may be a self-proclaimed Antichrist Superstar, but there's more to his transformation from Brian Warner, the son of Catholic and Episcopalian parents, to one of America's featured cultural icons.
Warner, who was raised in Canton, Ohio, later moved to Florida at age 18 where he studied to become a music journalist. After years of attending strict private schools and being bullied by other children, Warner would grow up to become famed rocker Marilyn Manson. While many still shun the now 39-year-old musician, is Manson really the reportedly fearsome Satanist, or a misunderstood artist who explores the dark side of humanity?
Love, Lust, and Lolita
It was a grim fairy tale of a snow-white burlesque dancer named Dita Von Teese
courted by the Antichrist Superstar. After six years of dating, the strange pair married in December 2005 at an Irish castle. A year later, the marriage came to a sudden end when Teese left their secluded San Fernando mansion on Christmas Eve, empty-handed. Then on December 29, 2006, she filed for divorce. "I wasn't supportive about his partying or his relationship with another girl, and as much as I loved him I wasn't going to be part of that," she later revealed.
The other woman was rumored to be then 19-year-old Evan Rachel Wood
, who's 18 years his junior. Wood was soon celebrating her new Lolita role by modeling heart-shaped glasses, carrying plush toys while holding Manson's hand, and wearing ruffled dresses. The couple's relationship seemed weirder when on May 2007, Manson's "Heart-Shaped Glasses" video showed him and Wood kissing while it rained blood. "That was one of the most romantic moments of my entire life," Wood gushed in an interview, but then choses to stay silent when a month before she morphed into a Teese lookalike with crimson lips, too-dark hair, and white-pancake makeup for the Life Before Her Eyes
screening in New York City. Evan Von Pu-leeze!
Absinthe Gone Bad
When Holy Wood
and Golden Age of Grotesque
premiered in in 2000 and 2003, Manson mentioned that absinthe, an alcoholic spirit blamed for hallucinations during the 19th century, helped inspire him during recording. Therefore, it was no surprise that in 2007, Manson launched his own brand of the potent drink cleverly named Mansinthe with 66.6% alcoholic content per volume. Even the label, which contains a self portrait titled "When I Get Old," was created using a paintbrush dipped in the anise-flavored liquor. However, the line wasn't well-received by connoisseurs. In early 2008, a panel from gourmet food website Epicurious.com tested Mansinthe, and thanks to its distinct smell it got panned. Testers compared the scent to "sewage water," "swamp mud," and "rubbing alcohol." One even described the taste "as bad as piss."
What's worse is that the beverage's official site was blacklisted by Google for containing malicious software that damages computers. Erica Reitman, who owns the celebrity-themed blog Dear Famous Asshole, feels that Manson's elixir is only part of his long-term plan to being a professional rock star. "I don't think a single thing in this guy's life has happened by accident," she exclaims. "Manson studied journalism during his brief stint at college and worked as a music journalist. It's pretty easy to imagine that it was during this time that he had one of those 'Hey, I can do this!' moments that we've all had at one time or another in our lives. The difference is, Manson acted on this impulse and has been wildly successful ever since."
You Call This Obscene?
Burlesque dancers, elephants, and Siamese twins sounds like a carnival in post-war America, but it was the scene to Manson's 2003 music video "mObscene" shot in present-day Los Angeles. Dressed like a cross between a terrifying clown and a ringleader, Manson makes his sideshow acts of a woman's face trapped inside a birdcage, twins tied up with a corseted dress, and stilt walkers tame. Filled with swing dancers and a 1940s all-female harmony group wearing a sexy soldier's uniform, the video appeared too popish for an industrial metal band. Even Teese, who was Manson's girlfriend at the time, only appeared for a few seconds. She performed her absinthe glass routine as dancers with painted scars on their faces cheered "be obscene!"
For fans who were expecting the usual bible-ripping, cross-dressing Manson, traveling back in time was torturous. Giles Harrison, who photographed Manson at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, thinks that his "just plain weird" appearance successfully draws listeners to his music. "I definitely don't see him as a very talented musician," he says. "I think a lot of his popularity is based on his look. But I can't deny that there is a niche audience that he appeals to - mostly disillusioned teenagers, rebellious towards authority."
Alien + Rocker = Chaos
If parents were terrified of Manson luring their children with his music, then his third full-length album Mechanical Animals
would quickly impact the world after the occurrence of an unforgettable tragedy. Released in 1998, Manson put aside his Antichrist Superstar crown and instead channeled glam rock godfather David Bowie
. The startling result was an androgynous silver-skinned alien named Om?ga with pillarbox red hair and large prosthetic breasts. Manson's other role in the album was Alpha, a substance-abusing rocker. Together, Alpha and Om?ga sung of cocaine, fame, and despair.
When the Colombine School Massacre happened in 1999, parents immediately pointed at Manson for promoting violence and drug use, especially in "Mechanical Animals." However, several reports stated that shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren't even fans of the shock rocker. While anxiously searching for a reason why two high school seniors would commit murder, America conveniently chose a musician who represents the rebellious characteristics of metal. David Wakeman, Account Executive at WOR 710 AM in New York City, who shared drinks with Twiggy Ramirez, believes Manson had the most relevance in music after the school shooting. "At the time, I feel that Manson was an easy target for talk show hosts and people that were looking for a scapegoat," he explains. "The fact is that Manson has said that he reflects what he sees in popular culture and to an extent, the fascination we have with the darker sides of our thoughts."
