A MOST BIZARRE ENCOUNTER WITH MARILYN MANSON
A FRIENDLY, FORTHCOMING MARILYN MANSON, CONSPICUOUS BY HIS ABSINTHE, TALKS ABOUT LOOSE WOMEN, DRUGS AND ROLE MODELS
Hopeless naif that I am, I don't immediately realise that Marilyn Manson is totally wasted on absinthe. I can see he's drinking the stuff, but I assume it's just for show. By the end, though, when he's showing me the picture on his iPhone of the swastika freshly shaved into his new girlfriend's pubic hair, I know differently.
"I drew it on," he's saying as his publicist ushers him from the room, "with blue eyeliner. I had to call the hotel: 'Can I have a protractor, please?'
It was 6AM. But you gotta, uh, line it up properly. You know?"
Sort of. But that was later. For now, we're just getting started in a room at the London Metropolitan Hotel. Manson, the self-proclaimed Antichrist Superstar and God Of Fuck and the major reason why Americans tend to be scared of their goths and not just snigger at them as we do, has an album to promote.
He didn't want to come in here with me. He wanted to stay next door with that statuesque blonde, the one with the enormous heels and tiny Lycra dress. I don't know who she is. I do know that she's not the new girlfriend, the one with the unusual pelvic topiary. I checked. Different face.
Manson was out last night, downstairs in The Met Bar. I have a hunch that last night might not have ended yet. Today he is wearing huge sunglasses, streaky make-up, black lipgloss and a black hooded top with the hood up at which he keeps pushing, as though it were hair. He has leather trousers on and black platform boots. The window behind us keeps rattling, and he keeps thinking it is gunfire. Little details of his evening filter out.
"Somebody left a knife in my room," he growls, in that crackly, gravelly voice.
"Like, a proper small knife? I almost used it. On a woman. But then I thought... no. I didn't have a shovel or anything. And the airport, immigration, can't bury her in the shower curtain..."
Like all the horrible things that Manson says, this is said with a disarmingly sweet smile. You laugh. There's wit here, peeking out through the aniseed haze. Later he'll feel his side, and frown.
Manson has his own brand of absinthe, dubbed Mansinthe. That's not what he's drinking at the moment.
"I don't drink my own absinthe," he says.
"I drink this. It's Serpis. I based the taste of mine on it. It's like black liquorice, which I fuckin' hate. Try it," he adds, passing me the glass.
"Mmmm," I say, sniffing deeply. I pass it back.
The High End Of Low is Manson's seventh album. It's funny, you'll almost certainly have heard of him, but could you could name any of his songs? It's 15 years since he burst on to the public consciousness on MTV, with the video of his death metal cover of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams. Remember that? Him painted black, riding a pig?
"That pig," he says, "did not want to be ridden. And I did not want to ride it. I have ridden no other pigs. That sounds like such a misogynist statement."
Manson was born plain Brian Warner in Ohio in 1969, and was actually not, contrary to the best showbiz hoax ever, the geeky one out of The Wonder Years. What he was, briefly, was a rock journalist, before starting his first band, Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids. He finally emerged, all those years ago, from under the wing of the producer Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails.
The debut album, Portrait Of An American Family , sold two and a half million copies.
The next, Smells Like Children , sold four million.
The third, Antichrist Superstar , has sold nearly eight million. Musically speaking, none were exactly ground-breaking, but look behind the bondage, Nazis, Satanism, death fetishism and long black fingernails and you'll find a perfectly respectable sort of industrial metal, maybe halfway between Reznor himself and Guns N' Roses. Manson, though, was always about the whole package.
"I'm not trying to be something that is simply a clown," he rasps.
"I'm a role villain. Role models are mannequins. I want to be the person who fucks shit up."
Then he flinches.
"Is that guns?" he says.
It's the window, I tell him again.
Britain, I think, struggles a bit with Marilyn Manson. He's all-American in his own way, and we don't really get the references. Most crucially, we just don't think he really means it. We just see a sort of zombie Boy George, pretending. He knows this, and minds it.
"This has always been the most cynical and calculating country," he says, "and the country I most want to impress. All my heroes are British, whether it's Aleister Crowley or Bowie. All the best art has come from your godforsaken island. And it makes me mad."
