Somebody Make My Movie

Prussia Norven stood behind the one-way mirrored steel surface of his warball. He could see the outsides of the 19 other warballs, each one white from his side, each one containing a person that was almost certainly as terrified as he was. They could talk about tactics all day, but really your only options were to avoid getting eaten. Many years they’d watch people try to knock each other into danger, or construct elaborate puzzlesque plots before the event only to find themselves eaten.
He could see the four beasts, now hooked into slumber, the two protuberances, one behind each ear, each controlled one of the chemical feeds that ran directly to their brains. They had been bred, genetically modified to be bigger, stronger, fiercer, to devour everything put in front of them and then they had been trained specially to consume the rolling white forms that swam before them.
The coliseum – each seat filled with a screaming, writhing person – was divided into four color-coded quadrants. Each seat had, in front of it, a remote control with only one button – the chemical that now kept the hippo docile and tranquilized needed to be overridden by the other chemical, which was administered in tiny amounts by each pressing of each button. The more buttons were pressed, the fiercer the animals got, and the more warballs they were able to eat. When the time came, people would mash these buttons so hard that almost a third of the remote controls would have to be replaced outright. Every year there were a couple of reports that people had broken theirs before the game even started. Prussia saw people now, banging on their buttons, hoping that some fluke mistake would enable them to activate the beasts early, to have them chomp down on the empty, ball-less air.
They would come out soon, tethered to the giant steel and concrete struts that everyone swore wouldn’t hold this year (they held every year, yet another urban legend that dwelled around the constant subconscious fantasy of the loss of control), driven mad by the influx of adrenalizing chemicals to their primitive animal brains. They would have no thought but the drive to consume each and every one of the competitors.
Each of their warballs was hooked up to a computer that would broadcast where it was in perpetuity – eventually when the warballs were broken down and digested, and even excreted, the beacons would still be whole and broadcasting. A beacon had never once, in the history of the game, been lost. The quadrant that was responsible for torturing their beast into consuming the most of them was given the prize for that year. This year it was an exemption from the enormous taxes that plagued their day-to-day existence. Last year each of them had had their house torn down and rebuilt with the newest models. Every year it was rumored to be an amnesty from the law for a year. That one was even more commonly-spread than the one about the supports not holding.
The one that remained would also win a prize – namely that he will not have died. There wasn’t a lot of thought given to how the twenty were selected. Some of it was by a lottery somewhere, many were criminals trying to seek an alternative to amnesty. The Warball offices had a great deal of governmental pull, and were able to make a lot of different things happen. You went to them and explained to them what it was you wanted to make up for, how it was you wanted to atone, and they made what arrangemets they could so that your probably sacrifice would not be in vain.
Winning contained no prize other than that – and it was the same prize as playing and losing. But you got to be alive, and you got to take a ride around the fame circuit, a living curiosity. Most winners did pretty well for themselves, albeit many with a new, and completely understandable, skittishness. A sort of beast-centric PTSD.
The lights were coming up, and so was the crowd. The noise started, the event was underway, the gate in front of Prussia rolled down, and his warball hit the field. It was time to win, or it was time to lose. The Beasts woke.
They were some hungry, hungry hippos.

Things That Didn’t Suck 5-20 to 5-26

1. Lil B’s new classical album
Lil B is an interesting rapper, a knowledgable historian, and a pretty good producer, but what’s interesting about his career is almost entirely outside of the music that he makes, which ranges from the good to the “oh my god why is this still going on?” The thing that keeps me coming back is his acknowledgment of the ephemerality, and his ability to embrace the inch-deep and mile-wide nature of internet music disbursal to construct a string of records that are seemingly only meant to be listened to until the next one comes out, a month later. That said, the two things that make me happiest about this record (which is fine. It’s fine.) are that 1) it’s available only through itunes1 and that it costs ten dollars, which makes it officially the second Lil B release you have to pay to hear. Also that he refers to it as his “classical” album, which is mostly funny when you remember that he’s able to detail every single extant subgenre of hip-hop, but when he’s not rapping over the beats he makes, it’s “classical”. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

