Marilyn Manson: The Vampire of the Hollywood Hills
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.