Marilyn Manson: The Vampire of the Hollywood Hills

Welcome to the middle age of Marilyn Manson: More gym, less absinthe – and his best album in years

"I'm chaos, I've always been chaos, my point on Earth is chaos," Marilyn Manson says Credit: Terry Richardson

When Marilyn Manson goes to sleep, dawn has usually just arrived, and when he gets up, full and unremitting darkness is usually not far off. In this regard, as in almost all other regards, he does what he wants. If he wants black sheets on his bed and the temperature always set to a cool 65 degrees, that's what he gets. Another example: Let's say he wants to make love on those sheets, to his girlfriend, photographer Lindsay Usich, who is as slender as a witch's broom and has the hair of a raven. First, no lights shall be on. "I'm just really shy, despite what you'd imagine," he says. Second, no underwear shall be slipped farther down than his ankles. "I have a phobia that the house is going to catch fire, and I don't want to be naked," he says. And finally, five is the absolute minimum number of times that the act of "sexual congress," as he calls it, shall take place in a day, with 10 being the most recent maximum. And this, at the age of 45 – "the age of a small record," he says, with typical wit – though it hardly seems possible.

Then again, what exactly about Manson is possible? Among other feats, his new album, The Pale Emperor, is almost an equal to Antichrist Superstar, the 1996 record that lifted him out of the Fort Lauderdale post-grunge wasteland and shock-rocked him straight to the top, much to the dismay of the Christian right, which in 1999 tried to blame him for the horrors of the Columbine High School massacre. But where Superstar was all sinister, industrial grime, The Pale Emperor is bluesy, synth-heavy, fairly radio-friendly and full of odd found-object squeaks and torments, including the frantic, high-pitched yips of coyotes gnawing on a kill. Many of its songs, among them the hard-stomping recent release "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge," were recorded in one take, with all subsequent efforts to clean them up ignored. "It's dirty," says Manson, happily, "like the dirt under my nails, like someone who has dug a grave."

Right now, the only thing he's digging is a Sunkist grape soda out of the fridge in his dank little Spanish-Gothic-style house in the Hollywood Hills. He pops the top, pours some in a glass, sets the glass down and never touches it again. Then he's taking a stroll around the place, pointing out the more significant of his belongings. There's a stack of children's books (This Little Piggy, Winnie the Pooh Meets Gopher). An unused canister of Zyklon B, the poisonous gas Hitler used to exterminate Jews. A pistol and a rifle on a coffee table. A prized clown painting done by rapist and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Basically, it's all stuff you might expect from a guy like him.

Upstairs, behind a closed bedroom door, is the raven-haired Usich. Manson allows that she won't be coming downstairs tonight. Maybe they've been having some relationship issues. Maybe she doesn't understand that when he writes a song for his new album like "The Devil Beneath My Feet," with lyrics like "Don't bring your black heart to bed/When I wake up, you best be gone or you better be dead," he's not necessarily referring to her, even though they did come from a text he sent her.

Tonight, he's dressed in a black shirt, black vest, black coat, black pants and black boots over blood-red socks, with sunglasses covering his eyes in a room that is so dark to begin with that his black hair, shaved short and asymmetrical, almost ceases to exist in the general mood of black nothingness. He moves about with easy, spectral grace, fingers fluttering birdlike as he points to what is an old abortionist's chair that he once covered with a beaver rug given to him by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. "I called it Beaver Mountain," he says, "and it's where I had sex with certain individuals that may or may not have resulted in my divorce." Briefly, he thinks about this and you can see further commentary formulating itself in his brain. Wait for it. Wait for it. Here it comes. "Don't fear the beaver," he says.

Then footsteps can be heard.

"I'm sorry," he says, "but we're going to be interrupted now, it seems."

It's Usich, wearing a slinky velvety dress that features a peek-a-boo keyhole-shaped opening right about cleavage-high. Is she on her way somewhere fancy?

