I Felt Ugly, Weak and Overwhelmed
From Select Magazine (June 1998)
By Caitlin Moran
Special thanks go to Mark for sending me this article.
Honestly - she did. Ostracised by an entire school and forced to take refuge
in a science block, the teenage Shirley Manson all but dissolved in fear and
self-loathing. Some of the horrific details are on the new Garbage album: the
record that will beam her into the mega-league and deliver the final ‘fuck you’
to her enemies.
"You must swear, swear on your life you’ll never tell anyone this," pleads
Shirley Manson, throwing herself down on a vast, squashy black leather sofa
and casting a sharp, warning glare. "Never tell, or I’ll walk over water to
kill your firstborn, but I . . ." she looks to the door, to make sure we are
sealed in, alone. "I . . . [casts her eyes to the heavens] I said ‘ass’
recently. I meant to say ‘arse’ but it came out ‘ass’."
Suddenly she rocks back on the defensive, roaring like the Queen of Hearts.
"I command you not to tell. [Pause] Fuck! You’re a fucker! I know you’ll
tell!" She gives a huge yelping hoot, and then a screaming moan.
"Basically, my biggest fear is that I’m turning into Sheena Easton. I’ve been
in America too long. I asked for a ‘jelly’ doughnut recently without thinking!
If I talk about ‘fags’ people look like they want to hit me! ‘Fanny’ is coming
to mean ‘arse’ and not ‘c***’ in my head! And one seems to have the ‘c***’ conversation
here more than in England: explaining it to stupid people, the majority of whom
don’t have a ‘c***’ anyway, so I don’t know why they even start.
"’C***’ is a far better and nobler a word than ‘honeypot’ or ‘front bottom’
or ‘vag’. It’s-a-fucking c***!" Shirley crashes her head against the sofa. "I’m
being perverted by language!"
Here at Garbage’s creative home, Smart Studios – and, for that matter, in the
whole of snowy Madison, Wisconsin – Shirley Manson sticks out like a sawed thumb
in a pound of Porkinson’s Bangers. Studio hands and the good citizens of Madison
alike favour check shirts, brightly coloured hiking jackets and a burr-tinged
Mid-Western drawl. Shirley is a fox-haired, laser-eyed woman in black, howling,
shouting and fizzing in brisk Edinburgh slang. When she leaps off her sofa and
pretends to frot herself against the placidly sitting Butch Vig, it looks like
virtual reality. This is not her home.
"When we were on Top Of The Pops," she recalls, explaining the enormity
of the culture-gap. "The Boys didn’t understand that it was TOP OF THE POPS,
that Thursday was the day that dictated who you’d pretend to be for the rest
of the week. That if you ever get on Top Of The Pops then nothing really
bad ever happens to you again, and you never really die. I was just shaking
with nerves the first time we went on; and the boys were just ‘Ho hum, more
Like an early pioneer, Shirley Manson ran away from the Old World to re-invent
herself in the New. And it worked. Now that Courtney Love has sailed beyond
our reach – the big sister who moved to the city and forgot to write – Shirley
Manson is our girl in the big league, the ‘one of us’ who made it. The den mother
and cheer-leader for anyone still stuck on the outside. The kind of woman girls
fancy and boys aspire to be.
But hers is a freakish life. Friends, family, a house and a newly-minted husband
sit semi-permanently on the wrong side of a 12-hour plane journey. She lives
in a hotel which errs, she says, "on the ‘faded’ side of ‘faded grandeur’,"
like Alan Partridge at the Chelsea rather than a Novotel. Her world is reduced
to a studio full of black coffee, loops and vocals done in the dark ("I just
think of someone I hate and sing for them"). In essence, she has swapped
all her friends and all she’s ever known for three uncle-ish looking men who
had had prior professional involvement with groups called things like Killdozer.
"There’s a reason for it," Shirley says, drawing her knees up to
her chin and digging her fangs into her kneecap absentmindedly. "There’s
a reason for it all."
