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Marilyn Manson (source: IMDB)

January 5 is Marilyn Manson’s birthday.

I owe something to Marilyn Manson. Bear with me while I tell this story . . .

I suppose that I was about fifteen when I really started to appreciate fashion. Like a lot of teenagers, though, my sense of fashion quickly started to turn toward what was odd, or different, or shocking — I just liked whatever seemed weird to me at the time.

The next phase I went through was the one where I discovered “taste.” Of course, it was more fun to have bad taste in the mid-eighties than it was to have good taste. It was the decade of over-the-top everything and defying convention with exuberant excess.

By the late eighties and early nineties, however, I was exploring ideas of beauty more than notions of taste. I was asking myself why this was considered to be beautiful while that was considered to be ugly. It wasn’t hard to do when fashion was basically collapsing under its own weight in the era of grunge music and George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90.”

But it wasn’t until the mid-nineties when I had a genuine breakthrough regarding the meaning of beauty itself. I was watching MuchMusic (the Canadian version of MTV), and Marilyn Manson was being interviewed live in the natural light of the network’s Queen Street studio. He had his hair dyed a rusty orange and he was wearing a powder blue suit reminiscent of something someone would have worn to a prom in the seventies. His trademark “scary” makeup was a work of art, bringing together the contrasting colors of his hair and suit quite masterfully. The whole look was so breathtakingly beautiful that I couldn’t believe it was being worn by a guy who was making a career out of being creepy.

Anyway, that incident challenged me to start thinking of fashion more critically. Even today, it is difficult for me to look at something like an over-stylized Marni show or a Miu Miu collection and abandon my own bias about what is conventionally ugly and what is traditionally pretty. Yet I’ve learned that it’s more important to just evaluate a look for what it is without saying “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that!”

That probably doesn’t seem like such a big deal to anyone who has studied art long enough to appreciate what someone like Cy Twombly or Francis Bacon has brought to the medium, but fashion is different. People live in their clothes. They can make a choice to invite you into their world or they can choose to scare you off. At that moment, Marilyn Manson invited me into a world that I had dismissed as somewhere I would never want to go.

It changed me. A long time afterward, I discovered that Marilyn Manson’s natal sun is only one astrological minute away from mine. We’re sort of astro-twins. He’s got a showy fifth-house sun, though, and a Leo rising with a Leo moon in the costume-loving twelfth house. I’ve got the third-house sun of a born communicator, a refined Libra rising sign and a protective Cancer moon elevated in my natal chart. Nevertheless, we’re both regarded as weirdos in the fields in which we’ve chosen to make a living because we have successfully integrated the more superficial parts of our persona into the work we choose to do, often with a sly wink and a nod. Our critics may accuse us of elevating style over substance, but only those jerks who haven’t bothered to study our actual creative output.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go scare some children . . .

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