Today is the birthday of Marilyn Manson (Brian Hugh Warner, b. 1969).
I had long pondered the curious word choice of Manson and others in his field (heavy metal, theatrical rock and roll) when they speak of the influence on vaudeville on what they do. After all…his business is music, and nothing could be further from vaudeville music — musically, speaking — then what Manson does.
This quandry came to the fore in particular about a decade ago when the dead-eye rocker released his album The Golden Age of Grotesque and and embarked on his Grotesk Burlesk tour. It seems quite clear in retrospect that he was being influenced somewhat by his soon-to-be wife, burlesque queen Dita Von Teese, right down to his Gaultier-designed threads. But I had a revelation finally, and in light of that revelation, Manson needn’t have been so literal as to wear a derby hat.
The revelation was this: the art of Manson and people like him (Alice Cooper, Ozzie Osbourne) is HUGELY influence by vaudeville, but not musically. It’s in the realm of stagecraft: especially stagecraft in the service of magicians. Make no mistake, vaudeville magicians have always evoked and suggested a relationship with Satan’s evil arts, have always conjured the devil in a haze of dry ice, and so forth. It was right there in front of me: the whole time: as outre as these guys love to be, there are ways in which they are really traditional, in the literal sense of that word.
And so today we will appall most of our usual readers by sharing a cut off that Grotesque album, called “Vodevil”. Still and all, I don’t think he likes vaudeville very much, given the tone of the song and the negative sense in which uses the word, as many politicians use it, to mean a farce, a fiasco, a bagatelle, “Life is a cabaret, old chum” He’s full of self loathing here. But what’s despicable about entertaining people? On the other hand, the self-reproach, the ritual suicide is part of the entertainment, and that has the oldest roots of all.
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc