"I heard he had two ribs removed so he could suck his own penis."
It was the winter of 1996, and Marilyn Manson was bringing his infamous Dead to the World tour to my home state of Iowa, spawning a pre-Internet hysteria. For all we knew, he was a high priest of Satan, he raped young boys on stage, he was that kid with glasses from The Wonder Years — those were all the rumors.
Parents and children alike were convinced that anyone who set foot inside Manson's concert would be infected with a Linda Blair-style demonic presence, their name becoming inked in blood in Hell's reservation calendar. He was built up as a mythical Genghis Khan of satanic destruction — when, really, he was just a goth kid from Ohio who covered a Eurythmics song.
As children of rural evangelicalism, we attended protests and handed out literature deriding Manson, but we were secretly obsessed with him, soaking up all the media and cassette tapes we could get our farm-kid hands on. We were convinced he was a legitimate, flesh-and-blood agent of Satan, and we approached his records with a mixture of fear and awe.
Three years later, Manson would be blamed for inspiring two kids from Littleton to murder their classmates and teachers (despite the fact that the two gunmen hated MM, preferring the industrial sounds of KMFDM). It was nothing new: From Richard Ramirez and AC/DC to the West Memphis Three and Iron Maiden, social conservatives have long been desperate to make the connection between rock and mass murder.
But Manson was seemingly the end of it.
In the thirteen years since Columbine, we've suffered an unfathomable number of public shootings (Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, Aurora Theater, Sikh temple) with no one blaming Lady Gaga or Foster the People for the tragedies — despite the fact that the latter's only hit song is about a crazed gunman murdering his fashionable schoolmates.
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It has perhaps become old hat to blame rock and roll for society's ills. After all, we still have abortion, gay marriage and atheism for conservatives to point to, connecting these societal changes to troubled youth or extreme weather. But no longer will we blame music.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of this was seen last February, when Mitt Romney appeared on stage with Kid Rock. It would be next to impossible to imagine Mitt's father, former Michigan governor George Romney, making a public appearance with Alice Cooper or Iggy Pop in 1972.
And it is similarly difficult to imagine Marilyn Manson inspiring the kind of hate and blame he received in 1996. As he and fellow "shock" rocker Rob Zombie pay a visit to the Pepsi Center this week, it's become painfully clear that rock music in 2012 — unless it comes from Norway and is attached to church burnings — has lost its ability to strike fear into the hearts of conservative parents and their children.