photo & text by nacrowe
HOLY WOOD (IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY OF DEATH) (INTERSCOPE, 2000) was a bit of retread record. having expanded his INDUSTRIAL-tinged GOTH METAL roots at the zenith of his FAME and CULTURAL CACHE with a left turn to that of CLASSIC 70s GLAM ROCK a la DAVID BOWIE in MECHANICAL ANIMALS (INTERSCOPE, 1998), this follow-up saw MARILYN MANSON return back to the formula that seemingly worked on ANTICHRIST SUPERSTAR (INTERSCOPE, 1996) almost four years earlier. only thing was that the cultural moment HOLY WOOD was released within had transformed the AMERICAN public's view of MANSON. this is since it was released a year after the COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL MASSACRE in COLORADO that saw twelve students and one teacher murdered at the hands of two heavily armed classmates. it was (falsely) reported in the press at the time that said murderers were fans of MANSON, an INNACURACY that forever transformed his career.
its hard to put COLUMBINE into perspective with our current AWFUL state of affairs where school shootings happen on such a regular basis that it is easy to be OVERWHELMED and HOPELESS about the prospect of change. the likes of SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY, VIRGINIA TECH, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLASS, UC SANTA BARBARA, SANTA FE, and ROBB ELEMENTARY are just the most prominent of an enduring facet of AMERICAN LIFE: our inability to confront the corrosive widespread availability of high-capacity weapons of war in our society. in 1999, during the CLINTON administration, COLUMBINE was that initial siren warning us all of this impending danger. instead of change or legislation, a new IMPOTENT NATIONAL RITUAL was instituted in which HOLLOW PRAYERS were made and nothing happened. gone on ever since. back then instead of change we as a country did the easy thing going after cultural targets: i.e. violent movies, video games and, of course, MARILYN MANSON.
for me its hard to read HOLY WOOD disentangled from that cultural moment, as MANSON himself was consumed by it. his global supporting effort was the "guns, god and government" tour for starters. he even made a MEMORABLE and THOUGHTFUL cameo in MICHAEL MOORE's BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (UNITED ARTISTS, 2002) film, itself an examination of AMERICA's fascination with guns, before a DENVER gig. sonically the record is not that far removed from MECHANICAL ANIMALS in that the songs are pretty streamlined and traditionally structured, unlike previous efforts which were more EXPERIMENTAL INDUSTRIAL art pieces. lyrically MANSON is trading on his requisite themes of ALIENATION and PSYCHIC / SOCIAL ISOLATION on memorable tracks like "CRUCI-FICTION IN SPACE," "THE FIGHT SONG," "A PLACE IN THE DIRT," "THE NOBODIES," "BURNING FLAG" and "DISPOSABLE TEENS." my personal favorite track is the plodding "CRUCI-FICTION IN SPACE" which has a 40,000 foot elevated perspective on the human race and its follies similar to that of the famous ORSON WELLES / HARRY LIME ferris wheel scene in THE THIRD MAN (BRITISH LION, 1949) were the true value of mankind is discussed and entertained from a distance. the implication for MANSON seems to be that if these students dont matter in AMERICAN LIFE, than who does?
who does indeed. HOLY WOOD is still as RELEVANT now as it was more than two decades ago.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i should start off stating that i am among the CONVERTED.
between my dad and i, we have several guitar AMPLIFIER by the likes of FENDER, MARSHALL, AMPEG, SUPRO, VOX, MESA-BOOGIE, and even a vintage SUNN. i get the appeal of running a guitar straight into a good AMPLIFIER. its because of this predisposition that i am a bit confused by the recent AMPIRE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (2018, DNR PRODUCTIONS) documentary which is supposedly about guitar amplification but really is about the CULT / OBSESSION / FETISHIZATION surrounding it.
the conceit of this film is one of combatting the recent wave of DIGITAL MODELING TECHNOLOGY that has transformed the AMPLIFICATION INDUSTRY, both in terms of high and low price points. even beginning guitarists through low wattage MODELING AMPLIFIERS now have access to a myriad of quality sounds and effects unheard of ten years ago at an entry level price point. likewise, with the advent of studio-quality MODELING / PROFILING PLATFORMS like KEMPER, HELIX and AXE FX, touring and recording musicians have access to the tones of their existing AMPLIFIER collections in a more USABLE, TRAVEL-WORTHY package.
the message of this film is one of advocacy for the EMOTIONAL and PSYCHIC, almost ALCHEMICAL, connection between player, guitar and AMPLIFIER (whether tube or solid state). adherents to said worldview include an impressive list of interview participants such as PETER BUCK (R.E.M.), RICK NIELSEN (CHEAP TRICK), ALEX LIFESON (RUSH), JOHN 5 (K.D. LANG, MARILYN MANSON, ROB ZOMBIE), ROBBIE KRIEGER (THE DOORS), PAUL GILBERT (RACER X, MR. BIG), PAT METHANY, MIKE KENEALLY (FRANK ZAPPA, STEVE VAI), PETE THORN (CHRIS CORNELL), LITA FORD (THE RUNAWAYS), TOMMY HENRIKSEN (ALICE COOPER) and JOE BONAMASSA among others.
here is the thing: i dont buy the argument.
a more thoughtful approach would be to actual explain in some detail what a traditional tube AMPLIFIER actually consists of and how it technically functions. educate your audience. maybe throw in a little history about its TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT and throw some shine to past and present AMPLIFIER INNOVATORS like LEO FENDER, JIM MARSHALL, MICHAEL SOLDANO, DAVID REEVES, HARTLEY PEAVEY, EVERET HULL, REINHOLD BOGNER, RANDALL SMITH, LYNDON LANEY, DAVE FRIEDMAN, CLIFFORD COOPER, PETER DIEZEL, DON RANDALL and HOWARD ALEXANDER DUMBLE among countless other engineers. better yet, instead of seeing the incoming wave of technology and various techniques regarding onstage miking of low wattage AMPS to massive PA systems as competition, maybe get a little PHILOSOPHICAL about how these are all tools for conveying a musical idea. and they all have their place.
AMPLIFIERS are cool, dont get me wrong. but they arent the end-all-be-all of musical expression. arguing against incoming technology is a surefire way of rendering yourself an ANACHRONISM, which is sadly what some of these advocates have exposed themselves to be. others seem to embrace change which is where i stand. this film is essentially a variation on the topic of the relative merits of ANALOG vs DIGITAL equipment and the false attribution of AUTHENTICITY to the mix that was tread notably in DAVE GROHL's SOUND CITY (review linked HERE) documentary.
AMPIRE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC is an INTRIGUING and FUN film worth watching but the argument is a bit TEDIOUS and SANCTIMONIOUS at times, even for someone who absolutely adores both traditional tube and solid state guitar AMPLIFIERS like myself.