2. Taking “The Mormon Angle” on Rick Santorum’s non-laughter
First off, I am not interested in talking about any politicin as a politician with any of you. Ever. This is not about Mitt Romney as a politician, or as a presidential candidate. Seriously. This is about Andrew Sullivan deciding that the fact that Mitt Romney’s public “laugh” – pretty universally agreed to be awkward I AM NOT TRYING TO TALK ABOUT THE MAN AS A POLITICIAN – is another entre into talking about his goddamned mormonism2, as though that’s the only way he can ever be discussed. You know who else is Mormon? Alan Sparhawk 3. I mean, I don’t think he’s running for office or anything, but it’s still possible to oh, just watch him eat a cake4 already, that’s what this is about anyway.

3. The vending machine at ONAT Compound East
It hasn’t had anything in it except Brisk Lemonade for several months, and every time it dispenses Brisk Lemonade (which it only does if you forget that it doesn’t have anything else in it and hit all the buttons indiscriminately), it dispenses two of them. On the one hand, Brisk Lemonade contains neither caffeine nor alcohol, and is therefore absolutely useless as a carbonated beverage. On the other hand, I have two of them now!

4. The Rise of High-Alcohol Spirits
I get that sometimes people like to get drunker quicker, I do. But it would seem, to me, that higher-alcohol liquor would actually mean that you got to the point where you were no longer enjoying your drink if it was getting you drunk after literally a few sips. More to the point, I don’t really understand the demand, necessarily. I get that there are some people that like it, but why a waiting list years deep for alcohol that’s closer, chemically, to Scope than any extant beverage? There really is simply no accounting for taste. Which is why it’s on the list of things that don’t suck: with all of these people gulping down their aged paint stripper, that means the world’s precious supplies of Buffalo Trace will be left to me, and my reasonable, flavor-enjoying palate, running through my reasonable, non-obliteration-appreciating brain cells.

5. Snooki is going to have a boy
I’m not in the business of complaining about who gets to be famous, and far be it from me to say that someone shouldn’t have kids, and even further be it from me to say that someone automatically will do a good or bad job – and I am fully armed with the knowledge that good people can come from bad parents and vice versa, and that surprising people end up good parents, and really, I got it, but holy shit given her circumstances can you imagine the damage potential for a daughter?

1 ?!
2  via South Park, which should create some sort of “this is everything I know about Mormonism” singularity*
* yes, I know I’m not using that word right.
3 please click that link+. Not only is it a great song, but it’s actually the greatest music video ever made, and it gives you an excuse to finally utter the phrase “I was so thankful to see that second glass of milk.”
+ the only thing more ignored than a plea to click a link buried in a footnote is an embedded footnote talking about it.
4 I tried to work in the Mighty-Ducks-approved insult “cakeater” in there somewhere, and then didn’t, because THIS IS NOT ABOUT POLITICS.

