Disability, Freaking Out, & Marilyn Manson

{content notes: abuse, assault}

Shortly before Marilyn Manson’s so-called “meltdown,” publicized through multiple music blogs in short pieces that lacked much insight at all (not gonna link them, fuck it), and seemed to be written by music journalists who were not familiar with the last fifteen or so years of his career, I saw him perform in Toronto, on an evening spent with my twin, who had come here from Montréal to be at the show with me. Attending shows as a sick and disabled person makes me nervous – accessibility varies, and I never know what to expect. I prepare notes on access in my head, hoping for clarity, brevity, and assertiveness. I try to be patient. I often have to guide staff through various accessibility requirements (and laws) because they tend to be unfamiliar with them.

Seeing Marilyn Manson onstage using a wheelchair, his leg in a cast, was akin to a spiritual experience for me. I’ve written about concerts as spiritual experiences before, and the meanings I assign to live performances as someone who was unable to see the bands I love live when I was (and they were) younger, and how I do this while resisting nostalgia and the commodification of nostalgia.

{image description: Marilyn Manson sitting in the wheelchair described throughout this entry. Pink and purple spotlights are glowing. He’s holding his microphone with one hand, and controlling the electric wheelchair with the other.}

At some point within the last year or two, I started referring to various mobility aids colloquially as crip contraptions. That’s what I thought of when I saw Marilyn Manson’s wheelchair, a personalized electric model with a tall back, black and silver, of course, the most goth wheelchair I’ve witnessed thus far. Chrome footrests, one holding his right leg in a stiff grey plastic cast, with his left foot in the usual black heavy boot, laced tight. The term “crip contraptions” came to me when I was in a silly mood, getting excited about the way us disabled folks modify our mobility aids to give them more personality, let them become more a part of us, our bodies, than a separate object.

A few of Marilyn Manson’s roadies were dressed in hospital-green scrubs and surgical masks, helping him to and from his mic. It was a beautifully theatrical way of coping with pain and disability while performing. I admired his creativity in turning disability into a kind of performance art, the way his pain and sickness, rather than being hidden, something to be ashamed of, were instead integrated into the show, made more visible. Although he might not be familiar with this word/concept, he and his roadies seemed to have been practicing access intimacy. He had one gowned-&-gloved person on each side, guiding him to and from the stage and the mic by holding onto each arm, another hand placed on the small of his back. I imagined a sense of love and care passing between each of them, imagined boundaries being negotiated, Marilyn Manson, that strange creature, asking for help.

I was supposed to see him in October – Amber and I were celebrating our 32nd birthday, and I was celebrating the publication of my latest novel, told from the point-of-view of a genderless teenager obsessed with Marilyn Manson – but the show was postponed after he was injured while onstage, crushed by prop guns towering over him as part of the stage set for the Heaven Upside Down tour. At this show, the one I attended with my twin, as he stood at the microphone, his wheelchair was parked below the crossed guns. I have often imagined my cane as a weapon, so this configuration brought me a particular disabled-glee.

The accessible seating had changed since the last time I’d been to that venue, which was for another Marilyn Manson concert a couple years ago. The first time I saw him there, which was the first time I saw him at all, I called ahead about accessible seating, and when I arrived, security led me to the foot of the stage, the right side, where I sat on a white plastic lawn chair, absurdly close to Marilyn and Twiggy’s feet, my cane by my side, my body protected from the crowd by black steel barriers. And I felt immense joy and magic, such intense aliveness, sitting at their feet, embracing the noise, the presence, screaming along with my favourite songs. In the past, I’ve talked about concerts and karaoke being some of the very few socially acceptable spaces within which to scream. It’s still true.

This was the view I was looking forward to experiencing again, the view I’d gushed to Amber about. Close enough to see the stitches on the ruffles of Twiggy’s black tights, close enough to see the snot dripping from Marilyn Manson’s nose when he had a cold. Almost close enough to touch.

