[F]or Marilyn Manson, the role of the artist is to provoke, to push people to think. Not just an icon in music, but also a controversial performance artist (as well as a successful actor and a keen painter), he has never ceased to challenge both people and prejudices. Rarely has he failed to incite a reaction.
During the 90s, Manson (whose real name is Bryan Warner) was seen as the embodiment of conservative Christian America’s fears. For years he has been made a scapegoat for the prevalence of social problems in the country. He’s been called sick, his theatrics seen as grotesque, and was even blamed for such catastrophic events as the Columbine massacre in 1999. It goes without saying that it must have been wearing and testing at times, yet Manson’s commitment to his art has rarely wavered: “You stand tall, stand by what you believe, and look good while you’re doing it. If someone tries to fuck with it, you fucking knock them down.”
I personally was once terrified of the cultural icon (thanks in large part to his choice of contact lenses). To many, Manson has always been a question mark, strongly believing that one should never try to explain their art: “I think once you start explaining what you do for a living and not let what you do be the explanation for you, that’s when you fail”.
Now, just shy of two decades after the release of such pivotal records as Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals, it will be interesting to see whether he is finally out of the firing line. Will right-wing America have something to say about The Pale Emperor, which is released today? Or are critics now too distracted by Miley and her foam finger, Nicki and her large behind, to worry about lyrics to such songs as “Killing Strangers” and “The Devil Beneath My Feet”? In 2015, has the conversation steered away from music inciting violence, to focus instead on the ways in which it counters feminism?
When I first enter the room I find him stood smiling, holding a pink stuffed animal given to him by a previous journalist. He’s in his full getup, complete with metal grill and lipstick. Before he sits beside me on a small two-seater, he circles the room, switching off each and every lamp in turn, bar one. In response to this slightly odd behaviour, his publicist turns to me and jokes, “Don’t be scared!” before leaving the room.
He sits beside me, takes my hand in both of his, leans in and playfully says, “So… let’s really get to know each other”. His voice is soft and low (so much so that I‘m actually concerned that the dictaphone is not going to pick up any of the interview). His anecdotes are full of references to niche culture and it is often difficult to know whether he is telling the truth or taking the piss. He, as many before have reported, is charming and warm. He’s funny, and even when flitting to topics of conversation which should be menacing (i.e. that time he put a gun in someone’s mouth), his chatter seems more like hyperbole, all part of playing the Marilyn Manson persona which, thanks to his appearances on hit shows like Sons of Anarchy and Eastbound & Down, we are starting to see a different side to.
Known to monopolise conversation, he leaves few pauses to allow journalists to interject. Normally such an interviewee would be a nightmare, however his monologues are so odd, that while they’re not always easy to follow, they’re completely engrossing. For this reason our interview is laid out slightly different to usual – we let Manson hog the microphone, make of it what you will…