Spirit In The Sky

By Elissa Blake

The Scottish lead singer of Garbage, Shirley Manson, has never been shy about her body or her beliefs. She once described the sensation of singing akin to the release felt when "having a pee". But the power of performance means much more to the 32-year-old than simple bodily functions. The visceral thrill of hitting the guitar on stage is Manson's idea of holy communion. Speaking from Chicago where Garbage is on tour with its second album, Version 2.0, Manson describes her absence of soul and the powers of good and evil.

Growing up in Scotland, did you have a strict Presbyterian upbringing?

The perverse thing about my spiritual growth as a child was that my father was my Sunday school teacher. We grew up very much under Scottish Presbyterian schooling. I went to church every Sunday and when I was about 12, I had a huge fight with my father over the dinner table. I'm screaming at him that religion's a sham, it's crazy and I'm not going to church anymore, it's just bullshit. I stopped going after that but I used to have theological debates with him every Sunday until I went mental at him one day and said, "How could Jesus have fed the 5000, it's impossible, it's bullshit." And he looked at me and laughed. He said, "Of course it's not to be taken literally" and I stopped dead in my tracks. He said, "You must look at the Bible almost like Aesop's Fables, it's just fundamental truths that the Bible discusses, it's not to be taken word for word." And ever since then I loosened up my view of organised religion.

Was your father a Minister?

No, he's just been very interested in theology all his life and has a very deep rooted faith. Actually he's one of the very few positive role models I have had in my life whose religious views are very committed but also very liberal and tolerant. He started educating me about all kinds of different religions. I've been very interested in all forms of spirituality but as an individual I can't affiliate myself with any particular orginisation. I don't find any of them speak to me as an individual. Organised religion just doesn't work for me. As a young child were you mesmerised by the trappings of the church? I was always really disappointed because I had a lot of girls in my class who were Catholic and it was all very glamorous. They had all kinds of rituals and beads and jewellery, and they wore these beautiful white veils when they were confirmed. Scottish Presbyterianism was very bare bones, there's was no glamour and I felt a little cheated. But when I was very small, I was very besotted with the church, absolutely, I loved the theatre of it and I got very involved in all the stories we were taught.

What changed for you?

I brushed up against too many examples of "hypocritical" spiritualists. I don't think going to church makes you more religious, I don't think fearing God makes you religious. I think profound spirituality is very deep, very beautiful and very tolerant and all embracing. Spirituality itself is very pure. Faith is a beautiful thing but it's been corrupted by people who have no faith and have no spirituality. Organised "religion" has become a very ugly word at times, unfortunately. I think if you look at the basis of any religion, essentially it's good. It is essentially teaching love and tolerance and that is a great thing but unfortunately nowadays, organised religion has ceased to stand for those things.

Do you thin Western society lost its soul?

I can only talk for my own country and I define belive we're living in a Godless society. Our nation hasn't really concentrated on nourishing the spiritual side of its people. It's almost like a part of us all that we've forgotten and instead we've concentrated on money and power and now the day of reckoning is coming. People suddenly find themselves without any true meaning for their existence, they're looking into the abyss and they're terrified.

Have you ever wondered, "Why am I here"?

No, I think I came to the conclusion very early on in life that there was little need to look for answers because there are none. There are no absolutes. There's no right and there's no definitive and so I accepted that at quite an early age. It's all cliches, but you're on a little journey and you don't know where you're going but you have to make sure that journey is as amazing as possible.

Do you have a personal faith or moral system?

Totally. Absolutely my own state, I am the head of my state, the minister of my own church. Fundamentally I have my own moral structure but it's very simplistic and I think the root of any spirituality should be. I believe in the powers of good and powers of bad. I think there are enormous and great beautiful things in the world but the polar opposite is unbelievably frightening, scary and diabolical. I really see it in the movie Night of the Hunter, when Robert Mitchum shows the two fists with Love and Hate, tattooed across his knuckles and he shows the struggle in those two hands. I very much see the world in those terms.

Are those powers some kind of higher being or are they within each individual?

Within each individual, absolutely.

Do you believe in God?

No, not at all.

Do you meditate or pray?

Nope, nothing. To a certain degree music is my practice. That is a spiritual pursuit for me. I don't feel the need in my life for anything else. Music for me is communion. From communion comes a certain feeling of goodness. When you play a show, people are looking at you and singing and looking really happy, and you feel transformed by that and that in a way is communion and a feeling of solidarity, that here is something bigger than we are in a way. You feel joined to other people.

Does music get you in touch with your soul?

I don't have a sense of my soul. I don't have a soul as far as I'm aware. I don't see myself in those terms. I think of myself as a brain and a heart. I don't have any sense of having a soul, at all. I just can't get into the mumbo jumbo of stuff I can't get a grasp on. If it's not tangible, it doesn't exist. I know genetically how I'm engineered, I know what body parts I have, and that's what I deal with, no soul. Essentially I really feel there's very little in this world apart from your relationships with others. That's the only thing that's important to me in my world.

What are your personal relationships like?

If you're lucky to have a wonderful family like I have then you have a love and understanding amongst human beings that you'll probably never match again, until you meet your lover who will be your partner in life. For me, I've found that third experience like that, a working experience. I have met three people in my band who understand me, I must have done something in my life that was very, very good. It's all about karma, they're my brothers, they really are. We're strangely binded. We rely on each other for everything it's kind of creepy actually, quite pathetic.

And your marriage?

For me, getting married was the most progressive thing I've ever done in my life, ever. I find it really empowering and it freed me, it gave me a lot of freedom. I think if you find the right people in life then that's what it does. That's the most rebellious thing in life-- to be free. It is to be unrestricted and that's pretty amazing. What people tend to do is concentrate on failed marriages and I think a lot of people get married for the wrong reasons. I don't think people understand what marriage is about. I think the institution of marriage is quite ugly but the actual foundation of marriage is amazing.

Do you think we have lost a sense of community?

The community is practically dead. In my country it was exacerbated by Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative part breeding the whole rhetoric that there is no such thing as society, there's only the individual. I think that's absolutely abhorrent, a horrendous thing to say. If people feel that nobody else cares about them they cease to think about anybody else. I think it's an individual's responsibility to care about other people. If you send out goodness to one person you may get it back in some other way. The more people are concerned about others, a better world we'll all live in, a happier world, a safer world.