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Marilyn Manson: all-American nightmare

‘I have an incinerator in my back yard’ – the misfit among misfits talks New York club kids, first dates and why he can’t help getting a bloodlust

Taken from the 25th anniversary issue of Dazed: 

Marilyn Manson has had a rough week. He is touring his 2015 album, The Pale Emperor, with Slipknot, and the reviews so far have been mixed. Articles online question his sanity and demeanour, citing ten-minute rants between tracks, stumbles off-stage, snot-flinging, incoherent slurring and full-on cancellations. Tonight, he performed a song he doesn’t usually include in his setlist, “Coma White”, which he tearfully dedicated to his dying cat, Lily White. Fans will recognise Lily from the many paintings Manson has made of her, and the photoshoots featuring the two. He has described Lily, with whom he tours, as his closest friend.

It’s been close to 30 years since Manson formed his band, and, judging from the violent reactions his aberrant behaviour on stage is inspiring this year, not much has changed since 1989. Why, then, are concertgoers still surprised? On the phone, Manson is the lucid, articulate gentleman the world met in an interview with documentarian Michael Moore for the 2002 film, Bowling for Columbine. He is clearly devastated by loss, but he understands that the persona he’s created for himself doesn’t allow much room for private grieving. He isn’t surprised that fans won’t give him a moment’s peace, only that they care so much, after all these years. A man in the crowd at tonight’s show in Detroit, he says, wanted to start a fight with him. “I got punched in the face and couldn’t hit back because I have priors,” Manson deadpans. “But that’s not relevant to our story. You can say my fucking face hurts.” Still, he describes the night as “the best one yet this tour. I didn’t get arrested, which I did the last time I was here (in 2001), so that’s a good thing. This is where I got arrested for assaulting a security guard in a sexual manner – but I was exonerated. So, this time I had to behave.”

That dictum, to behave, is not something the 47-year-old Manson, AKA Brian Warner, finds agreeable. The man who started Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids in 1989 hasn’t let the fact that the fashion world now finds him charming – he’s lately starred in a Marc Jacobs campaign, while every it-label and pop star merch-maker from Demna Gvasalia of Vetements to Virgil Abloh and the teams behind Rihanna’s and Zayn Malik’s tours have brought back the long-sleeved shirt design Manson made popular in the 1990s – disarm him. That the ultra-positive millennial set is suddenly interested in the look that, when Manson created it, was too metal for the goths, too punk for the metalheads, and too new for the punks, forming its own subset of misunderstood MTV-generation youth, doesn’t seem to register. During this shoot in New York with friend Terry Richardson, Manson described the styling concept as outside of his wheelhouse, even if it was based on the current season’s obsession with his very own image. “Fashion-wise, I didn’t really know what I was walking into,” he explains. “No one told me it was sort of a Club Kids retrospective, which has now come back into fashion in a different way. I wore things I would not have imagined wearing, but Terry is very persuasive with me.”

“I got punched in the face and couldn’t hit back because I have priors... But that’s not relevant to our story. You can say my fucking face hurts” – Marilyn Manson

Manson’s professed disregard for the current cultural zeitgeist and simultaneous expert knowledge of it is apt from a frontman whose tabloid-trashing message has always come from a philosophical standpoint. “We’re all stars now, in the Dope Show” is as true today as it was when first uttered in 1998, and yet, the singer consumes pop culture to the point of inserting himself into it, with TV cameos and celebrity selfies that could make diehard Manson fans cringe. Unlike Slipknot and similar-sounding acts, Manson isn’t afraid of a little glamour. The lyrics he’s most known for ring, in 2016, more Warholian than Machiavellian: after all, his very stage name is a comment on the decentred celebrity, a mash-up of the tragically overexposed actress Marilyn Monroe and the music-industry obsessed psycho-killer Charles Manson. And his music is, of course, only part of the equation: to some he’s a menace to the church, to others a scapegoat for teen violence, but to most of us, he’s a misfit among misfits, too commercial to be truly cool. Now that the dust of Manson’s initial affront to parents has pretty much settled, Marilyn Manson the glam rock-like musician comes clearly into focus. The songs even sound catchy.

