Though he rose to fame as the shock rocker responsible for dark and polarizing tracks like “The Dope Show” and “The Beautiful People,” Marilyn Manson is more than just a powdered face. He’s a smart dude who gained acclaim for his poignant speech about school shootings in Bowling For Columbine, and an artist who’s keenly aware of the drawbacks of free speech. His latest record, The Pale Emperor, is out now, and while The A.V. Club initially set out to ask him our 11 Questions for this piece, he launched into our chat with a question about the state of The Onion offices after the shootings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. And so we took that topic and ran with it, getting Manson’s thoughts on switchblades, speech, and why he wouldn’t make fun of a terrorist group.
Marilyn Manson: I’m going to ask you a question first, because I used to be a journalist.
So, this thing in Paris has affected my record, because I have a song called “Killing Strangers.” I was trying to understand it because my friend Johnny—Depp. We’ll just use his whole name so there’s no mistaking—he also lived sometimes in Paris. He explained that Charlie Hebdo was sort of like The Onion of France, but they made fun of the wrong people. Do you ever fear doing that?
The A.V. Club: Generally no, though some people here have had conversations with the police about general security. We’ve had weird, unwelcome people show up at the office a couple of times over the years.
MM: Well, I always like to go by the motto “freedom of speech does not come with a dental plan.”
I’m always very excited if someone says something very inappropriate, but I used to be a journalist and I never wrote about anything I didn’t like. And I know that I’m an easy target for anything. I have a target tattooed on me. But what I don’t like is the cowardice of the Internet, which is something that came about before—well technically after I was a journalist, but before I really became famous for making music. I found it really interesting that if you read things that are either bad or good, it relays a true sense of narcissism because, you know, it’s almost like being Santa Claus or Jesus or the Easter Bunny, but people hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and they can say and do what they want.
I remember having a message board early on in my career in my website, which I found amusing. One of the things I did was hire somebody who had an anti-Marilyn Manson website, and I tricked him into becoming my webmaster. And then I waited for him to try to get, you know, this self-indulgent, pseudo-celebrity feeling by being the webmaster of a website, feeling like he had some sort of importance, and then I just crushed him by blaming all the problems that went wrong on it on him. I infiltrated all of the people and sent their messages back to each other and then blocked them and whenever they’d respond I’d say, “I can’t respond.” This became something I would do in post-Columbine times. It also was right before I started seeing SWAT teams in my yard and I had to go to a mental hospital very briefly, which was a little vacation. But it was fun for me to just turn things around on someone, because it can be devastating for a person, or a person that even knows me, or someone I’m in a relationship with, to be put in a position where you’re just completely under the microscope of everything.
I’m never going to complain about that. I just pack a fucking can of whoop-ass with me in my pocket at all times. And it’s simple. You tap the cobra, you’re gonna get the fangs. You kiss the cobra, you get the venom. That can be sexual, however you want to take that. But I don’t fuck around. When people mess with anything that I care about, then I get pissed off. And I’m not someone you want to piss off, because I’ve got friends that are in really low places. Not saying Hells Angels, not saying MS-13 gang, not saying any of those… but I’m not somebody you fuck with. I mean I have been arrested. I do have a lot of priors, that’s the problem. Not Richard Pryor, but prior arrests. And all of them are assault and battery. But I never did prison time, which is why I started fight training this year, because when I was doing Sons Of Anarchy I thought, “You know what? If I get arrested, I want to make sure I’m not on the receiving end of what my character does,” so I’ll make sure I’m tough. Because I will probably be a hot piece of ass in jail. I’m just saying. Because, you know, they might say, “I’m gonna make that guy my bitch.” So I want to make sure I’ve got my buttocks real strong, and my punching fist real strong, too. In the event that I get arrested, which I don’t plan on doing, because I like to commit crimes that are unnoticeable by the law.
That’s going to be used against me in a court of law. That’s going to be like cited as… “Mr. Warner, is it true that you said, in the serious version of The Onion, The A.V. Club, that you do criminal acts…” So thank you… Thank you for getting me ass-fucked. I appreciate that.
AVC: Do you think famous people get different treatment in jail?
MM: The first time I got arrested was in Jacksonville. They tried to say that I was masturbating with a dildo onstage. So me being a smartass—and I have lipstick on my face and leather pants on—I get arrested and there’s this huge Green Mile-size police officer guy who says, “So where’s the dildo?” And I’m sitting in a room that’s about 4 feet by 4 feet with a combination sink and toilet. And he throws me a bottle of Palmolive, that pink detergent, and he says “Wash up your face,” and he goes “Where’s the dildo?” And I go, “Why do you want a dildo?” And boom! He broke my jaw. You know, I can’t say I wasn’t asking for it, but at the same time, it was just uncalled for. I continually have TMJ, my jaw cracks when I open my mouth, and don’t make any blowjob jokes about that.
So I went into where they book you, and I was not famous enough to get any special treatment. This was in the era of my first record, before even “Sweet Dreams” was out. But I was famous enough that they knew that they wanted to fuck with me, and Jacksonville is very right wing. Christian Coalition is based there, and it was sort of a strange sting operation to catch me with a dildo I didn’t have. And I answered all the questions they asked me during the booking. When they actually pulled out my lip ring—which is very ’90s, I’m kind of thankful they did that—they pulled it out with those needle-nose pliers and said, “We’re going to take this out now so it doesn’t get ripped out in Gen Pop,” which would be much worse. So I just answered all the questions completely the worst way, so they’d put me in the psych ward. And I got a little pale green smock that said Jacksonville Psychiatric Ward. I got out 24 hours later, unharmed anally or orally, except for my lip ring being removed, which I’m thankful for, because I don’t even know why I did that in the first place. So I wore that smock as my outfit when I went onstage the next day. It just became part of the whole process.