In 1994, Manson made his debut with Portrait of an American Family
, a musical horror show that shocked fans more than Alice Cooper
decapitating himself on stage. Six guys from Florida renamed themselves after starlets and killers, and then recorded songs on murder and religion. However, Manson and his ensemble did more than dress up like zombie drag queens. They expertly recollected some of the most controversial events in American pop culture to create dark, chilling melodies that'll continue to frighten parents and anger ministers.
"Portrait of an American Family" was recorded in late actress Sharon Tate's
Beverly Hills home where she, along with six friends, were slaughtered by Charles Manson's followers. The seventh track, "Get Your Gunn," includes audio from Budd Dwyer's public suicide during a press conference in 1987. The album also includes quotes from murderers Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez, and even a recording left from an angry mother protesting on Manson's answering machine. Some would consider his album to be a cry for attention. Yet what contemporary band would carefully study criminology solely to invoke the horror behind rock music's influence on society?
Pop culture expert Dominic Patten states that it was original shock rocker Alice Cooper that triggered Manson into becoming one of music's most infamous leaders. "A skinny male singer who wears a lot of black leather, make-up, acts like a serial killer and has a girl's first name and a guy's surname...of course, Marilyn Manson has been suckling off the Alice Cooper inspiration bottle," he says. "Manson picked up the Cooper legacy when Alice had really fallen off the radar musically. To rip off Alice Cooper was like a successful Hollywood remake, a stroke of genius and it proved, at least for a few years, to be a chart topping, scandalizing, an successful homage."
The Devil's Advocate
"You're going to make an impression on the world," prophesized Anton Lavey, founder and former High Priest of the Church of Satan to Manson in 1994. The aspiring rocker, who had the chance to visit Lavey's home in San Francisco to learn more about his taboo philosophies, was granted a new role that even shocked him: Reverend. "Little did I know that accepting that card would be one of the most controversial things I have done to that point," Manson explains in his 1999 autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell. "It seemed then (and it still does) that my ordainment was simply a gesture of respect. It was like an honorary degree from a university." Since then, Manson would battle the wrath of conservative Christians throughout the United States, determined to ban his music. When he playfully ripped the pages out of the Book of Mormon that same year in Salt Lake City, he soon left running from the stage to avoid being arrested. It would be the first of many times that religious extremists would declare him Satan incarnate.
Manson's Believe It or Not
As a rock star, Manson has been the subject of many rumors that often alarmed listeners more than his music ever could. However, which rumors were true and which were works of fiction? Rolling Stone editor and '90s dark music expert Kyle Anderson chuckles when reminiscing about the hundreds of strange anecdotes that many people believed. "There was literally something new about Manson every month." he states. "My favorite was that he surgically removed some of his ribs in order to perform oral sex on himself. It's not true and I would always think what a phenomenal thing for either him to make up because it was just the weirdest thing in the universe or for some journalist to say, 'This is what I think.'"
Anderson also mentions that with time, some rumors circulating around Manson grew wackier. "I also heard the story that on the 'Portrait of an American Family' tour he had two guys on either side of the stage dressed up as Santa Clause who would throw bags of drugs to the crowd. His response to that was always, 'If I had drugs, I would certainly take them and not give them away.'" However, some rumors actually were true. "My favorite Manson moment is true that for a long time he was smoking bone dust," he says. "I don't know if it was a particular animal or it was meant to be human bones, but he would smoke them. He later admitted that it was the worst high in the universe. It was really weak, it didn't last very long, and it had a very terrible comedown later, but he did it because it was the scariest thing to do at the time."
Strange Shopping Spree
Exactly two months after Manson released his sixth studio album Eat Me, Drink Me
, he was sued on August 5, 2007, by former keyboardist Stephen Bier, also known as Madonna Wayne Gacy. While it's normal that two bandmates would have creative differences after working together for over 16 years, fans wondered why Bier claimed that Manson owed him at least $20 million. According to the suit, Manson used band money to purchase a $2 million home, Nazi paraphernalia, and a handbag once owned by Eva Braun as a present for Teese. The suit also claimed that Manson bought "African masks made of human skin, the full skeleton of a 4-year-old Chinese girl, and the full skeleton of a 17th-century male in a wheelchair." In addition, the money owed for the band was used to satisfy Manson's cocaine habit, a low-budget movie production, an art gallery, and Teese's antique engagement ring allegedly worth around $450,000. Bier further stated that his ex-friend, along with his lawyer and business managers, cut his salary and band credit card access, even refusing to pay medical bills for work-related injuries. Manson fought back by countersuing Bier for breach of contract, explaining that the keyboardist showed up late for recordings and events, as well as exposing private information about the band without his consent. "The fact that he's claiming that I've treated him unfairly, financially, is really ridiculous," he says. "And I would never spend my money on a Chinese girl skeleton. That would be crossing the line. It's a Chinese boy, for the record."
Manson may be known for his music and writing, but what about as watercolorist? He first mentioned displaying his drawings at age 12 when he designed his own magazine titled "Stupid," containing the Kuwatch Sex Aid Adventure Kit cartoon. Manson would reintroduce the world to his art in 2002 with "The Golden Age of Grotesque Art Show." While some of his pieces included The Black Dahlia, a sharp-toothed Mickey Mouse pulling off his scalp, and a wine glass filled with heads, others seemed dull, tame, and childlike. What makes a big-headed Angelina Jolie
or a stoned-looking Evan Rachel Wood inventive enough for a gallery? Then again, many critics initially declared that Campbell soup cans, a melting clock, and Marilyn Monroe
embracing Elvis Presley
would be quickly forgotten by the public.
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By Stephanie Nolasco
Starpulse contributing writer