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Marilyn Manson: a nose for trouble

The Pale Emperor on porn, drugs, bullies, guns, suicide and what it feels like to have worms crawling out of your head

Taken from the spring 2015 issue of Dazed:

Apart from the darkness, it’s the sound of icy rain tapping against the hotel suite’s windows that you notice first. Then the murder-black bin bags taped over the doors. Then the sub-zero air conditioning. Edging further in, flickering candles illuminate the silhouette of the room’s sole inhabitant – Marilyn Manson; Antichrist Superstar, Omēga, the God of Fuck. Settled in the corner on a beige sofa, his face is characteristically pasty, but it’s too dark to see if he’s wearing those infamous off-centre contact lenses or not. Close up, he looks like a beefy, six-foot Nosferatu with a Third Reich haircut.

Following in the footsteps of Alice Cooper, Manson is the quintessential American Frankenstein. Fusing a Hollywood icon and a murderous cult leader for his nom de plume, he revels in holding a mirror up to the world and showing how beautifully ugly it can be. There’s no denying that, since he released Portrait of an American Family in 1994, the singer has made the shadows a more interesting place to roam. Satirising and subverting imagery of popes, porn stars and pop idols, he has sold 68 million records, turned dancefloor classics “Tainted Love” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” into electro-goth anthems, and most recently reinvented himself on the small screen as a gay white supremacist in Sons of Anarchy. He’s also found time to model for Saint Laurent, marry and divorce Dita Von Teese, and charm the likes of Traci Lords, Stoya and Jenna Jameson (but insists he never watches skin flicks to look for potential dates).

In January, Manson released The Pale Emperor, a blues-influenced desert rock opus that is his best work since the alien androgyny of 1998’s Mechanical Animals. It was recorded during his mother’s last months and is, as you’d expect under the circumstances, his most introspective album to date. Still, there’s plenty of time for classic Manson missives on sin and sex (“Deep Six”), drugs (“Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”) and guns – lots of guns. The influence of firearm culture weighs heavily on the album, which opens with “Killing Strangers” and later revisits the theme on “Cupid Carries a Gun”. It may be 16 years since the media made him a scapegoat for the Columbine High School massacre, but the scars are still raw.

While his 90s rock peers flounder in the internet era, Manson’s influence shows no sign of abating – he recently popped up for a cameo in Die Antwoord’s “Ugly Boy” video, symbolically passing the torch to Yo-landi Visser. So what is this all-American bogeyman’s secret to everlasting success? “A Faustian deal with the devil,” he says with a wicked smile as the candlelight dances across his pallid skin. “I’ve been hearing the hellhounds knocking at my door for a long time now. I finally realised it’s time for me to pay back what I owe, and that’s this record. Pay the devil’s due.”

You were a music journalist before starting your own band. Did you script the mythology of Marilyn Manson’s life first and then bend reality to fit? 

Marilyn Manson: No, it was all very much off the hip. I just dealt with shit as it came along. Like, if some zombies came in here right now, what are we gonna do? My beer bottle would be a useful ghetto knife. You’ve got a pen, you could write a suicide letter or stab someone in the throat or kill yourself. The point is, I like the idea of improvising, of restricting myself. That is why I prefer club shows to festivals. It’s annoying to have to fucking prance back and forth so far. It’s not out of laziness; it just doesn’t have the intimacy or the energy of a club show. People love to see a club show because they can feel the power. They can smell you. 

Last year you did a club show and invited Johnny Depp and Ninja from Die Antwoord on stage to play ‘The Beautiful People’. What are your memories of that night?

Marilyn Manson: Someone ripped my vest and I brained them. I use the word ‘brained’ because I think it’s very antiquated. I didn’t know at the time if it was a guy or girl but I found out later that it was someone from the female genus with my fist imprinted on their forehead. I apologised by kissing her on the hand and laughing at my fist-print on her forehead. The show was very visceral – there were no barricades, there were no bodyguards, there was no security. It was also on Halloween, which is my least favourite holiday, because what am I supposed to dress up as? Me?

To conservatives, you represent the American nightmare. But what scares you about the States?