She pauses. A strange look comes over her face. "But we will talk of it later,"
she says, springing up suddenly. "I’ve got to go and change my tampon. I think
it’s expanded ‘widthways’ as much as it’s going to. There’s blood sloshin around
Madison is the dairy capital of America. The endless Somerset of its quilted
fields are filled with cartoonish cows, and the cow-squirt by-product, cheese,
seems to be the equivalent of royalty for Wisconsinites. Al food comes with
a patriotic square foot of shiny, orange gunk. Madison's finest tourist souvenir
- indeed, Madison's only tourist souvenir - is The Cheese Hat, a large
fibreglass cheese wedge with a head-hole for those who wish to wear a psychotic
Dairylea mangle on their head. It is, apparently, very popular with followers
of local American football team the Green Bay Packers.
Still, the town does have a more artsy centre - Madison is a dairy village
with a university slapped in the middle of it, giving it the liberal community
feeling of Reykjavik or San Francisco. There's a cathedral which is to St Paul's
what The Boo Radleys are to The Beatles, and a tree-lined Oxford Street slung
between two steep hills. At night, someone plugs the trees into the mains and
the lights on the snow can be seen from 25,000 feet above. An hour's drive from
Madison is The World's Largest Six-Pack, a testimony to provincial boredom.
It is, simply, a six-pack of beer two storeys high, made by the employees of
a brewery who that night had presumably already pushed over all the sleeping
cows in their neighbourhood.
All this small-town, big-beercan charm has led to Madison being repeatedly
voted as one of the top five cities in the US for quality of living. Its ice
cream-coloured, clapboard houses fairly hum with 2.4-iness, and you get called
"ma'am" whether you're a dignified dowager handing over a $10 tip or a pissed
goth student with nasal multi-piercing throwing up against a parked car.
There's one other claim to infamy that's worth mentioning: Wisconsin is the
Serial Killer Capital of The World.
Duke Erikson, Garbage's guitar, bass and keyboards chieftain, can list them
all if you give him enough time. "Bundy, he's one of ours," he chuckles proudly.
Duke is the Garbage Bloke Who Looks Like The Edge, and therefore like the husband
in American Gothic. He's utterly delightful - wiry, twinkly-eyed, and
hugs everyone in an ever-so-slightly meaningful way. His nickname is Sir Shag-a Lot.
"Don't print that," Butch says later. "We told him we told you, and he was really
"Charles Manson," Duke continues, unaware he is destined to be upset yet again.
Every band has a silent member. Steve Marker, loop-master general and guitarist,
is Garbage's. He looks a little like John Thompson, 'Jazz Club' presenter on
The Fast Show, pretending to be Igor. He has two corgis called Grommit
and Simon. And in all the time spent with Select, the only two words
he utters are the first and second name of a mass-murderer. "Ed Gein," he says.
"The long winters, the cabin fever, months spent together in isolation," Butch
Vig elucidates. "That's how you breed murderers." Butch is the glossily goateed
man who made his millions producing Nirvana, and is now on the way to making
his multi-millions 'drumming, looping and producing for Garbage. He has the
quiet air of a man who knows his exact worth. 'The Boys' (as Shirley teasingly
refers to them) form a solid, avuncular backdrop for Ms Manson; three James
Stewarts flanking a ginger Bette Davis.
"Isolation, cabin fever," Shirley observes, "the kind of conditions we were
recording in, basically. Heh heh heh."
Here in the control room at Smart, it's all cherrywood and black leather. This
is where Garbage recorded 'Garbage' and their new LP, 'Version 2.0', where Nirvana
recorded 'Polly', and Killdozer masterfully devised their 'Little Baby Bunting'.
A scrappy piece of paper on the wall reminds you how recently Garbage were still
recording: it has the entire album's track-listing, with a different-coloured,
relieved-looking tick next to each song.
Last night, Shirley stayed in with her monthly lady-ache, while Butch, Steve
and Duke got hammered and ended up at the Toilet Roil Museum. Despite all having
lived in Madison since they were teenagers, they had never heard of it before.
"It's fucking fierce," Duke enthuses, lolling against the door-jam. "It's just
some student's house, and there must be 500, 1000 toilet-roll holders
from around the world covering the walls. Big industrial ones from public toilets,
little travel ones from Japan..."
"I never made it to the nest room," Butch says faintly, "but apparently that's
where the more scholarly vibe kicks in. It's a history lesson about wiping your
ass. Apparently, the Mexicans used corn-on-the-cob."
"I can lacking guarantee you the Mexican women didn't," Shirley hoots.
Living in what is basically Twin Peaks with a cheese kink suits Garbage
down to the ground. As a paragon of the American Way, with a deep, black undercurrent
of loopy, loping serial killers, it's a metaphor goldrush. For what else are
Garbage but Blondie after the werewolf's bite, a prom-queen wearing Hard Candy
nail polish and carrying a gun, a pop group with a chemical imbalance that means
it wakes up by the side of the motorway at two in the morning with blood on
its hands and absolutely no idea how it got there?
From the opening chord of 1995's 'Garbage', it was clear that a band had finally
picked up the baton of Dark Pop from mass-market abyss-hangers like Echo And
The Bunnymen and Roxy Music, and plugged it into gleaming circuit-boards. The
stop-start, faulty-CD cut-outs of 'Supervixen' typified the whole thing: something
troubled and human trapped in the shiny machine.
The follow-up, 'Version 2.0,' is, as the title implies, a further refinement
of this programme: the pop will knock your socks off with its unerring instinct
for the jugular, while the demons sound like they're really closing in. 'I Think
I'm Paranoid' thunders through many glorious hooklines, but Shirley sings the
lines "Bend me break me/Go ahead and leave me" like there's blood on
her lips. And when the queasy extra beats send 'Push It' skittering out of control,
Shirley wills it on further, seething "Make the beats go HARDER!" This,
effectively, is Madison cut by the yard. Garbage couldn't have formed in any
However, when work on 'Version 2.0' started in earnest, in the chilly April
of last year, Garbage had tired of their rainy northern city with its boho leanings,
flannel work-shirts and dark undercurrent. So they decamped to Seattle.
"A friend of ours lent us their house on Puget Sound," Butch Vig explains.
"We jammed a lot, even though I don't want to say 'jammed' because it's an awful
word we all hate. The word 'jamming' is lo-fi."
'Lo-fi' is Garbage's fiercest swear-word. Shirley also later declaims The Spice
Girls ("Feminists designed by men is a bit of an oxymoron, don't you think?")
and Diana-mania ("I was ashamed of our country") as 'lo-fi', accelerating to
a rolling-eyed avowal to "Dig my fingers in and scratch the lacking eyes out"
of anyone dissing Courtney Love. "I talk about her too much, but seeing as she's
the equivalent of 50 average people it evens out. How could anyone not worship
"We all spend a lot of time each day trying to find ways of avoiding saying
'jammed'," Butch continues. "We've tried 'free-styling'."
"'Fucking about'," Shirley interjects. "I liked 'fucking about'. BUT! ANYWAY!
This house in Seattle was amazing. The beds were like in The Princess And
The Pea. Nearly all the windows looked out over the water. Whales come into
the cove, and seals. There was a housekeeper - he was like an invisible imp,
you'd never see him, just evidence of his good works. You'd come down in the
morning and the fire would be blazing. He took the boys into the Native American
"They're teepees, and with white-hot stones inside," Duke relates, his eyes
crinkling at the memory. "You sit in there in the dark, and they throw water
over the stones, and the steam hits you like a nuclear blast. It's almost impossible
to breathe, because it's so hot - you have to breathe really shallowly, It's
a spiritual kind of thing."
"They believe that women's periods tie them to the earth," Shirley butts in,
"and that you're regularly reminded of where you come from and your past. And
the idea of the sweat lodge is that the men are drawn to the earth, reminded
of their place on it and forced to contemplate the past and the dead."
There's a pause.
"Just once was enough for me," Duke says. "You hear voices in there. It's intense."
