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Getting Away With Murder

Originally published by Salt Lake Magazine

Recipient of Best Magazine Feature, Society for Professional Journalists

When Bernardo Alphonso Repreza’s body was lifted from the pavement in downtown Salt Lake City in the late hours of October 31, 1998, it was hardly recognizable to his friends. The 15-year-old boy’s nose was split and broken, his skull was bashed in, and his face was discolored and disfigured. When Ryan Sheppard lifted Repreza’s shirt to check the severity of his friend’s injuries, entrails spilled out of a 4½-inch-long knife wound.

Repreza had just left a Halloween party he had attended with other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was en route to Trolley Square with a handful of friends. Repreza ended up at the hands of a mob instead, with two liters of blood—and his life—drained away as a result.

Repreza was the victim of a fight between 30 mostly white and mostly armed Straight Edgers and his group of seven unarmed friends. And despite the racial epithets that had been hurled toward Repreza and his group, then–Salt Lake Police Chief Ruben Ortega was quick to tell the press that the incident was not racially motivated. (Incidentally, despite his ethnic background, Ortega’s own relationship with the Hispanic community in Utah has been peppered with what the Salt Lake Tribune calls “a string of professional embarrassments colored by racial overtones”). It was a gang brawl, said police, and Repreza was a “gang wannabe” who found the trouble he was out looking for that Halloween night.

The only problem with the official explanation? It was completely untrue.

“I’ve known Bernard since elementary. I grew up with that boy,” says Haydee Gomez, an energetic high school student whose parents, like Repreza’s, emigrated from El Salvador during the country’s civil war. “Bernard had goals in his life; he wanted to go into the Marine Corps, he wanted to get married in the [Mormon] Temple. He was no gangster—when you see a brown boy it’s automatically like, ‘Oh, he’s a wannabe gangster.’ He may have friends who were in gangs, but Bernard was friends with everyone.”

Repreza had been at the Gomez’s house the night he was killed. It was Halloween—and also the birthday of Haydee’s mother Maria. The party was in full swing, but it was getting too big, too fast, with kids showing up who really wanted to party. So Repreza invited the group to reconvene at Trolley Square and let Maria continue a milder fete.

He never made it. At the intersection of 100 South and State Street, Repreza and his friends were stopped at red light when a gang of Straight Edgers began taunting them. Witnesses said one of the Straight Edgers spit on Repreza’s friend, Jaynell Latay Cooper, an African-American, calling him a “nigger.” (The Straight Edgers testified that it was Cooper who had instigated the violence, calling out some 30 people.) Suddenly, Cooper was being beaten with nunchuks and a machete, and Repreza jumped out to help him—an act that would cost him his life. Sheppard, who was driving, says it was clearly a hate crime, adding that no one was ever charged for the blows and machete cuts that landed Cooper in the hospital that night.

But Prosecutor Paul Parker had a different take regarding racial motive in the incident. “About that time there was at least one judge that found [Utah hate crime laws] to be unconstitutional, and we were also concerned about a lot of the [previously failed] prosecutions on it,” he says. “The difficulty is trying to find the line between name-calling and actions in the fight. In this case, it wasn’t exactly clear which of those two sides of the line happened. It may have been a matter of proof, but I really wasn’t comfortable on who said what to begin with.”

Early conjecture about why Cooper would challenge a group of 30 was eventually quelled in the media. Who said what just could not be proven, common sense aside. What could be proven was this: According to police and court records, Repreza was chased and knocked to the ground, enduring repeated blows to the head with a metal baseball bat by Andrew Moench (who declined to be interviewed, and is currently serving a 6-to-15–year prison term in connection with the crime). Repreza’s unconscious body was then struck repeatedly with a spring-loaded billy-club by Sean Darger, who allegedly howled, “Take that, spic!” during the attack. (Darger, who claimed self-defense even though Repreza was lying helplessly on the ground, was acquitted of all charges by a jury. “I’m thrilled to death,” he told reporters at that time.) Finally, Colin Reesor cut Repreza open with a combat knife, leaving a wound deep enough to sever the boy’s aorta and scar his backbone, Parker told the Tribune. (Reesor, who also declined to be interviewed, was sentenced with a 5-to-life term.)

Sitting on a couch in his South Salt Lake home, Granite High School student Omar Leon unfolds one of a slew of flyers recently papered around his mostly Hispanic neighborhood. It’s from a local chapter of a national hate group, and has banner headlines such as “Another hate-filled Mexican kills white woman in S.L. Valley “ and “Illegal aliens storm across border, bringing drugs, crime, and disease.” It’s just another example of pervasive racism in a state where the second cousin of former Governor Norm Bangerter, Johnny Bangerter, tried to set up a whites-only “fatherland” in Zion National Park. Where an English-only initiative passed overwhelmingly this past November. Where a former chief of police tried to deputize his officers as makeshift immigration officials. But for Leon, a close friend of Repreza’s, the flyer has a more personal meaning—as do the killers’ sentences.

“Five years for murder is bullshit,” he mutters, anger welling beneath a calm exterior. “It’s babysitting.” Leon speaks to the biting frustration of a small constellation of Repreza friends and associates. The sense of loss among these people is almost tangible, and it’s not just because a kid they all loved and admired was senselessly murdered. It’s also a loss of faith in the legal system itself, the shocking realization that, in Utah, there may not actually be justice for all.

“It’s a joke, an absolute joke,” says a bristling Karen Whiting-Monson, one of Repreza’s teachers at Granite High School. “They literally got away with murder. Had Bernard just beaten them up and no one even died, he would have gotten five years! What’s wrong with this picture? I think that should be the title of your story: Getting away with murder. That’s what they did, and it makes my blood boil.”

Utah actually does have hate crimes, though only 68 were reported in 1998, compared to a national figure of about 7750. That’s less than 1 percent for a state that makes up nearly 2 percent of the nation’s total population. Either Utahns are twice as tolerant as everybody else, or there’s a problem in hiding.

Michael Zimmerman, Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, suspects that it’s the latter.

“We’re always a little thin-skinned about things potentially self-critical in this state,” he says. “But we have to be careful that we don’t paper-over issues in not wanting to bring criticism down on ourselves. We should worry less about how we’re perceived elsewhere and more about how individuals are affected by our unwillingness to acknowledge our own problems.”

Zimmerman was also chair of the Utah Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness Committee, whose report, released in August 2000, illustrated that “those who run the system are disproportionately Caucasian, and those who are charged, convicted, and incarcerated in the system are disproportionately minority.” Public forums held to help determine the public’s perception of the legal system repeatedly noted an “unavailability to minorities of private attorneys due to unaffordability, and the unavailability of interest and concern from public defenders.” Similarly, a 1999 study by the University of Utah Graduate School of Social Work found that Utah minority youths were 41 times more likely to be arrested than white youths, and that Hispanic youths were four times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, with African-American youths being five times more likely.

A clearly biased criminal justice system underscores a serious regional bias, making effective hate crime legislation even more important, says State Senator Pete Suazo. Nationally and locally, those opposed to new hate crime laws claim such legislation is pointless, saying that one cannot prove what an assailant was thinking during any given crime. (This fails to address the obvious fact that prosecutors often must—and do—prove motive.) Opponents have traditionally been disturbed by bills that protect homosexuals from hate crimes, claiming it is a “sexual choice” and not a genetic predisposition. Newer hate crime legislation does not mention specific groups, but rather seeks to protect individuals from being targeted for who they are, whether black or white, straight or gay.

Suazo has proposed an amended hate crime bill for the upcoming legislative session—as he has the last three years. With close ties to Utah’s Hispanic community, Suazo sees stereotyping and racial bias on the rise. He relates a recent incident when a Hispanic family’s home-in-progress was spray-painted throughout with slogans such as “Go home Mexicans” and “Spics stay away,” and another incident in which three local African-American churches were tagged with swastikas and Ku Klux Klan references. Because of the lack of effective hate crime legislation in Utah, little could be done even if the perpetrators were caught.

“These are not normal crimes,” Suazo says. “This is terrorism. And both the police and the prosecutors said that the only thing they could charge anyone with is misdemeanor vandalism.”

“And that’s the way it should be,” bluntly states Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah chapter of the Eagle Forum, a right-wing lobbying organization formed by anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly in 1972. “I think the punishment for a crime should be for the crime itself, not for what the person was thinking when they committed the crime or what their opinion was of the person they committed the crime against… There will always be those who carry around their differences—like those who do it for sexual-choice reasons—who deliberately bait people so they could say, ‘They did it to me because of my color, they did it to me because of my sexual practices.’ Hate crime laws are one of the worst forms of discrimination there is.”

Ruzicka’s view that a “crime is a crime” discounts research indicating that victims of hate crimes often suffer significantly higher levels of depression and stress, and that the psychological trauma lasts much longer—more than twice the length—than that of victims of random assaults, according to University of California-Davis psychologist Gregory Herek. And that’s ignoring such a crime’s possible effect on the community, which Suazo alluded to as “terrorism.” When you burn a cross on a minority’s lawn, it sends a very distinct message to other minorities about the area: stay out.

Ruzicka is certainly not alone in her views. State Senator John Valentine has told the media that “there is no such thing as a hate crime.” But Suazo says that while Ruzicka lobbies legally, she wields disproportionate power in Utah , and has been a factor in his previous hate crime bills’ failures to get through the Republican-dominated Utah House of Representatives. As mentioned, there have been hate crime laws on the Utah books since 1992, but they are widely regarded as “unworkable,” and prosecutors are hence wont to employ them. The author of those laws, former House Minority Leader and current Jones Waldo attorney Frank Pignanelli, says Republicans passed the bill only after it was significantly watered down, and that they had an unusual companion in the dilution process—the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The ACLU kept on raising the First Amendment flag against my bill, when those statutes that had been struck down constitutionally were speech-based and my bill was activity-based,” Pignanelli says. “So what happened? The ACLU gave a lot of Republicans cover. And not too long after that they were spending their time in St. George because that city had banned teenage cruising. I said, ‘Wait a minute. We have Hispanics and Jewish people and gays getting the hell kicked out of them, and you’re more concerned about whether teenagers in St. George can cruise Main Street ?’ I was livid. I still am.”

