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A talented Scottish singer-songwriter, Shirley Manson found fame as the badass frontwoman for the 1990s alternative band, Garbage, blending a disaffected glamour with a coolly elegant intelligence. Coming up through the Edinburgh clubs, Manson caught the eye of musicians Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. Coming together as Garbage, the polished, powerful foursome struck gold with albums like 1994's Garbage, 1998's Version 2.0,, 2001's beautifulgarbage and 2005's Bleed Like Me as well as hits like "Only Happy When it Rains," "Stupid Girl," "#1 Crush," "I Think I'm Paranoid," "Special" and "Push It." Tapped to provide the soaring theme to the James Bond flick "The World is Not Enough" (1999), Garbage blew up big, with the effortlessly alluring Manson becoming a Calvin Klein model and a global superstar before the band called it quits in 2007. After pulling the plug on her solo album when she clashed with label execs, Manson joined the cast of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (Fox, 2008-09) and continued to dabble in the music industry before Garbage reunited for 2012's self-released Not Your Kind of People. Gloriously unflappable and unwavering when it came to her artistic vision, Shirley Manson became and remained a rock icon with an enormously powerful legacy.
Born Aug. 26, 1966 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Shirley Ann Manson endured a troubled youth. After a relatively happy childhood in which she immersed herself in music, drama lessons and performances, Manson found adolescence incredibly traumatic. Cutting a striking figure with green eyes, dark red hair and chalk-white skin, the young girl became the subject of merciless bullying, which was exacerbated by her increasing depression and self-esteem issues. Pushed to the brink, Manson began seeking an outlet in self-cutting and other self-destructive behaviors. She regained a sense of equilibrium when she fell in with a crowd of fellow outsiders who accepted her flaws with affection and bolstered her sense of independence and self-worth with such typical teenage rebellious activities as experimenting with drugs and minor scrapes with the law.
Embracing her identity as a beautiful misfit, Manson held a series of day jobs to fund her growing reputation as an Edinburgh club kid who dabbled in modeling. Continuing to emulate her musical heroes, including Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and David Bowie, Manson was drawn to the world of performing. Hovering at the periphery of the local music scene, Manson's ethereal charisma came in handy when she began styling performers before becoming a backup singer. Recognizing Manson's enormous potential, local musician Martin Metcalfe tapped her to join his band, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. Although the two briefly dated, they remained on good terms after the relationship ended and Manson increasingly assumed responsibility within the band as a singer-songwriter and keyboardist. Breaking out of the Edinburgh scene, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie was signed to Capitol Records and earned a top 40 hit, "The Rattler."
Although their success proved short-lived, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie was picked up by a smaller label, Radioactive, and pared down to Manson as a solo act supported by the band members. Reformed as the Angelfish, Manson was the frontwoman and driving musical force for the new lineup, and they achieved minor stardom on the college radio circuit with the song "Suffocate Me." Although the "Suffocate Me" music video was played only once on MTV, Manson's star quality impressed legendary mega record producers Butch Vig - best known for producing Nirvana's Nevermind - Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, who had formed their own band, Garbage. They arranged an audition for Manson in London, ironically on the very day Vig's friend Kurt Cobain killed himself. Although at first the four strong personalities clashed, it eventually became obvious that they were going to be a potent music combo.
With impeccable musicianship, a glossy grunge glamour, and Mason's silky delivery of her own biting lyrics, Garbage's 1994 self-titled debut became a smash hit, going multiplatinum and spawning the dark, driving singles "Only Happy When it Rains" and the twice-Grammy-nominated "Stupid Girl." While other alternative acts at the time indulged in musical hysterics to make their bones, Garbage's polished, intelligent performances proved an elegant counterpoint, with the cooler-than-cool Manson serving as the perfect musical talent, sex symbol and style icon. After placing the gorgeously twisted "#1 Crush" on the "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" (1996) soundtrack, the band continued to have its finger on the pulse of the music scene. To put it simply, Manson, as singer and songwriter, was the essential element to Garbage conquering the world, and she took an even larger hand in shaping the band's follow-up, 1998's Version 2.0.
Representing the commercial and critical zenith of Garbage, Version 2.0 spun off the era-defining hits "I Think I'm Paranoid," "Special," "When I Grow Up" and "Push It," with the latter track thrillingly interpolating elements of the Beach Boys song "Don't Worry Baby" that impressed Brian Wilson so much he held on to the demo. Representing an impressive musical and style evolution for the band, the album earned Garbage four Grammy nominations and elevated their profile even further. Branching out into film, Garbage placed the songs "Medication" on the soundtrack of Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson's "The Faculty" (1998) and "When I Grow Up" on the soundtrack of the Adam Sandler smash "Big Daddy" (1999). Most importantly, the group performed the epic theme song for the James Bond film "The World Is Not Enough" (1999).
Manson in particular benefited from the band's meteoric rise, earning a modeling contract with Calvin Klein. They seemed poised to ascend even higher with the release of 2001's beautifulgarbage, which took its name from lyrics written by Courtney Love for her band Hole's hit "Celebrity Skin." Surprisingly, the album stalled out commercially, and the band's promotion for it was curtailed when Manson had to undergo surgery on her vocal cords. They regained ground with 2005's Bleed Like Me and its hit "Why Do You Love Me" but after releasing their greatest hits package, 2007's Absolute Garbage, they decided to step away. Although Manson had announced she was working on a solo album, she clashed with the record label over the direction of the music and was dropped from their roster.
Although she toyed with the idea of leaving the industry completely, Manson continued to quietly write and record music as well as perform onstage and in the studio in support of various acts, including Queens of the Stone Age, Gavin Rossdale, and The Bird and the Bee. She flirted with the idea of becoming a full-time actress, joining the cast of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (Fox, 2008-09) as Catherine Weaver, an undercover rogue cyborg whose loyalties were as mysterious as she was powerful. She came full circle when she spoke at Blondie's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and blogged frequently in support of female artists and of the importance of women supporting other women professionally, artistically and personally. Many of the musical acts who came after Garbage described what an enormous influence Manson had had on them, so it came as welcome news when the band announced they had quietly reformed, releasing their fifth album, 2012's Not Your Kind of People, on their own label, STUNVOLUME. It became a moderate success around the world on the back of singles like "Blood for Poppies," ushering in a new chapter of the band and Manson's professional future.
By Jonathan Riggs
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