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The Strife of Brian

Marilyn Manson's pissing match with God continues -- stop the presses! For a guy who's written almost as many suicide anthems as Barry Manilow (when's the last time you heard "It's a Miracle" and didn't want to bump yourself off?), yesterday's dog-eared nemesis, still regarded as a "shock rocker" in the mainstream press, has officially reached midcareer by pushing the same buttons he pushed five years ago.

You know, back when people first grew bored of him.

For a while in 1996, Manson was a fresh face with a limited future in our sick cult of celebrity, just the kind of fodder that industry bigwigs love to chew up and spit out at the world. The least interesting part of this phenomenon has always been the music, something that loses its esoteric value, even among the most ardent fans, when it goes platinum.

With the vaudevillian Alice Cooper (a man who once claimed that he "single-handedly drove the stake through the heart of the love generation") out of the way, the Northwest grunge scene invited a similarly repellent saboteur to turn a few dastardly tricks in the early '90s. Young Brian Warner complied, mustering the misery that a suburban worm-boy requires to become the once and future Antichrist Superstar, a metamorphosis carefully outlined in his biography, The Long Hard Road out of Hell.

Raised in Canton, Ohio, Warner suffered a wretched childhood that Freudians would have a field day dissecting. For misbehaving, his grandmother made him kneel on broomsticks for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. His grandfather collected dildos, wore women's wigs and underwear, and played with model trains. The private Christian school Warner attended taught Saint John the Divine's visions in Revelations as indisputable fact, in addition to preaching the evils of sex, UPC codes, and the blasphemies found by playing Led Zeppelin and Queen albums backward. He was bullied by jocks (sound familiar?) and rejected by girls. After his family relocated to Florida in the early '80s, Warner fell headlong into his chosen field: disconnecting from his senses through drugs, industrial rock, and the occult while becoming obscenely wealthy and notoriously famous. Hail Satan -- and tons of dumb luck.

OK, so it's not exactly Horatio Alger, but with help from Nothing label head Trent Reznor (who's made a career of aping Ministry), Manson and his band of serial-killing starlets issued two desperately lame albums -- Portrait of an American Family in 1994 and Smells Like Children in 1995 -- before their depravity-loving gimmick finally caught on with a tedious cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams." Some of them really do want to be abused.

Antichrist Superstar sealed the deal in 1996, making Manson internationally recognizable. But alas, fame's hollow caress reduced him to a mannequin-crotched, androgynous extraterrestrial two years later on Mechanical Animals, a synth-pop departure (and utter commercial flop) in the spirit of Gary Numan.

On Holy Wood, this latest rageaholic's requiem, Manson once again targets -- brace yourself, America -- organized religion! Die-hard Spooky Kids, however, will likely pass down this dreary heirloom from Brian with a shrug. They'll recall his salad days covering Annie Lennox on MTV, smile over those boycotts at Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and tell their wide-eyed young'uns: "Yep, I remember the early mosh-pit days in Lauderdale. Ol' Marilyn would fill up a piñata with animal entrails and spoiled meat, throw a stick to the crowd, and say, "Please, don't break this open! I beg of you!' And, man, how we'd par-tay!"

In some far-reaching twist on the Book of Genesis, Manson's latest disc teases young and old alike with a maggoty take on the Fall of Man. He's a busy little name-dropper, too, referencing JFK, Lincoln, Oswald, Booth, Lennon, Chapman (see a theme developing here?), Shakespeare, and even Aldous Huxley into some kind of conceptual four-part-trilogy, Ouija-board-opus thing. There's a distinct bent for evolution, bullets, and revisionist history all neatly vacuum-sealed with tarot-influenced artwork that is certifiably icky. And guess what? Manson contends that the Crucifixion is a violent image! Really goin' out on a limb, Bri-guy!

