Marilyn Manson on post-Columbine death threats and Hunter S. Thompson being the worst possible father figure in the best way
Marilyn Manson, even more than one of his inspirations, Alice Cooper, has become a lightning rod of controversy for his provocative lyrics and visual style. The guy had an album called Antichrist Superstar, after all, and he's been fairly open about his drug use, what more conservative members of society might call deviant sexual behavior, and his unapologetic in his critique of what really is sick in our culture. He has also put on some of the most entertaining live shows of anyone in the history of popular music.
Manson's candid autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, laid out a life spent trying to experience new things and to come to terms with, to put it mildly, a less than ideal upbringing and how it has affected his adult life. In 1999, Manson was scapegoated in the press as someone whose music inspired the Columbine massacre. In a famous scene out of Bowling For Columbine, Manson compassionately and eloquently spoke to the situation at hand.
This year, Manson released his latest album, Born Villain, a title that resonates with Milton's depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost and Shakespeare's Richard III. We recently had a chance to talk with the always sharp, knowledgeable, witty and cordial Manson about his long-lingering guilt regarding Columbine, his relationship with drugs, his friendships with Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp and Alejandro Jodorowsky and how he has come to embrace living alone as healthy for his creativity.
Westword: How do you feel about coming back to Denver this time around, and what kind of show will it be?
Marilyn Manson: Obviously, Denver has been a place for me that has changed since Columbine. Then also since [my late friend] Hunter S. Thompson's death. When I did that interview for Bowling For Columbine, some people don't realize it was two hours before I was to go on stage, and there were so many death threats.
I had pretty much everyone in my family and my friends tell me, "Just don't go on stage because it's Mile High Stadium. Someone could just take you out." There was not a whole lot that the thirty plain clothed police that escorted me to the stage could do about it. It was a matter of me realizing that I can't live without doing this. I didn't do anything to these people, and I think I need go here, and I need to, you know, be myself, stand up for myself and do what I like to do.
After that night happened, I felt that was behind me. It will always be a part of me, but one of the only reasons people don't mention my name in association with Columbine anymore is that Marilyn Manson, the name, was trademarked when I first started out and every press agency was told they weren't allowed to use my name in association with the incident without my permission. That was one of the only reasons why. I know there were a lot of local Denver reporters that didn't make the national press, as most circumstances in life, showing how it's propaganda or whatever it is.
I'm glad to be coming back there. I think now I can come there without any awkward, strange feeling of confused guilt or something because no matter what, people will always still look at me as though I had something to do with something. What's always made me confused in some ways is that people think my music causes other to do things. Why aren't they worried about what I will do? Shouldn't I be the person of concern.
Of course I cringed when the Batman movie thing [happened]. I like to call the guy "the seat clearer" because it's hard to get tickets on opening night. But I had nothing to do with that, but it did affect me, though, because I did the video for "Slow Motion." I'd already shot most of the video for "Slo-Mo-Tion." If you've seen it, you'll understand what I'm talking about. It's the band. The song itself is about popular culture and about how, "Don't worry, we'll blur it out in post and everything is fine. This is my show and everything is shot in slow motion."
I had an idea for a video, and I had to write a song to go with it and the song was about people stepping on each other to be famous and a camera man having a gun instead of a camera. What was in my mind was that I needed to somehow form the song into what the video came out being. But it was strange the way I went backward in my creative process in that circumstance. So yeah, to answer the question, it's a strange time, I think in a good way. Strange is good. It's better than boring or awful.
My show, without describing it, because I feel like when you see the "making of" before you see the movie, or if you have your hand over someone's mouth, and you're telling them what terrible things you're going to do to them. Spoiler alert -- the show is greatly, politically, in a sense, inspired by the films 1984 and Blade Runner.
And of course you're going to be dealing with, I suppose "theaterical" is the word would be, how people describe Rob Zombie's show and how people may describe my show. I've created a circumstance, a setting, a look that's carefully provided for the three parts of my show. I always like to think of it as being three acts, like a play.
The "villain," of course, is the catalyst that, in Act III, when it rains, he's the one that causes the change. He walks out alive, but he breaks the rules to cash in. [Because of] his own personal code, the anti-hero, he will do something that no one else has the balls to do. So that's why Born Villain suited me so well for a title for the record.
