Vintage Interview: Marilyn Manson from 1996

In my career, I’ve interviewed a lot of interesting musicians and actors. But since many of the magazines and websites that originally published those stories aren’t around anymore, I’ve decided to pull some of the more interesting interviews out of my archive.

The following interview with Marilyn Manson took place in August of 1996 at a house he had rented in New Orleans while recording Antichrist Superstar. Parts of the interview were used in a piece about him I wrote for the music magazine huH.

Marilyn Manson 1996 01

Are you evil?

With anything that I do, I always try to create my own heaven and hell. To me, the definition of good and evil is relative to each person; good is really what you like and evil is what you don’t like. So to people out there who don’t like or misunderstand or are afraid of what I do, they’re going to consider me evil. But I don’t consider what I do to be evil, for my purposes. I don’t set out to do wrong, I set out to do what’s right for me.

I think in every person’s nature, good and evil is the balance that makes a person. It’s often that people are afraid to accept that and experience both sides. That’s when you really run into problems with society because it’s the self-denial and the hypocrisy that weakens everything. If people would just accept the Marilyn, accept the Manson, and see how the two things work together they’d just be happier. But when people hear “Marilyn Manson,” they don’t want to talk about Marilyn Monroe, they want to talk about Charles Manson. It’s always been a science project for me to see how people react, what motivates people, what their fears are, and that continues to inspire me to write.

Are you a bad person?

I believe that the people that I love and that I care for and consider friends I would do anything. Except, I don’t pass out good will openly to anybody, I don’t abide by the Christian value of “Love Thy Neighbor” because I think that waters down the value of love. If you love everybody, it really has no meaning. I find that the things that I care strongly about and would do anything for them, and likewise for the things I despise, I really don’t do anything against them.

As for if I’m a good person or a bad person, I think it’s going to be up to how an individual person views me, but I’m a good friend and I’m very loyal. I’m fair, I’m a very fair person.

Is man good or evil?

It’s always going to be a combination of the two. People have the potential to be good. But man as an animal is, by nature, evil because — if you want to subscribe to the Christian mythology of it all — it’s the whole Garden Of Eden, man chose the wrong path. It’s part of being imperfect, part of being flawed, and that’s what makes you a human being.

So yeah, you can say people are innately bad or innately good, but you can’t look at that as derogatory because that’s what makes you a human. As a person, you shouldn’t be ashamed of the way you feel, you should be able to accept things like hatred and greed and lust because they’re part of your personality.

Do these things come up in the new album?

Absolutely. One of the underlying themes is the struggle between trying to realize that, my own battle with the question, and the idea of…I got really fascinated by the story of Lucifer and the fallen angel and the idea of being kicked out of Heaven for rebelling against God. And I sort of considered the old saying, “History is written by the winners.” What makes Lucifer such a bad guy? Maybe its just that the people who wrote the story decided that he was going to be the bad guy. I can relate more to his characteristics than to that of the opposing team. That’s definitely something that was constantly considered throughout the making of the album, and even going back and listening to it now.

I don’t know anything about it myself, but a friend who’s familiar with it explained that Satanism isn’t worshiping the devil, worshiping the dark side, it’s more about individualism.

It’s a metaphor, really. I don’t want people to misconceive me as a spokesperson for the Church Of Satan. I consider it one of many qualifications, like being a Boy Scout or in 4H.

Were you a Boy Scout?

[sheepishly] Uh, I didn’t do very good at that. I didn’t get any of those badges.

The writings of Anton LaVey [The Satanic Bible and its companion The Satanic Rituals] led me to come out of my shell and inspired me in many ways. So it was flattery for him to ask, “Do you want to be a part of the organization?” But it’s not a title that I necessarily exercise. I appreciate it and respect it, but I’m my own person, and I don’t subscribe to any one ideal, which is why I don’t want to limit myself to just the Church Of Satan. That’s just a balance for where I find other inspiration, anything from Hebrew cabalism to Dr. Seuss. It’s all input for me.

I’ve heard all sorts of propaganda, and a lot of it interests me. I’m very into dreams, and deja vus, and aliens and angels being one and the same, and is…am I a man considering myself an angel, or an angel that’s fooled into thinking himself a man?

What were you like as a kid, say five or six?