Typically whining about the trappings of his self-made fame ("Target Audience," "Lamb of God"), Manson bellyaches about life's futility more than a pintsize Nietzsche with gas pains ("Godeatgod," "President Dead," "Disposable Teens," "Coma Black"). He lifts ancient text from the "no future" school of Johnny Rotten ("The Death Song") and -- steaming clots of gastric heave! -- churns through enough indigestible dirge metal to choke a goat. (Note to Blur: Look into suing ol' goofy-eyes for swiping that riff from "Song #2" on his rabble-rousing "The Fight Song." Ka-ching!)

If slick marketing satisfies your basest hunger (Holy Wood is just one more fool's errand designed to compensate Satan/Interscope/Geffen's contractual pound of flesh), then eat, little gothlings, eat; just don't forget to save room for whatever Rob Zombie is ladling from his slop bucket, too. And don't kid yourself: Marilyn Manson is to pop music what Arnold Schwarzenegger is to acting. Known for his bombastic, XXX-aggerated, and self-conscious stage presentations, Manson's studio work routinely pales in comparison to Manson live because -- damn it! -- nothin' blows up. You can't actually see him dressed like a mishandled prostitute dragging broken bottles across his chest. Or doing things to his guitarist... you know, with his mouth. Manson's lackluster body of music has always relied on mythmaking anyway (recording albums in mortuaries or the former home of Sharon Tate or Houdini, et cetera), which suggests that folks are actually far more breathless with anticipation to see what the little imp might wipe his bottom with next: The Bible? The flag? Eminem?

Oh, the possibilities!

Manson's latest attention-seeking incarnation, a laughable cross between Mephisto and that bald kid from Powder, could be softened only by rainbow suspenders and a little monkey. You'd think an ordained member of the Church of Satan would take more pride in his appearance. Not that he needs any negative press: With so many good souls willing to throw themselves under the tour bus (remember, if it bleeds, it leads), Manson's publicists needn't lift a finger in getting "the word" out. Like Interscope vice president Fred "Limpin' wit' da Bizkit" Durst, Marilyn's handlers adhere to the bottom line like vultures to carrion, dangling reporters until the 11th hour, then bailing, referring them to consumer guides like Rolling Stone for valuable insights, and protecting the pop star's valuable "chill time" for things like sex, drugs, and death threats.

Here's a handful of unsubstantiated Internet rumors -- more grist for Powder's mill -- that should spark debate among the masses until his next tour: Manson is really black and bleached his skin white; he had three of his own ribs surgically removed in order to give himself blowjobs; he had breast implants; he once starred in two different television series, The Wonder Years and Mr. Belvedere; he sold his right eye to the Devil; he hands out puppies at shows and won't start playing until all of them are dead; he cut off one of his toes to inject heroin directly into the veins of the stump; and he once swallowed a cat whole.

Where's the goddamn apocalypse when you need it?

Less amusing than any back-fence gossip, however, are the reactions of adults who should know better. In 1997 the American Family Association in Oklahoma drafted fake and defamatory affidavits that fabricated eyewitness accounts from a "runaway 14-year-old" subjected to all sorts of atrocities at the hands of the Manson family, including securing animals for sacrifice, watching band members sodomize one another, seeing kidnapped underage children stripped naked and handcuffed to bus seats. There were even claims that Manson's "clean-cut-looking" security guards kept the police distracted during concerts so that his "private Santa Clauses" could "throw out bags of pot and cocaine throughout the entire audience front to back." Yes, when opportunism knocks, everyone including vice-presidential loser Joseph Lieberman chimes in, even if the "common enemy" needs to be recycled and exaggerated in order to make the case. You'd think Manson had pooped in Lord Stanley's Holy Grail (or threw it under a fire truck) instead of being scheduled to play one measly set in a roving circus of metal heads.

One thing's certain: Given the fact that the government can't legislate sanity or good taste in music, we're stuck with the culture we buy into until hell freezes over. And before lamenting the access of TEC-9s for toddlers, the lack of "bully-proof" schools, or the godless, head-banging decline of Western civilization, ask yourself at least one sensible question: Is this washed-up, self-anointed "god of fuck" still worth all of your constant, slobbering attention?

Yeah. When pigs burn.

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John La Briola

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