Six Seasons and F*ck You: An Argument Concerning Community

The prolonged, much-fretted-over third season of Community is over, and it was fabulous. It was as good a season of television as I’ve ever seen, and I will happily stand by each of its extant seasons as bold and fulfilling steps forward for the medium. A mid-season pull led to a creatively-powerful run of episodes that brought it to an excellent conclusion (if the weakest of the three). The fans of the show have “won,” and it will be returning for a twelve-episode order in the fall, all in support of the much-rallied-behind cry of “SIX SEASONS AND A MOVIE,” which is an admirable run for any series, and one to shoot for.
Except that at the end of its third season, its showrunner (a man who, by all accounts, is as hard to work with as he is brilliant – which is to say, more than slightly) has been fired, all of its original team of writers have left, and one of its stars (Chevy Chase, a man who, by all accounts, is as hard to work with as he is brilliant – which is to say, more than slightly) is vocally dissatisfied with the role he has been given. On top of that, the show has spent three seasons topping itself over and over again, and the upper limit has begun to show. So why do we want more1?
A television show has a lifespan, but any creative endeavor also has a lifespan. Embedded in that footnote you just skipped was the separation of television the creative endeavor from television the commercial endeavor, and the problem that is, in many ways, unique to television: a movie or a record hits or misses based on timing and the cultural conversation and a billion other things. Television does as well, kind of, but it doesn’t just launch once: it launches every week2. That’s a difficult way to sustain something – a movie needs to be good for two hours, a television show for anywhere from six to thirteen. It’s a miracle that any television show is ever good for an entire solid season, much less for more than one.
Community logged three pretty-much-unimpeachable seasons. Sure, ups and downs, but generally it was the best show in any given week, and it has more than a handful of episodes that are among my favorite things ever to air on television. So why keep going? The circumstances are so adverse, the odds so stacked against them, that it wouldn’t be quitting to pack it up and go home (as the writers have, and as NBC has forced Harmon to do), it would just be letting a great project exist on its own, and be great.
Why do we need six seasons? Why on Earth do we need a movie? Why do we even need a fourth season, with the cast and crew working against a network that seemingly doesn’t want them?
There’s nothing wrong with three bulletproof seasons, and there’s everything wrong with doubling the run of your show by staggering, bleeding, through seasons where the elements are no longer in place and the show has lost so much blood that it can no longer properly even be called “alive.” I mean, seriously, The Office is on, what, an hour later? We are literally seeing what happens when you don’t pull a show before its on life support. Television doesn’t have to be a constant. Community has gotten a bunchy more episodes than a lot of equally-great television shows, and it would have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of for not existing anymore. It certainly does not need a movie3. And next year, when the twelve agreed-upon episodes struggle, we’re probably going to watch this once-mighty and unified fan base fracture, into the Harmon and post-Harmon camps (obviously I’m already casting my lot there). And it will probably be really sad to watch talented actors who once were able to capture a kind of comedy that is rarely ever present in any form make jokes that are, in all likelihood, not going to be as good.

But you know what? I hope I’m wrong, and that the show continues to be a wonderful, enlightening journey through television for as long as there is television, because that is what I hope for every single show in existence. Community has been more than funny, at its best it’s made me happy. It has been the best show to air in a very long time, and I feel that my life is better for having Community in it. And that is why I feel that it would be ok if we allowed it to rest, and the people to go on to do other things. They’re good enough to do it, and sometimes it’s ok to put the horse out to pasture before it breaks its leg and you have to shoot it.

1 I feel that I have to say at this point that I’m not inhuman. I understand that there is an economy of people – technical people, network people, etc. – who all depend upon Community to put food on their families. I do not wish for anyone to become unemployed, but when you hitch your financial wagon to the horse of artistic endeavor, you have the added wrinkle of that endeavor no longer turning out to be a commercially-fulfilling enterprise. In the case of Community, since its audience is so small and so specifically dedicated to what the show does*, that commercial fulfillment relies heavily upon the creative fulfillment its audience is looking for. In short: I know why people want to keep their jobs, and I’m specifically ignoring that there’s lots of people involved. I hope that the show is allowed to die a peaceful death, and that every lighting designer and script-stapler involved goes on to find as much work as they’d like to have.

* this is not a value judgment. Modern Family is also a fulfilling, creatively-rewarding show that gajillions of people watch, that could lose some of its artistic momentum or some of its audience to little detriment to the show or the network. My statement is only that in the case of Community, the two are quite likely to be the same thing.

2 I’m oversimplifying – the ratings of the beginning of a television show nearly always dictate the future ratings. That’s far from always true, and it’s much more complicated than I’m going to go into here, partly because that’s all math, partly because I’m by no means an expert, and mostly because it’s boring.

3 seriously. If any one of you can explain why on earth the “and a movie” is a part of that damn hashtag, I will give you all of my share of the revenue from this website for an entire month.

