Manson pulled, but not forgotten

Micah Johnson

As Disturbed left the main stage at Ozzfest, frontman Dave Draiman told the audience, “Even though your place is too tight-assed to let Marilyn Manson play, we will express individuality! Question authority!”

It wasn’t so much a profound statement as it was a creed for the Ozzfest faithful. They are a culture, just like any other congregation of junkies in America, and their terms of endearment depend heavily on free speech.

Manson, a singer known for his shocking stage presence, was prevented from performing at the Somerset Ozzfest. Community members were concerned about the message they felt was coming from his music, and fest promoters pulled him. But where Marilyn Manson was censored, others were ready to carry the torch.

“If someone asked me not to play, I’d ignore them,” said guitarist Patrick Kennison of The Union Underground. “Because otherwise it’s like telling [the community] they’re right. We’re all artists. We all have something to say.”

Kennison remembers being a teenage audience member, cheering for the likes of Motley Crue and Metallica. “One of my first vinyls was a Black Sabbath record my mom bought me in fourth grade. But then she wondered if I should keep it because Ozzy looked so ugly and evil.”

“Evil” wardrobes or strange mannerism are what gets the audience charged, according to Kennison. And when he sees the favor returned in the form of half-naked, neon haired fans screaming along with his music, it makes the job worth it. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said dreamily.

“Without the audience … things would get boring. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day: every day you play, it’s a new set of people, and they make the songs new.”

With such an importance on audience participation, group antics on stage can sometimes be paramount. “Anything that gets aggression out … and if it is raising your middle finger, it might seem juvenile. But when people walk away from the show, they have this sense of relief and connection, and they say ‘Wow, this isn’t the ’80s anymore, where rock stars have a lot of swagger and think they’re better than everybody.’ Now it’s like fans are onstage … whatever it takes to make that connection.”

While Manson’s absence did little to castrate the energy of the concert collective, an oppressed tinge of bitterness often surfaced during performances.

Papa Roach, in a series of
lectures to the crowd, invited everyone to let up a giant “Fuck you!” to the conservative Christians who spoke out against Manson.

Even though every performer didn’t aim to incite moral war against a major religion, a fest-goer would be hard pressed to find an onstage act that didn’t challenge wholesome American norms.

As I hopped in a golf cart escort to the Kennison interview, the driver thrust a crate of crickets into my hands. “Someone’s going to eat those,” he said, “and then they’re going to smash that cinderblock over his head.”

He was talking of Reverend B. Dangerous, host of Ozzfest, the man in charge of keeping the audience alive with such stunts as hammering nails up his nose.

Needless to say, pulling Manson for his shock value was more or less like pulling a few hairs and calling it a haircut. Yet, for hardcore fans, Ozzfest had lost its glorious meaning of free spirits and true hedonism.

Tom Montano, who drove all the way from Des Moines to see Manson, was heartbroken. “It’s just un-American,” he said, shaking his head.