Earlier this year, Marilyn Manson's father gave him a birthday gift that shocked even him: his report cards from Christian school. "They were all A's," says the singer, seated in the dimly lit restaurant of a luxury hotel overlooking Central Park, late on a Sunday night. More surprising than his grades, though, were the notes his teachers wrote. "Brian is a very courteous, sensitive and serious young man," said one. (Manson's birth name is Brian Warner.) Another offered, "Brian shows an enthusiasm for the Bible and is very considerate of his fellow classmates." Manson laughs.
By age 15, young Brian had grown skeptical of
religion. Since the first grade, his teachers at Canton, Ohio's Heritage
Christian School had been hammering him with visions of the Antichrist
triggering the end of the world. "It didn't happen," he says, treating
the lessons like broken promises. "So the disillusionment caused
embitterment." Within the decade, Brian Warner would become Marilyn
Manson, the self-proclaimed God of Fuck, the All-American Antichrist,
the Born Villain.
The Pale Emperor -- named after
the first Roman ruler to deny God, Manson gleefully offers -- finds him
at his most vulnerable, singing about feeling alone ("The Mephistopheles
of Los Angeles"), the inevitability of death ("Odds of Even") and the
repercussions of violence ("Killing Strangers"). The music no longer
bludgeons listeners with industrial rhythms and metal riff plonking but,
thanks to mournful gothic guitar lines and spacious arrangements by
co-producer and co-songwriter Tyler Bates (best known for his Guardians of the Galaxy and 300 movie scores), it makes its points with relative subtlety.
that's not to say he's lost any of his biting wit. When I tell him that
his pallid face will be gracing the "Beliefs" issue, he quickly
rejoins, "'Lie' is right in the middle of that word."
close to the witching hour, and Manson is appropriately dressed in
head-to-toe black, nursing a double vodka at a table he selected for its
poor lighting. Having just completed the photo shoot for this issue, he
has cleaned most of the makeup off his face, leaving dark penumbras
around his eyes. As he speaks, which he does surprisingly quietly, he
darts from topic to topic -- excoriating here, punning there -- at
As it turns out, Manson's core beliefs are the
same as ever. When the topic of religion arises, he leans back and
recalls 1996, the year of his platinum Antichrist Superstar LP.
"I had a real hard-on against organized religion," he says. "I don't
think that's gone away, but I express it differently. I know 100 percent
that there is a cause and effect to every action you do, and freedom of
speech does not come with a dental plan."
David Bowie's "Modern
Love" fills the room. "That's a good record," Manson says, before
returning to his labyrinthine line of thought: "It is quite arrogant of
man to create God and say God created man and then expect the world not
to come to an end. I think that is quite foolish of man. Even if you did
know the answers to life, would you tell everyone? That is the eternal
question: To be or not to be an idiot." He pauses and sings along with
Bowie -- No religion. "I love that this kicks in as our soundtrack," he
Although he soured on religion in school, Manson is open to
supernatural stirrings. "I do believe in things beyond our
understanding: aliens, angels, demons, whatever they are." He says a
house he stayed in while making The Pale Emperor was haunted
("the door would shut behind me, and I would hear things bouncing up the
stairs") but, in typical Manson form, he adds, "I ain't afraid of no
ghosts." He sees love as a positive energy, and he believes in dÃ©jÃ vu,
alchemy and astral projection, though he says he doesn't like addressing
those topics with the press. "Do you sit around drawing circles with
pentagrams and light candles?" he says. "That's for the uninitiated.
That's for the fools."
Manson's right ring finger wears a ring
with a pentagram in a black oval. "That's from Angel Heart," he says
with a shrug, referencing the 1987 Mickey Rourke film. The man who
joined the Church of Satan early in his career then says, "I may have
this ring, but Satanism, shit like that, it's whatever." But that
doesn't stop him from pulling out his phone to play a clip of an audio
analyzer showing that his voice has five tones in it -- impossible to
Auto-Tune -- which graph out a visible pentagram on the screen. The
friend who showed it to him said, "This is empirical proof that your
voice is of the Devil."