Despite the opposition, Suazo’s upcoming hate crime bill may have some powerful local allies, even on the conservative side. U.S. Attorney for Utah Paul Warner, an Orrin Hatch–appointed Republican, has said that the state needs much better legislation on the issue. And Hatch himself made sweeping remarks in July 1999, asking Congress to allocate more money for the prosecution of hate crimes (in contrast to derogatory remarks he made about gays and lesbians at a Republican state convention just two weeks earlier).

Would enhanced hate crime statutes in Utah make for enhanced sentences for people like Reesor and Moench in the future? Parker isn’t so sure, and claims the drafting of an effective law is extremely difficult—either you draft a law that includes so much conduct as to be inherently vague and unenforceable, or you draft a law that’s so conduct-specific that you omit a lot of hate-based activity. But Michael Martinez, Salt Lake attorney and former chief deputy officer at the County Coroner’s Office, says it’s simply a matter of how you prosecute once the laws are drafted.

“The problem with hate crime laws is that people end up focusing on the hate aspect of it,” he says. “I’ve always been of the opinion that what you should do is first of all prove the underlying crime behind it. If somebody assaulted you, tried to kill you, burned a cross on your lawn, you should charge and convict them on that—and then go after them for the racial motivation. That way you haven’t lost anything, and you don’t delay the other trial. You don’t throw any kind of racial animus into it that makes it hard for the prosecutor to prosecute and the juries to convict—or the media to have a heyday.”

As far as James Yapias, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Advisory Council, is concerned, a workable hate crime statute might have made all the difference in sentencing the Repreza attackers. He believes a hate crime enhancement would not have been difficult to attain given the visceral nature of the evidence.

“This kid was being beaten to death and they were calling him names,” Yapias says incredulously. “What more do you need?”

The Gomez house is your typical American family scene—kids running around, TV blaring, big backyard. They’ve got all the worries of your typical American family too—how to keep the bills under control, how to keep the remote control under control, how to keep teenagers from dressing too crazy. As if that’s not enough, they’ve got some other pressing concerns. After growing up in war-time El Salvador and living in Los Angeles neighborhoods near the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) gang, Artilio Gomez is rightfully wary of anyone poking around asking questions about Bernardo Repreza.

“Can I see your ID?” he asks me. “You’re not a Straight Edger, are you? I don’t want my kids to have any problem.” He hands back the ID and tries to explain. “I mean, I knew that boy when he was a little one, Bernard. His father and I used to go to the same church…” He falls silent, and wife Maria takes over. She, like her daughter Haydee, was deeply offended by the police portrayal of Repreza as a gang wannabe, and she wants the world to know that in her eyes he was simply a sweet, charming kid who liked to draw, write poetry, and play basketball. He had a temper, she says, but no kid is perfect.

Maria notes that it wasn’t only the police characterization of Repreza that struck a chord with her family—it was also the authorities’ treatment of the defendants that underscored the lack of value the legal system seemed to put on Repreza’s life. According to Salt Lake Tribune andDeseret News reports, Third District Judge William Barrett allowed Reesor, Darger, and Moench out on bail, in the care of their own families, to await sentencing. The release took place despite that just weeks before the Repreza killing, Moench made remarks on the TV news program20/20—statements that clearly illustrated a propensity for violence. Defending the actions of a few Straight Edgers who brawled with University of Utah fraternity members (allegedly because one of the frat members asked a Straight Edger for a cigarette), Moench said, “I would have helped [the Edgers] if I was there. I would have done all I could to put everyone in the hospital.” Taken from the program’s transcripts, he also told 20/20, “You disrespect someone about being Straight Edge, about being whatever… I mean, if someone disrespects someone about their religion, that’s being disrespectful. You fight them. They die, that’s what they deserve.”

The release of Darger, Reesor, and Moench to await sentencing at home, to finish high school and even take college courses, did not sit well with the minority community in Utah. Moench even got married to another Straight Edger while awaiting sentencing, despite court orders to stay away from other members of the group.

Martinez was nonplused by the situation, saying he’d never seen anything like it. After all, judges normally send those accused of first-degree murder to jail while awaiting their sentences, but there were apparently mitigating circumstances here.

“Judges have no affinity with people who are unlike themselves and their families,” says Martinez. “And so it’s hard for them to be sympathetic to a Bernardo Repreza—and it’s hard for them not to be sympathetic with someone who appears before them and looks like their own kids.”

By the same token, Martinez says, police, prosecutors, and judges (who in Utah are overwhelmingly Caucasian) simply have a hard time overcoming certain minority stereotypes. He cites recent gang statistics from the Ogden City Police Gang Unit that state for every white gang member in Ogden, there are four Hispanic gang members. He also cites his own history as one of Utah’s first Hispanic attorneys: In court, Martinez has been mistaken for a janitor, a translator, a file clerk—and once even identified by a witness as the assailant in a robbery. These kinds of stereotypes, he says, make it very difficult for minorities in the Utah criminal justice system. And it doubtless had an effect in the Repreza case, says Martinez.

“The problem in this particular crime is that it was very hard for white prosecutors to believe that people who look like them and talk like the, who worship at the same churches they worship, could have those kinds of strong feelings against somebody else simply because of the way they look. So yes, they look for ways to say it doesn’t happen and they prosecute the underlying crime—which is great. But they ignore the very reason that instigates a lot of these problems.”

Suazo hopes the passage of a hate crime bill will help reduce such incidents, and Martinez, echoing the Racial and Ethnic Fairness Report’s recommendations, says there simply needs to be more minority representation across the board on the other side of the justice system, from cops to judges.

But for Bernardo Repreza Senior, the slain boy’s father, the future is of little consolation. Through a translator, he stated that he’s been in therapy since the incident, that he’s still very confused about the sentences, and that it’s all very difficult to talk about. But he will say one thing, and his words ring with a bitter truth.

“The Constitution doesn’t say anything about race, color, or creed. The law is written. But two things change its meaning: money and race,” he says, his voice cracking with anger. “If the situation were reversed, the Hispanics would go to prison and it might be a capital homicide. The prosecutors wouldn’t have to think too long about that either. Again, there’s no article in the Constitution that says if you’re white or brown or any specific race that you should have special rights; it’s equal. The whole thing is about money and color. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have either for our cause.”

It’s a chilly November morning at Granite High School. A thousand or so kids, some former comrades of Repreza, some too new to have known him, file out of the school and cross the lawn toward a lone, little pine tree. It was planted for Bernardo Repreza not long ago, and the kids adorn the tree with colorful ribbons—not just for his memory, but for the hope that something good might grow from all this. As the students are ushered back to class, a group of four or five Hispanic boys with shaved heads and plaid Pendletons linger a bit longer.

“Andale! Andale!” yells a white security guard, smirking a bit. The boys just look at him.

Sidebar: Straight Edge  – A Definition

Straight Edge is a lifestyle philosophy that sprung from the hardcore punk rock scene of the early 1980s. Straight Edgers preach “clean” living, generally trading alcohol, drugs, and premarital sex for the thrill of the mosh pit. While Straight Edge is an international phenomenon, only in Utah is it considered a gang.

Theresa Martinez, an associate professor at the University of Utah Sociology Department, has studied the Straight Edge phenomenon (she also moderated an October 2000 hate crime panel discussion at the university).

“Utah Straight Edge is very different from Straight Edge across the country,” she says. “Straight Edgers are non-violent nationally. They’re not organized; it’s a very free-flowing thing. They know each other, they hang out together, but it’s not like a branch of the KKK or the Crips or Bloods…

“Straight Edge is to a certain extent about rebellion. But it’s really about structure,” she continues. “The Utah kids who seem to be drawn to it are young, like most Straight Edgers, and they are mainly white. This state is majority white and a lot of these kids are from the dominant LDS faith. And strangely, you get a fascinating mix of mainly white kids from LDS faith who find a kind of rebellion in the Straight Edge movement turned violent. I’ve been told by Straight Edge kids around the country, ‘I’ve never heard of anything like this.’”

Although Straight Edge does not espouse racism, it is worth noting that one of Straight Edge’s predominant websites,, closed down its message board just after the Repreza incident, and had not re-opened as of press time. In an explanatory note to readers, the site administrator posted this: “The truth of the matter is, I am a little tired of seeing morons waste my bandwidth and disk space with racist and inflammatory drivel.”

The board’s final posting, dated November 5, 1998, was titled “Salt Lake City Stabbing Death.”

—John Pecorelli

Sex Pistols Interview

Hide Your Grandmothers, It’s the Sex Pistols!

By John Pecorelli for Alternative Press magazine

It’s just another typical Los Angeles day: sunny, 70 degrees, the Eagles’ “Desperado” playing quietly in a mini-mart next to a nondescript beach motel. Middle-aged bourgeoisie in colorful shorts enjoy a game of volleyball in the sand, sailboats wafting by on the water behind them. It’s all very lazy and serene, but a pall of anxiety hangs over everything. I’m not here to interview Jimmy Buffet, after all. Waiting in that nondescript beach motel are the Sex Pistols.

Never mind that this is a band that existed only two years yet dramatically altered the industry, sound, and scope of rock and roll. They did it with a startling new noise, with combative theatrics, and most of all with words, forcing taboo after taboo down the throats of a docile and unsuspecting English public. They did it despite being banned from the radio, banished from performing in most English counties, and having the top spot in the country’s published record charts left blank when one of their songs occupied it. They did it despite two major labels signing and unceremoniously dumping them almost immediately, and they did it despite record plant workers going on strike, refusing to press the vinyl and sleeves. Most amazingly, the Sex Pistols did it releasing only one LP, 1977’s Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols.

Never mind all that. Mode immediate concerns plague me. This is band whose members “hate each other” (according to their old manager Malcom McLaren), a band that at interview time today hadn’t even rehearsed together in nearly two decades. The press gets on their nerves, one source close to the Pistols had warned me to “watch your Ps and Qs because tensions are running a little high.”


“Aw, you’re all right,” says Johnny Rotten with a grin, plopping down in a plastic lawn chair next to me on the motel patio. “Some of the birds in there fancy ya. ‘Oooh, he’s all right, isn’t he?’ Tell you what—I’ll get their numbers. Hello!”

