Shirley Manson: “I fell for a cheating boyfriend’s breakfast cereal. I’m not ashamed’ | pop and rock


When you were young and appeared on the outskirts of Edinburgh, singing a song while waving a rubber chicken around your head, did you think: “Shirley, one day you will be singing the theme from a Bond film [The World Is Not Enough]”? Ticton

[Roars with laughter]. The song they refer to is Only the Chuckies – that is, the chickens – Gang Cheep, which I sang in a musical with the Edinburgh Youth Theatre. I never thought, in my wildest imagination, that I was going to represent a lot.

My 10 year old loves Stupid Girl, but worries that the title of the song is offensive. How would you explain to him? wyngatecarpenter

It’s a rebuke to a particular kind of person who isn’t honest about how they represent themselves in the culture. I chose the genre then because it was less obvious than a feisty feminist singing about a “dumb boy”, but if I wrote it now I’d swap the genre because women have had a real kicker lately.

How much sexism did you face as a rising rock star in the 90s? Is it better now or is it still too depressing to think about? StupidGrrrl

The outrageous way I have been or have been talked about in my career – and still am – continues to amaze me. While we were promoting our latest record [2021’s No Gods No Masters] a journalist suggested that I should take medication because I had spoken about sexism, misogyny and climate change. Two different reporters – male and female – asked me if I was thinking about retirement. I was 54 then. I’m in a group with much older people and they wouldn’t put up with those kinds of questions.

Being a woman in the music industry for 20 years-more years, do you feel are closer to having equal power with the many men who run the music industry from when you started? KeelyGrace26

Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Billie Eilish are hugely powerful, but that’s one-hundredth of the music industry. For the most part, it’s still a male producer, label head, writer, and performer, and they’re not spoken of in the same way. The way Billie Eilish’s body was discussed after being on the cover of Vogue hurt my stomach. So little has changed.

In an old interviewyou admitted to doing something terribly awful and embarrassing when you were about 18. Could you share what you did? Benth24

I fell for a cheating boyfriend’s breakfast cereal. I am not ashamed; I’m pretty proud of it. A dear friend did the same when she found out her girlfriend was cheating on her and said, “While I was doing it, I was thinking about you.” I recommend it as an act of revenge. It leaves you with a feeling of power and joy.

Shirley Manson with her Garbage bandmates Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig in 1995. Photography: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

Do you have any advice for someone who is too shy to perform or who lacks self-confidence as a performer? starry belly

I lacked self-confidence and suffered from shyness, but acting can be learned. If you’re putting hundreds of hours into it and it’s still too taxing, then this isn’t for you. But if you push through the discomfort and each time it gets a little easier, you’ve suddenly had a 30-year career. With me, there is very little difference between my public and private personalities. It’s who I am, so acting is an act of defiance.

What inspired you to star in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and what do you think about it now? DeborahGeller

It was a fantastic experience and I’m very proud of it. It happened at a time when I felt really helpless. My mother was dying of dementia. My band had lost our recording contract. I was 40 and felt like my career was over. Then I was offered this amazing role [as Catherine Weaver]. A Terminator is indestructible, so I fell into this fantasy of being able to fix anything, fix my mother… It was a crazy, magical thought, but it brought me a lot of comfort.

Shirley Manson with bleached hair in 2002 during the Beautiful Garbage era
Shirley Manson with bleached hair in 2002 during the Beautiful Garbage era. Photography: Tim Roney/Getty Images

You once recorded a haunting cover of the classic Jam B-side, The Butterfly Collector, as an extra track. Which Garbage B-side are you most proud of? VerulamiumParkRanger

Our version of star man. David Bowie was so influential in my life that doing one of his songs and receiving it in style was a real triumph. I was introduced to him once. He came to his dressing room door in the union jack jacket and, of course, I talked nonsense and made a fool of myself, but that fleeting moment was unforgettable.

I always think that when a pop star shaves or bleaches their hair in the middle of a album campaign is a cry for help. Were you okay during the Beautiful Garbage period? Robot3021

I was far from OK. I was going through a very painful divorce. I cried every day and every night I fell asleep in a tub. I felt upset, raw and hurt.

Would you ever play live with your old Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie group friends?ScotlandGMM

They asked for me, but the timing was horrible. I would like to do a very good job, which would require rehearsals. I’m working too hard with my own band right now, but at some point I’d like to.

If you could choose one group of people to hang out with, who would it be? CostasK

Tracey Emin, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and, if dead too, then Louise Bourgeois, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and my mother. All of these women have inspired me throughout my life and taught me how to stand in a culture dominated by men. I would also like my niece – and my nephew would be the obligatory male.

Garbage performing at the Sound of 007 concert at the Royal Albert Hall on October 4
Garbage performs with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at the Sound of 007 concert at the Royal Albert Hall on October 4. Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for EON Productions & Prime Video

What inspired the lyrics to All the Good in This Life? My husband rides a mountain bike, so the words “with the riders in the dirt on the grass of Aztalan” touched me. jenletty78

I love this song and it’s probably the best love song I’ve written. I had watched the Aztalian motocross riders and was blown away. It was romantic and exciting and terrifying, and then I met this young boy, a young musician. It wasn’t a sexual thing but it captured my imagination as a muse. I don’t have kids, but I was 40 and felt motherly and almost wrote a song to a son.

As someone who writes songs as a hobby, I wrote a song about my deceased brother and I often wonder if I would be able to get through it live without getting emotional. Have you ever cried on stage? Hectormandarin

Oh, several times. Onstage there is a protection switch which means you can deliver emotional lines without necessarily feeling any emotion. I sang So like a rose, about suicide, a million times and then suddenly it will catch up with me. You have to go through this moment and of course the audience feels the authenticity and loves it. Suddenly you have this powerful channel of communication, so even in your shame of losing control, it turns into something beautiful and transcendent.

Watch the video of Only Happy When It Rains

Which song best defines Garbage’s message through all these years? AlexRdzS

It’s never been my favorite, but over the last few years I’ve fallen in love with Only Happy When It Rains because it represents us beautifully and perfectly as a band. We have a common philosophy of being able to enjoy the darkness. Whenever the going got tough, our sense of humor and our collective ability to harness the energy of failure propelled us forward and lifted us up again and again.

The anthology of Garbage’s career is published on Stunvolume/BMG on October 28.

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