MMPublication: St. Petersburg Times
Date Published: 2003
Country: USA

Marilyn Manson is a professional provocateur. His ever-evolving image -- remember when he donned prosthetic breasts and went extraterrestrial for a spell? -- has incited the wrath of the right, earned dismay from parents and led to threats and censorship. He even has been banned from several cities. Buffalo, N.Y., gave him the boot recently even before he arrived with the Ozzfest tour; venue officials worried that his set would offend concertgoers.

Despite all that, his latest album, The Golden Age of Grotesque, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Recently, Manson ventured into the visual art world with a Los Angeles gallery show featuring his watercolor paintings. And this fall he will play a transsexual nightclub singer in the film Party Monster starring Macauley Culkin and Chloe Sevigny.

Now on tour, Manson brings his latest musical spectacle to the Mahaffey Theater at Bayfront Center on Wednesday. Manson is known for his themed shows, and this one continues the narrative of the new album. Staging his concert like a cabaret act, Manson said, his influences range from the artistic community of prewar Berlin to the political climate that followed. The show is designed as a journey, connecting contemporary American culture and the Berlin scene in a political analogy.

In a phone conversation from New York, the affable Manson reflected on his career and his love of high art.

Times:You're calling your performance "grotesque burlesque." Tell me what you mean by that.

Marilyn Manson:It (goes) back to cabaret, vaudeville, the Grand Guignol, the idea of taking what doesn't exist in the real world and creating it. That's what grotesque means to me....It's all of the things that I've found were escapes for people when they were living in times of fear. Times of political upheaval. Times of war....I drew a lot of parallels to the late '20s in Berlin, when artists were being treated as degenerates while the government was doing things that were much more degenerate in everyone else's opinion. I saw a lot of parallels, obviously, to how America is right now.

Times:It sounds like you're talking about expressionism in art.

Marilyn Manson:You hit the nail on the head. This album was meant to be purely about expressionism....Expressionism to me is about using your imagination and putting it wherever it can fit. If I've got an idea, it can't always be in a song. Sometimes it has to be a performance or a painting or a film or a video. So, for me, The Golden Age of Grotesque is what it says it is. It's an era of expressionism for me.

Times:Were you inspired by other artistic movements?

Marilyn Manson:Yeah, and also the album reflects my personal interests. It's almost like looking at my libary card or seeing what I read and what I watch when you listen to the record....But I've always loved Oscar Wilde and the dandy aesthetic of living your art. That's the same thing that I loved in David Bowie. That's the same thing that I loved in Prince or Madonna. And dadaism is also very much what I'm saying in This is the New Shit, the first song on the record; it's when you get to a point in history or in art or in your own creativity where you throw your hands up and you say, "I've done everything. Where do I go from here?" Making that song was the answer for me. It's about not saying, "I've done this for 10 years. I have no more ideas." It's saying, "I'm only 10 years old. I've got a whole life ahead of me. Marilyn Manson's a child at this point."

Times:In interviews, you said The Golden Age of Grotesque encompasses more than the music, that there's a lot more emphasis on the visual. Talk about these two spheres and how you attempt to fuse them, if you do.

Marilyn Manson:Making songs, I'll come to the table with the band with visual ideas, wanting something to sound like something that I see in my head rather than hear sometimes. It's the way that I've always created. I guess it's from growing up in front of a television set; I can't think in one medium. The Golden Age of Grotesque as an album can only be a soundtrack to what the Golden Age of Grotesque is to me because it's a lifestyle. It's how I dress. It's how we perform onstage. It's making the audience not the audience anymore. Making this all a movie and making them extras, stars, whatever they want to be. It's just trying to let people find the art in entertainment and find the entertainment in art once again.

Times:How do you synthesize those images into the stage design and the visuals that you were talking about?

Marilyn Manson:I tend to think very erratically and sometimes in a way that people assume is stream of consciousness, and sometimes is for me. Or it might be absinthe-inspired....It's not art until somebody else experiences it, Otherwise, it's just self-indulgence. So with this tour and this show, I constructed something that I think represents a satire of totalitarianism and control and restriction of art and conformity, and that deteriorates into degenerate grotesque burlesque. And into finally the ultimate childish deterioration. And that's why I use symbolism like Disneyland. Starting off with something like Nuremberg and ending with something like Disneyland takes you on a journey that represents everything that I have to say on this record. And somehow those two can be as scary as one another if you flip it around. Because American culture can be controlled by its own sense of self-imposed fascism: desire to fit in. That's a form of slavery of itself.

Times:You've said, "Art is a question mark, and everyone wants it to be an answer." What do you mean by that?

Marilyn Manson:Well, by answering that, I would be contradicting the question. (Laughs) I'd say, for me... (art) can't be misunderstood because it's meant to be understood by everyone differently. When people say, "Are you tired of being misconceived or misunderstood?", I'm not because I can't be. Ther person who thinks (my music is) satanic, that's their understanding of it, and that's part of what it is. The person who thinks it's (expletive), that's part of what it is. The person who loves it, the person that would die for it, that's part of what it is. And what it means to me is part of what it is, too. And if it didn't have those dimensions, then I wouldn't have any interest in being me.

Times:What about youer personal style? How would you characterize your clothing and costuming on this tour?

Marilyn Manson:This tour is very '20s-inspired. I guess it's somewhere between Oscar Wilde and the Thin White Duke and Elvis when he was sent to war. (Laughs) ...I've gotten great help from some of my favorite designers, people like Jean Paul Gaultier and from Christian Dior; a lot of people who do stuff that is sometimes more mainstream but have kind of tailored certain things to suit my needs. I'd say that this tour, I wanted to be more masculine. But I think for some reason, it came across more androgynous.

Times:How do gender roles factor in, or do they take a backset to the political tones of this show?

Marilyn Manson:I think that I try and show people that the politics and the religion is in the sex and it's in the music and it's in the art. This show has a lot of things that have been causing a lot of stir, but the point has been to provoke people and their boundaries, and question their rules and wonder exactly what I'm going to do next. I like to prove people wrong and smash their preconceptions when they think they've got me figured out because I'm an abstract idea.