"Nope," she says. And then she sashays past the watchful eyes of John Wayne Gacy's clown and returns to the bedroom. 

It's an uncomfortable moment and goes unexplained. Manson picks up his cat, an aging Devon Rex named Lily White that has a delicate smear of Usich's red lipstick on its head, and watches her go. He's had many girlfriends over the years (actresses Rose McGowan, 1997-2001, and Evan Rachel Wood, 2006-2010, as well as porn stars Stoya and Jenna Jameson) and one wife (burlesque queen Dita Von Teese, 2005-2006, victim of Beaver Mountain), with much craziness involved, none of it ending well. "I am flypaper for damaged women," he says later on, specifying no one in particular.

Then it's time to step out, head on over to the Chateau Marmont for a little guys-only fun. "We'll drink some liquors," he says. "We'll make words of our own. We will play rap music if we want to." And, of course, we will see if there's any trouble to be had. "I'm chaos, I've always been chaos, my point on Earth is chaos," he says, getting worked up. "I'm the third act of every movie you've ever seen. I'm the part where it rains and the part where the person you don't want to die dies. I'm here just to fuck shit up." Which means that tonight could be quite the debauch, full of terrible and wonderful things. One can only hope.

Back around the turn of the century, he was known as a button-pushing, willfully offensive nut-job maniac. In 1994, he became a minister in the Church of Satan and made a big deal about it. That same year, he proclaimed himself the God of Fuck, and two years later the Antichrist. He wore mismatched contact lenses, one dirt-brown, the other sky-blue, that made him look deranged. He scared the religious right so much that, in an effort to get his concerts banned, they stated for a fact that any virginal young daughters who attended one would witness myriad homosexual acts onstage, rampant drug use, rape and bestiality, animal sacrifice and, yes, the sacrifice of virginal young daughters. Rumors swirled. It was said that he had a rib removed so he could perform oral sex on himself. All manner of outrage seemed not only possible but likely – including plastering a deaf groupie with luncheon meat and hosing her down with his own urine, which, in fact, happened. And then he would go on talk shows like Bill O'Reilly's, to wax philosophic about the stultifying horrors of religion, the universal stupidity of politicians and the specific primacy of the individual, even if the individual, as he once said of himself, is "an intentional asshole." 

"My point on Earth is chaos. I'm the third act of every movie you'e ever seen. I'm the part where it rains and the part where the person you don't want to die dies."

And yet in person no one can seem more courtly or mild than him. He takes a seat softly. He rarely utters unnecessary obscenities and often affects a genteel Southern accent. He is fastidious about his clothes; his shirt is buttoned to the neckline, fully obscuring the hundreds of self-inflicted scars that are said to hash-mark his chest. He is constantly working on ways to better himself; right now, he's on a mission to erase the word "like" as a habitual utterance from his vocabulary. And looking back on that earlier time in his life, he says that by and large it is no more. "That P.T. Barnum aspect of Marilyn Manson has sort of evaporated," he says, the proof of which can be most fully seen in the context of The Pale Emperor.

Long ago gone from his music, of course, is Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who discovered Manson in 1992, co-produced his early records and then went on to call him a drug-addled "dopey clown" who in his desperation to succeed as a rock star would pretend to be all wacked-out and doped up even when he wasn't. More recently gone, at least on this latest record, are the members of his band, including Twiggy Ramirez, who used to be his main partner both in crime and in song. Instead, Manson made The Pale Emperor only in collaboration with Tyler Bates, best known as a soundtrack composer for movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and TV shows like Californication, which is where he and Manson, making a 2013 cameo appearance, met. Initially, it was touch-and-go between the two, if only because at one point, Bates saw Manson drinking some green stuff and asked him what it was. Manson said it was absinthe, offering him a swig, which he took. 

