Three Men and a Babe

by Dave Simpson

A year in the making, the new Garbage album, "Version 2.0" is finally ready to roll. More extreme and experimental, it features blatant pop, total noisefests and a mad bloke from the '60's...

Garbage's idolised singer thinks she's ugly while the 'men' in the band act like delinquent teenagers on tour. We meet the band in deepest Wisconsin and hear tales of perversion, madness and voyeurism.

There are many weird things about Garbage. Their drummer, Butch Vig, produced Nirvana's seminal 'Nevermind', but met Garbage's singer, Shirley Manson, on the very day Kurt Cobain was shot. Shirley comes from Edinburgh and 'the boys' (Butch, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson) hail from Madison, Wisconsin. Shirley's Scottish dad, Mitchell, once studies in Madison, a million-to-one quirk.

The boys have an average age of 39, but sometimes piss on the floor of the tour bus. Their last album, the industrially heart-breaking 'Garbage', sold four million copies and included the sold of ripping sheet metal and a barking dog. The new one, the more exuberantly pop! but lyrically harrowing 'Version 2.0' features earthworms and bugs.

The weirdest thing about Garbage though, is Shirley Manson. She's one of the world's most beautiful women, but finds her appearance physically repulsive. She cut herself as a teenager. She is preoccupied with her 'ugliness' but feels embarrassed when she reads herself talking about self-loathing. Her father gets distressed when his daughter says she's ugly, so she's gonna start lying. But nothing - no psychiatrist or the reassurance of her bandmates - will convince this most photographed of women that she looks anything but "a total arse".

She's the most intriguing, intelligent interviewee thins journalist has ever encountered and yet apologises for being 'inarticulate'.

Shirley Manson is a backing vocalist turned rock's acclaimed 'supervixen', but says the accolade sh0ould really go to her mother, who only last week was "riding around on the back of a Harley-Davidson, going at 100 mph at 62". Shirley is a sex symbol who, due to her commitments, rarely has sex.

Shirley has a "wonderful life" but spent the last year alone in a hotel. She got married two years ago, bought a house in coastal Scotland, but "hardly ever" sees her husband. She is always working, feels "almost telepathic" kinship with her bandmates, but feels "desperately alone".

Shirley is a superstar and the most down-to-earth girl you'll ever meet. She has money, but doesn't want to go back to Scotland "dripping in Dolce and Gabbana , when friends are struggling with their heating bills". She is not materialistic, although would one day like a diamond.

Shirley sometimes seems like several personalities and has an alter-ego, known as Queen Helen. Queen Helen is an exaggeration of fucked-up Shirley, a prissy, cutesy Edinburgh schoolma'am who complains about the piss on the bus but is "dominated" by Duke Erikson. Sometimes, when Shirley goes to bed, Duke tucks her in like a baby, says "Goodnight Queen Helen", and puts his smiling face through the curtains. They both forget Queen Helen is one of the most famous women in rock.

There are many weird thing about Garbage but none as weird as Madison, Wisconsin. This region is The Serial Killer Capital of the World™, the birthplace of Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. At his trial, Bundy said, "I feel like a vampire". "Temptation Waits", the opening track on Garbage's new album, includes the lines "I am a vampire/I'm waiting for my moment", and Shirley is freaked out by the coincidence. The book "The Wisconsin Death Trip" claims the area's combination of long winters and hot summers lends itself to cannibalism. Get a cab in London and they'll talk about football. Here, it's necrophelia. "Everyone in Madison's getting into group sex," says Shirley, intriguingly.

Cab Driver One barks at a dog on the street. Cab Driver Two, on being told that we're "hot and wet" replies: "What, like a cunt?", before telling us how he sold his girlfriend for a dollar. Then come Cab Driver Three, who looks like Jeffrey Dahmer's brother, and talks about dead bodies while locking us in the cab and speeding.

But none of this - none of this! - is as weird as the hitherto unknown fact that most of Madison's psycho cabbies were trained by a driver, now-retired, known as "Rock'n'roll Butch"...

Yup, Butch Vig!

These are just some of the freak-outs and weird co-incidences that come to light during two days with the weirdest, most wacked-out, most fascinating band in the world.

There's nothing odd about Smart Studios, where punks-turned-producers Vig, Marker and Erikson formed Garbage, except it looks like it's disused, a ruse to discourage prying eyes, including Duke Erikson's stalker. Inside, Garbage are in rehearsals. And Shirley is leafing through a pile of recent UK press cuttings.

"Eek!" she shrieks. "We're the ugliest band in the world!"

Rubbish. Sorry...Garbage! And there's the tiny little detail that Shirley thinks she's going bonkers.

"I'm worried that I'm gonna go insane during this coming two-year tour," she frets. "There's an immense amount of pressure when you're the lead singer of a successful band." Shirley, 30, has "panic attacks" about what she does.

"On the last tour, I lost sense of who I was," she confesses. "All you're doing is going on-stage, sleeping, waking up and going back on-stage. The only other things you see are magazine covers of yourself while walking down airport corridors. And that begins to really play around with your mind. I got really disjointed and really confused. No wonder so many people go off the rails."


