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'I feel other people's pain'

Marilyn Manson living the lead role in his own show

Web posted on: Monday, September 21, 1998 4:25:25 PM

A NewsStand: CNN & Entertainment Weekly report
From Correspondent David Mattingly

NEW YORK (CNN) -- He has a cult-like following, a follow-up album to his double-platinum success, and he was one of the most anticipated acts at the recent MTV Music Awards.

He also has earned the ire of conservative America. Marilyn Manson is perhaps the most controversial figure in the always polemic rock 'n' roll industry.

But who is the man behind the makeup? Fans and anti-fans alike might be interested to know that he is more savvy than Satanic, a chameleon of a recording artist who is in the process of changing colors to match his latest message.

On his new video, "The Dope Show," Manson struts a new look -- androgynous alien -- and new sound.

"I expect problems, you know, always with whatever I do," says Manson, who took his stage name by combining Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. "But that's part of being a provocative artist, which is something I'll always be."

'Manson attempts to push buttons'

How did Manson get to the point of "provocative artist"?

According to his autobiography "The Long, Hard Road Out of Hell," he was born Brian Warner, the alienated product of Christian schooling in Canton, Ohio. Later, he became a music writer for a Florida magazine.

Manson's first brush with notoriety came in 1994 when charged with indecent exposure on a concert stage. Although cleared of that charge, Marilyn Manson has since emerged as an incendiary figure.

His last CD, "Antichrist Superstar," was a critical and commercial breakthrough, as it spouted Manson's views against "the fascism of Christianity."

"Manson attempts to push buttons," says John McAlley, senior editor for "Entertainment Weekly." "So he'll do whatever he has to do to provoke."

"I'm telling people what I see," Manson says. "And some people are scared of that because they don't like the way I see it."

Manson, shown in the cover pose from his new album, "Mechanical Animal," looms over New York City from a billboard

'The whole thing is my creation'

His "Dead to the World" concert tour ignited a firestorm of outrage from the conservative front.

Some communities banned Manson performances, mortified by what they viewed as his blasphemy and obscenity.

Manson, 29, says his act was just that -- an act, designed to get his point across.

"I kind of represented myself as a destroyer on 'Antichrist Superstar' because I couldn't fit into a world that hated me," Manson says. "And so I wanted to see it destroyed."

Bob Smithhouser is an outspoken critic of Manson and co-author of Chart Watch, published by Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry based in Colorado Springs.

"Marilyn Manson's message is loaded with lyrics that promote hate, bitterness, rage," Smithhouser says. "He is a Pied Piper driving a wedge between parents and teens."

"The way the world reacted to 'Antichrist Superstar' was just as much a part of my creation as the music itself, when I sit back and look at it a year later," Manson counters. "The whole thing is my creation, not just the music, but the reaction, what the world made me into. It's all part of what I intended."

'I feel more'

Manson has developed a reputation for his ability to project the image he wants. He rarely goes out without his makeup.

But in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, he revealed himself as a rebel who's still evolving emotionally.

"I just think there's a greater balance to become this strong Superman that I set out to be. I didn't realize that I had to have weaknesses as well," says Manson.

"I feel more. I feel other people's pain. I feel other people's joy. And it's affected me as an artist. I've learned to have empathy now, which is something I didn't have before," he says.

Despite the fact that "Mechanical Animals" has a parental warning sticker and won't be sold by the Target, Wal-Mart and K-Mart retail chains, and despite efforts by venues in several cities to ban him, Manson is not claiming a conspiracy of censorship against him.

"It's a give and take. You know, if I have a right to say what I want to say, they have the right to not have it," says Manson. "But I'm going to do my best to go to every city because I think at the same time, people have the right if they want to see the show. I just have to find the place to do it."

Manson's fans say his message is that it's okay to be yourself

'He signifies freedom'

He also says that while he won't be intimidated by his enemies, they do concern him.

"I'm afraid of what they represent," he says. "That's the sad thing that I've learned most about religion over the past year is that God exists more in art and in music and creativity than it could in any religion, because there's too much anger and fear and hatred there."

Through it all, Manson has become a larger-than-life star and a figure in the ongoing national debate over artistic expression and moral values. But according to music business insiders, the real debate is over just how big Manson's new CD will be.

"Antichrist Superstar" sold 2 million copies. "Mechanical Animals" will have to do better than that to meet expectations.

In other words, Manson's fervent fans have the final say.

"He signifies freedom," said one fan recently. "He's showing the world that it's OK to be yourself even if some people don't agree to it. And that's what makes us like him so much that we can be different. We can have fangs. We can dye our hair."

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