I don’t remember exactly. I went to a private Christian school; everyone’s heard that story before. I was a scared kid a lot of times. I was always afraid to go to sleep without the lights on, so I developed a habit of sleeping with the TV on. And I still do. It’s not out of being afraid, it’s a habit.

Were you picked on?

I was always a little skinny kid that nobody really liked, so I was always just doing my own thing. I was really into fantasy and imagination. I remember when I was twelve, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. Escapism was what it was about for me, because I didn’t really like and wasn’t the person that I wanted to be in the real world, so I was the person I wanted to be in my own head. I mean, it wasn’t miserable, but it was just weird.

Your given name is Brian Warner. Is there a difference between Brian and Marilyn?

Marilyn Manson, if at first was some sort of creation for me to escape what I didn’t want to be any more, it is something that has consumed me and I find no escape from. That’s not to say I don’t like that, but it’s something that…the idea of on-stage and off-stage, for me, Marilyn Manson itself has two sides to it. So for me, it’s always Marilyn Manson, but within in that are many personalities. Also, making this album, I went through a lot of transformations and this other personality of Antichrist Superstar has also even come into my life. It’s kind of this name I gave for less tolerant, nihilistic element of my personality.

I think it’s much more exciting and enjoyable to live your life as more than one thing. If you want to narrow it down and label it into little categories it becomes boring. If Marilyn Manson is a show, then everything in my life is a show because it’s all the time for me and that’s the way I like it.

So there’s no difference?

There’s a time and a place for everything, and that’s the different sides of Marilyn Manson itself. I guess you could say that what we is, what we are — excuse me — is for real, but what’s real? People ask me, “Is that your real hair color?” Everything is as real as you want it to be in my world. Something I believe is true may be considered a lie by someone else; that’s part of the excitement, the question of, “What is real?” It’s sincere, if you want to put it in those terms.

Six years ago, when Marilyn Manson came out, it was on several different levels. It was symbolic to kind of shed the skin of my past — people refer to your given name as your Christian name — so there’s symbolism there, and it was also the idea that show business is so fake that I wanted to pick a name that was as fake as it could be so it would realer than anything else because it acknowledges itself as being fake. Marilyn Monroe itself was a fake name, and Charles Manson was not his born name either, so I thought that was an exciting irony for me. And, of course, the other reasons for Marilyn Manson being the dichotomy, the extreme positive and negative.

Marilyn Manson 1996 02

How long have you been living in New Orleans?

It’s almost five months now, and we actually finished the album today. Finally. I plan on leaving immediately and I don’t know where I’ll place myself. Except on tour.

Part of coming here was, if I was to pick any place in America that was Earth’s equivalent of Hell, it would be New Orleans, because I think it’s a place where people come to die. There’s a saying here in New Orleans, “There’s two things here: bars and graveyards.” And it’s absolutely true, this is a very miserable town. But at the same time you can use that to your advantage. You can see how worthwhile life is by being so near the ugliness of it all. And, luckily, that’s what I managed to do.

It’s a real dark town, and that’s not to try and play up any sort of hype for New Orleans, it’s just a really ugly place. It’s something you don’t see when you’re just here for a day or two, but when you’re here for months it really works at you.

You mentioned bars and graveyards, but there’s two other things in New Orleans: blues and voodoo. Any of that in new album?

Maybe I fed off of what a lot of blues artists felt by living in New Orleans, that depression and that reason for the blues. But actually listening to the blues never really came into play for me. I do like a lot of it here and there sporadically, but it’s not one of my main influences.

The voodoo element down here is interesting, though. You can get the tourist version by going to the Quarter, but you can really talk to people who’ve been down here for years. A friend of mine, who was a professor at Tulane College, he was really well-versed in all of the different mythologies, I spent a lot of time learning things from him.

Making our album, it was a bit of experimentation. I wanted to…being really into my dreams and tap into my subconscious that you normally can’t get at by just sitting around and thinking. We went through a lot of experiments that led to, probably, the disintegration of different elements of our camp, our guitar player leaving, things like that. We experimented in pain, experimented in narcotics, Hebrew cabalism, numerology has become very important on the new album. When you look at it very carefully, people can read into a lot of the numbers and the symbols.

