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DarkEcho Horror Death by Rick Berry
The DarkEcho Files

NIN & OTHER STUFF

For more than six years Paula Guran published -- in email form on a weekly basis -- an eccentric newsletter for horror writers and others. This commentary came from it.

DarkEcho
04.13.00
V.7 #13

Sometimes, I suppose, this newsletter gets a little TOO personal...

Many of you may not care about Nine Inch Nails, but hey, that's where I am this morning so that's what you get. I went to the opening concert of The Fragility V2.0 tour last night in Cleveland. What does this have to do with horror? For me, a lot -- because Trent Reznor's music is all tied up with the same emotional response that horror is. And, oddly enough, Reznor is in the midst of a transition of sorts that sort of parallels that of many writers.

[Clue for the clueless: NIN is, essentially, Trent Reznor. He creates most of the music himself in the studio and records it. He then works with musicians and translates it into live performance.]

Reznor is reportedly fed up with the current profit-focused shape of the music industry in which a band, an artist is nothing but a short-lived commodity to quickly exploit. There's no commitment to cultivate music. In this already hostile environment, Reznor waited five years to produce a new album, made it a decidedly noncommercial double CD song-cycle, and released it to great critical acclaim and, maybe not all that surprisingly considering, received lower sales than expected. Interscope, the company that distributes NIN's Nothing Records label, is as profit-oriented as other labels. As Reznor has been quoted, "I can either sit back and bitch about it and let the record drop off the charts, or I can promote it myself. We funded this tour ourselves. Not Interscope. Us...The reality is, I'm broke at the end of the tour..."

Beginning to see some parallels to horror writing? No, I don't mean the bullshit of "horror is the rock'n'roll of fiction." I realize that's as nonsensical as saying "flamenco is the antimacassar of wrestling." It's that publishing and music are both just parts of the entertainment industry these days. Talk to musicians and they'll moan about the same thing as writers -- you can't get signed, if you do get signed there's no backing so you get dropped unless you are an instant success. Even if you are an instant success, you probably won't be one for long... Their solutions are beginning to be the same, too -- small indie labels parallel specialty press, more and more Web-based distribution, and, of course, the realization that if you don't promote yourself, there may be no promotion -- even if, like NIN, your last work was literally an epochal creation, both culturally and commercially.

Last night there was something more defiant about NIN's performance, something more rock'n'roll than I've seen there before. Reznor has employed images of death and decomposition in his shows on earlier tours, but this time the images were the more elemental water and fire. And yes, the main set still ends with "Head Like A Hole" (nothing like 10,000 people singing "head like a hole. black as your soul. i'd rather die than give you control") that is cathartic and arena anthemic at the same time. That's the thing about NIN -- it's angst you can dance to. Reznor is always teetering on a precipice surrounded not only with religious experience, social awareness, self-devouring pain, and tortured emotion, but in-your-face rock audaciousness and deeply ironic cynicism as well. He dips into it all. The final two songs of the encore summed it up: "Starfuckers, Inc." -- a catchy little tune about the shallowness of pop stardom that could easily be a Top 40 hit, except for lyrics that don't come close to "acceptable" airplay" (aside from an incorporation of a snippet of "You're So Vain") -- and "Hurt" -- a song that conveys both wretched pain and a will to survive.

It may seem odd to think of this dark Prince of Pain as lucky -- but, of course, he is. He's remained true to his vision of art and hasn't had to find a day job. We may not all be able to stick with that, but we can make transitions. We can find the ability to adapt ourselves, our art and our careers without complete compromise. Most of all, we can choose to either sit back and bitch about the state of our world -- or do something about it ourselves.

It ain't music til you make it.


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