Shirley, however, didn't need a faux-period in a hut to remember the past and
the dead that haunt the out-of-the-darkness-into-the-light-and-back-into-the-darkness
vibe of 'Version 2.0'. Almost the first words on the album find her describing
herself, in a series of spitting, sucking declamations: "A demon... a vampire...
a wolf... a bonfire/A knife coming at you for a little more," while the
beats and guitars go chainsaw-wieldingly mental as the chorus ascends at 1000
feet per second.
'The Trick Is To Keep Breathing' - Bowie's 'Always Crashing in The Same Car'
gone sclerotic with sorrow - has an orchestra lowing in the background as Shirley
asthmatically wheezes, "Always the one who would try to bring her down/Maybe
you'll get what you want this time around."
"This album was like sloughing off a skin for me," she explains, biting off
her thumbnail and using it to clean her other nails. "Like washing dirt off
from my childhood and adolescence. I went back over things I thought I'd dealt
with, and found out that I hadn't. This album is like... I'm sending postcards
to myself, back then. To comfort myself."
So what was your childhood like?
The 'ugly' sister of three, Shirley was brought up in a funky area of Edinburgh.
Her father was a geneticist. In an early, proto-Garbage incident, one of his
experiments involved dead chickens left in the family shed. When Shirley unknowingly
came upon them five days later, they were dancing with maggots and she screamed
the place down. Her father, as most fathers do, became quite bewildered when
she came into her teenage-hood.
She had no self-esteem then, and she has none now. When asked to put a date
to its inception, she mentions constantly comparing herself to her 'beautiful'
sisters, bullying at school, and a circle of teenage girl mind-fuckery. "I've
only just worked it out that there was this really big confidence-losing event,"
she says. "I was best friends with two girls, and I was so glad not to be on
my own it didn't occur to me that three is always a bad number."
When Shirley was 15, she told them a lie, "And," she shudders, "my whole life
ended there." She won't say exactly what it was.
"I still think it was the single biggest mistake of my life. It was such a
terrible, pointless lie. When I was found out, I was just sick-to-my-stomach
with dread. And that was It."
"No-one in school spoke to me again. I had to hide in the science block every
day: showing my face was too provocative. Any little confidence I had disappeared
To make matters worse, one of Shirley's teachers had it in for her like crocodiles
have it in for stray swimmers' legs. Shirley would be repeatedly ridiculed in
front of the whole class, "Until, I think, everyone in that school thought
I was less than human. I felt ugly, weak, overwhelmed - I couldn't imagine being
capable of doing anything. I certainly never thought I could be in a band. This
was a dream it didn't even occur to me to dream about."
These feelings were manifested in 'delicate cutting', snipping the safety guards
off Bic razors and scoring a furious lattice work of red threads on her arms.
It is what girls and women do when they are trying to teach themselves the physical
lesson 'Never, ever allow yourself to be this unhappy again.'
Books and music were her Narnia at the back of the wardrobe, Siouxsie Sioux
and Chrissie Hynde the Ice Queens therein. "When Fiona Apple wrote that line,
'When I'm strong like music', I could've killed her, I was so jealous.
That's exactly what it is," Shirley says. "Exactly."
When mutual lust dragged her into the local hunk's band, she doubled-up jobs
and worked at Dorothy Perkins to support them both. And when both the relationship
and Goodbye Mr Mackenzie eventually fell apart, she stayed with music. Her new
band, Angelfish, got some airplay on MIY, and it was there, "like some weird
kind of tele-dating," she smirks, that The Boys saw her, rang her, and asked
her to run away from everything she'd ever known and join them in Madison.
When this glorious, hooting woman tells you for the first time that she has
no self-esteem and thinks herself ugly, you feel it only polite to believe her,
but secretly you don't. The second time she tells you - grimacing and flicking
through a magazine where she looks like Boadicea doing Vogue - you slap
her on the arse and tell her to shut up. The third time around, you start to
source Garbage's predilection for fucking up their glories, begin to see how
Shirley Manson's dissatisfaction with herself means that their pop will always
run shiny and rich - but black, like drilled oil.