What we did in the end, and I think quite successfully, is create a musical ritual that would bring about The Apocalypse. But the thing is, people look at The Apocalypse as the world being destroyed, but I look at it on a different level. For me, the idea of Antichrist is an unspoken knowledge that every person has, and it’s just the denial of God and the acceptance of yourself as a powerful entity that can make their own decisions. It’s not so much one person with a 666 on their head who’s going to burn down the world. So when I say “The Apocalypse,” I think every time people listen to this new album, maybe that’s an Armageddon of the subconscious, maybe its people dying in their mind, God being destroyed in their head and them becoming themselves and going through the same transformation I did, where you are a worm and you become something that’s much stronger. I don’t care if something’s good or bad or if it’s Christian or anti-Christian; I want something that’s strong, something that believes in itself.

So…if this album takes off, it might destroy society as we know it?

I watched something the other day on VH1, it was like the early days of MTV and people were talking about music and it’s effect on society, and I watched artist after artist say, “I don’t think music can change anything, it’s entertainment.” But I completely disagree. I think, you write a song, and people are singing it, and the things that people hum along to have some resonance.

But music cannot make someone do something against their nature

I totally agree with you. Let me rephrase what I was saying. The most that I can do is make someone want something to happen in society. I can’t make them do something, I can’t make them find the truth. Maybe I can make them want the truth. If you look back throughout history, it’s been art and music that’s actually made the changes. Now, it hasn’t done it itself, you’re not going to see a physical change. People aren’t going to buy Antichrist Superstar and the next day burn down churches, that’s not the way it’s going to happen. It’s just a change of heart.

But how would you feel if someone did burn a church in your name?

Part of what I say is about being an individual. I want you to be yourself, I don’t want you to be like me. If they’re being themselves, they’re being like me.

People are going to do what they want to do, people are going to interpret things how they want. But part of what I try and say in everything is to be responsible individual. If you want to be your own god and you want to be yourself, then you have to take responsibility for all your actions. That’s why I’m willing to go to jail when I break the law. I’m not going to sit there and fight and say, “No, I’m an artist; I deserve to do what I want.” It’s against the law and you have to deal with that, and people can’t be ignorant of that.

And in terms of people killing themselves, it is about a celebration of life, living life to its fullest because you may not be around the next day to do so. I believe in strong thing, and taking the easy way out isn’t a strong thing to do. If you don’t like the world you should change it, you shouldn’t give up and split.

Seems like in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a Marilyn Manson?

In the world that I envision, Marilyn Manson isn’t necessary. However, that’s not the world we live in.

With all the seriousness and all of the dark outlook and the grim outlook for the future, I do enjoy doing what I do, and I do enjoy who I am, so in no way am I ever complaining about having to accept this role. In the end, it is music, and it is for people’s entertainment, and it is to be enjoyed, and it is to inspire people to do their own thing and be creative in their own way. If someone listens to our music and it makes them creative, that’s makes me happier than anything.

If the world was perfect, would you be a baseball player or stock broker or something like that?

No, I’m sure I would still enjoy this because I enjoy writing songs and I enjoy making people happy, or making people fulfilled, giving people what I always wanted when I was a kid.

Do you remember the first time you felt accepted?

I don’t think I’ve gotten to that point because it’s always had to be on my own terms. The only time I feel like I’m a part of something that makes me comfortable it’s something that I’ve created for myself. I don’t look at that as necessarily a bad thing, I look at it as, “Why bother trying to fit in when you can make your own?”

But going back to the “perfect world” and Marilyn Manson and that whole thing, Marilyn Manson had started as a reaction, but I think it’s now finishing as a solution. I think Antichrist Superstar is an answer to questions I posed early on.

So then where do you go from here?

That’s really going to be up to the world: how they accept the album, how much they take it to heart, how much they apply it to their own lives.

It’s almost like you’re saying that everything has been leading up to this album, it’s the magnum opus.

I feel that way on different levels, but that’s not to say there isn’t something after this. For me, going back to the idea of everything being a science project, it’s real relative to how the world interprets this. I consider the audience and the music to feed off each other, and what comes of each is accordant to what the other is doing.

Going into this album, the stuff that inspired me the most: David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, [Pink Floyd’s] The Wall, Funhouse by The Stooges, and Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper. Those were some of my favorite albums as a kid, and all had stories that held them together, and one day I wanted to place my album alongside them.

Marilyn Manson 1996 03

Speaking of other musicians, a couple years ago, some Norwegian death metal bands burned down churches. What did you think of this?

There’s a much more appropriate way to attack Christian morality than burning down a church, that’s pretty juvenile.