Things That Don’t Suck 5-13 to 5-19

1. The continuing cycle of death and rebirth that is Van Halen
I’ve already said what I have to say about Van Halen the entity, but it does my heart glad to know that their weird consistency even extends to them still, y’know, not being able to stand one another. I would’ve been terribly disappointed if they had reappeared, gotten along, hugged each other every day, and continued to stack cheddar with a rake and a wheelbarrow. Mainly because that would mean that Michael Anthony was the problem the whole time, which is exactly the sort of thing that makes me happy. But alas and alack, Michael Anthony is still boring, Van Halen still full of seething hate for each other, and the moon still waxes and wanes accordingly. It’s that artistic American Spirit at work, and how can that not bring a smile to your face?

2. Masseuses cold making shit up
I mean, this story had everything from the get-go: lurid tales of propositions and homosexuality featuring a guy that everyone knows is pretty much a nutjob and is just waiting for more juice on. And it was reported, and the world reacted with a resounding “oh. Huh.” And then….the masseuse decided that maybe it didn’t happen that way after all. Now, sure you can go and assume that Travolta’s friends in the Scientology front offices paid someone to blah blah blah whatever, but that’s significantly less likely than a guy waking up, saying “Hey, it’d be pretty cool if I generated some shit for myself here, maybe I’ll tell everybody John Travolta tried to fuck me!” And when John Travolta said “no I didn’t and you can’t say that about people” his response was “Fair enough, I guess John Travolta didn’t try to fuck me!” It remains to be seen what the other people that came out and said “me too!” are now left with. Basically it’s the damn-the-torpedoes American Spirit at work, and how can that not bring a smile to your face?

3. This paper shredder
Oh, sure, your regular cross-cut will get the job done just fine. I mean, The Penguin was able to put Christopher Walken’s incriminating documents back together after his shredder turned out to be sub-par, but most of us aren’t ever going to run into a super-villain, so we can go with the regular models, the kinds you buy at Home Depot. But imagine: you’re the sort of place that has documents so tough, so intense, so eminently dangerous that in order to destroy them, you need a machine that costs as much as seven modest domestic sedans. What on Earth would you do if you found that hole in your life, and had a need to fill it, and the fine people at Datastroyer didn’t have you covered. And they know they’ve got their market captive. Click that link. See that? All orders over $25 are eligible for super-saver shipping except for that one. Oh they know that you’ll pay. Because when you need a high-volume document-obliterator, you’ll come to them. And they will provide. Basically, it’s the entrepreneurial American Spirit at work, and how can that not bring a smile to your face?

4. Roger Sterling
Yeah, yeah. Another person talking about Mad Men. But imagine if you will, a world in which Mad Men is not the glacial period-soap-opera we know and tolerate, but was instead the zany, madcap adventures of Roger Sterling, witty racist misogynist, and his hot french-canadian girlfriend that he totally stole from his friend Don1? That is a world in which things are considerably more awesome. Why wait until this week for Roger Sterling to make these lists? Because it wasn’t until this week that Roger Sterling asked “how Jewish are they? Fiddler on the Roof cast or audience?” That’s why. That’s that plain-spoken American Spirit at work, and how can that not bring a smile to your face?

5. Battleship
Look. If Peter Berg loses all of the money, then he won’t be allowed to continue to make movies, and all that awesome stuff we heard when last I typed here will no longer be in effect, and we may never hear from Coach Taylor again. It’s bad enough that Tim Riggins can’t swing a pen without signing a contract to be in a movie that is makes zero dollars2, but jesus christ he doesn’t have to drag good people with him. And don’t even get me started on Landry. He should’ve known better3. So let’s all be really excited to watch people shout numbers and letters at aliens or whatever it is that we’re doing and watch some damn ships blow up! There’s got to be something it’s better than! Probably even something you like! Go see Battleship. You guys owe me for not watching Best Friends Forever anyway. I’m cashing in those chips. THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE. This isn’t about the American Spirit, this is about getting MRS. COACH’S GODDAMNED HAIR UP ON A GODDAMNED MOVIE SCREEN. Do your part.

