An Online Unofficial Chronological History of Marilyn Manson, Continued: 1998
(c) 1999 by Paula O'Keefe / email@example.com
1997 finally came to its welcome close, but they say there's no rest for the wicked (or those who write histories of them), and 1998 went to high speed right out of the gate. Manson was already starting to drop hints about the band's forthcoming third album, whose name had not yet been announced, when he talked to MTV for their annual "Year in Rock" wrap-up special (actually aired in Dec. 1997). His comments at the time pretty much set the tone for the extensive MA discussions to follow:
"If 'Antichrist Superstar' was sort of my comparative fall from grace, Lucifer being kicked from heaven, this next record is about what happens on earth now. Sort-of trying to fit into a society that thinks it's full of emotions and that you're a callous person, when in fact you're the one that actually has all these feelings and it's the world that's kind of numb to them. It's almost the antithesis of what I just did."
The new year wasn't two weeks old before its first Manson controversy opened up, this one having unexpected (though indirect) consequences on down the line. SPIN Magazine's February issue, which went on sale Jan. 13th, bore a striking full-face cover of a Raggedy-Ann-esque Manson and an excerpt from his about-to-be-released autobiography, "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell". It wasn't the autobio that raised hackles but a sidebar interview, in which Manson claimed he was misquoted: "these are not the questions I was asked, and not the answers I would give to those particular questions," he told MTV News. (SPIN's retort was essentially "are so!", but they did admit they had edited MM's responses "for clarity".)
Manson's particular problem seemed to be the printed statement that Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan would be Executive Producer on the next album, which would be mixed by the Dust Brothers. Corgan's name (and that of the DB) had been associated with the record in print before and would be later, but Manson, out at last from under the studio thumb of Trent Reznor, was determined to make it clear that no one had "executive produced" the third album except himself.
Besides being our first look at the contents of LHR and planting the seeds of a grudge between MM and SPIN editor Craig Marks, this SPIN cover feature is also notable for its striking set of accompanying photo portraits by David LaChapelle. LaChapelle said that he suspected kids might not be sophisticated enough to get the irony in MM's music and image, and thought the set of photos would be a good way to show him in a variety of diferent lights. "He really is an artist and he's evolving, he's visually driven," enthused LaChapelle about the experience. "He's really down to earth and a really cool guy, and he's really smart about imagery, too.")
--Comments about Reznor's non-involvement in MA would eventually range from polite variations on we-still-respect-him-but-we-need-to-do-our-own-thing to "he never returns our calls" to some a bit more thoughtful: "Maybe if I were in his position, and I'd helped a band out and they'd grown to be equal or greater than I was doing, it might make me feel a little strange......" Manson's most extensive statement came during a November 17th press conference in Toronto, when asked about the rumor that the two had had personal differences. "I'd go beyond that," replied Manson, "and say they're not rumors. To be honest with you, I haven't talked to him since ACS, so I don't know what our relationship is. I don't have any hard feelings towards him... I think if we were to get back together we'd be very close, but it's difficult. I'm willing to be friends with him."
During that same week, on 1/15, a Fort Lauderdale judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit that had been brought by Scott Mitchell Putesky against Manson himself (that is, Brian Warner), the band, and Manson lawyer David Codikow in September 1997. Putesky (the former Daisy Berkowitz) hoped to reclaim thousands of dollars in royalties, publishing rights and performance fees he claimed he'd been owed since being "unjustly forced out of the band" in mid-1996. He also hoped to prove attorney malpractice against Codikow, arguing that he (Codikow) had unfairly represented and defended Warner/Manson's personal interests to the detriment of other bandmembers. The judge's action opened the way for the trial to begin later in January, but depositions were actually not taken until May 4th.
And speaking of days in court, January ended with a "not guilty" plea brought by Texan MM fan John Schroeder, who had been busted for obscene display after he wore his "God of Fuck" shirt to a local supermarket. Schroeder was briefly jailed and faced with a $500 fine; the ACLU took his case, which was dismissed in May. The GoF shirt caused yet more trouble when a fan with the splendiferous name of Venus Starlet Dust Morgan had the audacity to wear it to Benton, Kentucky's annual Tater Days festival (I am not making this up!). The assembled Tatertots were not amused, causing Mme. Venus to be convicted of harassment and fined $250. The ACLU went to bat for her as well.
