Everyone knows this digit's no starfucker. (Well, there would certainly be exceptions, in the biblical sense, if the likes of Jennifer Connelly or Halle Berry were willing). So, needless to say, nobody ever expected this jaded protuberance to cozy up to His Satanic Majesty in any way, shape or form. Yet there The Finger was the other evening, sitting in the den of Marilyn Manson's five-story, 1920s-era Hollywood Hills home -- and the notorious shock-rocker was showing it a half-naked picture of his main squeeze, curvaceous, raven-haired fetish diva Dita von Teese.
OK, anybody who thought Manson was gay would be wrong, since Marilyn not that long ago kicked erstwhile fiancée and Charmed star Rose McGowan out of bed (metaphorically, of course) in favor of the delicious Dita, whose countenance is all over Internet porn sites nowadays.
"This is a picture I took of her," explained Manson, after clicking on a jpeg of Dita in bed with the sheets covering her from the waist down. "I'd seen her around for many years, and in this case, I'd have to say I was the stalker/fan. I've had an obsession for some time with Elizabeth Short [a.k.a. the Black Dahlia], and I did a series of four paintings of Elizabeth as Snow White. Dita had a very striking resemblance to her the first time I saw her, five or six years ago. We make a perfect combination."
Before this digit goes on, let's just point out that it's perfectly natural for a pale countenance like Manson to be fascinated with this Goth's dream of an unsolved murder case. The Black Dahlia's nude body was found cut in half in a vacant lot in Leimert Park on January 15, 1947, the blood drained from it before it was dumped. L.A. mystery writer James Ellroy immortalized the case in an acclaimed 1987 novel. Short would be just another L.A. coolio these days, but she was so monikered because she'd stood out from other women by vamping in nightspots dressed all in black. Depending on which account you want to believe, she'd been a party pal of Marilyn Monroe's.
But this digit wasn't invited up to the latter-day Marilyn's swankienda to gaze at von Teese in the buff anymore than it was to dwell on the mystery of the Black Dahlia. Manson's point about the Dahlia was a segue into the 55 pieces of his art that'll be for sale at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions at 6522 Hollywood Boulevard on the evenings of September 19 and 20.
This is not to say Manson wasn't willing to show a digit around. (Eat your heart out, MTV, because this would've been the best Cribs ever!) Outside, there's nothing Gothic about the rocker's white-walled pad and a half, built for actress Mary Astor, who, of course, was Humphrey Bogart's love interest in The Maltese Falcon. The interior's another story. Of course, the Finger only got to see one floor, but that was enough! Manson's den was filled with a menagerie of taxidermied animals: baboons, monkeys, wild boars with tusks bared, a tiny doe that looked like the model for Bambi, a big blue peacock with a long train of multicolored feathers.
In addition to the stuffed zoo, there were lots of Addams Family-style knickknacks: bifurcated human brains mounted on plaques; an electric lamp fashioned from a silver crucifix; a decrepit, antique doll in a tiara; and a drinking mug formed from a human skull. It goes on. On the den's bookcase, there was everything from the complete works of the Marquis de Sade, to tons of art books devoted to Salvador Dali, to that other Marilyn (whose remains are in a crypt in Westwood), to Man Ray and Taschen nudes. In the next room over, there was a Ouija board set up and ready to go and a gruesome, mixed-media sculpture that looked like a mummified baby praying over a TV set.
Decked out in his trademark pancake makeup, black shirt, tie and pants -- and a white contact lens in his left eye -- Manson looked like he'd stepped right out of the party scene in Ingmar Bergman's Hour of the Wolf. However, The Finger found him well-spoken and approachable. A little shy, even, as he showed this digit some of his weird watercolors.
See, it's a freakin' act, folks! Sort of. It was clear that Marilyn's handlers (two or three were around him all the time) consider him very, very devilish. That is, they jumped when he said jump, clearly afraid of dire (dare we say macabre) consequences if the Antichrist were annoyed. When The Finger asked if Manson wears one of his get-ups all the time -- even in bed with his hot girlfriends -- one of his lackeys whispered that he doesn't. Not that the Nazi-dominatrix-themed von Teese would mind that much, but all-American gal McGowan would've.
"This one's called 'The Hand of Glory,'" said Manson, 33, pointing to the image of a child whose hands had been hacked off and who was holding a doll in the crook of one arm. "It represents the idea of the old superstitious belief of black magic/voodoo that taking the hand of a criminal bestows you with magical powers. On a child, that imagery suggests how the world wants to take away one's innocence or childish creativity. It's not a self-portrait, but a portrait of how I feel as a Peter Pan who doesn't want to grow up."
