This isn’t the admission of vulnerability that one would expect from the self-proclaimed “Antichrist Superstar,” who once boasted about shoving sewing needles underneath his fingernails for personal amusement. But last night, the hard-rock subversive and close friend Johnny Depp got matching back tattoos of the original cover to Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection The Flowers of Evil -- a skeleton whose arm bones melt into the branches of a tree. Despite his legendary absinthe and narcotics consumption, Manson apparently remains governed by the same nervous system as the rest of us.
“All the scars -- musical, physical, mental, emotional -- they’re what define you,” says Manson. At 48, he has weathered the deaths of both parents, a divorce from burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and the dissolution of several other high-profile relationships.
“If you’re going to take on the world, which I’ve done, it takes a lot of backbone -- more than people think,” he says. “I’m not bragging about it, but it does weigh on you.”
In a suite at the allegedly haunted Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, the Ohio native is dressed in an undertaker’s color scheme: black peacoat and pants, noir combat boots. He’s caustic and witty in person, as eloquent and thoughtful as he was during his memorable turn in Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary, Bowling for Columbine.
Due Oct. 6 on Loma Vista, Manson’s 10th album, Heaven Upside Down, inaugurates a third act, where he has emerged as a part-time actor (Salem, Sons of Anarchy) and inspirational lodestone for rebellion-seeking pop stars from Justin Bieber to Lil Uzi Vert. The collaboration with composer Tyler Bates (Dawn of the Dead, 300) finds Manson fusing Killing Joke and Massive Attack into the maniacal propulsion of his early classics. Reflecting on the road to release, Manson addresses modern politics, pop stars wearing his T-shirts and how strip clubs and vodka helped him cope with his father’s death.
On Election Day, you released a short videoclip for your single “Say10,” which sees you on a throne presiding over a bloody and decapitated Donald Trump-like figure. Explain.
With politics, now’s the best time to make art, but it was the same thing with [George W.] Bush, with [Bill] Clinton, with any president. Obviously, I made a statement on Election Day that was artfully placed in a video, and I’m surprised that people weren’t more focused on me making it rain with Bible pages [as he does in the video] than they were with someone in a suit with a red tie -- which could be anyone.
I made it at a certain time to make a statement rather than vote. My job is to be chaos in the world, not to solve problems. I’m a tornado.
Do you think this is a more chaotic time than previous eras?
I do think these things would lead any religious or political zealot, or anyone who places emotion before logic, to go off their head. That’s the one thing I’ve learned over the past two years: logic before emotion. Because usually I react in illogical ways, such as the legendary story of me putting a gun in an editor’s mouth -- the only thing I can say about that is, I did hide out from getting arrested for assault and battery at the Trump Tower. That’s the one time I’ll mention his name in this interview.
How does it feel to go from anti-establishment rebel to being celebrated as an elder statesman, with Lil Uzi Vert calling you his biggest influence?
When Uzi first met me, he told me that the [Marilyn Manson shirt he was wearing] had cum on it from his own recent personal experience, and he slept in it all the time. It was worn-in; it wasn’t faux vintage. He reminds me of myself when I was first starting out. I don’t think he’s of the moment, but someone who’s going to keep getting bigger and better.
As for someone like Justin Bieber, he was wearing my shirt onstage, not in a Lil Uzi way. I ran into him in some fancy bar where a lot of celebrities -- a word that I despise -- go. I saw a little girl in a pink hoodie with blond hair, and it turns out to be Bieber. I sit down, and I say, “Hey, so you wore my shirt and everything onstage.” He was one of those touchy people that hit you when they talk, and he comes up to about dick height. Then he goes, “I made you relevant again.”
How did you respond?
I reply, “That was a great idea you had about doing [my song] ‘The Beautiful People’ at your show at Staples Center tomorrow.” And he goes, “Yeah, it was,” not knowing that I told him an idea that I had just made up. His tour manager sat down, and I asked, “What time is sound check tomorrow? What time should I be there? Because we’re going to do ‘Beautiful People.’” Obviously, when 4 p.m. rolled around the next day, I just didn’t show.
It was nice though that I didn’t have to sue his company for making the shirts that he wore with his name and my face on it. They were very much like, “We know we’re wrong here; just take as many dollars as you want.” So it was a double “fuck you,” but wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t said, “I made you relevant again.”
Earlier this year, your father died following a lengthy illness that he mostly kept a secret until the very end. Did his dying affect the creation of Heaven Upside Down?
I had just finished “Saturnalia,” which was the one song missing that was needed to complete the record. Almost immediately after, I spoke to my cousin in Canton, Ohio, who told me that I needed to come home to see my dad. I only got the chance to say hello to him, kiss him, tell him I loved him, and a half hour later, he had a seizure and died. I had a water bottle full of vodka, and it was hard to get by; I’m all the way on my knees in the corner, kind of crying dealing with it.
Somehow, they revived him and put him in intensive care for the night, so I did what my dad would’ve wanted me to do, which is go to the strip bar with my cousin. While we’re there, the hospital calls asking for my permission about whether or not to resuscitate him [if he were to die again]. I asked if there was anything I could do tonight versus when the doctor told me to come the next morning. The nurse says, “Well, you could pray for him.” I got so pissed off that I said, “Fuck you,” and hung up.
The next morning, I get there at 7 a.m., and it was terrible. I asked the doctor to give him a lot of morphine.
My aunt was standing next to my dad and wanted to hold his hand when he finally passed, but he had his hand on his dick, so she couldn’t. He went out like a champ. And he would want me to tell you that.
It has been almost 20 years since you released a single titled “Rock Is Dead.” What has changed for you?
The rock’n’roll lifestyle isn’t dead -- you just have to be good at it. You’ve got to be professional if you want to be a rock star. I think there have been times in my life where I wasn’t as good as I should be. And I have to say, I want to make a comeback. This record was completely going back to my roots ... it has the fire, because I feel the same way. When people say, “What are you angry about?,” I go, “What am I not angry about?”