In the past couple of days I’ve been quite accidentally reminded of Marilyn Manson. It’s not as if I forget Marilyn Manson, a figure that serves as one of the undeniable influences of my life, but he’s not as front and center as he was in my teenage years.
The first instance was in a post on a tumblr, it was a series of comments of people reflecting on how they will one day feel when Marilyn Manson inevitably dies. Immediately I realized that it will probably be devastating for me, in terms of celebrity/entertainer deaths.
The second instance was in using Amazon to search for books about pain and culture, as one does, and encountering this. I was perfectly aware of Manson’s art, but not aware of the title of the book, “Genealogies of Pain”. It sounds like a title I would give a paper, or a section of a paper.
The realization that throughout my life Manson has provided not only a consistent soundtrack to my existence (I continue to buy albums long after it seems the general public has lost interest, download short film-esque music videos, read his writing etc with some fervor.) but also a consistent aesthetic element is remarkable. I realize that I can undoubtedly credit his developing style throughout my life with the development, not only of my intellectual interests, but the style with which I’ve approached them.
The rational which emerged in my teenage years to explain the often idiosyncratic combination of extremities that (still) characterize me, morbid darkness with day-glo, glitter was as if Marilyn Manson and the Spice Girls had a child (this is still very much true, though other influences have gotten themselves involved.)
I remember vividly my first exposure to Manson, the song was Dope Show it was reviewed (Why? I don’t know.) in an English teen girl magazine I’d occasionally get in Lusaka. It was 1998, I was 13, an impressionable age. Granted, I’d been exposed to far more shocking media before Manson arrived in my world. I asked my father to buy me one of Manson’s CDs the next time he went to South Africa for business (media was very limited in Zambia in the 90s, due to demand.) My father got me “Portrait of an American Family” (Because who wouldn’t let their 13 year old listen to this…thanks, Dad!), an album that was almost excruciating for me to listen to at first, I was so used to the bubblegum pop I’d been consuming since 1996. I kept trying, the late 90s was a time of incredible fame for Manson, and his cultural value as the most shocking, rebellious, confusing thing going was too good to resist. Seemingly overnight I moved from a distinctly Spice Girls influenced aesthetic to something much darker. I was neither alienated, miserable, or depressed, but something about his man, I was instantly able to identify with.
It was only a few years later when I read his autobiography, “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” (the book was released in 1998, I didn’t see it until 2002 (media is like that in Africa) that I really began to understand the connection, by which point my aesthetics, ideologies, and interests had already really firmed up with his music (among others, I should give ample credit to Rob Zombie, Korn, Rammstein and Cradle of Filth – all of whom I appreciated the highly aesthetic style of.) Manson’s rejection of normative religion, dislike of convention and insistence on doing whatever he wanted really resonated with me as a mildly grumpy 17 year old. I really wasn’t a sad or angry teenager, mostly concerned with how my behavior affected people around me, I have always enjoyed raising some eyebrows and provoking a reaction.
I always have and do to this day feel very unalone because of Marilyn Manson, very comforted. As if even when I’ve felt completely at odds with everything around me, entirely unsure of how express what I want or define who I want to be, that there is at least one person I would have no trouble explaining myself to. I suppose this is the true value of influence, the artists who allow the listener/reader/viewer to feel connected, to feel as if their work is valuable. I’ve always felt like Manson was somehow useful to me. Now, in the face of my own work, negotiating bodies, violence, gore, torture, pain and the aesthetic pleasure of it all, I know with complete certainty that his ongoing aesthetic projects are useful. It’s a chicken/egg argument, I don’t know if it all makes sense and ties together nicely because I grew up listening to this stuff, with his continuous experimentation directing my own development, or whether I’ve simply grown into an adult insistent on not “out growing her childhood” (This is a whole other topic, I don’t “outgrow” things, I make them useful in different ways.) and as result have found ways to keep his work relevant to me. Either way, I find myself endlessly inspired, amused, delighted by the on-going changes and shifts of his, seemingly endless, career.