Just because we donít get it, that doesn't mean that there is nothing to get. In America Manson remains a poster boy for the disaffected. A fortnight ago Justin Doucet, a schoolboy in Louisiana, forced a teacher to say "Hail Marilyn Manson" before shooting at him and then shooting himself. Manson brings this up himself.
"What do I say?" he says.
"Thanks for hiring that kid to promote the record? No! It's fucked up. I didn't say do it. But I get blamed for it."
Ten years ago, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 12 fellow students and a teacher in the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, it was swiftly reported that both were Manson fans. Two years later, when he next played in the state capital, Denver, he was still receiving death threats.
"I had, like, 30 undercover cops escorting me to the stage," he says.
"Everyone was telling me not to do it. My girlfriend, my friends. I had my mother on the phone, Hunter S. Thompson going 'Fuck 'em! Come to my house! I got a tank!'
And onstage, at every moment, I thought it was the last thing I'd do."
Fifteen minutes before going on he was being interviewed by the film-maker Michael Moore.
"Boning For Concubines," says Manson now, meaning Bowling For Columbine, Moore's documentary about gun control. To almost everybody's surprise, Manson came across as a calm, lucid voice, discussing the problems of a society that celebrated war and consumption. When Moore asked him what he would have said to the killers, Manson replied that he wouldn't say anything.
"I'd listen to what they had to say," he said.
"And that's what nobody did."
"I don't like that movie," he says now.
"But I like the fact that it opened a window for me, to have people go, 'Oh wow, you're smart.'
Because they saw me in that movie and I could form two sentences. And last week... you hear that? Is it firecrackers?"
Window, I tell him.
"Oh yeah," he says, and carries on. Doucet, the schoolboy, is in a coma now.
"And of course," Manson says, "he was 15. Because that's my number. Marilyn Manson, 15. Brian Hugh Warner, 15. Look."
He pulls down his T-shirt and there, below his neck, is tattooed the number 15. Why? God knows. I ask. He just says "15" again, and I count the letters in "Marilyn Manson".
That's when I ask him how much absinthe he's had today. He replies with a diagram, drawn on my notebook. It's a rectangle, coloured in.
"Is that glass," I ask, "or a bottle?"
"It's life," he says.
Marilyn Manson isn't 15. He turned 40 in January. It looks a bit different, all this dark lord of gothic angst business, when you're 40, doesn't it?
"The 40 part doesn't matter," he says, although he sounds a bit annoyed.
"God decided to forsake me so I became a vampire, sold my soul to the Devil and fuck off, good luck to the rest of you."
He says he's not slowing down as he gets older, not at all, and still takes drugs whenever he can.
"I learnt a new lesson," he says.
"Do drugs and drink when you are in a good mood, not in a bad mood. And you'll be happier."
This failure to calm down reportedly had a lot to do with the breakup of his marriage in 2007 to Dita Von Teese, the burlesque artist.
They went to court, famously, over who was to get custody of their three cats.
"I saw her two days ago," he says.
"At a bar. And I was like, 'Hey, you're my ex-wife!'
And we got along well. So that was nice."
And who got the cats in the end?
"She got the boy cats. I got the virgin girl cat."
"Did you know that if you say 'in the end' it infers anal sex?"
No, I say, and I ask him if he has a girlfriend at the moment.
"No," he says, and thinks.
"Yes," he says, "but I'm single."
After Von Teese he was involved with the actress Evan Rachel Wood, but that's not who he is talking about. That's when he starts hunting for the swastika picture. He won't tell me her name out loud, but he writes it down on my notebook. Stoya. Later I Google her. She's a Serbo-Scottish porn star, aged 22.
He's fun to chat to, Marilyn Manson, absinthe or not. But I just don't think the Antichrist Superstar and God Of Fuck is in a particularly good place right now. Maybe it's an existential panic. The corpse-in-black-lipstick look, it's getting old. He must know that. Who wears black platforms in 2009? And also, I just keep thinking about that swastika. At a push, I can see how a certain kind of guy might find it exciting. But at 40? Still? I suppose he does really mean it, and always has. Poor guy.