"So I go to bed that night," Bates says, "and suddenly my eyes pop out of my head. I've got a wife and kids. I've never had a disease. So a few days later, I say to him, 'Hey, I gotta ask you something. You don't have mouth herpes, do you?' And he starts laughing: 'I've never had anything, though I did get crabs when I lost my virginity.' " That bullet dodged, they started working together, with Bates bringing a whole new rigor to Manson's recording process and hoping to resurrect a music career that Manson says "got totally shoved in the dirt" after he was scapegoated for Columbine. That was about 15 years ago. In the aftermath, he released a number of albums, among them Eat Me, Drink Me and The High End of Low, that were mostly panned by both critics and fans, and in 2009, he was canned by Interscope, which had been his label almost from the start. To keep himself busy, he started painting, began acting in more TV shows (most recently, as a white-supremacist convict in Sons of Anarchy), and lost himself in bottle after bottle of absinthe. He put on a goodly amount of weight, to the point where he could be called chunky, but is now hitting the gym fairly often. ("Treadmill, 10 minutes; arms, legs, on machines, no free weights.")

In the present day, he's also spent a good bit of time hanging out with Johnny Depp, even going so far as to take up part-time residence in Depp's guesthouse in Hollywood. They apparently understand each other as few others can. Most literally, they're both low-talking mumblers who have found that they don't need words to communicate with each other. "We mumble like we're a mumbling chorus, and we finish sentences with hand gestures," says Manson. On a deeper level, they share certain fascinations and predilections. At one point, they tried to buy the gun that Hitler killed himself with. And neither can go to sleep unless a TV is on, with Manson's preference being "really loud and violent things."

They have matching tattoos, as well: on their wrists, the phrase no reason, and on their backs, "Charles Baudelaire, the flowers of evil, this giant skeleton thing," Manson once said. "It's kind of a secret. People say to us, 'Why did you get that?' And we say, 'No reason.' " And today he says, "Johnny's one of the only people I can talk to. I can't explain it other than we don't ever have to say anything, but we can't really say it to anyone else, either." Which means whatever it means, as is so often the case with Manson, but you get the drift. And maybe he will have more to say about that later. But for now, he's got a double shot of vodka to knock back on the patio of the Chateau Marmont. Vodka is another new thing. The absinthe days are over, he says, mainly because "it makes you poor and crazy, and I didn't want to end up poor and crazy," and there'll be no more whiskey, either, mainly because "that's how I got a lot of scars on my chest. It makes me very rascally. And ornery."

It's late now, verging on closing time, and if trouble is going to make an appearance, it better do so soon. On the promising side, the situation is getting boozier, and women are involved. An Italian girl named Titti, who is well-known as Manson's biggest fan and has seen him in concert some 1,500 times, floats up, invites herself to sit down and starts making moon eyes at her beloved, saying stuff like "I love him" and "He's beautiful." After that, a nerdy stranger guy with glasses stops by – Manson later calls him "Lasiks" – to ask for advice on how to handle "the cougar" he has just landed. "What's the play?" he asks Manson, and Manson says, "You should lose your virginity to her and stab her afterward." The guy nods and says, "I'll let you know how the stabbing goes."

Then fellow musician Shooter Jennings ambles out of the shadows, and he and Manson start warbling on about how they should write a song together. Manson comes up with some pretty evocative lyrics on the spot: " 'I love you/Aren't I pretty?/Hold me/I'm going to kill myself,' " he says. "We'll write the song tomorrow!"

"I'm in!" says Shooter.

A moment later, Manson's attention wanders back to Lasiks' cougar. "Do you think she has cocaine?" he asks, after which he sees Lasiks leave for the bathroom, allowing him to slide on over to the woman. It quickly develops that they once spent three hours together at the Metropolitan Hotel bar in London. This was 12 years ago. "You look even more beautiful than before," says Manson. She says, "Thank you, sweetie. I'm happy to see you." Back and forth it goes like that, leading nowhere in particular, until he drifts back to Shooter. After he's gone, when asked if they had hooked up, she says, "I don't think so. I was married then. But the conversation we had that night, I will not forget it. He was a gentleman. There was none of him being like, 'Come on,' and me having to say, 'I have to go.' He was watching over me. It was interesting. He is a special man."

