For a generation of vocalists, from Lady Gaga to Paramore’s Hayley Williams to Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry, Garbage vocalist Shirley Manson is an inspiration, influence and role model, a fact which, she admits in a new interview with Rolling Stone, leaves her “a bit speechless.”
But in the same interview, when asked what advice she wishes she could give her younger self, the 54-year-old Edinburgh-born singer had an instant, unequivocal response.
“Take up your space,” she answers.
“When I was growing up, to be a girl was to be told to minimise the space you took up,” she explains. “Close your legs. Don’t be loud. Smile. Be cute. Be attractive. Be pleasing. I inherently balked against that as a kid. I was a rebellious kid, and I wasn’t going to sit in the corner and be quiet. I’ve never been like that. However, looking back, I still notice some of the patterns of my own compliance. It’s not that I hate myself for it, but I just wish I could turn around and say to my young self, ‘Take your seat. If there’s not a seat there, drag a seat up to the table and sit down’.”
“I’m still really aware of the sexism and misogyny that I have had to battle throughout my career,” Manson continues, revealing that one record label A&R man told her to her face that he had masturbated over photos of her. “I’m not crying, ‘Woe is me’, because I’ve obviously flourished in my career, and it obviously didn’t hold me back enough to hamper me in any way. But I feel for all the women who were unlike me, who didn’t have my forcefulness of personality, or my education, or my ability to articulate myself. I want that for all people, though; I want all people to stop trying to please, and accept that some people will like that, and some people won’t, and that’s OK. It’s OK that some people just don’t dig you.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Manson cites Patti Smith, a formative figure in the ’70’s New York punk scene and beyond, as a personal hero.
“Patti Smith is a huge hero for me for a lot of different reasons,” Manson says. “Most importantly, it’s because she’s a woman who has navigated her creative life so beautifully and so artfully, with such integrity and authenticity, and she has proven to me that a woman, an artist, does not have to subscribe to the rules of the contemporary music industry.”
“It’s very rare for other women to see examples of women actually working still in their seventies. That, to me, is really thrilling and really inspiring, and it fills me with hope. At times when you come up against the ageism, sexism, and misogyny that exists in our culture, I always try and picture Patti in my mind’s eye, and it always brings me back to centre, like, ‘OK, adhere to your own rules. Design your own life. Be your own architect. You can continue to be an artist the rest of your life.’ And to me, that’s life. That is a fully lived life.”
Garbage’s No Gods No Masters album is out now.