In one case, it could be about growing up in a Christian school and nature versus nurture and when you're told you're born a sinner already. What's the point? Your dick doesn't even work, and you're being accused of using it improperly. Which is unfair. Granted, you are coming out of someone's vagina. So in that sense, I guess, whoever wrote the Bible did have a point if they were making a stand-up comedy joke.
I've wanted to do a show that says something in the way that I was inspired to say something. That's how this record started. I felt like I was in a place and in a relationship that was destructive for myself to be in. People question [me] about when I was with Evan Rachel Wood. I don't blame her or the relationship. I blame myself for allowing circumstance to affect my enjoyment of life.
So I decided to live alone for the first time. That may seem simple for some people. I moved out of my parents' home and went on tour where I lived with Twiggy [Ramirez], pretty much for most of that time, until I got into a series of three different engagements. So I had never really lived alone. I didn't know what it was like. It was very liberating to move into a place with just white walls and black carpet.
I put everything I own into storage except for books, movies, my paints, my guitar, microphones, my cameras and my cat. And I just put myself in a position where it's like being in an apocalyptic zombie sort of film. When I say "zombie," let me clarify by saying I don't mean Rob Zombie. It's a situation where the world outside is ending, and you're stuck in a room, and this is all you've got to deal with. Do you want to fight? Do you want to create? What do you want to do?
I think it's like if you broke it down, I like to use the metaphor of a pencil and a piece of paper: Because a pencil you can use as a weapon, which even goes along with the "pen is mightier than the sword," bullshit quote, but a pencil is better because a pencil, if you don't have anything to sharpen anything with you, you better make sure that if you're going to stab someone that you do it before it's dull.
Or if you're going to write something, that you write something that can be written before you run out of the lead. So you have a piece a paper, and you decide what you're going to do with it? Do you eat it? Do you wipe your ass with it? Do you write poem? Do you draw a picture? Do you write a song? Do you write your will? A love letter? What do you really do?
That was the metaphor and the philosophy I had, after living alone, about life in general, about: I'm going to make decisions on who I spend my time with. Whatever reasons humans do to fuck up relationships, whether that be we're desperate and needy because we weren't hugged enough as a kid and we don't feel secure about yourselves, or we feel like having this person will make us feel whole.
I've always made the error of thinking, "Oh, here's someone I can relate to because they have some sort of damaged past. Maybe if I try to fix them, that'll fix me. Not saying that actually in my head. But looking back without the help of some psychiatrist or some idiot that has a piece of paper in a frame on a wall and thinks they can define my life, or that type of situation, I was able to look back and realized that wasn't going to work.
And it didn't work. So I had to pretty much put my big boy pants on, pull my boots on, and I had to take charge. And it wasn't just creatively. It wasn't ever a creative problem. I was realizing I was not in control of my life. That's the thing that scares us all the most. That's terrible. You make choices based on finance or convenience or the lesser of two evils. That's not the way to live life. So I put everything I owned into storage that influenced me, and I lived at home myself.
I did not make myself a recluse either. I even got to meet a lot of great people and most of them became really good friends of mine, you know? I got to work with different people, like Shia LeBeouf. I didn't become that close to him, but through him, I met my friend Cage, who is a rapper who acted in Shia's other film Maniac that came out before. He and I became very close. It sounded like I was going to sing "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" by Alice Cooper: "I made friends with a lot of people."
I've been friends with Johnny Depp for a long time. I'm not even shitting you when I say this, I was an extra on 21 Jump Street when I was nineteen. I was a journalist, and I was sent there to do an interview with Johnny, which I couldn't actually get to happen, so I made it up based on quotes from other interviews. Then we reconnected, I don't know, when I was making Holy Wood, around then. I got a phone call about three in the morning saying, "Manson, you've got to come down to the Viper Room. Someone wants to meet you."
I walked into the door, and it's a small office. It's way past closing time and Hunter S. Thompson says, "Lieutenant!" And I don't know why he decided to call me "Lieutenant." I don't really know what the rankings were for what army we were dealing with, but he was full blown Hunter. So he then went on to tell Johnny that I was the only person he feared -- which made me feel great. And we became close friends in a weird way. He would call me from Denver at five in the morning. He would say, "Marilyn. Manson. Brian. Shit-eye." "Did you just call me 'Shit-eye?' What does that mean?"
