Square Mile
Menu Search

"I said, 'Courtney, just don’t start shit with me…'" | In conversation with Marilyn Manson

Perou is one of the best portrait photographers on the planet. It’s rare he has the time or inclination to revisit the same subject, but Marilyn Manson – in so many ways – is an exception. Here’s Perou’s unique insight into another world

Marilyn Manson photographed by Perou

Before I met Marilyn Manson, in 1998, I used to drive round London with the T-tops off my 1984 Trans Am blasting his music as loud as it would go.

I was pretty stoked to get a call about photographing him for a Time Out magazine cover feature. Back in those days magazines and record companies would send photographers round the world on assignment.

After our first press session in Amsterdam, a tour poster was made from one of my band photos. Manson signed it, ‘Your life will never be the same’ which proved to be quite prophetic.

The last 21 years passing through Manson’s stratosphere have been a blur: people, events and places coming in and out of focus. The early years more disorientating than those that followed.

Generally, I don’t like to photograph someone more than once. But I’ve been able to photograph Manson on many occasions because every time is different. Here’s a collection of fragments in no specific order; as confused as I have been for much of my time in Manson’s company. Some visual clues that I use to remember where I’ve been and what I was doing. 

Marilyn Manson in conversation with Perou

Marilyn Manson photographed by Perou

MM: I remember this outfit because I thought it looked like it was from Planet of the Apes. This is the era of the blue forehead, which I remember Courtney Love went on to make fun of on stage and then we got into a tussle.

P: What did she say?

MM: As we toured together and I went on last, she said, ‘After I get done, some guy’s going to come on with a blue forehead and have a giant DRUG sign’. I made an agreement with her. I said, ‘Courtney, just don’t start shit with me, because I go on after you and I will fuck you. I will destroy you.’ She ended up quitting the tour because she said that my production cost was too high, but we split it, so that’s not fair. But she and I are friends now and we laugh about it. She came out to try and punch me on stage once and I just ducked, and she missed and fell right on her face. It was kinda funny.

Marilyn Manson photographed by Perou

P: Did you have these made for you?

MM: Yeah, I wanted to try something that was all red. There’s red, black and white here; like Mickey Mouse. This one is rare because I’m wearing red lipstick and I don’t usually wear red lipstick. It’s almost like when I got in a fight with the editor of Spin when I was on the cover. He later accused me of assaulting him with a firearm in New York City because he fucked me out of a cover. David LaChapelle did a photoshoot with me which took about 20 hours ... where I’ve got the bald head and I have a Raggedy Ann wig on …

P: The one where there’s a school bus?

MM: Yes, early on. David LaChappelle’s really great. He does a lot of his stuff differently than you, post work and things like that. But we were on set and there was the photo editor, she said I had to wear black lipstick or no one would recognise me. So I said, ‘Get your editor on the phone. Would you tell Madonna how she has to dress? I don’t ever wear black lipstick.’

Marilyn Manson photographed by Perou

MM: I think this one’s so tight because of the symbolic image of the Vietnam War my father was in. Where they put the flower in the gun. Some kid from Columbine, who actually went to the school, had a football jersey made for me and I’m wearing a trench coat.

Obviously, I’m not making fun of what happened, but I’m making a point that I couldn’t change it, that anyone, anywhere else couldn’t. Unless you want to say that music is so powerful that it could affect the world in such a way that musicians should be in charge; they should be the politicians in the world. If you’re putting that much blame on art, you should also give it that much credit.

So it’s a real double-edged sword – and someone should sit on it, and it’s not me, but it’s anyone who wants to give credit to, or blames, art.

I’d like to think, in the John Lennon sense, that music or musical artists can make a change. Or, for you as a photographer, that you can take an image that’ll change the world. Think about all the images that have changed the world. All the famous images: Frame 313 of JFK getting his head shot off. Think about the person emulating themselves in fire in protest; about the famous picture of the sailor kissing a girl.

Whether used for propaganda or for promotion, that’s what we grew up with. It’s like that’s all of our album covers. It’s the magazines that we buy and what really sets all this apart is that we live in it, in a world now where everyone has a phone that could take a picture.

P: And selfies.

MM: Usually one has another person, so it’s kind of an incorrect term to use because it’s more than one person. There’s a big difference between someone who is a photographer as an artist and someone who happens to just have a camera, you know? And granted, good luck to aspiring photographers, but just because you have a fucking Instagram page does not make you Perou. That’s your quote!

Marilyn Manson photographed by Perou

MM: I just remember the first time you showed up: you had more rings than me. You look still, and did at the time, like you were going to be in that movie Romper Stomper: bomber jacket, high-laced boots, fully British, barely understandable. Dirty. Dirty British.

I remember coming into this photoshoot and at the time I don’t think that you knew I was friends with Lisa, Elvis’ daughter, but I still have this jacket, I think in storage. This was you putting me in white. I think that I had long black hair then. It was right before I dyed my hair red. This was in between periods.

P: This is the first shoot.

MM: When I came in you said, ‘Yeah, I have this idea’. I was at first completely thinking, ‘Is he trying to take the piss out of me? He’s trying to make me look like a fucking idiot.’ And then we took this first picture. You showed me the Polaroid of it. And I was sold. Because I already showed up with these glasses, which I think put us on the same wavelength, and that’s why it all connected together.

That was fun because I became automatically comfortable around you and that’s the most important part. It is funny to look back at it and see it and that’s where it all started. All white. I guess we’re not redundant. We have a theme that we do.

P: Another motif.

MM: We have white, black. We have a thing but this one was unique because of the location and that’s where we started.

Marilyn Manson photographed by Perou

MM: I don’t know even where the light source is coming from but it looks like I’m in milk. I think that this you wanted this to be the cover of the magazine, and they denied you.

P: Yeah.

MM: Assholes.

P: Fucking cunts.

MM: That’s a good name for their magazine. 

Marilyn Manson: 21 Years in Hell by Perou

Out now from £49.95 from reelartpress.com

Loading