{image description: A classic photo / TV screenshot of Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez sitting beside one another as they’re being interviewed on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. They both have long, black hair and a slumped posture. Marilyn Manson is on the left, wearing a buttoned-up peacoat, and Twiggy is on the right, wearing the classic Twiggy-the-model style mod dress that became so infamous and beloved.}

Shortly after the injury that resulted in postponing the tour, Marilyn Manson announced that when the tour resumed, Twiggy Ramirez would no longer be joining him. His status makes it unclear whether Twiggy was kicked out of the band entirely, only for the length of the tour, or some other undetermined amount of time. He was kicked out after Jessicka of Jack Off Jill and Scarling fame told her story of being in a relationship with Twiggy twenty years ago, and of being abused and raped by him. It surprised me that Marilyn Manson responded so soon, and that he responded by kicking Twiggy out of the band (because I’ve come to expect men not to give a shit about the realities of victims and survivors). But it came to feel disingenuous when he began to talk about the possibility of bringing Johnny Depp, somebody he’s collaborated with multiple times, and who’s become known publicly as abusive, on tour.

I’m a survivor of rape, too. For a long time, I wouldn’t use that word, survivor, because I didn’t think I was gonna survive. Jessicka’s story wasn’t surprising to me in any way – there are tiny snippets of her time with the Manson Family contained within the pages of Marilyn Manson’s autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, published after Jessicka and Twiggy had broken up, but before Jack Off Jill had been pressured into touring with Marilyn Manson in 1999. There’s also a story about stalking an ex and planning to murder her. As a teenager, I romanticized and venerated their relationship (and that of Marilyn and Rose, too, and then Marilyn and Dita…), even if only through images and a few lyrics, the actuality of their experiences with one another totally unknown to me. A goth girl with scars in love with a goth boy in a dress, both making strange, angry, uncategorizeable music, was enough to capture the attention of my young, lonely self, and to project whatever meanings I wanted to onto them from my own safe distance. Since then, I’ve come to believe that just about any man is capable of abuse, and that includes the gorgeous, talented weirdos I grew up in admiration of (and with my first celebrity crushes on).

Visibly sick, medicated, and in pain, I was hyper-aware that Marilyn Manson was performing without his usual support system, without his best friend. I wondered what that felt like for him, and how different the show (and the rest of the tour) would be had Twiggy remained. I wondered if Marilyn Manson genuinely wanted Twiggy out of the band at this time, and whose interests were in mind – I wondered if it was for some form of good publicity, of making himself appear to be a ~good ally~, or if he was pressured by management, or whatever. I wondered if it was a form of punishment for Twiggy and solidarity with Jessicka, or maybe a way of apologizing for having been on estranged terms during Daisy Berkowitz’s / Scott Putesky’s illness and subsequent death. I lamented the probable impossibility of finding a replacement for Twiggy who wasn’t also just ask likely to have been abusive of a so-called lover in the past or present (or future).

As an isolated teenager who left school very young, I had a lot of time to develop total obsessions with celebrities, to feel a pretty crazy special connection with them, and as an adult, some of those obsessions remain close to me, and I find myself contemplating the personal lives of strangers more than I care to admit. While it can feel absurd and embarrassing at times, it’s also been a fun, useful exercise for my imagination, for my writing, and for developing a sense of compassion (and sometimes empathy). And this situation has given me a way of theorizing friendship and support through celebrities, in ways that might help myself and my readers apply these questions and ideas to our own lives.

The friendship between Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez has also been a friendship that has fascinated me, a friendship that I’ve romanticized and admired. From watching them make-out in the video for Dope Hat circa 1994, to watching their playful onstage interactions as an adult, and reading interviews with them discussing friendship and sobriety, their images and personas were among the first visions of some of kind of queerness that I had access to when I was young and isolated in a small town, days before the internet and before I could explore my own sexuality beyond watching Velvet Goldmine on repeat and writing fanfiction about Brian Molko and Jarvis Cocker making out (yep!). They served almost as a kind of avatar of who I could become, of what my possibilities were (I both identified with and was strongly attracted to girlish, feminine men as a teen, while struggling with my own gender and sexuality, with very few outlets for expression and almost no adequate language at all).