The band nip to an industrial estate outside Madison for a photo shoot. Shirley's
hair looks like It's been miserably clawed at in the car on the way over. Her
massive dead-dog boots, tiny skirt and pharaoh's head T-shirt, emblazoned with
the advice 'Don't Touch My Tuts', must've been chosen in happier times.
It's an outfit that needs fronting and, right now, Shirley can't front it -
she looks like she wants to rip her clothes off and keep going, down past the
skin. She walks furiously angular and keeps her head down, eyes to the floor.
"I feel disgusting," she says, looking up for a minute and blazing with misery
"I could take a knife to my throat for the way I look. Can someone just put
a bin or a bag or a fucking bomb on my head?"
The boys stand around, concerned but not agitated, waiting for her to haul
herself out of the tar. Shirley scratches distractedly at her arms. When the
shoot starts, Shirley looks at the camera passive, miserable, but ready to rip
it into pieces with her teeth if it does anything wrong to her. There's a line
from 'Medication' on 'Version 2.0': a scouring, over-loading guitar, delirious
with misery, drowns Shirley as she dies through the lines, "Somebody
get me out of here, I'm tearing at myself". The song is being written
again this afternoon.
Asked to try a smile, Shirley looks like a pond trying to look dry. She is
not asked to try a smile again. The photographer hands her a Polaroid - Shirley
looks at it, disgustedly.
"I look unbearable," she winces. The lighting and her self-loathing are casting
shadows that make her look half-dead. The photographer tries another dozen shots.
When she comes to the end of the reel, Shirley climbs off her stool, walks to
the toilet with her eyes sunk to the ground and locks herself in.
There's a five minute pause while the photographer paces around distractedly,
Butch leans against the door and whispers comfort to her, followed by Steve
and Duke. Urgent hisses are traded through the bathroom door, until Shirley
comes steaming out of the toilet - her jaw jutting forward as if there's a drawstring
between her molars and her tearducts.
"Oh God." she hisses, suddenly sagging against the wall. "I'm not being
prima donna-ish, am I? It's just that I look awful in those pictures and I can't
bear it - they're for a Scottish magazine and everyone from school will see
them and I want to look beautiful and 'fuck you'. I'm not being all disgusting
and diva-ish, am I?"
You just seem really unhappy, love, Select offers. Desperately unhappy, if
it's any consolation, the majority of the world would die to look like you.
Shirley gives a hollow yelp. "I like this? I don't think so. My hips..."
She slaps her hips disgustedly, "I want hips like a boy, Boys' bodies seem so
easy and uncomplicated. They're so easy to dress and use and take care of."
She looks despairingly down at herself.
The photographer gestures that she's ready.
"We can stop this now, if you're unhappy," Garbage's press officer reminds
Shirley. "You don't have to do this."
"We're here, let's get it done," Shirley says, jutting her chin out again,
sealing off those tearducts. "This photographer must think I'm a bitch, and
it's not her, It's me that's the problem. God, I'm so sorry."
Shirley trudges over like a condemned woman. The atmosphere is rather like
a one-off Arab Strap gig in a morgue.
Somewhat inappropriately, 'Oliver! The Soundtrack' appears on the stereo and
from that, the 'Country House'-like 'Consider Yourself'. There is a sheer, cliff-like
silence of 30 seconds. Then: "Yes! Fucking yesss!" Shirley hollers from the
other side of the room. "I love this! This is brilliant!"
"Is this some of your traditional English music?" Butch asks sardonically.
"Ah've taken to you/SO STRONG/I'm SURE! WE'RE! Going to get along!"
Shirley bellows, in a nostalgic trance.
She isn't restored to Supershirley mode, but the quicksands of self-loathing
have momentarily been left behind. Afterwards, Shirley repeatedly apologises
to everyone, even those who weren't in the room.
"It just descends on me and I'm too fuck-lag feeble to do anything about it,"
she says, trying to flip this distressing evidence of unhappiness away with
her hands. "Some days, it seems like I get random moods delivered in the post."
