Manson: The Early Years

What was Brian Warner like before he became a parent's worst nightmare? Ambitious, petty, shrewd, desperate and prone to puking.

Not so long ago the international rock star Marilyn Manson played local dives such as the now-defunct Plus Five in Davie. Launched in 1990 as Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids, the band evolved from an obscure novelty act with adolescent stage names to a wildly popular novelty act with adolescent stage names. Along the way the group honed its songwriting, stage show, and vision. It also dropped the "Spooky Kids" appendage fairly early on, and became known solely by the nom de shock of its vocalist.

My story begins late one night in 1993. The erstwhile Spooky Kids have packed up their toys after a Plus Five gig and gone home. Marilyn Manson himself, at this point still mostly called Brian Warner by his friends, has adjourned to the nearest Denny's. He pulls up in his red Honda Civic hatchback and stalks past the serried ranks of Mother Butler pies. Pallid and rapier-thin, his lank black hair still damp with sweat, Brian glides over to the big round table in the corner, where his assembled sycophants cede unto him the seat of honor on a curved Naugahyde banquette.

Well, that's not true. We're not all sycophants. A couple of people here are actually his pals. And although I'm not within that tight circle, I'm friends with his actual friends. I've also interviewed him for a couple of local-music articles, and Brian and I have gotten along pretty well when we've talked. Acquaintances, I guess. There's one other nonfawner at the table, a guy named Mike, who just loves local bands and goes to shows all the time. This night he's drunker than usual and amuses himself by unscrewing the top of the salt shaker, pouring the salt into his mouth, and spewing puffs of it at passing busboys.

But the other dozen clustered around Brian in some unintended parody of the Last Supper? Unabashed toadies, gussied up in black, with splashes of fuchsia or lime-green hair dye. A couple of them are carrying lunchboxes, an homage to the Marilyn Manson song of that name. And all are hanging on Brian's every word.

He doesn't have that much to say. Although he looks like Alice Cooper, his onstage energy is more reminiscent of Iggy Pop. And he seems to have really overdone it tonight. He does manage to order a grilled cheese sandwich and fries from the waitress (who does a good job of keeping a straight face before this freak show). The waitress hasn't been gone five minutes when Brian's color shifts from pale to translucent. "Oh, man," he groans. "I'm going to puke."

With that he ducks under the table, slithers around the shins of his acolytes, and darts to the restroom. A couple of minutes later the waitress plunks down his sandwich, just in time for Brian to emerge from the loo, crawl back to his seat, and tear into his food.

"What is this, a Roman vomitorium?" I jest. "Maybe you should have that in your contract. Wherever you play, they have to set up a trough backstage."

Manson turns his angular face toward me as he chews a seasoned fry. "I've been thinking about what kind of riders we should get," he says, referring to the perks concert venues provide for bands. "How about four live chickens, five black candles, a pickled fetus ..." He chuckles softly.

Funny thing about this guy: The harder he tries to shock, the more tedious he becomes. Still, the kids seem to like it. They titter dutifully, each and every one of them.

The longest conversations I ever had with Mr. M. Brian Warner-Manson were during our interviews for a 1994 cover story in XS magazine. My previous and subsequent contacts with him were mostly a byproduct of his mentoring relationship with my then-girlfriend's band, Jack Off Jill. We'd see each other at now-defunct Broward County clubs like Squeeze and The Edge, or I'd run into him while the band was rehearsing at its warehouse in Pompano Beach. And I'd give him a call when I needed a snappy quote to liven up my music column.

Opinions about him varied among the locals in those early years. The effect he'd had on the wardrobe of area teens had begun to engender the kind of parental outrage that would eventually become a nationwide phenomenon. (Especially controversial was one Marilyn Manson T-shirt that exhorted followers to "Kill Your Parents ... Kill God ... Kill Yourself." Loads of fun at parties!) Many of his peers in the music scene had, by the time of his band's signing to a major label in 1994, decried their success as a victory of style over substance. And the band's style, almost without exception, sprung from the mind of Brian, a sickly, skinny kid who got beat up a lot at a Christian elementary school in Ohio. He listened to Kiss, read Anton LaVey and Friedrich Nietzsche, watched talk shows all day, and kept striving to create a band whose entire existence was a work of commercially viable performance art.

I harbored my own rock-and-roll fantasies at one point, though my goals were more modest (signing with an indie label, touring in a van, visions of Minutemen and Meat Puppets dancing in my head). I even tried to seek Manson's help in promoting my remarkably unpopular postpunk outfit.

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