When he had a cold at the first concert of his I went to, I remember feeling charmed by Marilyn Manson’s human fallibility – he is such a larger-than-life performer and character, a rock star haunted by all kinds of strange myths, and it felt oddly wonderful to see him not only as that, but also as an ordinary human being – somebody who could be sick, somebody fallible and flawed. Toward the end of the show, he danced and thrashed until he injured his leg. But he continued the performance. This Winter, I watched him perform using his gothed-up wheelchair, an electric model rolling him across the stage. Each time he looked in my direction, I wanted to raise my cane in solidarity with him (I had a similar feeling when I saw Slipknot on tour with Marilyn Manson recently, and at least one member was using a cane). Sometimes, as he was singing, he would amble to the back of the stage, and from there, he’d continue screaming into his personalized microphone, the one with brass knuckles clutched in his hand. And while he screamed, he had his other hand, the other side of his body, leaning into the wall – he was obviously in pain and having difficulty standing. I wanted to tell him he wasn’t the only one. I really, really had this strong urge to hug him.

I haven’t watched the videos of the so-called “meltdown.” I don’t want to. If I freaked out in public (and I have many times), I wouldn’t want it broadcast without my consent. It’s not difficult to imagine myself on a stage, demanding the crowd tell me they love me. When I read headlines about him doing this, I felt another kind of affinity with him – the artist in pain, the artist who wants to feel loved, the artist who is witnessing themself lose control of their body, feeling helpless.

{image description: A mid-1990’s promo shot of the full band, with Marilyn Manson sitting in a wheelchair, and other band members gathered around a hospital stretcher. Twiggy’s white dress is reminiscent of a retro nurse’s uniform.}

When my twin and I arrived at the venue, our bags were searched and our bodies were patted down. I’d called the venue multiple times that day, and reached out to them via Twitter, attempting to get in touch with somebody about accessibility as I always do before attending a show, but I hadn’t received any response, any acknowledgement. So I was plucked from the line-up and asked to step aside and wait for security. The person at the door seemed unaware of accommodations for disabled folks, and suspicious of the meds in my backpack. I’d brought two apples with me to eat after the show, but they were confiscated.

It’s awkward and uncomfortable to be searched while using a cane. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to do anything one-handed, stressed, and in pain, but I find line-ups and searches particularly distressing because the guards always seem unaccustomed to interacting with disabled people or understanding that our bodies move differently, and then there’s an impatient, often pushy, crowd behind me, who just wanna get their tickets scanned and go get a drink. I can’t unzip and unpack my backpack with my cane in my hand, nor can I empty my pockets.

Another security guard arrived and asked me to show him my meds, and to tell him why I needed an accessible seat. “I have fibromyalgia,” I said. “And I’ve got a backpack full of painkillers.” No, I’m not gonna get drunk and OD, I assured him. I’m a recovering alcoholic. No, I’m not gonna sell ‘em, I assured him. I need them. (I’m not opposed to sharing my meds and selling my meds, we do what we can to get by, but that wasn’t my intention that night, and I wasn’t gonna get into a conversation about harm reduction and survival at just that moment.) I know I don’t owe anybody any answers as to what my disability is, or why I need to sit down, but I don’t mind doing so. I usually hope it’ll help them ‘get’ that young people can be disabled, and that they’ll ask less intrusive questions to the next disabled person they encounter. Also, yes please to making non-disabled people uncomfortable.

He didn’t know anything about accessible seating, so I told him about my previous experiences at the same venue under a different name and different management, and I directed him to the same corner security had guided me to in the past. The place had been redecorated, rebranded. After the guard led us through the crowd (and only one person tripped on my cane, and another simply stood on it so that I had to ask them to step aside so I could keep walking), we reached my familiar corner, but he was told by staff that there wasn’t accessible seating there anymore. Instead, it had been moved upstairs (yes, there’s an elevator, but we took the stairs when he asked if we were able) to the balcony at the opposite side of the stage.

I kinda like when accessible seating is cordoned off from the crowd in some way – it makes me feel like I’m part of a secret club. And I get to see other disabled people so that I’m not the only one at the show. At yet another Marilyn Manson concert a couple years ago, I met other disabled folks who didn’t know there was more accessible seating until they heard me demanding security lead me there, and they came with me, having a much better experience of the concert than they would have otherwise.

On the balcony, we had black leather couches instead of white plastic lawn chairs, and low coffee tables for drinks, with storage underneath for our backpacks and cardigans. There was an elbow-height glass barrier with a view of the stage and soundboard, and we were just as close to the band as we had been in the past, but higher up. We were no longer on Twiggy’s side of the stage, but obviously Twiggy wasn’t there anyway. None of the original members were.