February brought new goodies: the 2/10 release of "Dead To The World", the official video documentary of the ACS-based tour of that name, was followed by the much-awaited release of "Long Hard Road Out of Hell", Manson's frank and startling autobiography, and the accompanying six-city book-signing tour. The Rev's first publicity events for a non-band solo project were nearly as excitedly and massively attended as concert dates, cementing public awareness of him as an individual separate from his bandleader persona. Since the signings not only afforded a chance for a priceless souvenir - a personally autographed copy - but also permitted fans too young or sheltered to attend concerts a chance to see and meet Manson in person, anticipation and excitement ran high: streets filled with fans, and cops were required to control the (peaceful) day-long lines while TV news choppers buzzed overhead.
(Numbers of these younger fans were completely overcome when finally ushered into the Manson presence, either struck speechless or bursting into tears. Manson was unfailingly gracious.) LHR was an unqualified success ("Superstore Superstar...one of the best-selling music biography titles ever sold, hands down," raved Publishers Weekly), remaining on the New York Times Bestseller List for nine weeks. It also featured jacket and interior design by the enigmatic web-artist firm of Bau-Da Designs, who had done the "Antichrist Superstar" sleeve and booklet, and would eventually create Manson's short-term art/puzzle website, comawhite.com.
(The Feb. 13th signing in New York - a Friday, no less - produced a special treat for one particular band of fans who had traveled to the NYC event. Knowing that Manson was scheduled to appear on MTV's afternoon Live Show that same day, they trekked over to Times Square after the signing and talked their way into the studio audience - thus making their MTV debut as support crew while Manson politely fended questions from annoying host Carson Daly.)
"Long Hard Road" brought along its own set of controversies, as Manson had anticipated, as various of his well-known acquaintances either commented upon, or pointedly refused to comment upon, their portrayal in the book. Dave Navarro denied that Manson had ever had to fend off an offer of oral sex from him, while neither Trent Reznor nor Courtney Love had anything to say about Manson's allegation that Love's brief fling with Twiggy was instigated so that she could keep an eye on Trent Reznor, as (according to MM) Trent suspected.
After a lull throughout March, April brought the Mansons' next in a series of film soundtrack appearances, this one notable for producing the long-overdue teamup of Twiggy and Twiggy. The 60's modeling superstar sang a credible cover of Dusty Springfield's pop classic "I Only Want To Be With You", accompanied by her namesake on guitar. Manson also contributed a track, a note-perfect cover of David Bowie's "Golden Years". Both were for the soundtrack of the horrendous bomb/teen comedy "Dead Man On Campus".
Scott Putesky, meanwhile, circled back to semi-secure space by signing on as a member of Jack Off Jill, the Mansons' fellow South Floridian shock-tantrum rockers and longtime friends. Replacing guitarist Hoho Spade, Putesky settled into writing new material and suggested some of it would appear on JOJ's remix EP to be released that coming summer. He told MTV News, though, that he had no plans to give up Three Ton Gate, his solo project, whose debut EP "Vanishing Century" had sunk without a trace in 1997. As the only member of TTG , SMP explained, he could work it into his schedule at any time and distribute the results on CD via his own website
as he had done with "Century".
(A mini-side-project in May: Manson appeared onstage with Gary Numan at Numan's Los Angeles show to sing backup on longtime MM favorite "Down In The Park". No recorded comments from Numan or his fans, but Manson probably enjoyed it. =)
MANSON HEX #1: June 22, 1998. Remember Larry Ryckman of Calgary, Ontario, Canada's Max Bell Arena? Remember the shenanigans that he pulled to keep from honoring his contract to have MM play there in July 1997?