After the Michael Moore interview, I had to go on stage, and I wasn't really afraid, I was just getting so much stress from everyone I knew. So I was calling him to see if I could see him. He was like, "No, I'm not coming there. No way! You should just get in a car and come where I'm at. I've got a tank on the front lawn." That's the kind of guy he was. He was the worst possible father figure in the best way. So there was a bond that grew.
I hadn't seen Johnny in four years because we simply got out of touch, because I didn't realize his email was the same, and I changed mine. That was the only reason. We both laughed about it because we're completely oblivious to modern technology sometimes, him, more so than me nowadays, because I'm trying my best.
[We reconnected] when Damien Echols was getting released, and we were both very as involved as possible with that. But I tried to keep my involvement at a distance because he was literally, pretty much put in jail for being someone like me, not for doing a crime. So I thought it really wouldn't help if I backed him publicly. And it hurt me that I couldn't because of course I want to pick up the banner for the underdog and the person being wrongfully blamed for something. Who more could I associate with?
When he got out, I had spoken to him on the phone. He was in jail before cell phones, so it was a weird thing for him. But he's so much like me and so much like Johnny. We sat in a room, the three of us, and we were telling stories and he had no complaints. He said, "Obviously, I can't compare to what you guys have been through."
Johnny and I looked at each other and I said, "Are you fucking kidding? You were in prison." He didn't understand it but his innocent, not naive, childlike outlook on life is exactly what he shares with me and Johnny. If you think about it, you have the world's most famous movie star, and he happens to be a friend of mine, and I still look at him as the world's most famous movie star, and we did a song together, and afterward, he said, "Man, it's so cool to do a song with Marilyn Manson!" I said, "Shut the fuck up! What's cooler is doing a song with Johnny Depp? You fucking asshole."
It's a funny thing the way that we all are not jaded, not cynical, but we've been through different things. But everyone's been through different things. I just try to relate to people on a human level. "Hey, I'm Manson. If you like music, I've got a record. Do you want to hear it? If you don't want to then we'll watch a movie. That's cool." People obviously know who I am, but I don't expect anyone to know "Beautiful People" or "Dope Show."
I expect people to hear this new record and be interested in it, and that's all. Not have the arrogance or ignorance to rely on some sort of notion that our culture is completely ephemeral and everything disappears in a matter of weeks -- that that's the attention span. Unless you look at life differently. If you try to be chaos and confusion, that's not going to go away.
That has a snowball effect, and that's what I've really always wanted to be: The question mark, the abstract form. Probably before making this record is when I got a little scared and confused because I felt like in my mind the abstract form became scary to me rather than safe to me. I realized that I just had to separate myself from people that were insecure about themselves -- that I couldn't be a good leader to.
We're all insecure about something. But I had to be artistically strong. I had to get back into being the leader of my band and have my friends -- Twiggy's my brother, essentially -- believe in me, can count on me and go, "I want believe and go to sleep at night knowing Manson's not going to go crazy in a bad way, not in a funny charming way and that he's going to pull this off."
Just taking charge of your life really does give you a lot of confidence, and that is the most appealing, attractive element in nature of any creature. If something is confident in itself then you're attracted to it. I don't mean macho or arrogant. I mean like a peacock. It doesn't bow; it doesn't go, "Oh will people hate my feathers yesterday," or "How do my feathers look."
You pick whatever you're going to do in life. It doesn't matter what it is, garbage man, singer, whatever it is, do it the best you can. Kick its ass because you won't be able to kick its ass later. So be careful, metaphorically, how you use your firearms. Sorry I went on a rant a bit.
Continue reading for Manson's take on drugs and new work.
You have some more clarity on the subject of drugs these days?
I kind of went backwards with drugs. People have misconceptions with me and drugs. I learned a few things after trying to be put in a mental hospital. I was smarter than the people I was dealing with, so it didn't really work. I went to rehab voluntarily, and they didn't like me there very much. Not because I was advocating using drugs. I went there to prove to myself and some of my friends and family who were concerned with or misconstrued my behavior. They didn't see the depression so much as the collateral damage.