As Amber and I sat down on a couch and took off our coats, a few people gathered in front of us at the glass barrier, drinking and talking. Before I had a chance (thankfully, because I am not always so patient about this stuff), somebody using crutches approached them and pointed out to them that they were standing and blocking the entire view of the stage from a bunch of disabled people who couldn’t stand up for the concert and they should move out of the way. They apologized and left, and we thanked this wonderful stranger for having the confidence that we don’t always have.

But when Marilyn Manson entered the stage, I had the ability to stand. I’d taken a painkiller and a Xanax on the way to the show, hoping maybe this’d be the first Marilyn Manson show where I could actually dance along with my favourite songs. One of the things I’ve missed the most while coping with fibromyalgia is dancing – especially with my sister, because we used to dance together at shows all the time, always the first ones out on the floor to encourage everybody else. Whenever I went to a show or a bar and didn’t dance, I’d regret it (same with karaoke – now I know to sign up early and sing as much as possible). So Amber and I went to the glass barrier, and I held one hand on the railing, one hand on my cane, and danced through the entire show. It hurt, and I knew I’d be sore for a week, but it was worth it.

In We Are the Weirdos, Indigo steals a Mechanical Animals t-shirt, wishing they could have Marilyn Manson’s genderless, sexless body as their own. In real life, I fought with my mom about that t-shirt when I was 13, but I didn’t steal it, nor did she buy it for me. Instead, I never saw it again until I was 31, when I searched for it on Etsy and found it for sale as “vintage” (ha). I paid a silly amount for it, and wore it while finishing my book. And I wore it to the concert, imagining the sequel, imagining bringing Indigo to the show with me.

Before the tour was rescheduled and before Twiggy was kicked out of the band, Alice Glass was the opening act. At that time, she’d gone public about how her bandmate in Crystal Castles, Ethan Kath, had been abusing her for their entire career. Once upon a time, I was familiar with him as Ethan Cawke, the name he used in his band Cheerleader, also known as Kill Cheerleader and Cheerleader 666. I went to their shows when I was underage, I taped their videos and interviews and danced in the living room, and I joined their street team / fan club, receiving stickers and fliers and stuff in the mail to decorate my small town with. Reading Alice Glass’s story, and those of other girls and women who found themselves in similar situations with the same man, it wasn’t difficult to imagine myself experiencing something akin to what they were going through. Like Alice, like Jessicka, and like so many other women whose names are or are not public or well-known, I could’ve been there, too. Alice Glass quit the tour when Jessicka’s story of being raped and abused by Twiggy became public.

Though they may seem unrelated at first glance, this piece is to be read in tandem with my previous blog entry, Poverty and Isolation Are Killing Us: More (Unending) Thoughts and Conversations on Suicide, Criticism, Responsibility, Purpose, Care, and, Love. Although there’s much I could criticize about Marilyn Manson, I’m choosing not to do so here. Instead, I’m examining him through my crip-sick lens, as somebody else who, on a much smaller scale, exists as someone who has something like a public persona, and has experienced loss of support through living with pain and sickness.

Being booed on staged while demanding love is an experience Marilyn Manson has survived, and a pertinent metaphor for my own crip-sick creative work and need for care. In some accounts, he was described as “incoherent.” This was likely was a result of prescription meds and/or self-medication. I’ve been incoherent on meds, too. And I’ve been self-conscious of using particular painkillers around pals because of a) how I might act, and b) how they might judge me for how I appear when I’m medicated. Even though those moments are often when I’m at my best.

Imagine how it must feel to do the best to take care of yourself, to perform, to stay alive and stay working, and listen to your fans boo you and heckle you. Imagine how it must feel to have this happen when your long-term, trusted friends are no longer alongside you onstage. Imagine how it must feel to age, to change, to suffer, and watch as the people who claimed to love you – or at least love your art/work – leave. Imagine the shame of these incidents happening in public space, and being discussed publicly by people who refuse to consider the complexities of the situation or the experience of becoming disabled. Imagine feeling internalized ableism throughout this process, and not necessarily knowing those words. Imagine how you’d want a crowd – or an individual – to respond if you were in excruciating pain and desperately trying not to give up.

