ARTICLE ELLIOTT DAVID
PHOTOGRAPHY HEDI SLIMANE
THE ANTICHRIST SUPERSTAR WHO LIBERATED AN ARMY'S WORTH OF SUBURBANITES WITH HIS MAINSTREAM INTRODUCTION OF GOTH EXPRESSIONISM RETURNS WITH BORN VILLAIN
God. Where to begin? How about two minutes ago, when I pressed play on my audio recorder from my night with Marilyn Manson and heard nothing but silence, sort of like trying to see a vampire in a mirror. Or we can start in 1995, when I kicked a hole in my bedroom door while listening to Smells Like Children, the EP that was bookended by his 1994 debut, Portrait of An American Family, and his breakout follow-up, Antichrist Superstar—all three of which were produced by already-established Trent Reznor. Superstar helped push punk and industrial music into a new demonic domain of pop surrealism, a pill more easily swallowable by the American masses. Or we can start with the fact that Manson's new album, Born Villain, is out this February via Cooking Vinyl Records and Manson's own label, Hell, etc. Villain is Manson's first record in three years and marks his eighth studio album, and his first without longtime label Interscope. Or maybe we should begin with where we began: God, which Marilyn Manson is basically considered to be, not merely by his legion of devotees, but countless kids from the '90s.
Marilyn Manson lives on top of a liquor store in Hollywood. It used to belong to the actor Billy Zane, and Manson first visited his future home when he'd just arrived in L.A. and was trying to make it as a musician. Now it's his perfect lair: a recording studio, a bedroom with a "bad girls room" (some former shower or steam room that's now a lockable, soundproof glass enclosure), and an enormous and black-out space that serves as a movie theater, bar, art studio, and den for congregation. This is where Manson leads me when he opens the dense metal (possibly bulletproof) door to his home. "What are you drinking?" he asks. I tell him whatever he's having, and I start on my first of many glasses of absinth. What happens next is a bit of a blur, but a beautiful one. Manson is high on the list of people I want to meet and we get along as well as I prayed to the black dogs of hell we would. Which means a lot of drinking. And after a technological fail with my digital recorder, and the backup analog recorder's then-unknown inability to record Manson's deep, cellar-door-creaking voice and the entirety of the record we listened to together—I'm going to chalk it up to fate. So we're going to have to go off my totally unreliable memory of the night.
The first sentences Manson speaks to me are whispered. He kneels by my side while I'm sink into a black bean bag chair in the lair. A couple of musicians and friends sit on the humongous black couch, facing a giant white wall that serves as a makeshift theater screen, which was plastered with Jeremy Piven's hysterically crying face. They're watching an early screener of I Melt With You, a scene wherein (spoiler alert) some bearded guy shaves his beard then kills himself. I remember remarking that Wes Anderson cornered the market on shaving-then-suicide, but Manson says there's some sort of connection between the removal of body hair and a heightened immediacy of death. We'll get back to that.
In the corner of this room are countless giant paintings. Countless because there are a lot, maybe thirty, but also because they're strewn about and stacked on top of each other. Marilyn Manson is a phenomenal artist, whose stunning portraits are these devil-on-their-shoulder versions of friends, freaks, bastards, and his beloveds; they're breathtaking studies on the dark, damaged shadow of beauty.
We sit in his recording studio and I listen to the record for hours. I play with the guitar he wrote Superstar on. I play with a gun. He shows me the film Shia LeBeouf directed for Born Villain's title track. Manson's been out of the scene for a while, popping up at some events here and there but generally reclusive, so I anticipated he'd keep me at a bit of a distance, enclose himself with the moats of the mind unique to hermetic eccentric brilliant avant-weirdos. But he's actually this warm and wonderful man. Maybe it's because we're kindred souls. Or maybe he's actually the gentle genius he was often described as during the worst of his scandals and lunch mob moments. I remember not wanting to leave. I remember Lily the white cat. I remember a whole shitload of IHOP food showing up. Manson showed me a book inscribed to him by Hunter S. Thompson, a gift right before the writer took his own life. "See that doll? Pick it up." It's a crash-test-dummy type of doll on the ground, wearing a blonde wig, with several non-car-crash inflicted wounds, and it's heavy as shit. "It's heavy as shit," I probably say. "I'm renting it for $150 a day," I definitely remember him telling me because it's such a uniquely and harmlessly strange extravagance. But in all honest, I remember many incredible quotes, but naturally the ones I recall are the ones I can't (won't) repeat.
Most of all, I remember that the album is incredible. It's a dance-to-it, fuck-to-it, anthemic beast, perfect for these insurrectionary, riotous times. Manson's music has always been the ideal fight song of the enraged and suppressed, tuned perfectly to the key of generational angst, but there's maturity here. And deinitely more depravity, indicative of today's prime-time sex crimes and uncensored Internet war coverage, i.e. transparency in all the wrong places (like gruesome acts of humanity) and none of the right ones.
Manson tells me he's recently been painting with a tattoo ink. I ask him if he has a tat gun and he points to it. "Let's use it," I say. "Let's start with that beard," he says, referring to my dense grizzly situation which took a lot of patience and awkward moments. I think back to his earlier correlation between grooming and death. He pulls out a razor. And then my dream of Marilyn Manson coming at me with a blade came true.
Photo assistant Frank Terry Production Kim Pollock Special thanks Yann Rzepka