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After a four-year absence, Marilyn Manson has returned to the public eye in the video for "Heart-Shaped Glasses" by porking his barely legal girlfriend in a rain of blood. Considering Manson's affinity for shock value, it was a grand reentry into the rock world. That kind of flashy, trashy imagery may prevent Manson from ever being taken seriously as an artist, but his followers are still out there.
Ever since the South Florida-bred rocker first burst onto the scene 13 years ago as a lanky, pale, and sexually preoccupied pop-goth icon, he has accrued two types of fans: mouth-breathing Beavis and Butt-Head types — the kind who still grunt along with the "da-da-da-da-DA" riff from 1996's "Beautiful People." The same kind of fan who chuckled for days at Manson's fake, white, plastic boobs when he reinvented himself, Bowie-like, as a fembot alien called Omega for 1998's Mechanical Animals.
The other kind of Manson fan — and there are plenty of them — is the discriminating hard-rock aficionado who recognizes the real thing when he sees it. Nine Inch Nails architect Trent Reznor discovered Manson and issued his first three major-label releases, starting with 1994's Portrait of an American Family and climaxing with 1996's Antichrist Superstar. Henry Rollins — the punk singer turned pop-culture pundit — welcomed Manson as the first guest on his TV show this season, declaring, "Mr. Manson is once again ready to show conservative America what it doesn't want to see." And Manson has his own masses too.
This summer, Manson is on the road with Slayer, the undisputed kings of old-school thrash, despite the fact that they aren't exactly fans of each other. It's an unlikely pairing — their music and fan bases are not similar — and it's no surprise that the friction has already started.
"The two bands have one thing in common, and that's just being evil in the traditional sense, the way rock 'n' roll is supposed to be," Manson says during a phone interview amid the European leg of the tour. "We might not be identical musically, but I think that our fans share a lot of the same sentiments. When the two crowds come together... hopefully they won't beat each other up."
Slayer's guitarist, Kerry King, who has verbally (and musically) laid to waste headbanger icons from Megadeth to Metallica, hasn't held his tongue either.
"People ask me how I think this tour is going to go," says King, taking a call from his hotel room in Nantes, France. "And it depends on what Manson brings to the party. He's a wild card. He could play a set from Holy Wood on or mix it up and hit the whole audience. We [just saw the band] at a festival. And four songs in, they played the song I wanted to see, 'Irresponsible Hate Anthem.' And I'm like, 'Cool, I can leave now.' "
If Manson followed up the pedal-to-the-metal favorite with songs from the new Eat Me, Drink Me, King did the right thing by bailing. The tempo stays down on the new disc. The fractured disco rock of "Heart-Shaped Glasses" grows on you, but the rest of the songs are just slow, electro-plated moaning and groaning.
As for the tour, it may seem that a Manson and Slayer pairing is doomed to fail, but both artists say they at least have respect for each other musically. King and Manson first met at a recent photo shoot for metal mag Revolver, where they quickly bonded over cups of absinthe, chatting about snakes. "To do the things he does, you can't just be an idiot," says King, who's surprisingly chipper for a guy with "God Hates Us All" tattooed down the length of his left arm. "He's a pretty intelligent dude."
In recent years, Manson's personal life has overshadowed his music — he was engaged to actress Rose McGowan; he married and divorced burlesque artist Dita Von Teese; and that sanguine sexpot from "Heart-Shaped Glasses" is actress Evan Rachel Wood of Thirteen fame. Getting laid prolifically is impressive, but while he's still walking around, made up like Darryl Hannah in Blade Runner, Manson will likely remain in the shock-rock ghetto — unless his side careers as a watercolor painter and a film director get off the ground. Like Alice Cooper and Glenn Danzig, he could write "Yesterday" tomorrow and he'll still get more attention for a video filled with flowing blood, bared breasts, morbid prostheses, and assorted fetish gear. But he's in good company. It's also fitting that the U.S. leg of the tour is starting here.
"South Florida is a good place to kick off the tour, because that is where I started," Manson says. "This new record is really significant to me as a person, because I feel it is a resurrection of the period where I didn't want to make music anymore. I started making it in Miami, so to speak. So I have come full circle to start the American tour there." Then he pauses to evaluate what it means to be playing in South Florida, and the type of crowd he might attract. "Everybody who hates me or who I fucked will be there to call me Brian, or they'll expect me to remember them for something that probably wasn't the nicest thing in the past."
Jason Handelsman contributed to this article.