I do agree that the peak of Marilyn Manson's mainstream spotlight has faded, but I disagree that he hasn't rooted himself deeply enough into showbiz to allow for lifelong red carpet privileges. Now let us adhere to the purpose of this article, which I find necessary to write because I haven't seen another artist like this in the music world and am unsure I will again. Mind you that I will be writing in the past tense—not because Marilyn Manson has called it quits, but because the thesis that the band brought us has come full circle. Also, I will refer to the band as Marilyn Manson and the vocalist simply as Manson.
Marilyn Manson isn't just a pseudonym for Brian Warner's intelligent, albeit frustrated American mind. It is not just a band that stood out in the Florida scene of the early '90s and accidentally found its way onto MTV via their brilliant cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams." They (for it was a collective effort) were far more than the intentionally-performed vulgarities of their live shows. Much more. In fact, Marilyn Manson was an idea.
An idea so simple it was genius. I'm not referring to the dark satire of opposites in American culture, hence the names Marilyn (Monroe) and (Charles) Manson. Sure, it was a great gimmick, but Alice Cooper beat them to it, even if at a more superficial level. Was it the stage antics? The self-mutilation? Perhaps it was all about the lyrics, or the affiliation with the Church of Satan? Let's not dismiss the music itself, as well as the striking visual imagery that came with the videos in bile-coated candy, cynicism, and disgust. Are all of these together the reason the band deserves recognition? No, none of these are it.
I'm referring to the real message that Manson, both man and band, only realized they were delivering several years into their careers. Only when shit, or rather bullets, hit the fan did they truly rise. There will be more on this as we progress.
Over the years, the band has received an avalanche of worship and praise from its fans, for Marilyn Manson were the champions of the underground. But which fans? Against all odds, Marilyn Manson completely redesigned themselves with each album, from demented Halloween childhood to downright Nietzsche-esque nihilism and misanthropic hate, and onward to a Ziggy Stardust allusion. This caused the alienation of their earliest fans, and not too many followed the band from its beginning to its mainstream success.
In a defiant act of pure, unrefined "balls," Marilyn Manson won over many new fans with 1998's Mechanical Animals, the successor of goth's arguable paramount Antichrist Superstar (1996). A mere two years apart, these two absolute musical opposites still had plenty in common. They were concept albums that held a mirror up to society and showed the unfortunate truths that were hidden in contradictions accepted as laws, beliefs, and cultural following. Manson himself would say that if your kid listens to Marilyn Manson, take that as a warning sign. Inevitably, someone drawn toward anything that screams "society is wrong" could possibly feel frustrated and/or neglected. They say Nirvana best represented the gloom of Generation X, but that's just a cute story for the media to sell. Marilyn Manson truly proved the gloom of that generation, and that depression would not be forgiving of the next. Kids were growing in a damaged world—change it or else.
This was Marilyn Manson, the band that scraped off the unwanted goo of youth frustration from the back pages and put it on the headlines for all to see. They managed to do so because they were making too much money to be shut down once and for all. No conservative parent could convince enough senators to bring Manson to a halt in light of record sales and sold out concerts. Showbiz wouldn't hear a word of it.
It was no surprise that eventually something did happen. "Columbine" can mean two things: if you are a botanist, it is a flower. If you were of age, then you know this is the infamous high school shooting location of 1999. Although there was plenty of mindless blame to throw around, Marilyn Manson quickly became a target simply because it was later found that the shooters had the band's albums on their shelves. No hard facts, no evidence, no goodbye message from the two stating their love for the band was left, yet the media jumped like the usual hyena onto this "Marilyn Manson told them to" hypothesis and crucified the singer and the music. The band cancelled the last remaining tour dates and went into hibernation for a period. Manson himself wrote one brilliant and straight-to-the-point column in Rolling Stone magazine and went AWOL for a bit. A big chunk of celebrities backed him, although not too openly.
An event of this magnitude is enough to put a severe dent on an artist's career, or to jeopardize the rise or maintaining of status in the entertainment world. Despite this obstacle, the real twist of fate was another. In late 2000, enter Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). The fourth release in their discography was perhaps one of the most triumphant and unique musical epistles that any band has ever conceived. The lyrical content alone was highly significant to the Columbine incident, guns, Christian fanatic hypocrisy, and teenage angst, and coherently linked them all together. Lines such as "This is evolution / The monkey, the man, then the gun," and "the death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is just a statistic" told anyone who heard them that there was a pattern in America's cultural reality and it has been repeating itself since the dawn of time. It also rebutted the senseless blame the band had received with a glove slap.
The cherry on top for the album was the song "The Nobodies," which deliberately sung of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's fate. The song condemned the killers' actions whilst lamenting their eventual postmortem realization that they were "forever dirt."
|This gun crucifix implied that violence|
dominates American culture; used as
logo for the band's website in 2000.
I remember this well, because I was (and still am) a Marilyn Manson fan. Then, thankfully, Michael Moore and his Bowling For Columbine documentary came along in 2002. Manson was interviewed right before the Denver show, and in a brief few minutes of movie time, using his same old discourse, he convinced millions of viewers around the world that Marilyn Manson was not a perverse band trying to profit off of satanism but instead, a literate, intelligent shit-stirrer. Even though he received numerous death threats mere minutes prior to the interview, Manson still took the stage and delivered.
They were not about satanism. They were not an attack against particular institutions, despite the numerous calling-outs toward bad parenting and church, and not about the drugs with which they were openly and admittedly friendly.
Marilyn Manson was about the duality within ourselves and the power that we have to use it. We can create or destroy, be peaceful or violent. This is the domineering factor in our civilization. We build, then destroy and build again. The band seems to celebrate this factor in humanity and yet, in snobbish fashion, society fails to acknowledge its instincts and flaws and condemns those who point it out. What's even more unnerving is that the media and mainstream seem to be tightening the rope ever more in the music world. Or perhaps artists aren't doing too good a job at relevant content.
|Caricature painting of Harris and Klebold by Manson|
Very few artists have released concept albums that put them dangerously close to unemployment. Marilyn Manson is definitely one of them and likely the most underrated in recognition, because they were the most in-your-face, up-your-ass, and go-read-a-book of all mainstream bands. Though the primary focus was America, a big part of the planet related as well, bringing worldwide success that perhaps even the band didn't count on.
In the aftermath of the first few years of the 2000 decade, Marilyn Manson have indeed released albums and still perform successful tours around the globe, but not with the same shocking impact as before. Perhaps they helped push the threshold of censorship a bit, or maybe they came full circle. Yet for a band that came out of Florida's strange underground goth scene of the '90s alongside peers like Jack Off Jill, Amboog-a-Lard, and Genitorturers, they sure went in through the backdoor and were puked up to the top in rock star fashion. To close off with a lyric of this unique band, "I was made in America and America hates me for what I am / I am your shit. You should be ashamed of what you have eaten."
|Marilyn Manson in its Spooky Kids era, circa 1992.|