If you had to guess whether Trent Reznor’s parents were divorced, for all the marbles, what would you say? Yeah, I thought so. Rage is such is visceral emotion that it just has to come from somewhere don’t you think? I would think bullying or abuse of some kind might be another root cause. According to our friends at Wikipedia, Reznor has been quoted as saying “I don’t want to give the impression that I had a miserable childhood.” Fair enough, but when he groans “you can have my isolation, you can have the hate that it brings, you can have my absence of faith, you can have my everything” from “Closer” I can feel his pain as Bill Clinton used to say. My parents never got officially divorced, but from the time I was 11 or 12 they didn’t sleep in the same bed. From the time I was 13 or 14 they didn’t live together. And since my father died in 1987 it hasn’t really been an issue, but I always felt like my parents got divorced. I didn’t speak much to my father after 1974 or so. It’s not that he did anything outrageously wrong, but when your mother is sitting in the dark listening to Frank Sinatra and weeping softly you kind of figure out something is wrong. They soldiered on for maybe six or seven years like that until their marriage problems became public. My father would come home late and sleep on the couch too many nights to count, but I was too young to make the connection. I just knew if I turned on the TV and woke him up there might be a negative reaction. I don’t really know how my parents “divorce” affected me, my relationships with women, my confidence and my choices, but you have to figure it into the equation somewhere.
Where Trent Reznor is concerned I don’t know the man. All I know is what I hear. So called Industrial Rock is an acquired taste. I have written about Ministry in the past, but Industrial Rock to me is Skinny Puppy, Killing Joke and White Zombie. There is a neighboring genre, sometimes called Space Rock, that would include great bands like Stabbing Westward, but Industrial Rock is cold metal. My mind is a blank for the moment, and I’m no expert on Industrial Rock, but Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor’s vehicle, have pretty much defined this genre for the last twenty years. They’ve certainly got the most commercially successful crown of all the bands of that ilk. I can still remember when the first NIN record came out in 1989. I was searching for something completely off my normal beaten musical path to shake my foundations. If I remember correctly I bought the CD out of my Columbia House catalogue while trying to honor my obligation. You remember those 11 CDs for 99 cents offers from about 20 years ago? Wonder what happened to them. This band called Nine Inch Nails had a cool name and I’m pretty sure that my local Alternative Rock station was playing “Head Like a Hole” for the first of two billion times so I bought Pretty Hate Machine. Good decision. Either you were open minded about Nine Inch Nails or you weren’t. My friend Mark call their music “devil music,” but I was undeterred. I had two other friends who I played ball with who loved them as much as I did. We played PHM until we were absolutely sick of it. I literally had to put it down for six months at one point. There just wasn’t anything like it in mainstream Alternative…if such a thing ever existed. Out of my twenty or thirty person circle I’d guestimate five of us were listening to Nine Inch Nails. I remember thinking how sad that was.
Michael Trent Reznor turns 46 years of age today. May 17, 1965 was his birthdate. He grew up in rural Pennsylvania, which is not all that different from rural New Jersey where I grew up five years earlier. According to Wikipedia he played the lead in The Music Man in high school. That makes me laugh a bit, because we did The Music Man as our middle school eighth grade play. I opted for a bit part as a passenger on the train. I had about ten lines as I recall. “You can talk you can bicker, you can talk you can bicker, you can talk talk talk bicker bicker bicker, you can talk all you want to but it’s different than it was.” That’s about all I can remember. For you youngsters out there The Music Man was a 1962 musical that was very popular in the 60′s and 70′s. It even had a minor hit single called “Seventy Six Trombones.” The only reason it sticks in my mind is because I had just become a teenager, complete with raging hormones, and I was in love with the understudy for the female lead, Marian The Librarian. We must have spent, as a class, two or three months rehearsing this play. I was pumped to have zero responsibility during that time. My scene came up once a week at best. The rest of the time me and my cohorts spent getting into trouble on our tiny school grounds in Backwater, NJ. If only Groudskeeper Willie were there. I guess you could say that is where my Downward Spiral (see how I did that?) began. The irony of this is The Music Man could not be any cleaner or purer. Not exactly what you think of when you think of Trent Reznor’s music right? I understand Trent played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar in another school play. Now that fits the image no?
