An Online Unofficial Chronological History of Marilyn Manson,
Continued: 1999, Part II
(c) 1999 by Paula O'Keefe /
(Oh, and just by the way, remember Venus Stardust Morgan --how could you forget her?-- who got busted for wearing her "God of Fuck" shirt to the Benton, Kentucky, Tater Days Festival in May 1998? Sad to say, her conviction was upheld this month, and Venus had to pay the $250 fine. )
On April 7th Monster Magnet, who had stayed longer than originally planned to help carry the burden dropped by Hole, played their last date of the tour and left on good terms with all. Dave Wyndorf apparently had only good feelings about the experience: "This tour is the bomb," he said. "I'm touring with people who are confident and who know what they like and are not afraid to walk it like they talk it. The Manson guys are cool." Signing off in a flurry of pyrotechnics and burning flags, Magnet went off to join Metallica in Europe, while Nashville Pussy hooked up with the MM tour.
We got two weeks of relative peace and quiet: Manson even had time to discuss the possibility of a hip-hop remake of "Dope Show" with Master P. (Manson had apparently enjoyed his previous hip-hop experience, as a guest on "The Omen," a track from DMX's newest album, Flesh of My Flesh-Blood of My Blood.)
Then the storm broke.
On Tuesday, April 20th, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, arrived at school armed with a semi-automatic rifle, two sawed-off shotguns, a semi-automatic handgun and dozens of homemade pipe bombs. By 11:30 AM twelve students, one teacher and the two shooters were dead. But the ordeal was only beginning.
A few things about the pair were common knowledge: that they were outsiders, kids with Nazi sympathies - the shootings had been intentionally planned for April 20th, Hitler's birthday - and violent fantasies. Their websites included detailed bomb plans and they had made a class video in which they stalked the woods with shotguns, shooting down their enemies. They were attached, albeit peripherally, to Columbine's black-clad outsider clique of bright techies and Goths. Though not Goths themselves [Harris and Klebold's fan preferences reportedly leaned toward KMFDM, Rammstein and first-person-shooter games like Doom and Quake, while the Goths gathered at each others' homes after school to watch Animaniacs and Pinky & The Brain],
they all had one thing in common: namely persecution by Columbine's elite, the baseball-capped jocks.
The harassment was relentless, and ranged from verbal taunts and shoving to thrown food, thrown rocks, even sideswiping of bike-riding kids by jocks in cars. A member of the group consented to an anonymous interview with the Denver Post and cast a great deal of light on it all: "If you didn't dress like them, if you walked to school or rode your bike, if you didn't get into sports and weren't athletic, then you were an outcast. It's that simple." The group's motto in the school yearbook was cheerfully defiant: "Who says we're different? Insanity's healthy. Stay alive, stay different, stay crazy."
The unnamed 18-year-old told the Post that the group, which had been hanging out together since 1996, had originally called themselves "The Anachronists" because of their fondness for playing Dungeons and
Dragons and their preference for period-style Goth gear. In early 1998, though, a jock had branded them with the name that would ring around the world and mark this event forever: Trenchcoat Mafia. The group, according to the Post article, "accepted the moniker, hoping the symbolism would scare their tormenters and that the nefarious aura of a darkly dressed mob would finally give them some peace." And for awhile it worked...
The teen said Harris and Klebold were less socially active even than other mafia members: "From the outside, he said, they must have seemed part of the group because of their black trench coats and their similar Goth style of dress. But, speaking from the inside, he said they weren't really members. Although they sometimes hung with the mafia in Columbine's commons and shared sneers at the jocks, he recalled, they ate at a separate lunch table and led very separate lives." And:
"Despite widespread news reports about their obsession with the sadist music of Marilyn Manson [!], he said, only one member really was a fan of the shock-rocker."
There it is: the element that dragged Manson and us into this tragedy and put the torch-bearing mobs of 1997 back on our trail. After this quotation (reprinted here from another 4/20 Denver Post article, but also given to TV media) hit the fan---
" 'They talk about Hitler a lot. They take a real pride in him. It's creepy,' [a female Columbine student] told the newspaper's reporter. She added that the 'Trenchcoat Mafia' also liked to talk in class about decapitating people, and that many often sang and quoted songs by 'shock'-rocker Marilyn Manson."
