The Green Fairy strikes again

Nathan Hall

You can’t always judge a person by your first impression, but you can always appreciate a Marilyn Manson record by knowing which drug he was on when he made it.

The sluggish, hazy feel of 1994’s “Portrait of an American Family” owes much to alcohol, while the mood of 1996’s “Antichrist Superstar” was more frenetic and angry, a stamp of cocaine. “Mechanical Animals,” made in 1998, was a departure into more sensitive emotional territory prompted by ecstasy, and 2000’s “Holy Wood” has a frantic tone associated with speed. This year finds Nancy Reagan’s worst nightmare dabbling in Ö absinthe?

Absinthe, Oscar Wilde’s favorite beverage, is a milky, greenish white alcoholic drink served with sugar and water. The active ingredient (besides the 75 percent alcohol) is a small, woody herb called wormwood. Invented by a French expatriate residing in Switzerland named Dr. Ordinaire, absinthe tastes like incredibly sour licorice. Supposedly medically linked to suicide and insanity (the legend goes that Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear during a particularly nasty absinthe binge), the United States banned wormwood as a food additive in 1912 after it was implicated in a notorious axe-murder case in France. Unless you count the faint traces of wormwood in vermouth, you’ll have no luck scoring the Green Fairy at your corner liquor store, although possession is legal. But, then again, you’re not Marilyn Manson.

Absinthe and other illicit Old Europe pleasures figure prominently in Manson’s latest compact disc, “The Golden Age of Grotesque.” There’s still the disturbing Nazi fetish, but this time Brian Warner also incorporates elements of the sexual excess of the Weimar Republic, Salvador Dali’s surrealist art movement, Dada’s absurdist ethos and the androgynous style of dandyism. It’s a dramatic shift in musical and artistic direction but, then again, you expect that of him.

Still, the shock business just isn’t what it once was. Despite being a reverend in the Satanic church, sales have been slightly sluggish ever since the moral majority decided Islamic fundamentalism was more of a threat to our jaded teenagers’ moral fiber than old-fashioned devil-worshippers. To add insult to injury, Manson’s formerly favorite Web site, “The Onion,” recently ran a story entitled “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door To Door Trying to Shock People.”

Maybe Warner, 34, a lunchbox collector who hails originally from Canton, Ohio, just wants to fit in now. The frustrated music journalist cum media darling has appeared in a cameo for a BMW commercial, co-starred in a Macaulay Culkin film, contributed to an upcoming Ramones tribute CD, sponsored a line of signature contact lenses, bought a house formerly used as a studio by the Rolling Stones and even won an argument on “The O’Reilly Factor.” On the other hand, he was also banned last week from Six Flags.

“Grotesque” has a pronounced movie soundtrack feel to it as well, perhaps reflecting his recent dabbling in Hollywood. David Lynch had promised him a recurring role in his ill-fated “Mulholland Dr.” television series and Manson reportedly just finished scoring duties for an upcoming remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” He appears to be almost giddily accepting his reduced role in the lowbrow trash culture wars, commenting in one interview that “In the end we’re all Springer guests; really, we just haven’t been on the show yet.”

It’s beyond cliche now to argue that the most insidious subversive tactic is mainstream accessibility – interview any cube dweller after a couple of years in the corporate world and ask them if they’re still “destroying the system from the inside out.” But there still remains here a definite return to grace and understated coolness, credited in no small part to his genuinely enlightened commentary on last year’s “Bowling for Columbine” documentary. Blaming the chemically adventurous Manson for the Columbine tragedy was just a way to sell artificial fear that effectively distracted the American public from real-life horror of NATO bombing runs. But that also indirectly sold a lot of Manson paraphernalia as well, on purpose or not. After all, somebody still has to pay for that absinthe bill.

Marilyn Manson will perform Saturday at the Float-Rite Amphitheatre in Somerset, Wis. Other bands playing at Ozzfest include Ozzy Osbourne, Korn, Cradle of Filth and Nothingface. For more information, please visit www.ozzfest.com