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.

"Oh, no," I say. "He's got this weird allergy thing that makes parts of his face get all puffy and then eventually get kind of oozy and scabby."

Manson drops the cat, makes a sound of revulsion (something like "Auggghhh!" if I remember right), covers his mouth, and heads to the bathroom. He doesn't actually puke, though we hear a few strangled gags through the door. Apparently cat pus is an anathema to him as much as holy water is.

Later that night, over dinner at Big Louie's Pizzeria, we're talking about how some superstar bands cling to their indie credibility. Manson starts picking on Bush for voicing its admiration for the group the Jesus Lizard, a Chicago-based quartet that has long been a darling of the underground music press.

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

I, too, am a big fan of the Jesus Lizard. In fact I've twice interviewed lead singer David Yow. Amid bites of baked ziti, I launch into the tale of how Yow once took it upon himself to grab hold of my nether regions in a crowded room, a story with which I have bored many a hapless listener.

Manson's normally soft brown eyes narrow. He purses his lips in a mock grin and then imitates me telling my lame little story: "Me and a friend interviewed the Jesus Lizard when they were opening for Helmet at the Edge...." Missi snickers. Manson's smile widens. "You're alternative and progressive, Kissell," he declares, sardonically granting me the street cred I'd been hoping to establish. The back of my neck grows warm. The Antichrist Superstar is calling me a star-fucker, and he's right.

This, it turns out, ends up hurting more than the fact that he calls me "Matthew Sweet" for most of the evening, a tribute to my shoulder-length hair.

I get my licks in later, calling him "Bob Geldof" in return, a reference to the stage show he's cribbed from The Wall. He barely flinches. I also mention Springtime For Hitler, but he doesn't get it.

At this point he's way beyond caring about my rock-crit barbs.

It should hardly come as a surprise, given Manson's catty, controlling tendencies, that South Florida is littered with disgruntled former Manson members and disillusioned former friends of Brian Warner.

Some of these folks have joined forces in an attempt to leverage their early friendship with Manson into a tidy profit. Chris Nicholas, ex-Collapsing Lungs, has produced an unauthorized 90-minute video called Demystifying the Devil. It includes home video of Manson being cruel and degrading to just about everything that walks or crawls, as well as filmed interviews with Missi and other folks Manson left behind. You can order it online for $19.95.

Two ex-bandmates recently received their pound of flesh. Guitarist and band cofounder Scott Putesky and bassist Brad Stewart reached out-of-court settlements with Warner in their lawsuits. Both were looking for lump sums of cash, plus continuing revenue from the Manson songs to which they contributed.

In Putesky's case this was a lot of songs: most of Portrait of an American Family, plus five songs on the megahit Antichrist Superstar. (Though Manson continues to be the sole lyricist, the tunes have always been collaborative efforts among the rest of the lineup, whoever that might be at the time.) Scott also retains the rights to 21 previously unreleased songs on several hours of early Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids demos. He's pondering when and how to release this stuff.

Both settlements came with confidentiality agreements regarding the financial terms, and both were reached just as the Mechanical Animals CD hit the streets this past September.

Scott is actually a pretty good friend of mine. A few months after his 1996 departure from the band, he showed me how to play the haunting hook riff of "Tourniquet," far and away the most interesting song on Antichrist Superstar. He can't tell me how much he was able to squeeze out of Manson, at least not while I'm wearing my reporter hat. He has bought a pretty sweet sequencer/sampler, though, and is contemplating a move to New York City sometime in the spring. He wants to write, produce, and perform soundtracks and work as a session guitarist.

I like Scott, but Scott's lawyer gives better quote. I talked to Richard Wolfe last month, and he's more than pleased with the settlement his client received, especially with its timing. "I think I lucked out, or Scott did," Wolfe relates. "When the current record [Mechanical Animals] came out, we settled that week. It debuted at No. 1, and it's plummeted to a fast and painful death. It was at No. 110 on the Billboard charts in its 13th week. The usual curve, with the kind of across-the-board promotion this record has gotten, is to stay in the Top 10 at least a couple of weeks."

Wolfe is far from sounding the death knell of the Manson phenomenon, however: "He's a wonderful marketer and showman, and he has a way of ending up on his feet. He's an incredible manipulator of people -- his band, his fans."

And as it turns out, Manson is one heck of a deponent as well. "I took his lawyer's deposition for six hours, his manager's deposition for seven hours, and his deposition for nine hours. After all this, it is my definite opinion that the guy who was running the show was the guy with the high-school diploma. He was well prepared, well rehearsed, well spoken. I've never seen anyone have such control of himself in a deposition, and I've deposed CEOs of corporations. He was excellent."

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