Black metal gates swing open, and I steer my car up Marilyn Manson's driveway. It's a small hill, and there are odd, looming trees on both sides, forming a canopy, a scary dark tunnel. Manson lives in Chatsworth, a suburb of Los Angeles, it's around 9 P.M. on a moonless March night, and I feel like I'm in a goth version of Sunset Boulevard. Will I end up dead in some swimming pool, like the writer played by William Holden?
I ring the front doorbell of the mansion, which has a grand, old-Hollywood look to it. The door opens and standing before me is a stocky young man in a dark T-shirt and loose jeans. There are two rings through his lips.
"Follow me," he says.
I enter the front hall, and about 20 feet away is a large, empty circular room; the only thing in it is a single white cat. Its shoulders are hunched, and it looks frightened. My eyes are a bit weak, and I wonder if it's a statue, some kind of joke, so that Manson's guests are always greeted by a white cat instead of a black one.
"In here," says the man, indicating a door to my left. I enter a dark chamber.
"Wait here for Manson," he says, and leaves, closing the door behind him. His manners are grave, formal, and elegant, despite his casual dress and seeming youth.
I sit down, and my eyes adjust to the candlelit gloom. I'm in a smallish den with black-velvet sheets sealed tight over the windows. There's a flat-screen TV, a couch, an Apple computer, and an old-fashioned Torpedo typewriter. The walls are lined with bookshelves holding hundreds of DVDs, and standing to my right is an eerie three-foot-high wax statue of Alice in Wonderland. On the table next to me is a yellowed human skull, the nostrils acting as a holder for some black pens.
The teeth are rather rotten on the skull, and I think how I haven't been to the dentist in ten years. Then I wonder nervously if I'm being watched on a hidden camera.
Manson's manservant comes back into the room and hands me a clear goblet with a pinkish liquid. There's no smoke coming off the top, but I feel like there is.
"Absinthe," he says, and stands over me, silent and erect. He's an excellent manservant, and I appreciate his discipline and freakish behavior.
I'm not supposed to drink, due to mental problems and mild liver problems, but I immediately take a sip, like a willing Jonestown suicider. The absinthe is chilled, refreshing, and tastes of licorice. The manservant watches me.
"What's your name?" I ask, bravely.
"Arvin," he says.
We lapse into silence. Sipping my absinthe, I try to gather my thoughts. I've spent the last few days reading Manson's excellent autobiography, Googling him, and listening to his music. I review what I know: Manson, born in 1969, was raised in Ohio, where he attended a Christian school, which was meant to frighten him into obedience but had the opposite effect, sort of like the therapy in A Clockwork Orange gone haywire. His real name is Brian Warner and his grandfather was a cross-dresser who enjoyed dildos. His father poured Agent Orange on the jungles of Vietnam and dressed up as Gene Simmons when he took little Brian to a Kiss concert in 1979. Manson has put together his own philosophy of hedonism, nihilism, and self-fulfillment, merging such disparate thinkers as Nietzsche and Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. He began his postcollege life as a journalist in Florida, but then started playing music and broke out nationally, with Trent Reznor as his mentor, in 1994. Then, in 1999, he was partially blamed for the Columbine High School shootings, but resuscitated his career with an appearance in Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine. Moore asked him what he would say to the kids of Columbine, and Manson answered brilliantly, "I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did." Now he's releasing a new album, Eat Me, Drink Me -- his first in four years -- and will embark on a co-headlining tour with Slayer in July.
The door swings open and Manson lopes in, carrying his own goblet of absinthe. He's wearing a black T-shirt, black leather pants, and gigantic Frankenstein boots. He's six-foot-three and looks to be all narrow torso and legs. I'm middle-aged and completely bald and immediately assess that Manson's black hair is beginning to thin, probably from multiple dyeings. His face is sweet, and his eyes, without his usual colored contacts, are kindly.
We start to talk, and Manson is sniffling a little. Right away, he starts to tell me about the breakup of his marriage to burlesque queen Dita Von Teese. They were together for six years and then, in their seventh year, they got married. "It's the old cliché," he says. "Marriage changes everything."
The behavior he had manifested for the first six years -- such as living like a vampire -- became unacceptable to Von Teese, he says. But he wasn't willing to give up his vampire's hours. "I'm my most creative between 3 and 5 A.M.," he says. "That's the way I've always been."
Going to sleep at dawn and rising at dusk was not the only issue of contention, though. Before they were wed, Manson and Von Teese were never separated for more than five days; after they got married, he wasn't seeing her three out of every four weeks, due to her own hectic schedule. Manson is very needy, and with Von Teese on the road all the time, he started losing his mind. And he started believing her when she said that the way he lived was wrong.
"But then I realized that what's wrong about me is right," he says. "To play devil's advocate -- but that doesn't really work, since I'm the devil -- people would say that drugs and alcohol wrecked my marriage. But buyer beware. She said she had tolerated the lifestyle because she hoped I would change and threatened to leave if I didn't. I was sleeping on the couch in my own home. I was no longer supposed to be a rock star. I was someone who had to be apologized for. I wasn't prepared to be alone. I came out of this naked, a featherless bird. I needed to get my wings back by making this record."
How did Manson finally get his wings? Read the complete Marilyn Manson cover story in the June 2007 issue of Spin, on newsstands May 29.
ABOUT JONATHAN AMES
For Ames, the most surprising thing about Marilyn Manson was how familiar he seemed. "He reminded me of my childhood best friend," Ames says. The author of the novels The Extra Man and Wake Up, Sir!, Ames has also written for The New York Times. His graphic novel, The Alcoholic, will be out next year. First concert: Rush, 1981