I remember when Marilyn Manson’s “Eat Me, Drink Me” came out back in 2006. The tour supporting the album was called “The Rape of the World” tour. Nobody seemed to think much about that at the time.
The lead single for “Eat Me, Drink Me” was “Heart-Shaped Glasses,” its title a reference to the poster for Stanley Kubric’s film adaptation of Nobakov’s pedophile narrative “Lolita.” Brian Hugh Warner—known to the world as Marilyn Manson—was dating the much-younger Evan Rachel Wood at the time, and featured her in the single’s music video to illustrate how their relationship had inspired the album. It's telling, then, that the chorus of “Heart-Shaped Glasses” is an overt threat of violence towards Wood: “Don't break my heart, and I won't break your heart-shaped glasses.”
The promotion for the album was largely fixated on Warner’s relationship with Wood. Interviews with Warner were focused less on the music itself, and more on the salacious details of his new relationship—and inevitably also Warner’s ex-wife, Dita Von Teese, who left him because she didn’t “didn’t approve” of his romantic involvement with a certain, unnamed other person. (Even back then, everyone knew this to be Wood, who was barely legal at the time.)
I’m trying to picture what it must be like for Wood to go through this. Imagine that you’re 18, and coming into your own with a promising acting career. You begin dating a powerful celebrity twice your age who tours worldwide. This celebrity decides to make you the focus of his next album, publicly dedicating it to you, featuring you in his music videos, and tying you up in all his press. Your name is forever associated with his, and he makes sure you don’t forget it.
At first, you’re overwhelmed with joy that senpai noticed you, and is making such a public declaration of his love—even if that declaration always seems to be mixed with threats of violence. But over time, you start to realize that all the threats are all-too-real. You learn the depths of his drug and alcohol issues. You begin to understand that his rage about his ex is out of control, to the point that he wants you to look like her—shedding your more innocent aesthetic in favor of a darker one, as if to demonstrate how you’ve been corrupted by him. And then there's the torture. The control over every aspect of your life. You begin to understand that your partner’s actions aren’t those of someone in love, but rather of a man who is desperately and obsessively trying to keep you in his clutches, because he doesn’t want to get hurt like he did with his last ex. You’re trapped.
And by then, it’s too late. There’s no getting away from him. You’ve gotten tattoos of him. You’re the subject of an album celebrating your toxic relationship, which millions of people all over the world are listening to. You’ve already told the media that you love him and that he’s a wonderful and creative person. You’ve become a prop for his art—literally helping prop up his public persona and his latest album. While he goes and tells everyone how bad he is—how he’s evil, truly evil, the worst person to ever live—you’ve been there to counter, “Oh, he’s so sweet and creative,” making him come across like he’s just sticking to his persona rather than confessing the awful truth to the world.
Here are the lyrics for “Blood Honey,” from 2017's “Heaven Upside Down”:
I got you tied up, I love it
Tied up and I love it
Now, why would I set you free?
Now you're tied up, you love it
No lies now, I love it
I'm not being mean, I'm just being me
In October 2008, Warner and Wood separated, reportedly because she had rejected his marriage proposal. Warner didn’t take it well, later admitting to the press, “Every time I called her that day — I called 158 times — I took a razorblade and I cut myself on my face or on my hands. I look back and it was a really stupid thing to do. This was intentional, this was a scarification, and this was like a tattoo. I wanted to show her the pain she put me through. It was like, ‘I want you to physically see what you’ve done.’”
Really think about what it must feel like being on the receiving end of that. Your unstable, abusive, drug addict boyfriend proposes to you; you say no and get out while you can; and his response is to pull this emotional abuse, calling hundreds of times, harming himself and making it all your fault, rather than taking responsibility for his own bullshit.
Anyone who has an abusive ex will get red flags from reading Warner's statements, but no one was terribly shocked during that interview, because by 2008, nothing Warner did could ever be shocking.
In the 90’s and early 2000’s, Warner fashioned himself into the ultimate bad boy, Satan himself in musical form, rebelling against Conservative White Christian values. He coasted on his identity as the ultimate bad boy by confessing his sins to the media with seemingly unflinching honesty. And we loved him for it. How brave, we thought. How honest. And, in some cases, how relatable. “Keep doing that,” the world said. “Keep being a terrible person. That’s what we want: someone who can sing about all the things everyone else is too scared to sing about.”
Warner, we can imagine, took that to heart. He had permission to be as horrible as he wanted to be, and people would love him for it.
I'm reminded of the presidency of Donald Trump. Every other day, Trump would say or do something so appalling that we all collectively wondered how he could possibly still be president. But then we would wake up the next day and he would still be there, pulling so much rapid-fire bullshit that we could barely even keep up. We all became numb to it. With any other president, it would be a media-shaking scandal. Under Trump, it was just another Tuesday.
Warner's career operated under the same principle: a wealthy, famous narcissist with an international platform and virtually no checks to his power shocked the world so many times that we all got desensitized to it. Who cares if he just dropped the N word? That's Manson. Who cares if he threatened to kill a journalist? That's Manson. Who cares if he sings about rape? That's Manson. Whether he was cutting himself on stage, abusing his bandmates, or killing small animals, the Antichrist Superstar was just being his usual shitty self, committing to his theatrical rock star persona.
