# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - The Long Hard Road to the Middle

  by Jeff Thiessen

published: 13 / 3 / 2012

Miscellaneous - The Long Hard Road to the Middle


In his 'This Metal Sky' column, Jeff Thiessen reflects upon Marilyn Manson, and the lack of danger of current rock music

You know what I realized the other day? I miss Marilyn Manson. I do. I mean, I know he’s still around, but we all know it’s not the same as when he was wreaking all kinds of havoc in his late nineties run. It seems funny to think about it now, but his reign of terror during this period wasn’t exactly unprecedented in the music industry. Alice Cooper beat him to it, as did Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne, just to name a few. Manson, however, took his assault on our conservative ears and eyes to a wholly epic level, a level that may never be surpassed, at least not in mainstream music. If that’s indeed true, then he stands as the last true front-man, if we subscribe to the belief that a lead singer has the inherent ability to possess a more powerful aura or whatever than anyone else on the planet. With that in mind, maybe I don’t really miss the existence of 1998 Marilyn Manson, instead maybe I just miss the idea of a singer who is so relentlessly over the top in his words, action, and image, that they really have no choice but to buy into their own hype, to live it. So while I do admit missing his contributions on a fundamental, aesthetic level, there’s also a good chance more than anything that I just miss his presence, which was so huge during his heyday. Let’s pay tribute to the man and the myth (and in the process, try and figure out which one we like more). I miss his music, at least his early material. It’s important to note Marilyn Manson does not suck. If you take that stance, you either a) aren’t familiar with his music or b) don’t know anything about music in general. I understand it’s relatively easy to dismiss the neo-goth musical styling’s of a guy wearing prosthetic breasts onstage, but it’s simply erroneous to categorize Manson’s stuff in the same shock-rock bargain bin that we’re quick to throw acts like Gwar and Jackyl into. I’ll be the first to admit his catalogue is a heavily flawed one. There is no way ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque’ could’ve even appeared like a sound idea on paper, and why the sessions weren’t aborted with extreme prejudice in the early recording stages is beyond me. Even worse is ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’, certainly up there with one of the most pretentious offerings I’ve ever slugged through. I knew Manson was down for the count while watching the video for ‘Heart Shaped Glasses’, the lead single for that album, which served as a stern reminder that the vampire genre is the perfect dumping ground for any ‘artist’ who believes the assimilation of blood and sex is akin to making some grandiose statement about the ‘death of love’ or some shit. I still don’t see much use for his post-‘Holy Wood’ stuff, unless you’re an eighth grader looking to steal some of his lyrics to pass off as poetry in your English-lit class. Sure to nab you at least a solid B+. Now that we got that unpleasantness out of the way, I can move on, guilt-free, to extol the virtues of his earlier offerings, specifically ‘Antichrist Superstar’ and ‘Mechanical Animals’. I have no problem going on the record saying both are fucking awesome, albeit in different ways. ‘Antichrist Superstar’ is almost zen-like in how focused it is. Not only does it boast our generation’s goth-tinged response to the Ramones ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ (‘Beautiful People’), but it retained enough of a sneering, nihilistic stance that actually made it a pretty worthy entry into the whole “I hate my life but instead of being proactive about it I will simply point my finger at vague, unspecified forces, i.e. oppressive religion and government!” movement the nineties seemed to embrace so wholeheartedly. Trent Reznor is a very smart man, even smarter than Manson, and he understood a very long time ago industrial music doesn’t sell. He also understood,that making music that sounds sort of like industrial, but with a lot of pop/pseudo-metal sensibilities thrown in the mix, can sell, quite easily, given the right climate in the industry. Apparently ‘Antichrist Superstar’ has some sort of story about a worm turning into an angel or something, but I just love how goddamn hard it rocks! It also boasts one of the best album opening lines I’ve heard in a very long time with “I am so all-American I’d sell you suicide”. To me, that’s at probably at least as good as Cobain’s best lyrics, and definitely better than anything Reznor has laid to paper. Apparently the album’s concept is studied in many logic/theology/philosophy classes, with some pretty clever references to Nietzschean ideas interspersed with a huge culture war iconoclast. I suppose those are there if you’re one of those annoying intellectual types. Me, I just appreciate the album on a variety of levels, but most of them are the fist-pumping ones. In fact as I write this, I’m bobbing my head to the positively leviathan rhythm of the title-track, to me the undisputed highlight of the album. Rock on Mr.Warner, er, Manson! His next album was ‘Mechanical Animals’. Here he owns up to the hidden fun most people were having with ‘Antichrist’ (it never really ended up being of those seminal wrist-cuttin soundtrack albums Manson seemed to be striving for after all), and goes full out skeezy-glam. I love this record. More people should love it. It’s constantly compared to Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ horseshit he successfully passed off as ‘groundbreaking’ in the seventies, but ‘Mechanical Animals’ is the fully realized potential of the genre David began to tap into, but didn’t really go anywhere with. The songwriting isn’t quite Van Morrison-good, but it’s stronger than anything Coldplay has put out, and for my money, there isn’t a bum cut on the entire record. ‘The Dope Show’ is the single the album deserves, a slimy, unapologetic plunge into popland, the same sovereign nation that houses citizens like the Gallagher brothers and Fiona Apple. But, the tune comes complete with a creepy, special-K fuelled vibe that sounds like what might emerge if a funk band jammed out, tripping balls on Neverland