like a 100-foot-tall brick wall; he expected that, maybe even demanded it. And so he doesn't mind when fans or writers rarely talk about the music to focus more on the lyrics, which so often are taken out of context and emblazoned on protesters' picket signs. For a while, though, we talk about why, for Holy Wood, he chose as its producer Dave Sardy, whose own band Barkmarket could make a machine-metal symphony out of the beating of trash cans and the plucking of barbed wire. Theirs is a production team made in hell: To Manson's message of destruction and eventual redemption (there is indeed optimism to be found in his portrait of doom and despair), Sardy gives substance--their sound is solid, a brick wall or a fist or a sharpened knife.
It's a long hard road from the early Manson sound found on Portrait of an American Family or its follow-up EP Smells Like Children, which offered little more than carny-tent scares and horror-show metal--Alice Cooper for Nine Inch Nails fans, at best. Even 1996's Antichrist Superstar pales next to 1998's glam (if not downright glamorous) Mechanical Animals, which was Bowie as performed by Barbie; the albums get better, even as the noise surrounding them only grows, as if to drown out the music and messages contained on each record.
Not long ago, even Manson thought the din had become too overwhelming; he had become what he wanted--a celebrity, damned near a martyr (or a damned martyr)--and found himself trying to decide if it was worth it. He wore a target (or maybe that was just a self-inflicted wound trying to heal); he feared for his life. And so he holed up in his Los Angeles home, climbing into the attic with religious texts and totems. He ditched the genderless Omega character of Mechanical Albums and returned even more full-throttle than before until he resembled a corpse, rotten and decayed. It was the Resurrection: Marilyn, back from the grave dug for him by the Religious Right, politicians and anyone else looking to ride his coattails to re-election. After briefly considering pulling a disappearing act, he returned so in-your-face you can smell yesterday's lunch.