Ahh, winter break—an all-too-brief reprieve from the late nights, early mornings, and endless schoolwork that is university life. I always try to devote at least some small portion of my break to recreational reading, and this year I chose a book written by one of the world’s most controversial rock stars: Marilyn Manson.
Manson’s 1999 autobiography “The Long Hard Road Out of Hell” tells of his own metamorphosis from a misfit teenager to a shock rock superstar. Admittedly, I’ve had the book for years but had never quite gotten around to reading it. However, when I found out that good old Manson is releasing his ninth album next week, I thought it was a relevant time to read up on his glory days.
Now of course, just about everyone who saw me reading this book responded with a look of terror, disgust, genuine concern, or some combination thereof. Most people think Manson is just some scary clown who writes satanic songs and had one of his ribs removed so he could perform oral sex on himself. (The rib thing was just a rumor, by the way.)
But Manson is much more than that. He uses shock value in his music as a way of stretching the thoughts and emotions of his listeners to the absolute artistic limit. Music is a language of expression, and there are often profoundly insightful truths being expressed behind some of his more shocking lyrics and performance stunts.
I’ve always been fascinated by Manson’s art: he pushes the boundaries in every aspect of his music, from his lyrics to his costumes to his music videos and performances. And while he has been known to offend, upset, or insult certain individuals or religious groups from time to time through his daring stage acts and aggressive lyrics, the truth is that Manson is a surprisingly intelligent and well-spoken artist.
Manson got his start as a music journalist when he was in his 20s (don’t worry, I’m not getting any ideas), and has always been very articulate in both his written and his verbal communication. In fact, when he and his music were scapegoated for the Columbine murders in 1999, he wrote a remarkably eloquent essay response in Rolling Stone Magazine.
A huge reason why Manson has become one of the most commercially successful shock rockers of the current age is because he can back his music up with legitimate, thoughtful explanations of why he is doing what he is doing. Each of his explicit lyrics, outlandish costumes, and audacious stage acts has a very specific message behind it. He is taking a critical look at society, religion, and politics, and pointing out the superficiality and hypocrisy of it all.
The truth is, Manson pushes his art to its very limits as a way of forcing his audience to think critically about the world around them.
“The most terrifying thing about me is that I’m trying to encourage individuality,” Manson said in a 1997 interview with CNN. “That’s scary for people because most people don’t like to accept the burden. Everybody wants to live in a country where you can say and do what you want, but nobody wants to accept the responsibilities that go with that—that you have to say you can’t blame rock and roll for this and that and you can’t blame movies and television, you have to accept your responsibilities.”