And the world loved him for it.
2006's “Eat Me, Drink Me” marked a change in style for the band, sounding completely different from their past work (probably because almost everyone had left by then, fed up with Warner's bullshit). But the music didn't just sound different; the lyrics were also more personal, focusing on Warner's toxic personal relationships rather than expanding the mythology that was built up in the albums that made his band famous.
It was the start of an era in which Warner’s music wasn’t exploring Marilyn Manson, the Fictional Antichrist Superstar, but rather Marilyn Manson, the Actual Person. The band’s follow-up, “The High End Of Low,” is similarly focused on Warner’s self-absorption. Musically, it’s all over the place, struggling to find a sense of identity or theme.
It was as though Warner had forgotten what Marilyn Manson was supposed to be. Maybe it was the drugs. Or maybe he owed more than he wanted to admit to the likes of John 5, Chris Vrenna, or other past members. Either way, with the full creative control that comes with excessive fame, Warner turned Marilyn Manson into his vanity project, devoid of depth or political edge. His songs didn't target the religious right anymore. Instead, they targeted his ex-girlfriends.
Maybe Warner figured that if he couldn't shock people with tepid lyrics like, “We're from America, where we eat our young,” then maybe he could shock them by romanticizing his own violent, abusive nature and then whining about nobody loving him. He even had the intro to his website by a video of himself punching a naked Evan Rachel Wood in the face.
Many fans lost interest, seeing the band as a broken shell of its former self—and the man a broken, shallow parody of the rock god they once worshiped. One can imagine Warner's anger; his desperation to cling to the heights he'd once reached. He had gone from being top of the world—a worldwide celebrity married to Dita Von Teese—to being a joke, left in the dust by the women he courted. He had no one to blame but himself, but what narcissist can do that? He was probably desperate to get his fame back, just as he was desperate to keep the women in his life.
But then Wood and Warner got back together. And in January 2010, the month Warner and Wood were engaged, Marilyn Manson began recording “Born Villain.” As with “High End of Low,” there was no concept, but the lyrics hadn’t gotten any less edgy; if anything, they were more violent than ever. It was as though by getting Wood back, Warner had gotten back in touch with the edgy cruelty that everyone loved so much about him.
Here some choice lyrics from the song “Pistol Whipped” off of “Born Villain,” recorded by Warner all by himself, presumably during the period when he and Wood were engaged, and he was raping and abusing her:
You look so pretty
When you cry
Don't wanna hit you
But the only thing
Between our love is
A bloody nose
A busted lip
And a blackened eye
When I undo my belt
You melt and walk away
With a red, red, red welt
And from “Overneath The Path of Misery,” from the same album:
The rape of Persephone was choreographed by all the wrong Greeks
The rape of Persephone was a marketing scheme
Rape, rape, rape Persephone...
People called it his comeback album.
Wood eventually escaped, and years later went public about an abuser, who she did not name. She discussed, in horrifying graphic detail, the physical, emotional and psychological abuse she endured, from rape to torture to brainwashing. She could not name her abuser, she said, because he was a very powerful man, and “he threatened to kill me and my family.” Warner, meanwhile, was coming out with music videos for songs like “Slow-Mo-Tion” and “We Know Where You Fucking Live,” which showed Warner and friends wielding high-powered assault rifles, as if to threaten his detractors—or past victims.
In November 2019, a tumblr post began circulating, matching the timeline of Wood's testimony with her relationship with Warner. It made a very convincing argument that Marilyn Manson raped and tortured Evan Rachel Wood. The timelines matched up. Warner's interviews backed it up. Even his own lyrics backed it up. Throughout 2020, the theory gained traction, with more and more people picking up, until even magazines were asking Warner about the rumors. And Warner's responses did not exactly do him any favors.
Yesterday, Evan Rachel Wood finally went public, naming Brian Warner as her abuser. Other victims of his actions have come forward in turn.
Many people just finding out about this are shocked. Many are denying it. And many are unsurprised and apathetic.
“This is just Johnny Depp all over again,” some say, ignoring that many other people Warner hurt are coming forward; that Warner has literally admitted to abusive behavior in interviews; that the evidence was so clear, you could find it using Google. That Warner abused Wood is fairly beyond doubt. By defending Warner, you are effectively saying that you are okay with adult men grooming, raping and torturing teenage girls, causing them severe trauma that they be processing their entire lives.
There is also the question of separating the art from the artist. We all still listen to Michael Jackson, but hits like “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” aren't about pedophilia; we don't have to think about it while listening to them. It's a bit trickier with Manson's discography. Can you still separate the art from the artist when so much of the art is about the horrible things the artist has done? Can you listen to songs with lyrics about Warner's abuse of Wood, and still enjoy them after knowing what they're about? In the end, only you can answer that question for yourself.
I, for one, support Evan Rachel Wood 100% and applaud her and Warner's other victims for coming forward and naming him.
Brian Hugh Warner made a career out of confessing his sins, but he always stopped short of admitting anything that would get him in jail. Now, he needs to step up and confess the shit that matters most—even knowing that this time, people won’t love him for it. Because he deserves punishment for what he's done. Punishment, and enough loss of power that he can’t hurt anyone else.