Stev Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen Matlock (the Psitols’ original bassist, whome the late Sid Vicious replaced in early 1977) wander in. No leather jackets, no Doc Martens, no practiced sneers. And why should there be? The Sex Pistols are, after all, the punk rock archetype.

“Bloody glad to hear it,” nods Rotten. “Quite frankly—no seriously—we’ve been gettin’ this a lot now in the last three weeks: people saying what punk is, what punk isn’t, and how could we do this because it’s not punk. We are the first, foremost. We write the laws—others follow them.”

“We write the laws!” Jones counters jokingly, his normally Cockney voice somewhere between John Wayne and Elvis Presley.

“We don’t mean to be corny,” Rotten continues, staring directly at me, “but first there was Jesus Christ…and then there was the Christian movement.”

“We’re the punk-rock icons and we created everything, boy! Jones undercuts again in his Elvis Wayne voice.

Whether they were “first” or not depends on which historian you consult, and historians are a fickle lot. No one knows this better than the Sex Pistols, who’ve been both vilified and deified, respectively, by music and youth culture historians. Ask the band and they’ll tell you that either way it’s dehumanizing. Starting with early mainstream media coverage in England , the Pistols were portrayed as no-talent dole thugs and/or nihilistic seditionaries attempting to, in the words of Parliament member Marcus Lipton, “destroy our established institutions.” The truly self-destructive antics of bassist Vicious and the band’s sudden, violent implosion in 1978 only lent credence to the “live fast, die young” motif—an easy cliché that still plagues the Pistols. Cook dismisses it all with five words.

“We’re still here, ain’t we?”

Rotten is typically more elaborate.

“Did you ever hear any of us say that we wanted to destroy ourselves? No, you didn’t. That’s all rewrites of history, people not dealing with things the way they really were, but wanting to fit their own little personal bit into it, e.g., make a place for themselves in the scheme of things. And this is the trouble with history—it’s constantly being rewritten incorrectly by people who should know better but who, quite frankly, don’t.”

Rotten takes a large breath. “And another thing!” he snorts with a laugh.

“Get on your soapbox over there, Johnny,” Cook chuckles. “Straight off the cuff, that was!”

Rotten’s smile evaporates. “A bunch of things are off the cuff with me. But I’m constantly thinking about this and I don’t like people having the sheer audacity to tell me what punk is or is not. ‘Punk’ was a title given to us by Caroline Coon first off. That’s the first time I ever noticed it, when she called me the ‘king of punk’ in Melody Maker,” he says, uttering the phrase with mock bombast. “Now I took that as a personal offense—because a ‘punk’ was like, um, Mr. Big’s bum boy in jail.”

“What was the question again?” Cook asks.

“Nonsense,” Jones quickly answers.

Were the media accusations of self-destructive behavior…

“No no no no no no!” Rotten interrupts. “As I’ve always said whenever I’ve done anything, right from day one, the idea is to survive. Beat the rest, not get beaten down.”

“Nothing we ever did was contrived,” Cook adds quietly. “Not a lot of thought went into it, you know what I mean?”

“Hello! My survival is quite contrived, I’ll say that,” Rotten counters.

“No, I mean like self-destructive and all that,” Cook continues. “We wouldn’t have contrived all that. That was just a natural reaction for us, against the music biz, the apathy that was around at the time. There was so much shit in 1976.”

Cook has a point, even if you limit his comment to music. The hit machines of 1976 were ghastly: Genesis, ABBA, Peter Frampton, Grand Funk Railroad…

“Actually, I like Grand Funk Railroad!” Rotten cuts me off, laughing.

“Me too,” agrees Jones.

“They were the noisiest, most awful band in the world and everybody hated them!” Rotten exclaims. “But they had two really good singles, and God, I can’t remember the bloody titles…”

“’The Locomotion,’” Cook mumbles.

“’Some Kind of Wonderful,” offers Jones.

“Let’s stop talking about this or they’ll reform,” says Cook, exploiting the irony. “They’ll reform!”

Since we’re on the topic…while almost every punky band from the past 20 years is coming back to reap the rewards of current green-hair trendiness, no one ever suspected the Pistols would. Rotten’s bitter, eight-year legal battle with Pistols manager McClaren (Lydon vs. Glitterbest) notwithstanding, the initial group breakup in January 1978—after a particularly sour gig on the particularly disastrous U.S. tour—was so sudden and brutal that no one even toyed with notion of reformation. The band remembers it well.

“We didn’t know what was happening on that U.S. tour,” Cook says. “It was all fucked up, and that’s why we split up. Because it was a total disaster from start to finish. It wasn’t our fault really, you know.”

“It was a disaster from our point of view,” Jones clarifies. “Maybe not from the people who went and saw it.”

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Rotten asks, reiterating his often-quoted final words to the crowd at the Pistols’ final show in San Francisco. “The crowds loved it anyway. A whole spectacle. But for us as people I definitely felt very upset about it all. It went horribly wrong and we were distanced. Steve and Paul were in a hotel in one place, I was with the road crew, and Sid in another place. Couldn’t get through to anyone because Malcom [McClaren] made sure of that.”

“Sid was off dead on a San Francisco floor somewhere,” Cook mutters.

“Sid was off dead—but getting money from Malcom to keep him that way,” says Rotten bitterly. “No money came my way. I didn’t even have a plane ticket out of America when you all went off to—I didn’t know where you went, I was just told it was Rio and that was it.”

“The manager just let things go, you know,” says Cook quietly.

“We met briefly at your hotel,” Rotten looks at Cook and Jones, “but the animosity at that point was ludicrous. You couldn’t get past it: ‘You’re a cunt.’ ‘No, I’m not.’ ‘Yes, you are.’ That was about it. It was as childish and stupid as that. And that’s the same way we broke up with Glen [Matlock]. And it was Malcom instigating again. ‘He said, she said, duh duh duh.’”

“He was like some old fuckin’ woman,” puts in Jones. “Just had to gossip about something all the time.”

But one persistent myth about the Sex Pistols’ formation is that McClaren “constructed” them as a living, spitting advertisement for his alternative clothing boutique, Sex.

“That’s all bollocks,” Jones states sharply.

Surprise isn’t the only sentiment greeting the Pistols’ reunion, either—a fair amount of dismay exists, as well. They’ve “sold out,” some say—forget that the band always embraced crass materialism, saying “the more the merrier” to talk-show host Bill Grundy in the late ‘70s (shortly before calling him a “fucking rotter” on live, primetime British TV). Others feel the Pistols shouldn’t be allowed to sully their own legend the way Elvis and the Beatles did. There seems to be an almost pathological social need to keep the Pistols frozen in time like James Dean or Brian Jones—or Sid Vicious for that matter—as icons of eternal rebellious youth. Perhaps the heaviest irony of all is that the original icon breakers, who carried the nothing-is-sacred credo to its visceral extreme, have become all-too-sacred themselves.

“Yes,” Rotten agrees. “People have built the Sex Pistols into a church. Like an icon, something sacrosanct, and fuck that. ‘Fuck it all and fuck the fucking brat. Because I don’t wanna baby that looks like that!’” Rotten says, pointing at me. “’Bodies! It’s not an animal, it’s an abortion!’” (One thing is clear about the reunion: Rotten still remembers the lyrics.)

“He’s right though,” Cook says, back to the point. “People think it’s sacrosanct, can’t be touched, so, you know…they’re so precious about it all.”

“And they had nothing to do with it,” mutters Jones.

“Why shouldn’t we?” asks Cook. “They don’t mind everyone else reforming, but as soon as it’s us they’re like, ‘Ooh, horror!’”

“It’s good,” says Jones. “I’m glad they fucking don’t like it.”

“It annoys,” murmurs Rotten.

“Well, not everyone,” says Cook.

“We get questions like this: ‘Oh, is it hard to shock these days?’” Rotten bristles. “Don’t care about shocking.”

“We never tried to shock,” says Jones simply.

“We never, ever did,” Rotten agrees. “Just shit happens and then you live with it. And here we are now, reforming, and whether they like it or not, it’s shocked them. 

There is a pause. Then Cook adds, “It’s only the people in the media who are shocked. When I was touring with [Edwyn Collins] I was actually asking the fans, the kids coming to the gigs, what they would think of the Pistols, and every one of them loved it.”

“Yeah, but hello?” Rotten butts. “What do we know about the music press? We know that it works for record companies.”

“Exactly,” agrees Cook.

“”In-out,” Rotten mutters tiredly. “They want fads, trends, and they want them disposed of very quickly. They want a high turnover for their dollar. They don’t like anything that looks long-term…”

“Unless it’s safe,” cuts in Jones.

“Unless it’s safe,” sighs Rotten. “You can’t really think of a Kiss song, can you, for instance, that reminds you of a moment in your teen life that really, truly annoyed your parents. I think the only thing your parents ever thought about Kiss was, ‘You’re a prat. Those boys are in lipstick. You’re stupid.’”

“They’re reforming too,” chuckles Cook. “So you got your choice: Kiss or us.”

“Yeah, kiss this, ” quotes Rotten.

“You know what?” Jones suddenly exclaims. “I’m glad people are fuckin’ saying we’re sellin’ out. Good.”

The cavalier attitude proves just how at home the Pistols are with large-scale disapproval. It was never limited to people with sensationalistic agendas (i.e., the tabloid press and politicians); other entertainers, from Rick Wakeman to Karen Carpenter, lodged complaints with A&M when the label briefly signed the Pistols. Even the Rolling Stones—hardly musical virtuosi or establishment darlings in their own day—criticized the Pistols’ musical ability.

In fact, there was such a national effort in England to silence the Pistols that their labeling the motherland a “fascist regime” in “God Save the Queen” seemed deadly accurate. The song reached No. 1 on the national charts in July 1977, just in time for the queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration and outselling Rod Stewart’s long-forgotten chart-topper “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” by a margin of two to one—but sales figures were apparently juggled by the British Market Research Bureau to keep “God Save the Queen” from being listed correctly. Nonetheless, word got out that the Pistols thought the queen “ain’t no human being” and nationalists launched a quick counter offensive—in the form of physical attacks on the band members. In Jon Savage’s wordy book England’s Dreaming (“Excuse me,” Rotten interrupts, “that wasn’t a book. That was a Latin-to-English dictionary with some vague idea of content”), band associate Al Clark is quoted as saying, “Never have I known such national hatred focused on a pop group.”

