Marilyn Manson on post-Columbine death threats and Hunter S. Thompson being the worst possible father figure in the best way
Marilyn Manson, even more than one of his inspirations, Alice Cooper, has become a lightning rod of controversy for his provocative lyrics and visual style. The guy had an album called Antichrist Superstar, after all, and he's been fairly open about his drug use, what more conservative members of society might call deviant sexual behavior, and his unapologetic in his critique of what really is sick in our culture. He has also put on some of the most entertaining live shows of anyone in the history of popular music.
Manson's candid autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, laid out a life spent trying to experience new things and to come to terms with, to put it mildly, a less than ideal upbringing and how it has affected his adult life. In 1999, Manson was scapegoated in the press as someone whose music inspired the Columbine massacre. In a famous scene out of Bowling For Columbine, Manson compassionately and eloquently spoke to the situation at hand.
This year, Manson released his latest album, Born Villain, a title that resonates with Milton's depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost and Shakespeare's Richard III. We recently had a chance to talk with the always sharp, knowledgeable, witty and cordial Manson about his long-lingering guilt regarding Columbine, his relationship with drugs, his friendships with Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp and Alejandro Jodorowsky and how he has come to embrace living alone as healthy for his creativity.
Westword: How do you feel about coming back to Denver this time around, and what kind of show will it be?
Marilyn Manson: Obviously, Denver has been a place for me that has changed since Columbine. Then also since [my late friend] Hunter S. Thompson's death. When I did that interview for Bowling For Columbine, some people don't realize it was two hours before I was to go on stage, and there were so many death threats.
I had pretty much everyone in my family and my friends tell me, "Just don't go on stage because it's Mile High Stadium. Someone could just take you out." There was not a whole lot that the thirty plain clothed police that escorted me to the stage could do about it. It was a matter of me realizing that I can't live without doing this. I didn't do anything to these people, and I think I need go here, and I need to, you know, be myself, stand up for myself and do what I like to do.
After that night happened, I felt that was behind me. It will always be a part of me, but one of the only reasons people don't mention my name in association with Columbine anymore is that Marilyn Manson, the name, was trademarked when I first started out and every press agency was told they weren't allowed to use my name in association with the incident without my permission. That was one of the only reasons why. I know there were a lot of local Denver reporters that didn't make the national press, as most circumstances in life, showing how it's propaganda or whatever it is.
I'm glad to be coming back there. I think now I can come there without any awkward, strange feeling of confused guilt or something because no matter what, people will always still look at me as though I had something to do with something. What's always made me confused in some ways is that people think my music causes other to do things. Why aren't they worried about what I will do? Shouldn't I be the person of concern.
Of course I cringed when the Batman movie thing [happened]. I like to call the guy "the seat clearer" because it's hard to get tickets on opening night. But I had nothing to do with that, but it did affect me, though, because I did the video for "Slow Motion." I'd already shot most of the video for "Slo-Mo-Tion." If you've seen it, you'll understand what I'm talking about. It's the band. The song itself is about popular culture and about how, "Don't worry, we'll blur it out in post and everything is fine. This is my show and everything is shot in slow motion."
I had an idea for a video, and I had to write a song to go with it and the song was about people stepping on each other to be famous and a camera man having a gun instead of a camera. What was in my mind was that I needed to somehow form the song into what the video came out being. But it was strange the way I went backward in my creative process in that circumstance. So yeah, to answer the question, it's a strange time, I think in a good way. Strange is good. It's better than boring or awful.
My show, without describing it, because I feel like when you see the "making of" before you see the movie, or if you have your hand over someone's mouth, and you're telling them what terrible things you're going to do to them. Spoiler alert -- the show is greatly, politically, in a sense, inspired by the films 1984 and Blade Runner.
And of course you're going to be dealing with, I suppose "theaterical" is the word would be, how people describe Rob Zombie's show and how people may describe my show. I've created a circumstance, a setting, a look that's carefully provided for the three parts of my show. I always like to think of it as being three acts, like a play.
