Marilyn Manson grabbed a searchlight on stage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Saturday and surveyed the 3,300 people who had come to see his rocky horror show.
It’s doubtful he saw anything that surprised him: a sea of Goth-rock black (clothes, hair, mascara and lipstick), a handful of retro-punk Mohawks, a few dozen wide-eyed young teens--some accompanied by bemused parents--who chose this outlandish theatre macabre to be their first rock concert experience.
“How does it feel to be one of the [expletive] beautiful people?” he asked, sarcasm as thick as his groovy ghoulish makeup as he profanely paraphrased the Beatles.
It’s a Catch-22 that’s been around since well before Alice Cooper, one of Manson’s most obvious antecedents: You’re an icon with dark, horrific imagery conveying a message of celebratory nonconformity and--inevitably--you get a following that all dresses alike.
Well, almost all.
Manson probably didn’t see the two teenage girls in the throng dressed as sheep. Yes, sheep. Cute, furry sheep.
“We’re mocking mindless followers,” said Edith Greene, 17, a student at Pierce College, shaping her voice into a bleat as she spoke. She and her friend Lindsay Ben-Horin, 17, insisted that they are Manson fans, but felt the need to make a point that was being lost.
Manson, too, indicts mindless following in his elaborate show, built around his million-plus-selling “Antichrist Superstar” album. The show’s peak, with the album’s pummeling title song, had the lanky Floridian as a fascist leader, exhorting the masses from behind a large podium, his four Halloween-escapee bandmates festooned in shiny helmets, the stage bedecked with Nazi-esque banners.
It was an impressive piece, with echoes of both David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” But later, without the theatrical trappings, he railed at the crowd to not be “oppressed by the fascism of Christianity” (as a teen, he attended a very strict Christian high school) and got the fans chanting his slogan: “We hate love, we love hate.”
The question left dangling is just how seriously does Manson himself take all this?
To some of the more dedicated fans, there is no question. Ted Tapia, 25, his brother James and their friend Stycha Ross-Perkins drove in from Upland at 8 a.m. Saturday to be first in line for the general admission show. Asked where Manson falls in the tradition that runs from Cooper and KISS through “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and Danzig, they were unflinchingly devoted.
“Alice Cooper and all of them don’t compare, ‘cause once they get off the stage it’s all fake,” said Ted, 25, who sported a spiked Mohawk, a skull nose ring and a leather vest with an airbrushed picture of Manson on the back. “Their makeup comes off when they go home. With Manson, it’s real.”
Cooper--contacted earlier Saturday in Orlando, Fla., where he was attending a golf equipment exhibition on behalf of a manufacturer that sponsors his passion for the links--agrees that it at least appears that way.
“People have always had fun with my villainy,” said the rocker, whose golf game long has been the symbol of his offstage normalcy. "[Manson] acts like he really believes what he’s saying. I’m certainly more tongue-in-cheek than Marilyn. I hope he’s having a good laugh. If he doesn’t enjoy the joke, nobody else will.”
Taking it seriously, though, can be healthy--up to a point. Dr. John Piacentini, a psychologist and assistant professor at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, says this dark imagery provides essential growth opportunities for adolescents.
“Adolescents are just getting the skills to play with ideas like these,” says Piacentini, noting that often the more shocking, the better. “It’s a new trick and they want to exercise their minds. It’s not a conscious process really, but it is their own, something that they have to share with their friends that their parents won’t understand.”
But here in 1997, there’s the rub: Many kids’ parents do understand, having grown up on rock ‘n’ roll outrage themselves.
Brian Freeman, 46, saw Alice Cooper in the early ‘70s. So accompanying his 14-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to this show was no stretch.
“This doesn’t trouble me at all,” he said. “And I don’t think it troubles my daughter, either. It’s just a show.”
Charlotte, in fact, seemed more concerned about breaches in taste than her father, pointing to scantily clad women in the crowd and asking for reassurance that if Manson did anything “bad” on stage, she wouldn’t be in trouble for seeing it.
Insisted Brian, “Of course you’re not in trouble.”
In the end, Manson did little truly “bad” in the show, and certainly little we haven’t seen before. The buttons of outrage that he pushes--profanity and mild autoeroticism, in addition to the sacrilege factor--have been pushed by many others before him. He lacks the knack for pop anthems that made Cooper more than a mere freak show, and he doesn’t quite have KISS’ P.T. Barnum quality, but he clearly is the right man for the job for today’s teens.
But he and his fans should understand that in a few years, when Manson’s closet normalcy is revealed (“He might be the greatest celebrity bowler of all time,” suggested Cooper), a new dark lord of rock will reign over a new generation, all dressed in appropriate garb.
* Marilyn Manson plays Tuesday at Crosby Hall, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar. 8 p.m. $20. (619) 792-4252.