year :: zero

I pre-ordered Year Zero this year. I read reviews that compared it to the downward spiral on Amazon, and decided – why not? I wanted that free lithograph with my order, and I kind of felt like getting back into Nine Inch Nails.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to find where I’ve told this story before: the story of Sixteen Year Old Jillian, slouching towards her future, trying to push for adulthood in order to escape Oak Bay High. At sixteen, I was a mess of shapeless corduroy pants, waist-length tangled hair, and unfocused teen angst. Then I bought a copy of the downward spiral, and suddenly, the rage was focused. Few things, good or bad, have ever clicked in my head the way it did when I first put on that CD and dove into “Mr. Self Destruct”. It was how I felt, and it was how much I hated, and it was all put together into just over an hour of soundscaped rage and despair. I still think the album is perfect – even if, as a well-medicated adult, I feel it’s a little overdramatic.

After that moment, I was one of the legions of devoted Trent Reznor worshippers. I snapped up copies of all the preceding haloes. I joined NIN mailing lists and read alt.music.nin and eagerly awaited the next album. I collected issues of SPIN with Trent Reznor in them. I swapped for concerts and bootlegs and videos online. I compiled a tape of NIN clips on MuchMusic. I even listened to Marilyn Manson because Trent Reznor told me to. And I eagerly awaited the next album…that just never came. Until 1999. By which time, I’d outgrown Nine Inch Nails and moved on to Depeche Mode.

I bought the Fragile, and With Teeth, and the All That Could Have Been DVD – but my heart just wasn’t in it. I wasn’t collecting haloes anymore, or obsessing over tour dates. I hadn’t really been keeping much track of the concept surrounding Year Zero, because I wasn’t really into Nine Inch Nails anymore. They’d gone from being Trent Reznor and his Skinny Puppy worship, to just being a rock band. Sure, With Teeth had its moments – but I felt that the singles were rock songs. They didn’t have the layers of sound that TDS did. They didn’t have the sound and fury that Broken did. They didn’t have the raw emotion and synths of Pretty Hate Machine. Trent Reznor wasn’t even a pale vampire type anymore! He was a beefcake! I’d fallen in love with the bearded, absinthe-drinking Trent of 1996, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to accept this muscled, energetic Trent of 2006. What was next? A cheerful Dave Gahan?

Something told me, I had to really listen to Year Zero. So I had the new album before anyone else I knew. The fan involvement, the reliance on the hardcore techie fans to find the hidden messages and songs and websites, THAT intrigued me. It reminded me of trapdoors in Doom, or of how the NIN community pulled together to try to find new material in the years between Further Down The Spiral and The Fragile. And I liked the idea of a concept album, instead of just a collection of songs. To me, the downward spiral is one of the greatest albums ever, and it is almost a concept album as well – not just songs, one after the other, but a continuious musical story. And when the reviews online compared Year Zero to TDS, I knew Trent was onto something.

I listened to the album, in Los Angeles traffic, and then rushed home to my computer to get the context. It was that good. It made me care about NIN again, in a way that I hadn’t when I was sixteen. Because, again, Trent Reznor has made the songs and sounds and lyrics that seem to say what I was already thinking – and hadn’t been able to express. It’s the terror of the Christian right wing and conservative government that has rises up over the last few years. It’s about the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” stupidity of the rulers of this country. It’s about the abuse of the environment that has led to my constant, never ending certainty that a bio-crash is coming. It’s all the fear and anxiety I have about what America has become and what America is doing to the state of the world. And again, it’s been mixed into music that is more abstract, more conceptual, more atonal and jagged and raw, than anything Trent Reznor has done since downward spiral.

I have, since 2000, been afraid of 0000. I had a vague sense of something very bad coming down, which isn’t unlike the concrete vision of the future on the Year Zero websites, the album, the real-life stunts. It isn’t an exact future, but it reflects everything that’s wrong in 2007, if it were to be made worse. The suspension of habeas corpus. The use of fear of terrorism to control the population. Addictive drugs distributed by the government. A patriarchal society where marriage – even marriage under unendurable conditions – is mandatory for parents. A holy war against the Muslim world, which accelerates jihads against America in retaliation. A world that is at the breaking point, and, in many respects, is not unlike The Handmaid’s Tale

I’m a grown woman now. My brain eventually straightened itself out. I no longer read vampire books without snickering, or take the lyrics to “ruiner” seriously. But I am so afraid of year zero, yet I needed to know that the vision was out there. After all, it is said, while punks are angry to live in a sad world, goths are sad to live in an angry world. Year Zero makes me heartbroken to live in a world where our leaders are so insecure, that they rely on fear to lead.

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