Jumping sharks the Marilyn Manson way

by Chris Lowrance

When most people realize I was once and in some ways still am a goth, I know the visage that runs immediately through their heads. Once a symbol of fear for every suburban parent, he’s survived Y2K, 9-11 and Bush combined.

It’s Marilyn Manson’s pallid, funky-eyed face.

For the most part I share my subculture’s spite for the platinum-selling artist. Despite mainstream America’s desperate attempts to define him as such, most goths were never quite willing to admit Manson into the fold. Actually, that’s an understatement ­- several of us would rather put on cargo khakis and pink Polos with popped collars than call Manson’s brand of industrial alterna-pop “gothic.”

“Why” is a complicated question to answer. Part of it is the “sellout” factor any underground band that makes it big has to face (See: Modest Mouse). Then there’s the fact that Manson does repeatedly and consistently sell out, changing his sound to fit the ebb and flow of angry teenagers’ buying trends. Peel back the bondage-Nazi outfits, the spooky contacts, the pounds of eye-shadow and greasepaint and posturing, and you’ll find the Prince of Shock to be a consummate businessman, identifying holes in the market and filling them full of himself.

In that bygone eon know as the Early Nineties, the future dread of Southern high school principals was still just Brian Warner, a college student studying… get this… journalism. Warner wrote music articles for a Florida magazine, meeting various musicians including Trent Reznor, who would later give Warner’s band its break. It was the perfect spot to watch the unfolding rebirth of rock in the mainstream consciousness. I doubt Warner was plotting Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids’ meteoric rise to MTV stardom at this point, but I’m sure he learned a thing or two. Namely, how to exploit mainstream America’s knee-jerk fears to earn the adoration of disaffected youth everywhere.

Goth or not, Mason filled a necessary role. It’s easy to long for shock-pop icons like Manson and mid-nineties Madonna in today’s era, when everything sounds the same and what passes for controversy is Britney shaving her empty gourd. Gone are bands like Nirvana – in their place are tepid acts like Avril Lavigne, who doesn’t deserve to be in the same sentence as “punk,” let alone identified as it. A friend of mine put it best: “My generation can say that they grew up with some great music. My little sister, not so much.”

The truth is, we need Marilyn Manson back. His anti-establishment anger was just a product he sold us, but it’s time our youth started buying again. Glad news, then, that he’s reunited with former members from the Antichrist Superstar era to put out a new album this June. The album will be called Eat Me, Drink Me and two tracks are already up on Manson’s Myspace (!).

Bad news is that those tracks suck.The bastard’s done it to us again, just like in ’99 when Mechanical Animals abandoned industrial to ride the brief resurgence of glam rock. This time Manson seems to have half-heartedly embraced emo, the toned-down, whiney version of goth that’s all the rage this century. Expect local news “exposés” on “Is your child emo?” some time this year.

Manson’s new sound is a touch growlier than the high-school pining of bands like AFI or Something Corporate, but the lyrics are about as bad, with lines like “Don’t break my heart, and I won’t break your heart-shaped glasses.” Even the album art is dulled down compared to previous work, with Manson striking the standard slouchy sad-guy poses with the standard greased-down haircut. He doesn’t look or sound “indignant and out to tear your world apart,” so much as “feeling down ’cause my ex-girlfriend’s dating the quarterback.” No doubt, the album will go gold, if not platinum.

And that’s how Manson sells out. And why goths don’t want him. That sound you hear is Manson’s jet ski as he goes sailing over the shark, never to return.In 2002, another music journalist – this one named Mick Mercer – penned the perfect epitaph for Manson’s career. Mercer wrote 21st Century Goth, the third in a trilogy of investigations on the subculture. Marilyn Manson’s name appears exactly once.

Next to the words “Bowie cover band.”