Back at his table, Manson, the special man, is holding court and saying some very wise things, like, "I wash my hands before I piss because I know where my dick's been, but I don't know where my hands have been." Which could be a follow-up to something he'd said earlier in the day: "I have a blacklight flashlight at home, which will show if sperm is on anything, and Lindsay has used it on my underwear to see if I'd done something naughty when I was out. I said, 'Fooled you. I might have changed my underwear. How do you know that I didn't?' She goes, 'Because you don't change your underwear.' I said, 'That is true. Good answer. Good answer.' " Titti is tittering away. And Manson is ordering more double vodkas.

Soon it's time to go. And still nothing really chaotic has happened, no meat or urine. It's all kind of a letdown and a bummer. If the point of being Manson is to fuck shit up, then the night has been pointless. Or maybe not. Maybe there's a new point to being Manson. And maybe it has yet to be discovered, by him or anyone else.

Fifteen hours later, it's getting on toward dusk up in the Manson bedroom inside the Manson house, where Manson, having already presumably engaged in the usual five or more acts of "sexual congress" with his girlfriend, is once again coming awake. The room is dark and it will stay that way. The temperature is a steady 65 degrees, as it always is. He rises now and brushes his teeth (if you must know, he uses Aquafresh) while sitting on the toilet and taking a leak ("My aim is really terrible"). After everything he has done in the past day, you'd think his next move would be to take a shower, but no, that's not what he does. "I'm not big on showering," he says. "If anything, I do more of a 'hooker shower,' undercarriage and armpits, but I haven't done that yet today, so if you're planning on going down on me, you might want to wait until later." Next, he pulls on his clothes, all black, many of them taken from yesterday's pile. And finally, right before company arrives, he lines his eyes with Smolder Kohl, by MAC, his favorite eyeliner "because it smudges, so I get that 'just woke up, just got fucked, am a bit of a scoundrel' look that I like."

He makes his way downstairs, where it's also dark, and always will be dark, forcing his assistant Ryan to get around using a flashlight. The guns are gone from the coffee table, but the mass murderer's clown still leers from the wall. Manson sits on a couch and folds his hands. In the twilight, he's fascinating to look at, the way his forehead slants back so severely, his lack of chin, the whiteness of his flesh, and the total absence of any sign of aging on his face, no wrinkles, no sags, no indication anywhere of all his hard living.

"Well, I think I'm still kind of a teenager," he says. "I mean, I had a girlfriend who was in pornographic films before I dated her, and she broke up with me and said that I wanted sex too often. She said, 'You're like a 14-year-old. I can't take it.' " 

He says he doesn't know why he's like this but that it probably has something to do with his childhood, growing up as Brian Warner in Canton, Ohio, where his father was a rarely home furniture salesman and his mom a nurse who tended to hover. It may have looked pretty normal but it was anything but. One experience in particular just about says it all: At the age of 13, Brian used to sneak down to his grandfather's basement and watch the old man hunch himself over a toy train set, masturbating to bestiality porn, with grotesque guttural noises emanating from the hole left in his throat by a tracheotomy. The boy wasn't so much appalled as fascinated, even mesmerized, thus paving the way, after the family moved to Florida, for him to go glam-metal-industrial-goth, take the name Marilyn Manson (as a way to marry the extremes of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Manson), form a band of the same name and eventually sell more than 50 million records, in the process becoming the nation's most well-known face of evil.

But if that's all in the P.T. Barnum past, his present seems like it's still in the process of arriving, which perhaps explains why the other night at the Chateau, no shit got all fucked up. Then again, once a vampire, always a vampire, and there are only so many ways for a man like him to evolve.

