A few years back, rocker Marilyn Manson gained infamy for ripping up Bibles on stage. Now he says he plans to read the Bible from the stage. A community group called Citizens for Peace and Respect has called for Manson to skip the June 21st Denver stop of the heavy-metal tour Ozzfest. The organization's website says that Manson "promotes hate, violence, death, suicide, drug use, and the attitudes and actions of the Columbine killers."
In response, Manson has promised to "balance my songs with a wholesome Bible reading." The Bible readings, he says, will allow his fans to "examine the virtues of wonderful 'Christian' stories of disease, murder, adultery, suicide, and child sacrifice. Now that seems like 'entertainment' to me."
|Manson performing at the State Palace Theater, New Orleans late last year.|
So the battle rages on. Perhaps no figure in modern culture is as famous or reviled for his use of religious imagery as Marilyn Manson. In this Beliefnet interview, in which Manson recollects childhood nightmares about the Antichrist and attending services by evangelist Ernest Ainsley, he shows that his dispute with Christianity is as much reaction as provocation.
The same can be said for his views of the media. In the wake of Columbine, Manson was attacked as an indirect cause of the shooting--even though it was later shown that the killers were not Manson fans. At the time, I worked with Manson on a piece he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine to defend himself. "A lot of people forget or never realize that I started my band as a criticism of these very issues of despair and hypocrisy," he wrote. He went on to attack the media's ghoulish fascination with the murders: "I was dumbfounded as I watched the media snake right in, not missing a teardrop, interviewing the parents of dead children, televising the funerals. Then came the witch hunt."
Manson isn't naïve about the implications of changing your name from Brian Warner to Marilyn Manson--a conflation of his obsessions with sex, violence, and celebrity--or of making albums titled "Antichrist Superstar" (1996) or last year's "Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)." He's well aware that people might conclude you're out to stir up trouble.
He's also aware that talking about the spiritual premises and implications of his music and his own complex religious upbringing in a setting like Beliefnet is to jump into a fiery furnace. What is perhaps most surprising about Manson is how deeply engaged he has been in religious topics, and how genuinely he wants to confront those who are likely to fiercely disagree with him. It's his idea of a good time.
The Manson critique includes a highly theatrical brand of bone-crunching, guitar-driven rock & roll and lyrics that harshly denounce the crushing effects of conformity. Rather than face life's confusing freedom and difficult choices, Manson says, people disown their humanity to become, as one of his album titles puts it, "mechanical animals."
It is Manson's fascination with violence (which, he points out, we get in a constant stream from many sources) that raises hackles. And it must be said that his message isn't always clear. His songs are laced with nihilism ("All your infants in abortion cribs/I was born into this/Everything turns to sh-t") and blasphemy ("When I’m God everybody dies").
The persona he assumes--he never breaks character in public--is a distinctly unsettling, sexually indeterminate blend of pancake makeup, bondage gear, lipstick, mascara, and religious imagery. The formula has sold nearly 5 million albums.
|I used to have nightmares about the Antichrist.|
Though he has flirted with Satanism, his philosophy has far more to do with the radical individualism of Nietzsche or Ayn Rand than devil worship. Manson, a 32-year-old product of Ohio and Florida, is as gripped by religion, as Christ-haunted, as anyone I've ever met. Here he explains the origins of that ambivalent attraction.
During my visit to his Hollywood Hills home in 1997, Manson posed next to a gruesome crucifix for part of a filmed interview. Later, seated on his terrace with the grid of lights that is Los Angeles twinkling in the background, he did seem seductively satanic, tempting viewers with all the kingdoms of this world--or, at least, all the potential delights of L.A. "Maybe I should become a Christian and make them all happy," he said. "But I think if I found Jesus--which, I didn't know he was lost in the first place--I don't think he would be all that different from me."
Manson spoke to me recently about the current state of his soul from his home in the city of the (fallen) angels, Los Angeles.
What was your religious upbringing?
My first memories of religion were being taken to Episcopal church. My father was Catholic, but my mother, I believe, was Episcopal. So I sort of veered off into the watered-down version of Catholicism.
At the same time I was going to a nondenominational Christian school, where I was taught a very underhanded form of Christianity. For example, my Bible teacher would ask the class, "Is there anyone in the room that’s Catholic?” or “Is there anyone that’s Jewish?" If there was no response, she would talk about how wrong those other religions interpreted the Bible. So at an early age, Christians already started to appear to me as people who believed that their interpretation of God was the only one that was right.