Brian Hugh Warner (born January 5, 1969), known by his stage name, Marilyn Manson, is an American singer, songwriter, musician, composer, actor, painter, author, and former music journalist. He is known for his controversial stage personality and image as the lead singer of the band Marilyn Manson, which he co-founded with guitarist Daisy Berkowitz and of which he remains the only constant member. Like other members of the band, his stage name was formed by combining and juxtaposing the names of two American pop cultural icons of the 1960s: actress Marilyn Monroe and criminal Charles Manson.
The group was originally named Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids, with their theatrical performances gathering a local cult following in the early 1990s, until the band shortened the name in 1992. The band's lineup has changed between many of their album releases; the current members of Marilyn Manson are the eponymous lead singer (the only remaining original member), live guitarist Paul Wiley, live bassist Juan Alderete, and drummer Gil Sharone.
Until 1996, the name of each member was originally created by combining the first name of an iconic female sex symbol and the last name of an iconic serial killer (e.g. Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson). The members of the band dress in outlandish makeup and costumes, and have engaged in intentionally shocking behavior both onstage and off. In the past, their lyrics often received criticism for their anti-religious sentiment and references to sex, violence and drugs. Their performances have frequently been called offensive and obscene, and, on several occasions, protests and petitions have led to the group being banned from performing.
As this controversy began to wane throughout the 2000s, so did the band's mainstream popularity. Despite this, in June 2003, veteran rock journalist Jon Wiederhorn of MTV.com referred to Marilyn Manson as "the only true artist today," and the frontman and band continues to have a strong cult following in 2018. Marilyn Manson has garnered much success: four of the band's releases have achieved multi-platinum and three albums have gold, and the band has seen seven of its releases debut in the top ten, including two #1 albums. Marilyn Manson has sold over 50 million records.
The Spooky Kids: 1989-1993
In 1989, Brian Warner was a college student working toward a journalism degree, and gaining experience in the field by writing music articles for a South Florida lifestyle magazine, 25th Parallel. It was in this capacity that he was able to meet several of the musicians to whom his own band would later be compared, including My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
He met Scott Putesky shortly afterward and, after showing him some lyrics and poems he had written, proposed that they form a band together. Warner, guitarist Putesky, and bassist Brian Tutunick recorded their first demo tape as Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids in late 1989, taking on the stage names of Marilyn Manson, Daisy Berkowitz and Olivia Newton Bundy, respectively. They were soon joined by keyboardist Perry Pandrea, also known as Zsa Zsa Speck, who shortly left the band after the fourth show. Stephen Bier, who called himself Madonna Wayne Gacy, was his replacement; Bundy was replaced by Gidget Gein in 1990, born Brad Stewart. In 1991, drummer Fred Streithorst joined the band, with the stage name Sara Lee Lucas.
The stage names used by each member were representative of a concept the band considered central: the dichotomy of good and evil, and the existence of both, together, in every whole. "Marilyn Monroe had a dark side," explained Manson in his autobiography, "just as Charles Manson has a good, intelligent side." Images of both Monroe and Manson, as well as of others equally famous and notorious, were common in the band's early promotional materials.
The Spooky Kids' popularity in the area grew quickly, largely because of radio DJ Scott David of WYNX-FM, an early fan who eagerly played songs from the band's demo tapes on the air; and because of the band's highly visual concerts, which drew from performance art and used many shock techniques. It was not uncommon to see onstage naked women nailed to a cross, a child in a cage, or bloody animal body parts; Manson, Berkowitz, and Gein variously performed in women's clothing or bizarre costumes; and, for lack of a professional pyro-technician, they would occasionally set their own stage props on fire.
The band would dramatically contrast these grotesque theatrics with elements drawn from the culture of the members' youth in the 1970s and 1980s: characters from that era's children's television made regular, often somewhat altered, appearances on Marilyn Manson flyers and newsletters, and were frequently sampled in the music. They continued to perform and release cassettes—shortening their name to Marilyn Manson in 1992—until the summer of 1993, when the band drew the attention of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who at the time had just founded his own record label, Nothing Records.
