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‘People get uncomfortable when you tell the truth,’ Shirley Manson once told the Guardian. ‘I don’t. I’m happy to feel. I wanna feel every single fucking thing. I want to feel the breeze, the punch, the disappointment. I want to feel love, lust and everything in between because I’m here for an infinitesimal amount of time. I wanna feel it all. I’m a greedy motherfucker. If that makes me dark so be it.’
In the twenty-four years since she became a rock star as the singer of Garbage Manson has never been comfortable with fame or content as a rock star. Having confessed her struggles with depression and self-harm to the New York Times in 2018, the Scottish-born musician and actress has long been upfront about her emotional difficulties and has often expressed this feelings in her lyrics. ‘I think I’m paranoid and complicated,’ she sang in 1998.
Manson had broken into the mainstream three years earlier with the Top 20 hit Queer and the band’s inclusion on the soundtrack to the blockbuster William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, yet this success did not come overnight. Prior to the formation of Garbage, which also featured acclaimed producer Butch Vig, Manson had been a member of both Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish, neither of which would bring the Edinburgh-born singer much exposure.
But with Garbage Manson found the attention she had so desperately craved. Her new band found success almost overnight and their debut album, released in the summer of 1995, would transform her into a sex symbol and role model towards young women. ‘I’ll feel really grateful for the success I’ve enjoyed, but then, at some point in the month, a dark Shirley returns – and her voice gets really loud,’ she would confess to Billboard two decades later.
Following the release of their eponymous debut Garbage returned three years later with the equally acclaimed Version 2.0 but Manson would regularly struggle with the pressures of being the only female in the four piece. ‘Even though the guys in the band try to be aware, sometimes they don’t even notice I’m being dissed because I’m female,’ would she admit to Spin in 1997.
Despite becoming an inspiration to a generation of young women eager to front their own rock groups Manson would remain her own worst critic. After struggling with the pressures of fame in the music industry she eventually turned her attention to acting and landed a prominent role in the second season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the small screen spinoff of the Terminator franchise, in which Manson would be cast as Catherine Weaver, a deadly liquid metal robot with a hidden ulterior motive.
‘She’s a very subversive character. The fact that she’s in this male corporate environment, she’s this incredibly self-assured, empowered character, it makes her a scary individual,’ Manson would explain of her role, in which she portrayed a seemingly headstrong CEO of a powerful corporation. ‘But Terminators have to be scary – they’re not supposed to be cuddly and warm. And she’s great for business.’
After an acclaimed venture into the world of acting Manson would return to Garbage with 2012’s Not Your Kind of People. ‘I actually feel that this is the most glorious part of my career,’ she admitted upon the realisation that the group had been together for over two decades. ‘I now realise that for a band to stick together and to tolerate one another for more than twenty years is some kind of miracle and the fact we’ve managed to stumble through is in itself a rarity. I also feel incredibly privileged to be still making music after all this time.’
But in a new interview with NME Manson has once again expressed the self doubt and cynicism that has haunted her throughout her career. ‘I haven’t achieved anything in my life, not of much importance. I don’t know if that will ever be my destiny and I don’t care,’ she says. ‘I don’t give a fuck about fame, I don’t give a fuck about legacy, I don’t give a fuck about any of that bullshit. I think it’s ludicrous and laughable. I’m just not going to waste my time with it.’