During the halcyon ‘90s, Marilyn Manson was rock’s bogeyman; a near-mythical, ambisexual antagonizer who inspired legions of over-imaginative teens to relay wild tales concerning the self-proclaimed “Antichrist Superstar.” The rumor that the makeup-clad singer had several ribs surgically removed so he could perform autofellatio was nearly as prevalent as that of Richard Gere’s gerbilling.
The Manson mystique only got greater from there. Take his 1994 Jacksonville arrest for “violating the adult entertainment code” after he performed oral sex on a dildo worn by Jack Off Jill vocalist Jessicka before hurling the fake penis into the crowd (a prison guard allegedly broke his jaw for mouthing off). Or the time he was arrested in Rome for “public indecency” for whipping his cock out onstage. Or when he was sued for humping a security guard’s head. Or the occasion where he was arrested for “blasphemy” in Marino, Italy, after dressing up like a cardinal onstage.
“In 1996, I felt that Antichrist Superstar needed to happen in the world,” Manson says. “I wasn’t looking to change the world—I can barely change my own pants half the time—but I was looking to make something that tried to cause friction or a dent in the language of ours, and the stupidity of people believing in something that doesn’t exist, or people doing ignorant things in the name of something that doesn’t exist: religion.”
Manson became such a notorious countercultural figure that a congressional committee led by Senator Joseph Lieberman cited his music as driving youths to suicide, shows were canceled on grounds of “immorality,” and kids were even sent home from school for wearing Marilyn Manson t-shirts. The pitchfork-wielders even blamed him for influencing the shooters behind the Columbine High School massacre (patently absurd), leading to an insightful cameo in the anti-gun documentary Bowling for Columbine.
“I’m not immoral, or amoral,” Manson says of his past peccadilloes. “I have a moral code that I live by. I wear a three-piece suit and carry a gold switchblade. If you start a conversation with me that ends with me pulling out my gold switchblade, then I think you started the wrong conversation.”
Though he’s sold 50 million albums, over the past decade Manson had transformed into something he loathes: a celebrity. With his musical output waning, he found himself making headlines for dating actresses (Rose McGowan, Evan Rachel Wood), marrying burlesque queen Dita Von Teese, or having pal Johnny Depp pop up on guitar at one of his club shows.
And then something strange happened. Manson chose to invert his schedule “like Carcosa,” working during normal human hours versus the witching ones where “only horrible things happen,” and he forged a creative partnership with Tyler Bates, a musician best known for composing the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy. The result is The Pale Emperor, a bluesy, Doors-esque new Manson album—and his best since 1998’s platinum-selling Mechanical Animals.
“In Faustian terms, back in 1996, I made a deal with the Devil and I’ve been late on a few paychecks the past couple of years, but I think with this record I’m paid in full, with interest,” he says. “I got my soul back.”
The impressive album—Manson’s 9th—is dedicated to his mother, Barbara Warner, who died in the midst of its production. And the first song off The Pale Emperor, “Killing Strangers,” was pulled from European radio stations following the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead at the heads of vicious jihadists.
“I was talking to [Johnny] Depp about what happened because he has a house in France,” says Manson. “There are repercussions to your actions. I, personally, related to what happened in France, would not have done something that I didn’t realize may have repercussions to it. For example, I’m friends with guys in the Hells Angels and MS-13, and I wouldn’t find myself making fun of them to their faces. When you’re dealing with people who are very blinded by their beliefs, the line of freedom of speech needs to really have some common sense to it. I was well aware that I was not going to make a lot of friends with Antichrist Superstar. I got death threats and dealt with 100 cops a day. You cannot ever meddle with someone who is blinded by their beliefs and not expect danger to come with it. It’s the basis of every war that’s happened.”He pauses. “I’m not from there. I don’t know those people. I would not have done what [Charlie Hebdo] did simply because I don’t do that; I sing. I don’t have an answer to that other than: every action has a reaction.”
Manson often speaks with a braggadocio befitting Yeezus. “I’m not a celebrity, I’m a fucking rock star,” he says. In addition to the impending danger of his gold switchblade, which he brings up a few times during the course of our brief chat, he seems intent on playing the role of the badass rocker—he’s in some respects still the same guy who, back in 1998, penned a sex, piss, and drugs-happy autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, after getting his first taste of fame.
“When I enter a room, I think I suck some of the light out of it,” he says. “And it’s not about me being a vampire. In the past, I used to split a room just because I was wearing makeup and lipstick. But now I split it with a different type of swagger—masculinity. I don’t think I’m a person that you want to fuck with as much as you want to be friends with.”
The talk soon turns to sex. A recent fun Rolling Stone profile of the 46-year-old Manson revealed the existence of “Beaver Mountain”—an abortionist’s chair draped with a rug gifted to him by longtime pal Angelina Jolie that he does the deed in. He also, apparently, has sex with girlfriend/photographer Lindsay Usich an impressive five times a day—so frequent is the sex, that he’s enacted a special underwear-removal policy.
“I don’t take my underwear off my ankle simply because I don’t want to lose them,” he says. “When I’m done having sex, I can find them right around my foot. It’s just pragmatic.”
Then Manson describes his strangest sexual encounter: that time his ex-wife, Dita Von Teese, punched him in the face in the middle of a foursome in Zurich. “It was with my ex-wife, and it was a foursome with three girls,” Manson says. “I never understood why Dita punched me in the face, but she gave me an explanation years later. She’d brought back two girls in Zurich where a year later, I was accused of ripping my genitals off and throwing them in the crowd by some religious people. In the same room where this foursome took place—where I got punched in the face—I had to have a tribunal court hearing, and I just couldn’t stop laughing. She explained it to me, finally, after all these years. She said, ‘When I bring two girls back, you’re not supposed to touch the ugly one, you’re supposed to watch me touch the pretty one.’ I don’t even understand the math of that.” He takes a deep breath to collect his words. “So, my advice is: don’t fuck crazy bitches. However, I’m not good at keeping that rule.”