MMPublication: Revolver Magazine
Date Published: Winter, 2000
Journalist: Christopher Scapelliti
Article Photography: Perou
Country: USA

Crucified and left for dead by the guardians of American Morality, Marilyn Manson resurrects himself in surprising fashion.

He's even thinner than I expected, and shy as a schoolgirl. That's the shock of it - the self-proclaimed God Of Fuck averting his gaze, directing responses into the room's furthest corner, now and then regarding me with the damp, wary glance of a cornered animal. He may be known to all the world as the Antichrist Superstar, but on this day, Marilyn Manson is behaving very much like a man of flesh and blood. His voice, far from being Satanic, is so gentle that it can barely be heard over the leaves rustling outside his window.

"The biggest misconception about me," Manson murmurs in his slight, southern Ohio drawl, "is that I'm contributing to the fall of the youth of America - or of the world. I really care and relate to the youth, because I still feel the way I did when I was growing up. When you become an adult, you're told to put away your dreams and become responsible. Get a job and become jaded. But I'm like Peter Pan - I have the imagination I had as a child."
It's an apt comparison: Marilyn Manson as the boy who refused to grow up, a 31-year-old prankster with a fondness for poking society in its rawest nerves.
And yet, since emerging from obscurity in 1994, Manson has been the embodiment of what many Americans call simply evil. His songs mock traditional values and the influence of religion. His actions have been calculated for shock value, from the broad quazi-Nazi burlesque that graced the Antichrist Superstar tour to the thin plastic contact lens that makes his left eye a gasp-inducing shade of acid blue. Even in his most impulsive acts - spontaneously fellating Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, slicing open his chest with a broken beer bottle in response to a heckler's taunts, and so on - Manson seems programmed to horrify and repel. Small wonder Joe Liberman, in his pre-vice presidential days, denounced Manson and his band as "perhaps the sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company." Manson's exploits may be the acts of a responsibility-challenged man, but they're hardly the stuff of a perennial adolescent. Manson, however, has always defined things on his own terms. Now, as he prepares to re-enter the public arena with his new album, Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death), he has greater reason than ever to cast himself in a more virtuous light. In the past, he says, his rants against conservative values have been motivated by a compulsion to "take everything that society doesn't accept and just shove it in its face." With Holy Wood, however, Manson for once has something at stake - quite possibly his soul. On April 20, 1999, teenage outcasts Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, killing 15 of their fellow students and wounding many others before taking their own lives. Evidence uncovered in the subsequent investigation revealed that the young gunmen had been Manson fans and that his music may have influenced their actions. For five years prior to the shooting, Manson's detractors had been charging that he was actively trying to undermine the moral values of his teenage fans. Now, tragically, they had something on him they never could have anticipated: a body count.
"After Columbine, I felt sorry for everyone involved, on both sides of the incident," Manson says solemnly. "But when Americans want to pick out the reason teens are killing each other, they miss the simplest point - that they've created rage in this culture, a feeling that you're never good enough to meet the standards. You've got to have the right clothes, the right car, the right toothpaste, the right beliefs and attitudes. You're being sold fear. And after Columbine, when they were selling fear, they wanted to use me as part of their marketing plan. And I wouldn't let 'em."
Rather than take on his attackers, Manson retreated to his West Hollywood home, where he bagn crafting his reply in the form of Holy Wood. As rebuttals go, it's a mess, the kind of concept-driven rock opera that can only be understood with the help of copious liner notes. The record succeeds much better on a musical level, with its swaggering rhythms, barbed guitar tones, and, through it all, Manson's guttural vocals, croaking with melodious indignation.
Set in a fictitious land called Holy Wood, the album follows the exploits of Adam Kadmon, a misfit desperate to belong to a society he mistakenly believes is perfect. Sacrificing his individuality, he finds acceptance in this would-be utopia, only to discover a culture of degradation, where the rich get high on violence, children are regarded as disposable entertainment, and the poor are cast into the ghetto of Death Valley. Idealistic to the core, Adam launches a revolution to save the children and show society the error of its ways. But the populace, long ago lulled into complacency, regards his rebellion as little more than a pleasant distraction, an entertainment to be doled out like so many hits of Ecstasy.
Nakedly autobiographical and magnificently self-righteous, Holy Wood is also an indictment of and a commentary on violence in America. A year before the album's release, Manson promised it would be his most violent and offensive record yet. Which leads to the obvious question: isn't he just asking for more trouble?
He shakes his head.
"When I said those things, I really meant that violence is the album's main subject matter. I'm just looking at the problem of violence in America and saying, if you want to find something to blame, it's all of us."

