During Ozzfest’s stop Thursday in Denver, where the curious and the converted clamored equally for a view at the foot of the stage, Manson introduced two of his favorite themes – religion and government – by blaring an aorta-rumbling choral rendition of “God Bless America” through every one of Mile High Stadium’s aged speakers. Flags blazed on the video screens above the stage; fireworks and fighter jets would not have been out of place.
When Manson finally did appear (sporting a flowing black gown and a “Bride of Frankenstein” wig), his hands were outstretched in a gesture that might have seemed patriotic were it not coming from a satanic, ghost-faced rocker who delights in scaring middle America right out of its socks.
In Denver, the fact that Manson was able to step through the velvety curtain and into the floodlights felt like a victory to some. His first performance in the Denver area since the Columbine High School shootings two years ago – Manson canceled his May 1999 appearance here after media reports linked him to the rampage – had been a constant point of contention in the local media since April, when a religious group called Citizens for Peace and Respect began a well-funded campaign to prevent it.
And while condemnation from the right is a phenomenon Manson is certainly familiar with, Denver’s effort seemed to go beyond the modest picket-in-the-parking-lot method employed by other anti-Manson movements. This protest group voiced its wishes to the concert promoter, then to elected officials. Last month, Republican Gov. Bill Owens and Rep. Tom Tancredo issued statements of support for the cause.
In the week before Ozzfest arrived in town, Citizens for Peace and Respect – led by charismatic 28-year-old youth pastor Jason Janz – demonstrated a media savvy to rival Manson’s by landing on the front pages of both daily newspapers. The night before the concert, 350 protesters gathered on the steps of the state Capitol in Denver. They were preceded, however, by a counter rally staged by a group calling itself Citizens for the Protection of the Right to Free Speech.
In the end, Janz estimated his group had collected nearly 4,000 signatures opposing Manson and had dented ticket sales by 40 percent – a figure disputed by concert promoter Chuck Morris Presents.
So when Manson thanked the crowd for showing up – “It’s been a long time coming, motherf
ers,” he said to the throng of approximately 23,000 – most of them knew exactly what he meant. And while the majority seemed more interested in Manson’s bombastic, brooding groove than his politics, there were some for whom the performance had taken on an ideological import. A pair of young girls held up cardboard signs, each with her own message scrawled in adolescent print: “What Would Manson Do?” asked one, while the other read “Protect Free Speech.” Near the front, an extravagantly painted fan raised his fists in time with the music, a thick line of duct tape covering his mouth.
Throughout his set – a pyrotechnics-laden sludgefest that found Manson doing his trademark stilt-walking and plenty of stage-grinding – Manson made regular references to “the people outside.” Citizens for Peace and Respect had said they planned to be on site throughout Ozzfest, passing out anti-Manson literature and providing information about Hopefest, an alternative concert they were hosting just down the lane at the Elitch Gardens/Six Flags amusement park.
“There are a lot of people outside holding this fucking book right here,” Manson said, wielding a blood red Bible. “They want to tell me that they care more about you than I do.” Manson then cued the crowd to join him in wishing his detractors a collective “fuck you” – an order that was complied with to ear-shattering results – before treating the audience to a reading from the Book of Psalms. “Now I ask you, who is a worse influence, God or Marilyn Manson?” The crowd replied in the only way Manson had expected them to: God, of course!
It was a scene that surely would have confirmed what the protesters had known all along: Marilyn Manson is an evil, God-hating Satanist out to corrupt the youth of America. And although Manson appeared to be having a ball making this point from the stage, it was ultimately lost on his critics. Janz and his companions had been on hand in the earlier hours of Ozzfest, but they drove away around 11 a.m., about nine hours before Manson took the stage. The only signs of their having been there were the brightly colored religious pamphlets that floated around the parking lot with the rest of the detritus – a message of hope mixed in with cigarette butts, condom wrappers and plastic trays of nacho cheese.
To the 15 or so protesters who’d been on site in the morning, the antichrist, apparently, wasn’t worth sticking around for.