Manson, Unmasked

Today he's America's Antichrist Superstar. But just a few years ago, in South Florida, Brian Warner was clawing his way to the top.

Here's what's always struck me about the coverage of Marilyn Manson: Nearly every writer who pens any sort of tidbit about the guy feels compelled to inform the reader that he has met the Antichrist, and the Antichrist's real name is Brian Warner. Funny, huh? Dylan is Dylan, Bowie is Bowie, Sting is Sting, Madonna is Madonna. But Manson is Warner.

Why must journalists always use this particular rock star's given name? I suppose it's because Sting doesn't give the impression that, when he goes home at night, he stops being Sting. Nor, we sense, does Iggy Pop bar the doors of his hacienda and sigh, "Whew, now I can get back to being James Osterberg." The Manson thing is so much more than a stage name; it's such an obvious, self-conscious (and annoying) construct it's difficult to accept that a person could be like this all the time.

When I wrote that 1994 cover story, I made it through the whole bloody thing without once mentioning Manson's real name. Or his then-bandmates Scott, Steven, or Freddie.


Read related New Times story, "The Strife of Brian"

For this I took a ration of shit from an editor. "This story is about this image, this band, this concept this guy is selling," I successfully countered. "His real name doesn't matter."

I don't want to be disingenuous here, though. The truth is that Manson asked me not to use his real name. I mentioned that he lived with his folks, but as he requested, did not disclose that they lived in a comfortable townhouse in west Boca Raton. I told myself that I had made these sacrifices to preserve access.

Would Manson have given me access if I'd stuck to my guns? Probably. But I just didn't have the heart, or the gumption, or whatever, to push it. When we dealt with each other as rock journalist and aspiring rock star, we did this sort of delicate dance. We were kind of friends and we respected each other, but Manson was always a bit wary because he knew he couldn't completely control me. He could try to influence me, but in the end I was going to write whatever I wanted. And at that point, before the band had even released its first album, every bit of press was vital.

The budding love-hate relationship with the press that started with us, by the way, is now in full bloom on a much larger scale. Craig Marks, the former editor of Spin (he was fired from that post last week), alleges that Manson had his goons rough him up at a November concert. He also asserts that the reason two Manson bodyguards pushed him up against a wall and grabbed his throat while Manson yelled, "I can kill you!" was that Manson was upset his band would not be the exclusive subject of the magazine's January 1999 cover.

A subsequent response to these allegations on the official Marilyn Manson Website didn't mention a physical altercation, noting only Manson's disappointment with the magazine's "immature business behavior" and his intention never to work with Spin again.

"Yeah." It's late and I'm cranky. Earlier today (we're in fall 1994), I finished an article about the local industrial-rap-metal band Collapsing Lungs. I pulled a near-all-nighter doing so.

"So tell me about the Lungs' demo deal," Manson croaks in his customary monotone.

This is a switch. Manson is usually one of my sources for music-scene gossip, not vice versa. I explain that it isn't actually a demo deal. Atlantic Records has signed the Lungs to a pact that guarantees the band an EP and a tour. Afterward they're supposed to go back to the studio to put out a full-length record.

At this point in South Florida alternativity, Collapsing Lungs is easily the second-most-popular band in Broward County, behind Marilyn Manson. And although Manson and crew have inked a deal with Reznor's Nothing label, the band is having problems with Nothing's distributor, Interscope. Something about the "extreme tone of the band." (It's probably worth noting here the Plus Five gig at which Manson tied good old Missi to a cross, on a stage festooned with severed sheep heads.) The rumor mill in town has even speculated that Manson has been dropped altogether, the plan for world domination cut short before it's begun.

The thought that another Broward band, especially this particular band, might leapfrog his own group drives Manson crazy. Collapsing Lungs' frontman, Brian Tutunick, had been the original bass player for Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids. Although this arrangement didn't last long, there is an ongoing rivalry between skinny Brian and chubby Brian.

The former isn't accepting my explanation of the Lungs' contractual status. "Ahh, that still sounds like a demo deal to me," he declares, pointing out that Atlantic is on a spree of buying up "alternative" bands for cheap, without offering them significant support, in hopes they'll get lucky and stumble upon the next Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots. Manson predicts the label will put out the EP, not support it, and drop the Lungs when it doesn't sell.

I know how driven Manson is, but this is my first inkling of just how petty and jealous he can be. It's not enough that he succeed, his enemies must wither and perish. Manson wants to know more. "Did you ask them about when they decided they liked hip-hop?" he scoffs.

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