Portrait of an American Family: 1993-1995
Reznor offered Marilyn Manson a contract with his new label and the opportunity to support Nine Inch Nails on their upcoming headlining tour. The band accepted both offers, and recording sessions for its national debut, Portrait of an American Family, began in July 1993. Working with producer Roli Mosimann at Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida, the band recorded a selection of new songs along with material from their Spooky Kids repertoire and, by the end of Autumn 1993, had completed the first version of their debut, titled The Manson Family Album.
However, it was not well received. The abrasive sonic "rawness" that Mosimann's production had brought to such groups as Swans had failed to materialize on The Manson Family Album; Reznor and all the band's members found it flat and lifeless, and poorly representative of Marilyn Manson's dynamic performances. "I thought, 'This really sucks', Manson explained, "so I played it for Trent, and he thought it sucked." At the same time, the band was having difficulties with Gidget Gein, who had begun to lose control of his addiction to heroin.
While reworking the album the band played two shows in South Florida under the name Mrs. Scabtree. Not much is known about the complete lineup, except that Manson performed on the drums, Gacy on keyboard, Berkowitz on guitar, and Jeordie White of Miami thrash metal band Amboog-a-Lard and Jessicka of Jack Off Jill sharing vocal duties. Four other local musicians, bassists Mark Dubin of Sister Venus and Patrick Joyce from The Itch, guitarist Miles Hie, and violinist Mary Karlzen, were also involved.
In October 1993, Reznor agreed to rework the production on Marilyn Manson's album, taking them and their tapes to The Record Plant in Los Angeles. Gein, who had been hospitalized after an overdose, was not invited. After seven weeks of mixing, remixing, and rerecording, the album — now titled Portrait of an American Family — was ready to be presented to Interscope Records. Even as the first single Get Your Gunn was beginning to receive radio airplay, Gein received a letter declaring his services "no longer needed" by the band after he overdosed on heroin for the fourth time; he was replaced by White, of Amboog-a-Lard, who undertook the alias Twiggy Ramirez.
In December 1993, Ramirez first performed as the band's new bass player on a week's worth of headline dates through Florida with Jack Off Jill opening. While playing Club 5 in Jacksonville, Manson was accused by the town's Christian Coalition of violating the town's adult entertainment codes. Jack Off Jill singer Jessicka was accused of solicitation and offering to engage in lewdness. Both singers were arrested and charged with misdemeanors.
Portrait of an American Family was released on July 19, 1994 in the US through Nothing/Interscope. On the first date of a fourteen-week national tour opening for Nine Inch Nails, Ramirez made his national touring debut. It was during this tour that Manson had the occasion to meet with Church of Satan founder Dr. Anton LaVey. After a cordial meeting, LaVey honored Manson with the title of "Reverend" — meaning, in the Church of Satan, a person who is revered by the church, and not necessarily one who dedicates his life to preaching the religion to others, as with a priest or minister. Manson would use this title in album liner notes, citing himself as "Reverend Marilyn Manson."
On February 6, 1995, the band released the Lunchbox single, which featured a cover of Gary Numan's Down In the Park. In March 1995, the band began its first national headlining tour, a two-month outing with Monster Voodoo Machine as support; this would be drummer Sara Lee Lucas' last tour with the band. Tension between Lucas and Manson had apparently grown as the tour wore on and, on the next-to-last night of the tour, Manson secretly decided to end the show with a flourish: during a performance of Lunchbox, he doused Lucas' drum kit in lighter fluid and set it ablaze – with Lucas still attempting to play on behind it. (Manson apparently forgot that the band had one more date to play.) Lucas quit the band after the final gig the next night.
Less than two weeks later his replacement, Kenneth Wilson, better known by his stage name Ginger Fish, joined the group. Marilyn Manson was touring again, this time on a bill with Danzig and Korn.
