by Drew Ailes
[Editor's note: Space constraints kept the prose version of our interview with Marilyn Manson out of the print edition, but here you can read the stuff that was left on the cutting room floor. Point your mouse here for the Q & A version in the paper this week.]
Once, there was a subculture of people with shaved parts of their head and brightly-dyed dreadlocks. They casually wore bondage gear and did drugs most people couldn't find. They were true freaks of a different sort - 1990s industrial cybergoths, or whatever the fuck you want to call them. Some of them were even kind of hot.
As with most subcultures in this country, music was an integral part of the culture. Nine Inch Nails, My Life With Thrill Kill Cult, Wumpscut, Velvet Acid Christ, KMFDM, Lords of Acid, shit like that. Some of it was great, some of it was horrible. But the artist that brought it all to the forefront was undeniably one person: Marilyn Manson.
Myself, I was big into Nine Inch Nails but never got into Marilyn Manson. Marilyn Manson was for the screwed-up, sexually active kids wearing black and white striped arm-warmers, chugging jolt cola and trying to score pot. Being a repressed young man, it was simply too odd for me and the sexual aspects of the band's image freaked me out. I remember listening to the Smells Like Children EP and being spooked out by all the noises. So I did what a lot of sexually intimidated losers did: I got into thrash and death metal.
In 1998, I found myself going to see Ozzfest with my father, my friend Alex, and my friend Andy. I saw Black Sabbath and Pantera. I saw Neurosis. I saw Type O Negative and met a fat guy covered in flour who had just had his nipples pierced. When I ran into him the second time, he was missing the piercings and had some blood in place.
I also saw Marilyn Manson. He was in a giant one of those pop-up boxes, the kind you turn the crank and it plays "Pop Goes the Weasel." I don't remember much about the performance other than that I was interested and Dimebag Darrell from Pantera came out on stage and chugged whiskey. Dimebag Darrell died. Andy went into the army. Alex went to college and started working for the government. My father stayed my father and still has the Ozzfest '98 t-shirt.
And I always remained slightly interested in Marilyn Manson. Needless to say, when I was presented the opportunity to interview the guy, I immediately agreed. Who the fuck wouldn't want to interview Marilyn Manson? Nevermind the fact that I didn't know a great deal about him, hadn't listened to any of his records in ten years, and hadn't interviewed someone in four years. I was going to interview Marilyn Manson for his upcoming tour with his idol, Alice Cooper.
I went home from my job where I was rearranging jumpers on motion sensor motherboards and started researching one of the most controversial figures in rock music in the last thirty years. I listened to his latest album, Born Villain. Dark, moody rock with "creepy" production shit laid underneath every track. "Good," I thought, "seems like not much has changed."
I took to the internet, soliciting questions as to what to talk to him about. The replies were varied:
"Ask him if he was really Paul from The Wonder Years." "Ask him about his paintings." "Ask him if he knows he's irrelevant." "Just blame him for Newton and the Boston Marathon a bunch."
Realizing that I would find no true Marilyn Manson fans amongst my friends and associates, I ventured into the darkest point of the internet. The Marilyn Mansion wiki site, http://www.mansonwiki.com, a regularly updated site which has chronicled every interview with the pasty-faced dude.
And I sat, neglecting my entire life, reading early interviews with Marilyn Manson back in his days of terrorizing Fort Lauderdale performing as Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids. I learned we already had something in common - Marilyn Manson and I have both formed bands around the Steve Albini project, Big Black. I learned he always had a desire to become famous and influential. I read about how he liked drugs. I watched the band being interviewed on Headbanger's Ball, pissing off Riki Rachtman. They were sullen, genuinely weird, and seemingly uncaring that they were on MTV.
I kept reading.
After being taken under the wing of Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson kind of conquered the world. He took the disturbing imagery and catchiness of Nine Inch Nails and honed it by using the persona of a genderless Satanist. He was a living demon to conservative households everywhere and a hero to every meek, pasty-skinned, kid wearing black.
Then on April 20th, 1999. Two meek, pasty-skinned kids wearing black stormed their high school and started killing people. Marilyn Manson was blamed and it fucked him up. He became the most hated performer on the planet.
The story continues in great detail, but more or less, despite all of his posturing and bold statements on society, it is hard to be hated by everyone. He put out a few more records that kept him on the radio and eventually retreated into a dark depression. When he came out, he put out more records. But people hadn't seemed to care in the same way.
The whole industrial scene had also changed and still remains fairly different. Electronic music is now all pixie-cute artists like Grimes and the weird side is also accessible and comical, like Die Antwoord. Those freak kids with the dyed hair - they all grew up and got jobs fixing computers or got hooked on meth. Or maybe started wearing khakis. Or all became juggalos. Who fucking knows? But where ever they are, the stereotypical Marilyn Manson fan of yesteryear hardly exists outside of the occasional sighting at a shopping mall. Now all the kids who wear black listen to shitty metal.
I had a lot of questions for Mr. Manson prepared. Probably too many, especially after connecting with his personal assistant and realizing I would have about twenty minutes to talk to him. Before connecting with him, I quickly sorted through my notes and tried to prepare my questions about his opinion of G.G. Allin, whether he still follows Killing Joke, how he feels if he enters a room and is not the most interesting person, and so on.
Nervously, I asked him if he had been doing interviews all day. Immediately, I noticed he was probably drunk or high, something he makes no secret of. Throwing me off guard, he immediately started telling me about his day and what he was up to lately.