On this date in 1998, the Calgary Sun reports that Ryckman must pay the defrauded party, Universal Concerts, a sum of over $40,000 Canadian (about $30,000 US $) in damages. Universal had won its suit in December but not until June did the judge settle on the amount due.
In late June came the sudden announcement that the band's swing thru seven European summer music festivals, to begin in Denmark on June 25th, was cancelled due to Ginger Fish's bout with mononucleosis. A press release said only that Fish must spend several weeks resting and receiving medical care.
On July 20th MTV News reported that MM had finally set the title and release date for their "highly-anticipated" third album. "Mechanical Animals" was to be released on September 15th, with production tasks handled by Michael Beinhorn, who had also produced the forthcoming Hole LP "Celebrity Skin". As these two discs (along with Rob Zombie's "Hellbilly Deluxe") were then being touted as the vanguard and sole hope of rock and roll in the face of a wave of ska-pop bands, song-and-dance soulboy acts and the Swing Revival, Beinhorn's involvement with both elevated him to the temporary stance of champion/guru and he commentated on the State of Rock to a number of microphones. (He'd also worked with Soundgarden, Ozzy, and the Chili Peppers, so he knew whereof he spoke).
This low-key announcement was followed only days later by a bombshell: confirming weeks of rumors, MM reps confirmed on July 22nd that lead guitarist Zim Zum, a fan favorite, had been replaced by John Lowery, formerly of Rob Halford's industrial unit Two. Lowery was promptly rechristened "John 5". --Zim's statement suggested that, although the split was his own idea for his own reasons (he did not want to commit to an 18-month tour; he wasn't getting enough credit, financially or otherwise, for his work on MA), the split was amicable. "The door was left open," he told KERRANG!, "Last thing I said to him was 'You've got my number, call me'". (This KERRANG interview with Zim - Aug. 29, 1998 - is a classic and really should be read in its entirety, with the departing member taking his opportunity to dish a range of sexual and prankish dirt on his former bandmates that is mind-boggling.) He hoped optimistically to work solo, produce or perhaps do studio work with other major artists.
Manson, however, took his typical tack of blasting the departing member in the press, telling anyone who asked that Zim had been fired in no uncertain terms, was not welcome to return, and had earned Manson's scorn by falling so headlong into the L.A. abuser's lifestyle that he was absolutely no functional use to a working band. Accusations of not showing up for work or practice and being unable to remember material - "which I take as an insult to the band" - were typical. (Other comments heard along the way do seem to support Manson's contention, though fans of the personable Zim dismissed this as MM's classic post-split cattiness.) --Two had released a debut LP on Nothing earlier in the year, but fans of Halford from his years in Iron Maiden apparently declined to support his shift to industrial-metal, as album and subsequent tour had suffered from lack of interest. Lowery - wisely exploring other avenues - had played on David Lee Roth's most recent LP and had been generally expected to tour with Roth over the summer, making the announcement a shocker to Roth's fans as well as Manson's.
John 5 was tossed headlong, as Zim had been, into the Manson maelstrom, making his debut appearance on video barely two weeks after being confirmed as the band's newest member. (A striking blond who carries off glam quite well, he made a fine first impression.) The video in question was for "Dope Show"[[more on video]], the debut single from MA, which was shot in August 1998. Directed by Paul Hunter, it owed more than a little to the classic Nick-Roeg-directed Bowie film "The Man Who Fell To Earth" and gave Earth its first good long look at the "alien" aspect of Manson's new stage persona, Omega.
Also in August, MM made their latest contribution to a movie soundtrack, this one being Dee Snider's feature film debut StrangeLand. Snider wrote, co-produced and starred in this horror flick about a "modern primitive"-style psycho (called "Captain Howdy", a name snitched from The Exorcist)
who trolls the Internet looking for kids he can lure into his den of exotic mutilation. MM's contribution was the POAAF track "Sweet Tooth".
