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Sympathy For The Devil: Marilyn Manson

Their new concept album quickly went platinum, their stage show puts the glitz back into rock & roll, and their front man is deadly serious about his freaky alter ego. Welcome to Marilyn Manson's nightmare

January 23, 1997
cover marilyn manson 1997
Marilyn Manson on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Matt Mahurin

Be careful when you gossip: a little rumor can go a long way. Especially when the subject is Marilyn Manson.

"For a solid year, there was a rumor that I was going to commit suicide on Halloween," says Manson. He is sitting in a hot tub (yes, a hot tub!) in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I started to think, 'Maybe I have to kill myself, maybe that's what I was supposed to do.' Then, when we were performing on Halloween, there was a bomb threat. I guess someone thought they would take care of the situation for me. It was one of those moments where chaos had control." He pauses, raises his tattoo-covered arm from the water and stares nervously through a pair of black wraparound sunglasses at the spa door. It opens a crack, then closes. No one enters. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm a character being written, or if I'm writing myself," Manson continues. "It's confusing."

Never has there been a rock star quite as complex as Marilyn Manson, frontman of the band of the same name. In the current landscape of reluctant rock stars, Manson is a complete anomaly: He craves spectacle, success and attention. And when it comes to the traditional rock-star lifestyle, he can outdo most of his contemporaries. Manson and his similarly pseudonymed band mates – bassist Twiggy Ramirez, drummer Ginger Fish, keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy and guitarist Zim Zum – have shat in Evan Dando's bathtub and, just last night, they coaxed Billy Corgan into snorting sea monkeys. When it comes to getting serious about his work, Manson is among the most eloquent and artful musicians. And among the most misunderstood. The rumor-hungry fans who see him as a living demon who's removed his own ribs and testicles know just as little about Manson as the detractors who dismiss him as a Halloween-costumed shock rocker riding on Trent Reznor's coattails. The people who work with Manson on tour aren't any more privy to his personality. They have to follow the rules – no smoking, no talking about sports, no disturbing Manson in the three hours before a show – and clean up after his occasional temper tantrums that have left dressing rooms destroyed and a drummer hospitalized. In past articles on his band, Manson has deliberately toyed with the truth and with his interviewers.

"It's part of the shell that I've always built up around myself," Manson says. "And it's only because what is inside is so vulnerable that the shell has to be so hard. That is the only reason."

In the week we spend together in Florida, Manson is determined to come clean on everything, to lay all the pieces of his life and his band's new album, Antichrist Superstar, on the table and see whether we can figure out how they fit together. He's doing a good job of revealing himself so far, because he's in a Jacuzzi at the local Holiday Inn. It was difficult for him to be here: He tried once and backed out because someone was already in the tub. He tried a second time and changed his mind because one of the garter-clad fans scouring the hotel for him had just walked by. Only when no one else was around did he finally strip down to his swim trunks and get into the tub. Though after about 10 minutes, he begins to feel sick. Maybe he doesn't really belong here.

"This is going to be an important piece of press," Manson says as we get started on the first of many conversations. "It's going to be a piece of history that I want people to look at when I'm gone, and maybe it'll help them understand what I was thinking at the time when I did this record. There's been so much press and so many people feeding this sensationalism – and that's all part of Marilyn Manson. But at the same time, I want people to know that I tried to explain it to them when they had a chance to listen."

It's not going to be an easy task, he insists: "I pity anybody who has to spend a day with me."

Manson uses a number of different metaphors to describe himself: a snake, an angel, an alien, the child snatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. One of the most vivid ones is a Hydra, the nine-headed serpent of Greek mythology. This image is at the heart of Antichrist Superstar, which entered the Billboard album charts at No. 3, just below two beacons of the status quo, Celine Dion and Kenny G. Antichrist Superstar explores a transformation and metamorphosis – of a worm to an angel to a world-destroying demon; of a boy named Brian Warner to the performer Marilyn Manson to the icon Antichrist Superstar. The album begins with a brief glimpse of the end. And that is where we will begin.

Part 1:
ANTICHRIST SUPERSTAR

A dream: A few years ago, I started having dreams and visions of the world being destroyed, and me being the only one left. It was like an ultimate retribution for all of the things that have happened to me growing up. One dream took place sometime in the future – it may even have been in Fort Lauderdale. Entertainment had gone to such an extreme that they had taken people and made them into zombies almost just for entertainment's sake. And I had this strange vision of these women who were completely brain dead – they were just dancing in cages, and their jaws were wired shut so that they wouldn't bite off the dicks of all these guys that were around them masturbating. It was a complete Sodom and Gomorrah. And then somehow I was there and I was like either presenting the whole event or performing in it or something. That was probably the first appearance of what will be Antichrist Superstar rearing its head.

Manson thinks that maybe on Halloween, Marilyn Manson really did die. Maybe he became Antichrist Superstar. It's a strange thing to say, but Manson takes his name very, very seriously.

"When people sometimes misconceive us as being like Kiss or like Alice Cooper, or being a persona, I don't think they understand how deeply Marilyn Manson goes into my existence," he says.

Manson is now sitting in a Mexican restaurant in a mall; a cheesy mariachi band wanders from table to table. Wearing a black T-shirt and choke collar, he gazes intently straight ahead, one eye brown, the other sky blue and his hair jet black. He talks about time travel, about his ability to hurt others just by thinking about it, about destroying with his music what people see as their world. Each of his comments is greeted with skepticism, though he elaborates until you can almost see the sense in it. For instance, his Antichrist is not a seven-headed beast slaying saints left and right – he's a pop icon who encourages people to question the existence of God and believe in themselves.

In the middle of one of his explanations, Manson heaves a deep sigh. "I go through such drastic mood swings," he says, twirling a fork in his burrito. "Last night I was lying in bed, and I just wanted to kill myself. I was totally depressed. I don't know why. I just felt like I was alone. I'm in my hometown, and I've got nothing to show for it. No one to share anything with. Today I'm in a good mood. I can never figure it out."

A year ago, no one could have imagined that Marilyn Manson would be on the cover of Rolling Stone. When his band released its first album, Portrait of an American Family, on Trent Reznor's Nothing label, it was just a dinky industrial act that the Nine Inch Nails mastermind had stumbled across in Florida. After a second release, Smells Like Children, Marilyn Manson became a popular industrial band, thanks to a demonic version of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." But it was still a joke band, a horror movie that kids could like because it scared their parents. Antichrist Superstar, recorded during eight months with Reznor in New Orleans, is an incredible leap of prowess, a technically, musically and lyrically sophisticated album. Dark, complex and beautiful, the album has established Marilyn Manson as a pop force to be reckoned with. Antichrist Superstar was almost the band's last blast, recorded under great duress as a result of masochistic experiments with sleep deprivation, drug abuse and dreams that Manson believed foresaw his future.

The dream that Manson describes above, in fact, became one of Antichrist Superstar's key songs, "Little Horn." Over death-metal guitar riffing, Manson screams the words: "Someone better get the dog to kick/Jaws wired shut to save the dick/Out of the bottomless pit comes the Little Horn/Little Horn is born . . . Everyone will suffer now." Little Horn, Manson explains, is the Antichrist.

"If you thought about it long enough," he says, "you could pose the question: Did Antichrist Superstar create Marilyn Manson as a vehicle for its rise to power? I really feel like where I'm at now is where there's no line between what's on the album and what's in reality. They work together, and one just feeds off the other. The album talks about us being the biggest rock band in the world, and that is going to happen."

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