"I just got to make a recording session. I'm working on new material for the new record. I don't even know if I have a desire to put records out in a traditional manner anymore. I want to combine my paintings, performance, and songs. So far I've worked on different stuff with Johnny Depp, I'm working with Mr. Oizo who is also Quentin Dupieux who directed the Wrong Cops movie that just came out at Cannes, which I should be at but I couldn't go to. And I worked with Gucci Mane and this guy, Kevin McCall (K-Mac), who produced a lot of Chris Brown songs. We cut a song last night called "Beautiful Disaster," kind of really heavy, hard, gangsta rap meets Prince. I'm meeting different people, trying different things, taking myself out of my normal element."
I felt like I was getting steamrolled by this dude, getting the "alright, press guy, here are all the answers to the same questions I've been answering all day" treatment. And who could blame him. But I didn't know quite how to react, being as how I don't know shit about the Wrong Cops movie, Gucci Mane, or Kevin McCall. I tried to steer the conversation back to something more personal, asking him about a statement he made that he decided to stop writing music to make people feel a certain way and started writing music just to make people feel.
"Well, before I think I fell into a pattern on Eat Me, Drink Me, where I was writing about how I felt. Maybe I couldn't tell anybody how I felt so I had to do it through music and a lot of people liked it because of that. I think the most important thing is to write something people are going to remember. Music is the soundtrack to your life. But I can step outside myself and listen to something I've done objectively, especially now that I'm working with people that I would've never dreamed of working with."
Excited about the new work he's doing, Manson elaborated, comparing some of the new material to sounding like the first Alice Cooper record or the industrial supergroup the Revolting Cocks, featuring members of Ministry and Front 242.
"It's not like me doing what people might expect - it's not like, metal rap or anything like that. It doesn't sound like anything I've done or anything I've ever heard. I'm making some very interesting stuff that people are going to be surprised by."
In my research, it seemed obvious that Marilyn Manson may have fully explored the concept of channeling his persona to reflect the perils and ugliness of modern American society. His latest records seem less concerned with society as a whole and more personal and introspective, an approach which is carrying into his new work.
"It's still personal but different. I guess it would be more like...I wouldn't say what my first record was like, but the state of mind that I was in. Maybe it's this whole Alice Cooper thing that is definitely triggering childhood memories. I surround myself with a very different crowd of people than I have usually, lately," he says with a change of tone.
"I almost got shot in a drive by last night. So that was fun. I don't think it was intended for...I just heard a lot of gunfire in the area that I was recording. Lets just put it that way. Heh."
After the casual mention of possible death, he mentions he's been recording at Johnny Depp's studio, at Kevin McCall's studio, and even on his iPhone. "I don't really give a shit if I've got an idea. I have the technology now for just spur of the moment stuff. It's not improvisational, like free-form jazz or some nonsense like that."
At this point in the conversation, I realize I'm lost in the world of Marilyn Manson. In the course of maybe three questions, I'm already overwhelmed with so many different things he's talking about that I'm more just listening to him talk.
"I have so many things in my head just stored there. I don't know where. But I'm in the mode now where if you throw me in a situation, that's why I like acting - and I've got a lot of acting stuff I'm going to be doing this year. And I resurrected my Phantasmagoria script and Roger Avary [Reservoir Dogs, Rules of Attraction, Killing Zoe] is going to direct it."
He shifts gears abruptly and compares his recent attitude to survival horror movies. "You deal with what you've got. You've got a pen and paper, make it happen. You've got a rap beat in front of you? Deal with it. And the other half of me is excited because I'm going on a tour and I'm going to play stuff that I haven't played in eight years, songs I know that people want to hear. And I'm playing songs that I want to play because I haven't heard them. I'm not trying to come up with something to outdo Alice Cooper - we're going to do something together. That'll be the most exciting part of the show."
I should've asked him about Ray Manzerek from the Doors dying and told him about how I think the Doors only have three good songs and one of them is a cover of a traditional German drinking song. I should've asked him something stupid like how big his dick is or what he thinks about when he masturbates. I should've spent the entire interview pretending that I was interviewing him for Home and Garden Magazine.
But instead, I just listened to a fairly inebriated Marilyn Manson regurgitate the answers to questions like, "What have you been up to," and "Tell us about your blarfarglebargledorfdorfgurgle." Can you imagine having to take time out of your day where you are a famous musician, who once had all of conservative society by the balls to talk to some bald idiot whose main concern is fitting into a pair of black jeans so they don't have to buy new ones?
As Marilyn Manson is forced to now play the role of villain, dater of hot mysterious women, has-been, or "dude he's kinda smart I saw him in Bowling for Columbine"...I was forced to play the role of some dumb fuck with a computer.
I don't regret the interview - my time was limited and my character was immediately defined as "some motherfucker who is going to talk to a more interesting motherfucker for twenty minutes." But I didn't get to find out what I wanted to find out: How the fuck does Marilyn Manson deal with being Marilyn Manson? It sounds terribly annoying and frustrating. But, at least I managed to talk to him about the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, the artist that David Bowie took part of his Ziggy Stardust moniker from and the man that I wrote a letter to once, asking to collaborate on a hardcore punk record. He didn't write back, even though I included a stamp.
I wanted to bond with Marilyn Manson. I wanted to tell him about how people throw beer bottles at my face when my band plays shows because they think that's what they're supposed to do. I wanted to tell him about how I used to go to parties in high school and people would stand around me in a circle and order me to "Say something funny, Ailes."
But in a way, I did bond with Marilyn Manson. Watching and reading all of these interviews made me realize that he was just some guy who wanted to get everyone's attention, just like me. The difference is, he managed to get it, and show people like me how grateful I should be for never achieving really much of anything in the public eye. So thanks for that, Marilyn Manson. Your art connected with someone.