The Music Blog: The Golden Age of Grotesque

A Master’s Degree in Social Work is a 64 hour program. That might seem long to you especially if you have a graduate degree. The reason for the length is that many social work students do not have Bachelor’s degrees in social work so the first year of graduate school is for learning what Bachelor’s graduates know already. So a person with a Bachelor’s degree in social work the program is reduced to 32 hours if and only if you attend graduate school within a certain time frame. I missed that time frame but received credit for the work I had done in social work already and the fact that I was a Licensed Social Worker already. My program was reduced to 59 hours. Now, this was actually good because that 5 hour reduction was one of 2 field placements.

A field placement is a course that includes some classwork but mostly working in the field. You are required to interview like you would for a job with a select number and it’s quite a few social work agencies in the area and do a certain amount of hours. There are a lot of hours and it can be really difficult if you already have a full time job. Getting one of these 2 field placements removed from my requirements was a big deal. I only had one and was very lucky to get mine at the Tarrant County Probate Court Guardianship program. Now the guardianship program was really one of the best in the country. Lots of people need guardians. There were people with traumatic brain injuries, developmentally disabled, a few kids who had no relatives and so a family friend had become their guardian, elderly with Alzheimer’s. Essentially anyone who was unable to make decisions for themself was eligible for guardianships. Some had guardians who were their parents, a developmentally disabled adult who could not make decisions for themselves. Some were guardians for a parent. Some were in group homes, some were in nursing homes and some lived at home. Some worked, some were in vegetative states. Part of the guardianship program consisted of a yearly visit to both the guardian and their charge. The purpose was to ensure that all was well and that guardianship needed to continue. There were other aspects to this program that are not pertinent to this blog. After all, this is a music blog and not a blog about my social work career. Remember music? We’re here for the music.

Now I loved doing yearly visits. I could grab a handful of files and knock them out easily in a week by doing visits in the early evening or on weekends. I learned a lot about all sorts of things and sometimes it required challenging my pre-conceived notions like the best nursing homes are in the best areas of town and cost more. I found that to be incredibly untrue. I found sadness. I found joy. I found hope sometimes in the most hopeless of situations. If you knew me back then you would be surprised that my cocky nature, really a façade, had also found humility. I was humbled by all that I saw and experienced.

I had great visits, visits that made me laugh, that made me happy and visits that made me sad and mournful. They ran the gamut of emotions as varied as the many paths I saw that a human life could take. One of my favorite visits was with an adolescent. Of course, adolescents have always been one of my favorite groups to work with. This kid was about 16 and had no living family and so a family friend had taken on the role of guardian for this young man. He was distant which was not surprising and had been under guardianship for a year or two. As I walked into his room the first thing I noticed was a poster of Marilyn Manson. There was an album on the bed that was also Marilyn Manson.

Now almost immediately the guardian said that she had heard everything this kid listened to and had heard all of Manson’s music and said that she even liked some of it. All of his friends listened to the same music and there was no way she could keep him from listening to it. The kid also chimed in telling me how Manson had something to say and that yea some of the album covers and videos were pretty shocking but to please not let it affect his guardianship. I did my interviews and I told this adolescent to remember that I had been a kid his age once too. I thought about my mom listening to Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies to make sure that my soul was not going to be endangered or that I wasn’t going to go out and become a mass murderer or something. I talked to my field supervisor and she was concerned about the kid listening to such disturbing music. I asked her if she had ever listened to a Marilyn Manson song. She said no. I asked her when she was in school if she had ever been exposed to shocking music that her parents would not approve of and she said of course. I defended this kid and I defended Marilyn Manson and I told my field instructor that this kid was in a great home, that he had been through enough and had somehow come out with hope for a better future and to mess with his guardianship which his mother had arranged when she was dying seemed wrong and so we took it to the Director of the Guardianship program who listened to the argument and said that I was right. I felt pretty good except for the fact that I had never heard a Marilyn Manson song and was repulsed by his looks and his outrageous videos which I wouldn’t watch.

In 1999 Marilyn Manson was heavily criticized even blamed outright following the Columbine shootings along with video games and anything else to deflect the blame onto something tangible. Marilyn looked evil therefore he had to be evil. Modus ponens logic if today is Monday the moon is made of green cheese. Today is Monday therefore the moon is made of green cheese. It was ignorant and yet it continues because there are many who would rather judge him for the weirdness, for the album covers than accept him as an artist. Marilyn Manson responded with intelligence, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to youth, which is how he is in every interview.

I didn’t listen to Manson until after my guardianship visit. I had seen him interviewed. I did not think he was the devil’s child out to spread evil. I did not think I would like his music. I was surprised. I first downloaded a selection of songs, most of them his bigger songs, The Fight Song, The Dope Show, Cake and Sodomy. It wasn’t a mess. It was not what I expected. There was and is intelligence behind his music. Like Alice Cooper before him though it was the presentation. That’s the point though. There is some work to be done to become a fan. A younger person gets through that easier, and the music and lyrics feel more at home than someone older. That doesn’t mean it’s beyond understanding but you have to want to. I loved his covers. Sweet Dreams is absolute genius. Another though Suicide is Painless again drew heavy criticism which he never responded to probably because he was laughing so hard. That song is actually the theme song to M*A*S*H. That’s right, the actual title of the theme song is Suicide is Painless which was actually sung and has a special moment in the film if you ever saw the movie starring Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould which came out in 1970 as a dark comedy. That’s what you find with Manson’s music. I mean seriously he named himself for a beauty queen actress and a notorious cult leader and mass murderer; one of the most loved women on the planet and one of the most feared men. He has a sense of humor and it’s throughout his music.

I bought Portrait of an American Family, the first full length Manson album, first and absolutely loved it. I have most of his albums if not all and love them more or less as you would any artist you love. I don’t need to go into all of the songs. Some of you won’t be able to move past your own revulsion, your own judgment and that speaks more about you than it does him. Some of you are going to love him, and some of you are going to like him. There will be others who dislike him and some even will hate him. Come on he is not Zappa. What I would hope is that if you are one of those in the last two groups that you have at least moved beyond your own fears and listened to a few songs.

Mike out

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