Away from the spotlight, the former Brian Warner is as soft-spoken and thoughtful as his alter ego, Marilyn Manson, is outrageous and imposing. With a firm handshake and a preternaturally serene demeanor, Mr. Manson blends into the black leather sofa at the West Hollywood office of Post-Human, the record label he owns and runs. Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death), the latest Manson missive--its sometimes overwhelming visual aesthetic aside--is a dazzling rock album.
Regardless of the disc's musical quality, some retailers have been stocking it without the cover art of a crucifixion-posed Manson, eyes rolling back in his head and lower jaw missing. Ironically, the stores' censorship has actually helped the singer make his statement. "My point of the photo on the album was to show people that the crucifixion of Christ is, indeed, a violent image," he gloats on his Web site. "My jaw is missing as a symbol of this very kind of censorship."
And its creator, in person as on disc, is full of irony, self-awareness, and intelligence, despite occasionally veering into self-importance. Still, his shy eagerness to be heard and understood is somehow endearing. While our late-afternoon chat wasn't, to quote the man himself, "time for cake and sodomy," it did shed light on the allegedly dark soul known as Marilyn Manson.
Marilyn Manson with Godhead and Cold
Bronco Bowl Theatre
Dallas Observer: There are numerous references to The Beatles, the White Album, the Stones, Christ, and the Kennedys on Holy Wood...
Marilyn Manson: Yes, absolutely. This record to me is very inspired by growing up, and it's kind of obsessed with, particularly, the end of the '60s. The story of revolution, of the three examples that come up on the record, the first is Christ, because I think he is the blueprint for the celebrity. I think entertainment began with Christianity. And the irony of the title Holy Wood is that so many people hide behind this religious platform and accuse entertainment [of] being the downfall of society. I can relate to [Christ]--he was someone who had ideas that scared people; he eventually became a piece of merchandise to hang on the wall, wear as a necklace, have as a black velvet painting, and ultimately sacrificed himself. He was someone I saw as a revolutionary.
DO: And Lennon, who is referred to in your song "Lamb of God"?
MM: Being born in 1969, I started to notice the parallels between '69 and '99, and how Altamont sort of mirrored Woodstock '99. The Manson murders were as exploited as the Columbine murders were, and there was a lot in common in that the White Album was blamed for violence, and the Stones' Let It Bleed was sort of emblematic of Altamont--and they recorded [Let It Bleed] at my house. That's where my obsession with the White Album came from, and the fact that Lennon wrote "Helter Skelter" and was killed outside of the Dakota, which is where they filmed Rosemary's Baby. Lennon, on Revolver [sic], ironically, did "All Across the Universe [sic]," where he said, "Nothing's going to change my world"; then [Mark] Chapman changed his world. These things became very important to me trying to discuss evolution and revolution and why man behaves the way he does.
DO: Have you had contact with Charles Manson?
MM: No. Never have. I never thought it was appropriate for every reason. I look at him as something very interesting and something that America is very responsible for. In some ways, while he is guilty of certain things, he became a scapegoat and somewhat of a political prisoner, by Nixon declaring him guilty while the trial was still happening.
DO: Television and media are also themes throughout the record...
MM: That comes from Columbine and how the media treated it. My main reason for not participating in the media around that is that it would add to exactly what they were doing. And I did have a very strong moral stance on it, in that I thought everybody suffered in the whole incident, and I thought the media exploited it in such a distasteful way that it was almost worse than the whole thing. That really lit the fire under this album, though ironically enough, the ideas were already there. The ideas aren't that dissimilar from the name Marilyn Manson and why I started [the band] and what that name says.
DO: Have you ever been a victim of random violence?
MM: I've been a victim of random violence, though I don't know people who have died because of random violence. And I don't know if we can say Columbine was random. The parallels I saw that bothered me were, if you start with the Manson murders, one of the Manson Family "girls" said that that night they "killed Hollywood"--their war was against Hollywood. To them, they had a cause and they believed in what they did. The end result is wrong, because killing is killing. At the same time, the Vietnam War, my father fought in it, and he can't say, to this day, what the reason was. Compare the two: Which one is worse? They're both bad. The same thing kinda struck me with Columbine with Clinton saying at one point, "We have to stop all this violence," and then he's ordering bombs out of the other side of his mouth. And those kids definitely had a reason for what they did. It wasn't the right thing to do, but it wasn't random. Most people would ask me: "What would you say to someone like that if you could talk to them?" I wouldn't say anything. I would listen. That's the problem. No one is listening to kids. They're too busy trying to sell them into some idea of a life that's really theirs more than their kids'. That's the one thing about music--while it's to be listened to, it also listens, because music has no judgment.
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DO: You've been very candid about your drug use. What role did drugs play in this record?
MM: Ummm...I don't think it was something that was like any of the other records. There was a period of self-destruction in the past, periods of excess. At this point we were being very experimental, so if drugs were involved they were generally...absinthe, if that can be called a drug, was the one thing I found most useful. I don't write, particularly lyrics, any other way than completely coherent, because I can't focus what I'm trying to say. But while recording the music and working with the band there were times when I wanted to let the subconscious work, and that's where things like that come in handy. But we were very inspired and very prolific, so this record wasn't difficult to create, just time-consuming, because there were so many layers to it.
DO: What would you say is the most conservative thing about you?
MM: Showering? I don't get the paper. I don't like coffee. The smell of it reminds me of my parents, which reminds me of getting up for school and it makes me upset. I don't know. I have two dogs. I love animals. And I have a lot of taxidermied animals. I don't think I could take having my own dogs [taxidermied]. That would make me sad. They're like kids to me. Although I probably will have myself stuffed, because when I'm gone, I still want to make people suffer by looking at me. [Laughter]