“We didn’t have no mob to protect us,” Rotten remembers, “and still don’t.”

“We was out there by ourselves,” Cook adds.

“It was terrible! It really was,” Jones mocks, sarcasm sharpening his voice.

“Well, it’s easy laughing about it now,” Cook says.

“You’re a mate that had a car so it was all right for you,” Rotten glares at Jones. “But I had to fucking take the subway.”

“I couldn’t stand it!” Jones says effeminately.

“Oh, okay you bitch,” Rotten chuckles. “I’m going to have to sort him out. But I got razored up, I got scarred, I got stabbed. I’m left-handed and I got a stiletto blade put through here [his left hand, between the thumb and the first finger] and it came out there [his palm] and ruined those two tendons. I’ll never play guitar again, but I never did before,” he smiles, “but that ain’t the point! The opportunity has been denied. And now I want some financial compensation,” he says, affecting McLaren’s nasal brogue. “Not from audiences, but from these cunts!” he howls, pointing at the rest of the band. “They think they’re getting paid! Ah ha ha ha!”

“One time these 20 teddy boys, they gang-banged me!” Jones remembers, smirking. “I said, ‘Okay, the rest of ya now! More, more!’”

“Steve’s led an interesting life,” Rotten says grimly.

Culture’s initial attempts to spit out the Pistols have transformed, over time, to the opposite extreme. The topic of hundreds of scholarly papers in everything from Time magazine to Art Forum, the Pistols have been linked with intellectual movements from Surrealism to Situationism. Word-for-word deconstructions of Rotten’s lyrics have been published, and Greil Marcus’s 500-page tome Lipstick Traces explored in multi-syllabic detail the relationship between the Pistols and the Frankfurt School .

“You know,” Rotten says with a wink, “in some weird way we’re connected with Michael Jackson: we’re all secret Situationists. But it’s such a secret that nobody ever told us!” he yells.

“I’d never even heard of Situationism,” Jones says shortly.

“But I like all that,” Cook smiles. “It makes us sound interesting. If people want to intellectualize about what we did, fair enough, you know, fine. Let ‘em carry on. People are fascinated with the subculture of the U.K. , really. Teddys, mods, rockers, punks and all that stuff—that doesn’t go on as much in other countries. Which is weird, ‘cause it’s such a working class thing, you know.”

“She’s working class, she’s got lobsters up her ass,” Rotten sings, punctuating the tune with a belch and a chuckle.

Joe Strummer and the Clash may have had middle-class educations, but with the exception of Matlock, the Pistols came from Anglo society’s bottom rungs. Jones, barely literate and an admitted kleptomaniac in his late teens, stole most of the band’s equipment early on. ( England’s Dreaming states that microphones and a P.A. were lifted from a Bowie gig, two guitars from Rod Stewart’s mansion, a strobe tuner from a Roxy Music show, and so on.) Cook was from the same neighborhood. Rotten’s family were working-class Irish; one of his earliest jobs, according to his father, John C. Lydon, was to keep rats from climbing into a crane cab—by slashing at them with a hook.

No surprise that the band weren’t schooled Situationists. But more importantly, Rotten believes such social roots mark the single largest difference between them and the early ‘70s New York proto-punk scene, typified by people like Patti Smith and Richard Hell.

“If you know anything at all about the New York scene at that time,” he says, “it was this: they were a bunch of spoiled, upwardly mobile brats . Their parents paid for their condos and apartments and loft spaces, somebody bought their equipment—these boys certainly didn’t have to go out and pilfer guitar leads like what we did just to plug the damn thing into a wall. Did none of that! And rubbished the whole thing by packaging it all in poetry and art and being part of that scene. What the fuck is that? It’s so angst-ridden and ‘ahhhh.’ But hello, when you’ve got no money at all , and no prospects, and you put together a band like this, because quite frankly I think the only money Malcom ever put up was like 20 quid one time…”

Matlock, silent for the bulk of the interview, finally pipes up. “The only difference was that these English guys had a little thing called politics, you know,” he snorts.

“Yes!” Rotten laughs heartily. “That’s exactly right.”

“ America wants to make out like they started everything,” Cook says. “Like anything else. If you watch documentaries on the war, it’s how the Americans won the war. You know what I mean?”

And current American punk fares no better in the Pistols’ ears.

“Rancid!” Rotten howls mockingly. “I don’t mind what they’re doing, but the fact that they look like they’ve just waltzed out of a punk boutique. Even the bondage pants and the tight leather jackets—they all look brand fucking new. They don’t look like they’ve lived in anything. I’d like to see them on a day off…

“What a shame,” Rotten continues. “I don’t mind all the clothes and stuff, even though I think it’s silly and stupid—in L.A. it’s damned difficult to walk around in a studded leather jacket and bondage pants. But where’s the content, boys and girlies? What’s really pissin’ you off? I’m so fed up, and grunge is the same. It just seems to be some bitching session against your parents living in areas like Pasadena . And that’s all well and fine, but don’t call that punk. That ain’t it. Hello, there’s a big world out there. Try getting out of this little suburban daydream that you’re all right closeted into.”

“And Green Day seem like just a living acting lesson or something to me,” adds Cook, “they’re pulling their silly faces and all that.”

“However,” Rotten counters, “I do think the singer, I can’t remember his name, but he has a sense of humor. He did some things on MTV recently that had me and Steve cracked up. We thought, ‘Jesus, yeah. He’s okay, he’s getting it.’ Humor, right? Rather than vindictive dourness.”

“The big thing that every misses,” says Cook, “is that these bands start and people are instantly impressed because it’s trendy. When we started, everyone hated us. There was nothing like us before that.”

Rotten agrees. “We’ve given them their audience, we’ve given them their clubs, we’ve given them their deejays, we’ve given them their spots. Hello? A bit of appreciation would be in order. Not that I expect it.”

“But they do, they do,” jumps in Cook. “Well, they name-drop us. There’s no denying that they’re influenced. What’s strange are these cover versions by heavy metal bands—they can’t even play the songs and they don’t get it anyway. Megadeth, Motley Crue, they’re supposed to be great musicians but they can’t even play our songs!”

And there will be no fodder for bad future covers, either: Pistols have no plans to compose new material at the moment. However, a live CD from the upcoming tour is scheduled for late summer on Virgin Records. Ironically, some of the old problems are already cropping up: For whatever reason, the Pistols are having trouble finding opening acts (even Marilyn Manson balked at the prospect). Booking venues to play, especially in the U.S. , has also been a dilemma for the band. And one Greek promoter has asked Pistols management not to book the band anywhere in Greece, expecting “problems to the extent of riots.”

As for the band members, the novelty of infamy has worn thin; whatever the industry and pundits think, the band just wants to get on with it. Frankly, given all the people it seems to be traumatizing, this tour may be the “punkest” thing the Pistols have done yet.

The final word, of course, belongs to Rotten.

“If you really want to understand punk,” he says, “look no further than the Sex Pistols. We’re working class, we’re all poor. That’s how we started out, and it’s how we’re probably going to end up. And in between, quite frankly, anybody’s money ” —he pauses here, staring hard­—“ is our money .”


Tech Toy Reviews

Assorted tech toy reviews, originally published by Nokia Music website

Tornado Mania

Forget real storm-chasing. Digital Chocolate’s innovative Tornado Mania ­lets you control nature’s most terrible tempest from the comfort—and safety—of your own phone.

The game’s destructo side puts you in charge of the funnel’s fury to level unsightly barns, stadiums, and parking lots, while the SIM-style side lets you whisk up city landmarks from places like NYC and Vegas to build your own eutopic berg. Who needs real-life golf-ball-sized hail? Tornado Mania is the perfect storm.

Homies Dominoes ‘N Dice

Those Homies figurines in the grocery gumball machine are more than just cute little Gs: they’re serious back alley gamers too! Starwave Mobile’s Homies Dominoes ‘N Dice features all the sweetest street-gambling games (like block, crag, and poker dice) as you try to bust outta the hood against all the classic Homies characters—or your own amigos via wireless. Either way, you’ll have a blast racking up skrilla and fancy threads in this stylish barrio block party.

iCat speakers

Looking for a speaker system, a kitschy cool décor piece, and a virtual pet in one? Neither are we—but Hasbro’s I-Cat is making us think twice. The tuneful tabby reacts to match your music’s mood, and you can add your own DJ scratching to the mix by rubbing her nose. She’s friendly with your audio device of choice—but be sure to give her plenty of petting. Leave the fashionable feline untouched too long and she’ll start meowing over your melodies.

Nirvana: From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah

Originally published in Alternative Press magazine

Contrary to recent mainstream-media imagery, Nirvana onstage weren’t much about Kurt Cobain sitting quietly in a fluffy sweater with an acoustic guitar. It seemed poignant at the time, but 1994’s Unplugged in New York captured only the frail, withdrawn side of the Nirvana pathos.

For the other nine-tenths of the band, visit this posthumous compilation. Handpicked by bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl are 16 of the band’s finest blasts (from 10 separate performances dating December 1989 to late 1993).

After an appropriate noise-jam sound-check intro, things kick in with a heavy, hoarse, and sloppy version of “School” from a November 1991 Dutch gig. It’s a solid, hard-edged performance, as are most of this album’s tracks, with other highlights being an absolute punk savaging of “Aneurysm” and a muddy version of the band’s flagship tune, “Spank Thru,” played in relative obliviousness to a Roman audience in November 1991—just as Nevermind was, unbeknownst to Nirvana themselves, beginning to dominate every popular U.S. medium and alter the American music industry. And sure, you’ve heard the tune countless times, but “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is almost priceless here: the irony of Cobain singing “Entertain us, cuz we’re stupid!” followed by 10,000 enthusiastic cheers never fades away.

