Search form

Scroll To Top

20 Years Paranoid: How Shirley Manson Will Always Be My Icon

AP Photo

An ode to Garbage.

Garbage and the band's lead singer Shirley Manson has captured the attention of the LGBTQ audience since the beginning of their 23-year-long (and counting) career. Their 2015 tour was the 20th-anniversary celebration of their debut self-titled album, and the tour itself was called the "20 Years Queer Tour," a nod to their 1995 single "Queer," a song not necessarily about the LGBTQ community, but certainly about feeling different.

The band's second album Version 2.0 saw the band take an even more electronic direction, combining their signature dark grunge-inspired alternative rock with digital space pop, creating a sonic masterpiece that sounds just as new right now as it did in 1998. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album with singles that got major airplay on radio and MTV like "Push It," "I Think I'm Paranoid," and "Special," the band have re-released Version 2.0 with all of the era's b-sides, remixes. They're currently on tour playing the full album and more, a dream come true for their fans.

Before I was out or even understood my gayness, I was a huge fan of Garbage. It was 1998, and I was just 13 years old--the age when a lot of middle schoolers in the 90s just started to watch MTV and discover their own taste in music. I was an awkward and dorky gay kid in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite San Francisco being an eclectic gay mecca, it was not so cool in the suburban bubble I grew up in. I knew I was always different from my peers, so when I first saw Garbage's music video for "Push It," I was immediately drawn in and hooked. I went to my local record store to get both of their albums released at the time (their self-titled debut "Garbage" and "Version 2.0"), and remember playing those CDs on repeat. I became obsessed with their music, the songs, the lyrics, and Shirley Manson became my rock star idol. At the time (it was the late 90s!), I also was a huge fan of other alternative female singers like Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, and Bjork, but Shirley was my "#1 Crush."

Shirley's appeal for me was that she was this gorgeous, part-goth, part-glam rock n' roll vixen, but with a hard "don't-fuck-with-me" exterior and no-bullshit attitude. She's always been unapologetic about who she is, and I think I subconsciously identified with her image in a very real way. I'll never forget the first time I saw the band live in concert--in September of 1998 at the San Jose Events Center. Seeing all the "older" teens and young people dressed in black, rocking out to Garbage, I felt like I found my people --which did not really exist in my suburban bubble. Without knowing who I was yet (gay!), I identified with Garbage's lyrics, music, and image.

The lyrics from "Temptation Waits" on Version 2.0 summed up my anxious angsty feelings at the time: "Well I'm not sure what I'm living for / well I'm not sure what I'm looking for." Shirley's ability to write these lyrics and sing them with such conviction and power can feel like she's the sound of your inner mind. The lyrics of "Special" have even more meaning to me now as an adult, after going through some tumultuous relationships in life: "I used to adore you / I couldn't control you / There was nothing that I wouldn't do / To keep myself around and close to you."

My therapist was recently elated to learn that Garbage is my favorite band. She brought up the song "The Trick Is To Keep Breathing" -- another single from Version 2.0 and a phrase we should all have tattooed on our arms. Without me having to explain it, she understood how a 13-year-old closeted gay boy connected with such adult lyrics back then. A song like "Sleep Together," where Shirley sings about "the emptiness, the craziness, satisfy this loneliness," is like an anthem for so many LGBTQ people's anxiety and depression when it comes to intimate relationships. As a teenager, I didn't always understand the lyrics but knew I they made me feel connected.

Shirley has long been an advocate for the LGBTQ community. It's clear from attending Garbage concerts over the last 20 years, as there is a huge queer following for the band. Shirley and the guys in the band (Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker) have always supported their queer audience. They released a rainbow gender-bending T-shirt on their last tour, likely inspired by their 2001 single "Androgyny," in which Shirley sang about "boys in the girl's room/girls in the men's room." On that same album (2001's Beautiful Garbage), is crowd favorite "Cherry Lips," about a "delicate boy" who "could make grown men gasp when you'd go walking past them in your hot pants and high heels." The character in the song may be fictional, but the sentiment is very real, as the lyrics go on to say "Go baby/ Go go/We're right behind you."

Shirley expressed her love and support for her LGBTQ fans in a letter she penned for Billboard during Pride 2017. She explained that she was ten years old when we as a community "first caught her attention" when she was growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland. She compared her own issues with identity and feeling like an outsider to the uniqueness embraced by the LGBTQ community, people who "told the truth about who you were and what you wanted." She went on to say "You showed me that I didn't have to adhere to conventional gender roles or accept anything less than an equal foothold in the world with another person. I could just be myself."

Part goth, part glam, part punk, but it's really never fair to put any artist in a box. Shirley and Garbage as a band have never been able to fully categorized as they have their own unique sound and identity, which has proven to withstand the test of time, as they have outlived most of their peers career wise from the 90s grunge era they were born from, to now as one of the only true rock bands still creating original music that is distinctly them, and filling concert venues around the world.

I've followed the band throughout their career, and since their "comeback" in 2012, I have not missed a tour, and have had the privilege to meet Shirley and the band several times in the last few years. The closeted 13-year-old gay boy I was so many years ago has had the chance to thank Garbage for helping me find myself, discover my own sexuality, and learn to appreciate music that has stayed with me my entire life.

Garbage just wrapped up their '20 Years Paranoid' tour in Europe, and is now on the North American leg. Full tour dates available here.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Greg Willis