--it was open season on Manson. The media, already Pavlov-trained to connect any mention of Goth or kids dressed in black with (a) Marilyn Manson and (b) a penchant for murder (see 1997 history for several relevant cases), leaped at this apparent "proof" that the band's music spurred kids on to deeds of lethal violence. The quote above is the only one I have from the source that even mentions Manson (though according to other sources, including MTV News and the UK music paper New Musical Express, a Columbine teacher and/or the school doctor also mentioned the shooters' liking for MM) but TV reporters pounced on the quote, and one heard it repeated over and over that day, with an increasingly sick horror. It's since been said that Klebold and Harris actually weren't much at all interested in Manson - indeed, as we note above, one Columbine Goth had told the Denver Post this a mere four days after the massacre - but this did next to zero good. The seed had been planted, and countless people had indelibly linked the name of Marilyn Manson with disaffected, alienated, teenage homicide.
-- (No one seems to have pointed out or even been aware that the passage that appeared as a "personal quote" on Eric Harris's AOL member profile:
"Man has ruled this world as a stumbling, demented child king long enough. As his empire crumbles, my precious black widow shall rise as his most fitting successor."
- came from the work not of Manson or of any industrial-goth unit, but from "Black Widow", recorded way back in 1975 by shock pioneer turned born-again apologist Alice Cooper. Obviously, there's just no juice in blaming old reformed monsters when the new ones remain to be crucified...)
It's hard to capture here the pain, dread and despair that raced through the online Manson community as we realized that MM was going to be blamed for this calamity; that politicians were almost surely going to use it as a weapon for music censorship and against future tours; worst of all, that not only were innocent kids dead, but that we were going to be implicitly accused of complicity in their murder, even of being potential murderers ourselves. Heartbreaking stories poured into chatrooms everywhere as Goth kids were shunned, accused, put under psychiatric examination, and treated like suddenly discovered ticking time bombs. This most peaceful and romantic of subcultures - from the dreamy and cerebral waifs of the graveyard to the meticulously adorned nightclub vampires and all the darktribes in between - overnight found itself media-demonized into a gang of gun-toting, unnatural-born killers: walking death, in black.
(And let's also remember that many, many Goths already despised Manson and Manson fans, denied that there was anything Gothic about the band, and bitterly resented our being classed together as a single black-clad horde in the mass mind. Imagine how those folk must have felt when they found themselves and their name monsterized because - however indirectly - of us. )
Overreaction spread like a flash flood. Black raincoats were banned from some schools; some other schools which hadn't already outlawed Goth clothing and Manson t-shirts did so. "Gothic nights" at clubs were cancelled and postponed. Popular media was ransacked for possible "causes": the hit movie "The Matrix," in which Keanu Reeves does considerable gun damage while clad in a long black coat and shades, was held up as a sinister influence, as was the movie "Basketball Diaries" and the DC comicbook miniseries The Trenchcoat Brigade, starring a cadre of mysterious, raincoated sorcerors.
And, inevitably, pending shows on the MM tour came under fire. Reno, Fresno and Minneapolis citizens all raised the alarm. The Fresno City Council went so far as to ban the band, passing a resolution which read in part: "Now, therefore be it resolved ... that the Council of the City of Fresno condemns Marilyn Manson or any other negative entertainer who encourages anger and hate upon the community as an offensive threat to the children of this community."
The Minnesota Family Council, a nonprofit family advocacy organization, urged members to call for the Minneapolis show's cancellation. Council President Tom Prichard said a community-standards issue was at hand in the wake of the shootings, and lamented what he
called Harris and Klebold's "apparent interest" in Manson's music: "Fundamentally, the messages being transmitted [during the concert] are not ones that are going to be positive or uplifting," he said. "Manson's message, which targets youth, is one of destruction, hopelessness and violence. It preys on vulnerable youth and may be just what causes some to take action." (Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, evidently a woman of sense, did not support cancellation and suggested that those opposed simply stay home.)
I give you at this point a passage from Eric Harris' own suicide note:
"Surely you will try to blame it on the clothes I wear, the music I listen to, or the way I choose to present myself - but no. Do not hide behind my choices. You need to face the fact that this comes as a result of YOUR CHOICES. Parents and Teachers, YOU FUCKED UP. You have taught these kids to be gears and sheep. To think and act like those who came before them, to not accept what is different. YOU ARE IN
Harris - if nothing else, a kid well-schooled in modern mass media and its attitudes about violence - foresaw the piranha frenzy of blaming and scapegoating to follow, and at least tried to steer the mob straight. Despite his statement's directness and clarity, it was, of course, ignored. As we have seen before and will continue to see, the hardest thing - the most nearly impossible thing - for grownups to do is accept the blame themselves.
