"In many ways, I wish that I could start all over and once again appreciate the taboos," Manson says. "It would be great to be innocent again."
Yet as a child, Manson wanted nothing more than to peek behind the curtain. He grew up as the worm he sings about in his songs – he was sick three times with pneumonia – and longed for metamorphosis.
"From an early age, I wanted so much to see or experience something that wasn't normal," he says. "My mom used to tell me when I was a kid, 'If you curse at nighttime, the devil's going to come to you when you're sleeping.' I used to get excited because I really wanted it to happen. I was never afraid of what was under the bed. I wanted it. I wanted it more than anything. And I never got it. I just became it."
One of the most horrifying songs on Antichrist Superstar is "Kinderfeld," about an old man named Jack who sits, hands "cracked and dirty," nails like "beetle wings," playing with a train set. Jack was the name of Manson's grandfather, whom the singer claims used to masturbate while playing with toy trains. It's an image that has haunted Manson all his life.
"I first started having really vivid dreams as a kid around the same time when I was spying on my grandfather," he says. "I used to take pictures of naked women, and I would cut out just their sex organs. And I started having really violent dreams that I was doing that to real people. It freaked me out as a kid."
That period marked the end of peaceful sleep for the rest of Manson's life. Though he doesn't remember it, his mother says that when he was 8 or 9, someone broke into the family's house and tried to smother him with a pillow. Ever since, Manson has been unable to go to sleep without a TV on in the background.
Manson: Another thing that happened was, I found a coffee can across the street from my house in Ohio, at a butcher's, and there were all these flies around it. I opened it up, and it had an aborted fetus in it. My parents told me that it was just raw meat.
Me: Maybe that explains all the lines about pro-choice and aborted fetuses sticking to your ribs on Antichrist Superstar.
Manson: I've been fascinated with abortion. And maybe it goes as far back as that coffee can. But actually I've had to go through that experience, you know, with a girl. And it was real bad, too, because it was like four months into her being pregnant, and they had to do some real intense things where they induce labor. Very terrifying stuff. Actually, no one even knows about it.
Me: Your friends didn't know?
Me: Your parents didn't know?
Me: They will now.
Manson: That's OK. [Pauses] I haven't said when it happened. Although these are experiences that Manson often returns to, Brian Warner would probably never have become Marilyn Manson if his parents hadn't sent him away to a private Christian school in 1974. It was there that he learned how to deceive and manipulate the system.
"I'm glad I sent him to that school because of the educational value," his dad says now. "But if I knew the result would be the demise of morality that happened, I would never have done it." Not that Warner disapproves of his son's music: "At first the lyrics shocked me, but when you sit down and think of the true meaning behind it, he wants parents to raise their children right."
Manson recalls some of the things that affected him at the school. "They had these seminars where they'd tell you about the music you weren't supposed to be listening to," he says. "And they would play heavy-metal songs backward. And they'd show you pictures of the bands, and I was like, 'I like this. This is what I want.'
"I started going to the record store and buying, like, a W.A.S.P. record for seven bucks and then selling it for, like, 20 bucks to some kid whose parents wouldn't let him go to record stores," Manson continues. "We didn't have locks on our lockers because we were on the honor system, so later in the day I would go and steal the album back and keep it for myself. I didn't realize it at the time, but there's always been this underlying theme in the stuff that I do: It's teaching people not to be so stupid."
Manson began his foray into entertainment at 13, making cassettes for his friends and eventually selling them at school. They were full of strange skits, prank calls and songs about sexual fantasies, masturbation and passing gas. He still has one of those tapes, which he plays for his crew on his tour bus. He also started his own cartoon and humor magazine based on Mad. "I was always trying to do different things to entertain people," Manson says. "And at the same time, I think, I was, whether subconsciously or not, trying to get kicked out of school because I hated it so much."
We are driving through Fort Lauderdale, and Manson wants to show me some memorable sites, but he can't remember any. "I wish we were in Ohio," he says. "I'd show you the baseball diamond where I lost my virginity. It's kind of ironic because I hate sports. I was 16 when that happened."
If you talk to Manson when he isn't wearing his pancake makeup, you can almost see him as a teenager, a sort of gangly, chinless, pimple-flecked, suburban metalhead with a nose that's a little too big for his face. He gazes out the window at a flea market where a woman once refused to sell him a Jesus Christ tapestry and then started quoting Scripture at him as if he were a minion of the devil.
"You know, I had a bit of a misogynist period in my life," Manson suddenly says. "When I was back in public school during my senior year, there was this one girl that was, like, one of the most popular girls in school. I kept trying to go out with her because I was the most unpopular person in school. I finally got her to go out on a date with me, and I didn't know what to do. I wasn't even going to try and kiss her because I was afraid to do the wrong thing. So I brought her back to my parents' house, and they weren't home. She was, like, this pristine, popular girl, and the minute she got to my house, she had her clothes off and just, you know, wanted to fuck. Then the next day she didn't even talk to me. It was definitely a moment, like seeing my grandfather [masturbating], a moment of having my idea of what something was supposed to be destroyed."
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