The last of the controversial rockers

He’s back.

Marilyn Manson, the scourge of contemporary mainstream values.

It has been 12 years since the curiously-enduring rocker first brazenly set foot in staid Capital City to corrupt our youth. And, surely to his surprise as much as to anyone else’s, a dozen years on, Marilyn Manson is still considered to be some sort of threat. Not sure what sort, but he’s a threat all the same.

That was demonstrated clearly enough earlier this week in Winnipeg, when Manson proved he’s still got it by getting Peggers sufficiently riled up to stage a bona fide (or at least so-called) riot following a sold-out show. Cops were reportedly assaulted. Disturbance was caused. Headlines were duly generated. It was the sort of passion not seen on the streets of my childhood hometown since the days of the General Strike.

This, from a performer that can charitably be credited with having given the world one great original song. Like so:

Yet, as the dust settles amid silly behaviour exhibited by the Kanyes, the Whitneys and the Britneys or the pop music world, time is increasingly revealing one Marilyn Manson to be the last of the controversial rockers.

When, years after many of us had put the Manson menace out of our minds, the edgy-by-design Family Guy sought a negative-influence for an episode detailing impressionable Chris Griffin’s descent into nihilism, delinquency and just-plain-not-niceness, the role-model chosen was none other than Marilyn Manson.

Yes, rock and roll as a bad influence has become that impotent. After all, since Manson’s 1997 visit to Ottawa’s Congress Centre (RIP), punk rock has become a blanket term for anything loud, fast and safe. Hiphop is essentially a tribute to marketing and materialism. And ‘protest’ singers have been reduced to cutting children’s albums.

What’s left, it seems, is Marilyn Manson, a savvy artist who has served his dark overlord well for over a decade. It is difficult, at this point, to imagine another rocker so controversial emerging onto an increasingly irrelevant music scene. Aids to Manson’s attack such as heavy-rotation on video channels and alarmist talk in all the right papers, are unlikely to be so freely available to the next bat-biting, chicken-savaging, excrement-eating artist.

So let us applaud Marilyn Manson: the last controversial rocker.

And to do so, allow me to transport you back through the mists of time to a summer evening in 1997. The place is the Ottawa Congress Centre. The crowd, struggling to look cool on a hot August night, is dressed in black. The atmosphere is tense.

That tension had been encouraged by local media, fearful of… of… of something. I had been asked to comment on the controversy a few weeks earlier on CBC Radio; though, the previously-amiable morning-show host had chosen to exclude me from the round-table discussion after I corrected him on the air. “Manson, it’s Manson,” I had instinctively said under my breath when asked about the “Marilyn Mason” controversy. Evidently, not entirely under my breath; the gist of it had kinda slipped out. And with it had gone my invitation to participate further in the discussion.

No matter. The subject had been given ample airtime on other local radio and television stations, notably radio station CFRA, where one host had vowed to Canada’s parents that he would attend the show and report back on the debauchery within the Congress Centre’s halls. No youth would be corrupted by this mascaraed menace under his watch, the reactionary announcer insisted during days of advance fear-mongering that surely helped to boost ticket sales.

And sure enough, come the night of the show, there he was, notebook in hand, head slowly shaking at the sorry sight before his eyes. The battle, his gaze seemed to say, had perhaps already been lost. The notebook, though unfortunately too far away for me to read — much less snatch from the man’s sweaty grasp — likely said as much as well.

Security, to no one’s surprise, was unusually strict, with each of us being surveyed for weapons and vacant looks, and most of us getting the sort of quick pat-down that in an instant allows security personnel and concert-goers to call themselves intimately acquainted.

And as we waited to be allowed into the hall for the evening’s ritual, trouble indeed erupted — just as the talk-radio host had frothily predicted. A cameraman for a local TV channel was being escorted out of the venue’s side-doors and told not to return.

“How about that?” I said loudly enough for the man with the notebook to hear. “The only troublemakers here are the media.” The notebook, alas, stayed in the backpocket into which it had been reluctantly placed. Oh, but he had heard me. He heard.

For the talk-radio host, more disappointment was to follow. For as Mr. Mason, er Manson, hit the stage, it soon became clear that his plan to turn us all to the ways of Satan would be foiled by the positively evil acoustics of the Congress Centre. Manson sang; we could not make out a word. He spoke; it was one big muddle. He prophesied in front of sizable banners adorned with symbols not unlike swastikas; we shrugged our shoulders.

After only a few songs, the talk-radio host’s notebook was returned to the backpocket from whence it had come, and its owner left in disgust. Disgust, not so much over the content of the show, but over the sudden need to fill a fair bit of time in the next day’s show with discussion of something other than Marilyn Manson and his anticipated hate-your-parents-and-embrace-Satan message.

And so the predator onstage was allowed to continue his efforts to indoctrinate innocents into his cult, without so much as a talk-radio host to stop him. And when Manson called for the blood of a virgin (though, again, the acoustics were bad — he may have been calling for more vocal in his monitor), the faithful presumably did as instructed. Or, at least, as interpreted. And at a Marilyn Manson concert, finding a virgin cannot have been a challenge.

And when it was over, the properly primed crowd headed into the night, bent on causing as much mayhem as time would allow. Unfortunately, it being a weeknight and the buses running on a reduced schedule, time did not allow for any mayhem. Oh, but Satan’s servant had filled the younguns’ heads with some sort of mischievous thoughts. That was for sure.

Still, no riot. No disturbance caused. No reported injuries, other than to the talk-radio host’s campaign to stop Manson’s crusade. This, after all, is Ottawa. We’d seen controversial acts before, from The Plasmatics to Presley. (Did you know Elvis Presley performed over 30 per cent of his non-U.S. shows right here in Ottawa? It’s a fact!) We’d even seen Alice Cooper, the artist to whom Manson owes a sizable debt.

And so Ottawans were able to sleep soundly on that fateful night. They will do so again tonight, even as we marvel at the longevity of a man who has seen (and arguably contributed to) a steady decline in the influence of rock and roll over the last decade; yet, somehow remained a controversial figure.

The last of the controversial rockers.

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