“Long-term” has been on my mind in various ways. I think about how musicians become no longer ‘cool’ or ‘relevant’ after a certain age, or a certain brief spotlight, and how, once I become interested in an artist, I tend to follow their work long-term. So that often, when I talk about my favourite bands, people respond with things like, “Oh, I didn’t know so-&-so was still around, still recording, still touring.” Marilyn Manson has never stopped recording or touring, never taken a hiatus. He tours all over the world and seems never to rest. Placebo, another one of my favourite bands, a band who I love seeing live, are another who’ve never stopped, but people are often surprised they’re “still around” when I bring them up. Similar to asking “Where do you think we go?” when you abandon sick and disabled friends and peers, I ask of musicians who are no longer consider popular, cool, or relevant: Where would they go? Why are you surprised when they’re still making creative work?

I’ve noticed that if I stick with a band long enough, they’ll start writing songs about recovery. By then, they’re no longer ‘cool’, but their work resonates with me on a new level. (Courtney Love is among these artists, too.)

As I’ve worked on this piece, the visions of three concerts have become melded together in my mind – the one I attended, observing his experience of crip-time; the next one, at which he was booed and heckled and left the stage; and the following one, in which he returns triumphant and his performance impresses the crowd. For the shows I wasn’t at, I imagine how I’d respond – how I’d feel separate from the crowd while I’m in accessible seating, and how I’d feel closer to Marilyn Manson for the same reason.

Between songs, as Marilyn Manson often exited the stage, the speakers were silent, and the crowd seemed mildly confused. I thought it was clear what was going on – he was hiding backstage, taking meds, catching his breath (hell, maybe he was doing yoga, I don’t know). But unless one has been or currently is sick and disabled, the pattern might not have been recognizable. I might’ve been one of very people in the crowd who was glad he was disappearing from the stage for longer and longer periods between songs. It was a sign that he was taking care of himself. The rest of the crowd probably thought he was old, tired, drunk, high, fucked up.

Occasionally, he’d return with a lit joint, the stage blacked out and only the burning tip of the joint visible, slowly floating toward the mic. I imagined him smoking backstage and finally admitting it wasn’t enough – he needed to have his medicine onstage, too. And I thought about which forms of meds are seen as acceptable, or even cool – drinking onstage is common, weed is applauded (as it was at this, and other shows of his I’ve been to), but what if an artist uncapped a prescription bottle while bantering with the crowd? How would the crowd respond? How would the show be reviewed?

I wanted to give Marilyn Manson a copy of We Are the Weirdos. I’d brought one in an envelope, imagining gifting it to him by placing it on the edge of the stage between songs, or handing it directly to him – it seems like a dorky, childlike thing to do, but I am into dorky, childlike things. Instead, I hung around after the show, not interested in getting trampled by TAB’s rushing the exit, and I watched all the roadies pack up. Since I’m someone who regrets not dancing when I can, not singing when I can, not approaching somebody when I can, I knew I’d regret not getting my book onstage if I left without trying. So I got up the guts to call a polite hello to the one of the roadies below, who looked up and listened. I handed him m envelope, Marilyn Manson’s name written with a violet Sharpie. The man took the book, thanked me, and packed it away in a tour case. I turned back toward my twin, but then I heard him calling me back. He’d delicately crumpled up a setlist and tossed it up to the balcony. I’m clumsy – it bounced off my glasses first and then into my hands. I felt like that squealing girl who Christian Bale gives his used press pass to in Velvet Goldmine. This useless, but tangible souvenir.

{image description: Me from the waist up, standing at the edge of the balcony, overlooking the stage, which is being packed up by roadies. On the left, I’m holding my cane. On the right, I’m holding my crumpled up setlist. I’m wearing a large black t-shirt with the cover of Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals and a grey wool miniskirt. I’m not wearing lipstick because it fell out of my coat pocket and got temporarily lost in the the cushions of the black leather couch, ugh, fuck.}

A few nights after the concert, I karaoked Marilyn Manson’s Disposable Teens at a local bar. Karaoke was one of the many social activities I lost access to when I was too sick to go out, to stay up late, when I was too sick to trust my pals to care for me in such a space. For a while, I wouldn’t let my friends talk to me about karaoke because I was angry about being left out and didn’t want to know anymore about what I was missing out on. It felt like an appropriate song to choose when I’d been doing so much writing on disposability. It felt fucking amazing to scream.

Mansoningly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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