I discovered Marilyn Manson last year via the Seattle Public Library. Because I was dirt poor at the time, I was relying on the library's surprisingly broad catalog for entertainment--and consequently exploring all sorts of media I wouldn't have normally sought out if they weren't on loan. After accidentally (and pleasurably) stumbling upon books by Neal Pollack, songs by Clem Snide, and films by Hal Hartley, I figured it might be worthwhile to check out this Antichrist Superstar cat.
I didn't know much about him, other than the fact he had sex with foxy, dangerous girls like Rose McGowan and that the hipster party line was to dismiss him as Trent Reznor's lapdog or an Alice Cooper rip-off. I also vaguely recalled feeling relieved watching him perform on the MTV Video Music Awards a few years prior. The seizure-inducing sounds of the Backstreet Boys were everywhere, as was the duplicitous, saccharine sexuality of Britney Spears and brain-numbing misogyny of Fred Durst, so when I saw Mr. Manson dripping with transsexual glamour in a silver, ass-less bodysuit while an exploding neon sign spelled out "DRUGS" behind him, I felt comforted. "At least someone is still telling kids to screw with conventional gender roles and get high," I thought, "maybe there is still good in the world."
Little did I know how right I was. When my librarian handed me a copy of God Is in the T.V. , a collection of Manson's first dozen videos, she inadvertently launched an obsession on par with my initial discovery of heavy metal. Back in 1982, when my neighbor bought a copy of Mötley Crüe's Too Fast for Love, I and the block's other budding rockers immediately began playing the damn thing with such frequency I'd start to twitch if I hadn't heard "Live Wire" by noon each day. And after watching Marilyn prance around in ostrich feathers screaming "Rock Is Dead" and posing luridly with his dick tucked between his legs, shrieking about forging the "Long Hard Road out of Hell," I was hooked in the exact same way.
From a purely musical standpoint, it's not surprising he pushed all my buttons. The melodic chunkiness of (now departed) Twiggy Ramirez's bass lines took me straight back to the authoritative throb of Cliff Burton on Metallica's Ride the Lightning; Manson's lyrics about gleeful drug use and depraved sexual antics sounded like what Axl Rose wishes he could have written after Appetite for Destruction, and of course there was all the aesthetic gender-bending that makes a perverted feminist like myself feel so at home.
Luckily, the library carries his entire back catalog, so I didn't have to regress even further by shoplifting my copies of Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood. However, I did have to say to my indie and punk-loving friends, "Sure, I'll burn the new Hot Snakes record for you, but do you know anyone at Interscope who can hook me up with a copy of The Golden Age of Grotesque?" (Manson's latest release), or even more awkwardly, explaining to my coworker, "Yes, that is a Marilyn Manson action figure on my desk." I'm not really ashamed, per se, but I know my fandom ain't particularly cool--or common, for that matter. It's safe to say that I'm the only person in my peer group who became distraught upon finding out Ozzfest and Spoon were scheduled for the same night.
So one year later, I found myself sitting in the New York apartment of Spin writer Chuck Klosterman, attempting to unearth why I had such an immediate and visceral response to Manson (it should be noted that this was a "safe space"--Klosterman had just showed me his gold-plated reissue of L.A. Guns' Cocked & Loaded and Ratt was playing very loudly). We turned that question over for hours, but it wasn't until the plane ride home that it finally dawned on me: Manson was the perfect bridge between my teenage metal days and my adult gravitation toward more cerebral, progressive, and socially conscious artists.
The thick, clanging guitars and disturbing, violent imagery in Manson's songs are highly reminiscent of the best moments of early Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but Manson's articulate, self-aware stance on sexual politics, naturally Nietzschean posture, and collaborative endeavors with subversive artists like filmmaker Gasper Noe and painter Gottfried Helnwein (with whom he designed the set pieces for this tour) make him much better company for Gore Vidal than Rikki Rachtman. Manson might have played that Mötley Crüe record as much as I did, but he chose hard rock as his medium because he knew it was the most dramatic way to communicate thoughtfully to a wide, youthful audience. He hasn't compromised his love of dirty decadence for his intellect, and both components rest comfortably in his persona and show brightly in his work. And although I was downright heartbroken that I couldn't interview him in time for this piece, I'm excited for this Saturday's show as only a teenage rocker could be.