25 years of shock and horror with marilyn manson
We speak to Middle America's worst nightmare about mourning, middle age and Madonna.
If you grow up a devoted Marilyn Manson fan and worship at his lyrical metal altar for most of your life, there comes a time when you have to call upon your god. Thankfully, unlike other higher powers, Manson is the kind of messiah you can talk to—as long as you don't call him before 8pm, LA time. "I can tell a story better with my mouth than with my hands, usually," he says with the kind of potent pause before that last word, which entirely sums up his volatile image. His career has followed that of the internet, a love/hate relationship that has made Manson the sort of superstar, who speaks to his fans on social channels in a one-way communication key to its own success. "I don't read what people say in response to the things I put online. I could be equally masochistic or narcissistic, because, you know, it would be like Santa Claus or God suddenly having to hear everyone's thoughts," he says, his raspy, rusty voice droning over the words with the kind of cheeky self-conviction that has made teenagers throw themselves at his godly feet for over two decades now, and far into adulthood.
For his ninth era - the fans' way of classifying his albums and the looks and Bowie-esque personas that go with them - Manson is tapping into a moniker more regal than the Antichrist Superstar and God of Fuck aliases, which followed him as he became public enemy number one in 90s America. The Pale Emperor is the name of his new album, a goth-bluesy collaboration with Shooter Jennings, which has landed Manson his best reviews in ten years. Its title is a direct reference to the Roman ruler Heliogabalus, whose fair complexion earned him the nickname. "It was inspired by a book I was given by Johnny—when I say Johnny, I mean Depp. He and I have a joke with each other that we say our full names all the time," Manson notes, not unaware of the irony of his inter-textual namedropping. "He inspired me because he's one of the first Roman emperors to deny the existence of God, and he also had a very strong passion for cruelty and the theatre of it. That kind of reminds me a little bit of me, in some strange way."
He's not lying. Next to the gloomy nature of his music, often described as aggressive by non-metal fans (although it's really rather melodic), Manson has urinated on his audience, mutilated himself on stage with a broken bottle, rubbed his genitalia against a security guard's face, and possibly kicked his former guitar player in the head at a gig. And that's nothing compared to the casual anecdotes you'll find in his best-selling autobiography from 1998, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell. But at 46, the reality of Manson's character is much more reflective of the intellectual and compassionate social commentator, who emerged to epic heights when he was forced to defend himself against attacks from the press blaming him for inspiring the Columbine massacre in 1999. "I don't expect people to know who I am, but on the other hand I think my legend precedes me," he says of Marilyn Manson anno 2015. "There are going to be a lot of people, who think they know what I'm supposed to be. I think that works to my advantage. The Devil's greatest asset is that no one believes he exists."
Manson - originally Brian Warner of Canton, Ohio - was finishing a nine-month child birth, as he calls it, of The Pale Emperor in May 2014 when his mother, Barbara, died from dementia. In his mourning, he took to his social channels: "Mother," Manson wrote, "to the first and greatest believer in me… I hope I see you again someday." To the outside world, it was an unprecedented move that showed Manson in a perhaps different light. To his fans, it was the loss of the parent of the Antichrist, who sought to understand her son rather than reject him. "Having to deal with my mother's death made me grow into a different person. Still the same, but it sort of took me back to where I was when I started, with the same end-vision. The difference between a person, who has nothing to lose, and someone who has everything to gain," Manson says faintly. It led, in one way or another, to a healthier, less absinthe-infused lifestyle for him, and a new kind of relationship with his father, Hugh, with whom he soon started revisiting his childhood.
"I never actually thought nightmares were nightmares when I was a kid. I just thought they were more interesting dreams. But apparently I used to have terrible nightmares where I would wake up in panic attacks. I didn't know that," he says. "My dad's been telling me a lot of things recently about himself and about me growing up. He brought my first report card from the sixth grade and I had all A's and it said, 'Brian is a very lovable, courteous young man'," Manson chuckles, before his voice turns all earnest. "I do have manners and do introduce myself with a handshake, and I do… you know, if somebody is trying to hurt somebody or… You know, I protect my friends and loved ones," he insists. "With deadly force." He partly credits the "masculinity" of The Pale Emperor to his new frame of mind, next to his acting work on Sons of Anarchy, and a new taste for social life, all of which he believes has made him easier to be around.
"I don't know if it makes me easier to understand, because everyone is gonna understand me differently," Manson says. "People ask me, 'Do you think you're misunderstood?' I don't think the word 'misunderstood' is even a bad word. It's certainly chaos incarnate. I'm an amusement park twenty-four hours a day for my friends, but that doesn't mean that everyone rides for free." To Manson, it seems, the concept of masculinity is a sort of old-school gentlemanliness where good manners are expected and bad ones should never be unintentional. "I'm kind of interested in this Madonna record," he says at one point. "She looks hotter than ever. I'd also like to let it be known that I still have a crush on Madonna and I would definitely fornicate with her." But he'll just as easily slip back into the perfect gentleman and talk tailoring and waistcoats like he'd just stepped out of the 20s, which is of course his favorite fashion era.
While married to Dita Von Teese in the mid-00s, Manson became something of a regular on the fashion scene, being paraded around Paris Fashion Week in Stefano Pilati suits and what not. "It was like being at a dinner party that you wanted to leave," he quips. John Galliano dressed him for his wedding and did, however, remain in Manson's circle. "I almost went to visit him after he got in that bit of a shitstorm, because he was a friend. He got a raw deal. They overreacted a lot." Now living with photographer/model Lindsay Usich, and with 2014 behind him, Manson seems to approach the serious life in a different way. "Time, does it make sense to me in the same way as to other people? I still think I'm 23, when I started this, it could have been a year ago for me. I really have a hard time keeping track of what day of the week it is, or what month or year it is," he says. "Not having a calendar and not owning a watch keeps you in an eternal state of Peter Pan. I take things seriously, but I honestly don't take myself too seriously."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Nicholas Alan Cope
Styling Ise White
Hair Ramsell Martinez at Streeters using R + Co.
Make-up Donald Simrock at Tracey Mattingly.
Set design Jamie Dean at WSM.
Photography assistance Keith Schwalenberg, Hans Hansen, Garett Guidera.
Digital technician Peter Juhl.
Styling assistance Amanda van Duyse.
Production Kiori Georgiadis.
Production assistant George Sanchez.
Retouching Digital Giant.
Creative Direction Willo Perron.
Art Direction Hassan Rahim.