From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah is essential for anyone even remotely interested in what this band were really up to: “Negative Creep” and “Blew” without the metal production, “Lithium” and “Teen Spirit” without the glossy production, and the fully nihilistic blast of “Tourette’s.” I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I imagine this is how Nirvana perceived themselves: not industry subversives, not Gen X spokespeople, maybe not even pop geniuses. Just a good, hard punk rock band that could kick it live.

—John Pecorelli

Mudhoney: Since We’ve Become Translucent

Originally published in Alternative Press magazine

Mudhoney’s return to Sub Pop after a 10-year hiatus couldn’t be more unlike their start on the famed indie label. Contrast the band’s first 1988 single—the 2:30 blast of nihilism called “Touch Me I’m Sick”—with the first song here, a sprawling, drug-damaged dirge clocking at 8:26 called “Baby, Can You Dig the Light.” That the album closes with an 8-minute Stooges jam called “Sonic Infusion” is telling, too: While they’ve lost much of their leanness and are less direct, they are still Mudhoney, and Mudhoney still digs the Stooges.

The change at drummer to former Lubricated Goat bassist Guy Maddison has brought with it the addition of twisted brass—which taints tunes like “Take It Like a Man” and “Where the Flavor Is” in ways that recall infamous trash-rockers Bloodloss. (This may or may not be a good thing.) Meanwhile, “The Straight Life” and “Inside Job” are some of the catchiest tunes the band has put out in years.

And that also might not be a good thing. While Translucent offers Mudhoney fans the easiest listen of the band’s career, only one or two tracks (notably, “In the Winner’s Circle”) capture that combination of venom, wit, and old-time Northwest angst that made Mudhoney one of the grunge movement’s standouts.

Calexico: The Black Light

Originally published in Alternative Press magazine

That Joey Burns and John Covertino have a rock and roll resume a mile long (including projects with the Friends of Dean Martinez, Victoria Williams, Richard Buckner, and Giant Sand) isn’t necessarily relevant. That they live in Tucson, Arizona—home to the largest mariachi festival in the world—may not be relevant either, but it sure doesn’t hurt. The Black Light is a nearly flawless soundtrack to lonesome Sonoran beauty.

Aside from the opening washes of Link Wray–style electric guitar, most of this record was performed on musical instruments that could be 100 years old: nylon string guitars, trumpets, cellos, shakers, accordions, and mandolins. That, and a shadowy dias de los muertos aura, gives this record its sense of timelessness. “The Ride (Pt. II)” is a lulling, dead-cowboy ditty that employs vibes and Neil Harry’s evocative steel-pedal guitar to put you down in sweet retreat. “Minas de Cobra (for Better Metal)” centers on Rigo Pedroza’s elegant trumpet work, a couple of fiddle players, and a tango groove lively enough to get the skeletons up and dancing again—for a bit.

The epic scope of this record is summarized in the closing instrumental, “Frontera,” which combines country, spy-movie music, mariachi, and ragged blues in celebration of the ultimate triumph of twilight. But even at its darkest, The Black Light still manages a sardonic grin here and there. Best enjoyed with a jug of cheap rioja, a pack of harsh cigarettes, and someone who believes in ghosts.

—John Pecorelli

Orgy band biography

Orgy biography for D1 Music

Orgy biography for D1 Music (Alliance Entertainment’s/Innovative Distribution Network)

The best rock music always combines power and panache. It should pulse with sexuality and pathos, but look damn stylish in the process. It can forge heavy, almost paleolithic riffs— yet retain intelligence, cunning, and pure pop hummability. In short, the best rock is savage, stylish, and entirely guilt free.

But records like that don’t come along very often. Enter Punk Statik Paranoia, the latest and greatest Bacchanalian musical salvo from L.A.-based death-pop quintet Orgy.

“We want to make people stop in their tracks,” says vocalist Jay Gordon. “We may have gone a little bit out there musically on our first two records, but this time we focused on the songwriting. It’s just time to really connect with our fans. We just want people to go, ‘This is worthy.’ And of course we want the girls to think, ‘I want to sleep with every member of that band.’”

A cursory listening of Punk Statik Paranoia should have music fans scurrying to lock up their daughters, sisters, and/or moms. It’s that good. The first single, “The Obvious,” pours layer after decadent layer of sweet distortion over subterranean fuzzbass and deep rhythmic grooves, all infused with a pop hook that’ll haunt your head like a hangover. And it’s danceable.

Throughout the disk, Orgy spin decadent lyrical yarns of love, medication and psychotic associates over addictive arrangements that alternate between chilly, electro-glazed soundscapes and monstrously heavy metallic pop. Dark gems like “Leave Me Out of It,” “Inside My Head,” and “Vague” are some of Orgy’s most focused and catchiest works to date – and ironically their loudest.

“I’m screaming a lot more on this record – but I kind of needed to,” laughs Gordon. “It’s been the hardest of all three to write, and it’s definitely taken the longest. We’d finally finish a song the band was happy with and I’d be like, ‘Hey, are you sure there’s nothing else? Have we exhausted every tip, trick and rule we know that can make this thing better?’ I’m a total neurotic perfectionist.”

Neurotic perfectionism has served Orgy well thus far. Releasing their 1998 debut album Candyass on Korn’s Elementree label as the flagship act inside a year of forming, Orgy struck the singles charts twice with a bruising cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and the dynamic follow-up “Stitches.” As the record soared to platinum-sales status, pundits tagged the Orgy sound a number of ways (“electro-rock,” “industrial synth,” “sleaze rock,” “techno-goth”). But they all seemed to agree on one thing: Orgy’s brave new mix of prismatic synth lines, pulverizing guitar, and New Romantic vocal stylings was fresh and welcome. Even attendees of Korn’s notoriously heavy Family Values Tour approved.

“It was really weird to see how people responded to what we did on that tour,” Gordon says. “We were just being as ridiculous as possible trying to try a bunch of new things. But it worked out – whatever kind of twisted message we were trying to get across, I think we achieved delivering.”

Several more tours, most notably with label-mates Videodrone and ‘80s goth-rock pillars Love and Rockets, helped expand the fan-base, and by the year 2000, Orgy debuted its sophomore album, the sci-fi concept piece Vapor Transmissions, at No 16 on Billboard’s Top 200. The sound was harder this time out, the songwriting more complex, and the record garnered even better reviews than had Orgy’s first, spinning off a pair of strong singles in “Fiction (Dreams in Digital)” and “Opticon.” More successful touring followed, with Orgy once again headlining.

All well and good, but the past is the past. And Orgy’s always been a bunch with a collective eye on the future.

“Forget looking back,” Gordon states emphatically. “We don’t walk around with copies of our first two records or anything like that. We certainly aren’t into the VH1 ‘Where Are They Now’ nostalgia circuit! But I was afraid if we didn’t get this record out soon that I was going to start getting phone calls from them. Instead, I hope the new stuff has VH1 making documentaries like, ‘Why are they still kicking ass? Why are they still blowing shit up? Why are they still pulverizing the planet?’”

While VH1 has announced no plans to create a series called “Why Are They Still Blowing Shit Up?,” Punk Statik Paranoia may well accomplish a different goal of Gordon’s: Converting the few people still out there who remember Orgy mainly as “those guys who did that cover song.” Gordon thinks this record will do it. And if not, well that’s fine with too.

“You know, thank god everybody doesn’t like just the same old thing. That’s why we have fans in the first place,” he says. “There’s never any one set way that things have to be. I think our three records prove that. We’re just doing what we’re into. I always wanted to be in a band with a bunch of Bruce Lees, where everybody was just sick. And we’re getting there – we may only be white belts right now, but we will yet achieve that ultimate dopeness that we so crave.”

Korn’s Greatest Hits album liner notes

Liner Notes for Korn’s Greatest Hits (Epic/Immortal)

“Everything’s been done. Nothing is new.”

That’s what a well-known MTV veejay said about rock and roll back in 1992. And who could blame her? Hair metal was over, the indie scene was stale, and punk was 15 years old–nearly as nostalgia-oriented as the goofy rockabilly and surf bands cropping up everywhere. Nothing was new all right. And as the music industry turned its hungry gaze toward hip hop, more than a few music magazines predicted the death of rock.

But somewhere out in the central California desert, rock was getting grisly new life. Its reanimators were five kids from Bakersfield who’d come of age “standing around in dirt fields, drinking beer and watching people fight,” and their sound was as big and foreboding as nearby Death Valley: the heaviest guitar sludge ever recorded coupled with a singer who used the stage as a personal shock-treatment lab to explore the darkest regions of his psyche. It was powerful enough to be the new voice for millions of fed-up and pissed-off youth the world over–a possibility that struck fear in the hearts of high school administrators and “concerned citizens” everywhere.

Now, ten years, six albums, and more than twenty million records deep into a career that spawned an epidemic of imitators, Korn remains untouchably atop the brutal genre they almost single-handedly spawned. Only a handful of bands ever change the face the rock; fewer still find ways to keep it fresh without selling out their original vision. And that’s the secret to Korn’s long-running success in a music world where 15 minutes of fame is 10 minutes more than most artists ever get–or deserve.

But it hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk….

In the beginning, Korn scared the living hell out of radio, MTV, and the music business in general. Anything too original makes record executives nervous, and they’d heard nothing like Korn : James “Munky” Shaffer and Brian “Head” Welch’s 7-string guitars were tuned lower than a standard bass for an alarmingly sinister growl that made so-called “heavy metal” bands sound downright quaint in comparison. Instead of the usual rock guitar clichés like soloing and power chords, Munky and Head filled instrumental passages with creepy playground sounds, sirens, squeaks – anything to create the bleak, bombed-out urban environment necessary for Fieldy’s booming, hip-hop-schooled bass riffs. Drummer David Silveria anchored everything with a heady blend of power and precision.

This was the perfectly eerie musical backdrop for Jonathan Davis, a former coroner’s assistant who was unlike any singer in rock. Whatever he did–sing, scream, whisper, or wail–was done without a trace of macho metal posing or “I’m-so-detached” alt-rock elitism. Davis raged about the bleak world he knew (schoolyard dicks, local meth freaks, his own abusive home life), and he was too deep in to care about looking cool.