Garbage played their last gig in December '96, took three weeks off and then plunged back into Smart Studios. Most bands would have had a much longer gap, but not Garbage. During the recording period, the band lived like vampires, rising at sundown and working at night. There was madness. There was craziness. There were raging, screaming rows.

But despite all that, the band's chemistry is still so close that rumours that they have sex together appear on the Internet. Weirdly, Garbage are always, always together. Their punishing schedule demands it. But even when they're not working, Garbage are still together!

"We exist in a fantasy world," says Shirley, "where a band really gels as a democracy. There's days when I'm dominant there's days when Butch's dominant, or Duke or Steve."

Butch, Steve and Duke are always portrayed as studio boffins, with Manson the main source of Garbage's rich vein of darkness. Not so. Erikson's the dry satirist, Marker the polite sociophobe, and Vig, the inscrutable rock legend with not a poker face but a poker body. But their minds reek of deviance.

"Our subconsciences are pretty nasty," murmurs Marker.

Is there something sleazy or kinky about Garbage?

"Well," ponders Erikson, "if it didn't go into the songs you'd probably find us tied up in bondage and women's underwear with oranges stuck in our mouths." Crikey!

And this could be true because you never read anything about Garbage's personal lives. Until now, hehhehheh.

The Tornado bar is really weird. Darkness. Cocktails, And the Sveetniks, a tightly knit team of diminutive Garbage followers, "co-ordinated" by Duke. They stare at Butch like he's a gold brick. At the tornado we meet Butch's dad, and Cindy, Steve's pretty wife, a hurricane of exuberance who, according to Shirley, often "ends the night by stripping on the bar"! A total opposite to Steve. We even find out something about the mysterious Mr. Erikson. He tells us that he lives "in a wooden house on a hill. Yeah just like Norman Bates." Still unlike Hitchcock's famous "Psycho" Duke doesn't live with his mother.

"She's just staying this weekend."

Gulp. Duke also reveals that he has a 20-year old daughter who finds it "really funny" he's in Garbage. Way!

After chatting about The Clash, talk inevitably turn to fucked-up shit. Abuse! Violence! Mental torture!

It's not that Garbage do all this stuff, (then again, you never know). They just write brilliant, weird, but never miserable and defiantly pop! songs about it.

"The thing is," explains Shirley, tonight cute-glam, cradling the first of six sea-breezes, "in the UK we never talk about what really bothers us. So there's this penchant for wimpy, strummy pop. But..."

She shrieks.

" music to be confrontational.

"When we see our friends, we talk about the weather," she continues, in her feisty Scottish twang. "We talk about beer, or clothes, but we never say 'My God! My guts have been pulled out of me because my man had left me!'. If people say our songs are miserable I say, 'You know what? It's realistic! It's optimistic!' I challenge you to find a person who can listen to our records and not identify with some of the feelings on there. And if they can't identify, they're completey in denial. You can ignore things, but they don't disappear."

"Much of Shirley's "... 2.0" lyricism seems to have come from a recent coming to terms with a troubled adolescence of bullying and insecurity.

"One of the reviews said we slagged of adolescence!" she exclaims. incredulous. "It's the exact opposite! We celebrate adolescence, those mistakes and that state of mind where anything's possible. 'Tomorrow I'm gonna lose weight. tomorrow I'm gonna be a better person. Tomorrow I'm gonna nail that boy of my dreams'. But that's brilliant, 'cod if you don't live that way, you're gonna die."

On "Version 2.0" Shirley has some amazingly vivid lines: "If we sleep together, will you like me better?", "Hit me, make me beautiful". But the disturbing level of violence leads me to suspect that there may be something more than just childhood bullying...

"I was never abused," she stops me.

But then she says this: "People think that if they don't his somebody they're not being violent. Mind games are way, way worse. I swear to God, someone can punch me stupid until I'm crawling on the floor, and I could walk away from it totalling untainted. But somebody does something to me mentally and I'm totally dismantled. All of use have known violence because people are cruel. I'm guilty of it! I'm aware of when I'm inflicting mental cruelty on people and I still do it. And I can't stop myself, 'cos it's some weird mechanism in my own make-up."


The moment passes. Shirley swings her handbag and tampons fall out! It's a brilliant Manson moment and typifies why Shirley Manson is so essential. She's thought of as a sex symbol and yet...

"You don't think I'm sexy," she digs.

Actually I was going to say that another of your great achievement is to take all the things about girls that boys (and girls) think are dodgy and make them cool. Shirley, you're pop's First Lady of low self-esteem, poo and tampons! And of course you're sexy.

"See, I don't think it's that," she disagrees. "It's more what I've not done. I've never taken my clothes off. Which is why I'm considered sexy 'cos I've never showed people by knockers, and I've never shown people my fanny. And in a world which is obsessed with women flaunting their bodies and selling themselves, it seems unique and weird. My biggest achievement is to make a front cover without have to be seen my bra and panties. It's not about my legs and it's not about my hooters!"

