One for the Money, Two for the Show, Marilyn Manson, Act III

Nobody ever dreamed a young man with no musical talent whatsoever could go this far and become our Antichrist Superstar. Certainly not Rolling Stone magazine whose first printed comments on Marilyn Manson called his cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" unnecessary. But hey, even if rock journalism cannot name its tune, it can at least change it. And who did we find for the second time on the cover of that magazine which half-follows and half-creates its own pop royalty? That's right, a gold and red Marilyn Manson glammed up like a blasphemous Christmas tree.

His current incarnation is no angel and no worm. No more a Goth rebel against the future, he is now calling himself Omega and living large in a rented mansion in Laurel Canyon, a Studio 54 drug den where new media-ready myths are born daily. Manson is ever expanding his empire of disgust and revenge. He hit the Internet in September for the spacebreaking of his official Web site &emdash; &emdash; with a Real Audio Q&A session in which he promised direct, unfiltered communication with his fans. And with several thousand message board posts per day, the enthusiasts seem to divide and multiply often enough to build a world of philosophical misunderstanding all their own.

So while all the critics are trying to apply their usual cache of adjectives to Manson's records, the real fans are molded to their PC terminals, waiting for the green logo to appear with another message from their benevolent and wise Omega. Between holy transmissions, they bicker among themselves like children &emdash; well, most of them are. They distort bytes of Nietzschean "philosophy" with plenty of spelling errors, post fragmented hyper-poetry, threaten suicide, and share their dreams, drug preferences and sexual fantasies about Manson. It's a weird scene, even for cyberspace.

But it's only rock 'n' roll, right? Manson makes a great cultural icon for the moment, but the only sophisticated or interesting thing about his rock 'n' roll is that it's actually multimedia theater, a sold-out show whose audience doesn't even know that the joke's on them. And the dark, evangelical movement isn't going to end anytime in the near future. If the Blade Runner society Manson prophesies on his third record, Mechanical Animals, lies before us, the exploiting fun may never end.

Mechanical Animals is full of codes, numerology and shock therapy attempts at enlightening the youth of America. Unfortunately, it also contains the same nauseatingly sentimental lyrics that remind us that "rock records" weren't really dangerous until they became bad poetry's point of entry into the realms of cultural relevance. "I'm as fake as a wedding cake/And I'm vague and I know that I'm/homopolitan/pitifully predictable/correctly political," Manson sings on "New Model No. 15." So it's creepy to read a glowing review like the one that appeared recently in the Village Voice under the headline "Venus in Furs." In fact, it's embarrassing.

There is nothing to say about Mechanical Animals in the good-old-rock context, except maybe that its jukebox effect is bizarre: You can hear Bowie's "Fame" in "Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)," and Patti Smith's punk resurrection of '50s rock in the dramatic drag of "Fundamentally Loathsome," and Warrant songs that we're all too embarrassed to remember the titles of in "New Model No. 15." And there's more.

Manson claims to have planted some kind of digital information behind all this. So how devoted he is to preserving the rock aesthetic is anyone's guess. (Maybe he just proves that there isn't one.) But if you listen to or read an interview, seeing the trade-off is not the work of a brain surgeon.

Those standby comparisons to KISS and Alice Cooper won't work anymore either. "I wanna rock 'n' roll all night and party every day" was a way to make a living out of getting drunk and getting laid. Cooper's adolescent, school's-out anxiety was a summer break anthem that knew we had to hit the books &emdash; and reality &emdash; again in the fall. Manson isn't so frivolous. Much of the content and terminology in Mechanical Animals can also be found in the cosmology-meets-theology of Dr. Frank Tipler, who discusses the Omega Point Theory &emdash; Omega = God &emdash; in his book, The Physics of Immortality. Tipler's theory is that eternal life is possible, if not inevitable, through a maneuver of forced self-evolution by the combined powers of technology and determination to survive. He predicts that humans will use technology to colonize the entire universe in order to force and ride out the wave of the Big Crunch implosion at the end of time. The posthumans who evolve at the end will resurrect everyone who has ever lived or could have lived, as in rapture.

This Star Trek vision of heaven is heavy to the vastly uneducated minds of Mansonites. At least it makes a more intriguing discussion than all the magazine drivel about Manson's place in rock history, Twiggy's great guitar riffs or Beinhorn's production work. After all, that stuff is just filling space beneath the star ratings.

But if the band Tool can introduce Jungian psychology on a rock record, I suppose Manson can introduce us to the end of the world. But you have to wonder whether he is a prophet or just a Midwestern Andy Warhol painting cosmic soup cans. I mean, despite his creative manipulation of the hierarchy of cultural and economic power that we call "rock 'n' roll" &emdash; or worse yet "art" &emdash; he is forced to watch our uncertain fate just as helplessly as any of the Jenny Jones guests who follow his lead. The funny thing is, even if Manson's whole shtick fails to get a reading of the future, the lost generation of fans who have turned to a rock star on the Internet for spiritual guidance may be the real indicator of where we're headed. As they Nintendo their way toward self-actualization and the 1984 scenario takes shape, language and other "human" capacities get scarcer, and the computers get bigger. When that reality touches down, we might all find ourselves riding the wave of the implosion of the human mind into either oblivion or Omega's salvation. Feeling lucky?

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