Manson Family Values

Marilyn Manson saved himself from a life of decadence, and now he thinks he can save rock 'n' roll

The Manson of Antichrist Superstar was no musical giant (Manson admits that he only got into music when he couldn't get a rise from anyone in Fort Lauderdale with his open-mike poetry readings), but he registered with the masses because people sensed that there was something genuinely scary about him. And if he was generally hopelessly derivative, occasionally he did manage to convey in sound how demented his world view was. Check out Lester Bowie's whacked-out, brass-driven cover of Manson's hit "The Beautiful People" for a reminder of what a twisted piece of music it really is.

Unlike his obvious inspiration Alice Cooper, who played his horror shtick for laughs, all the while guesting on Hollywood Squares and hanging out with Groucho Marx, Manson was at least as warped as his image suggested.

"I think things were worse offstage," he says. "I think I was kind of governed when I was onstage by the people that I employed and by the police and by local officials, and what I shared with an audience was far less than what I was doing in my personal life, which was much more dangerous.

"I guess I was just challenging myself, and trying to embrace every element of decadence, I guess just to experience everything, to overcome it. It was either going to result in death or becoming something different, and fortunately I've become something different."

In becoming something different, though, Manson is no longer someone to be feared, and history suggests that when fear dissipates it can quickly mutate into ridicule. When Manson appeared on The Late Show a few months ago, David Letterman mercilessly mocked him in a manner that recalled the old Saturday Night Live skit where a group of superheroes can't resist taking the piss out of the useless crime-fighter Antman.

Manson's suddenly sluggish record sales haven't helped either, but he argues vehemently (or as close to vehemently as he argues anything) that his sales woes--and those of most rock bands--have been distorted in the press.

"I think the media has misused a lot of information that they've gotten in the past couple of years," he says. "They've created this perception that rock bands are doing worse now than ever, when in fact rock bands are probably doing just as good now as they ever have.

"I think at the pinnacle of the Rolling Stones' career, for them to have a gold record or a platinum record was a big deal. Now, if you don't have a platinum record in the first week, you're a failure all of a sudden. It's a silly perception, and I think it's kinda poisoned kids into thinking they're supposed to like something else. I'm just back to remind them that rock 'n' roll is about so much more than all that bullshit. It's about the spirit of it, and the excitement of a big tour like this. I know that I'm definitely doing better than I did on my last record, so I only see that as being positive."

Whatever the state of Manson's career, his personal life seems to be on an upswing, with his recently announced engagement to actress Rose McGowan.

"I didn't look at [marriage] the way everybody else seems to look at it, 'cause for most people it probably represents settling down, becoming conventional," he says. "But I looked at it as I found someone I could finally believe in, and I just wanted to show that I had that level of respect and commitment. And I'm also a very romantic person. I think that's why I'm so dissatisfied with the world: I do want something better, I just don't ever see it happening."

Manson says in Los Angeles (a city he describes as "much more conservative than most people imagine") he learned to balance both extremes of his namesakes, Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. He argues, though, that his emotional rebirth hasn't softened him. "I think it's made me more bitter than ever now. I feel like I've exposed a nerve, and more people want to stick their fingers in it. I can only imagine that my next album will be more hateful than anything I've ever done, whether it's just hating myself or everyone else I'm not sure."

Since moving to the Hollywood Hills, Manson has--for reasons that are unclear to him--befriended a succession of former child stars, including his new neighbor, Leif Garrett. He concedes that his notorious rep can often create undue tension in these situations.

"I've always genuinely respected and admired all those people, so when I meet 'em, I'm genuinely excited," he says. "But I think they think I'm being sarcastic, 'cause most people are sarcastic toward them.

"Sometimes I push it too far. I think Corey Feldman got a little bitter because of my sense of humor. If you can't laugh at yourself, who are you gonna laugh at? Especially when you're Corey Feldman. You've got nothing else to do but laugh at yourself."

In a tour-diary entry from The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, Manson strained to find an intellectual justification for his onstage flirtations with fascist and satanic imagery. He wrote that he wanted Americans "to realize they don't have to believe in something just because they've been told it all their lives. You can't have someone who's never had sex or drugs telling you it's wrong. Only through experience can you determine your own morality."

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