"I should've known something was up when I was painting glitter on my eyelids
and I just carried on and glittered my whole face," Shirley sighs, pulling her
knee right up to her mouth and gnawing on the kneecap.
We're alone in the darkness of Garbage's studio control room. Lights flash
and twinkle reassuringly on the console as we recall other Awful Moods, particularly
one encountered in 1995 while onstage at New York's largest indoor rock venue,
Madison Square Gardens.
"That's always a sign, I find - if you start painting your whole face," Shirley
continues. "Awoop! Awoop! Woman in need of a holiday!"
New York is the US gig where you really want to poke people's eyes out with
genius. Getting stressed about the Mid-West is like getting stressed about playing
Leicester. And the audiences in LA are too busy putting crack up their bottoms
and watching Winona Ryder pretending to be indie to care. In New York, however,
the crowds are professionally jaded. Had Elvis died on the toilet onstage at
Shea Stadium, it would have been greeted with tetchy little sighs and some 'ironic'
Standing in the wings, waiting to go on, someone told the band that the vibe
was really good, like, out there. Shirley pressed the flat of her hand to her
face, and felt it crackle with thousands of tiny stars.
Thirty-five minutes later, and she still hadn't fully realised that they were
onstage. That Perspex Feeling had descended, where you feel interestingly numb
and spacey, divided from the world and your own nerve-endings by a sheet of
cool, dumb plastic. The audience was something abstract; heat and darkness,
an unknown space beyond the stage.
When she started crying, the glitter ran down her face and her neck and chestbone
started to shimmer.
"I don't know why I was crying, it was everything and nothing the matter,"
Shirley sighs again. Her kneecap now has a semi-circle of teeth-marks on it.
"I kept singing, though. I couldn't look at the audience, I was just singing
to my feet."
It's a very Gay Icon Moment.
"The problem with Gay Icon Moments is that it never occurs to you at the time
that you're being a Gay Icon, so you never get to revel in it," Shirley surmises,
correctly. "So you just feel fucking miserable without any of the glory. The
weird thing was, though," she continues, "the horrible thing was, afterwards
no-one spoke to me.
"I think The Boys thought I was having a tantrum about my monitors." Shirley
rolls her eyes upwards. "I don't know what they thought, really. But no-one
would talk to me - not management nor record company nor the band. They were...
scared of me. And that was when I realised I'm totally alone. If something goes
wrong with me, only I can fix it. And I am alone - out there. [Pause]
Out here." Shirley casts her hand at America.
So what did you run away from the UK for? What have you gained?
"An insane life - this mad closing of circles," she says, drawing circles in
the saliva left on her knee. "Meeting the people who made me when I was younger.
When we went on Top of The Pops that first time, I walked through the
studio doors and Chrissie Hynde was onstage, singing. My hero, the woman who
literally - and I do mean literally - saved my life when I was a teenager. And
she knew my stuff! And she liked my stuff! I've got a fax from Chrissie
Hynde! I've got to show it you.
"With the new album, there's a track, 'Special', where I was experimenting
with phrasing and 'Talk Of The Town' just seemed to fall out of my mouth. I
thought we'd better get clearance in case we got sued, and she sent me this
fantastic fax. It says, 'I hereby give Shirley Manson permission to use my voice,
my likeness or my ass in whatever way she damn well pleases'."
Shirley's beaming and glowing like a crescent moon. However, when asked for
other instances to sum up the last two years - where Shirley Manson went from
being a 28-year-old, gothy-indie backing singer to a genuine Pop Icon: Versace'd
at the Grammys, hanging with Bono, Michael Stipe and Courtney Love, and the
deity of choice for those On The Outside - her face falls into numbness.
"We and the Smashing Pumpkins hired the Chicago Bulls' jet to go to the MTV
Awards in Europe," she says, rather blankly, "Yeah, Versace at the Grammys.