1 because really, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
2 except Battleship, of course. That movie is going to be super-awesome and make a billion dollars.
3 although the only thing I’ve seen him in since the demise of Friday Night Lights is four minutes or so of Paul.

Things that didn’t suck 4-29 to 5-5

1. Mexican Independence
I had a dream once that Mexico was still under the control of the Spanish government, and the Spanish Government used secret undersea tunnels to move a bunch trained dogs into Mexico, and then they stormed the border of Texas as the first wave of the invasion. They didn’t actually get very far, but they did start to breed with normal dogs, and inside of ten years, most dogs in the Southern half of the United States were half dog, half death-dogs. As a precaution, the Spanish government had made the dogs not only receptive to rabies, but attractive to the infection, both as a control on their lifespan and a way to make things worse for us. The country was laid to waste by rabid, feral semi-death-dogs. The world is not like that dream, because Mexico is an independent nation. You can’t tell me that isn’t a thing that doesn’t suck.

2. Cleveland not getting blown up
Actually, armed with the knowledge that no one got blown up, the reportage of this story pretty quickly became an amusing lesson in the importance of “planning” and “knowing what you’re doing” – they did a terrible job of being secret, of being anarchists, of location planning1, of planning for their own escape. Really, everything. So hurray for an intact city, hurray for parks, and hurray for anarchists that, were I inclined to be an anarchist myself, I’d imagine would be really frustrating to that cause.

3. Brandon Weeden
It’s possible that I’ve remarked that I don’t know anything about football. Not a single goddamned thing. This guy, however, is a rookie quarterback who’s twenty-eight years old. He looks ….uninspiring. Part of not knowing anything about football means not really knowing what the people that play any given position look like as a rule, but I do know that quarterbacks are often among the least-intimidating players on any given team, which I imagine comes from a decrease in focus on running the hell into things with your head, and an increased focus on all those quarterback things that they have to be good at, which includes throwing a football through a tire, waiting for Explosions in the Sky to start playing before you can win the game, dealing with your elderly grandmother, and figuring out how to navigate the minefield that is dating the coach’s daughter. Alternately, they can be a scrawny, egotistical jagoff2. This guy looks like…. well, he looks like he’d have been in a band called Crucifictorious when he was ten years younger. I’m just not buying it, but I do support doing things whole hog. If you’re going to devote yourself to being the NFL’s punchline, Cleveland Browns, then I support you in that endeavor, and I feel that Pasty McLumpyginger is definitely the way to go.

4. The continued progress of a Friday Night Lights movie.
Well. Another one, anyway. Because there already was one. But, like, one about the Taylors. Which is what everyone wants anyway. Obviously.

5. Free Comic Book Day
This year the Comic Books are as free as the country of Mexico! Yeah, most of them are kind of shitty and you wouldn’t want to read any of them anyway, but I think it’s the spirit of the thing, really. Who doesn’t love free stuff? Besides, you should visit the comic book store more often. It misses you. You never call, you never write. You just leave it all on its lonesome to shrivel up and die like an unwanted piece of meat. The least you can do is show up the one day of the year when they want to shove their things in your hands.

1 as dimoko remarked at the time: you’re going to take parks, the one thing everyone can agree on, and fill it with bridge debris.
2 with a heart of gold, once perspective sets in in the form of a life-changing injury or an emotional reassessment of your priorities.

Who The F*ck Listens to This Volume 3: Marilyn Manson

Ah, Marilyn Manson. Fifteen years ago, everyone on the planet had an opinion about him. You were all but court-ordered to. Rock music ruled the airwaves and the hearts and minds of popular culture, and the marketing forces of the powers that be could still construct an entire career out of press savvy and arresting imagery.