That tour ended in summer 1995, after which the band relocated to the new home of Nothing Studios in New Orleans, Louisiana to begin work on the third single from Portrait of an American Family, Dope Hat. Accompanied by a music video which featured Manson in the role of Willy Wonka in a shock-horror version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the proposed single for Dope Hat eventually developed into an hour-long EP called Smells Like Children.
The album's fifteen tracks of covers, remixes, and bizarre sonic experiments also included the band's version of the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), which would prove to be Marilyn Manson's first legitimate hit: the video was placed in heavy rotation on MTV (in stark contrast with the "Dope Hat" video, which MTV had banished to late-night airplay only a few months before) and the mainstream music press was suddenly clamoring to cover the group. It was also around this time that the group began to experiment with goth makeup, and more bizarre outfits.
A seven-month headlining tour followed, from June through February, during which the band began to debut new material including Irresponsible Hate Anthem, Minute of Decay, Tourniquet, and Smells Like Children (an early incarnation of Kinderfeld). Rumors of a new album circulated widely during this time, and were confirmed when the band returned to Nothing's New Orleans studio in early 1996 to perform what Manson termed "a musical ritual designed to bring about the Apocalypse."
Antichrist Superstar: 1996-1997
Marilyn Manson's second full-length studio album, Antichrist Superstar, was released on October 8, 1996. The rock opera concept album was recorded at Nothing Studios with Trent Reznor himself acting as executive producer; the process of making the album was reportedly a long and difficult one, highlighted by experiments allegedly involving sleep deprivation and near-constant drug use in an effort to create an environment suited to the album's moody and occasionally violent content. During this time, antagonism between band members was high, which caused the departure of guitarist and Spooky Kids founding member Daisy Berkowitz.
With Berkowitz out of the band, Twiggy Ramirez performed lead guitar for much of the recording of Antichrist Superstar, and the group placed an ad seeking a new guitarist for its upcoming tour; Timothy Linton, auditioned for and was given the position. Breaking with the six-year tradition of icon / killer naming structures, the newest member was dubbed Zim Zum – a name derived from Kabbalah, one of the major sources of inspiration for the album.
The album's first single, The Beautiful People, made a fairly major impact on the alternative rock charts, and created enough anticipation for Antichrist Superstar that the album debuted at #3 on the album charts. The band's frontman was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine who also awarded the band their Best New Artist accolade for 1996. "I've always felt in my heart that we were going to get there," remarked Manson. "I don't think there's any reason why someone with as much to say as me should be limited to saying it to a few people. I should be on the same scale as the Spice Girls or Michael Jackson."
The year-and-a-half long "Dead to the World Tour" in support of the album followed; it was the band's longest and widest-ranging tour yet, and included Marilyn Manson's live debut in Alaska, Hawaii, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, South America, Asia and Australia as their fame spread to all corners of the world. In the United States, however, the band was receiving more attention than ever before, and not all of it was positive.
As the tour was getting underway, the band found itself the target of congressional hearings, led by Senator Joseph Lieberman, to determine the effects, if any, of violent lyrics on young listeners. Lieberman would later go on to refer to Marilyn Manson as "perhaps the sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company". In addition, nearly every performance on the tour was picketed by religious organizations, pleading with fans to not see the musician who once said "I think every time people listen to this new album maybe God will be destroyed in their brainwashed minds."
On November 10, 1997, the band released a remix/live EP called Remix & Repent, featuring new versions of Antichrist Superstar's four singles, The Beautiful People, Tourniquet, Antichrist Superstar, and Man that You Fear, alongside songs recorded live on the U.S. leg of the Dead to the World Tour. Two unreleased songs from the Antichrist Superstar recording sessions were contributed to film soundtracks: Apple of Sodom to David Lynch's Lost Highway, and The Suck for Your Solution to the Howard Stern's Private Parts: The Album.
As the year ended, Manson made the announcement of the upcoming publication of his first book, the autobiographical The Long Hard Road Out of Hell; the book was released in February 1998, along with another live document of the world tour, a home video entitled Dead to the World. It also came to light around this time that Antichrist Superstar would be the first installment in a concept album trilogy and that the release of the follow-up was, according to the band, also imminent, accompanied by early rumors of the involvement of Billy Corgan and The Dust Brothers with the as-yet-untitled album.
