My yearbook photo: dog chain neckless and 1998’s eyebrows documented for the ages.

Growing Up with Marilyn Manson

As a thirty-something with a baby, I discover that rocking out isn’t what it used to be…

First published August 21, 2015 in The Toast (RIP)

I am old, but I am not as old as Marilyn Manson. I not so old that I avoid being called ‘girl’ by strangers, but I am old enough that my adolescence passed graciously undocumented by social media. I am old enough to remember when the Berlin Wall came down, but more so, I remember how it was illustrated in a particularly topical episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks. But mostly, I am old (and he is old) in comparison to how young we once were.

When I called my childhood friend James to report how, in a wild moment of decisiveness, I’d purchased us tickets to the Vancouver show on Manson’s Hell Not Hallelujah Tour, I had to admit I hadn’t heard the new album… or the one before. As it turns out, neither of us was familiar with anything since Manson’s fourth album, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) — which was released at a time when my freshman students were listening to the haunting jingles of Dora the Explorer.

“I wonder what Goths look like these days,” said James.

“Hmm, the tickets were $90 and it’s seating only. I suspect they look like us,” I said, rubbing a string of baby drool into the shoulder of a particularly un-Goth sweater.

James had been there the second time I saw Marilyn Manson live. It was March of 1999 on the Beautiful Monsters tour, when the headline was shared with Courtney Love’s band, Hole. Shocking to no one, the storm of personalities between Manson and Kurt Cobain’s widow drove the grunge princess to ditch the production after only nine performances. For its short life, the show was just the nightmare we, the pseudo-disenfranchised suburban youth (in studded dog collars purchased from a strip mall pet store), were dreaming of.

In the mosh pit, we waited to see if Manson’s stilt-clad body, slumped over an oversized podium, would recover from the performative shotgun blast that sent a surge of fake blood into the audience. A sudden flood of light showed the girl in front of me. Her face looked like it had been dunked in blood. The blood hung wet in her blonde, braided buns, which were pinned up like horns on a teenaged cherub. A rain of silver tinsel was released over the crowd to create a tarred-and-feathered effect. We must have looked frightening, and ridiculous, as we wandered into the night. It was delightful.

At the time, Brian Hugh Warner (the performer known as Marilyn Manson) would have been 30 years old and freshly engaged to 25-year-old geek chic indie actress Rose McGowen. I was 18, and dating a fetching warehouse worker who drove a 1969 Pontiac and lived in a rented room with no windows. Both relationships turned out to be fleeting.

In 1999, I could have taken hours getting ready for a concert. I could have spent weeks imagining the perfect ensemble and memorizing the album. These days, I do not have that kind of time. These days, Brian Warner is 46.

On the day of the concert, I was still unprepared. I managed to find The Pale Emperor online and played the album from start to finish, while speed-reading up on the tour. In an interview with the New York Times, Manson talked about his intense relationship with his danderless cat, Lily White, calling her the center of his universe. “It’s the closest thing, I guess, to having a child,” he’s quoted as saying.

From his swing in the corner, my four-month-old baby listened intently, inserting the occasional series of shrieks and farts. A danderless cat sounded notably more sanitary. Manson knows nothing of real gore, I thought.

I was running late for my pre-concert drinking appointment with James. I hadn’t had a chance to shower — and not just that day. Looking in the mirror, I tried to remember when I had last washed my hair. I had had a bath the night before, but it was with the baby and by the end of it, it was more a shallow pool diluted with baby pee, coagulated milk puke, and a surprising abundance of tiny toe lint that stuck to the side of the tub. Nope, I hadn’t washed my hair then either.

1n 1999, Rose McGowen told Howard Stern how Marilyn Manson had proposed to her with an antique 1930’s ring in a candlelit bath. I pictured him now, soaking in a gilded, claw-foot bathtub, lovingly soaping up a hairless cat. I liberally powdered on the dry shampoo and teased my mop into something passing for ‘on purpose.’ ‘What would my younger self have done?’ I thought. ‘More eyeliner, always more eyeliner.’ I scanned the closet for an ensemble conveying brooding misanthrope, while not causing embarrassment if I were to encounter any of my students, or the ladies from Wednesday’s play date group en route. I settled for black — and waterproof.