Versace is a wonderful designer. He dresses the animal in a woman, the obscene
side." She sighs. "The Grammys were fucking dull: you can't drink or smoke or
talk. You just sit there, waiting for Puff Daddy to win something. The party
afterwards made up for it. It was everything you'd expect. I met Brad Pitt.
He just came over and talked to me. He knew who I was!"
Despite the astonishing Brad Pittness of this event, Shirley's former beam
is now down to a candle flicker. Doesn't all this stuff excite her? Doesn't
she feel vindicated?
"Naaaaaaaaah." Shirley empties her lungs.
You seem not to engage with any of this as real.
"Well, no. This isn't my life. I've purposely stopped myself from settling
here, so I don't allow myself to believe that any of this is real. I live in
a hotel, just to make sure of that. And I think it's healthy, I don't want any
of this to affect me or... or Shirley falters. She starts again. "I'm really
wary of getting above myself, or turning into something disgusting because of
what goes on around me. I disassociate. And it means that I'm untouched by all
the 'good stuff', but I'm untouched by the stupid bad stuff, too."
So you've kind of put yourself in storage, then? In Edinburgh there's a husband
and a house and family and friends all on hold, and you can return to them once
your alter-ego has done her work here - richer, but the same old Shirley you
"Yes! Completely! That's entirely it!" Shirley beams delightedly, "Fucking
hell. Are we going out drinking tonight?"
A night on the town with Shirley Manson and Garbage is a night where the flavour
of the drinks, the subject of conversation and the venue all change by the hour
- from a noncey restaurant on the dazzling main street (margaritas, Butch's
broodiness, Shirley's lack-of-broodiness, Shirley trying to convince Butch that
women love giving blow-jobs, Butch mildly perturbed as Shirley explains graphically
why) to Garbage's favourite bar (beer and tequila shots, Shirley screaming about
the horror of circumcision whilst Butch nods in agreement, Shirley banging on
toilet doors asking if the occupants are 'alright' before sliding another tequila
chaser under the divide.)
By four in the morning, the tidal wave of booze has washed the team up on the
shores of a house party somewhere in Madison's neat suburbs. Beer and cigars
are being brandished. Shirley is kneeling on the floor, the words pouring out
of her so quickly it's as if she's levitating with enthusiasm.
"I deliberately try and make myself as different and other as possible, because
I've got a horror of being normal, and I think that I probably am really normal,
deep down," says the World's Least Normal Woman. "And re-invention and self-determination
are possible here, in a way that you don't really realise they're not
possible in Britain, until you leave. It makes it weird when I go back though,"
she says, staring down at her arms.
"It's almost like your heart gets jetlag. It takes a couple of days to turn
back into what I am back there. I can't have my husband touch me for a while,
I'm so used to being on my own. On my 30th birthday, he arranged a party and
I was sitting on the bed like a furious monster - I'd just come back from tour
and I wasn't used to Scotland and I wanted a fucking cigarette. I was like,
'Right. Birthday, Party. Hate it.' We went down and everyone was there - looking
scared 'cos I was obviously in a mood. I stuck it out three minutes and I ran
off to the toilets, crying.
"One of my oldest friends comes in, and I'm wailing, 'I'm miserable, I hate
this party, I hate my presents, I hate myself and I'm 30.' And she said the
best thing she could have ever said to me at that moment, Shirley beams, taking
a swig of her beer.
"She said, 'Shirley, you were like this when you were 18'."
In a marked departure from the Global Pop Icon brief, not least because dawn
has just broken, Shirley has given Select a lift to the airport.
Surrounded by snow, Shirley Manson stands on the tarmac at Madison airport,
a taper lit by the sunrise. Even though she's back-lit by a whole planet of
fire, her eyes are still the kohl-rimmed, blue green lasers you'd want on your
side if you needed to cut through steel, or diamond.
Select asks if Shirley wishes she was coming with us, gesturing to the plane,
the Atlantic, Blighty and the Old Life therein.
Shirley pauses for a minute.
"Nah," she shouts finally, as the aeroplane engines start up. "I'm going back
to the bar."