Manson clearly isn’t your average eye-rolling alternative rocker, unimpressed by the mainstream. Instead, like Bowie before him with his constant questioning of celebrity, he has himself become the new textbook rock star. His claims to be “bigger than Satan” (recently mimicked on a t-shirt by Justin Bieber) have all but come true, and now, luckily for us, he has that axe to grind as well. For a fanboy from Florida with a cynical take on fame who makes music best heard at top volume on bondage night at a strip club, he is uncomfortably massive. His early work is cemented on screen as part of the golden age of music videos, and this autumn, he’ll release a secret stash of shelved footage to promote a 20th anniversary edition of his most celebrated album, Antichrist Superstar. To prove he’s still the same irreverent kid that put out such a seminal album two decades ago, Manson is also promising a new record, SAY10, for 2017 that keeps in mind what made him form a band in the first place: to get girls to like him.

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Marilyn Manson – Autumn/Winter 2016
Marilyn wears cashmere knitted rollneck, beaded charm necklace Dior Homme, grills Fangophilia, rings his own. Teale Coco wears leather and tulle dress Diesel, harness Teale CocoPhotography Terry Richardson, fashion Nicola Formichetti

Do you feel like you were, or are, a Club Kid?

Marilyn Manson: I found myself in New York City, around 1992, getting let into Limelight by Michael Alig at the height of the Club Kids (90s clique of underground clubbers). And it was a truly great fucking era. Michael MustoPat Fields – people that would become part of the fabric of my very existence. All that led me to Leigh Bowery, and that led me to Salvador Dalí, and that led to dada, and that led me to Andy Warhol, and satanism, Schiaparelli, you know, many laces in the shoes of fashion. I guess, looking back, I was probably more a fan of Club Kids than I was part of creating it. It was an interesting and strange time, and very important, I suppose, in the history of – of everything. In fashion and in my life. Living in Florida, I had a very limited budget, so I had to shoplift make-up from Albertsons grocery stores. I had this strange ability to find the best and the worst at places like the Salvation Army. Meanwhile, in New York, this whole thing was happening that I was unaware of. When I got there, I felt one part embraced by it and one part in awe of it. But the part about the fashion world that I enjoyed was all the different people. I’ve gotten to work with Vivienne WestwoodHedi Slimane, Marc Jacobs, Jean Paul GaultierGalliano… This all sounds like I’m Patrick Bateman in American Psycho as I say it, but it’s enjoyable for me to be a puppet for fashion designers or photographers. I don’t always like to be in charge of everything. Sometimes I like people to use me as a palette. I always said, from the beginning, that my idols were MadonnaPrince and Bowie, so (it makes sense that) I like to collaborate with geniuses. It makes me feel like part of a bigger picture. I get criticised a lot by my closest friends – they say to stop ruining everything, because every show or magazine or movie I really love I just force myself into.

“It’s so vexing, to make sure I enjoy the dream while it’s happening, because sometimes there’s a lot going on, bad and good... as a human being, I do have more than one dimension” — Marilyn Manson 

Is that the best part of being Marilyn Manson? 

Marilyn Manson: Not in the sense that my fame is part of it – I really despise when people refer to me as a celebrity, because anyone can be a celebrity in this era. It’s the very definition of the name Marilyn Manson, so this isn’t new – anyone can be famous at any point by dying and being in an obituary or by killing someone and being on the front page. So I hate that term. It’s been a rough year for me, since a lot of friends and family of mine have gone away. It’s awful, but it lays a burden on me. I have this obligation to be a rock star. It’s so vexing, to make sure I enjoy the dream while it’s happening, because sometimes there’s a lot going on, bad and good, and as a human being, I do have more than one dimension. But I’m fortunate that people are still charmed by my childlike humour, because I’ve never felt that I had immensely normal, handsome looks. I just let my sense of humour and my utter lack of respect for rules define me.

