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.

Well, yeah, we did talk about that. The Lungs started off as a sort of robotic industro-synth-metal outfit, à la Ministry, and gradually began to incorporate funky beats (aided by a live drummer, a very good live drummer) and rapping, so now they're kind of Biohazard-ish. When I asked Tutunick about incorporating traditionally black influences into their previously unfunky sound, he drew a parallel between his grandparents' stories of the Holocaust and the historic oppression of African-Americans.

"Yeah, he really understands black people," Manson sneers when I relate this answer to him. Then Manson mutters something like, "Blah blah blah fat hairdresser blah blah blah." (A reference to Tutunick's day job.) The real reason the Lungs funked up their sound, Manson snipes, has more to do with what they think will sell than with any supposed empathy for rap and its originators. (Not that Manson is any paragon of racial sensitivity. He and his circle of friends created their own code word specifically for blacks -- "potpie" -- which they used habitually. Don't ask me why. The behavior of an enlightened soul? You decide.)

I'm not close enough to Manson ever to have seen him really mad, except when he's pretending to be really mad on stage. In this conversation his voice never rises above the standard drone. But the underlying venom of his mood is evident. "You know, that's one thing that really pisses me off, is people being fake," Manson snorts. "I mean, I'm the biggest fake in the world, but I'm telling you I'm a fake, so if you buy it, it's your fault, not mine."

Clearly Manson can be a mean, pissy prima donna. On the other hand, he turns out to be right about the Lungs' deal with Atlantic. The EP bombs, the tour is a dud, and Atlantic drops the group like a tuber afire.

The Marilyn Manson juggernaut, of course, rolls on.
Although I'm impressed with the achievement, I've never been any great fan of the product. The show at the Sunrise Musical Theatre in late 1996, for example, is looking pretty weak to me. Manson, as always, owns the stage: leering, snarling, baring his teeth, staggering around wrapped in a back brace. Steven looks energetic enough, pounding at the pipe organ in a Wehrmacht uniform. But the two other players up front, bassist Twiggy Ramirez and then-new guitarist Zim Zum, are standing around with poles up their asses. Even with Manson's spindly presence working its unsettling magic, the stage seems empty, the performance static and uninspired.

Then, late in the gig, the lights cut out, and when they come back on, the stage set has changed. Manson, dressed in a black suit, red shirt, and skinny black tie, now addresses the faithful from atop a pulpit/ rostrum-type thing. It's black, too, and emblazoned with the band's militaristic insignia. As he raises his arms, a sampled shout that sounds suspiciously like "Heil!" blasts from the sound system. With the first three shouts, a trio of red banners with the Manson logo drop down behind him. The SS-like lightning bolt brings to mind a Nuremburg rally, or those crossed hammers from Pink Floyd's The Wall. Or more comically, the opening number of the play Springtime For Hitler from the Mel Brooks farce The Producers.

His fans, of course, are completely into it. But when they raise their fists in unison before Manson, the scene begins to take on a more sinister cast. To wit: I'm in an auditorium with 3000 white people saluting a thinly veiled Nazi symbol. In Broward County.

I try to take another step back. Surely Manson is savvy enough to realize that he's basking in the adulation of idiots. He must realize that what he's presenting -- the demagoguery, the watered-down fascism -- isn't original. Or could it be that he's begun to believe his own hype, that the idolization and financial reward have blinded him to the ridiculousness of it all?

Atop his podium Manson soaks it in, his black-painted lips parted in a shit-eating grin.

My cat is face to face with the Antichrist Superstar. Manson, Missi, my then-girlfriend, and I are getting ready to get some Italian food and see Mars Attacks! It's a couple weeks after the Sunrise gig. Antichrist Superstar is a hit, and Marilyn Manson is every bit the cultural villain he hoped to be. But he still likes cats.

So he's scooped up Ing, the youngest of our four cats, and is pressing noses with the little guy. His ensemble now: all black, no Manson logos. He no longer needs to be a walking billboard for himself.

Ing is adorable, a mottled white-and-gray tabby fuzzball. He also has three genetic defects. First and second are his extra toes, one on each forepaw, jutting out like thumbs. Third, he's got this weird allergy that causes his face to become all puffy, and eventually kind of oozy and scabby. The vets are baffled.

So anyway, there's Marilyn Manson, rubbing noses with Ing, making little kitty noises. (You cat people out there know what I'm talking about.) "Uh, Ted," he says. "Did this cat get in a fight or something? It looks like he got scratched."

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