Indeed, a lot of Manson's work could pass for severed-finger paintings done by a young Hannibal Lecter. There are a handful of the Black Dahlia in various states of dismemberment, portraits of friends that look like white salamanders and self-portraits, uh, somewhat derivative of the renowned Austrian painter Egon Schiele. There's one of Dita in an SS officer's cap and (sure to be the object of a bidding war) another of some nude chick with a large tush, fingering her bloody sphincter.
You may remember that Manson was accused of prompting the Columbine slayings with his music and persona, even though investigators later discounted the idea. When this digit brought that up, he grabbed his laptop and showed it his painting "Crop Failure" of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, their heads on two fingers of a hand. He blamed the media with exploiting the Colorado massacre to such an extent that things got exaggerated. The same thing's happening over the September 11 terrorism, he said.
"I don't like that the media will take one tragedy and make it such an exploitative event that really it's almost an insult to other tragedies. Terrible things happen [all over the world] every day. That happened with Columbine. They made such a big deal about that and blamed me for it... The world is less violent now than it ever was. It's just televised."
The tour of his paintings continued. "This is 'When I Get Old,'" Manson said, as he gestured toward a picture of an old, green man holding a goblet of absinthe (it's Marilyn's fave drink, natch. It can't be sold anymore in the United States; something about the wormwood in it causing some imbibers to go blind or crazy). The picture reminded The Finger of David Bowie in that '80s vampire flick The Hunger -- the part where Bowie ages from failing to drink enough blood. "It's watercolor and absinthe. I like to drink as I paint, and I accidentally put my brush in the wrong glass, and I figured, 'Fuck it, I'll go ahead and put it to use.'"
Manson said he used to draw in high school, back when he was still Brian Warner from Ohio, but that he got back into it in 1997 as a way of relaxing. Giving new meaning to the phrase "putting hair on the wall," Manson swears he used his own locks and blood in some of the paintings.
"It was really just something for me to do when I wanted to be alone," he said of his works. "I like the brush and the paper and the friction between the two. I painted for personal satisfaction. Never planned to show or sell it. But over time, as I started getting into it more and more, people would say, 'You need to show them.' I'm quite proud of them now."
The show's titled The Golden Age of Grotesque, not so coincidentally the name of Manson's in-the-works next album. On the first night of the event, Flaunt magazine plans to host a reception with free absinthe (well, not the real stuff, but something called Absente, which's minus the offending wormwood) for the celebrity guests. The next night, the show will be open to the public from 8 to 11, with Manson signing posters -- some of which will sell for as little as $30, his flack vowed. (The original artwork had yet to be priced by press time, but The Finger will bet three knuckles that each piece will cost more than a used Yugo.) Manson had been planning to show his stuff at the trendy Hollywood bistro Les Deux Café -- but he's expecting a crowd.
"The goal is to reinject the world, and particularly Hollywood, with the same sort of excitement that Weimar Berlin had before it was destroyed, and that New York City had when the whole Limelight club-kid scene was happening," he told The Finger. (He didn't seem to be kidding.) "You know, the height of decadence. And bringing dangerous art back into play."
The Finger's all for decadence and drinking absinthe (blindness and hallucinations or not), and it must admit that it was impressed with the articulate and well-read Manson. But, according to Mat Gleason, editor of Coagula magazine (who looked at Manson's work online at http://www.marilynmanson.com/.), the shock-rocker should stick to what he does best -- and that ain't painting.
"He's following in the footsteps of another singer, Tony Bennett," said Gleason. (Ouch!) "Bennett and Manson have nothing in common as vocalists, but they're perfectly parallel in hocking these schlocky, amateurish celebrity byproducts masquerading as art."
The urbane art grinch continued, "But if it's any consolation to Marilyn, though the images of his I saw were about as mediocre as the average angstful teen's, they were still a cut above Bennett's stuff. It's funny that Manson's supposed to be so gruesome and he uses watercolors, hands down the prissiest of painting mediums."
Does this mean Marilyn's a sissy -- von Teese and McGowan aside? Who cares? And who cares if the shock-rocker's art blows, like 90 percent of the rest of the art produced in L.A.? (Coagula's motto is: "Most art sucks.") The Finger's still gonna try to nab one of them paintings with hair on it to replace the jumpsuited velvet Elvis over its mantel.