He starts talking about his friendship with Depp again. "We like to consider ourselves 12th-graders, the guys with more experience than the ninth-graders, the ones that the girls want to fuck. I mean, time and age are really irrelevant to me. Johnny is the same way. Sometimes, I think I'm trapped in the age that I started this. I'm trapped at 23." Or 14, of course, depending on the company. All of which would help to explain so much, including his occasional urge to shoplift, his most recent haul being a pair of sunglasses from the John Varvatos store, which he later told them about, "so technically it's not shoplifting," and a pack of spearmint gum from a CVS, which he says he "threw away and didn't even eat." 

He seems to be trying to get at something with these little revelations, and he doesn't stop.

"I'm all forms of crazy," he goes on, "which I think is one of my most charming qualities. It's not diagnosable, because it involves co-morbidity, which is when you have multiple disorders, so they can't figure out what it is." He pauses for a while, then starts up again, maybe from some other place in his head, maybe even from some other irrelevant time. "I don't really like being intimate with people. I think maybe twice in my life have I taken a shower with a girl, and that was in the dark. I'm just really shy. I also have a great fear of bathtubs, maybe because my mother used to bathe me as a child and I have fractured memories of just not enjoying it."

His mother's name was Barbara and she died this past May, at age 68, after a long battle with dementia, during which she often wasn't able to recognize her son. "As a kid, I was in the hospital a lot," he continues. "I was anemic and had pneumonia about six times." He was told he suffered from strange allergies, to things like eggs and fabric softener. He also had oddly long earlobes. He didn't really mind them, but his mother did, and one of the first things he did after becoming a rock star with money was to get them snipped by a plastic surgeon: "People never believe me that I did that, but, see, I wanted to keep them. But that was my mother being the way that she was. It was her suggestion."

And then, almost as an afterthought, he explains the way that she was. She suffered from Munchausen by Proxy syndrome, he says, a form of child abuse in which a mother induces real or apparently real symptoms of illness and disease in a child. He's talked about this in public only once before, about 15 years ago, and it's not even mentioned in his 1998 autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, and even today, he keeps things brief. Suffice it to say, however, that in no way is he allergic to eggs and fabric softener, with the logical corollary being that whatever illnesses he had as a child were probably caused by his mother and that getting ear-lobe surgery came as a direct mother's order that could not be disobeyed, much like the orders that are in place at his own home, that the lights stay dim, the temperature remains at 65 degrees and the sheets always be black.

"I didn't find out about the Munchausen until later in life, and I'm not sure how far back she had it," he says. "What I can say is that mental illness runs in the family."

Which, of course, is one way of explaining Manson, that he's mentally ill, hence all his outlandish behavior. And it might be true. But it's also a very distressing way to look at it, not only because of the bleak future it predicts but also because, somehow, it's just plain wrong to think about him that way, reducing him to a set of co-morbid psychological disorders. And it's just as wrong for Manson to think it, as he seems to be doing, as it is for his many critics to voice it, which they often have. "Manson is Manson, OK?" says Tyler Bates, and that's more like it. He's too glorious for anything else, too singular, too out there, too much still a bright, shining example of what it means to be individual.

But enough of this. It's time to go and let Manson be. Usich would come down from the bedroom to say goodbye, but she's not dressed for it. "I'm in my pajamas," she hollers from behind the closed door.

"Are they crotchless?" asks the 14-year-old who lives inside the 45-year-old. Then he says, "Anything can be crotchless if you carry a knife. And anyway, we just want to confirm the five times."

Usich pauses. "Uh, yeah," she says. "It's been much more than five, but yes."

Manson isn't done with her. "So," he says, "I imagine you're probably just nursing your lady parts with a bag of ice right now?"

Another pause. "Uh, yeah," she says. "I can't even walk straight."

One can only imagine what their life together is like. But, in the end, no matter what else he does, or where he goes, or who he sees, or how many times he has sex, or what he shoplifts, or what the terrible advice is that he gives to the cougar-bitten, one can only hope that he has fun doing it. So, have fun tonight, Manson.

"Don't tell me what to do," he says, standing at the door. "But I will."