As concept albums go, Holy Wood is as heavy as they come. Consider first its title, an arcane reference to both the crucifix - an icon of faith - and the tree of knowledge from which Eve plucked her edifying apple.
"It makes me think about how mankind has achieved so much knowledge and yet hasn't gone anywhere," says Manson. (After weighing the album's themes of violence and religion, I wonder aloud if "Holy Wood" refers to the American public's hard-on for guns and god. "I didn't think of it that way," says Manson. Now I feel like I have the dirty mind.)
Then there is the matter of Holy Wood's genealogy. According to Manson, the new album, together with his two previous albums, Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals, forms a trilogy, albeit a trilogy told in reverse order. Placed in proper sequence, they tell of Adam's failed revolution in that land of Holy Wood, his vilification as the source of society's evils (via Mechanical Animals), and his subsequent purging of insecurity and guilt to become the Antichrist Superstar, a self-reflecting god and ruler of his own destiny. "Antichrist Superstar was my prediction of what I would become," says Manson.
"It became a story I had to live. And I did."
With Mechanical Animals, Manson was either remarkably clairvoyant or just a good guesser.
"I was projecting what I knew people were going to try and turn me into: The reason why society is sick."
Now, with Holy Wood, Manson takes everything America holds as righteous and places himself within it.
"For example, I've decided that, rather than not believing the story of Christ, now I can say I'm the same thing as Christ. Because in the end, the characters of Marilyn Manson or Christ - or Lucifer, for that matter - all end up being the same. We each represent something that America wants, and maybe needs, in order to keep itself going."
Which is all simply to say Holy Wood is the religiously offensive manifesto Manson promised. But his comparisons are intended just to offend, nor are they made merely for vanity's sake. Look beyond Holy Wood's details and you'll find the story of Jesus Christ. Look deeper, says Marilyn Manson, and you can see another story, this one closer to home.
"I started out in this world," he says, "being very idealistic and naive by thinking I could fit in."
The only child of a couple in the middle-class suburb of Canton, Ohio, Brian Warner gulped his first breath on January 5, 1969. Two events that transpired within the first 10 years of his life stand out for their developmental significance. The first occurred when he discovered his Grandpa Joe's predilection for transvestitism and homoerotic porn, fetishes that were closeted behind a Norman Rockwell-style family life. The second event played out on an almost daily basis at Heritage Christian School, a non-denominational religious school where, thanks to his less-than exemplary behavior, Warner was held up to his classmates as a living example of the Devil's handiwork.
"I always had the desire to entertain people," Manson says with a grin, "whether it was to make 'em laugh or to scare 'em or, you know, just to stir things up just to cause problems."


By his early teens, he had given up trying to fit in with everyone else. As it happened, greater things were in store for him as an outside agitator.
"Everybody feels like their childhood is bad," says Manson, "and I've always said my childhood was no worse than anyone else's. I just happened to take inspiration from it."
But a funny thing happened on the way to fame and glory. Manson, like his Holy Wood character, learned that rebellion scattered the seeds of its own discontent. In short, the more offensive his behavior, the easier it became for moral leaders to demonize him and sell his message back to the public as justification for their own sometimes extreme actions.
"Back when I started performing," says Manson, "I thought, just like anyone who starts a revolution, that I could change things. What I learned was that my revolution has become another product. It's not gonna change the world. It's just gonna be another thing the world exploits for its own purposes."
Which brings us to the matter at Holy Wood's heart: simply that Marilyn Manson won't be a shill for any man's moral crusade, much less a scapegoat for the violent eruption at Columbine. Although the episode isn't reference in the new record, it broods like a restless spirit over the proceedings. It's there in Holy Wood's pivotal countercharge: that the culture of Christian America - not entertainment, not Manson - is responsible for the episdemic violence spreading across the country's youth.
"People want to blame the entertainment media for violence in our society," he says.
"But entertainment didn't inspire the violence that put Christ on the cross. In fact, that image of him on the cross is probably the most important element of all entertainment, because it represents sexuality and despair and violence, all in one.
What's really ironic is that the crucifix is phallic. People are made to feel so guilty about having human feelings, but then they're supposed to pray to this phallic symbol with a half-naked rock star on it. It creates so much conflict in them, so much rage. In the end, they grow up feeling that it's wrong for them to follow their desires. And I'm saying if you don't find a place to focus that, then something bad is going to happen."
And Manson can't resist giving the matter final twist.
"When someone says 'Marilyn Manson inspires bad things to happen,' I can easily say, 'Well I'm inspired by reading The Bible and watching the news. So if that's your world that I grew up in, and if I'm affecting your kids, then ultimately you affected me first. So you have to point your finger back at yourself.'"