‘My raincoat is black — like my heart!’ I messaged to James.

The first time I saw Marilyn Manson live, it was July of 1997 on the Dead to the World tour. (At the time, I still believed the rumour that Brian Warner had played the role of Paul Pfeiffer from The Wonder Years). It had been hot that summer, and a keen crowd of concertgoers waited outside the venue, a warehouse-like building beside the fairgrounds. With many fans sporting full PVC, fainting spells were a real threat. It was challenging to feel badass in broad daylight with the smells of cotton candy and wholesome roller coaster vomit sailing across the parking lot. My then-sorta-boyfriend, a lanky acidhead with minimal literacy and really great cheekbones, puffed ‘Ivory’ pressed powder from my Cover Girl compact on his forehead, attempting to maintain a matte pallor in the sweats of a heavy leather trench. When the gates opened, we rushed for the shade like vampires.

James and I had settled for an otherwise objectionable pub two blocks from the venue. I eyeballed the small group waiting outside the theatre: a few chunky platform boots, a coat with far too many buckles to be practical, but at a glance, the crowd could have been there for Phantom of the Opera.

I walked on towards the bar calculating how many shots I might reasonably order in the next 45 minutes without looking desperate. Around the side of the theatre was a convoy of buses. They were nondescript, rentals unmarked by airbrushed lightening bolts or upside-down crosses, but they were obviously for the tour. As I passed, the door of the closest bus opened and I slowed my pace in anticipation. From the shadows lunched a tall man. He had on a trucker cap, a fleece vest over a t-shirt… and was gracelessly wrestling with a vacuum cleaner. I watched as the roadie hoisted the machine down the last step towing the vacuum along the sidewalk. Two shots, three shots would still be responsible… maybe a fourth for good luck.

In 2001, famed Burlesque dancer and fetish model Dita von Teese arrived at Manson’s birthday party carrying a bottle of absinth. The same month, his engagement with McGowan officially ended and Marilyn Manson began dating von Teese (born Heather Sweet). In 2004, he would find himself again offering up an antique diamond ring. This time, wedding pictures appeared in Vogue, the two figures bone-white behind the bride’s giant purple Vivienne Westwood skirts. Less than two years later, they were divorced. Manson complained von Teese worked too much, and wanted him to sleep at normal times. She tried to change him. “I came out of this naked, a featherless bird,” Manson reported. He revived his interest in indie actresses. Evan Rachel Wood was 19-years-old when they started dating. She said she would die for him. He said that made him want to live. He was 38.

I found James at the bar wearing a ball cap. “So we both really tried,” I said, removing my raincoat. I recalled that under the random articles of black, I was wearing a nursing bra from a line of maternity lingerie designed by Dita von Teese. A peculiar win, I thought. Our friend Shannon joined us, adorned in equally non-committal, blackish attire. We made scintillating small talk about real life, how tired/busy we are. More brazen concertgoers arrived — a platinum blonde and a guy sporting stretched lobes and frosted tips. She looked like an eel in her shiny vinyl dress… He looked more like he was going to see Crazy Town. I rolled my raincoat into a tight ball.

The theatre was busy. The lobby, well lit for its usual clientele of bifocal-equipped opera-goers, was flooded with rowdy rock fans, slippery in leather and simmering in the fervour of the crowd. In the concession line, we watched as two 40-something men in smeared eyeliner hollered their drink orders. The bartenders, stuck in shirtsleeves and red vests, and seemed to grimace as the men loped off two-fisting plastic cups of red wine. The next girl, with the purple streaks and fishnet gloves, ordered a can of Palm Bay. There was a mass eye-roll. A bell toned, signalling the beginning of the show. Hands with black-painted nails upended Pilsners and Strongbow ciders, while the trashcan amassed clear plastic cups with vampiric lipstick kisses along the rims. We ran for our seats.