Have you ever felt like you wanted to break a rule and you couldn’t?

Marilyn Manson: Only in a legal sense. For example, tonight they said I couldn’t break a bottle onstage to cut myself, so I made them break one backstage and give it to me. I refused to continue the show until they did. I didn’t say anything to the crowd about it. By the way, I’m not someone who likes to self-mutilate in the Emily Dickinson-Sylvia Plath sense, but I do get a bloodlust. It gets me all full of rage and excitement, for whatever reason. So, yeah, tonight it was difficult, but I broke the rule, and I did it in a clever way. They brought the broken glass out onstage and I bled. Loopholes…

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Marilyn Manson – Autumn/Winter 2016
Cotton top with shoulder pads VETEMENTS, trousers Marc Jacobs, grills FangophiliaPhotography Terry Richardson, fashion Nicola Formichetti

Do you ever think about what your younger self would think about you now?

Marilyn Manson: That’s a complicated question to ask someone who is borderline schizophrenic with multiple personalities. I think I’ve turned out to be everything that I thought of being in my head at different stages of my life. And at some points I’ve been all the things I never wanted to be, but I never anticipated that they would exist, so I didn’t know I wouldn’t want to be them, if that makes sense. And a younger version of me could be yesterday or 20 years ago. I made a new record and didn’t tell anyone I was doing it, didn’t tell a record label, and then I said, ‘Surprise, here you go.’ That’s the ornery version of me that I’ve always been. When I was a kid, I would wear Halloween costumes on the wrong day of the year. I disregarded all the other proper holidays, and still do. So I’ve always been ignoring calendars, and time, and clocks. 

When was the last time you cried?

Marilyn Manson: Tonight, on stage. I played this song, ‘Coma White’, and I dedicated it to my cat, Lily White. I was standing with my back to the crowd.

Do you plan on voting in the next presidential election?

Marilyn Manson: No. I voted in the last one. This one I’m standing out of. I don’t really have an opinion. I could have lots of opinions, but I just chose to stay out of this one.

What was the last thing that shocked you?

Marilyn Manson: I get to meet a lot of people every day because I do these signings. I get shocked by every single person I meet. No one’s stabbed me or shot me or anything like that, but I’m always shocked at how affected people are by the things that I’ve made and how much it means to them. It has never really worn off, I’ve never become jaded by it. It just makes me surprised, I suppose, that the only way I can connect with people is from a distance, through art. I guess that’s because of my shyness.

What’s a really good present you’ve received?

Marilyn Manson: I think I have to say it, because it will enhance this to namedrop my best friend, but Johnny Depp gave me his Hollywood Vampires (Depp’s band with Joe Perry and Alice Cooper) ring, in a romantic manner. Well, not in a romantic manner, but it was romantic that he gave it to me.

Do you have a type when it comes to women?

Marilyn Manson: Nice ones. I’ve avoided that – unintentionally – in the past. Not naming anyone and saying that they were mean, but I think I’ve been described as flypaper for crazy women. It is hard to take on that role when I’m so unreasonably unusual to handle. I guess I’m a wildcat. I find myself wanting to locate a girl who is truly nice, and understands both Brian and Marilyn Manson. It’s person and persona, it’s all of it, it’s a handful. So, someone who is nice enough and kind enough to deal with that. I’m not sure if they make that sort of person. I’ll let you know if I find out.

“I find myself wanting to locate a girl who is truly nice, and understands both Brian and Marilyn Manson. It’s person and persona, it’s all of it, it’s a handful. I guess I’m a wildcat” — Marilyn Manson

What’s your favourite part of the Bible?

Marilyn Manson: Revelations.

Do you want to apologise to anybody? 

Marilyn Manson: I try to fix problems and not make new ones. And I try to apologise like a gentleman, even though I’m a scoundrel and a villain and everything else people want to call me. I feel a responsibility to always make amends for mistakes. I’ve made my apologies, made my amends with enemies of the past, and made my peace with them. I’ve got a clean slate right now.

Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?

Marilyn Manson: The Rock, if it were to be an off-Broadway comedy. Or Faye Dunaway.

What is the perfect first date with Marilyn Manson?

Marilyn Manson: I don’t really like to share any sort of conversation or intimate moments around strangers in a public environment, so I would say my house. Also, that makes it convenient in the event that the date goes south and I have to kill the person. There would be no evidence, no witnesses. I have an incinerator in my back yard.

It’s also convenient if the date goes well, I’m assuming.

Marilyn Manson: I don’t put out that easy.

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Marilyn Manson – Autumn/Winter 2016
All clothes VETEMENTSPhotography Terry Richardson, fashion Nicola Formichetti

When was the first time you felt famous?

Marilyn Manson: I think it was when John Waters called me on the phone to ask me about doing a movie, me being such a fan of his. That was some strange trickle-down effect connected to Johnny (Depp), and Cry-Baby. I never ended up getting to do the movie. But that made me feel, I wouldn’t say famous, but excited that someone who I idolised called me.

What does SAY10 sound like? 

Marilyn Manson: (Producer) Tyler Bates and I did it over the past three months, right before this tour started. It is, I would say, the last thing people would expect after hearing the previous album, The Pale Emperor. And it’s also, coming from the people who I’ve played it to, a combination of Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals in feeling. I generally take the opinion of girls over guys, because you usually make songs to make girls like you. That’s why you start a rock band. It’s inspired by all those things you do to make girls like you, all that passion and melodic pageantry, like Bowie, but also the utter disregard for rules, like Ministry and all the bands that shaped the first album I made. It wasn’t my intent to go backwards. Everything goes in a full circle and it just becomes, without cannibalising work from the past, the same thing, which is ultimately you. I’m a little over-anxious to release it, so it was done very quickly, but it is by far the most thematic and over-complicated thing that I’ve done. In a way, it’s deceptively delightful to strangers. It’s sort of like the old saying that the devil’s greatest secret is that people don’t believe he exists. 

When does it come out?

Marilyn Manson: Well, I decided on February 14. I’m not really sure what my obsession with Valentine’s Day is, because I never really enjoyed the holiday personally, but for some reason it’s always been part of the fabric of my artistic expression. Maybe someday I’ll figure it out.

“Everything goes in a full circle and it just becomes, without cannibalising work from the past, the same thing, which is ultimately you” — Marilyn Manson

This year is the 20th anniversary of Antichrist Superstar.

Marilyn Manson: Yes, we’re putting out a box set on October 20th, and it has a legendary video that I had to put into a safe for the past 15 years, for reasons that will be revealed when you watch it. I had innocently thought that it was acceptable to use it as sort of a bonus feature on my Dead to the World video for the Antichrist Superstar tour. However, the legal department and my management informed me otherwise. But now it is going to be seen by all. I won’t say anything else to spoil it, just that it captured a moment in time, after I had just moved to Los Angeles. I was living with Twiggy (Ramirez, Manson’s longtime guitarist) and I had just come off a tour where I got death threats every day. It’s an interesting portrayal of what was happening at the time, but strangely, it doesn’t seem any different than the way I behave now, except that I’m wearing a cowboy hat. That’s about it.

Hair (Marilyn Manson) Liz Martin, hair (additional talent) Peter Butler at Tracey Mattingly, make-up Kanako Takase at Tim Howard Management using M.A.C, talent (in print edition) Marilyn Manson, Teale Coco, Really Doe Dusty, Hirakish, Ian Isiah, Trassh Anime Girl IRL, Ladyfag, Casey Spooner, Scotty ‘Sussi’ Susman, photographic assistant Evan Schafer, fashion assistants Savage, Miguel Sanchez, Marta Del Rio, additional talent hair assistant Michelle DeMartino, make-up assistants Kuma, Kento Utsubo, production Julia Reis at Art Partner, special thanks Ludlow Studios LES