But then, if you don’t take a step back and recognize what you’re doing, you can easily become a parody of yourself.

Does it bug you that Marilyn Manson is thought as a parody by some people?

Well, it’s a gimmick of a gimmick, it’s a parody of a parody. And anybody who thinks I’m blind to that, that I’m not intelligent enough to see that, they’re missing the point more than they think I’m missing the point. If I wanted a gimmick that made me quite successful, I’d be like Hootie & The Blowfish or Pearl Jam because they’re very easy to swallow.

That’s the funny part of it, when people say, “Marilyn Manson is a gimmick.” It’s a mockery of gimmickry in itself.

So is Marilyn Manson a band or a man? Or a canal? Because you’re the only one here, doing this interview, and you’re the only one doing the photo shoot.

It’s a weird circumstance. It’s a band, but it’s me. It’s almost as mystifying as the Holy Trinity, where it’s three but it’s one. Aside from myself, our keyboard player is the only remaining original member, because I always thought it was a duty to the honesty of what I’m trying to do to make sure that everybody that I work with is constantly a part of and believing in the same things that I’m trying to relate. If there’s any kind of discrepancy or any disagreement, it weakens things and it makes it not as sincere as it’s meant to be. It’s very much a band but, at the same time, they entrust me to be the spokesperson for anything that’s being said, sometimes just to be the figure head.

As far as the photo shoot, I would’ve liked to have the band involved, but unfortunately not everyone’s available.

It almost sounds kind of Miles Davis-esque, in the sense that he used to hire musicians he liked, but then he’d let them do what they wanted to do, he didn’t tell them what to do.

It’s both musically and ideally that I’d like to only be involved with people who believe in what’s going on, I don’t want someone who’s just doing it as a gig. That’s really where the breakdown came between us and our former guitarist [Daisy Berkowitz]. He and I, along with our keyboard player, were the original members of the band, and he and I wrote most of the first album together. But when it came to doing this new one, I didn’t want to write the same thing again, I wanted to explore different ideas musically, and I wanted to tap into stuff that no one was really thinking about. And he didn’t really believe in it, and he didn’t really have the heart, and it made me feel that the unit wasn’t as strong as it could be. So he decided it was better for him to…whatever he’s going to do, start his own band.

The Daisy Berkowitz Experience?

That’s what we called it also.

Are you guys still friends, though?

It’s strange, but I don’t think we ever were friends. I think he never really came to acknowledge the power, the underlying things that were taking place in Marilyn Manson. He looked at it more on a standard musicians level. He didn’t see the whole picture; I don’t think he really believed in where I wanted to take things. And that’s not a bad thing, he’s just a different type of person.

Originally, everyone’s name in the band was part Hollywood icon, part murderous icon.

Well, there’s a predictability in that. Just the fact that people were expecting, they shouldn’t be disappointed when they don’t get that.

Is that why the new guy’s name is Zim Zum?

I consider the new guitar player much more a part of Antichrist Superstar than a part of Marilyn Manson because we’ve almost become a different band; it’s such a strong metamorphosis for us. I don’t even think in the terms that I did before.

It sounds, from talking to you about it, that the album was more conceived that just something that fell together.

That’s absolutely accurate. To me — and this sounds to a lot of people like it doesn’t make sense — but to me it’s an album that not only sees a few years into the future, it couldn’t have even been written if it weren’t a few years in the future. It’s beyond certain musical capabilities that we have presently. I’ve tried to, I guess, transcribe or interpret my dreams over the past year and put them down on paper and put them down musically and explain to the rest of the band how I heard this album. I heard it as a finished album, I heard it in dreams I had, and I heard these songs and I knew exactly what it was going to be when it was done. And that’s what it is now. But it was just such a hard process to explain it to people because it was like the revelations of John The Baptist or something. It was something that I considered already done in my head, almost a piece of the past. But for everyone else it was the future.

And how does the dream compare to the reality?

It’s the same.

Though I can’t say it was only my vision because I consider the rest of the band to be a part of it.

Marilyn Manson 1996 04

But they share your vision. It’s not like one guy suggested that a song feature a rhumba beat.

Right, but that’s not to say that I’m the only creative person. Without their help, the album would never have happened. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a solo artists or anything like that. But it was a matter of me explaining where things were meant to go, and them believing in it and understand it.

So even though it was your vision, you wouldn’t have done this a solo album?