Marilyn Manson: That’s hard to say. At one point I considered becoming an ex-patriot and disowning America, but then I decided that America needed me to be a prick in its side, the thorn in the finger. I didn’t pay attention in history class, I barely went to school and it surprises me that I graduated, but I think it’s very strange that a few people from England went to another continent, created a book of rules and everyone believes it’s right! And now America has to stick their dick and their nose in every goddamn thing across the world and they somehow believe that it’s righteous or political when it’s simply financial. I mean, that’s the sad fact of finding out ignorance is bliss, when you find out that you can’t change the world. I can barely change my pants.

"Halloween is my least favourite holiday. What am I supposed to dress up as? Me?” – Marilyn Manson

Your extreme stage persona and oration skills have earned you comparisons with the Pope and Adolf Hitler. Which do you feel the most kinship with? 

Marilyn Manson: Is there a difference? I mean, that was the point in the beginning, taking Ziggy Stardust’s cue and combining religion and politics and saying it’s really all the same. This ain’t rock’n’roll, this is genocide. If you just use the inflection of your voice and say something loud at the end, like, ‘Hey, what’s up everyone... my DICK!’ people go, ‘Yesss!’ It makes you consider religion as some sort of language virus.

I understand you’re in fight training at the moment. Why?

Marilyn Manson: Because I got my ass kicked the old-fashioned way at the bus stop when I was growing up. I just wanna do it because I wanna do it. It’s not like I want to pick fights with people, but if I get in a fight, I get in a fight. Don’t press me, because I will fuck you up.

It’s a vicious cycle, though, because if someone picks on you as a kid, then you grow up, get bigger and beat up other people – you become the bully. 

Marilyn Manson: No, I didn’t want to become a bully. I just didn’t fight back.

Psychologically, how has that first beat-down had an effect on your life?

Marilyn Manson: This album contains an element of revenge. 

Don’t all of your records?

Marilyn Manson: No, they’re more about rebellion. It’s paying back but it’s also paying your dues. I’ve earned where I’ve got to. I would compare this record to elements of Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood (in terms of) the feeling that I had, being in Los Angeles, and realising this is all fucked and I have to deal with it.

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Jeff Henrikson

Did you move to LA on the hunt for a new musical angle?

Marilyn Manson: No, I moved there thinking it was my dream. I always thought it was a special, magical place to move to. Then Columbine was kind enough to pull the rug up under me. In the midst of that I took a moment back and I made Holy Wood. The first image I emerged with was me, head shaved, with all these symbols and a gun my father had given to me aged seven. He taught me how to be a sniper and brought that gun back from Vietnam. So I have accurate aim. If I wanted to be a short, 100-foot range sniper, I’d be very, very good at it. But I’m not really into shooting things.

Guns are a recurring theme throughout your work. Does this obsession go back to your dad?

Marilyn Manson: It has to. I mean, maybe it does. It probably had a lot to do with me dealing with my mum dying while I was making the record. At the end of the day, you still die alone – spoiler alert. You die alone. It’s not a depressing story. It just is the story. It’s life.

There’s also been a lot of narco influence…

Marilyn Manson: Narco, narco. (laughs)

 …on your songs. Have you ever been on a seven-day binge?

Marilyn Manson: I don’t think I’ve ever spent seven days on a binge. I mean, that’s tough.

What would be a typical binge for you, then?

Marilyn Manson: Three days, I guess, historically. That was probably in the era of me knowing Hunter S. Thompson. He once asked me to send him the tincture of absinthe-diluted wormwood. It had a picture of a man with a dropper and an ‘X’ next to it, like, ‘Don’t put it in your mouth.’ So I said to him, ‘Listen up, shit eyes.’ He said, ‘Did you just call me shit eyes?’ I didn’t hear from him for a week and when I called him, I said, ‘Did you get the package?’ He said, ‘Yeah, it didn’t work.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘I’ve been up for seven days, it didn’t fucking work.’

That’s hilarious!

Marilyn Manson: Nothing good happens after three days. And nothing good happens after seven days if you have not abided by the rules of nature, which are sleep, wake up, do your job, repeat. And you know, there are definitely times when you want to expand your mind, go to different realms and go into different things, which I’ve done either wilfully or woefully – whichever one you want to pick – and the results have all been the same: bad.