I learned a simple lesson. This is Manson's Wisdom: "Drink and do drugs when you're in a good mood, not when you're in a bad mood. The end." I didn't know the difference between a party and a problem. Anything can be something that ruins your life. It doesn't matter what it is. But to call it a disease or make a big fuss about it? I never wanted to say I was in recovery.
It seemed just so weakening and the worst possible thing you can say to someone who doesn't feel strong enough, is they believe in you, or saying it's okay. All of it's gonna make it work. You just have to fix it yourself. But to say, "I admit that I am weak and surrender to a higher power..." I am all for people that don't want to drink. I have friends that don't drink. I didn't used to drink before I started the band. I don't really care what you do. I'm the most non-judgmental person when it comes to that.
There a couple of things that are just common sense. Don't do heroin because chances are you might get a bad dose and die. Don't smoke crystal meth because your teeth will fall out. Don't smoke crack; it makes you look poor. I don't know. Those are just some basic rules. And don't give girls drugs because they talk too much and because you probably want to keep them for yourself. So those are my Manson's Observations: The Almanac of Knowledge of Drugs. I basically had to prove that it wasn't a physical weakness of mine because I just needed to prove it to myself.
I made friends with a ninety-year-old lady in rehab. It's not polite to ask a lady her age but I did. And they took away her hairspray when they were checking her in. She was the only person I made friends with. She didn't really know who I was as far as being Marilyn Manson and one thing people should really remember about old people: They're not conservative. They invented that shit before we did it; they were the ones that started butt-fucking, S&M, drugs, the atom bomb -- they invented that stuff.
So don't believe they're some innocent, just weak person. So I asked her, "Why are you here?" She said, "Well my family thinks I drink too much." I said, "They should have bought you a coffin or a boatload of heroin or something. But you're ninety. If you live that long, why do you want to waste your time in here. Other than talking to me, of course, I'm a very charming gentleman." They were mad at me because I said that to this woman.
So I asked, "Why did they take your hairspray from you?" She said, "They thought I was going to huff it." I said, "If you're ninety, you should be huffing hairspray on the rag. You should be spraying that shit into the ozone layer. You're on last call. You're doing your encore. Let's go!" I was being funny with her, and she liked it, and I cheered her up. I have a non-transferable gift certificate to go back there. I wish I could give it to you, or someone as a present, but they won't let me do that.
A lot of people really confuse my behavior for drugs. I remember reading one review of my performance with the Doors, and it said, "Manson slurred his way through The Doors' songs." Point A, if anything, that would be authentic to Jim as one of my idols. But I didn't slur my way through it. I mumbled. I invented a new form of talking called "mumblecore." It's like saying a racial slur is mispronouncing something really offensive when you're drunk. I don't slur.
The first time I went to Europe and did interviews, they said I had a Southern drawl. Which...maybe I do. I don't know. It's like how we tend to confuse German accents and British accents -- anything that's not 'merican, we don't know what it means. I didn't learn any languages in high school other than Australian, English and Canadian.
How did you meet Alejandro Jodrowsky, and what about his work resonates with you?
That was exciting for me. I remember renting Santa Sangre when I lived in New Orleans, and it was while I was making Antichrist Superstar. I somehow managed to find it. This was way before the interweb had YouTube and things where you could track down something like Holy Mountain and El Topo. I had not seen it yet, and I was reading some magazine, and I was really excited to read about him, and he was talking about his technique, and he said, "The only person I would ever make a film with, because I would not make a Hollywood film ever again, is Marilyn Manson because he is apersonal." As in asexual?
He went on to describe me as not being human or unhuman but something that doesn't really exist in either section. So I just had my manager contact the magazine or something, and the next thing you know, I'm in Ireland for the MTV Video Music Awards of that era. For that I had painted myself entirely black like a charred, burned, crispy thing with a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, a thong, and I had a TV set that burst into flames in the shape of a cross. I'd never seen a phenomenon quite like this, and Jodorowsky was completely enthused by it because of all his religious fascinations.
They weren't offended by my burnt look, but the burning cross thing on the television -- the entire audience turned around and faced away from me. I'd never even seen this happen before in my life. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life. It was almost like it was rehearsed when they all turned around and faced away. Amazing. I think it's on the internet now, but they never showed the performance. I remember walking off stage and spitting, and Jamiroquai happened to be in the path of my spit.