It’s hard to remember with any realness just how serious Marilyn Manson seemed. I remember that people used to be terrified of him, I think, but I don’t remember it really – I sort of have it filed in my head as “a thing that used to be true” and that’s that. But boy oh boy did people seem worried about what he had to say, especially since he didn’t actually seem to have anything to say1. He was perhaps the last figure in rock music that parents were actually threatened by, or at least to make the media think that parents were threatened by him2.

But that was a long time ago. Since the days when his musical releases were met with fanfare and trumpery, he has fallen more-or-less completely out of the culture. Not even permitted to stay around as a vestigial punchline, like his forebears Alice Cooper or Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson has become equivalent to any other rock band that continues to stubbornly overstay their welcome.

And all of that is fine. It’s probably inevitable, really – almost no one gets to stay famous forever, after all. The question that comes up is: what are the records for? Marilyn Manson the band was never really the reason anyone was into it – Marilyn Manson the phenomenon put the butts in the seats. So why continue to make albums?

The albums themselves weren’t as unworthy as I may have made them sound – the band in the late nineties was competent, mildly compelling sub-Ministry. Overproduced, overplayed and overwrought at worst, there were, nevertheless, some quality songs3, and moments where he was a credible vocalist in the “yammering frontman” style. But really, the music wasn’t why it got over.

So here it is, 2012, and there’s a new Marilyn Manson album. So who is this for? Let’s start by talking about who it is. As with most nineties-leftover stragglers, the members of the band Marilyn Manson are not the people who were onstage when last I payed attention. Actually, that’s not true: the only two members I could ever name are Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez.They’re still in the band. I’m disappointed, however, to find that the “model/serial killer” naming convention has been abandoned.

But I guess it would have to be, wouldn’t it? The whole reason for wondering who the fuck listens to Marilyn Manson in 2012 is because of the abandonment of the showmanship pretense that got people in the door in the first place4. So Marilyn Manson and his trusty musical sidekick Twiggy Ramirez are joined by a guy who played in a band called Crack, and another guy who, presumably, didn’t5. At least there are no Will Hunts.

The publicity which, according to wikipedia, includes the information that they wrote the record on tour, and that MM himself thinks that it sounds more like Killing Joke and Bauhaus, makes it seem like this might actually be a better album. I haven’t listened to it as of this sentence, but I’ve got it read, so I’ll go off and listen to it in a minute.

My official prediction is that it will sound like cut-rate Ministry with less production than I last heard, and possibly also dinkier. Because when bands say sound like Bauhaus, what I think is “we’d like to sound like Joy Division, but we’re dinky6.” Actually, in that same interview he mentions Joy Division, and The Birthday Party7. But, as David Lee Roth8 himself said: why let the truth get in the way of a good blogging rant?9


OK. Now I’ve listened to it. Whatever Mr. Warner is claiming is different with this album, I don’t hear it. But that’s ok – this really isn’t music for me. It’s for the theoretical Marilyn Manson fan, whoever that may be. This is, by any measure I could think to apply, just like all of his other albums. That’s not to say it’s terrible10, just that it’s indistinguishable.

And it’s not even time-shifted – this sounds like late-twentieth century radio-metal. The guitars are way up in the mix and crunch all over the place, the drums sound like a human being was never anywhere near them, and are buried deep under tracks and tracks of identically-crunchy guitars, the bass is heard sporadically, and mainly at the beginnings of songs, and the occasional keyboard or synthesizer or whatever periodically pokes at the rhythm above the crunchy, crunchy guitars. They’re so crunchy.

Furthermore, and I get that I’m still not the audience, and that it was never meant for me in the first place, but every. single. song. begins “bassline, then the vocal comes in, then the guitars come in, then everything goes RAAAAAARGH”. Now, far be it from me to insist that this is not a system that can work. It’s not an editorial comment, except that the album has fourteen songs11 and is over an hour long. That’s too many songs, and that’s too long. Each song is between four and five minutes long, and even at those perfectly-normal marks, some of them are still interminable.

