What a Friend We Have in Marilyn Manson: 18 Years with the God of (Expletive Deleted)

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Born Villain, Marilyn Manson's first album since 2009's The High End of Low, marks his debut as a cheeky pop-culture gawker, a far cry from where he was just a decade and a half ago.

I wrote about some of the best Manson myths on the occasion of his birthday back in January. He's not the snarling, scorched-earth God of Fuck from his parent-baiting '90s heyday anymore, but thankfully those rough edges remain on Villain.

The new album exhibits a playfulness that long-term fans know he had, but had not yet integrated into the music. Lead single "No Reflection" is a ready-made radio anthem in the vein of 1996's "The Beautiful People"; elsewhere, "The Gardener" offers an expert study into the ways of modern love -- or what passes for it these days -- via Iggy Pop circa The Idiot.

On Sunday night he plays the sold-out House of Blues, on Mother's Day no less. Sorry, Mom, I have a date with Manson. He hasn't been here since March 2, 2008, traipsing on the Rape or the World Tour.

Manson has been one of the few modern artists who have grown with their audiences instead of becoming tribute acts to themselves, and the older he gets the more he keeps revealing facets to his art we would have never expected. Lyrically, I would like to think we grew with him.

When we were young and angry, so was he. And when we were depressed and depraved, he was too.

Compared to other rock stars shoved in our faces at the time, like Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder, he offered something outsized and theatrical. From that first video for "Get Your Gunn" I saw on Beavis and Butt-head to his Alejandro Jodorowsky-biting clips today, he's kept me enthralled.

(He once -- unawares -- threw a plastic bottle at my ex-girlfriend's face from the stage in New Orleans at Voodoo Fest, but he made up for it by taking a picture of her the next year in Houston after a gig and sending it to his wife at the time, Dita Von Teese. This was when cell-phone cameras were for rich rock stars.)

A recent piece by my colleague Jef With One F illustrated how much he meant, and didn't, to a generation of Goths. There were some heated exchanges. For me he wasn't Goth, though. That was too easy of a tag, and he was way more pop -- in his own demented way -- to be a Goth "Capital-I" Icon.

He was blamed for everything that supposedly went wrong with my generation, the media-ordained Gen Y. When a bunch of psychotic, troubled kids in Colorado shot up a school, he was the easiest figure to point a finger at.

Looking at pop culture now, I can't rightfully tell you who is scaring and angering parents in 2012. Is it Odd Future, Skrillex, Lady Gaga or maybe Justin Bieber? Surely all of their followings are just as rabid as Manson's was. It's fitting that our last year on Earth will be jam-packed with Manson.

To me he was always a comedian, a libertarian (in the least political way) and a provocateur. Plus, the music was fucking fun. And he also found time to hang out with the late Hunter S. Thompson, and just recently played one of Johnny Depp's kid's birthday parties?

Some of the most artistic, funny and learned kids I knew growing up were Manson fans, who ended up becoming artistic, funny, learned and somewhat-well-adjusted adults. Now we spend our time arguing about which of his albums is our favorite.

It's Holy Wood for me. You ever heard it on a really great loud stereo system? And yes, it's mostly about the JFK assassination so it has to be my favorite.

He's one of the last living rock stars of his generation, refusing to dumb down his act like so many others, while still being able to screw with the music industry at large. You can count folks like Trent Reznor and Perry Farrell in that crew, too. Hell, Reznor has an Oscar to prove it now.

Now please play "Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes" on Sunday night.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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