Over the years, rock and roll music has witnessed several “shocking” artists, including Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie), Alice Cooper, KISS, and others who frightened parents while exciting and intriguing their fans. Marilyn Manson fit the slot of “shock” rock for the 1990s. Admittedly, singer and band founder Marilyn Manson derived his musical and performance influences from the above artists, as well as Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath, and the Beatles. Jim Farber wrote in Entertainment Weekly: “He sings about scabs, sodomy, and urine. He enjoys ripping his skin with broken bottles. And compares his music to an act of murder. Any authorities who don’t like it, he says, ‘should kill themselves.’”
Manson was born Brian Warner in Canton, Ohio, raised by his mother, a nurse, and his father, Hugh Warner, a furniture salesman. He began writing lyrics in the late 1980s with no intention of becoming a singer or forming a band. But in 1990, he did both. He invented the name Marilyn Manson, which he adopted as his own name, by watching and reflecting on American propaganda and sensationalism. After viewing talk shows and other entertainment sources, he came to the conclusion that Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson stood out as the most popular personalities of the 1960s.
“As I got into the idea further,” Manson told Jim Rose in RIP, “I started realizing the extreme positive and negative that I was trying to outline with these two names. There was a lot of beauty to be found in Manson. There was a lot of ugliness to be found in Monroe. The lines crossed. I resided in that gray area; that what I was doing transcended morality and sexuality.”
Not long after Manson formed the group, he met Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, also from Ohio. The two singer/songwriters hit it off and when Reznor started his own record label, Nothing Records, Marilyn Manson became its first signing.
Marilyn Manson released its debut album in 1994. Within the year, the group was banned from playing in Salt Lake City, Utah, after Manson ripped apart a Mormon Bible onstage. “Marilyn Manson is a bit of a challenge to people’s intelligence,” Manson told Rose. “It’s almost a little bit of a science project to see how far I can push you, and see exactly what kind of reaction I can get.” Marilyn Manson also received censorship requests and disapproval from organizations such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Christian Coalition, and members of the British Parliament.
“My rules and moralities are probably different from a lot of other people’s,” Manson told Jim Farber in Entertainment Weekly. The band did compromise on some occasions to continue to have their music published and their live shows scheduled. “Compromise is inevitable sometimes,” bassist Twiggy Ramirez told John Pecorelli in Alternative Press. “I mean, if you’re banned in 23 states, you’re not accomplishing much. No one’s going to hear your message.”
Marilyn Manson released their second effort, an EP called Smells Like Children, in 1995. The album included a cover version of the Eurythmics’ hit “Sweet Dreams,” which launched the EP to No. 31 on Billboards album chart and racked up platinum sales.
“It was quite obvious to us from the beginning that the song was going to have a broader appeal than the rest of the material on the album,” Manson told MTV News “From the Buzz Bin.” “I felt like it was a piece of cheese on a rat trap to a lot of people who normally wouldn’t listen to Marilyn Manson. They thought, ‘Well, this is an innocuous little song and they ended up getting their necks snapped because they were introduced to this whole world that they weren’t expecting.” However, Tom Sinclair, a reviewer for Entertainment Weekly, saw
For the Record…
Members include Ginger Fish, drums; Madonna Wayne Gacy, keyboards; Marilyn Manson (born Brian Warner in Canton, OH); Twiggy Ramirez, bass; Zim Zum (replaced Daisy Berkowitz), guitar.
Band formed by Manson, 1990; signed with Nothing/Interscope, 1993; released debut, Portrait of an American Family, 1994; released Smells Like Children EP, 1995; released Antichrist Superstar, debuted at number three on Billboards Top 200 albums, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Nothing/Interscope, 2337 West 11th Street, Suite 7, Cleveland, OH 44113.
the band as talentless rather than shocking: “On this artlessly assembled excuse for an album, these minor-league White Zombie wannabes throw together pointless remixes, irritating skits, and lame covers of songs by Eurythmics, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Patty Smith.”
By the end of 1995, Manson had reorganized the band. He fired guitarist Daisy Berkowitz and hired Chicago-native Zim Zum. Manson and Zum, along with bassist Twiggy Ramirez, keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, and drummer Ginger Fish, released Antichrist Superstar on Nothing/Interscope in 1996. The LP debuted at No. 3 on Billboards Top 200 Albums, and included the singles “The Beautiful People” and the title track. Within the first weeks of the album’s release, the American Family Association from Mississippi, released a statement to warn American families against Marilyn Manson and its new album. “This should serve as a wake-up call to parents everywhere,” the press release stated.
Manson claimed Antichrist Superstar directly attacked Christianity’s “weak value system,” stating that he had recorded it in an attempt to “bring on the apocalypse.” He derived the idea for the album from his own experiences and the influence of concept albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.
