Marilyn Manson - Biography

By Scott Feemster


Rock music was built on a foundation of shocking people, and the music has had a parade of artists, from Elvis Presley to Alice Cooper to Kiss, that have tried to push the limits of what general society considers normal and acceptable. Marilyn Manson, both the person and the band, fit into the slot of being “shock rockers” for the generation that came of age in the 1990's and 2000's. Their mix of over-the-top theatricality and various elements of glam-rock, industrial, metal, goth, and electronic music has won them a legion of devoted fans and a wide list of detractors. Though they have certainly been influential in their attitude, it is hard to say whether the band has been that influential in their musical style, as they early on carved a unique identity for themselves that has shifted with each new influence their leader has absorbed.


            The man later to be known as Marilyn Manson was born Brian Warner in Canton, Ohio on January 5th, 1969. The son of a furniture salesman father and a mother who was a nurse, young Brian was a fairly normal kid who developed a love for art, writing and music at a young age. He was raised as an Episcopalian, and attended both church and a Christian school as a youngster. By the time he was a teenager, he would write poems and lyrics for songs, but saw himself as becoming a journalist rather than a performer. After graduating from high school, Warner decided to move to the warmer climate of South Florida and attend Broward Community College, with the hopes of earning a degree in journalism. Towards that end, he started writing articles about music and musicians for a local lifestyle magazine called 25th Parallel. In the process of writing articles, he met lots of musicians, including Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails and members of various bands on the then-hot industrial/electronic label Wax Trax, who would go on to influence him greatly. Warner also met local musician Scott Putesky, who was into a lot of the same music Warner was into, and after showing Putesky some ideas for lyrics, the two decided to form a band together. With Warner as the singer and Putesky on guitar and keyboards, they added bassist Brian Tutunick and formed Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids in 1990. All three members of the band took on different character names that combined the first name of a famous sex symbol with the last name of a famous serial killer, thus Warner became Marilyn Manson, Putesky became Daisy Berkowitz, and Tutunick became Olivia Newton Bundy. The trio, along with a drum machine, recorded a demo tape in 1990, and sold it at the few gigs they could line up. Soon the trio were joined by keyboardist Stephen Bier, who adopted the name Madonna Wayne Gacy, and Bundy was replaced by bassist Brad Stewart, who took on the name Gidget Gein. In 1991, the group gained a human drummer, Fred Streithorst, who adopted the name Sara Lee Lucas. From the beginning the band was theatrical and outlandish, and they soon built up a strong following due to their near-legendary live shows that would usually include members of the band dressing in costumes or in drag, blood and animal parts being strewn across the stage, women being nailed to a cross, and amateur pyrotechnics nearly blowing up the venues they played at. The group was also fond of mixing samples of and characters from kids shows that were popular in the '70's and '80's in with their act, making the proceedings that much more surreal and heavy on the black humor. The group continued to gig heavily and produced more of their home-made cassette releases, and shortened their name to just Marilyn Manson in 1992. By 1993, the group was big enough where it seemed the next logical step would be to sign to a label and put out a record. Warner, now Manson, remembered his earlier contact with Trent Reznor, and sent him a copy of the bands latest tape. Coincidentally, Reznor was in the process of setting up his own label, Nothing Records, and after hearing the tape, promptly signed the band and offered them the opening slot on Nine Inch Nails upcoming tour.


            In 1993, the group recorded their debut album with ex-Swans member and producer Roli Mosimann in Miami. The album, originally slated to be called The Manson Family Album, was a mixture of some of their old Spooky Kids material with some new songs. The band was expecting that Mosimann would make the band sound heavy and raw, but at the end the band found the recordings they had done with Mosimann sounded lifeless and flat. When the tapes were sent to Reznor, he agreed, and so decided that he would try to salvage what he could from the sessions, and decided to re-record some parts and re-mix the entire album in Los Angeles. He flew the band, minus bassist Gein, who was on his way out of the band due to his increasingly bad heroin habit, out to L.A., and completed the album at the end of 1993. Portrait Of An American Family (Nothing/Interscope) was released in 1994. After Gein was kicked out of the band, bassist Geordie White, who took the name Twiggy Ramirez, joined, and the band set out first on a tour of Florida, and then on a nationwide tour opening for Nine Inch Nails. Not surprisingly, Manson and his crew courted controversy wherever they went. Manson met with the head of the Church of Satan, Dr. Anton LaVey, who bestowed Manson with the honorary title of “Reverend” in the Church, and subsequently sparked the ire of Christians wherever the band performed. Manson even went so far as to rip up the Book of Mormon at a gig in the Latter Day Saint's capitol, Salt Lake City. After the tour with Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson became so popular that they headlined their own tour in early 1995. Tensions between Manson and the band's drummer Lucas were high, and after Manson doused Lucas' drumkit in lighter fluid and set it on fire at the end of a gig, Lucas decided that he had enough and quit the band. The group had a quick replacement in drummer Kenneth Wilson, who took the name Ginger Fish, and went back out on tour with Danzig and Korn. At the conclusion of the tour, the band relocated to New Orleans to begin work on their next album at the new home of Reznor and his Nothing Studios. Originally planning to just record a single before completing a full album, the single of “Dope Hat” turned into a full fifteen track EP of remixes and cover songs, including a cover of the Eurythmics '80's-era hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”. The EP, called Smells Like Children (Nothing/Interscope)(1995) was a hit, and the group scored their first bonafide mainstream pop hit with “Sweet Dreams” and it's accompanying video. The group toured heavily again in support of their new success, and then returned to New Orleans to craft a proper follow-up to their first record.


