Monday, July 14, 2003
It is a good time to be Marilyn Manson. You might think being relegated from cavernous arena shows to more intimate 2,500-seaters might have left him feeling a little deflated, but the provocateur is feeling more empowered than ever at this stage in his decade-long career.
Manson played to a standing, sold-out show at the Orpheum Theatre Friday night, with the customary legion of goth kids and look-alikes doing their best to make it a freak show. They couldn't out-Manson the master, however, because by the time he appeared in dark silhouette like a stick-figure Nosferatu, the audience became a sea of fist-pumping worshippers ready for the kind of dark spectacle that only Manson could provide.
His bag of tricks for the Golden Age of Grotesque tour -- a tribute to 1930s era German cabaret art -- includes Nazi propaganda-inspired symbols, uniforms and surreal pulpit; two female back-up dancers in hideous face-paint, garter belts, thongs and military uniforms; Manson in black face and Mickey Mouse ears; and a monolithic, inflated version of Manson's head a là Mickey, looming horribly over the stage like Big Brother gone big Mouskateer.
He had a point to be made, and he's not one to hold back. When Manson rose up behind his pulpit and launched into It's A Small World, you couldn't help but laugh. And when one of his female dancers lay down and spread her legs wide so that a grinning Manson could pat her crotch while singing, "Sweet dreams are made of these," the effect was less offensive than a coolly sardonic comment on our confused sexual mores.
Among the new material, including the great cheerleading rally cry that is the infectious Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz-Ziggety-Zag, Manson served up popular older fare, like the Dope Show, the Fight Song, Beautiful People, Rock Is Dead and Disposable Teens. With the help of his band of bleached-blonde zombie-SS monster types, Manson beat our ear drums with one seamless, shrieking set-list that only ceased when he stopped to speak-preach.
"It ultimately is meant to be entertaining," said Manson hours later. "A lot of people forgot to keep art an important part of entertainment. And I found that for a long time that I didn't think the two belonged together, but entertaining people is an art form in itself.
"I think it is really important for the show to really thrust extremes of chaos and order, you know. Whenever you make a fetish or a satire out of any political or religious symbolism, I think it robs it of its original identity and becomes something else. So to me, if people are affected by something, whether it be Mickey Mouse or something that might look fascist to people, it's really meant to evoke something as art, and to be a question mark, not the answer."
After the near two-hour show, Manson, seated in his dressing room, is a far cry from the shrieking, spitting rock 'n' roll fascist of his onstage persona. In person, the 34-year-old is polite, and he speaks softly, even a little formally.
The offstage Manson does not let the persona slip much. Up close, he looks like a boyish cross dresser. He has flawless skin, and he wears a lovely shade of magenta lipstick, eyeliner and, in his left eye, his creepy white contact lens with the pinhole centre. His forearms are emblazoned with ornate gothic tattoos, and he wears a grey poor boy cap.
"When I was a kid, you had to drag me to a museum to see art. I look at it in a different way... to me my life is my art. There is no difference in who I am, because Marilyn Manson to me is defined by my imagination. It doesn't matter what I am wearing or where I am. Obviously I am different offstage than I am onstage."
He apologizes for the long delay between his show and our interview. I find out later that Manson needed a post-show shower and massage, and judging from the hamburger-bacon pizzas that were hastened past us into his dressing room, fast food, too. As his 300-pound (an estimate) bald-headed bodyguard assistant hovers nearby, Manson considers his newfound acceptance as one of the most powerful social commentators of our time. It isn't Manson who's changed, but rather the general public's perception of him. Since his interview with Michael Moore in Moore's Bowling for Columbine documentary, Manson has come to be seen as an articulate, insightful and purposeful artist, as opposed to the vapid, shock-seeking satanist of yore. His pointed comments in the film on the state of American culture stole Moore's show, and for the first time in his controversial career, Manson is less the gratuitous shocker than the voice of a reasonable liberal.
"It was a strange part of timing, building up to where I am right now because I had fought for many years to have my opinion heard, and to be allowed to be myself," he says. "And a lot of people tried to stop me, to destroy that. And I think in some ways that movie and what I said was symbolic. If this were to were to be made into a fairytale of some sort, from that moment, a lot of people looked at me in a different way. I don't think they understood me more, but they started to figure out where I belonged in the world and it was important in a lot of ways for people who don't listen to the type of music I make to hear my opinion or my aesthetic."
Of course, not everybody has caught up with this new thinking. First there was recent opposition by Italian officials when he played Milan, and now Manson is banned from an upcoming New York Ozzfest stop. Manson seems flattered by the shutout, as if it affirms his status as a maker of "dangerous art."
"It was odd to see that I still am censored or banned from playing cities when you can open up Time magazine or turn on the news and see things that are much more offensive," considers Manson. "It is very strange that something that I pull from my imagination can be more offensive than reality."
At one point in the show, he incites his audience to chant and pummel the air in the way of those faceless masses of the Nazi propaganda films. When he does his Mickey Mouse segment, he is flanked by two large panels of Mickey photos by Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein, whose photo collaboration works with Manson are currently exhibited in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame museum. The works include a photo of a Nazi-ish looking Manson clutching a gun while a beautiful little girl looks on.
"The only way you can be patriotic and be an artist is to make sure democracy is functioning," says Manson.
"The fact that people stop you from doing shows or stop records from being released, it proves the idea that art is bigger than politics and religion."
I ask him about country singers the Dixie Chicks, who faced huge backlash following their public comment they were ashamed U.S. President George Bush is also a Texan.
"That is an odd situation," he responds, after a long pause. "Whenever things like that happen, it is always hard for me to reconcile it because I have to remember that I am so different from other people. If I were to have said something like that, I don't think that it would have mattered," he says, pausing again. "I felt bad for them in some strange way. But in other ways, they put themselves into a genre that just defined itself in how limiting it is.
"I've always felt that if I assumed the role of a villain, and started at the bottom, then nobody could push me down any further. I would have only upwards to go."
And upwards he goes. The Michael Moore film, he says, was also the impetus for the Golden Age of the Grotesque album. Manson's new album debuted at No. 1, but he is ambitious with a multi-media goal that goes much further. He is a watercolour painter in his own right, he has been collaborating on art with Helnwein since 2002 and he also has film scores in the works.
"I didn't want to create just an album, I wanted to create an era of expressionism, where I could put my imagination to a painting, to something I say in a movie, to performance and to an album, and it would be all of that. Each one would give different people an understanding of something, and I don't think I can any longer be misunderstood."
Not an easy task for a taboo-breaking artist as outrageous as Manson. The degrading sexual lyrics of his new song, Slutgarden, has led some critics to accuse Manson of misogyny.
"I am, strangely, a gentleman in a lot of ways," he responds. "I am very conservative, and I treat girls very well. And I have had a great relationship for the past three years [with burlesque artist Dita Von Teese]. I have two dogs that are women and a girl cat as well, so I am surrounded by women all the time. But I think I say things that a lot of other people say in songs in a different way that may come across as misogynistic, but it is not really meant to be. It is just more rudely honest or just more raw.
"Songs like Slutgarden could very easily be directed towards a man, and I think it is just instantly perceived that I am talking about a woman, although I am talking about a relationship experience that I had. I may have a bitterness towards people I have met and experienced things with, but I am not jaded where I feel that is how everyone is. This record is very much about relationships. It has more of a male opinion, but it definitely looks at both, because I don't consider myself to be a normal man as far as the way I live my life."