“Marilyn Manson would have fit just fine right alongside Ziggy Stardust and Alice Cooper, the Stooges, T. Rex—any of that back then,” Manson told Pecorelli in Alternative Press. “And apparently, I’m gonna be the one that has to break my back to make rock music exciting again, because not too many other people are making the effort.” John Pareles wrote about Manson’s similarities to Alice Cooper in the New York Times. “Mr. Manson is the 1990’s version of Alice Cooper,” he wrote. “He uses a woman’s name, leads a hard-rock band, and provides a stagey spectacle.”
On the tour for Antichrist Superstar, Manson, a self-proclaimed Satanist, would often lead the crowd in a chant of “We hate love! We love hate!” Adam Tepedelen wrote in a live review in The Rocket “Manson is one sick little doggy; a writhing, taut body like Iggy Pop, a stage persona (’Antichrist Superstar’) equal to Ziggy Stardust, Alice Cooper’s flare for showb iz shock tactics, and G.G. Allin’s bent for self-destruction. Love him or hate him (he’d prefer the latter), there’s no denying he’s a spectacle.” In 1997, Marilyn Manson appeared on the Trent Reznor-produced soundtrack for David Lynch’s film Lost Highway, with the song “The Apple of Sodom.”
Though Manson claimed the album Antichrist Superstar would either bring the end of the world or the end of his band, the crowds clamored for more. So what did Manson have to look forward to after the retirement of his music career? He claimed he’d like to do a stint as a Christian television evangelist…always pushing the limits.
Portrait of an American Family, Nothing/Interscope, 1994.
Smells Like Children, Nothing/Interscope, 1995.
Antichrist Superstar, Nothing/Interscope, 1996.
Alternative Press, February 1997.
Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 1995; December 15, 1995; June 28, 1996; October 11, 1996; October 25, 1996.
MTV News “From the Buzz Bin,” January 1997.
New York Times, October 31, 1996.
RIP, February 1995.
Rocket, January 29-February 12, 1997.
Rolling Stone, October 17, 1996.
Members: Marilyn Manson, vocals (Brian Warner, born Canton, Ohio, 5 January 1969); Ginger Fish, drums (Frank Kenny Wilson, born Framingham, Massachusetts, 28 September 1966); Madonna Wayne Gacy, keyboards (Stephen Gregory Bier, Jr., born 6 March 1964); John 5, guitar (John Lowery, born Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 30 July 1971). Former members: Daisy Berkowitz, guitar (Scott Mitchell Putesky, born East Orange, New Jersey, 28 April 1968); Olivia Newton-Bundy, bass (Brian Tutunick, born 31 March 1968); Gidget Gein, bass (Brad Stewart, born 11 September 1969); Sara Lee Lucas, drums (Fred Streithorst); Twiggy Ramirez, bass (Jeordie Francis White, born 20 June 1971); Zim Zum, guitar (Timothy Michael Linton, born 25 June 1969); Zsa Zsa Speck, keyboards (Perry Pandrea).
Best-selling album since 1990: Antichrist Superstar (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "The Beautiful People," "The Dope Show"
With a penchant for stirring up controversy, Marilyn Manson was one of the most intriguing and vilified rock bands of the 1990s. Manson, led by the band's lightning-rod namesake, featured a constantly changing cast of grim-faced players who did a grinding, industrial dance of the macabre with their leader, who mixed the makeup rock of KISS with the shock tactics of the 1970s rocker Alice Cooper. With futuristic-sounding, keyboard-laden heavy metal songs such as "Irresponsible Hate Anthem" and "Antichrist Superstar," Manson provoked the ire of the religious right with his outrageous lyrics and stage antics. Arrests, concert bans, and lawsuits dogged Manson throughout the late 1990s as record sales faded and his over-the-top persona lost its shock value.
Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids was born in 1989 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the brainchild of the Ohio native Brian Warner. This middle-class son of a furniture salesman father and nurse mother was educated in a private Christian school, the strictures of which he later attributed to his desire to mock and question organized religion. Each of the group's members took a stage name that combined that of a famous celebrity with a serial killer, hence Marilyn Manson (Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Manson), was joined by guitarist Daisy Berkowitz; bassist Olivia Newton-Bundy—soon replaced by Gidget Gein; drummer Sara Lee Lucas; and keyboardist Zsa Zsa Speck.
The band released several home-recorded tapes and played locally in Florida in the early 1990s, earning a reputation for their disturbing imagery, gothic makeup, and homemade special effects. The group opened for the popular industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails in 1993, and were signed by the band's leader, Trent Reznor, to his Nothing Records label that year. Their debut album, Portrait of an American Family, was released in the summer of 1994.