The "villain," of course, is the catalyst that, in Act III, when it rains, he's the one that causes the change. He walks out alive, but he breaks the rules to cash in. [Because of] his own personal code, the anti-hero, he will do something that no one else has the balls to do. So that's why Born Villain suited me so well for a title for the record.
In one case, it could be about growing up in a Christian school and nature versus nurture and when you're told you're born a sinner already. What's the point? Your dick doesn't even work, and you're being accused of using it improperly. Which is unfair. Granted, you are coming out of someone's vagina. So in that sense, I guess, whoever wrote the Bible did have a point if they were making a stand-up comedy joke.
I've wanted to do a show that says something in the way that I was inspired to say something. That's how this record started. I felt like I was in a place and in a relationship that was destructive for myself to be in. People question [me] about when I was with Evan Rachel Wood. I don't blame her or the relationship. I blame myself for allowing circumstance to affect my enjoyment of life.
So I decided to live alone for the first time. That may seem simple for some people. I moved out of my parents' home and went on tour where I lived with Twiggy [Ramirez], pretty much for most of that time, until I got into a series of three different engagements. So I had never really lived alone. I didn't know what it was like. It was very liberating to move into a place with just white walls and black carpet.
I put everything I own into storage except for books, movies, my paints, my guitar, microphones, my cameras and my cat. And I just put myself in a position where it's like being in an apocalyptic zombie sort of film. When I say "zombie," let me clarify by saying I don't mean Rob Zombie. It's a situation where the world outside is ending, and you're stuck in a room, and this is all you've got to deal with. Do you want to fight? Do you want to create? What do you want to do?
I think it's like if you broke it down, I like to use the metaphor of a pencil and a piece of paper: Because a pencil you can use as a weapon, which even goes along with the "pen is mightier than the sword," bullshit quote, but a pencil is better because a pencil, if you don't have anything to sharpen anything with you, you better make sure that if you're going to stab someone that you do it before it's dull.
Or if you're going to write something, that you write something that can be written before you run out of the lead. So you have a piece a paper, and you decide what you're going to do with it? Do you eat it? Do you wipe your ass with it? Do you write poem? Do you draw a picture? Do you write a song? Do you write your will? A love letter? What do you really do?
That was the metaphor and the philosophy I had, after living alone, about life in general, about: I'm going to make decisions on who I spend my time with. Whatever reasons humans do to fuck up relationships, whether that be we're desperate and needy because we weren't hugged enough as a kid and we don't feel secure about yourselves, or we feel like having this person will make us feel whole.
I've always made the error of thinking, "Oh, here's someone I can relate to because they have some sort of damaged past. Maybe if I try to fix them, that'll fix me. Not saying that actually in my head. But looking back without the help of some psychiatrist or some idiot that has a piece of paper in a frame on a wall and thinks they can define my life, or that type of situation, I was able to look back and realized that wasn't going to work.
And it didn't work. So I had to pretty much put my big boy pants on, pull my boots on, and I had to take charge. And it wasn't just creatively. It wasn't ever a creative problem. I was realizing I was not in control of my life. That's the thing that scares us all the most. That's terrible. You make choices based on finance or convenience or the lesser of two evils. That's not the way to live life. So I put everything I owned into storage that influenced me, and I lived at home myself.
I did not make myself a recluse either. I even got to meet a lot of great people and most of them became really good friends of mine, you know? I got to work with different people, like Shia LeBeouf. I didn't become that close to him, but through him, I met my friend Cage, who is a rapper who acted in Shia's other film Maniac that came out before. He and I became very close. It sounded like I was going to sing "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" by Alice Cooper: "I made friends with a lot of people."
I've been friends with Johnny Depp for a long time. I'm not even shitting you when I say this, I was an extra on 21 Jump Street when I was nineteen. I was a journalist, and I was sent there to do an interview with Johnny, which I couldn't actually get to happen, so I made it up based on quotes from other interviews. Then we reconnected, I don't know, when I was making Holy Wood, around then. I got a phone call about three in the morning saying, "Manson, you've got to come down to the Viper Room. Someone wants to meet you."