Odalisque - - Contents -

A ma­rat­hon con­ver­sa­tion with Shirley Man­son, the no­to­ri­ous, lar­ger-than-li­fe Gar­bage le­ad sing­er who is back in the pub­lic eye sin­ce en­ding a se­ven-ye­ar hi­a­tus from singing, finds Tsemaye Opubor fa­ce-to-fa­ce with a bad girl go­ne good.

“I’m a re­bel­li­ous girl but I’ve ne­ver got­ten my­self in­to re­al shit”, says Shirley Man­son.

“In my world, as long as you’ve ne­ver do­ne anyt­hing you would be em­bar­ras­sed to tell your Gran­ny about, you’re ok,” I reply.

Shirley Man­son is sit­ting ac­ross from me at Fi­garo, the laid-back French bist­ro whe­re we’ve met in Los Ang­e­les for this in­ter­vi­ew. She looks all L.A. cool in a le­at­her jac­ket, t-shirt, crisp trousers, slight he­e­led sho­es, pa­le per­fect skin, a touch of ma­sca­ra and a slash of red­dish oran­ge lip­stick.

We’re se­a­ted at a qu­i­et tab­le in the back of the re­stau­rant. I let Shirley choo­se the tab­le, and she smi­les and thanks me, tel­ling me that she’s “qui­te bos­sy”, and that she li­kes be­ing in char­ge. We need to con­centra­te on the me­nu long enough to or­der so­me glas­ses of wi­ne, but our con­ver­sa­tion is al­re­a­dy all over the pla­ce, with wo­men war­ri­ors, our fa­vo­ri­te con­ti­nents, spa­ce age cha­rac­ters and Afri­can fe­ma­le aut­hors all be­ing di­scus­sed at warp speed. The­re’s so much in­for­ma­tion be­ing ex­chang­ed it’s hard to or­der wi­ne, much less ta­ke no­tes, and we’re on­ly th­ree mi­nu­tes in.

Shirley first caught my eye (and my ears) in her ear­ly scow­ling days in Gar­bage, the pop band that she has now been a mem­ber of for about 20 ye­ars or so­me 17 mil­li­on al­bums, gi­ve or ta­ke a few, de­pen­ding on how you me­a­su­re things. The­re was so­met­hing about her that first got to me in the ear­ly 90s; was it her vo­ice – rich, deep and a litt­le rock ‘n’ roll, or was it her pre­sence, her hair­cut, her postu­re, her ama­zing war­dro­be or the fuck off girl with a ba­dass at­ti­tu­de vi­be that she had? Wha­te­ver it was, it had hooked me then, and it keeps me hooked to­day.

TO I’ve been following you sin­ce the 90s, and you’ve al­ways struck me as be­ing so in­de­pen­dent and pro-wo­men. Is it hard wor­king in the mu­sic in­du­stry and be­ing a fe­mi­nist?

SM It’s not hard to be a fe­mi­nist, but one is wor­king in a pat­ri­ar­chal in­du­stry that is de­sig­ned to ma­ke mo­ney by ex­plo­i­ting wo­men’s beau­ty to ma­ke mo­ney. The mu­sic in­du­stry is in a sym­bi­o­tic re­la­tions­hip with nar­cis­sistic va­ni­ty, which is at this cur­rent mo­ment in ti­me in the histo­ry of the world, seen as ac­cep­tab­le – and it’s lau­ded, mag­ni­fi­ed, and ad­mi­red.

TO I’m not try­ing to point a fing­er, Shirley, but da­re I men­tion that you’re ea­sy on the eye, you’ve been a mo­del your­self, and you’re seen as a sty­le icon. I do won­der how it adds up for you?

SM I’m not ex­cu­sing my­self and I don’t ta­ke it per­so­nal­ly. I fe­el that throug­hout my ca­re­er I’ve ma­de ve­ry cons­cious de­ci­sions about how I’ve cho­sen to portray my­self. Even though I was pressu­red to re­ve­al mo­re skin than per­haps I was ful­ly com­for­tab­le re­ve­aling. I didn’t li­ke the fe­e­ling of it. The­re we­re a lot of nu­de en­vi­ron­ments in pho­to ses­sions that I tur­ned down, and I’m glad I did.

Can you tell me what hap­pened? TO

SM Gar­bage en­joyed phe­no­me­nal suc­cess and then our ca­re­er cras­hed. It was bru­tal and ve­ry dif­ficult to pro­cess. I was left fe­e­ling ve­ry used in so­me ways, used and di­scar­ded. I think that if I had re­ve­a­led all my bo­dy to the pub­lic and then been left as I was, I would ha­ve found that ve­ry dif­ficult to re­co­ver from. I’m glad that I kept so­me part of my­self just for me.