The band's debut is rife with disturbing imagery, profane language, and a dark, cynical worldview that is matched by the grim, menacing clatter of the music, which mixes the hard cadences of "industrial" dance music with the overamplified guitars of heavy metal. Manson willfully blends sacred childhood imagery such as lollipops and dolls with references to suicide, disease, apathy, drugs, and sex. The group's first ban, in Utah in 1995, was fueled by Manson's destruction of a Mormon bible on stage.
While each band member sported a disturbing, pale makeup look, it was Manson who was the visual centerpiece of the group's dark worldview. The gangly, heavily tattooed singer with the long black hair often sported heavy white makeup, colored contacts, and combinations of medical bandages and braces, lace gloves, and leather fetish lingerie. A follow-up album, Smells Like Children (1995), a collection of covers, remixes, and odd spoken word collages, helped put the band on the national map thanks to a grim cover of the Eurythmics' 1980s new wave hit, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)."
The stage was now set for the album that turned Manson into both an icon for disaffected, marginalized teens and a target for censors and religious leaders. The Christianity-attacking concept album Antichrist Superstar (1996), whose title is a play on Andrew Lloyd Webber's religious-themed rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, is twisted by Manson into a story of an evil being's rise to power and the destruction of decorous, mainstream society. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard album charts. The allegorical tale, complete with abrasive guitars, jackhammer beats, and Manson's tortured, spooky yelling/singing, features the hit "The Beautiful People."
Thanks to grim videos in which Manson is strapped into medical torture devices amid images of decay and destruction, the group rose to superstar cult status, their black concert T-shirts a staple of high schools and rock shows. Meanwhile, Manson's stage act was drawing the ire of conservative and religious groups, who frequently attempted to ban the band from playing live, accusing Manson of everything from devil worship to immoral behavior.
Mechanical Animals (1998) represented a stylistic change for the group, with its focus on a slicker, glam-rock sound that traded the gloomier imagery of the past for a more sterile, glittery, androgynous look akin to David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character of the early 1970s. Songs such as "Great Big White World," "The Dope Show," and "Coma White" portray a bleak, postnuclear science-fiction world of drugs and numbness.
After a period of relative quiet imposed by both the deadly shooting spree at Columbine High School in April 1999 (the two, goth-obsessed shooters were reported to have been Manson fans) and fans' rejection of the Mechanical Animals album and concept, Manson released a meditation on the ills of fame, guns, and violence entitled Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (2000). The album is a virtual cheat sheet of Manson themes, questioning the existence of God ("Godeatgod"), ridiculing the gun culture and blind patriotism ("The Love Song," "Burning Flag"), and attacking the church ("Target Audience").
The album mixes the anthemic, abrasive gothic rock of Antichrist with the more sedate, glam-inspired meditations of Mechanical Animals. Manson failed in his attempt to get a movie version of the album produced. His long-time side kick Twiggy Ramirez left the group in May 2002, just as Manson was gearing up to record a new album, The Golden Age of Grotesque (2003), inspired by life in 1930s Berlin.
Spot Light: Attempts to Ban Marilyn Manson
Accused of everything from distributing drugs to torturing animals on stage, cheering on gang rapes to endorsing Satanic views, Marilyn Manson was a favorite target for censors and conservative religious groups in the middle and late 1990s. The American Family Association regularly picketed the group's shows, and some cities attempted to pass legislation banning Manson from performing in their towns. Some, like in South Carolina, took the path of least resistance, paying the band $40,000 not to play in the state. When Manson joined Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest show in 1997, the management of Giants Stadium in New Jersey attempted to block Manson from performing; it took a federal judge's decision to secure Manson's right to perform. At one point in 1997, a Milwaukee school banned the Manson "look," citing it as a disturbance to classroom activities; in 1998 a Kentucky woman was arrested for wearing a Manson T-shirt. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Manson fought back against some of the venues, suing them on First Amendment grounds. More often than not, Manson won the right to present his show, but the legal battles eventually took their toll, frequently overshadowing the music and the antiestablishment message.
By appealing to (mostly male) teenagers ridden with feelings of rebellion and angst, Marilyn Manson became the cultural bogeymen of the late 1990s with images meant to spook parents and intrigue their children. A gifted huckster, Manson took taboo subjects (drugs, sex, religion) and exploited them for their shock value, reveling in the resulting media attention and robust album sales. In the process, Marilyn Manson became an anti-hero for a generation. But, just like the tragic figures in many of his songs, even the anti-hero was subject to a fall when his antics ceased to be horrifying.
Portrait of an American Family (Nothing/Interscope, 1994); Smells Like Children (Nothing/Interscope, 1995); Antichrist Superstar (Nothing/Interscope, 1996); Remix & Repent (Nothing/Interscope, 1997); Mechanical Animals (Nothing/Interscope, 1998); The Last Tour on Earth (Nothing/Interscope, 1999); Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (Nothing/Interscope, 2000); The Golden Age of Grotesque (Nothing/Interscope, 2003).