"The fashion world is very absurd. I only go to fashion shows to see someone fall over. That’s what everyone does, they’re waiting for something bad to happen. Everyone wants to see a tragedy" – Marilyn Manson

Sex is also central to your music. On Mechanical Animals, you explored alien androgyny – has there ever been a point in your life where you’ve felt trapped or alienated by your gender?

Marilyn Manson: You mean am I bisexual? No.

No, trapped within your body, by the way you look.

Marilyn Manson: The very first time I got my ass kicked. I had gone to K-Mart in this yellow-and-purple basketball outfit. I went to the city kids’ basketball court and they were all taller than me. I didn’t get tall till I was about 18. I was around 5ft 4in (and suddenly) I became 6ft 1in. Anyway, this guy came over to me, shoved me and said, ‘You’re a fucking cunt.’ So I went home and said, ‘Mom, Dad – what’s a cunt?’ So that, I think, defined me at that point – not understanding the difference.

That’s when it dawned on you that you were an outsider?

Marilyn Manson: Well, I didn’t understand what a ‘cunt’ was. The only person in my lifetime that’s called me a cunt was the first person that kicked my ass. I fell and hit my head on the Tarmac. There was a bump on my head for about a week and maybe I didn’t tend to it enough but eventually it evolved into something. I had to go to hospital and I found out that it was infected. They squeezed it and worms came out of my brain. I’m not even making that up. I was called a cunt, knocked down, and worms came out of my head. The end.  

Did your parents explain what the term meant?

Marilyn Manson: Their explanation was not sufficient. They just said, ‘It meant that he didn’t like you.’ Maybe that’s why I have women issues.

Tell me about some of these women issues. You’ve had relationships with Traci Lords, Jenna Jameson and Stoya, and you were married to a burlesque dancer. All these women are the living embodiment of sinful fantasies. Is that what you’re searching for, sexual escapism?

Marilyn Manson: Maybe. Some of the pornography I saw as a child was women having sex with animals and stuff like that. I know my grandfather would wear drag clothes underneath his clothes when he was driving a truck. My father just recently told me after my mother died that my grandfather’s truck-driving gig was just a front for him selling pornography. I was like, ‘Dad! My book would’ve been so much fucking more interesting if you’d told me that earlier!’ He told me to write a new one. And he wasn’t joking, either. I also did not know that (my grandfather) stashed his 60mm reels of pornography in paint cans. Which ends up being ironic, because actually my first job was painting walls. Paint was my first artistic influence, but pornography was in the paint cans.

Do you think that’s why you are attracted to porn actresses?

Marilyn Manson: I don’t know. I think that I see something on TV, and I like it and go, ‘I want that,’ because I’m a child. But that’s not something I saw on TV because I’ve never watched pornography. I’ve always looked at pornographic stills or pictures of women in lingerie or the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, but I’ve never watched pornography. I can’t watch moving pornography, maybe because I don’t like to see other dicks. I don’t know why. The three girls that you mentioned, I’ve never watched any of their pornography. I did not know who Jenna Jameson was and Traci Lords I knew from Cry-Baby. I guess it’s strange, but with Stoya we were more like brother and sister. 

You’ve modelled for Saint Laurent and have been a muse to Gaultier. What is your view of fashion?

Marilyn Manson: The fashion world is very absurd – when you go to shows you watch people walk down the runway and you’re waiting for someone to fall over, basically. It’s the only reason that I’ve ever gone to a fashion show is to see if a girl will fall over. It might sound cruel, but it is what it is. That’s what everyone does, they’re waiting for something bad to happen. Everyone wants to see a tragedy.

Growing up, you were obsessed with the idea that the apocalypse was going to happen at some point. Now you’ve actually had 46 years on earth to get your head around the apocalypse, how would you ride it out? 

Marilyn Manson: Did you just date me? Fuck you, fuck you, you fucking cunt.

You can’t call me a cunt now!

Marilyn Manson: I just did, I can. I said it.

Now you’re like the bully.