Mechanical Animals: 1998-1999
On September 15, 1998, Marilyn Manson released the second part of his triptych, Mechanical Animals, an album strongly influenced by David Bowie and his 1974 album Diamond Dogs. Interscope's promotion of the album was massive, including an enormous billboard of singer Manson as an androgynous extraterrestrial over Times Square, and repeated appearances on MTV and other networks to promote the album and the single The Dope Show; propelled by the success of Antichrist Superstar and by this press push, the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The band had recast itself in a new image for this album; Marilyn Manson were now a glam rock outfit, setting aside the bleak darkness of the previous record for a more concealed morbidity and borrowing its visual presentation largely from Bowie, and from Roxy Music and its contemporaries. By this time, the band had permanently relocated to Los Angeles, and Zim Zum had been replaced by glam-influenced guitarist John Lowery, who joined the band as John 5.
After a brief promotional tour, the band set out on the "Beautiful Monsters Tour" with Hole and Monster Magnet as support. The tour, however, would be a problematic one: on March 1, 1999, the three bands played the first show in Spokane, Washington; by March 14, Hole had left the tour and Manson had broken his ankle, forcing postponements of some shows. The tour was then renamed the "Rock is Dead Tour" and both Jack Off Jill and Nashville Pussy were asked to take select remaining opening slots on tour.
Less than three weeks after the tour resumed, two students (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold) at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado killed thirteen people, and then took their own lives; early media reports declared them fans of "violent" music and video games. Substantial attention was directed at the frontman. On April 28, out of respect for the victims, the band canceled the remaining dates of the tour, and would not reappear in Denver until the 2001 Ozzfest.
Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death): 2000-2001
The latter half of 1999 and much of 2000 was a period of relative silence for Marilyn Manson. The band spent over a year quietly writing and recording in a studio in Death Valley, with only the single Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes — an outtake from Antichrist Superstar — appearing during that time. On November 14, 2000, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) was released. Returning to the darker, more abrasive sound of Antichrist Superstar, much of the album's content was written in response to the Columbine massacre. The album's third single, The Nobodies, was directly inspired by the shootings.
Described by the band as the third part of the trilogy begun with Antichrist Superstar and continued in Mechanical Animals, its overarching theme is an exploration of the relationship between death and fame in American culture, and its lyrics and artwork contain many references to John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, John Lennon and Mark David Chapman, and even Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. The international "Guns, God and Government Tour" expanded upon the exploration of America's fascination with violence, and with the tour's logo – a rifle and handguns arranged to resemble the Christian cross — Manson made no attempt to conceal what he saw as the source of that fascination.
The band also revealed that within Marilyn Manson's massive concept album trilogy, Holy Wood serves as a prequel to Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar despite the latter two preceding Holy Wood in release date. Each of the three albums contain its own storyline distinct from one other but also linked together abstractly in a fourth larger overarching storyline encompassing all three. Manson has offered this much in the way of an interpretation: "Holy Wood is about wanting to fit into a world that didn't want me, and fighting really hard to get there. The album's deepest elements are idealism and the desire to start a revolution. If you begin with Holy Wood, then Mechanical Animals really talks about how that revolution gets taken away from you and turned into a product, and then Antichrist Superstar is where you're given a choice to decide if you're going to be controlled by the power that you created or if you want to destroy yourself and then start over. It just becomes a cycle."
On May 16, 2001, Manson announced on the band website that he planned to quote the Bible at his next concert, to "balance out" his violent lyrics, "so we can examine the virtues of wonderful Christian stories of disease, murder, adultery, suicide and child sacrifice. Now that seems like entertainment to me." On June 21, 2001, Manson did indeed read from the Bible onstage in Denver, Colorado, presenting such passages as Leviticus 20:9 ("For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death") and Psalm 137:9 ("Happy shall he be...