That’s not really the way I work. I enjoy working with other people. I like to be by myself, but I enjoy working with other people. It’s more gratifying to me when people are on the same wavelength.

Well, there is that idea of the muse.

When I look back at the lyrics on Antichrist Superstar, I can’t remember when I wrote them. I can’t place a specific time or a day, or if they came from me or if they came from…. There are songs on the album that are innately written from my point of view, and there are some that are from some personality that I don’t understand that I’ve decided to label Antichrist Superstar. Just because I’m done with the album, doesn’t mean I understand it any more than anyone else who’s going to listen to it.

One of the things that I’m also trying to get across is that I may be America’s answer to the Antichrist, but at the same time I’m trying to show that maybe that doesn’t make me such a bad person.

I want to talk about some of the other albums you’ve done. One thing that struck me about Smells Like Children is that some of the instrumentals would be perfect for a Resident Evil game.

That’s the only video game I played in he last year, and I totally agree with you.

Did you beat it?

Yeah, I got to the end. It took me a long time. It’s probably why our album took so long. I love that game. I would love to be a character in that game. When I was a kid I played the Kiss pinball game until I was broke, and I bought Journey Escape for the 2600.

But going back to Smells Like Children, that album’s title was, for me, a bit of a joke because people always assume that things I mention in songs are promoting child molestation. So as a bit of my own sarcasm, I wanted to make a children’s album, and the title was inspired by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There was a character called the Child Catcher, he used his sense of smell to hunt down kids and kidnap them, and that was something that scared me when I was little. And when I got older, people reminded me of the character, they said, “You really look like the Child Catcher.” I had become what I was afraid of. So that album, I tried to point out the darker humor in a lot of things like Willie Wonka and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The song “Everlasting Cocksucker” was a Wonka reference, while “Shitty Chicken Gang Bang” was a reference to that film.

Right, obviously. Though it’s also obvious that some people only bought Smells Like Children because of your cover of “Sweet Dreams.”

Right. And that’s something else that always comes up, our hardcore fans resenting the newer fans that heard “Sweet Dreams.” And my point is always that at least we found a way to reach those people.

A lot of people have this selfish mentality that they don’t want other people to hear about your band, but if you actually believe in what it’s about, you’d want more people to hear about it. You’d go like a missionary and stand on the corner and hand out CDs, if you believed in it as strong as I do.

Now, I’m not going to say it was contrived, but “Sweet Dreams” was what I expected and what needed to be done. I’m not ashamed that it was popular, and I’m not necessarily proud that it was popular either, but I think it was exactly what needed to happen in order for us to be at the point where we are with Antichrist Superstar.

Are you ever weirded out by how devoted your fans are, how some dress up like you?

That’s been happening for a couple of years now. I see that, and I think these people are expressing themselves, and that’s a good thing. But I’m also trying to tell people to be themselves, and that means “Be what you want to be, don’t be what I’m being.”

Speaking of advice for people, would you ever want to have a kid?

I think so. I don’t know when…. I have a dog, which is like having a kid.

What’s the dog’s name?

Lydia and Walter. It’s a girl dog, but I wanted a boy dog so I sometimes call her Walter. I’ve trained her to have a split personality. On many occasions I’ve caught my dog trying to hump other dogs, so there’s definitely a Walter personality there.

As for kids, I think I would make a pretty good parent. I have the insight to see where my parents slipped up, and not resent them for it, I think I would approach parenthood differently than others would. I’m entertaining the idea, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

Ever done something and realized it’s like your dad? Cuz I do that every time I sneeze.

I catch that every once in a while. I find myself doing the things that I do like when my parents do. Strangely enough, I’ve seen pictures of my dad from Viet Nam, and he looks like me. Except with short hair.

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Do you get along with your parents?

They came to visit me like a week ago, and they stayed here. They listened to the new album and it was something they really liked, where in the past they appreciated what I was doing but were like, “Couldn’t you make something nicer that I could listen to?” I don’t think they understand everything I do.

As a kid, I resented my father ’cause he wasn’t around a lot. But now I appreciate him more. We talk more. He went through a lot of interesting stuff. He sprayed Agent Orange, and so at an early age I had to go to a lot of government testing to see if anything was wrong with me. They never had any conclusive decisions, but maybe if people are wondering why I turned out the way I did, it’s the government’s fault.

 

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