I have a few anger, macho-yet-wearing-lipstick issues, so now I tend to carry myself in a different way. I wear a three-piece suit, much more of a combination between 1920s hooligan and 1920s hooligan of Ireland. More of a Boardwalk Empire meets Peaky Blinders. And I carry a gold switchblade in my front of my waistcoat. And I like to point that out at Chateau Marmont and say, “It’s not a concealed weapon, it’s right here, you can see it.” I eat oysters with it sometimes.
But I also have some assholes that for no reason might want to start a fight with me. Why would you want to start a fight with someone like me? Because I do have the confidence of 6-foot-1-inch man.
I was just in Las Vegas and and some drunken Australian man with a bunch of paid-for escorts said, “Get the fuck out of my way.” And I was five feet away from him. He says “I don’t know who you are,” and I said “Well, we got two things in common.” And he’s like, “If you’re not getting fucked and you’re still here then you’re not gonna get fucked. And I said, “Look down.” And I had the switchblade pointed, and I said, “You need to get out of this conversation right now, because if you start a conversation with me, my answer is a switchblade. You should kick rocks and beat it.” And he did. But I didn’t really have to use any physical violence. I’ve learned to control my use of violence by making a mere threatening facial expression. Or flashing a switchblade.
Don’t tell anyone that, though. If they find out, it’ll ruin the surprise. [Laughs.]
But it’s like that thing in Paris. That should be a wake-up call. Someone asked my opinion about that, and I said, “I can’t say they didn’t ask for it. It’s kind of a dumb idea to do something like that.” I’m not saying they deserved it. I’m just saying, personally, would I fucking make fun of a terrorist group? Absolutely not.
AVC: You wouldn’t?
MM: I wouldn’t make fun of some known terrorist group, if that’s what they did. I don’t even really know the whole story. I’m just saying, sometimes you need to think. Some stand-up comedians say things, and then sometimes they can’t. You know the guy from Seinfeld, he said things that… I mean people say things. Words are just words. But to some people, they’re not just words. When they’re very fundamentalist, and whether it be Christian or Islamic or whatever it is, some people can not take jokes. And those are the people that you pretty much avoid making jokes about. That’s what I’ve learned.
AVC: Or you can make the jokes, but you have to know that there are consequences to the jokes.
MM: There’s always a cause and effect. And that sucks.
I mean, I am guilty as charged in the same way. I made a record called Antichrist Superstar and I’ve had so many death threats that I’ve lost count. But I wasn’t trying to make fun of anybody in particular. I was just making fun of the fact that I think that religious people aren’t technically certain of what they believe in. They are almost similar to people who believe in politics, they’re almost similar to people who think they know rock musicians, because they listen to the music.
The idea of God, what is it? People worship different idols. They do whatever. And if you look at the Bible, and this is an example, because I had to look at it every fucking day until 10th grade, and memorize it until I got kicked out of Christian school for putting a dildo in the Bible teacher’s desk, which I took from my grandfather’s perverted basement. We don’t even need to go down that trail, but the point being that the Bible has got everything you need to make any horror film. It’s got zombies, it’s got the devil, it’s got Lucifer. It doesn’t have the Antichrist.
See, the whole thing is people don’t read the Bible properly at all. At no point is there an Antichrist. At no point is there Satan as a character, and it’s the same with Lucifer. Lucifer was a fallen angel and the bringer of light. Basically what America was based off of, if you want to believe in the Illuminati and the fact that a bunch of guys came over to this “empty” country and killed a bunch of Injuns, as they called them—I’m part Indian, feathers not dots. They just wrote a piece of paper and said, “This is going to be the gig.” And it started a country. And it’s funny to think that’s how our country started. A bunch of guys signed a piece of paper and that’s our country. And rappers are “all about the Benjamins,” and Benjamin Franklin legalized slavery. It doesn’t make any sense.
And believe me, I did not pay attention in history. I’m surprised I even graduated, because I didn’t show up. When I got kicked out of Christian school and went to public school, I never went to class. I played drums in marching band, which was not cool. When you think about it, it should have been cool. But it was not. And I ended up playing the triangle, which is probably the most effeminate instrument you can play when you’re the kid that came from Christian school and goes to public school. So I got my share of ass beatings. Not cyber bullying—I got it kicked the old-fashioned way, in person.
AVC: I’m just surprised that there are things you wouldn’t say or people you wouldn’t insult.
MM: What do you mean?
AVC: You said you wouldn’t do what Charlie Hebdo did, for instance.
MM: Oh, no, no, no. I mean, just out of pragmatism and common sense. If I really had a hard-on or a desire to piss someone off because I felt that there was a reason to do it, I would do it. And I have done it. I did not naively go into the world of rock ’n’ roll, making a record called Antichrist Superstar not expecting to be pissing off a lot of people. But I didn’t know how literal they would take it, and how angry that they would be, completely going against the very simple rules of the Bible by making death threats to me. That really proved my point. And that’s why I was willing to fucking go completely, directly into the fire with the whole thing, just to prove my point. Maybe it was because I really disliked my childhood, growing up in Christian school. My parents weren’t even religious. They just sent me there for a better education, I suppose. And look how that turned out. There aren’t things I wouldn’t say. I would say anything. There’s no word that anyone could call me that would upset me, except a failure, and I just prove them wrong instead of getting mad at them.
AVC: That’s why you have that gold switchblade.
MM: No, no, that’s not proving them wrong. If they say I’m not good enough, it’s the same reason why I made this record. I felt that I had to look myself in the mirror and say that I don’t think I’m as good as I should be, so I’m going to change that. And so this is my delivery. This is my payback to the devil that I sold my soul to in the beginning. With interest.