It's weird how, for someone steeped in insecurity, Shirley extols such super feminine confidence. "My tow sister were beautiful and my two best friend were beautiful," she explains. "I was always the ugly one. So I became an exhibitionist and took pleasure in repulsing men. I learned to get as much attention from being disgusting as the girls got from being beautiful. I grew up fighting against what was expected of me and people mistake it as confidence."

The night creeps on, through scary episodes like me and Butch being driven by a paralytic driver, and finally ends up at the Sveetnik's place. Quickly side-stepping the group of girl dwarves in the toilet outside, I find Shirley fretting.

"I'm worried, Dave. I'm worried the boys'll leave me," she confides, perhaps irrationally. "Oh, maybe not leave me. I know there'll come a time when I'll not have the pleasure of working with them anymore. Nothing lasts forever."

This is weird. Right now strong Shirley seems utterly desolate and fragile. Garbage is her life, and she only feels in control of her body when she's on-stage. Fronting the group helps Strong Shirley fight off the more subconscious Fucked Up Shirley. If Garbage were to end, what would Shirley do? Certainly, at the moment, motherhood isn't an option.

"I wouldn't inflict myself on kids," insists the singer.

"I miss my husband terribly, by Eddie [a sculptor] is an exceptional man," she adds. "He knows I have to do this, and if he didn't understand that, he wouldn't have me."

"But it's very, very hard," Shirley continues. "I do not lead a normal life. I have needs, but I'm totally unutterable monogamous. So I've become a pervert! I have turned myself into a deviant! I spend hours on the Net. I'm an e-mail freak, and a chat room freak."

Do you ever join in?

"Occasionally. I'll go in to freak someone out. It's fun, it's voyeurism."

Er, what sort of things do you watch, Shirley?

"Well, I'm not into sadomasochism," she laughs. "But spending more time one a computer then talking to human beings is perverted! But you come expose yourself, and it's anonymous, and there' no accou8ntabily."


I find Butch. We're talking about the many double meanings in Shirley's songs. "You Look So Fine", for example includes the lines "I can't fake it like the other girls that you used to know". It's ostensibly about Shirley, but subliminally the song seems to be about the relationship between a pimp and a prostitute.

"The original line went Used to own'," mutters Vig, "but Shirley hates being that obvious."

There's something strange about Butch too, tonight. The poker face is gone and he shows a sensitive, inner side he's never displayed publicly.

"Shirley writes nearly all the lyrics now but there are songs where I've just thought 'This is my life'," he sighs.

What is your life Butch?

"My personal life is dysfunctional and traumatised," he states grimly. "All our lives are. I can be a psychotherapist and deal with Shirley, but I can't deal with the shit in my own life. I'm separated and I have a girlfriend. I problems with my personal relationships and my girlfriend has problems with the closeness of the band. I'm going through a divorce. Something that hit me was that line from 'The Trick is to Keep Breathing' where Shirley sings 'I'll never be the one to let you down'. Because ten years ago, that's exactly what I said to my wife. And I let her down.

Butch's minds wanders back to his days as a cabby, when he bought the famous Playboy interview with John Lennon, only to sit reading it in his cab as the news came over that the ex-Beatle had been shot. Inevitably, talk turns to that other painful rock death that Butch carries around with him.

"It only dawned on me recently that the day we met Shirley was the day Kurt died.," he says. "We met Shirley and I went to dinner with [producer] Flood and Alan Moulder. I just wanted to drink beers with them and the second I sat down someone said 'Kurt's dead'."

Shirley rejoins us.

"It was weird for me," she says. "Kurt Cobains's death would have been weird anyway, but because I'd just met Butch it absolutely polarised the moment. Butch'd been so happy, we'd just shared an umbrella. And I knew he'd be devastated."

Did you see it coming, Butch?

"You can see that in someone's personality, but you never think it's gonna happen," he says, sadly. "Never. You never think someone's gonna take their own life, even if they say it. Some people say 'I hate myself and I wanna die'... we say that all the time.

"But I don't have the guts to take my own life... and I don't wanna do it. No matter how shitty it gets, it could be cool tomorrow."

It could be cool tomorrow. Perhaps that's the true message of Garbage. They are accuse of being manufactured. They are not - just clever. Some people think their harrowing lyrics are fake. I don't think I've even got half of their trauma. Butch could have made more money as a producer. Shirley - judging by her array of covers - could probably be a model. She's had film offers too.

So why do this?

By way of a "Jerry Springer Final Thought", I comment that the band have little time for contemplation. It's almost as if the sheer mechanism and momentum of Garbage stops them confronting the things that would really fuck them off.

Slightly drunkenly, Butch stands up.

"I think you just hit the nail on the head right there. My personal life is really fucked-up and I don't have to deal with it because I have the band. It's an excuse."

Shirley leaves the table.

"Fuck you Simpson!" she shrieks. "That's exactly how it is!"