Marilyn Manson: No, I’m not. Anyway, you know what, the fashion eras I really identify with are the 20s and 30s. It was the era before people thought it was OK to wear t-shirts or sweatpants, looking like you don’t give a shit. If a girl starts wearing sweatpants in a relationship, it’s over. It means she doesn’t give a shit any more and you’re not gonna fuck her. Girls should always present themselves to you when you come home. ‘Hi honey, I’m home,’ and she’s wearing lingerie, legs akimbo. ‘Come and get it, honey.’

“I would never kill myself, I'm not a quitter. If I'm going out I'm taking everyone with me, strangers first” – Marilyn Manson

Really? That’s how you believe all women should act? 

Marilyn Manson: My father’s view of women was, ‘If you wanna get a man, spread your legs. And if you wanna keep a man, shut your fucking mouth.’

That’s disgusting.

Marilyn Manson: It’s foul. But that’s how I was reared and raised – under the assumption that, if you want to keep a man, don’t mouth off. You wanna get a man, show him your business parts. I’m not saying that’s my philosophy, I’m just saying that’s what my father taught me.

Are you worried about being seen as a misogynist?

Marilyn Manson: No, I am a massage therapist. (laughs) I’m not sexist, but I tend to incite misogynist characteristics. I do not hate women, I love women. I just don’t love what they do to me sometimes. Love is a very strange word. I love being alive. I love air. I love vodka. I love food. I love not being dead. I love making music. So when you say ‘I love you’ to someone, it’s sort of narrow. I think if you say, ‘I’m dedicated to you. I wanna be with you. You’re my partner,’ that’s a more powerful way to express it.

Sounds like you’ve had your heart broken by a lot of women.

Marilyn Manson: Fuck you. (laughs)

No?

Marilyn Manson: I don’t know if I have a heart. I’ve let my guard down, I’ve been wounded. So if you mean heartbroken in that sense, yes. I think essentially man and woman can’t function without the other, because it started that way. But it doesn’t mean you’re the same as I am just because we like the same movies or laugh at the same jokes. If you’re in a Bonnie and Clyde or Natural Born Killers-type relationship, that doesn’t mean you should expect the other person to feel the same way as you, simply because in your fucked-up mind you think you’re living in a movie, which I do.

Is your life a movie?

Marilyn Manson: I think everyone’s life is a movie, it just depends on whether it’s a good one.

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Jeff Henrikson

Your music has dissected the cadaver of pop culture for 20 years now.

Marilyn Manson: ‘Dissecting the cadaver of pop culture’, well said.

Thank you.

Marilyn Manson: You just wanted to put that in there.

True. What are the results of the autopsy? Are we all fucked?

Marilyn Manson: Dead.

Pop culture is dead?

Marilyn Manson: Dead, but zombies. That’s why I will not be cremated, because I want to make sure I can come back alive. Zombies with hard-ons is something we haven’t seen enough in film.

Is that your next role?

Marilyn Manson: Well, if I die I want to die with my boots on, as they say. I also want to make sure that if I die and it’s said that it was a suicide, it’s false. I would never kill myself, I’m not a quitter. If I’m going out I’m taking everyone with me, strangers first.

Phil Spector killed a woman because of his obsession with guns and sex. What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?

Marilyn Manson: Well I think apart from seeing other people’s deaths, I’ve never tried to kill myself. I never try – I do. Someone says, ‘You tried to kill me,’ I’m like, ‘No, wrong. If I’d tried I would’ve done it.’ I don’t have a death wish, I don’t want to kill other people, but I will defend what I care about. I will defend what I love. I think you should be someone who stands behind their words, not someone who just says them, and that’s resulted in a lot of trouble legally for me. I have put a gun in the mouth of a journalist on more than one occasion. But I was exonerated from that crime and released on a simple assault and battery charge.

I’m glad you don’t have a gun on you tonight. 

Marilyn Manson: How do you know I don’t?

I’m hoping not.

Marilyn Manson: (To assistant) Can I have my gun, please?

Marilyn Manson’s new album The Pale Emperor is out now

Follow Tim Noakes on Twitter: @TimNoakes 

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