Really, it’s a terrible record12. But it’s not without its bright spots. The first song, “Hey, Cruel World…”, despite having a terrible opening line and a great deal of gratuitous swearing, is legitimately compelling – Manson works himself into an admirable froth, the band almost sounds like a band playing instruments together, and it makes pretty good use of the riff they purloined from Killing Joke’s “Wardance.” It’s worth noting that it’s also the shortest song on the album, not counting the radio edit of “No Reflection,” which actually overplays the band’s hand – they cut a full minute out of that song to get it played on the radio. They didn’t just take the profanity out, they actually took part of the song out. They should have done this with the whole album. Seriously. ”Hey, Cruel World…” is fewer than four minutes long, and manages not to get bogged down in the nonsense that drags the rest of the album into shiny, semi-mechanical quicksand.

AND OH, SUCH QUICKSAND THERE IS. If “No Reflection” is the lead-off single, they made a huge mistake. It’s completely forgettable, and there was a better song right before it on the damn album. The rest of the album gives time to ejaculations from the Marilyn Manson Random Lyrics Generator (fun drinking game: every time he sings the word “suicide,” take a drink and then question your life. It’s what I did! I don’t have any answers or gin anymore!), some really crunchy guitars, the worst drum sound I’ve heard in years, and, perhaps unforgivably, guitar solos.

The first twelve songs, then, go by like…well, like a bus. It takes too long, it makes too much noise, and while you appreciate that it’s getting where it’s going, you mostly just wish you didn’t have to deal with it right now.

I will confess, I had high hopes halfway through the record for a song called “Breaking the Same Old Ground.” I thought it would be Marilyn Manson’s Clerks 2. You see, most people welcomed Clerks 2 because it represented a return to Randall telling dick jokes, which was the preferred purpose of Kevin Smith films. Not I! It’s actually my favorite of his movies because it’s actually a movie about trying to move on with your life and being unable to. At the end of the film, poor, beleaguered Dante returns to the world he tried to leave behind, and resolves to be happy and content with that, having ditched his ambition along with his fiancee13. One of the most effective Marilyn Manson’s songs to this point is the Antichrist Superstar-closing “The Man That You Fear,” which is something of a mission statement from his biggest, most public (and therefore, from an artistic standpoint, best, since, again, Marilyn Manson was all about the spectacle, and not necessarily the music). Easily his best, most durable song, “Coma White” is (facile though it is) about being failed by drugs, and it’s at the end of its album. I can’t remember any of the other album-closing songs, but I assume that they fill a similar function. Could “Breaking the Same Old Ground” be about the struggle of plowing the same field and expecting it to bear fruit?

I have no idea. It’s fucking terrible. I guess it might be. If it is, the answer to the hypothetical musical question I asked is “No. No it is not.”

Ah, but “Breaking the Same Old Ground” is not the last song on the album. There remains….a cover! Marilyn Manson is partly – perhaps even largely – to blame for the glut of “ironic pop song covers” that clogged the radio ten years ago, due perhaps to his ability to choose a song (The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams”) that fit in with his image14. It caught on because there were reasons for it to: it was timely, it was fitting, it was well-planned.

“You’re So Vain” is a song that’s basically more famous for being ambiguously pointed at a real person. I’ve heard it, like anyone who lives where there’s radios, probably a billion times, and I just listened to a cover of it, and I still only know the chorus. It’s not a particularly memorable song. In fact, the chorus was used as part of the worst song of Nine Inch Nails’ best album, Starfuckers, Inc., a song that was directed at Marilyn Manson. Combined with Manson’s lyrical obsessions with fame and narcissism, and how we’re all part of the disease that breeds blah blah blah, we have a pile of things that point to this cover making any sense. But here’s the rub: it doesn’t make any sense.

