You have to figure that any band with a song titled "Cake and Sodomy" is not likely to be populated with shrinking violets.
Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids seek to embody everything everybody's parents always hated about rock and roll, and in the process they've become one of the most talked-about unsigned original acts on the local music scene. Their notoriety springs partly from their name, partly from their twisted live concerts, and partly from the fact that the Marilyn Manson persona is only partially put on. The media have had great difficulty separating act from fact.
As a result, the image has tended to overshadow the music. This is unfortunate, since Marilyn and the girls - Daisy Berkowitz on guitars, Gidget Gein on bass, keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, and the newest Spooky Kid on the block, Sara Lee Lucas - are purveyors of a unique, hard-edge rock sound that stands on its own merits.
The band's sound is a sonic throwback to the days of psychedelic vocals and lysergic guitars. "We're what heavy metal should have been," says Marilyn, lamenting the onset of "commercial hair monsters with pretty guitars" (did someone say Bon Jovi?).
The front person-vocalist is fond of utilizing electronic voice distortion to create a wide range of bizarre effects. In the process Marilyn resurrected the lost art of singing through a megaphone, which hasn't been put to such good use since "Winchester Cathedral." He (Marilyn is a guy, as are the rest of the Spooky Kids) claims to have recently mastered the rudiments of carrying a tune, although such a skill is not a prerequisite for most of the band's songs. "I'm never going to be another Kip Winger," Manson admits.
Not that it matters. Guitarist Berkowitz is the driving force behind the edgy, forboding sound, while Manson supplies lyrics and "spiritual leadership." Together they create a hard-core symphony that can veer wildly from crashing rock thunder to industrial thump, and then segue into a contorted lullaby. Effuses the prestigious industry rag Music Connection, "[Manson's] angst-filled, four-song demo tape is filled with punkish rock tunes that will keep your juices flowing...." There are echoes of early Black Sabbath in the music, as well as the Pixies, but the band Marilyn and company most evoke is the Doors.
Jim Morrison's linking of sex and death, violence and glamour, are themes oft-repeated in Marilyn Manson's songwriting. So thin he would give anorexia a bad name, with Tom Petty lips and long, straight hair, Marilyn bears little physical resemblance to the Lizard King. The similarity is in the enthrallment with extremes of human behavior, and the willingness, even eagerness, to observe or participate in same. Marilyn is both beguiled and repulsed by the consequences of the psyche unbound. This has led to a (some would say morbid) fascination with serial killers, particularly his swastika-engraved namesake. He professes amazement, however, that anyone would assume that he also condones these miscreants' murderous behavior. Marilyn on Jeffrey Dahmer: "What the guy did was really horrible. I mean, just disgusting. I have to admit that he's pretty clever; he totally made fools out of the law enforcement people up there. But no, I don't think what he did was all right. I think it was pretty terrible."
"I never told anyone to go out and kill anybody," he says, and then apologizes for borrowing the line from his semihero, Charlie Manson. A few of the latter Manson's pearls of wisdom appear in the Spooky Kids' harrowing tribute, "My Monkey," with lyrics that could pass for a nursery rhyme in a different setting. The way the Spooky Kids deliver it is closer to Stephen King than Mother Goose.
"Everything I say and do is real," Marilyn continues. "I don't do drugs because people expect me to. I don't like serial killers just to be cool. I thought - I still think - that most of us are fascinated by them. That doesn't mean I think we should emulate them. I got the Charles Manson album when I was a senior in high school. I don't agree with everything he said, but I agree with a lot of it, and I like a lot of his poetry."
Marilyn invokes Charlie's name matter-of-factly, which, by and of itself, is probably enough to scare people. But his voice is calm; there is no sense of hysteria or sensationalism. It doesn't feel like hype.
"I like to show people their own fear," he explains. "If people are afraid of being gay, then they're going to think we're a bunch of fags. If people are real religious, they're going to say we're Satanic. Everything people say about us is more a reflection of what they think than it is about what we think.... I give them [media hounds such as yours truly] everything, and they pick and choose what they want."
It is in this spirit that M.M. has been quoted as advocating everything from LSD to cannibalism. The band is happy to feed an interviewer with an obvious bias exactly the bullshit he or she wants to hear. Like Charlie, Marilyn Manson has a knack for media manipulation. In the latter's case, it is at least partially attributable to a two-year stint as a print journalist that preceded the leap to high-concept band leader. Marilyn is adept at pushing interviewers' buttons, and cannot resist the urge to say something totally outrageous when the opportunity arises.
"Yeah," he cheerfully admits, "I tell them what they want to hear. The thing that really surprises me, though, is the way some of the people who read those quotes take it personally, really despise us. They can't simply not like us. They see us as such a threat. I guess some people just don't know how to take a joke."
Not that you're liable to confuse Marilyn Manson with Andy Hardy. The band has been swimming in shock-infested waters for so long they think they're in the Spooky kiddie pool. "I don't really know what's shocking any more, because what a lot of people consider whacked out is just everyday behavior for us. Maybe some of it used to be shocking to us, but now it's just normal." He mentions a time when he would stroll South Beach shouting through a megaphone, accompanied by Berkowitz banging on an empty gas can. Just for the hell of it. His wardrobe includes a hat Dr. Seuss's cat would have been proud of, and his most prized possession, a KISS lunch box, which has been known to carry an adult toy or two and has allegedly harbored candy with hallucinogenic properties.
In a world where Jeffrey Dahmers and Gainesville murderers commit their heinous crimes with increasing frequency and decreasing remorse, it's difficult to offend with mere art (Mapplethorpe and Luke notwithstanding). Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids are willing to go that extra mile to try. There are the band members' names, for starters. There are song lyrics like "White trash get down on your knee/Time for cake and sodomy" and digital samples from the helter-skelter man himself. Live shows have included scenes of bondage, S&M, sodomy of a papier-mache black cow, lesbian intercourse, brief but very real on-stage fellatio from a female audience member, and numerous interludes involving strapped-on dildos and chocolate-coated body parts. A Manson concert is equal parts Jim Morrison's existential angst, Alice Cooper's theatrics, and Axl Rose's fuck-it-all attitude.
Marilyn and his merry men have so far not attracted the attention of any publicity-seeking pro-censorship crusaders or law enforcement officials, which is a bit of a surprise. After all, they do live and perform in Broward County. Unfortunately for the Spooky Kids, they are also Caucasian, which significantly reduces the political hay to be made by busting them. One shudders to think of the media coverage their antics would have attracted by now if the band were composed of black inner-city rappers.
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White trash they are, and will probably always proudly remain. They will have to content themselves with weaning metal heads off commercial dreck (There it goes again. I swear I heard someone say Bon Jovi. Or was it Skid Row?) until such time as Hollywood or L.A. calls.
"Ironically, the Button South has become like a stronghold for us," contends the soft-spoken front man. "I've actually seen people changing in front of our eyes, growing, and I like being part of that, contributing to it in some way. Some fans have gone from Warrant to the Pixies because of us. Some have stopped wearing heavy-metal entrapments and started being themselves more. That's great. It's important to me that people decide their own destiny, have the freedom to make up their own minds."
Manson laughs when it is suggested that such aspirations might be construed as borderline altruistic. "We're still a bunch of sick fucks. We did a show at Club Nu and dedicated it to John Waters. We had a fat girl in a cage eating eggs and being prodded with a dildo. I can't say we're the best role models."
He shudders at the suggestion that the Spooky Kids might have become trendy, that attending their shows has become the in thing to do. "We try to be anti-trendy, if that's possible. Granted, we want everyone there, a big audience, but we want them there for the right reasons." Like cake and sodomy.