That sounds li­ke it must ha­ve been ve­ry dif­ficult? TO

SM One mi­nu­te you’re the It-girl and eve­ry­bo­dy wants you… and then, you can’t get anyo­ne on the pho­ne… you can’t get anyo­ne to be­li­e­ve that you ha­ve any va­lue whatso­e­ver becau­se you are no long­er the young It-girl. It was ve­ry, ve­ry dif­ficult to re­co­ver from psycho­lo­gi­cal­ly, and I did.

TO So what do you think about the young wo­men who are out the­re now in mu­sic, the new ge­ne­ra­tion of It-girls?

SM My ex­pe­ri­ence do­esn’t me­an that I don’t think that wo­men should ex­plo­it their beau­ty and their sex­u­a­li­ty if in­deed that’s who they are. I lo­ve wo­men, espe­ci­al­ly wo­men ar­tists and I want the best for each and eve­ry one of them. I don’t know why I fe­el li­ke this but I do. I’m deeply in­ve­sted in the hap­pi­ness of them and as a re­sult I know I can be ter­rib­ly hard on them, the unjust­ness of my at­ti­tu­de li­es squa­rely on me. Of cour­se they should be ab­le to dress any which way they ple­a­se, and be as sex­u­al as they li­ke. What is good for my goo­se may be com­ple­tely dif­fe­rent for their own. I just ha­te it when I see their ta­lents and their ac­com­plish­ments be­ing overs­ha­do­wed by their bo­di­es. Our bo­di­es we can­not keep. Our words, our work and our ta­lent stays with us al­ways, and no­bo­dy can ever ta­ke it away from us, ever.

TO Are the­re any wo­men ar­tists out the­re now that you fe­el are in char­ge of their image and the way they pre­sent them­sel­ves?

SM I lo­ve Ri­han­na and eve­ryt­hing that she do­es fe­els ve­ry authen­tic to who she is and the cul­tu­re that she grew up in. I find it to be glo­ri­ous and beau­ti­ful and so­mewhat ex­ci­ting ac­tu­al­ly, and new. For me, I find it to be ve­ry em­po­wering to see her be­ing so sex­u­al and po­wer­ful. You know that any man that gets the chan­ce to be between Ri­han­na’s legs is go­ing to be trem­bling in fe­ar. Now that to me is true equa­li­ty right the­re!

TO Of cour­se they would trem­b­le! If you’re a man and you’ve ma­na­ged to get to that pla­ce with Ri­ri, you’d bet­ter be re­a­dy for du­ty!

SM She’s li­ke a fuc­king po­wer­house! I re­al­ly lo­ve her! But she’s one end of the spect­rum, and the thing I see mo­re of­ten is a bunch of girls be­ing coy co­ve­ring up their boo­bi­es in tho­se ma­ga­zi­nes and it looks ti­red and sad and sub­missi­ve and pat­he­tic to me. So­me du­de is go­ing to be in the of­fice toi­let with that ma­ga­zi­ne ha­ving a wank.

That’s a distur­bing vi­su­al… thanks ever so much Shirley! TO

SM I know, it re­al­ly bot­hers me too and I don’t know why. It sounds hy­pocri­ti­cal to be lau­ding one wo­man for living a cer­tain way and then sne­e­ring per­haps at the sy­stem that per­pe­tu­a­tes the con­stant ima­ging of wo­men with their clot­hes off. It’s bi­zar­re and it de­tracts from who they re­al­ly are and what they are ac­hi­e­ving.

How do­es this dif­fer from the 90s? TO

SM In the 90s we we­re girls who ca­me from mot­hers who we­re re­al­ly figh­ting for so­me form of equa­li­ty, we we­re punk, or ri­ot girls, wha­te­ver you want to call us. We we­re all ra­ging with re­al at­ti­tu­de and de­ter­mi­na­tion. I think we saw our mums ha­ve their rights di­mi­nished so we wan­ted to en­joy our li­ber­ty to do what we wan­ted to.

Let’s talk a bit about why you left mu­sic for se­ven ye­ars? TO

SM I left mu­sic for so ma­ny re­a­sons. The most im­por­tant re­a­son was that it just wasn’t fun. I felt I was do­ing my li­fe a dis­ser­vice by par­ti­ci­pa­ting in a ca­re­er that was joyless. I felt li­ke it was pho­ny of me to re­main in­si­de it when I found it so sad­de­ning.