Despite countless requests for appearances on TV news shows, Manson issued - at first - only a simple statement: "It's tragic and disgusting anytime young people's lives are taken in an act of senseless violence. My condolences go out to the students and their families." Meanwhile, Colorado was reeling: the National Rifle Association, in a grotesque attempt to seem respectful, announced plans to scale back its annual convention in Denver the following week, and promoters cancelled the April 30th MM show scheduled for Denver's Red Rocks Amphitheater. Sponsoring radio station KBPI announced the move in a
statement reading, "In light of recent events at Columbine High School, we as responsible members of the community, feel that we must do the right thing."
Columbine proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the trouble-plagued "Rock Is Dead" tour. On April 28th, the band website announced that Manson had decided to postpone the last five dates of the tour out of respect for those killed in Littleton. Manson wrote: "People are trying to sort out what happened and to deal with their losses. It's not a great atmosphere to be out playing rock [and] roll shows, for us or the fans." Manson also shot back at conservative activists and those in the media who had blamed him for somehow spurring the Columbine shootings:
"The media has unfairly scapegoated the music industry and so-called Goth kids, and has speculated - with no basis in truth - that artists like myself are in someway to blame. This tragedy was a product of ignorance, hatred, and an access to guns."
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, became the final date, cancelling the already-embattled Reno and Fresno shows - I hope the City Council was happy-- plus Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Universal City CA. And just in case it seemed fate might be through with us, there was one last bash: A total of 33 people were arrested at the Cedar Rapids gig when scuffles broke out after Manson walked offstage 3/4 of the way through the set.
The cause of his offense? Someone had plastered a large yellow smiley face over the shock symbol on the stage pulpit used for the "ACSS" sequence of the show.
No comment and no speculations on the culprit's identity [now generally supposed to have been a crew member].
Refusing to be pressured to comment, Manson was quiet on the topic of Columbine until the end of May, when Rolling Stone published his scathing essay, "I don't like the media but the media likes me".
One of his best pieces to date, it condemns the mass media for its insatiable assault on Columbine and its star treatment of the killers, pointing out that the name "Marilyn Manson" has always been a reaction to this very thing. Manson picks out themes - primarily the links between death, fame, sexuality and ritual - that were to surface much more clearly in the "Holy Wood" material
("The world's most famous murder-suicide [Jesus Christ] was also the birth of the death icon -- the blueprint for celebrity.") and deals out handfuls of stinging one-liners ("Unfortunately, for all of their inspiring morality, nowhere in the Gospels is intelligence praised as a virtue.").
It's an elegant and incisive piece, from the opening salvo -- "It is sad to think that the first few people on earth needed no books, movies, games or music to inspire cold-blooded murder. The day that Cain bashed his brother Abel's brains in, the only motivation he needed was his own human disposition to violence." -- to his disgust at the carnival of the vultures at Columbine
-- "I think it's terrible when anyone dies, especially if it is someone you know and love. But what is more offensive is that when these tragedies happen, most people don't really care any more than they would about the season finale of Friends or The Real World.
I was dumbfounded as I watched the media snake right in, not missing a teardrop, interviewing the parents of dead children, televising the funerals."
and his slashing of Harris and Klebold as "dipshits" and "idiots" who aren't his responsibility: "Even if they were fans, that gives them no excuse, nor does it make the music to blame").
His final defense: "I chose not to jump into the media frenzy and defend myself, though I was begged to be on every single TV show in existence. ...They want to blame entertainment? Isn't religion the first real entertainment? People dress up in costumes, sing songs and dedicate themselves in eternal fandom.... And the news -- that's obvious. So is entertainment to blame? I'd like media commentators to ask themselves, because their coverage of the event was some of the most gruesome entertainment any of us have seen....This kind of controversy does not help me sell records or tickets, and I wouldn't want it to."
[The entire essay can still be read on Rolling Stone's website; see also the companion piece, "Is Adult Entertainment Killing Our Children? Or Is Killing Our Children Entertaining Adults?" on the MM website.
And on June 1st he dropped in on the bulletin board again after a long absence:
June 1, 1999
just to say hello.
i have not forgotten anyone.
unfortunately the fascist, corporate sellouts that did everything in their
power to help disrupt my tour plans have interfered in radio and tv
transmissions as well. but i took my time thanks to rolling stone and kurt
loder and said what I needed to say.
i have been busy writing my new album and screenplay, as well as
prepairing a full art exhibit of all unseen paintings. coma white, a cover of
highway to hell and an unreleased track from acss ["Astonishing Panorama of the End Times"] that we have given to
celebrity death match are all on their way.
we shall return heavier than ever, unapologetic,
and all middle fingers motherfuckers.
as antichrist superstar as ever,
...go on to 1999, part 3.