Marilyn Manson is the Only True Artist Today
- by Jon Wiederhorn
The only major performer today who can justifiably call himself an artist is Marilyn Manson.
You laugh? Manson's nothing but a media ho, a shock rocker, a freak, you say? Well consider this: he's a living work of art. His artistic vision is inseparable from his daily existence and he never breaks character, at least not in public. Alice Cooper, the theatrical '70s rocker who used to stage mock executions in concert, may welcome you to his nightmare, but offstage Alice plays golf with elite members of the establishment. You'll never see Manson on the putting green.
While other artists may gripe about the world, Manson creates his own. With each evolution of his personality, he perverts his environment to make it into something he can stomach. The transformation began in 1989 when, motivated by his hatred of conformity, hypocrisy and blind faith, the man born Brian Warner birthed the spiteful Marilyn Manson character.
This new alter ego stretched the limits of onstage musical performance. He tore pages from the Bible and tossed them in the air. He filled a piñata with cow brains, chicken livers and pig intestines. He threw the crowd plastic baggies filled with chocolate-chip cookies and cat excrement, simulated bloody abortions and engaged in heavy petting with a girlfriend. He also injured himself by smacking his face with the mic. What other musician out there today walks the walk of their talk with such disturbing conviction?
His life offstage became equally bizarre, as if Manson had consumed Brian Warner's soul. He took dangerous quantities of drugs and filmed fans confessing their darkest sins. On his tour bus, he engaged in sexual activities with his groupies that bordered on violence.
Now, at a time when the world around him is ravaged by terrorism, war and corruption, Manson has turned inward and conceived a Disneyland of depravity and lust in which he and his girlfriend, burlesque pin-up Dita Von Teese, and any likeminded individuals can frolic.
Like it or not, Marilyn Manson is the real deal.
"I'm completely unlike a lot of other performers in the past who have been forgiven or come to terms with the real world because they tell everyone their performance is 'just a show,' " he explains, speaking slowly and pausing every eight or 10 words for dramatic effect. "And so, people say, 'Oh, it's OK then. We don't care. He's not really a bad person.' It's not just a show for me. It's my life. I live my art and I think people are starting to understand that. They don't understand me, but they're starting to understand where I fit into the world."
Though he's no longer the beast he once was, the artist in Manson continues to thrive on media-grabbing stunts, ranging from the lawless (last Ozzfest he was sued by two different security guards, whose necks he dry-humped during shows) to the cultural (to promote The Golden Age of Grotesque he staged multimedia events around the world at which he showcased his paintings, music and burlesque dancing from his girlfriend). In other words, Manson is no G.G. Allin, a now-deceased performance artist who outraged the underground during concerts by defecating, having sex and attacking audience members. He is more like the late Andy Kaufman; his antics have been artistic gestures to provoke a response from his audiences. Powerful art evokes a reaction (see Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller, Auguste Rodin) even if it's one of revulsion. And those who abhor Manson have reacted most strongly to his shocking exploits. Even so, shocking the masses was never the be all, end all.
"I've never tried to be merely shocking because it's too simple," Manson said, running his thumb up and down his skinny black tie. "I could do a lot more shocking things. I've just always asserted myself as a villain because the villain in any walk of life is the person who refuses to follow blindly and always wants to question things. For me, art is supposed to be a question mark. So I'm merely asking questions to the world with what I do to make them think."
Manson's questions needed to change following the national trauma of 9-11. The self-destructive behavior, sexual shenanigans and goth imagery that provoked shock and awe just a few years ago paled in comparison to real-life terrors, and his Antichrist Superstar-style rants started to feel irrelevant.
That's where Manson's latest reinvention comes in. On The Golden Age of Grotesque, the master of the macabre is no longer spitting venom at intolerant governments, hypocritical religious leaders and the apathetic masses. Instead, he's turning back the clock to examine another era of twisted sexuality and grotesque revelry, that of post-World War I Europe. Some songs on the disc have the rhythmic swagger of 1920s German cabaret-style songwriter Kurt Weill, and the lyrics reflect the live-for-the-moment credo of many artists living in pre-Nazi Germany. At the same time, Manson's artistic domain has shifted to match his musical development. His video for "mOBSCENE" is a bacchanalia of burlesque and swing dancing, and his latest batch of paintings has the vibe of German degenerate art confiscated by the Third Reich.
"Anybody who does not evolve can become a self-parody," he explains of his latest incarnation. "I have to evolve on a daily basis just to keep my own interest in what I do.
"I do a lot of things that some people wouldn't do, but to me it's normal," he continued. "It's my standard. So morality for me is different. I have the same universal laws of nature that I abide by, but 'good' is generally what you like and everybody has different likes. I don't try to be bad as much as I just am by nature."
When Manson decided to explore the creative expression of a bygone era, he tapped into some of its pastimes, most significantly the consumption of absinthe. He admits he's been guzzling the alcoholic beverage made from wormwood, which was the elixir of choice for artists including Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. The beverage was banned in the U.S. in 1912 because it was deemed to be a possible cause of dementia.
"I think I was trying to get to that place where you think and behave like a child or a lunatic," Manson said of his absinthe binges. "Sometimes the doors need to be opened. That's why so many writers and creative people in the past fell prey to it."
A full nine years after the release of his first album, it's clear Manson isn't merely a freak rocker, media manipulator or one-trick pony. The secret to his longevity lies not in his sometimes schlocky image, but in the content of his work. Not only are his songs sonically compelling, not only are his themes fresh and intriguing and not only do his actions speak louder than his words. His imagery, sounds and theatrics all still have a point, and like all true artists, he continues to wring significant messages from the lining of his contorted innards. Manson doesn't just bleed for his art. He drinks, pukes, fornicates and risks his life for it.