Horrified record execs looked the other way, and Korn languished for years without a deal, earning their famously loyal fanbase with nothing but nerve and an overpowering live show. Eventually someone at Epic/Immortal had the guts to give them a shot, and the result was Korn, a 66-minute blast of grooving hostility that torched hard rock’s rulebook and took the “metal” right out of heavy. When Davis screamed “Are you ready?” in the opening moments of “Blind,” he probably knew that radio and music television weren’t. But the kids sure were, and by the time Korn released its follow-up, 1996’s Life is Peachy, enough fans had amassed to debut it at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200. This album was even more caustic than the debut, and rants like “@#%!” cemented Davis’ rep as one of rock’s foulest mouths, to the point where a Michigan high school kid was suspended for wearing a shirt that merely said “Korn.” Korn hammered the school with a legal order and got the kid reinstated, an early example of their very personal relationship with fans, but by no means the last.

Meanwhile, Korn-sounding bands were popping up like zits. Suddenly 7-string guitars, which had been almost extinct in the pre-Kornmusic world, had become standard in heavy rock. Flattering, sure, but dangerous: Korn didn’t want to be part of some flash-in-the-pan trend, even if it was a trend they invented. So they headed back to the studio with a plan. And while things got just a tad decadent in the studio–captured as it happened for fans via live weekly Internet broadcasts called “Korn’s After School Specials”–Korn stayed focused on the goal at hand: to put as much distance between themselves and the wannabes as possible.

The result was 1998’s well-titled, massively successful Follow the Leader. Debuting at No. 1 on Billboard, the record forced radio to pay attention with the breakaway singles “Got the Life” and “Freak on a Leash,” the latter of which earned a Grammy for Best Short Form Video. Rolling Stone would christen it one of the “essential alternative albums of the ‘90s,” and fans seemed to agree–Follow the Leader went quintuple platinum.

Suddenly, Korn had the clout to start transforming the music in other ways: they put together a hugely successful traveling rock festival with the snidely titled Family Values Tour, which produced a gold-certified comp CD of its own. Then they launched a label (Elementree), going platinum with their first signee’s debut (Orgy’s Candyass). Bigtime or not, Korn knew exactly who to thank for the newfound glory, and decided it was time to give the fans a little payback.

First they chartered a jet, political-campaign style, and held fan conferences all over the country (the Korn Campaign). Then they made time to hang out with a with a terminally ill fan through the Make-A-Wish Foundation–and ended up so down with the kid that they named a song for him (the haunting “Justin”). After that was arguably their biggest fan-appreciation act yet: they put word out that they wanted Korn fans to create the cover for their next record. But more than 25,000 submissions later, Korn was left with the daunting task of choosing one. So they didn’t; when Issues was released in 1999, it came out in four different, equally excellent fan-created covers. (The rest of the submissions went up on the studio wall, and can be seen in the album’s liner notes.)

Musically, Issues set Korn in a new direction, incorporating lush vocal melodies and an “astonishingly broad range of energy levels and textures,” as writer J.D. Considine put it. It debuted at No 1, with a high-charting single in the soaring “Falling Away from Me,” and the band landed an unprecedented, gloriously tasteless guest appearance on Comedy Central’s South Park. When Korn premiered the album at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater–the first rock band to ever play there – even Newsweek’s eyebrows raised.  “For one blistering, bizarre hour at the Apollo,” they wrote, “rock and roll ruled the roost.” Korn’s fan-base embraced the musical change (a trait that would become characteristic of them), sending Issues to triple platinum status. When it was time for the tour, Korn made a move every rock fan dreams of: they let the fans pick the entire set list via Internet vote.

Always ambitious, Korn took the new sound even further with their next opus, 2002’s platinum Untouchables. Adding strings, synths, and assorted electronics to the typically fierce Korn caterwaul made for a “purgatorial symphony,” according to USA Today. Mainstream press like People Magazine and the Wall Street Journal were now on board, and the New York Times wrote, “Now that it has accepted melody as central, Korn reveals new skills and ideas in every song.” Korn got filmmakers the Hughes Brothers to direct the video for “Here to Stay,” which upheld the band’s tradition of illuminating how kids in America have inherited a punishing array of societal ills. The song garnered Korn yet another Grammy (Best Metal Performance); the album debuted at No. 2; and true to form, Korn discounted tickets $10 for all fans under 20 throughout the tour.

Afterward, Fieldy found time to write and produce a solo album, while Davis co-scored the film Queen of the Damned. By the time Korn hit the studio in 2003, it was with a renewed passion for their early sound.  The platinum Take A Look In the Mirror was lean, crushingly heavy, and uncompromisingly vitriolic. The album was rush released to stores–four days ahead of its planned release–when it was discovered that an inferior copy of the music had been leaked to the Internet by an unknown source.  (An unmixed version Korn’s Untouchables album also mysteriously made its way onto the Internet, months before it arrived in stores).

But the brunt of Korn’s anger this time out had nothing to do with illegal downloading–quite the opposite. While “Did My Time” and “Right Now” charted as singles, it was a brilliantly conceived “anti-hit” called “Ya’ll Want A Single?” that made the record’s biggest impact. Slamming the music industry for its cookie-cutter pop mentality, the song’s video flashed disturbing music industry statistics while Korn completely obliterated a record store in response. The anti-corporate message hit a chord with music fans everywhere–including the FCC-plagued Howard Stern.

“It’s probably the most inspirational, the most spectacular understanding of what’s going on in this country right now,” he said. “I believe that young people… are freaking out right now because of what is going on with the religious right. They are angry.  They are angry about the corporations running the music business. They are angry with the radio business… What Jonathan Davis is able to do is tap into the mood of young people.”

Who else but Korn could score a hit by purposefully raising their middle finger to the entire corporate hit-making machine? That kind of uncompromising attitude is fundamental to good rock, and it’s as rare in today’s prefab music world as it was back when Korn began. It’s one of the reasons that–after ten remarkable years and the kind of success that would smother the fire of most like-minded bands–Korn matters just as much today.

Who knows what uncharted territories Korn will traverse in their second decade as a band. But one thing’s certain: this group does not rest on its laurels. Expect big things.

Thanksgiving with Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson: Manson Family Values

For Alternative Press magazine

“Music is one of the only things that matters. I don’t even think kids care who the President is… I think if someone like Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson were going today, they would be rock stars.” —Marilyn Manson

Dateline: Thanksgiving Day, 1995, Omni Hotel, Detroit MI:

“I don’t think I can even sit at the same table as you,” mutters Twiggy Ramirez, flipping a lime wedge at me. Marilyn Manson’s gaunt, cross-dressing bassist is pissed off that I’ve asked for the traditional word of prayer before we cut into the Thanksgiving bird. Okay then, I say, the least we could do is ponder what we have to be thankful for this holiday season.

“I’m thankful I have two middle fingers,” sneers lead singer Marilyn, showing them both to me. “I only wish I had more.”

“I refuse to even eat,” puts in keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, whose bald head and half-foot devil goatee have him looking like a cross between Vladimir Lenin and Nosferatu. “How could I endorse any holiday that symbolizes cooperation among peoples?”

At this point Marilyn announces his plan to sodomize me later, after which he’ll “devirginize” Donny Osmond, who’s staying in the same hotel, too. I tell him I think Donny’s been married, and is no virgin.

“I meant with this,” Manson proclaims, holding up his fist, which is well-stocked with large, horned rings.

That was my first encounter with the Manson family, not exactly holiday dinner at home with Mom and Sis. And Detroit ain’t high on most people’s list of winter vacation meccas, either. But what better place to ponder the decline of American civilization than the economically battered Motor City, and who better to ponder it with than bisexual, flag-burning, devil-worshipping, teen-sex-mongering, you-name-it-they’ll-smoke-it, self-proclaimed “Antichrist superstars” Marilyn Manson?

“I think our band is simply America at its truest,” Marilyn told me at the time, sporting pinkish sequins instead of eyebrows across his bone-pale face. “Caffeine, sugar, violence, drugs—these are all the things we were raised on. And as things start to get more and more out of hand in America, everyone’s trying to take it all back and give you NutraSweet and PG-13 and safe sex,” he says calmly. “But how can they take it away and try to start over? It’s like we’re listening to a cassette tape of the end of the world—I just want to fast forward it and turn it up louder.”

Now we’re on the eve of 1996, sitting comfortably in Times Square’s Millennium Broadway hotel, 28 floors above the 400,000 partiers gathered outside for the world’s largest New Year’s celebration. While Marilyn Manson’s show at the Academy Theatre will be over early, he’s got no desire to join the festivities.

“Fuck celebrating,” he says tiredly, reclining on the queen bed. “Fuck having fun. Fuck loving everybody. What good does that do?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, my initial question regarding Marilyn Manson was not a complex one: Are these guys for real? After all, there are those who claim Manson is not so much a rock-and-roll group as a cartoon drama premeditated for maximum offensiveness (and the free publicity it garners). Regardless, Manson is playing the moral minority like a deck of cheap tarot cards: In the past year alone his group has managed to enrage everyone from PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals) to the Christian Coalition. Even members of British Parliament have gotten into the act, trying to ban the band’s Trent Reznor–produced debut album, Portrait of an American Family, from English record stores, calling it “an outrage against society” (an endorsement most extreme artists can only dream of). But after so much of Marilyn’s figurative and literal devil’s advocacy—he is, after all, an ordained reverend in Anton LaVey’s Church Of Satan—you can’t resist wondering if some of the critics have a point: Is Marilyn Manson simple shock rock, a band whose actual music is to be taken lightly—if at all?

“I would say if that were the case we could be a lot more offensive,” winks Marilyn. “I mean, if our music didn’t matter, we wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation. I think anybody can say what I want to say. Anybody can look like I look. But if the music isn’t something that people can identify with, it’s not going to matter… I think in the end Marilyn Manson is definitely a band, and we like to write songs. But at the same time I think things need to be powerful, need to hit you in the face these days, because there are so many things in your face, and everyone’s so desensitized.

“You really need to pummel them to get your point across.”

