If you were a dark and brooding teenager in the mid-late 90s, you were riding a pretty sweet wave when it came to music. The king, almost the PT Barnum if you will, was Trent Reznor. There were several great Nine Inch Nails (NIN) records : Pretty Hate Machine, Broken 1Fixed — the sort-of “remix of Broken” — was more experiment than album, I feel, The Downward Spiral; There were also the singles, which always included crazy remixes of songs (the famous Se7en opening title sequence used the “Closer (precursor)” remix), and there were EPs made up of further remixes and b-sides. Reznor also produced the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers, which Reznor aptly called “a collage of sound” because it mixed audio samples from the movie with soundscapes and songs from various artists. It seemed like, for a time, if you needed something evil-sounding, but mainstream enough to get “the kids” hyped on it : Trent Reznor was the guy to call. The Lost Highway soundtrack, The Crow soundtrack, music and sound production for the videogame Quake 2which amusingly featured a nail gun whose box of ammo was represented with by the NIN logo, and a tour and duet with David Bowie. If that wasn’t enough, Reznor had his own label — Nothing Records — which was the launching pad for several acts in a similar genre. Bands like Prick, Pop Will Eat Itself, Pig, Meat Beat Manifesto, Squarepusher and — their biggest score — Marilyn Manson were all part of the Nothing Records lineup.
When Marilyn Manson burst on the scene with the still-fantastic Portrait of an American Family, fans of NIN became dually fans of Marilyn Manson. It was a perfect fit, and they were like the weird, younger art school brother of NIN. Even if you didn’t go for Manson’s schtick of mixing evil sounds and visuals with the innocence of childhood, you’d have a hard time acting like the music itself wasn’t incredible. For myself, and most of my friends, we loved the whole package. While NIN had occasional tracks with call-to-arms lines like “this world rejects me; this world threw me away; this world never gave me a chance; this world gonna have to pay“, it seemed like every track on Portrait cranked that mindset up to 11. If you wanted angry, “society is bullshit, no one understands me” jams, Marilyn Manson had some serious quotable lyrics and an angry soundtrack to back it up.
All of this is to say : Marilyn Manson was “underground” in that MTV rarely played their videos, and parents weren’t yet trying to ban their albums, and they were still playing small clubs, but you’d have been hard-pressed in 1996 to find a kid who wore black clothing and didn’t know who Marilyn Manson was. Once Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams became a certified hit, they blew the fuck up, and fans were eager for their long-awaited follow-up album Antichrist Superstar.
I spoke before about the night Smells Like Children was released, and now I have a story about the release of Antichrist Superstar.
The biggest record store at PV Mall was Sam Goody. Not that they were anything particularly special, compared to the other stores, but they had the largest selection and were usually the cheapest. They also had all the cool promo items in their store : standees and posters and shirts, plastered all over the front windows of the store. About a week before the release of Antichrist, they had a little sign on the front window that said “Marilyn Manson lookalike contest : this Friday at 7pm. Win a copy of Antichrist Superstar and other cool prizes!”. This was either a handwritten sign, or something hastily written up and printed out by the office printer. It wasn’t an “official” contest — in that I don’t think other Sam Goodys were doing it, and it almost definitely wasn’t something Manson or their label had asked for — but I inquired at the front counter and it was legit.
I decided I’d give it a shot, cause why the hell not?
That Friday, I walked into the Sam Goody and saw the lineup of Mansons. Most of them were friends or casual acquaintances of mine (some of whom later became friends and/or acquaintances — including the same Gothic Dan who saw the tree branch fall), the rest were sad excuses for Marilyn Manson lookalikes. One of them had blonde hair and was just wearing a Marilyn Manson shirt. How silly. Frankly, I didn’t think I’d have much of a chance on looks alone 3hilariously, a few people have asked if that was me or Manson in the header photo for this entry. That’s me, high on acid in my first apartment ...continue. Sure, I had chin-length black hair and I was scrawny and weird looking, but Gothic Dan had the look down pat.
Instead of competing head-on, I had a trick up my sleeve. I walked in wearing my infamous green jumpsuit (this was in the prime of my Godless days) with my full Godless Gimp setup beneath : torn pantyhose, my zip-up codpiece, and combat boots. I even brought in a tube of lipstick, so I could smear it on my face like Manson would. I didn’t know how the contest would go down, but I figured I’d have to find the perfect time to “unveil”. As it turned out, the staff said “okay, everyone line up side-to-side, and we’re gonna do The Macarena”. They had a small audience of 20 or so PV Mall kids who would cheer for whomever they thought should win it. Someone on the staff gave us a quick primer on how to do The Macarena dance, we practiced for a minute or so, and they told us to bust into Macarena mode as soon as the first drum hit of The Macarena played (as was the way of The Macarena, I guess) and after each sequence of steps, we were to make a quarter turn to our left and do it again — all in all 4 times, for a full turn.
When that drum hit, I immediately unzipped and let the jumpsuit fall. I saw a woman grab her kid and walk out immediately. I got through the first few moves of the Macarena, then pulled out the lipstick and smeared it on my face in circles — again, like Manson would do — before writing “KILL GOD” on my chest. As I turned to the left, they killed the music. Mall Security was called and we were forced to shut it down (and I needed to “get some damn clothes on”). The guy running the contest said “I don’t think I even need to do this, but… let’s vote”. There were a few light claps as he placed his hand over each contestant, until he reached me and it was just thunderous applause. He didn’t even get the votes for anyone after me. Just held up my arm and said “winner” (he almost sounded upset about it).
They shoved into my arms a Sam Goody shirt, a Marilyn Manson shirt, a gift card that would cover the cost of Antichrist Superstar when it was released the following week, and — to me — the crown jewel : a Smells Like Children night light. That was a thing of lore for Manson fans. There were maybe 100 of them in existence, and I’d never even seen one – I figured it was just a rumor told by people pretending to be “in the know”. I pulled up my jumpsuit, security escorted me out of the mall — covering me up, hilariously — and off I went to Denny’s to celebrate my victory with Trevor.
One mystery remains from this story. I had a friend named Jared who worked at the Sam Goody and, the next time I came in, he said “I wanted to show you photos from the contest, but… there’s none of you”. I looked through the photos and, though there were 2-3 that showed me still in my green jumpsuit off to the side, all the “interesting” ones were missing. He told me some girl (apparently a pretty attractive girl, cause I ask these things) came in earlier that day and asked to see the photos. He handed them to her, she rifled through and handed them back. It wasn’t until later that he realized she stole every single photo of me post-green-jumpsuit. He said he didn’t know who she was, or where she went, but apologized that the photos were missing.
Who the hell was that girl? And why not just ask Jared if he knew “the guy in the photos”? Ah well. Some things remain a mystery.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↩||Fixed — the sort-of “remix of Broken” — was more experiment than album, I feel|
|2.||↩||which amusingly featured a nail gun whose box of ammo was represented with by the NIN logo|
|3.||↩||hilariously, a few people have asked if that was me or Manson in the header photo for this entry. That’s me, high on acid in my first apartment and singing in front of a green lightbulb|