During Marilyn Manson's last tour, the band's frontman spoke just once to John5, his guitarist, about something other than business. "It was on my birthday, and he turned to me and said, 'Happy birthday, f----t' — then walked away," recalled the musician, who was booted from the band on March 30.
The ousting followed almost five years of strained relations, in which the nihilistic singer interacted with his bandmate mostly by verbally abusing him, trashing his dressing room and performing acts of hazing usually reserved for fraternity pledges. Onstage, conditions were sometimes even more hazardous.
"Since the day I joined, it was like being in 'Full Metal Jacket,' " John5 said. "Being onstage with Marilyn Manson is like being in a war zone. You never know when he's gonna freak out and throw sh-- at you. I loved every minute of it."
As he sat and thought about why things went sour, John5 paused for a few long seconds, then said repeatedly, "I have no idea." No matter how much he twists his twisted brain to figure out why he and Manson didn't mesh, he can't come up with a solid reason.
"I was nothing but nice to him," John5 said. "I never screwed up onstage — well not really badly — and I did everything I could to get along with him. Maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with the fact that I don't drink or do drugs, and he's not like that at all. Maybe he held that against me. I don't know. He never said."
A spokesperson for Manson refused to comment.
While the two artists never became drinking buddies, Manson took full advantage of his ex-bandmate's playing and composing talents; John5 is credited with co-writing 13 of the 15 songs on 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart.
Still, John5 wasn't completely surprised when Manson's manager called last week and told him he was out of the band (see "Marilyn Manson Drop Guitarist, Plan 'Jesus' Cover For Hits LP"). Communication ground to a halt in January, and when Manson started writing new songs for a best-of album, he didn't ask for John5's input.
"He wanted to work with his new bassist, Tim Skold, which is cool with me," John5 said. "I had a great run with Marilyn Manson. It was a lot of fun and it was a really great experience, but I've got a lot of other stuff going on. I'm busier now than I was on tour."
Since last year, John5 has spent many hours writing songs for various artists including Lisa Marie Presley and Avril Lavigne. He hooked up with Lavigne toward the end of sessions for her new album, Under My Skin, although none of his songs are on the LP. "We did a bunch of songs, and that was a lot of fun, but none of them made her record since I arrived at the 11th hour, and the album was almost done."
In addition to writing for others, John5 is forming a new band and has recorded a 12-song instrumental album, Vertigo, due this fall. He decided to record a solo album after a recent jam with 88-year-old blues-guitar legend Les Paul. "After we played, he said to me, 'You have got to do an instrumental album,' " John5 said. "To me, that was the greatest compliment in the world. The guy's a legend, and for him to say that is amazing."
Some of John5's solo material is caustic and aggressive, but the disc also covers a range of styles far removed from Manson's music, including bluegrass, jazz and classical. "I'm so f---ing proud of this thing," John5 said. "Marilyn Manson's music is somewhat limiting, so I sometimes felt like I was watching a porno movie and couldn't get off. It was really frustrating. Now I feel fully satisfied."
John5 acknowledges that he can't wait to play his new material onstage, and he's looking forward to performing without having to dodge projectiles. Even so, he alluded that he wouldn't reject an offer to rejoin to Marilyn Manson. "I've never played with anyone like him, and even after everything, I think that guy is a genius," the guitarist said. "He's really incredible, and he's going to be around a long, long time."