The songs on Pretty Hate Machine seemed endless. After “Head” you had “Down In It, Sin, Terrible Lie and Sanctified.” I’m talking five absolutely scintillating songs that began to change the world. Radio formats expanded. People began taking feelings of isolation much more seriously. I seriously don’t think we’d have ever come across Marilyn Manson if it hadn’t been for Nine Inch Nails. I could be wrong about that, but there is no doubt NIN cut a wide swath through the established Alternative sounding Rock of the day. Mix that up with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sinead O’Connor, 10,000 Maniacs, The Eurythmics, Big Audio Dynamite, the Manchester Sound and all the Indie Rock of that particular era and it was a very exciting time to be a music fan. I was buying everything I could get my hands on. But there was nobody like Nine Inch Nails. Each successive record after Pretty Hate Machine became a bit more challenging and less commercial. I don’t necessarily mean singles for the radio either. 1992′s Broken was very challenging I thought. It really didn’t have much for the radio, but songs like “Wish” and “Happiness in Slavery” were not what we as consumer were expecting. Technically an EP, it came in funky packaging too. I hate funky packaging. The CD jacket had no pockets or anyplace to put the CD single that came with it. It was a different physical size than a normal CD. It was tiny, a CD-3 I think they call it. I had to scotch tape it to the cardboard jacket too. I think I took it out once to tape it and once to burn it. I realize CD jewel boxes aren’t exactly green, but they are so much better than paper jackets. I have CDs from the mid 80′s that are in pristine condition protected inside their jewel boxes. Exposed to normal conditions, the cardboard jackets wear just like the old LP jackets did. Me no likey. Still, Broken was the beginning of the end for Reznor’s relationship with TVT Records, which had released Pretty Hate Machine. They understandably wanted another smash hit record and Broken was definitely not that. Nice Adam Ant cover in “Physical (You’re So)” though. That still rocks. I would have bought anything after that first CD no question.
In 1994 Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral. As far as reaching outside their normal fan base, this CD was a success. “Closer” was a brilliant single and “Hurt” was huge. “Piggy” got a lot of air play as well. Nine Inch Nails was back with a new label (Interscope Records) and everyone was digging them again. Apparently some or most of The Downward Spiral was recorded at a rented house located at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA. The reason that is significant is because it was the site of the grizzly 1969 Charles Manson inspired murder of actress Sharon Tate, among others. Helter Skelter indeed. I don’t know about you, but whether or not you believe in the story of The Amityville Horror or curses, I would not, publicity or no publicity, derive any joy whatsoever from living in that house for any length of time. Maybe it inspired Reznor, but if so he’s a better man than I am. It was right about here, coincidence or not, that Reznor began to battle with alcohol and cocaine addiction. We wouldn’t hear from Nine Inch Nail for another five years. The Downward Spiral suddenly seemed more of a prophecy than any historical account. By the time 1999′s critically acclaimed The Fragile was released, Nine Inch Nails has lost a lot of its luster. When you are gone for a long time in the music business it’s sometimes hard to recapture the glory and the sales. I don’t know what my own excuse was exactly, but The Fragile was a sprawling, practically single-less, two CD release that I bascially bought because I wanted to know what had been they had been up to. I should have played it more than I did, but I struggled with it and never really got behind it. It’s supposed to be very good so I’ll have to go back, twelve years later, and really give it a go. Six years after the release of The Fragile, 2005′s With Teeth was released. I loved this record as soon as I heard it. It might have been 2005′s very best release although I’m sure I’ll get resistance there.
Since 2005 there have been three more releases. 2007′s Year Zero is tasty. 2008′s Ghosts I-IV is mystifying and irritating, but that, I’m sure was the goal. 2008 also brought us The Slip. Since then we’ve had re-masters, How To Destroy Angels and soundtracks from the Reznor camp. I’m just a buyer, but Nine Inch Nails, when they are on, are as good as anybody. I just don’t go for the raging sound effects or songs that lack melody. I’m very open minded. I might have touched on one tenth of the music I listen to, let alone own, in my three years writing for The Giant Panther, but I feel like Trent Reznor could rule the world if he wanted to. I think he gets a little sidetracked from time to time. He doen’t have to be angry, depressed or stressed to make great music (OK, maybe a little angry), but who am I to say? I never wrote a song in my life and I can’t play and instrument. I haven’t been there and haven’t walked a mile in his shoes. I think I read somewhere that he’s getting married soon. Mabye that’ll calm him down a bit. Still, awesome contributions to the world of music Trent. Happy birthday from The Giant Panther.
Buy or Download The Remastered Pretty Hat