On 8/14, MTV News reported that US retail megachains Wal-Mart (well-known for its censorious stand against any form of smut) and K-Mart had stated they would refuse to carry the MA album if it were delivered in its proposed cover art. Namely: a stark portrait of naked, red-eyed androgyne Manson/Omega with
photo-erased genitalia, six-fingered hands and prosthetic breasts. Interscope, unable to dismiss the whines of two such major middle-American retailers, dutifully went to work designing an alternate sleeve which would obscure Omega's chest (though the synthetic breasts are plastic-smooth and
minus nipples, which in just about any other advertisement are the only part of a breast deemed unshowable). Two weeks later, however, even the relatively liberal New York Times balked. Presented with an ad for the band's 9/15 signing appearance at NYC's Virgin Megastore which featured the album cover,
the venerable publication rejected it, stating that the Omega image was 'in questionable taste." The mock mammaries were OK, but to secure the Times' publication of the ad, Virgin had to obscure the lower half of the picture with a black bar. (Interesting variation in squeamishnesses there...)
(Another big-name NYC establishment reportedly gave Manson the brush at about this point. Manhattan's classy and world-famous Dolce & Gabbana clothing store refused to schedule a "sitting" - a private fashion show and display of its wares, usually offered without hesitation to the famous and well-heeled - for him. Doesn't fit the store's image, said D&G reps. Manson's wounded dignity was hopefully soothed by being welcomed at such other upscale clothiers as Prada and Ralph Lauren.) (Ralph Lauren?!)
Also around this time: Los Angeles' vintage Wiltern Theater refused a bid from MM's booking agency, Artist & Audience, to have the band play there as part of a string of pre-tour warm-up dates. No reason was given but it's suspected the Wiltern didn't care to risk its building, a historical landmark, on a hard-rock crowd. (A sampling of its recent dates includes Shawn Colvin, Diamanda Galas, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen - on his acoustic tour.)
In early September, a MM milestone was reached when Manson announced he would host an online chat with fans via the band's brand new official website, http://www.marilynmanson.net. A long-time critic of the Internet and online fandom in general, Manson, who had once condemned the entire Web as "a trailer park of the soul", had gradually been won over to the potential of the Internet as a venue for direct artist-fan communications and specialized artistic expression. The site had been beta-tested by invitation to a number of online fans, who were less than complimentary about the rather hokey design and dated (ACS-period only) imagery used; but the test results were taken to heart and the site spiffed up nicely. Manson's new enthusiasm for the Internet came through in his comments to MTV News on the evening before the September 9th chat: "For me it's going to be the one place where I can communicate directly with my fans. Undiluted, unfiltered by the media. And that's where they can find the truth, y'know, because there's always so many rumors. I think if anyone wants to know anything, they can speak to me directly there. I'll actually be in contact..on a daily basis." ---While not exactly "on a daily basis," Manson has kept his word, continuing to post to the site's message board from time to time whenever the band is in the USA. Many interesting things have come of this new access channel, as we will see
The September chat was well-attended and quickly archived to the site (it's still listed at http://www.marilynmanson.net/vault/index.html, though checking it gives you a succession of "outdated link" notices). Manson discussed a number of current topics including the Omega character, the forthcoming stage show, the departure of Daisy Berkowitz and the selection of new guitarist Zim Zum. But just as at MTV, Manson went to the greatest lengths to make clear that he had great hopes and intentions for the website as a direct touchpoint between himself and fans. The sense of community and intimacy he hoped to establish is plain - as is his distinctive bleak-poetic posting style - in his initial post, which was the opening screen of the site until July 1999:
sender marilyn manson
Thank you for joining me in a time of desolation and fear. This will be the only place in our known universe where we can communicate unfiltered and find what only we can call the truth. I'm sending this transmission from the space I'm in and
I've watched over you like a satellite, each one of you a vein keeping me alive. But the skin is dead and glass - and I am reborn and this is my omega. As I repaired my emotions - cellular, narcotic - I began to see the dystopia before me.
My dream of an apocalypse that was the Antichrist Superstar has unfolded.
I could see that "they" only looked and acted like humans, but they had lost their souls, they were Mechanical Animals.
I was sent to destroy, but I believe we are the only ones who can save ourselves. Listen carefully to the digital information we have compiled on this compact disc. It is a pill which can
make you anybody else. I only hope it is not me.