Manson wears a Alexandre Plokhov jacket and boots, John Varvatos shirt and Fangophilia rings
"Hell Not Hallelujah" tour finds him playing a relatively stripped-back
set. Gone are the stilt-walking freak-show stunts and dictator-podium
speeches of decades past. At New York's Terminal 5, a few days after
our interview, Manson makes his entrance from a fog, like a specter.
Props and set dressing are spare: glitter bombs, a mic-knife combo,
banners bearing his Cross of Lorraine signet ("As above, so below"). He
jokes between songs and even sneaks in a Justin Timberlake line before
"This is the New Shit." But he mostly balances his swagger with moody
new music and saturated red lighting.
Although the vestiges of
Manson past are still present ("There's one thing I learned in rehab,"
he says at one point, "Fuck Jesus!"), he has clearly entered a new, more
"I'm a rock star; I'm not a celebrity," he says
back at the hotel. "There's a difference, and that's a definition I try
to make clear on this record."
By his own estimation, the reason
Manson has re-upped his style is that he wanted to change. When our
conversation turns to muses -- something Manson believes in, though
people who call themselves muses are "succubae and harpies"-- he says he
doesn't look at his girlfriend, photographer and model Lindsay Usich,
as one. "I wouldn't say so much a 'muse' [inspired the record] as it was
me trying to regain myself," Manson says. "It was a tough year
romantically in the sense that, when I turned myself upside down, it was
hard for people really close to me -- because one day I said, 'Tomorrow
I'm going to change my entire lifestyle.'" Accordingly, he shifted his
vampiric clock to start waking up in the morning, stopped drinking
absinthe and started going to a trainer ("to kick people's asses if I
need to"). "I liked the power of being in control of my life," he says.
"I don't have to be tortured to be an artist. This year, I was not
He pulls up a photo of Usich on his phone and puns, "Amusing."
One thing weighed heavily on Manson while he was making The Pale Emperor:
the death of his mother, Barbara Warner. For years, she had been
suffering dementia; she passed last May. He has said that album closer
"Odds of Even" came from her death, and in our conversation he calls it
an epilogue, a reminder that "you die alone." Family now seems to matter
more than ever to Manson.
Ultimately, his mother's death brought
him closer to his father, Hugh Warner. When I tell Manson that I saw
him in Denver in 2001 -- his first post-Columbine concert there, which
prompted death threats and protests -- he recalls, "Everyone I know,
including Hunter S. Thompson, said, 'Don't go onstage.'" He had brought
40 plainclothes policemen with him and decided to play anyway. "My dad
said it best: 'If they wanted to kill you, they wouldn't warn you in
advance,'" Manson tells me. "And he would know, because he fought in
When Manson brings up his dad, he exudes happiness and
awe. Lately, the shock rocker has been talking to the elder Warner a lot
more, about his service in the military and "a lot of things we never
talked about before." For years, Manson had been trying to persuade his
dad to move to L.A. to be closer; getting a role on Sons of Anarchy,
Papa Warner's favorite show, did the trick. Now they're sharing deep
conversations and Manson is learning new things about his family. His
father drove to L.A., for instance, to spread his mother's ashes along
Route 66 -- her favorite place, "which I never knew."
home Manson's expressions of filial love is the fact that, during our
interview, Hugh is in the adjoining lobby. At our cover shoot, Manson's
father put on the singer's makeup. "That's a good Ghost of Christmas
Future," Manson says, laughing. "When I see pictures of my dad, I'm
like, He looks like me. The first time I saw my dad in makeup was,
ironically, the second concert I ever went to. He dressed as Gene
Simmons and took me to the Kiss 'Dynasty' tour when I was 11. And people
were asking my dad for his autograph."
(I had one interaction
with Hugh. As Manson and I left the interview, the elder Warner called
out, "You know, he came from my nut-sack.")
At close to two in
the morning, Manson's manager reminds him that, per his new routine, he
needs to wake up early the next day, which the singer laughs off.
Despite all his past controversies, Manson now appears to be at peace,
in charge and suffused with something you'd be forgiven for calling
family values. "I saw the mortality in my family," he says. "I think I
found a responsibility there, a responsibility to myself. I didn't want
the story to end piss-poor. I just didn't want to be something less than
I was supposed to be."
Hair and Makeup by Elena Perdikomati using Chanel, for Utopia The Agency
Photo Assistant: Rafael Rios