You’re back now? TO

SM Yes, I’m back. We had the hi­a­tus. I’m still in a band, which is what I do, but it’s still so­me­ti­mes dif­ficult. Don’t get me wrong though, in so­me ways I’m incre­dib­ly to­get­her. I am fuc­king hardco­re. I re­a­li­ze that now. I’ve wat­ched sco­res of pe­op­le fall by the way­si­de. They can’t even hand­le one world tour wit­hout col­lapsing or get­ting a drip in their arm or ha­ving a men­tal bre­ak­down or go­ing nuts. I did th­ree world tours

wit­hout missing one sing­le fuc­king show and that’s fuc­king bru­tal.

TO What was the most sig­ni­fi­cant thing that chang­ed du­ring that se­ven-ye­ar pe­ri­od when you we­re away from mu­sic?

SM My mum di­ed, and I felt li­ke I was emo­tio­nal­ly re­tar­ded up un­til that point. I can ho­nest­ly say that I grew up du­ring that 18-month pe­ri­od, from her fal­ling ill to her de­ath. I felt so hel­pless. The on­ly good thing about lo­sing my mum was that I re­a­li­zed that I could no long­er be a child my­self. My re­la­tions­hip to my li­fe, my work, my part­ner, it all chang­ed af­ter I lost her. I dug in­to my li­fe and my joy. I cho­se hap­pi­ness. It was the best dis­play of lo­ve for mum. It was my way to de­al.

So how did you wind up on TV play­ing a ter­mi­na­tor? TO

SM Gar­bage had been so suc­cess­ful that I didn’t think that anyt­hing I could do would ha­ve a va­lue af­ter that. I met a scrip­twri­ter at a par­ty in Hol­ly­wood who told me I would be per­fect for his show as a ro­bot and the next thing you know I star­ted do­ing a TV pro­gram, just for the fun of it. Thanks to that ex­pe­ri­ence, my re­la­tions­hip to mu­sic and to suc­cess chang­ed for the bet­ter.

So what’s in sto­re for you now? TO

SM Well, on a per­so­nal le­vel I can say that I’m now star­ting my se­cond pe­ri­od as an ar­tist. The last al­bum fe­els li­ke it sig­nal­led my de­but as an ar­tist, even if I had 20 ye­ars of ex­pe­ri­ence with the band. I didn’t tre­at my­self as an ar­tist the who­le first pe­ri­od as I call it, but I ap­pro­ach it dif­fe­rent­ly now. I still fe­el li­ke I’m a ba­by wri­ter though. I al­so fe­el li­ke I’m much ni­cer now. I’m much mo­re po­wer­ful. I thought be­ing ru­de or ag­gres­si­ve would so­mehow pro­tect me from wha­te­ver I thought was coming to harm me. I know bet­ter now. How the fuck did my band stay with me? I was such an idi­ot!! I still au­di­tion for ac­ting stuff. But becau­se I ha­ve anot­her ca­re­er the thing that ta­kes me away from mu­sic re­al­ly has to spe­ak to me.

What’s ahe­ad for Gar­bage? It’s been 20 ye­ars sin­ce it all star­ted. TO

SM As a band, we are go­ing on tour next ye­ar, we’re wor­king on a new re­cord and al­so on a book com­me­mo­ra­ting the 20th an­ni­ver­sa­ry for our com­mu­ni­ty. We get to­get­her one week­end a month and wri­te stuff. The­re are al­so so­me ot­her re­al­ly ex­ci­ting things in the works but I can’t talk about them yet.

Shirley looks at her pho­ne and re­a­li­zes she’s mis­sed a bunch of calls from her hus­band.

SM OMG! We’ve been he­re for mo­re than th­ree hours! I’ve mis­sed din­ner and the dog and eve­ryt­hing. My hus­band must be fu­ming. I know I would be. I ha­ve to dash.

And with that, Shirley pays for the drinks and we le­a­ve Fi­garo.

Out­si­de, her shiny black se­dan has a par­king tic­ket on it.

SM This is un­re­al, I’m usu­al­ly so to­get­her and or­ga­ni­zed when it comes to work. I can’t be­li­e­ve I lost track of ti­me li­ke this. I had so much fun. I wish eve­ry day was li­ke this. It certainly didn’t fe­el li­ke work.

In spi­te of the la­te hour, and the mis­sed pho­ne calls, Shirley wants to ma­ke su­re we get a sel­fie to­get­her out­si­de. I had tri­ed to ta­ke one in­si­de the re­stau­rant but Miss Man­son finds my ca­me­ra skills wan­ting and says she is go­ing to re­ta­ke the pho­to. When she’s fi­nal­ly sa­tis­fi­ed with the re­sult, she gi­ves me a hu­ge hug, jumps in her car, wa­ves one last ti­me, and speeds off.

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