March 1998 - Well, the circus came to town. The media circus, that is, following in the wake of Marilyn Manson, who pretty much took New York over last month from Friday the 13th (naturally) onward. In town to push his new book, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (Regan Books, Harper Collins), the world's most notorious rock star proved himself to be a master of media manipulation, a very savvy Satanist indeed.
Frankly, this came as no surprise to me. I had become acquainted with Manson during New York's CMJ music conference in September '97, where he displayed a shrewd mind and a graveyard sense of humor. It's clear he's planning for a career that will outlast the mediocre industrial metal clamor of his Antichrist Superstar.
At CMJ, Manson deftly fielded questions that ranged from his religious beliefs to his sexual practices, as well as putting to rest, once and for all, the myriad rumors that hang over him like big black rain clouds. No, he wasn't in The Wonder Years. No, he doesn't sacrifice kids, goats or fans on stage. And, no, he can't fellate himself (although it might make his ride through life a hell of a lot smoother).
The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, written with New York Times and Rolling Stone scribe, Neil Strauss, also sets out to dispel these many Manson myths. It's a darkly amusing tome, albeit one with a disturbing undercurrent, as Manson plots his rise from suburban nobody to antichrist superstar.
While an excess of backstage debauchery makes it tough to feel any real sympathy for Manson during his battles with (supposed) upholders of public morals. He does, however, temper the sordid stories with shrewd observations of characters such as Trent Reznor, Traci Lords and Anton LaVey, while also making it clear that a career in rock'n'roll was a natural, cathartic release for a gangly suburban kid who endured a litany of domestic horrors. A perverted grandfather, an absent father and a tough time at Christian school all helped steer young Marilyn down the road to hell less traveled.
Manson's week in New York began Friday morning (2/13/98), when he went head-to-head with the most powerful mouth in radio, Howard Stern. Manson, clearly with book sales in mind, went through the motions, although he did discuss his newly-found bliss with Scream and Doom Generation star, Rose McGowan. It seems as though Missi, Manson's long-time whipping post and confidante -- who plays a major supporting role throughout The Long Hard Road Out of Hell -- has made way for his new love.
Manson's hour-long appearance on Friday night's MTV Live was another interview-by-numbers, as he fielded cautiously-worded queries from the non-event host and a gaggle of awed Manson-ites who gathered in the Times Square studio, as well as online and in the street below.
With astute questions such as, "waxing or shaving?", "where did you buy those prosthetic devices in the video?", and "did you shave off all your hair?", it was clear there were no right-wingers or even persons with a modicum of intelligence in attendance. Manson, fortunately for this viewer, managed to insert witty asides on Hanson and their inevitable demise, and the wisdom of the guy with the eye-patch in Dr. Hook. "He's an underrated philosopher," Manson deadpanned, drifting way over the heads of his dewy-eyed believers.
The big event, however, was Valentine's Day night at Tower Books in downtown Manhattan. Here Manson worked on his writer's cramp, signing hundreds of copies of his new biography. Security was tight and tough, with only the chosen few allowed to venture within. Fortunately, I was one of them. In a surprisingly low-key style, Manson mysteriously appeared through a back door, only a few minutes after the witching hour, striking a selection of serious poses for the press before settling in for a two hour sign-and-smile marathon.
Anybody passing by the Lafayette Street location might have wondered who had died. The queue of black-clad masses -- supposedly numbering five hundred, but closer to a thousand by my guess (Tower's Suzanne Barnett gave me the official figure of eight hundred) -- snaked all the way down Lafayette, back around the block and into the night. Packed with Marilyn clones, mascaraed and black-clad, these dedicated followers of Manson would have made passers-by suspect it was Halloween, not Valentine's Day.
Conspicuous by their absence, though, were the right-wing placard-wavers usually found picketing any Manson appearance. (Then again, it was a sub-zero Manhattan night. As the saying goes: Their asses may be dumb, but they ain't no dumb-asses.)
Not that New York's finest were taking any risks; at least fifty men in blue patrolled the exterior of the store, hustling along any loiterers. And while they were reasonably successful in keeping the sidewalk clear, they had no control over the crowd's emotions. There were more tears flowing here than at a wedding -- or a funeral.
"He says so much to me," seventeen-year-old Suzie from Staten Island told me, between make-up-stained sobs. "He made me realize it's OK to be myself."
This was a sentiment echoed by virtually every Mansonite who emerged from Saturday night's mob-scene. Their signed copies of Hell were either held aloft, sporting trophy style, or clutched tight to chests like the prized possessions they undoubtedly were.
"What did you say? What did he say?" became a constant refrain, usually accompanied by shrieks and gasps from the predominantly white, late-teen crowd. But there were exceptions. Patiently standing across the block from Tower Books was a hardy group of parents, who had not just driven from suburban New York, but from Boston, Florida and other far-flung spots on the map.
Forty-two-year-old Suzanne stood patiently in the heart-stoppingly cold Manhattan chill, as her teenage daughter Caroline waited for her moment with Manson. "She loves him, she really does," she tells me. "She dresses up, the whole thing. And I've got nothing against the music or his image, really. When I was in my twenties I loved Ozzie and Alice Cooper, and I'm OK now. Even though I'm freezing."
New York's finest felt pretty much the same. The crowd was eager but orderly, and the suspected protest groups didn't appear. "I don't know much about his music," one chatty officer tells me. "I've got nothing against Manson, but he is making me stand out in the cold."
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