Holy Wood (In The Shadow of The Valley of Death) - Background and Development

Background and Development

Further information: Columbine High School massacre and Rock Is Dead Tour

"Ninety-nine was a pivotal year — as was 1969, the year of my birth. The two years share many similarities. Woodstock '99, became an Altamont of its own. Columbine became the Manson murders of our generation. Things happened that could've made me want to stop making music. Instead, I decided to come out and really punish everyone for daring to fuck with me. I've got a big fight ahead of me on this one. And I want every bit of it."

—Marilyn Manson

During the 1990s Marilyn Manson and his eponymous band established themselves as one of the most controversial rock acts in music history. The band became a household name with the mainstream success of their albums Antichrist Superstar (1996) and Mechanical Animals (1998). By the time of their Rock Is Dead Tour in 1999, the band's outspoken frontman had become a culture war iconoclast and a rallying icon for alienated youth.

As their popularity rose, the transgressive and confrontational nature of the group's music and imagery angered social conservatives. Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum lobbied to have their performances banned, citing rumors that the shows contained animal sacrifices, bestiality, and rape. Their concerts were picketed by religious advocates and parent groups, who asserted that their music had a corrupting influence on youth culture by inciting "rape, murder, blasphemy and suicide".

On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took the lives of 12 students and one teacher, while injuring 21 others, before taking their own lives. In the aftermath of the fourth-deadliest school massacre in United States history, the band became a "scapegoat". Early news media reports alleged that the shooters were fans of the band, and had worn the group's concert t-shirts during the massacre. Speculation in the national media and among the public led to Manson's music and imagery being blamed for inciting Harris and Klebold. However, later reports pointed out that the two were not fans of the band, and considered them "a joke". In spite of this, the group—alongside other bands and forms of popular entertainment such as movies and video games—received widespread criticism from religious, political, and entertainment industry figures.

Under mounting pressure in the days that followed, the group announced the postponement of the last five North American dates of their tour out of respect for the victims and their grieving families. The following day, on April 29, 1999, ten US Senators, spearheaded by Sam Brownback of Kansas, signed and sent a letter to Edgar Bronfman Jr.—president of Seagrams, which owned Interscope Records—requesting the voluntary cessation of his company's distribution to children of "music that glorifies violence." The letter specifically cited Marilyn Manson, among other bands, for producing songs which "eerily reflect" the actions of Harris and Klebold. Later in the day, the band announced the outright cancellation of their remaining shows. On May 1, 1999, Manson published a Rolling Stone magazine op-ed piece titled "Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?" as an initial response to the accusations. In it, he commented,

I chose not to jump into the media frenzy and defend myself, though I was begged to be on every single TV show in existence. I didn't want to contribute to these fame-seeking journalists and opportunists looking to fill their churches or to get elected because of their self-righteous finger-pointing. They want to blame entertainment? Isn't religion the first real entertainment? People dress up in costumes, sing songs and dedicate themselves to eternal fandom ... I'd like media commentators to ask themselves, because their coverage of was some of the most gruesome entertainment any of us have seen.

On May 4, 1999, a hearing on the marketing and distribution practices of violent content to minors by the television, music, film, and video game industries was conducted before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The committee heard testimony from cultural observers, professors, and mental-health professionals that included William Bennett and the Archbishop of Denver, Reverend Charles J. Chaput. Participants criticized the band, its label-mate Nine Inch Nails, and the 1999 film The Matrix for their alleged contribution to the cultural environment that made tragedies like Columbine possible. The committee requested that the Federal Trade Commission and the United States Department of Justice investigate the entertainment industry's marketing practices to minors.

Following the conclusion of the European and Japanese festival leg of the tour on August 8, 1999, the band retreated from public view. The album's early development was marked by Manson's three-month seclusion at his home in the Hollywood Hills. The singer spent this time vacillating on how to respond to the accusations. He admitted that the maelstrom caused him to reconsider whether to continue pursuing his career: "here was a bit of trepidation, deciding, 'Is it worth it? Are people understanding what I'm trying to say? Am I even gonna be allowed to say it?' Because I definitely had every single door shut in my face ... there were not a lot of people who stood behind me." He told Alternative Press that he felt his safety was threatened, to the point where he "could be shot Mark David Chapman-style." Manson concluded that it was less prudent for a controversial artist to allow his detractors to use his work (and entertainment in general) as a scapegoat, and began work on the new album to level a more extensive counterattack.

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