When it comes to shock value, Marilyn Manson isn’t the lightning rod that he was 10 years ago.
Yet, in a mannered, articulate phone conversation, the man whose “Antichrist Superstar” act has been frequently - and perhaps unfairly - invoked in reaction to pretty much every instance of senseless violence since Columbine still relishes his capacity to stun.
When he talks about his current tour, the descriptions are loaded with boasts about how the show will “completely blow things up. Like it used to be, but worse for everyone. I wouldn’t even go to the show. Stay at home. It’s gonna be a nightmare.”
In a good way, presumably.
At the same time, Manson, 38, projects a more sensitive side. His new album, “Eat Me, Drink Me,” was inspired both by his divorce from burlesque queen Dita Von Teese and his subsequent relationship with actress Evan Rachel Wood, who is about half his age. Combine that relationship with his recent reunion with band mate Twiggy Ramirez and Marilyn Manson is, dare one say it, happy.
“Do you mean Disneyland?” he responds to a question about being in a happy place. “You can’t have any art without suffering, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a miserable person. As much as my relationship now is positive, that doesn’t cure the things I can never fix about myself.
“It’s always surprising when someone can love me at all, so having Evan in my life is a salvation. As for Twiggy, it’s not even about the music. Just to be friends with him is the most important thing.”
The renewal of that friendship and creative relationship severed Manson’s ties with collaborator Tim Skold, who was responsible for the more melodic approach to the “Eat Me” songs.
“There’s too much tension there,” Manson says. “Those two couldn’t be on stage with each other, so out of respect for both of them I decided to split with Tim for this tour. It doesn’t mean that it’s forever, but Twiggy’s back forever. Of course, forever is a very loose term when you talk about Marilyn Manson.”
For example, as recently as 2004, Manson intimated that he would retire from the music business to concentrate on art, film and other projects.
“It had a lot to do with the relationship I was in,” he says. “People are only inspired by their surroundings and what’s around them. I won’t put the blame on anyone else; it’s how I felt.
“I felt like it was bad to be me, and I took it out on myself in terms of running away from music. It could’ve been the worst mistake I ever made.”
“Eat Me” reflected that soul searching.
“It wasn’t a choice as much as a necessity. I was at a place where I didn’t really know who I wanted to be anymore. No one could save me from that except myself, and the album was written like I’ve never written music before.”
That introspective approach means that Manson no longer gravitates to material about the intersection between violence and society as readily as he once did. He is unhappy about being “objectified as a product”:
“You can’t mention `school shooting’ without mentioning Marilyn Manson,” he says. “If there’s a thesaurus of pain, I’m in there. At this point, I didn’t ask for it.”
Yet, as he warms to the topic, there’s still a sense of pride about his image.
“Anyone can sell records. Marilyn Manson now is about death toll. How many more things can I be blamed for? If you wanna shoot people, just join the Army. That’s the message that America sends you anyway.”
When people invoke his name in conversations about, say, the Virginia Tech massacre, he’s wary of the context.
“I’ve been talking about the hypocrisy of how America looks at violence when it creates so much violence. When there’s some recent act I don’t know how that can be more violent than me growing up when my dad was in Vietnam.
“It’s all the same, there’s just more channels now.”
On stage, however, Manson’s theatrical tendencies remain intact. Although playing smaller venues, he promises to offer some bang for the buck.
“As much as can be fit in there, starting with our egos,” he says. “At this point, Twiggy and I could just look at each other, set ourselves on fire, bow and be done.”
In reality, the plan is to do a lot of songs that fans haven’t heard in a while, although Manson doesn’t know yet exactly which ones.
“This tour is really about the attitude that he and I had in the beginning when we used to walk on stage and play whatever we wanted. We didn’t care about playing the single.”
And the shock value? He’s realistic about it.
“The world is unbelievable and there’s nothing that anyone could do, let alone me, that would shock you more than when you turn on TV.”
It looks like Manson will continue to make the effort, seeing his future work as a combination of music, art and films such as “Phantasmagoria - The Visions of Lewis Carroll,” tentatively set for summer release.
“It’s a matter of putting my energy in the right places at the right times,” he says. “When I was unhappy with what people were doing with my music, I needed to be reminded that I’m here to make people unhappy, not to be unhappy.”