Over beers and Camels at the hotel bar, Madonna Wayne (a Schopenhauer freak and Ramones fanatic) is markedly less contemplative about the issue. Sporting an exquisitely loud black and red t-shirt (“the colors of fascism!” he notes gleefully) that reads “I Love Satan,” Madonna Wayne cackles, “Why would I want to look like I have some kind of office job, like most of those plaid-shirt college bands, when I’m in one of the only professions there is that allows me to look completely fucking insane?!”

Twiggy just sighs, toying with the hem of his floral sun dress. “I think the rock star today is dead,” he says quietly. “My stage persona is closer to who I am than my true identity. When I became Twiggy Ramirez it sort of overcame what I was,” he smiles. “I think people can change their identities on the turn of a dime, and I don’t think that means being fake… You’re cheating yourself if you just wanna be one thing when you can be everything. Identity is much bigger than one single thing—but sometimes they call that schizophrenia,” he chuckles.

“Everyone is so worried about being real, being themselves,” Twiggy concludes, “that I think our image actually adds to our message.”

The message, in short: fuck authority. The long version, of course, is a bit more complicated, dealing with the complexities of modern American culture: the inherent contradictions between capitalism and Christianity, the hypocrisy of moralists, the struggle to retain individuality in a consumer society, and, of course, a healthy dose of sex, violence, and Satan. Borrowing from glam, goth, death-metal, punk—hell, name your poison—Marilyn Manson brew up a foul elixir that is pure adolescent fantasy, and one so rife with taboo and aggression it’s sure to rile up mom and pop back at the trailer. And there’s the frontman Marilyn, looking like a cross between Alice Cooper and some modern-day transsexual Willy Wonka, lending typically powerless teenagers a voice against all the societal structures they’re being forced into—something very fundamental in the spirit of good rock and roll.

Twiggy’s description of his band is less dramatic. “Well,” he hesitates, “we’re probably somewhere between the Village People and Slayer.”

“It’s powerful, fascist music mixed with make-up and sex,” cuts in Marilyn. “It’s things that don’t belong together. I like what Boyd Rice said about us. He described our live show as, ‘T. Rex at Nuremburg: It was violent and everyone wanted to fuck.’”

If Social Darwinist avant-prankster Boyd Rice exaggerated, it wasn’t by much. The extreme nature of the music aside, the spectacle itself is both grotesque and entertaining:At a Detroit show, Manson carves up his chest with a bottle, Iggy style, and invites the obliging “cunts” in the front row to spit in his wounds. Lurching around under a giant Ouiji board backdrop, with eight lynched Howdy Doody dolls hanging in clumps around him, the skinny, panty-clad singer douses himself with beer, simulates sodomy with the mic, and regularly challenges local obscenity codes, once fellating Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finch at a Miami gig at which Marilyn’s own parents were present.

“It was the end-of-the-tour period where bands are like playing pranks on one another,” Manson explains. “He was trying to egg us on, running onstage, making a spectacle. But instead of being made a fool of, I embraced the situation: I grabbed him and pulled his pants down and sucked his dick,” he laughs.

But Marilyn’s sexuality isn’t always so playful. In an especially visceral rendition of “Sweet Tooth” at Detroit ‘s St. Andrew’s Hall, he glares into the eyes of a young female fan and screams, “I want you more when you’re afraid…” At another show he asks, “How many of you little girls want to come up onstage,” then, pausing to listen to all the teenage shrieks, adds disgustedly, “and get fistfucked?”

“I’ve always had more of a morbid and ugly fascination with sex,” Marilyn told me later. “I had this weird grandpa who just died last year from cancer, he had one of those tracheotomies. He couldn’t speak, just kind of barked in gravely grunts. He spent most of his time in the basement where he had these train sets and what we discovered when we were about 12 is that whenever he’d turn the trains on he was always masturbating, heavily, to all these real extreme fetish mags, like enema mags and gay porno.

“This was my first real introduction to sex—I guess that’s how I started forming my ideas. Sex has always been an ugly thing for me, not necessarily in a negative way. I’ve always found horrifying things exciting, like pictures of naked women that have been murdered or something were always more arousing than just your standard Penthouse magazine pictures.”

But Manson gigs aren’t merely explorations of sexual ugliness. Fascistic elements are involved that can be downright creepy. That Marilyn Manson enjoy one of the most fanatical followings in rock and roll, almost like satanic Deadheads, is apparent after just a few days with the band: In New York, a pair of teenage girls pop backstage with the word “manson” freshly carved into their chests, while another shows up with a copy of Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, a barely legible inscription scrawled on page one: “Mr. Manson, U are my hope and everything. U make my life tolerable.” In a Detroit, a young couple pleads with the Reverend Manson to seal them in marriage.

Perhaps recklessly, Marilyn occasionally uses this fan devotion to dabble in mass psychology. The charismatic singer will pause the set to lead the crowd in a sort of anti-pep rally: “We hate love, we love hate!” At one point in Detroit during the band’s typical encore stunner, Patti Smith’s “Rock And Roll Nigger,” he and the audience flip each other off in an eerily Nazi-like salute, chanting, “Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate!” Next to me is a middle-class white girl, barely pubescent, screaming it with every fiber of her small body, thoroughly immersed in the violence of the moment.

The following day, in the back room of the band’s tour bus (where a copy of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s Occult Roots of Nazism lays conspicuously), Marilyn addresses my observations with characteristic bluntness.

I just like to see what happens,” he says, emphasizing each syllable. “I’m interested. It’s always been a bit of a science project for me: I like to find out what scares people, what excites them, what makes them angry.

“But you ultimately need to accept responsibility for your own actions,” he continues, the Stooges’ Fun House blaring in the background. “I’m perfectly aware of that—I’ve gone to jail for things that I do onstage. People love to scapegoat and shove the responsibility off on somebody else. Parents are always blaming heavy metal and horror movies for teen suicide, but it’s the deprivation of things that the kids love that drives them to these desperate means, I think. It’s not in the music; it always starts in the family. And anyway, I’ve always said if more people killed themselves over heavy metal that’s fine, too. It’s just less stupid people in the world,” he chuckles.

Twiggy barges in on the interview, looking a few shades paler than normal.

“I’m so mad,” he blurts. “Remember those drugs yesterday that made me sick? You know what that was? Heroin!”

“Really?” asks a disbelieving Marilyn.

“Yes. I pulled a total Pulp Fiction and didn’t even know it!” he yells. “I thought, ‘Well, it’s white,’ and she said, ‘Here’s some drugs for you and Marilyn.’ I go out and cut ‘em up, and think, ‘This tastes funny—is it speed or something?’ It was horrible. It was like I played in a coma.”

Twiggy exits, and Marilyn gets back to the topic at hand, the fact that sometimes the live show seems closer to Nuremburg than T. Rex.

“It’s one of those old clichés about performing when people say sometimes there’s a magic that happens between the audience and the performer and certain nights it really clicks,” Marilyn says. “But that cliché’s kind of true, because different nights you really tap into something powerful and I think it’s not unlike a lot of the things that those people—you know, Antichrists of the past—tapped into.

“There’ll be nights where you move a certain way and the whole crowd reacts to it and it’s very powerful,” he continues. “To me that’s the closest thing to black magic—or whatever you’d want to call that unexplainable supernatural force—that I’ve come to. A lot of people, my being associated with Satanism, come up to me after the show and say, ‘Do you practice satanic rituals?’ and I tell them, ‘What do you think you just saw?’”

Marilyn decides to hit the malls the next day, wanting to pick up some new pantyhose and a few CDs. While we’re waiting for the car in the hotel lobby with Twiggy, drummer Ginger Fish hurries by with a young woman, careful not to look our way.

“That is called the ‘Walk of Shame,’” Marilyn grins crookedly.

“When you leave the hotel with a woman that looked a lot better the night before,” finishes Twiggy.

The woman spots us and comes rushing over, alone, introducing herself and giving Marilyn and Twiggy a peck on the cheek.

“Poor thing,” murmurs Twiggy when she’s gone, “she had to sleep with Ginger just to kiss us…”

“You see, elitism exists even within our band!” Marilyn chuckles.

“You must be a band!” announces a large black woman passing by, dragging her two children over to us. “Who are y’all?”

“Krokus,” Twiggy offers sincerely.

“Can you sign something for me?” The woman digs through her purse, fishing out a Christmas card. Twiggy signs as “Jeffrey Dahmer,” while Marilyn opts for “Adolf Hitler.” She puts the card away without looking at it.

“Here, have some Christmas presents,” Marilyn says as the woman saunters off, tossing her a bag of demos he’s been instructed to listen to by road manager Frankie Callari.

Later, at the hotel, Twiggy’s beaming over his new CD purchases: an Olivia Newton-John greatest hits package, Rainbow’s Long Live Rock and Roll, Lionel Richie’s Front to Back, and a King Diamond disc that contains a written drug warning: “Stop the madness! Drugs are no fun.”

As lines of cocaine are drawn out over the King Diamond CD, Marilyn ruminates almost apathetically on some of the band’s enemies. Predictably, the Christian Coalition pops up, whose power in Manson’s home state of Florida has had the singer jailed several times already.

“In Florida , the separation of church and state is just not real,” Manson observes. “I think that’s one of the reasons Marilyn Manson came from Florida . It’s almost to create a balance between the conservatism and the tourism and the whole phony Mickey Mouse, sunshine bullshit associated with the state. The dark underside had to surface at some point. That’s what happened…

“But I almost have a weird respect for Christianity,” he continues, putting in a Gary Glitter CD, “because I think somebody, somewhere must know that it’s complete bullshit. They’re in on the inside joke.”

“The people in charge of all those religions are very intelligent,” Twiggy concurs. “They’re controlling a lot of mindless fuckin’ people. Actually, I think they’re the most satanic of all, which I respect.”

But the indignation is not limited to the Far Right. Animal rights group PETA has vocally protested the band’s occasional use of a chicken in a cage as an onstage prop. Marilyn finds an amusing irony to the situation.

“In the past we had six-year-old Robert Pierce, who sang on our album, onstage in a cage,” he says. “We let him sing ‘My Monkey.’ And my point to PETA was, ‘Where were you when this kid was onstage?’ Which I think is a bigger concern than an animal used for McChicken sandwiches. I think a lot of these people, for lack of any other identity sometimes, have to identify themselves with things that they don’t like and attach themselves to some sort of morality. I happen to like animals, you know, I have pets. But at the same time that kind of fanatical reaction to having a chicken in a cage —I think these people could probably spend their time doing more important things—bombing abortion clinics, for example,” Marilyn chuckles sardonically.

