Naughty or Nice?By DAVID LINDQUIST, Indianapolis Star, December 3rd, 2000.
Music critic David Lindquist writes about two very different rock bands coming to town Monday.
Marilyn Manson says he can't recall the last time he played Indianapolis.
It was April 22, 1999, two days after the Columbine High School slayings in Littleton, Colo.
Thrust into the national discourse because of reports later proved erroneous that he was a favorite artist of assailants Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Manson wasn't looking for any extra publicity when he arrived at Market Square Arena.
The rock star barred news photographers from the show, and declined all requests to comment on Columbine. He was equally tight-lipped with his fans, making no mention of the tragedy during the concert.
"I can't say I remember that day specifically," Manson says in a phone interview. "After (the Colorado killings) happened, everything became a dizzying tornado of fear and confusion. When the tour ended, I had to spend literally three months sitting where I'm sitting right now in my attic deciding what I was going to do."
While in seclusion, Manson wrote an essay called "Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?" for Rolling Stone magazine.
"It is sad to think that the first few people on Earth needed no books, movies, games or music to inspire cold-blooded murder," his essay began. "The day that Cain bashed his brother Abel's brains in, the only motivation he needed was his own human disposition to violence."
In the aftermath of Columbine, reporters who researched the lives of Harris and Klebold found that the pair disliked Manson's music. This discovery became a footnote, at best, in the intense debate regarding entertainment and violence.
"I know that my image is one that sells," Manson says today. "The media is selling fear, and I became part of their marketing plan."
The musician, who titled his 1997 autobiography The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, decided to press on.
As America moved on to other stories after Columbine, Manson prepared his new album, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death).
"I could have come out of that and never worked again," he says. "Fortunately, I took something negative and focused it into my record which made it a positive thing for me."
In the beginning
Manson considers Holy Wood the first chapter in a trilogy completed in reverse.
Antichrist Superstar, a Goth-metal album released in 1996, depicts a nihilistic "Worm" character and his role in Armageddon.
Within 1998's glam-influenced Mechanical Animals, a character known as "Omega" finds himself corrupted by superficial celebrity.
Holy Wood details the roots of rage.
The album's protagonist is "Adam Kadmon," a name Manson borrows from Kabbalah. In the Jewish form of mysticism, Kadmon is a heaven-residing blueprint for the first human.
"The album deals with the idea of growing up and wanting to fit into this world that you think is perfect, this world that I called Holy Wood," Manson says. "When you finally get there, after fighting and fighting, you realize that everyone around you are the same people that beat you down. You ask, 'Why did I fight to get here?' "
Holy Wood's lyrics are filled with references to John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and John Lennon. Manson views the trio as revolutionaries who fell victim to mankind's unquenchable thirst for violence:
"What happens, your revolution not only doesn't change the world as I tried to assert with Mechanical Animals your revolution gets turned inside out and becomes a product. It becomes everything you are fighting against."
In the shadows
The new album is Manson's most musically accomplished work to date, an intersection of Superstar's brutality and Animals' hooks.
Disposable Teens, Holy Wood's first single, addresses the familiar topic of adolescent alienation.
"I feel the same way," Manson says. "I may be 31, but I feel exactly the same way I did 10 years ago when I started the band. I feel the same way I did in high school."
Specific commentary on Columbine seems to arise on Holy Wood songs King Kill 33 ("The world that hates me has taken its toll, but now I have finally taken control.") and The Nobodies ("Some children died the other day; we fed machines and then we prayed.").
Despite multi-platinum album sales and worldwide recognition, Manson is decidedly entrenched in his outsider status. He cites fan support as "the one thing" that's sustained him.
"Now, regardless of any success or whatever I have, I'm more ostracized and just looked down upon than ever," he says. "I'm not complaining about it. It's breathed new life into me. It's given me the rage that I needed to go on."
At his core, Manson says, he believes in preserving free speech, fighting for the persecuted and breaking down mainstream ideals.
"I try to reach people whose minds are cracked open just enough to get in," he says. "The people whose minds are closed? The surface element of what I do, the knee-jerk element of what I do, is meant to (upset them). I hope it does if for no other reason, it's dangerous, and that's what rock 'n' roll is."
To longtime fans, Steven Page gives voice to many of Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies' best-loved tunes. It's Page who sings underground standards such as Brian Wilson, The Old Apartment and Hello City.
But to a large chunk of American listeners people who know the group for 1998 breakthrough smash One Week and current single Pinch Me Ed Robertson might be perceived as the Ladies' "lead singer."
This situation isn't lost on the self-deprecating Page.
"It makes me think a few things," Page says in a telephone interview. "I think sometimes, 'So, we should have had Ed's songs be the singles all along?' Then I think, 'What does that say about me? I must (stink).' Finally, it's, 'We've made bad choices and I (stink). OK, I'm quitting.' "
But, seriously, Page isn't about to walk away from his band, the biggest thing in nice-guy rock since They Might Be Giants (a quirky duo that never reached BNL's status as arena-rock headliners).
Upon closer inspection, Page and Robertson are a two-headed monster of clever collaboration.
The pair balanced the spotlight during One Week even if the flashier element was Robertson's pop-culture rhyming.
On Pinch Me, Page serves purely as a backing vocalist.
"It doesn't bug me as much as I thought it might have," Page says. "We wrote that song together, and 11 of the 12 songs on (current album Maroon). It really does feel like our thing. I think we've gotten very good at figuring out whose voice suits what songs."
Looking back at the recording of six studio albums, Page sees a definite evolution in his relationship with Robertson.
"I think it's gone from being best friends to being competitors to being partners," Page says.
The members of Barenaked Ladies are dressing for success these days, as their Maroon tour gear consists of coordinated shirts and pants.
"It's a joke, and people aren't laughing at it as much as we thought they were going to," Page says. "It was supposed to be, 'Let's be a boy band crossed with Kraftwerk (a clean-cut experimental German act from the '70s).' No one really laughed. It's been more, 'Wow, they've really sold out.' But we're still laughing."
This off-the-mark gag is an endearingly geeky moment for Page and Co., who usually score big laughs with their in-concert antics. A Barenaked Ladies performance always includes rapid-fire comedic banter, as well as a lampoon medley of current hit songs.
Page, aware that many fans consider the live experience superior to the band's studio albums, says he finally hears on Maroon what he's always felt behind him onstage.
He has high praise for producer Don Was, whose credits include Bonnie Raitt's 1989 album Nick of Time, Iggy Pop's Brick by Brick from 1990 and the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge of 1994.
"His greatest asset is that he doesn't have a signature sound," Page says of Was. "For years, I would hear his records and think, 'So what's the deal with Don Was? It doesn't sound like "Mutt" Lange (a producer who's worked with bands such as AC/DC, Def Leppard and Foreigner) or Trevor Horn (Pet Shop Boys, ABC and Frankie Goes to Hollywood).'
"What (Was) does, though, is take the artists and tries to make them sound like themselves."
One of Maroon's standout tracks is Conventioneers, which examines an ill-advised coupling between co-workers away from home.
"When you spend a lot of time in hotel bars, you watch people," Page says of the song's inspiration.
It takes willpower on the part of anyone, he says, to resist the "pretend world" atmosphere of such meeting places.
"Our job could be perceived to be glamorous and out of the normal world, but it's still in the normal world whether it's watching members of our crew having an affair or watching people attending conventions."