The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has urged “Catholics, Christians, and anyone with a modicum of respect for religion” to boycott Manson's recordings, videos, and concerts.
That's nothing new for Manson, the 31-year-old Ohio-born rocker who leads a band of the same name. The singer and songwriter was given the title of honorary reverend in the Church of Satan and sparks controversy virtually everywhere he goes.
The latest flareup was ignited by Manson's video to “Disposable Teens,” the first single off his new album “Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death).”
“He assaults religion, but if you look at the imagery he uses, he has a certain fondness for assaulting Catholicism,” said Patrick Scully, director of communications for the Catholic League. “In his video for `Disposable Teens,' he dances around dressed as a bishop. And in concert he wears a Pope's miter. He has a problem with Catholicism, and therefore we have a problem with him.”
Mr. Scully said that his group supports Manson's right to free speech, but is hopeful that once the public is aware of the rocker's message they won't support it.
“It's important to note that the Catholic League is completely against censorship,” Mr. Scully said from New York City. “We would never say this guy has no right to perform or to come to Toledo. We're in the business of shining the light of truth on these people, to let people know. You can decide if you want to spend your money on this garbage.”
Manson, in an interview with The Blade on Thursday, said the video was not meant as a criticism of the Catholic Church or any other group.
“I didn't feel like I was attacking anyone,” he said from a tour stop in Madison, Wis. “What I wanted to to do with that video was take classic images of Christianity and creationism and juxtapose them with evolution and Darwinism. And throw a little revolution in there as well.”
“Holy Wood” is a concept album about a character named Adam Kadmon, who feels like an outcast and tries to start a revolution. It's the third album in a Manson trilogy, following “Antichrist Superstar” in 1996 and “Mechanical Animals” in 1998.
Like its predecessors, “Holy Wood” bears a “parental advisory” warning sticker for its profusion of profanity, sex, and violence. The CD cover features Manson posed as if being crucified and part of the album title - “Shadow of the Valley of Death” - twists one of the Bible's most well-known verses, Psalm 23:4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
“I am a fan of the Bible,” Manson said. “And I know it better than most Christians do. ... It's not the teachings of Christ or the words of the Bible that I have a problem with. It's exploiting weak-minded people and controlling their lives with guilt and then turning around and blaming it on someone like me.”
Born Brian Hugh Warner in Canton, O., Manson was brought up in the Episcopal Church and attended Heritage Christian School until 10th grade. He moved to Florida in 1989, formed the Marilyn Manson band, and was signed by Trent Reznor, leader of Nine Inch Nails, to his new label Nothing Records in 1993. The group's debut CD, “Portrait of an American Family,” sold half a million copies, launching Manson's controversial career.
Chris Nicholas, a musician and filmmaker now living in Los Angeles, became a close friend of Manson in the early 1990s when they were both playing in rock bands in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
He said that Manson, whom he described as “really, really smart and a marketing genius,” has always had an interest in the dark side of religion.
“Back then, it was more cartoonish than it is now,” said Mr. Nicholas, who produced and directed the 1999 documentary Demystifying the Devil: An Unauthorized Biography on Marilyn Manson (see www.mansonvideo.com for more information.)
“He had satanic images on his posters, but he was just delving into it.”
When Mr. Nicholas first started hanging around with the singer, he knew him as Brian Warner; Marilyn Manson was just a stage name.
“Back then, Manson was like the greatest guy, totally cool, he used to joke around all the time,” Mr. Nicholas said. “Now he has to be living Marilyn Manson 24/7. He's not the same person I knew years ago.”
On Marilyn Manson's first national tour, as an opening act for Nine Inch Nails in 1994, the rocker was introduced to Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, who bestowed the title of honorary reverend on Manson.
“Anton told him that out of all the groups out there, Marilyn Manson's message is the most satanic,” Mr. Nicholas said.
Manson said the Church of Satan basically died after LaVey's death in 1997 and that he is not actively involved in any organized religion, Christian, satanic, or whatever.
Unlike Manson's previous Toledo shows in 1996, '97, and '98, Tuesday's Guns, God, and Government World Tour concert at the Toledo Sports Arena is not sold out. Some opponents, including the Catholic League, see signs that rocker's popularity is slipping.
“From the reviews of his new CD, his act is getting a little tired - that's from music critics, not from me,” Mr. Scully said. “As the lack of musical talent is exposed, the way they sometimes combat that is to push the envelope and be as outrageous as possible. Religion is an easy way to do it.”
Gary Graff, a prominent rock critic from Detroit, has a different view of Manson. He said his new album “is really good and hard hitting and an assimilation of everything he's done before.”
He also feels that Manson's message falls in line with rock and roll's long history of challenging authority.
“He's far from the first rock star or entertainer to call religion into question,” Mr. Graff said. “It's good to ask questions of all institutions. I don't think any institution is immune from being questioned, or should they position themselves as being immune from being questioned. Is he provocative? Yes. Is he turning a generation of kids against God, Jesus, and the church? Doubtful.”
Manson has benefited from the protests intended to hurt his career, observers say.
“He's a very successful rock act,” Mr. Graff said. “What has raised his profile, inadvertently, I'm sure, is the protests and the boycotts. They've made him more popular than he would be otherwise.”
Mr. Nicholas, the documentary maker, affirmed that observation.
“When religious groups are so against him, he feeds on it. Every time they open their mouths, he makes more money.”