Ranch. It’s prettier, older, and more dressed up brother ‘I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)’ continues this slide into territory that has a relatively easy time showing the fun side of dope use, so lost on many of those who have read too many Timothy Leary books. The singles more than carry their weight, but things get to a serious fever pitch on ‘Fundamentally Loathsome’, easily one of the strongest tracks in his catalogue. All the weird glitz and droned out fuzz are brought to a halt, with just a simple cabaret beat prevailing. Marilyn has never sounded more vulnerable, and this is a rare occasion where his fragility for once doesn’t seem calculated, especially at the cataclysmic freak-out at the end of the track. Reznor, you so wish you could pull off that type of song. ‘Mechanical Animals’ is truly an album of alienation and amorality, as critic Robert Christgau correctly pointed out. But here, they are compressed into a vision of the future that against all odds, seems to exist in the current moment. That is to say, the music is so visceral, so perfectly glitched out, Manson’s perverse utopia seems quite attainable. What else could you possibly want out of a rock n’ roll record? I miss Marilyn Manson unapologetically being a lead fucking singer of a rock band! I remember not being able to walk my dog without seeing his face plastered on magazine covers/internet websites, and this shouldn’t surprise anyone. The dude walked around on stilts onstage (even though he stole that from Ogre in Skinny Puppy), was never seen in public without his ‘ghostface’ white paint (even though he probably stole that from Brandon Lee’s Crow character) and as alluded to before, played nationally televised performances in nothing but a prosthetic body suit complete with fake C-cups (even though he stole that from...ok, that one I think is all him). Mock him all you want, he got people talking about his band and music, EVERYWHERE. Nowadays, many of the best bands we have boast lead singers who look like they should be pumping my fucking gas. There’s a lot to be said for that approach, as it does help marginalize the artist/listener bridge. But is it so wrong of me to want to have a front-man here and there be totally over the top and provide nothing at all to relate to? Ever occur to you T-shirt and jeans dudes that I might sometimes want to listen to a guy that doesn’t look like he is the editor of a community college newspaper? I’m not sure if Manson killed this concept by milking it to the absolute core, but basically what I’m saying is this: I want more singers to look less like me. I miss Marilyn Manson’s merch. I miss walking through the mall and seeing huge bold font on the back of shirts that would boast such illuminating slogans as “WE HATE LOVE, WE LOVE HATE”, or “Kill Your Parents”, or my personal favorite, “You May As Well Kill Yourself, You Are Already Dead”. I never understood why the elders who see these shirts would give these youngsters dirty looks. Don’t they understand caustic,socio-commentary sarcasm when they see it? Right over their head! Youth is wasted on the young, my ass. I miss having a band around that was a genuine source for protesters. I read the other day that Radiohead got protested by the Westboro nutbags. My first reaction was “Can we stop giving these lunatics press? We’re the problem, not them!” My next, and more important reaction, was “Oh come on, Radiohead has never done anything worth protesting, certainly not with this last goddamn tree album!” Manson on the other hand, pretty much existed to have his CDs bought, and then subsequently thrown into a raging fire, a feat that includes supporting them by actually buying the record, but discarding it in a large-scale way. I like it! I don’t know, I guess there is just no danger left in rock music; I’m not sure why seeing a tour bus pushing through an angry mob of picketers brought me comfort, but it did. Perhaps that image was a reminder that rock n’ roll still can bring out a lot of stupidity in people, and I don’t really see a lot of that anymore. Reactions to most stuff ranges from neutral to half-hearted admiration. I know music is capable of more, because I’ve seen it. The last time I saw this was on Manson’s ‘Dead to the World’ tour. I miss having a band to blame for all these mass murders. Next time a kid shoots up a school, who are we going to be able to point the finger at; The National? Big Pink? I don’t think so! Well, I guess we still have Slayer and the Doom franchise... It just occurred to me I seem to miss Marilyn Manson for all the wrong reasons. I’m probably wrong about pretty much all of this (except for ‘Mechanical Animals’, that’s a slam dunk). But you know what, I’m sick of being in a position that only allows me to judge music on its own merit. Faceless, nameless dweebs putting out digital records that are subject to an incredibly valid form of criteria, judging their material on the quality itself. But I think I miss the variables, the shit that should never come into play when discussing an artist’s body of work, but nevertheless can play a huge part in people’s perception of their product. Am I the only one that wants to be swayed by stage props and the American Family Associaton writing open letters to the public slamming a band’s utter lack of morality in the face of the greater good? I have a feeling I’m not alone here, and unfortunately the answer no longer lies with Marilyn Manson. His hall pass has been revoked, or expired I guess. It became official when ‘The Onion’ ran the article “Marilyn Manson Goes Door-to-Door to Shock People”. You just don’t recover from press like that. Tyler the Creator tried, and ultimately failed to take his place.Maybe nobody can. But is it too much to have someone at least try? And none of you Norwegian black metal freaks please, none of you can write anything as hopelessly catchy as ‘The Dope Show’. We still need an antichrist superstar, but preferably someone who can write cool hooks while pissing off the moral majority at the same time. I’ve been corresponding with comedian David Cross through his Facebook page for the last month or so, and I asked him if he’s met Marilyn Manson, and if so, what were his thoughts were on him? He simply replied, “I have. She’s a lovely lady”. Like I said, you don’t recover from that kind of press.

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