“So we’d stopped having chickens in cages,” he continues, “and they just kept sending the police to our shows to make sure like a year after the fact. I wrote them a letter stating, ‘Each time I hear our name brought up in association with PETA, I’m going to torture an animal in the privacy of my own home.’ We haven’t heard from them since.”

Even the band’s own distributor, Interscope Records, was reluctant to carry them at first, concerned particularly with the serial-killer monikers. But when Trent Reznor (who signed Manson as the first act to his Nothing Records, solely on the strength of their demos) started shopping the band around to other distributors, Interscope relented.

Marilyn shrugs it off. “I think [Interscope] were just a little nervous at first, which is understandable. If they weren’t,” he laughs, “then I must be doing something wrong.”

Marilyn’s New Year’s message to the crowd at the sold-out Academy Theatre is a simple one: “Rehab is for quitters!”

The band then plows through a tight, invigorating set which culminates in Marilyn giving Daisy Berkowitz a shove, sending the quiet, introspective guitarist careening over the monitors and down into the security pit. Afterward, the band fights its way through the Times Square crowd and piles into a van headed for a party at MTV VJ/irritant Kennedy’s apartment.

Wandering around Kennedy’s pad, filled with industry bigwigs and other musicians, it’s clear Marilyn’s not comfortable. “Look, there’s J Mascis,” he says, pointing out the Dinosaur Jr. frontman. “We should kill him.”

A 30-ish long-hair pops over to us and offers Marilyn a pill.

“What is it?” Marilyn queries.

“It’s X,” he proclaims, “it’ll make you love everybody.”

“Sorry,” Marilyn snickers, “you’ve got the wrong guy.”

I wander around, picking up snippets of band conversation. Daisy, who looks almost conservative by Manson standards in green hair and P-coat, is having a weird reaction to a combination of hash, X, and booze. Twiggy comforts him with a reminder of far worse chemical gumbos the band toyed with during their brief relocation to New Orleans : Special K, crack, Tic Tacs, bits of human bone—in one pipe.

In another room Madonna Wayne corners a fellow partier, animatedly sharing some suicide advice the son of an old war veteran gave him.

“If you have a shotgun,” he says excitedly, “and you pour a little bit of water down the barrel, and you put a big fuckin’ deer slug in it, the shell will push the water up the barrel when it fires. The water actually scours the inside of your skull, it’s like a high-pressure water cleaning, blows everything right out, like a guaranteed, can’t-lose kill! Also, he said you can just hold a grenade right under your chin and pull the key—boom, ha ha ha!”

It’s clear after an hour or so that everyone wants a new scene, and Marilyn and I eventually end up back at the hotel to conclude the interview.

Approaching five in the morning, with the sun creeping up on a new year, Manson becomes introspective, speaking modestly and openly about his true motivations.

“I think I’ve grown to become all the things that tormented and terrorized me as a child,” he says quietly. “Like in junior high school when I was constantly being bombarded with all this propaganda about Armageddon and the rapture, and if you’re not born again you’ll be left to suffer, the Antichrist—all these terrifying things that I was being lied to about. When I finally grew up and realized it wasn’t true I felt almost obligated to make it come to pass, just call them on their bluff to pay them back for all the lies…

“Don’t get me wrong,” he continues, “because I love paradoxes, but America’s so confusing. Capitalism tells you if you work hard enough you’ll be better than the next guy—but everyone’s created equal. So what’s it gonna be? And everyone’s so down on child pornography, but then the big thing, just a year ago, was the waif model, who looked like a 14-year-old, flat-chested and skinny, dressed like a schoolgirl. I mean, they send out so many mixed messages it’s no wonder there’s Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers—they don’t know what else to do. And then when you put the Christian guilt in there, that’s when people just start breaking apart, you know. It’s no wonder everyone wants to kill themselves and kill everyone else.”

Perhaps the key to this enigmatic performer, who publicly toys with every supposed social ill that Middle America abhors, from drugs and Satanism to bisexuality and fascism, lies in the convincing lyrics from “Lunchbox,” a melodic hard-rock anthem, and the band’s best song to date: “The big bully try to put his finger in my chest/Try to tell me, tell me he’s the best… And when I grow up/I wanna be/A big rock-and-roll star/When I grow up/I wanna be/So no one fucks with me.”

“It tells the story of how I developed such a chip on my shoulder,” Marilyn says. “It just goes back to high school and not being someone…” he pauses, “…that people liked. I think a lot of people can identify with that—getting your ass kicked a lot for being the skinny kid or whatever. And I think that gave me an ‘I’ll show you’ kind of attitude, which, after reading a lot of stuff on serial killers, I found I identified with them because they had that same attitude. But they didn’t really have an outlet. I’ve found a lot of similarities between artists and musicians and serial killers.”

We talk a little longer, about the band’s propensity for back-masking, about Marilyn being misquoted into a “voice of reason” in a Family Circle article on moshing, and again about the allegations that Marilyn Manson is merely one giant, ill-intentioned charade. Like everything else, Marilyn confronts the issue head-on.

“I’m almost inclined just to let people have their opinions,” he says. “If that’s what they wanna think, that’s what they wanna think. But know that if Marilyn Manson were just merely a creation, when it was created six years ago, it is something that devoured its creator. Because it has consumed me and become everything that I am. And I really don’t have anything else.”

Eventually the phone rings, and Marilyn explains that a friend of his is coming up to do some drugs. As I get up to leave, Marilyn tells me there’s one topic we haven’t yet addressed.

“I think a lot of people may misunderstand what type of person I might be,” he says quietly. “I consider myself actually, and this sounds almost funny, a sensitive person. I think that’s why I’ve constructed such a hard shell around myself, because things do affect me a lot and I am probably pretty fragile on the inside.

“People think maybe that I hate everything, that there’s nothing in the world that I love. But there are things that I care about enough that I would give anything for. I think it’s just the fact that I’m hurt by… my dissatisfaction with so many things around me. It’s like, I guess, just being offended by how much everything sucks, that I can’t help but to be in a bad mood all the time.”

And here he cracks a smile.

10 Unessential Rock Albums

Originally published in Alternative Press magazine

Disclaimer: A.P.’s spineless editor in chief wishes to make it known that the opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of the A.P. staff, our imaginary parent companies, everyone buying coffee at Starbucks right now, or the office cat.

Ever force-fed yourself the likes of The Canterbury Tales or Citizen Kane simply because some snob in a turtleneck made you feel like dirt for quoting Crank Yankers at a cocktail party? Okay, that’s a bit personal, but we’ve all been victims of critical hype. Fact is, critics can be agonizingly off-base, even when they agree. So heed these words and give an Anna Nicole–wide berth to these unessential “essentials” you’ve no doubt been told to revere.

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon Capitol Records
A space-rock concept piece featuring sax, gospel singers, and producer Alan Parsons (ask your parents; watch them snicker) may sound like a recipe for comic relief. But this heap was hailed by hi-fi snobs and headphone geeks the world over, and spent nearly 25 years in the Billboard Top 200. You’d think a run like that would preclude some good songwriting.

Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks Columbia Records
Plodding, unpleasant, and tuneless (even by mid-‘70s standards), the ingenious songwriting of Dylan’s early- and mid-‘60s material is conspicuously absent. The desire to break new ground is supplanted by a simple need to stay afloat. Dylan sounds creatively drained and spiritually empty—and not in a hip, Beck-ish kind of way.

Bruce Springsteen: Born in the U.S.A. Columbia Records
Inarticulate political ranting is a hallmark of lefty rock, but Springsteen’s message was so vague that the respectably unpatriotic title track here became synonymous with American redneck flag-waving. The only thing that saved these limp fist-pumpers from becoming timeless football chants was their lack of melody.

Patti Smith: entire catalog
Exactly how a pretentious hippie came to help personify punk is a riddle of history akin to the origins of the Easter Island monoliths. Bad poetry and feeble jamming smacks more of a Doors bootleg than the straight-ahead roar of true NYC punk. But at least Smith had ugly hair.

Kiss: entire catalog
Although Kiss were critically reviled, positive remarks from sensible folks like the Melvins and Tom Morello lead a new generation of music fans to believe the band were something more than a sub-literate version of the New York Dolls. Historical note: The bias against drummer-written songs likely has its origin with Peter Criss’ horrific piano ballad “Beth.”

Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues Sire Records
When the Beasts of Bourbon sang “I want to get funky, but I don’t know how,” they were addressing the true white man’s burden. And there’s arguably no better example of bone-white funklessness than Speaking in Tongues, an arrestingly thin attempt at electro-funk from these Rhode Island art-school wanks/pop genii.

U2: The Unforgettable Fire Island Records
An extremely forgettable album in which a fiery post-punk combo paint with watercolors instead of blood. The result is one dull study in blurriness and one good song—“Pride (In the Name of Love)”—that propelled this morass into multi-platinum status. Ambient-period Brian Eno in the producer’s chair did little to help the band tighten up their songs.

The Police: Synchronicity A&M Records
When a guy calling himself Sting started messing with New Age jazz and un-ironically dreaming up song titles like “Tea in the Sahara,” punk had finally become as arrogant as the prog-rock it had set out to destroy. Just check out Sting on the album cover: shirtless, buff, and reading Jung—a picture is worth a thousand bad rhymes.

Elvis Costello: entire catalog
Back in the day, Elvis Costello seemed like one of those disturbing cultural anomalies—like Nazism, the wine cooler, or Patrick Nagel—whose momentary popularity could only be explained by temporary mass psychosis. But 25 years (and many more pounds) later, Costello somehow remains exulted by an establishment that buys scant few of his albums.

Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat Verve Records
Apparently, Lou Reed and crew used up their best ideas on the debut album with Nico. The few gems here are so buried within self-absorbed mire like the eight-minute “The Gift” and the 18-minute “Sister Ray,” only professional miners should investigate.

—John Pecorelli