"I think Charles Manson had a lot of positive things to say and could have been a real cultural leader," says Mr. Manson, the singer and conceptualist behind the shock-rock/industrial band dubbed Marilyn Manson. "But what he did wasn't popular with the masses, and so he went to jail. He wanted to go to extremes. Well, if you do that, you have to be ready to deal with the consequences. And I'm ready."
That's big talk, obviously, but Mr. Manson insists he can back it up. And he clearly doesn't do things in half-measures. His Florida-based group is intended to get your attention and hold it, using everything from profanity-splashed lyrics to the nom de plumes of its members: guitarist Daisy Berkowitz, bassist Twiggy Ramirez, keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy and drummer Sara Lee Lucas. Juxtaposing the names of pop celebrities and serial killers doesn't make for the deepest sort of cultural commentary, but it's guaranteed to get under your mom's skin.
Nevertheless, Mr. Manson bristles when reminded that some critics see his group as nothing more than a novelty act. "A lot of what we do is dismissed merely as shock value, which is incorrect," he claims. "There's an element of that, of course, but there's also a strong message that we're trying to convey, and a lot of people really don't understand it until later, after they've left our shows. One of my biggest satisfactions is to receive letters from people who suddenly have gotten it."
According to Mr. Manson, the "it" he's peddling is quite simple: "Morality in America is specifically designed to benefit those who created it, not the people who are controlled by that. Realizing that, I'm suggesting that you make up your own rules--but if you want to have that freedom, you have to take responsibility for your actions."
On Portrait of an American Family, which Marilyn Manson made for the Nothing/Interscope imprint under the production supervision of Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, the actions Mr. Manson promotes in song probably won't win Tipper Gore over. In "Misery Machine," he declares, "I am fueled by filth and fury"; during "Snake Eyes and Sissies," he describes himself as "a pedophile's dream/a messianic Peter Pan"; and "Get Your Gunn" includes the lines, "I eat innocent meat/The housewife I will beat/The pro-life I will kill/What you won't do, I will."
In short, the band's vision is bogeyman tripe that should be taken seriously as infrequently as possible. What makes American Family work, then, isn't Mr. Manson's worldview but the music. The tunes are tough and hard but oddly danceable, with big hooks of the sort even Elton John might appreciate. The words may be dopey, but the tunes are downright seductive.
"That's my big secret," purrs Mr. Manson, who numbers the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Devo and Adam Ant among his biggest musical influences. "We wanted to write good songs with good melodies. It's all a matter of power, and a good melody conveys that power. We take pride in melody, whereas a lot of bands in the industrial-metal genre don't. We want people to be singing our songs--which is why some of the catchiest songs on the record have the touchiest subject matter."
Mr. Manson insists that he wasn't born with a perverse nature: He acquired it during his Ohio boyhood. He lays much of the blame/credit for how he turned out at the doors of the private Christian schools he attended until his tenth-grade year, "when I was kicked out for stealing money out of girls' purses." Shortly thereafter, he landed in southern Florida, which he calls "a really strange state where there's a lot of people with really ignorant attitudes. You've got extreme hate groups hating a certain part of the populace, and then you've got anti-hate groups hating the hate groups, which is a total contradiction." As for himself, he says, "My hatred knows no boundaries. I don't hate any particular group of people--I think I'm better than all of them."
By the early Nineties, Mr. Manson had formed Marilyn Manson, the band that was to become the vehicle for these nuggets of wisdom. The quintet soon made a splash in the music scene in Fort Lauderdale, where it was banned from various clubs because of what Mr. Manson concedes was "a lot of fire and blood and nudity on stage." For some reason, however, the same legal establishment that spent several years harassing the Florida rappers in 2 Live Crew left Marilyn Manson pretty much alone.
"I'm surprised to say that we've never been arrested in Florida," Mr. Manson notes, sounding disappointed. "I remember on one occasion, we were playing at a club and there was a cop at the door and about five hundred people between us. And I was challenging him to arrest me while some girl was giving me oral sex on stage. And he didn't do anything."
Reznor was more taken by this shtick and made Marilyn Manson one of the first signings to his Nothing label under a new agreement with Interscope. He's also taken the band on the road with him, meaning that a large audience will be exposed to Mr. Manson's performance-art proclivities and toxic pronouncements. Fortunately, he has a rant for every occasion and speaks with a knowing tone on virtually any topic. For example:
Social decay: "It's a lot like it was 25 years ago. You had war then; we may have war now. You had Woodstock then; you have Woodstock now. You had racial tension then; you have racial tension now. You had Charles Manson then; you have Marilyn Manson now."
Youth culture: "We grew up on sugar, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, television and violence. We became accustomed to all those things--they're a big part of our lives. And now, all of a sudden, America's become conservative and we're supposed to feel guilty about what we were raised to be."
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Alternative music: "There are a lot of assholes out there saying a lot of the same things I'm saying--bitching about life and the way they see things. But if it's shitty music, who cares?"
Denver-based talk-show host and Satan-basher Bob Larson: "I can relate to him in many ways, because I don't think what he's doing is a lot different from what I'm doing. I just wish he'd honestly admit his true nature, because I think he has the potential to be a really powerful satanist."
If Mr. Manson's public persona is a mask, it's one that he's careful not to drop: He admires Alice Cooper but vows that he'll never appear on Hollywood Squares or play golf with George Burns. "I'm into the concepts of Nietzsche and [Church of Satan founder Anton] LeVey--of being your own god," he says. "Good and evil are interchangeable, and if you merge them together so that there are no boundaries between them, there's a gray area. There's no sexuality, no morality and no line between on-stage and off-stage. That's where we reside. That's our lifestyle."
Nine Inch Nails, with Marilyn Manson and the Jim Rose Circus. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 20, McNichols Arena, $22, 290-