Don’t You Forget About Me: Marilyn Manson – “Sweet Dreams” (Video)
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 7, 2008
FUSE, music video channel of the privileged few, has recently started airing a series called “Video Yearbook,” in which they play an hour’s worth of videos from a specific year. Mostly this is meant more for sane people who haven’t continued to watch these videos year-in and year-out as they’ve faded from relevancy than it is for me specifically, but I do appreciate their willingness to acknowledge that the music video does in fact have a history, and that it’s a history worth reviewing every now and then. And hey, every once in a while, even I catch a chesnut that’s eluded me for a while, and in today’s 1995 Yearbook, I saw a video that I’ve seen maybe only a handful of times since it was popular: Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”.
This isn’t an anomaly, either–the musical career in general of Marilyn Manson has more or less been absent from the public consciousness since his golden age of ’96 – ’01 or so. Think about it: when was the last time you heard a Marilyn Manson song on the radio? Perhaps more importantly, if you were to hear a Manson song on the radio, which station would it be? He’s not old enough for classic rock, he’s too close to metal for repertory alt-rock and too weird to be found next to Nickelback and Seether on Mainstream rock. And perhaps most importantly, if you were to hear a Manson song on the radio, which song would it be? As recognizable a popular figure as he was during his era (which, by the way, is starting to feel like it was whole generations ago), he didn’t really have many hits, and those that he did were far bigger for their shocking, instantly unforgettable videos than for their actual musical merits–forgot the pop charts, where he never made a single appearance, Manson never even charted in the top 10 of the rock charts.
Why the cruel time treatment? Well, one is that there’s a reason his music was so much less appreciated than his videos–it wasn’t nearly as memorable. Sure, “The Dope Show” was a surprisingly slinky piece of glam-metal (which has held up much, much better than I would have expected) and the frantic energy of “The Beautiful People” is at least admirable. If you can hum more than a few bars of “The Man That You Fear,” “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me),” “Rock is Dead,” or any of the Holy Wood singles, though, then you’re either a Manson fanatic or you spent even more time obsessing over turn-of-the-century modern rock than I did, and I’m not sure which is worse.
That’s not the only reason, though. Just as liable for the fading of his stature is the fact that Marilyn failed, in juust about every way, to quit while he was ahead. It might have been in Marilyn’s best interest, especially in the post-Columbine fallout (where there were people who actually semeed to think that this guy was the reason a bunch of kids died seemingly for no reason), to convince people that he was actually a smart, well-spoken guy that would be less likely to worship Satan than he would to discuss the latest Werner Herzog movie with him. But fact of the matter is that the more we saw in the real world of an out-of-costume Manson, the less compelling his on-stage persona became, especially as he seemingly stopped trying to do anything legitimately new and decided covering 80s pop songs and shouting their choruses all scary-like would be enough. Onion article “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-to-Door Trying to Shock People” really hit the nail on the head–by 2004, this guy was about as scary as Alice Cooper teeing off at the Golf All-Star Cup.
Which is why it’s so weird to see “Sweet Dreams” now, and to remember what it was like seeing this video (and this artist) for the first time over a decade ago. Back in the day, when you had absolutely no idea who this guy was, this was some pretty outrageous stuff–Manson in garish lipstick and wedding garb, walking down an abandoned street in nothing but a tutu, and most of all, Medusa Manson with the clock-hair and that creepy, creepy fake eye–this just wasn’t stuff you were going to see in a Bush or Pumpkins video (not until ’98, at least, at which point Billy Corgan decided to get a piece of that weirdo action). Throw in the appearance of bassist Twiggy Ramirez, who you weren’t sure was a man or woman, and weren’t sure if (s)he was hot as a member of either gender, and you had a video that really fucked with your head a bit–one of only two videos that ten-year-old me simply refused to watch if I was alone or if it was past 9:00 at night.*
And you know what? It’s not a bad cover, either. The fact that I think I knew it way before I ever heard the Eurythmics original might have to do with it, but considering how lame his future covers of “Personal Jesus” and “Tainted Love” were, Manson sorta makes “Sweet Dreams” his own–the synth riff just sounds more natural to me as a super-dark, wah-wahed guitar line, and the psychosexual creepiness of the original’s lyrics just sounds more like something that Manson would come up with than the chick who would go on to sing “Walking on Broken Glass” and “Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves”. Then you’ve got that climactic whisper-screeched final verse, which I think might go on as Manson’s definitive musical moment. Sure, it doesn’t sound outright frightening the way it did back in ’96, but I wouldn’t mind it on classic rock radio in another ten years or so. A revival has to be due sooner or later, no?