Certainly, my musical taste is not the norm, at least not for a suburban mother of two in her 30s. When I pick up my kids from school, it's not the feel-good melodies of Raffi or Barney that are blasting from the car's stereo speakers. It's Marilyn Manson.
Just because I don't look like the stereotypical Manson fan doesn't mean I can't appreciate his music. It just means that my peers think I'm a little nuts. No, I don't plaster my face in white clown makeup, pierce my body indiscriminately or wear black from head to toe. But the simple mention of Manson's name elicits reactions of shock, horror or nervous tittering. When I told a friend I was going to a Marilyn Manson concert, she recoiled in horror: "Ewwww! What if he bites a hamster's head off?" This is a typical response. Rumors spin around Manson and his band like bats around Dracula's castle, but most of them are unfounded, according to Manson. Reports that he surgically removed a rib in order to perform oral sex on himself, engages in bizarre sex acts onstage and tortures animals send "concerned parents" and conservative family values advocates into a tizzy.
Right-wing Christian groups have picked up on the swirl of neo-existentialist, pop-satanic philosophy surrounding Manson and are using it to rail against him. They contend that he actually is the
antichrist or even Satan himself. This theory is explained on the Christian Family Network Web page called The Truth About Marilyn Manson, where one can enter "against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." OK, let's look at this logically: Wouldn't the antichrist be a bit more subtle if he were out to warp our youth and poison our society? The malicious allegations on the American Family Association Web site have prompted Manson to sue the organization. Despite this and other protestations, the damage to Manson's image has been done. He even canceled the remaining dates on his U.S. tour earlier this month.
Manson has been a target since the release of his infamous "Antichrist Superstar" CD in 1996. In the wake of the shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Conyers, Ga., his image and his music are under even more scrutiny. In the May 31 Time, Manson is cited as one of the "cultural markers we've come to expect from our kid killers."
Examining what may be wrong with our educational system, family structure or teenagers is difficult. Blaming the rebellious verses in a song written by a ghoulish, somewhat androgynous and outlandish performer is easy. Marilyn Manson's deathly white face and provocative lyrics have him associated with any media-swarmed act of teen violence. The fact that he's an ordained reverend of the satanic movement only adds fuel to the fire. In his autobiography, "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell," Manson talks about his involvement with the movement:
It makes a lot more sense to follow the "Satanic Bible," written with 20th century humanity in mind, than a book that was written as a
companion to a culture long since defunct. Who's to say that a hundred years from now, some idiot isn't going to find a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, nail it to a wall and decide to pray to it.
But Manson's brand of "Satanism" is really more a movement against sheep-herd mentality than a call for violence or self-destruction. He advocates a
questioning of force-fed values and an embracing of a Nietzschean sense of inner God and individuality. He uses the word Satan freely to suggest our dark side, which as the polarity of his name suggests, he believes is part and parcel of our light side.
The balance between good and evil and the choices we make between them, are probably the single most important aspects shaping our personalities and humanity ... Marilyn Monroe had a dark side just as Charles Manson has a good, intelligent side.
Having read Manson's book and interviews, listened to his music and seen him in concert, I find the man to be surprisingly bright and articulate, refreshingly shocking and full of wry irony. Yet, he is also dead serious about his work and its integrity. Integrity isn't something I'd attribute to a Satan worshipper, so where could he have come by his sense of ethics? Mom and dad, just like most of us. Manson grew up in suburban Ohio under the influence of Christianity. His dad is often seen at his tours, smiling proudly amid a sea of 14-year-old Morticias. In his October 1998 Rolling Stone interview, Manson said he now supports his parents financially since they are no longer able to work due to injuries from a car accident. And his
involvement with Rose McGowan, the movie actress of "Scream" and "Jawbreaker," seems as sweet as any storybook romance. Manson even proposed to her on
Valentine's Day in a bubble bath surrounded by candles. True, Manson's grandpa might have hoarded bestial pornography and sex toys in the basement, but doesn't everyone have a weird relative or two?
Manson's softer side made its debut with the release of his second album, "Mechanical Animals," in 1998. He adopted an even more feminine look, complete with "breasts," added a touch of glam-rock and created music reminiscent of Ziggy Stardust vibes. Would you balk at playing early David Bowie in your family sedan? If you're not sure, take a look at these tame lyrics:
In space the stars are no nearer
They just glitter like a morgue
And I dreamed I was a spaceman
Burned like a moth in a flame
But a lot of fans, lustful for the old ripping guitar and hellish lyrics, are pissed at the new incarnation. In an Alternative Press interview, Manson said of the new album:
Making "Mechanical Animals" was, for me, like stepping foot in the world for the first time. I felt very vulnerable. I got involved in a relationship and fell in love, I think for the first time. And I started to feel empathy for other people. It wasn't so much I found God or became a
pussy ... nothing like that. I just found the balance I'd always preached about.
I'm not sure where Marilyn Manson's next metamorphosis will lead him. In concert he adopts a multitude of alter egos, from a spidery sheer body-stockinged marionette to a police officer to a gargantuan circus creature on stilts. He prances across the stage in a metallic glam outfit, is debonair mimicking Fred Astaire in a fedora and overcoat, and eerie as an
evangelist preaching from a podium. His show is more Broadway extravaganza than macabre satanic ritual. Tortured animals and bizarre sex acts were nowhere to be seen.
I'm not saying Manson is an angel or a particularly good role model for my kids. In his book, he describes his hedonistic rock star life, complete with drugs, groupie sex and lots of money to burn. But what do I care? I look to Manson for entertainment, not instructions on life. There are some songs I don't play around my kids, 3 and 7 years old, because of their profane or scary lyrics. On the other hand, if as teenagers they chose to listen to this stuff, I definitely would not censor it, but I'd use it as a launching ground for
conversation about Manson and his intentions.
I expose my children to a host of musicians I love besides Manson -- Frank Sinatra, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Billie Holiday. They all express themselves in unique ways, but I don't hold their lives up as examples.
The work and life of an artist are separate. Some may argue that Frank Sinatra is perhaps more saintly than Manson. Yes, he sang quiet love songs instead of lyrics like "the God of Fuck." Yes, he wore snappy two-piece
suits instead of transparent catsuits, but that doesn't mean he was someone you'd want to hang out with. With his connections to the mob, I'd be a lot more afraid of meeting Sinatra in a dark alley than Manson any day.
That's what Manson does for me, and I suspect for a lot of teenagers as well. After a harrowing day of carpooling screaming kids, there's nothing like a blast of Manson to dissolve my stress and frustration. Perhaps songs of alienation and danger are so popular among teens because they speak to the intense feelings of that age. But do they have the power to warp innocent kids into killers? I don't think so. If anything, I would maintain rock 'n' roll has prevented more acts of violence than it's caused. Who hasn't cried along to a song and felt better afterwards?
I appreciate Manson's imagery and grant him full poetic license. If we can suspend our disbelief when watching theater or movies, viewing art or reading books, then we can certainly do it when listening to music. As Manson writes in his book:
The important thing to me is we've written good songs that people will remember and sing. We've infiltrated into the mainstream in a way that they don't want and I think that is a work of art in itself.
I, for one, am singing.