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The Boston Phoenix Idiot Messiah

Why Manson can't connect the dots.

By Ted Drozdowski

MARCH 16, 1998: 

THE LONG HARD ROAD OUT OF HELL, By Marilyn Manson with Neil Strauss. Regan Books/Harper Collins, 269 pages, $24.

Marilyn Manson might be a cultural liberator, but he's certainly a shameless asshole. Well, not utterly shameless. In this autobiography penned with help from Rolling Stone and New York Times contributor Neil Strauss, Manson winces at his own pathetic inability to shove drugs and self-obsession aside. He's revolted that his sexual interests have led him to possess the same qualities that repulsed him in his grandfather -- a scaly mouth breather who masturbated in a dank basement, who was the whispered suspect of sex crimes, and whose presence half-terrified young Manson. Yet that doesn't stop him from engaging in any of the debauchery he claims to find so contemptible. So maybe he's just full of shit.

Which is why this book is hazy fun, and why Manson the man -- despite his knack for riling the would-be mind controllers of the conservative establishment -- is impossible to respect. There's nothing in these pages of Manson as an artist, even in the long section that describes the pitiful process of making his compelling 1996 album Antichrist Superstar (Nothing/Interscope).

That recording misadventure builds as Manson and his band hang around New Orleans and Trent Reznor's studio, not writing songs but inhaling drugs while their musical abilities (already minimal, by Manson's account) atrophy and their paranoia rises to a group-shattering fever. The recording is still at ground zero when Manson suffers an overdose. Producer Reznor seems to wait patiently through all this, which draws Manson's substance-fueled ire. And when Manson pulls himself together enough to begin scribbling lyrics, there's no discussion of recording, musicmaking, crafting songs, artistic intent. The album is just suddenly, magically finished. Throughout the book there's no account of Manson's having any kind of composing or songcrafting experiences at all. The unintentional implication is that Antichrist Superstar is more a Trent Reznor album than Manson would ever confess.

Yet Manson does consistently admit to behavior much sadder than artistic inadequacy. In a reprinted fanzine interview that makes up most of the book's midsection, Manson, between snorts of cocaine, discourses on his rise to stardom and his friendship with Reznor. He recounts a night shared with Reznor and two groupies that reveals a sense of sexual persona comparable to Beavis and Butt-head's:

In the background a Ween album was playing "Push the little daisies and make 'em come up . . . " as me and the young Trent Reznor poked our fingers into the birth cavity of a bizarre fish lady in search of some sort of caviar. But what we ended up finding was a mysterious nodule -- maybe it was white fuzz or a piece of corn -- that she had on the outer region of her rectum. It horrified us and we looked at each other with disgust and shock. But we knew that we must continue with our debasement of this poor unsuspecting person. So I found a cigarette lighter, and I started to burn her pubic hair. Though it didn't hurt her, it didn't help things smell any better than they already did.

The stink of idiocy?

Personality cultists will be titillated by Manson's encounters with porn stars Jenna Jameson and Traci Lords, his crush on singer Fiona Apple, and his meetings with the late Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey. But what's best about this book and about Manson is the story of his escape from the confining mediocrity of a suburban American adolescence.

He grew up as Brian Warner in Margate, Florida, entrenched in the dogma of conservatism and a Christian-school education. He sorted through the mess of puberty with Jesus, his oddball father, and a spooky/kinky grandpa all looking over his shoulder. As the book's first section unfolds, Warner seems to be assembling the pieces of himself, each one coming hard as he struggles through a typically nerdy adolescence.

Yet the rest of the book proves he never reached the grail of adulthood. Which is why his albums don't congeal around their recurring themes of mind control, worship, fascism, and power wielding (sexual and otherwise). Manson has never tamed the bratty streak that makes him merely want to shout about these things, like a spoiled child seeking attention. He hasn't the intellectual authority or facility as a songwriter to crystallize his metaphors for the power games played out in the economic and political spider's web of our society.

But at least he talks about it, in his own marketable way. And maybe Marilyn Manson fans who are smarter than young Brian Warner can pick up the best of his scattered thoughts to build something brighter and better within their own lives.


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