On Thursday, September 10th, Manson gave "The Dope Show" its live performance debut on MTV's Video Music Awards.
"I couldn't have dreamed it any other way," he said happily of the event, "it couldn't be any more appropriate." Manson's performance at the 1997 VMAs had stolen the show with its marching band, podium speech and buttless black ensemble, and numerous VMA attendees - from Foo Fighter Dave Grohl to Green Day's Billie Joe and neo-swing boss Brian Setzer - enthused that they couldn't wait to see how he'd top it this year. I can't do better than to quote Kurt Loder: "The man of the hour did not disappoint with his performance, which suggested Ziggy Stardust in the middle of a four-week run at Caesar's Palace in Vegas. Surrounded by sequined back-up singers, clad in platform heels, and awash in lights spelling out 'The Dope Show', Manson ...showed a glammed-up version of the same rock star swagger he flashed at last year's show. He also, for the second straight year, showed VMA viewers his ass, showing that he knows showbiz rule #1: give the audience what they want." (Loder neglected to mention that this year's butt show also included a boob show; Manson's cut-out catsuit included portholes in the front to show off his latex breasts.)
Fan reaction to this display of trash and vaudeville was mixed, to say the least. Some appreciated it as a satire on drug excess, conspicuous wealth, Hollywood, and the whole idea of a white-tie Video Music Awards show. Othere, less critically inclined, condemned the whole performance from the sequined singers to Manson's appendages as insulting, phony, and a total sell-out.
The hero of freaks and outcasts, the voice of nonconformity and scorn for the mass mind, the scarred child and scathing critic of church and state, had abandoned it all, they felt, to embrace a meaningless display of cheap showbiz glitz.
(We talked about practically nothing else on our drive up to New York the next day. We were bound to the Times Square Virgin Megastore, on a mission: a pre-purchase of MA on that date would get you a ticket good for a copy of the record and your pass to the in-store signing on the 15th. Doors were to open at 9AM. After a relaxing morning of watching the animated billboards and drinking NYC's finest McDonald's coffee on the freshly hosed-down sidewalk (when they say Giuliani has cleaned up Times Square, they MEAN it!) fans were let inside and treated us to an advance listening party - the whole album, on the Megastore's SOA sound system. Reaction seemed oddly muted...)
The general mood was far from muted when we drove back to New York to pick up our copies and have our fifteen seconds with the guys, four days later. As Manson later mentioned in his first news-message to the website, the crowd swelled alarmingly throughout the day as those with advance tickets were joined by thousands more who hoped to join the end of the line and still have a chance to meet the band. Virgin staff, who knew that the band was only scheduled to stay as long as it would take to greet the known number of ticketed fans, advised the latecomers accordingly. They stayed put, though, and as the evening wore on (the event didn't begin till 6:30 PM) things got a little bit tense. We saw at least one girl hauled away in tears by a shouting dad-type; riot police began to turn up; and we later learned that the event was shut down and 1500 or so people turned away despite the band's staying past hours. Memorable moments of the event: the gigantic, spotlit billboard of glowing-white-nude Manson/Omega towering high over Times Square (is this really the same guy we used to see in grubby little North Carolina dives?); and Manson earnestly requesting as I got his signature,
"I hope you'll tear this one apart the way you did the last one." I promised I would.
(see if you think I did:
In all probability due to this opening-day blitz, the album debuted on the Billboard charts at #1 with first-week sales of 223,000 then slipped to #5 (exquisitely appropriate to the magickal significance of the numbers 1, 5 and 15 to MA, such that the band's name appeared on it as MAR1LYN MAN5ON).
The bitterness and sense of betrayal which some had begun to feel when preview MP3s of "Dope Show" were first posted to Manson's website, and which were more
strongly voiced after the VMA performance, found their full range when "Mechanical Animals" was finally released on September 15th 1998. The transit from "Portrait of An American Family" to "Antichrist Superstar" had been a rocky and emotional one for the fan community, but the transit from ACS to MA made that look like a walk in the park. Deeply hurt, outraged, stunned and bewildered - confused, at the very mildest - the online tribe poured out its feelings in miles of bandwidth.
