Ziggy's Tavern, Winston-Salem, NC, 3/9/95

...my actual First Manson Experience. Relive with me a cold spring night in North Carolina...=)

Windy and cold with a waxing moon. Place called Ziggy's Tavern; posh name for what's no more than a barely converted roadhouse, original small building added onto with a bare framework of 2x4's, plywood and plastic sheeting. (Yes, I'm serious.) Holds about 200 people and has six electric heaters hanging from the ceiling as the only warmth. It's bloody freezing and they don't serve coffee. Show's supposed to start at 9:00. By 10:30, with no sign of either band, I'm about ready to call it quits and go get some semi-warm sleep in the car, but Judy talks me into staying. (I'll owe her that one for a long time.) Something's clearly wrong. Roadies are pacing around in boredom, instead of the frantic scramble that means technical problems, and a tall guy Judy tells me is MM's tour manager [right! I'd never seen Frankie before!] walks through the place checking out the house and looking concerned. I'd like to worry but I'm too bleedin' cold.
Monster Voodoo Machine finally come on at 10:45 and warm the place up some with their energy and high spirits. Set is straightforward metal, good as any and better than some, and the guys are likeable and very funny (and can pogo like crazy). It helps, but I'm still not sure what I'm doing here.
More waiting. The Mansons' props are set up; a clothesline, a boy mannequin with a red light bulb in his crotch, other child figures. Only a fraction of their usual set, I'm told. [EVB and Judy/coyote had already seen them two or three times.] Start to wonder...
About 11:30 the house lights die and are replaced by a red pulsing glow from the stage, dry ice fog coils around the amps; a tape begins to play, sound effects, snips of dialogue, distorted voices. Four figures walk onstage and take their positions, quick about it, alertly watching stage left. It'll come from there whatever it is, and it'll be their signal--
It comes creeping into the red light, a twisted, crabbed shape, its shadow black and clutching as Nosferatu's. Atavistic fear and awe grab my breath; can't help it, the shape in the smoke is archetypal Bad Thing, like a tree in the haunted forest. Slowly, spiderlike, all long legs and fingers and long lifeless hair, it makes its way to the mike stand. The kids are howling, mesmerized. It wraps its grip around the stand and stares with inhuman colorless eyes - - yanks the stand toward itself with sudden violence and the band crashes into the huge discordant chime of "Organ Grinder". Holy shit. I remember to breathe. The Reverend Mr. Manson can sure as hell make an entrance.

They've got the feel of a band still developing its style. Some stuff is straight metal ("Cyclops", "Get Your Gunn"), some shows more imagination and personality ("Organ Grinder", "Lunchbox", the bad-naturedly rollicking "Dope Hat"). But nevermind the fkn' songs, you can hear those on the record. The show, the point, is the band's look and Manson's lacerating performance. In between numbers he intones Biblical passages, lyrics, film quotes, all in the same bitter, withered creak, a voice soaked in malice and left to dry. He punishes the crowd, batters himself, soaks up pain with a craving horrible to see. Slamming himself with the mikestand as if hoping ribs will crack, breaking hot lightbulbs on his bare chest, recoiling from the crowd with shaking hands raised to his horrified face. He'll abruptly double over as if gutshot, drop to the stage to wrap himself futilely in arms and hair, radiating disorientation and naked terror. A deliberately grotesque, painted scarecrow. Yet there's a weird elegance and power in the ungainly frame, the raw voice with its startlingly smooth low range - when he pulls himself together he's Jack Skellington, King of Halloween, with hordes of little freaks and goblins swarming adoringly around his feet. It's captivating.

He addresses the crowd; the creaking voice takes on a preacherman cadence. "Jesse Helms and the North Carolina authorities...have told me...that I cannot show you my rock star dick...or perform any homosexual activities." (Ahah, there's the delay; a threatening visit from the boys in blue.) Everyone in the crowd should perform homosexual activities, he suggests, and force the authorities to arrest us all; he promises to visit and fuck every one of us personally while we're in jail. No takers that I can see and not much response; this is the weirdest crowd vibe I ever sat in. Excited and nervous and scared and fascinated, little birds staring at the snake. Manson, determined to make his point despite the restrictions, pulls out a red lipstick and smears it around his mouth, then writes "fag" on his belly with it; he pushes a loop of the mike cord into his tight pants and uses it to hoist balls and all into considerable prominence if not sight, sawing the cord back and forth. The crowd's in complete suspension of disbelief - what is this lunatic gonna do next? - and their unease seems to console Manson. A measure of control back in hand.

Looks a lot like Alice when he picks up the oversized topper and cane for "Dope Hat" and the kids get their footing back with the dynamite singalong chorus - "Fail to see the tragic! Turn it into magic!" But do they get it? are they getting any of this, with its scythe swipes at media and conformity,its black undertones of child abuse, sexual confusion, drug addiction and general dysfunction? For that matter, is that chorus a challenge to transcend or a bitter stab at a blind audience?
(I've forgotten I'm cold.)
"Lunchbox" is the centerpiece. A gem of kid revenge that says volumes for Mr. M's memory and capacity for grudges, it celebrates bashing in the skulls of playground bullies ("Next muthafucker - pow pow pow!") with your trusty metal sidekick - not those wimp plastic ones they make nowadays. And yes, that's a metal lunchbox on the carpet by the drums, with a can of lighter fluid inside. Manson creeps up to it, shakes it ceremonially overhead, sets it open on the rug and sprays it with flammable. One match - up leaps the flame and a second spray sends it even higher. Never underestimate the primal signal of fire, nothing sends a message like it. Suddenly it's deep night and pure ritual. Manson circles his little bonfire, encouraging it with coaxing gestures of those supernaturally long fingers, now a silhouette and now a splendidly witchy shadow. The kids are so hooked no one moves and I've just about quit breathing. I mean, he's really good at it. (I guess you don't get made a Reverend of the Church of Satan by just talking the talk...)
But he still doesn't feel he's made the point clear enough, and comes out for the encore wrapped in an American flag. Midway into "Misery Machine" someone rips it off him and he storms offstage, leaving the jarred band to finish as best they can - they throw in a couple of solos and some stage destruction, then beat a quick retreat.

Sit there with my jaw hanging, not at all sure what happened or what stopped it. Definite coitus interruptus, as EVB said. It's not complete and it's not quite right but it's still the most amazing thing I've seen since Lux and Iggy.

Let's see what happens tomorrow night.

Yeah, I was impressed. Already determined to see 'em again tomorrow night. Little did I know... =)


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