So then Jodorowsky came and met me there. He read my tarot, and it was right. Every time he's done it, it's always right. At the time I had a script that I wanted him to direct called Holy Wood, this was before the album was written -- this was during the Mechanical Animals period. Because he had made Holy Blood, which is Santa Sangre, Holy Mountain, and I thought Holy Wood.
It was my dream just to meet him. So he read it, and at the time, I was engaged to Rose McGowan, who, while off stage, her tears were very convincing, for some people, not for me. He said, "I won't make this film with you if she's in it." And I said, "He had not met her and did not know anything about her." I asked him why, and he said that John Lennon approached him to direct The Lord of the Rings and he wanted to star in it, and he wanted Yoko Ono to star in it, and he told John Lennon the same thing. That's an amazing story I'd never heard it before.
The Beatles had essentially funded the making of El Topo and Holy Mountain, and it was just an amazing story because I'm a huge fan of John Lennon and very obsessed with everything about his life and his death and the impact that it's had on the world. It makes me that I never even knew him. I just remember listening to The White Album on eight-track in my parents' car as a kid. But my parents weren't so much Beatles fans. It just happened to be one of their eight tracks. Maybe it was one of those you buy out of a magazine where you get a bunch together.
Being born in 1969, the year of "Helter Skelter" -- the first song, technically, blamed for violence -- it's sort of ironic how it all comes back around. Jodorowsky also told me, without knowing, that my card was XV, which is The Devil card. I was born on January 5, 1969. I don't want to turn into Jim Carrey and The Number 23, but it is my number. There are fifteen letters in "Marilyn Manson" and there's fifteen letters in Brian E. Warner. When it comes to numerology, fifteen's my number. He told me a lot of different things, and I always joke with him about that now.
He had two scripts. He had Sons of El Topo, and he wanted me to play the bearded guy with the hat. I was so excited to be in a western. There was that, and he wrote another one called King Shot, which is really amazing. It's right there with all of his other work.
Continue reading for Manson's ending manifesto.
For whatever reason, because of his age, people are afraid to finance it. He told me one that if he can't make it, he would entrust it in my hands to make it. I was in meetings trying to tell movie producers and movie companies, "He has a thirty-five-year-old girlfriend that he fucks. If he can do that, he can make a movie, alright? It's that simple."
Then he was the priest at my wedding. Then I got divorced, so last time I saw him I said, "Goddamnit, why didn't you tell me?" He goes, "Well I knew it wasn't going to work out when you guys kissed. And then she checked her lipstick." And I said, "Thanks for telling me, Mr. Tarot Card, you son of a bitch!" Then we joked about it.
He's very alchemical and very much into believing in signs that life provided you with and I am too. But we can also joke about it because what he said to me in response was, "I don't know. How do you tell somebody that? I didn't want to ruin it." I replied, "If you knew it was going to be ruined anyway, you should have spoken you bastard." Then we both laughed.
Basically, to end, I'll make my ending manifesto: I think art cannot be considered art unless you live it. You're not an artist, and it's not art, unless you are one with it. It just means that I'm inspired by people like Jodorowsky and Dali and people that are completely unafraid to do and say what they want. Now, more so for me, I don't care what happens to it after I do it.
There came a time where I wrote a song I started getting into mentality where I thought, "How am I going to get to get away from the restrictions of this bullshit criteria of it's got to be three minutes, fifteen seconds to go on the radio." I don't care if it goes on the radio. I just want to make stuff that's good, and I want to make stuff that when I play it for people, they like me more so. Or that it affected them in some great way.
It's the same with my paintings. People that listen to my music may or may not like my paintings. Most of the people that buy my paintings or like my paintings probably don't even listen to my music. They're totally different things. And I like that ability to embrace the fact that I've got too many dimensions to limit myself to music. There's music, but besides that there's paintings and there's film.
I think my future exists in a combination of all of them. It may be art installation, it may be performance, it might be trying to combine them all, but you can't really fuck with rock and roll, where it's one certain way. You can't really try to put rock and roll into paintings. So there's a place for all of them to exist, and sometime, maybe there will be a place where they all blend together, and I'm just at this point in a very creative upswing in my life. All art has been created, so the only thing you can think of is new ways to destroy it and rebuild it. Soon this will all be picturesque ruins.
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