When I bought tickets, the only seats available were on the balcony. It was out of the action, but whatever, I thought, my days of bruising ribs and dodging gropers in the mosh pit are long gone. An elderly woman with a flashlight — who probably got this job for the chance to memorize Les Misérables — nodded pleasantly and lit our way into the growling blare of ‘Disposable Teen.’ Manson appeared distant, yet sufficiently foreboding on the stage below.

I quickly discovered I was seated behind a particularly impassioned fan. She was standing, silhouetted in the flashing lights, whipping her long, red hair, snaking bare arms above her head, undoubtedly singing at full volume. Her animated form occupied my entire view of the stage. When the song ended, she remained standing, the only one not happy to enjoy the high-end cushioning of the theatre seating. As the next song started, she began again to gesture wildly, holding her hands to her heart as if profoundly moved by the lyrics of ‘Third Day of a Seven Day Binge.’

My view from the balcony.

“I hate this girl,” I whispered to James. Of course she has every right to stand, I thought as I ripped a piece of paper from my notebook and went to work fashioning a paper airplane. I launched it towards her head hoping it would catch in that red hair but it sailed over her shoulder to the floor far below. Down in the orchestra, I imagined someone unfolding a paper plane to find the words ‘SIT DOWN.’ How unexpected.

In 2010, Brian Warner proposed to Evan Rachel Wood, then 23, in Paris. By 2012, he was dating 28-year-old photographer Lindsay Usich. She described herself as “irrationally devoted.” Others said she was a psycho. By February of 2015, Manson was single. Then there’s redhead in front of me vying to be fiancé number four, I thought.

I stewed in my oh-so-comfy chair, wishing ill upon the oscillating woman. As she waved towards the stage, I pictured her plummeting from the balcony. She swished her hair and I imagined it spontaneously bursting into flame. By the end of the set, I was seething. “I loath her,” I told James.

For the encore, Manson played ‘Coma White,’ a song released the year I graduated from high school. James leaned over to me. “I think that girl is pretty young,” he said. “She’s like, 15?” The song ended and the lights came on in that fully committed way that stamps out any optimism for another encore. I watched as the girl turned to her entourage. Maybe she did look a little young...

“Aren’t those her parents?” said James.

I realized the person directly beside her was a teenage-boy, ravaged by acne with that unmistakably adolescent slump. To his left sat a couple perhaps in their early forties. The man was wearing an XL t-shirt from the show, the woman was in a frumpy jean jacket and hoop earrings. Parents! The girl turned to pick up her bag and her smile sparkled with braces. It was suddenly horrible. I had spent most of the concert gleefully envisioning her a victim of grisly disaster. Now, it seemed I was the lazy grump who paid $90 for a concert I didn’t get to enjoy, while some teenager was making the most of being stuck on the balcony with her family. I think of my future teenage-son shaking his head in disgust. I am old.

As we waited in orderly lines to file down the steps, I noticed the crowd looked happy enough, but no one was soaked in blood.

“What did you think?” said James.

“It was fine,” I said, “Let’s have another drink. The baby’s been waking me up at 2 am anyway.”

“Yeah, sleep is for the dead,” said James, yawning.

As we headed past the tour buses, I wondered if somewhere behind the tinted windows, perhaps on a velvety ottoman or drolly coffin-shaped daybed, there might be a danderless cat. Was she quietly awaiting her nightly cuddles, a shot of cream, kibble laced with exotic fish oils, her food bowl scripted with ‘Lily White’?

The tour would continue moving west to Alberta. In the city of Lethbridge, Brian would stop in at a Denny’s restaurant. There, he would be hit in the face by a 21-year-old. It made news because he’s Marilyn Manson, not because that was the first time someone was sucker-punched after the bars closed at a crappy, 24hr chain diner in a small, conservative city. It made news because, to someone like me, it’s funny to think of someone like him at Denny’s. When I read it, I wondered how he felt, an order of Moons Over My Hammy growing cold on the table. I get older, they stay the same age. I remember the blood and tinsel of 1999. I remember my parents laughing when they saw me, my dress like the prom scene in Carrie. I suppose it all comes out in the wash.