In the three months following the Columbine shootings, Manson slowly worked Holy Wood into shape, first as a book (due out in early 2001) and then as an album, which was the distillation of an enormous body of work.
"We must have written a hundred pieces of music and worked maybe 25 or 30 of them into songs."
Manson also recalls the songwriting sessions with his guitarist John Five [sic] as some of them most focused of his career.
"There was rarely an occasion where we didn't complete our ideas before bringing a song to the band. And when we did present the material, everybody was really into what we were trying to create."
Somewhat less stringent guidelines were followed for the songs Manson co-wrote with Twiggy Ramirez, his longtime guitarist and accomplice in illicit extracurricular activities. During the making of Holy Wood, the duo freely binged on absinthe, the potent, licorice-flavored green liqueur favored and romanticized by early 20th century artists and made illegal in this and most Western countries nearly a century ago. "It's a strange thing," Manson says of absinthe, "because you can drink it and stay very coherent, even though you're drunk. But in the morning, you don't remember anything you did. And sometimes that's an interesting way to work, but not all the time. I think it's the only thing I've discovered through all of my experimentation that actually opened up my subconscious for the good."
For all Holy Wood's well-tempered melodies and drunken pandemonium, what comes across loudest on the album is not the music but the sense of injury expressed in Manson's lyrics. Like Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon's bare-boned solo debut, Holy Wood screams with a primal fury that's evident even in its quietest moments. "Some of the heavier songs on this record don't even have guitar on them," Manson points out. "They're just heavier in nature, in the things that they're saying. The thing is, it was really hard for me to want to make a heavy-sounding album when so many other bands are doing it. I had to sit back and think whether I was becoming too jaded or cynical or old because I didn't like heavy music anymore. But that's the direction music has gone in. And it's my nature to always go against the grain."

That's a judgement even Manson's harshest critics will agree with. As he and his band head out this fall on their 'Guns, God, And Government' tour, he is aware that the American landscape has changed since his last time on the road. As this year's presidential campaign has shown, America's moral reform movement has become a more organized and professional force, one capable of placing its agenda on the campaign platform of even liberal Democrats. For the first time since the advent of Marilyn Manson, his foes possess the offensive advantage: not only do they have support in sheer numbers but they have the ears of politicians in the country's highest offices. Manson, as always, remains a target within their sites. And he has already prepared his defense.
"I don't think I'm saying anything with this album that people don't already know," he explains wearily, as if for the millionth time.
"I'm just trying to say it in a way that makes them think about it. The problem is that some people don't hear what I'm saying, not because they can't handle the truth but because they're being told - by presidential candidates, by the religious right, or whoever - that they can't handle the truth. And they will instantly see me as the problem, when I'm..." - here he laughs with bitter frustration - "trying to create a solution. So, you know, some people won't understand this record. And I don't think I want 'em to. I do what I do for the people who have their minds cracked open just a little bit. I'm not trying to give anyone the answer. I'm just trying to make them want an answer." And when they do, he will, undoubtedly, be glad to point them in the right direction.
But that day seems far away, even to him. For now, he is off and on his way, out into the Valley of Death and the shotgun blasted landscape of America, this Marilyn Manson, avenging angel of teenage misfits everywhere, an absinthe besotted Peter Pan, or maybe just a little boy lost in a big man's shirt. Catch him while you still can.