What is the point of covering this song? I mean, obviously the point is to capitalize on the easy publicity of it – it’s easy to write about, which means that people will write about it, but why this song? He could’ve covered “99 Luftballons” or “I Wanna Be Your Dog” or fucking “Islands in the Stream,” and any of them would have made more sense. Instead he covered a song that, I guess, reminds us of the heady days of the late nineties, when people cared enough about him to be mad at him. Which is nice? I guess?

And in being nonsensical, “You’re So Vain” stands in for the problems of the album itself – it’s easy to see how this record got made15, and I suppose there’s something to be said for doing it, but there isn’t anything new about it. Just as “You’re So Vain” is a pointless, inexplicable cover that has the band reminding us of moments when they were good, so is the rest of the album a pointless, inexplicable exercise in recording new music but not doing anything with it. I said before that the album was terrible, but that was an exaggeration. It’s not terrible. It’s not anything. It lacks even enough force of existence to make me do anything but shrug.

So who the fuck listens to this? Well, as you can see I did some youtubing to find the videos that I reference, and it turns out that…well, a lot of people do. Apparently, mostly the exact same people that listened to Marilyn Manson when I was in high school. He just doesn’t have any of the cultural cachet he did at the time, which is weird. So I guess with that answered, the question remains: what are they getting out of it? What is the benefit to listening to a band that once theoretically scared people somewhere round about the year you were born? I suppose it’s the same as it is for people my age who listen to KISS – which I don’t understand any better, but I’m comfortable equating the two groups. Pity the poor rock radio fan: in a world where his format of choice is dying by measures, he’s stuck reliving the glory days of someone slightly older than him, reminiscing for a time that he is probably only dimly aware of, when someone like Marilyn Manson could represent an actual presence in the culture. Then stop pitying him, because the motherfucker has YouTube, and there’s, like, a gajillion hours of better music on there that he’s too lazy to click on. That guy is who the fuck listens to this.

1 This isn’t quite fair. Marilyn Manson has always come off as erudite and well-read in interviews, and he is clearly together enough to mount an entire career on little more than publicity. He has things to say in the micro: when asked, he’ll find things. But in the macro his message seems to be “if you are alarmed by my actions, it is your own fault, because you are part of the system that ended up being responsible for them,” which is both uncreative and extremely tiresome. He’s probably smarter than that message, but apparently not above underestimating the intellectual limits of faux-disaffected young men.
2 both the passive voice and the disclaimer are warranted here – I don’t now anyone who actually found him threatening. But the idea was that there were people all over. You’d think that rural Ohio, which is pretty much cultural shorthand for “places where backward people take things seriously that coastal big-city people are jaded by,” would have exposed me to some of those people, but it never happened.
3 and actually, the first album of his “decline”, Mechanical Animals is downright listenable!
4 according to wikipedia, this policy was abandoned in 1996, which means that at no point in my awareness of them were they actually named after models and serial killers, which causes a paradox whereby I wonder why the fuck I think that was the case. I don’t care, though. And “Daisy Berkowitz” is a pretty good name.
5 dimoko will be thrilled to note that this record is released through Cooking Vinyl records, which means that Marilyn Manson now shares a label withClem Snide. I think I speak for him when I say: it’s what he’s always wanted.
6 note: I do not think that Bauhaus sounds like dinky Joy Division. I think that bands that say they sound like Bauhaus sound like dinky Joy Division. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is still the bomb diggity. Tangentially, the Birthday Party’s Junkyard came out thirty years ago, and still kicks the ass of everything Marilyn Manson has ever recorded. Just throwing that out there. It didn’t require an Will Hunts, either.
7 congratulations, you’ve been rewarded for reading the footnotes.
8 or, I’m told, Mark Twain
9 this is absolutely, 100% what David Lee Roth* said.
*or, I’m told, Mark Twain
10 I’ll say that later
11 actually, it has fifteen, but the last song is the “radio edit” of the first song.
12 see?
13 Spoiler Alert!
14 more in terms of “overplaying a subtext that was already there from the beginning in the loudest, most obvious way possible.”
15 With lots of crunchy guitars! So crunchy!