Song of the Day: Marilyn Manson, "The Suck For Your Solution"
I haven't been on a bicycle in years, but for a brief period when I was 14, I was pretty much on it every day. My routine shook out like this: I would arrive home from school, grab a snack, and then immediately hop on my 10-speed and ride the three miles to my local mall. (Though I was using my pedal power and there were copious trails available through the ample woods surrounding my neighborhood, I was definitively an indoor kid.) With available but still-limited disposable income, most of my purchases were CDs—at less than 20 bucks a throw, they always felt like the perfect expenditure for a budding cultural elitist like myself. This was long before digital music blew the bottom out of physical record stores, so there were a shocking number of outlets in which I could buy music: the mall contained both a Sam Goody and a Strawberries, and within easy striking distance I could also visit Coconuts, Media Play, Lechmere, and Borders. Because of the density of the collection of stores, they not only offered music that was priced competitively but also had exceptionally wide selections—I was able to run across most of the indie I read about in Spin and could still get the new Pearl Jam at a reasonable rate.
One of these after-school mall adventures led me to discover the opening of a new store called Hot Topic, which inexplicably survives today (I have been in two different Hot Topics since moving to Los Angeles). Outside of a handful of cultural touchstones (Doctor Who, Minecraft, and Benedict Cumberbatch), the Hot Topic oeuvre remains the same: Just as you could in the '90s when it first appeared before me, you can still get a wallet chain, hair dye, black light posters, and mass produced t-shirts from your favorite rock bands.
I avoided Hot Topic initially, because I knew for a fact that I could hang with neither the regulars nor the staff of that particular emporium. Even though I had heard Jesus & Mary Chain records and was no stranger to mosh pits, I still felt like an imposter next to the over-pierced denizens of Hot Topic. But I finally got up the nerve to go in there when I realized I desperately wanted a Marilyn Manson T-shirt. Antichrist Superstar was a relatively new release, and I was fully obsessed. I took buying band T-shirts very seriously—wearing one meant an allegiance to a set of ideas that went beyond the contents of the album itself. I was a huge fan of the music on Antichrist Superstar (the singles were great, and "The Reflecting God" was my go-to mixtape deep cut), but I also was deeply seduced by Manson's control of his own image and his ability to manipulate media. He was hated by pearl-clutching parents' groups and school principals alike, and Manson used his demonization as a tool to try to extract tolerance. Plus, I was a restless Catholic who was just starting to realize a lot of what I had been taught about the world through the church was bullshit.
So I bought a Manson shirt (in fact, it was this Manson shirt). I thought I was merely pledging my allegiance to a band I liked, but everyone else assumed I was going to inject heroin into my eyeballs and shoot up my high school. The terror that Manson traded in was real, and wearing that shirt provided my first real true counter-cultural thrill. Sure, Manson was a multi-platinum selling artist that millions of kids listened to (indeed, he was mainstream), but the stigma that came along with supporting something others felt was too transgressive was thrilling and rewarding. I don't necessarily miss Manson—dude still makes records and is pretty good at it—but the idea of fear in pop music (which I also complained about four damn years ago) is pretty much gone. Since there's no mono-culture, there are no cultural Boogiemen to condemn and/or rally around. Kanye West is probably the closest we get, and even then, the fear he spreads is more about the dangers of ego and the pitfalls of fame than anything tangible. Here's hoping Miley Cyrus encourages us to take more drugs, then burns a Bible, because fear is where the fun is.
So listen to this Marilyn Manson song from the Private Parts soundtrack (about another oft-vilified media icon who struck fear in the hearts of PTA moms). It rules, and reminds me that the mainstream used to be deeply weird. I miss it.