            Produced by the band and Trent Reznor after a reportedly long and bizarre recording process which involved experiments with massive amounts of drugs and sleep deprivation, Antichrist Superstar (Nothing/Interscope) was released near the end of 1996. During the making of the album, founding member Berkowitz left the band, and was replaced by guitarist Timothy Linton, who took on the name Zim Zum, taken from Kabbalah, a source of inspiration the band had used during the making of the album. Anticipation for the album was so high, that it debuted at #3 on the American album charts. The group embarked on a major domestic and international tour, and again courted controversy wherever they went. As the tour got under way, a congressional hearing, led by Senator Joseph Lieberman, was looking into the effect violent lyrics have on young people, and, (not surprisingly), Marilyn Manson were singled out as one of the main negative influences in rock music at that time. Every bit of negative publicity the band got just seemed to make them that much more popular with their fans, and the group followed their success with Antichrist Superstar with a mixed live and remixed EP, Remix & Repent (Nothing/Interscope) at the end of 1997. Manson was now such a cause celebre, that he wrote an autobiography that was published at the beginning of 1998, called Long Hard Road Out Of Hell, which became a best seller. A video document of the band's tour in support of Antichrist Superstar, entitled Dead To The World (Nothing/Interscope), was also released in 1998.


            Marilyn Manson and the band that bore his name were adept at slightly changing their image to suit every new project, much in the way such other music/media stars as Madonna and David Bowie are. For the band's next album, they borrowed heavily from Bowie's '70's Berlin period to produce Mechanical Animals (Nothing/Interscope), released in September of 1998. The group now adopted a more subdued, though almost more creepy, image influenced by synth-pop of the early '80's and glam-rock of the early '70's. During the recording of the album, the group had relocated to Los Angeles, and in the process Zim Zum had left the band and was replaced by guitarist John Lowery, who adopted the name John 5. The group embarked on another massive tour, this time with Hole and Monster Magnet as support, but early on Manson broke his ankle and had to postpone some dates on the tour. Once the tour got going again, only three weeks later, the terrible massacre of students at Columbine High School by fellow students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold occurred in Littleton, Colorado. The two murderers where widely known around school as big fans of Marilyn Manson, and so, out of respect for the families of the victims, the band canceled the remainder of the tour. Manson and the rest of the band stayed out of the limelight for most of 1999 and 2000, and didn't release another album until Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) was released in November of 2000. Intended as the end of the trilogy that included Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals, Holy Wood was a much darker and deeper album than either previous record, exploring in depth the relationships between such things as religion and violence,  and death and fame in contemporary American society. Though the album garnered more critical acclaim than they had ever gotten before, the album didn't sell as well as the other albums. The group embarked on another round of touring to support the album, and many of the gigs featured Manson reading passages from the Bible that were both gruesome and sensational to illustrate the point that he was not the first person to talk about some of the subjects he had been criticized for singing about.


            With the band's “trilogy” completed, Manson and his cohorts next took visual, and some musical, inspiration from the decadence of the 1920's era German Wiemar Republic for their next album, The Golden Age Of Grotesque (Interscope), released in May of 2003. Before beginning work on the album, Twiggy Ramirez left the band, and was replaced by former KMFDM member Tim Skold. Manson and the rest of the band seemed to have taken inspiration from Skold's former band, as The Golden Age Of Grotesque was much more of a nod towards the the heavy beats and industrial dance feel that bands like KMFDM were known for. Though the album didn't receive as good of reviews as Holy Wood did, it still managed to debut at #1 on the U.S. album charts, and the band supported the album with their Grotesk Burlesk tour, which further pushed their embrace of the Weimar Republic themes and artwork they used on the album. (Manson was also dating, and then briefly married, burlesque dancer and retro-pinup queen Dita Von Teese during this time, and it seems likely that her tastes and aesthetic had a major influence on Manson). Following the tour, a greatest hits compilation, titled Lest We Forget: The Best Of (Interscope) was released in 2004, and included the new track, a hit version of Manson's take on the Depeche Mode classic “Personal Jesus”. During the Against All Gods tour to promote the record, drummer Fish was injured after falling off of his drum riser, and was replaced by former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna. Before the tour, John 5 had also left the band, and was replaced by former Fight guitarist Mark Chaussee for the duration of the tour. At the beginning of the tour, Manson had said it would be his farewell tour, but it turned out not to be so. What it may have meant was that he was effectively breaking up Marilyn Manson as a permanent band, instead making future albums under his own (same) name, but with whichever musicians he felt were appropriate for the project.


            With that in mind, Manson and Skold huddled up in a home studio and recorded all of Manson's next album, Eat Me, Drink Me (Interscope)(2007) by themselves. The album was another slight change in direction, drawing heavily on Manson's more glam and goth-rock influences than previous albums had. The group, now with Ginger Fish back on drums, and Chris Vrenna moving over to keyboards after the departure of Madonna Wayne Gacy, undertook a tour co-headlining with speed metal gods Slayer. At the beginning of 2008, it was announced that former bassist Twiggy Ramirez would rejoin the band and that Tim Skold would no longer be working with Manson. The new line-up of Manson, Ramirez, Vrenna, Fish and touring guitarist Rob Holliday hit the road in early 2008 for their Rape Of The World tour, and at the conclusion the core of Manson, Vrenna, Fish and Ramirez started work on a new album. It was announced in mid-2008 that former Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland would be joining Marilyn Manson as their new permanent guitarist. At last date, Marilyn Manson are scheduled to release a new album in the first part of 2009.

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