Marilyn Manson Meets America
Marilyn Manson has been described as a bogeyman in reverse. “Children use him,” one critic quipped, “to scare their parents.”i He is also an example of how some musical artists use outrageous behavior to promote their acts, and perhaps an example of how that style of promotion is becoming less successful.
Manson’s real name is Brian Warner. He was a middle-class kid from Ohio who claims he took the name Marilyn Manson because it represented everything that was inside of him that he was afraid to let out—not just his feminine side, but his inner criminal. He originally called his industrial rock group “Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids.” Each member of the group took a first name from a female pop culture icon and a second name from a mass murderer—the keyboard player, for example, called himself Madonna Wayne Gacy.
On stage, Manson wears pancake makeup and outrageous outfits. Nothing new there. Groups such as Kiss did that years ago. He’s famous for destroying hotel rooms, throwing kinky sex parties and being drugged, but that’s old hat too. To break new ground, Manson titled one of his albums Antichrist Superstar, and on tour he styled himself as Lucifer, right down to the satanic contact lenses. His act included self-mutilation--cutting himself with a penknife. He ripped up the Bible on stage, wiped his bottom with the American flag, and sang lovingly about his relationship with Satan, all of which seemed to get the public’s attention.
As Rolling Stone pointed out, “For this to be more than a moment of pleasing, mischievous burlesque, someone had to take the bait. It’s at moments like these when America rarely lets you down.”ii Manson was adopted as America’s new face of evil. Of course, there was nothing new there, either. In the past, politicians, parents’ groups and religious organizations have protested Elvis’s pelvis, heavy metal lyrics played backward and the obscenities of 2 Live Crew. For Manson, there were pickets, canceled concerts, death threats and a lot of name calling. The name calling included a slew of macabre rumors: that the band handed out drugs to be consumed and puppies to be ripped apart at concerts, that Manson had sex with a sheep onstage. Manson made sure that the fires kept burning by publishing an autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, which told not just of his own perversions, but those of the rest of his family, including his grandfather.
Despite his outrageous behavior, sales of his fourth album, Mechanical Animal, were disappointing. Soon after the album came out, Manson invited Craig Marks, the executive editor of Spin magazine, backstage after a concert. Within moments of greeting Manson, Marks was assaulted by the singer’s bodyguards. The editor said that he was “grabbed by the neck, lifted off his feet and slammed into a dressing-room wall while the singer, apparently seething about not gracing Spin’s cover, thundered that he could kill Marks and the magazine needed to show the singer more respect.”iii The editor pressed charges the next day. Another Spin editor later observed, “This was a rather desperate act by a guy who’s coming to the end of his time in the spotlight.”iv
i Neil Strauss, “A Bogey Band to Scare Parents With,” The New York Times
, May 17, 1997, p. 13.
ii Chris Heath, “The Love Story of Marilyn Manson,” Rolling Stone, October 15, 1998, p. 37.
iii Eric Boehlert
, “Helter Skelter,” Rolling Stone
, January 21, 1999, p 22. The editor’s name is Craig Marks.
iv Michael Hirschorn, quoted in Eric Boehlert, “Helter Skelter,” Rolling Stone, January 21, 1999, p. 22.