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.

Marilyn Manson has never looked better than he does right now, on the brink of the new millennium. He's no longer the Spawn of Satan: He's Spider from Mars.

Manson's sartorial makeover is fantastic: all glitter, glam, flame red hair, platform shoes, and feather Bowies... sorry, boas. He's accessorized with another new guitarist and a retro-yet-current, glam-rock sound. The songs on Mechanical Animals are tuneful, and the production does a good job of masking the general tunelessness of Manson's voice, which killed my two otherwise-favorite songs on Antichrist: "Tourniquet" and "The Man That You Fear."

This reinvention of himself might pay off, in the long term, because grownups seem to be pretty impressed with both the album's songcraft and Manson's gender-bending look. Then again, maybe he screwed up. Maybe he's been listening to too many Sophisticated Rock Critics. He's wrought a style and a sound that the rock intelligentsia is receiving with pleasant surprise. Yet it continues to plummet down the charts. Why? Because he's alienated those alienated preteens who would have preferred a follow-up to Antichrist that mimicked the record's satanic verses and choruses, and boasted the same turgid postindustrial clatter.

Manson's current spat with former Spin editor Craig Marks, which this month crystallized into a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by Marks (earlier this month Manson's lawyer hinted at a countersuit), has prompted whispers that he might be trying to reassert his status as a rock 'n' roll bad boy in light of all the good press he's gotten. New Year's Eve he added Keith Moon to his list of influences by (gasp!) trashing his Las Vegas hotel room and throwing a chair out a window.

As I finish this story, Marilyn Manson is touring Europe. His publicist at Interscope has no idea who I am (nor should she) and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the band is incommunicado for the duration of their stay across the pond.

Even if I did get him on the phone, what would I ask him? Does he remember the time he puked at Denny's? Or almost puked in my house? Or the show where he tied Missi naked to a cross? Would he tell me if his mansion in Los Angeles is as comfy as his bedroom in his parents' townhouse in Boca, where, a few years ago, he surrounded himself with lunch boxes and action figures?

I'm guessing I'd probably have more to say to him, actually, than he would to me. For starters I'd tell him that, with the exception of a few songs here and there, I never really liked his band all that much.

As a failed musician, I'd tell him that I've felt pangs of envy, even resentment, at his mind-boggling success. I'd tell him that writing this story has made me feel almost as much a star-fucker as I did that night in 1993 when I slipped him a copy of my band's demo tape outside Squeeze. And I'd probably tell him that, despite my pseudointellectual parsing of him and his career, I still respect his vision and his drive.

And that, despite the fact that he's a sonofabitch, I still care what he thinks of me.

But being so far outside his circle these days, I'll probably never get a chance to tell Manson that stuff. All I can do is watch in morbid fascination as his science project devours its creator and excretes a commodity.

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