What was it we had here? A flashy glam record with clear lineage to Bowie, Kiss, Numan; an opened fan of wide-hearted emotion from vulnerability and tenderness to acrid loathing; an album ranging from startling beauty to stomping arena-style rock to broad discoesque parody.
A fine rock album, but not in any way (--in your historian's opinion; she regrets any offense) a match for the intensity, the clever and savage intelligence, or the subversive, magickal power of "Portrait" and "ACS".
But, was it a sellout? Didn't Manson have the right to change and develop or just try new things sometimes? Regardless of its divergence, was it good or not? The record was kicked from pillar to post for weeks, and numbers of fans quit the group over it, one in particular with a bitterness that would reverberate in months to come.
However, the general press was more than generous, showering MA with reviews of unexpected kindness and goodwill (were they just relieved that the monster had "shown" it was only kidding?). Not only Details, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice but even Time and Newsweek praised the album as an enjoyable show of scope, melodic ability and a fine sense of humor (Newsweek's review even using terms like "wickedly engaging" and "hilariously funky" [!]). In the face of the existing fan reaction, the Rolling Stone review in particular reads like a touching attempt to reassure. After remarking on the specific and repeated viciousness with which the "Jenny Jones Show" targets MM fans for its sadistic makeover episodes, Ann Powers wrote:
"Its emotional tone emanates from the compassionate egotist who saw his chance in the failure of today's weirdos to stand up for themselves. His last album spoke for these tongue-tied adventurers; MA turns toward them in sadness and in love. ...These apocalyptic romances, vast and vague enough to wallow in, pit Manson and his beloved (a girl? A drug? No, it's you, dear fan) against the world. ... He is reaching back to those fans who might think his new life as a Hollywood fixture, replete with sexy actress girlfriend and cool pals like the guitarist Dave Navarro, may have lifted him from their midst. By presenting Manson as a ghost in the elite world he has conquered, MA maintains his allegiance to the outcasts who put him there. ...Returning to his roots... Marilyn Manson has made an album that reassures his followers that he still belongs to them, and they to him."
The paper press had not been slow to catch up with Manson, and he had been glad, as usual, to discuss his new ideas and the Omega persona. While a
strong theme of the record seemed to be excess, abuse and the costs of fame, drugs on the album, he stressed, represented people's tendency/need to
numb themselves emotionally; it was clear to him, he said, that he himself had undergone an emotional rebirth. The harshness and hatred of the
Antichrist Superstar had given way to a new vulnerability, a sense that while technology and apathy were draining the heart out of most people -
they had become no more than human-looking robots, "mechanical animals" - his own was stronger than ever. ("I feel like I've landed on a planet
where I'm not from," he told UK mag Time Out, "and things are too over-intense for me; everything I taste, touch or see is overwhelming.
Because I don't think I've really felt anything for the past five or six years.")
Indeed he seemed more thoughtful and sensitive than in the past, though no less incisive. He spoke at length about his misgivings re: technology and its takeover of human functions, saying that people seem determined to phase ourselves out - "one day our cell phones will have our conversations for us, our computers will write down what we're thinking" - but stressed that no machine can replicate artistic creation and the human spirit. "The only thing that really represents us as human beings is what we give back to the world, and what we create as artists," he said. "I think that if machines eventually did replace humans, what they would discover is that they could never replace the soul. I think that's the one thing that you can't duplicate."
To Metal Edge, he explained the album in the same terms: seven of the songs are from the perspective of Marilyn Manson, but the other seven "are meant to be performed by this fictional band, The Mechanical Animals, and are intentionally hollow..just shallow, clever, but still kind of garbage in a way. A lot of people misunderstood those as being 'this is where Manson's voice is now,' but those are very much supposed to be coming from the perspective of a character ..."
At the same time, he made it clear that the album was intended to celebrate and defend rock, the music he obviously loves most, and give it its much-deserved rebirth.
..go on to part 2.