I have been fortunate enough to see not one, but two of the Nine Inch Nails “Wave Goodbye” shows. I saw the Palladium show, and the Fonda show, both of which were amazing for different reasons. The Palladium show had a complete playing of the downward spiral, which may well be my favorite album ever. The Fonda show was three hours long and included about four cover songs I never thought I’d hear live (“I’m Afraid Of Americans”, Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” and “Dead Souls” and “Get Down, Make Love”), plus a half-dozen guest musicians that brought an added layer of vitality to the performance. The Palladium show had the initial surprise of Gary Numan showing up to play “Metal” and “Cars”, but the Fonda show had him playing “Down in the Park”. Actually, what it comes down to is that the Palladium show had the album that worked best as an album; the Fonda show had level after level of energy built on singles. Having had both shows, I think I can now say goodbye to Nine Inch Nails.
This isn’t easy for me. There are few musicians I love the way I love NIN. I may have been on-again, off-again over the years (I never could get into The Fragile), but when asked my favorite bands, it’s always, always, been Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. Finding out that Trent Reznor is actually ending the band is heartbreaking. Yes, it has been twenty years. Yes, it’s been a great run. Yes, I have seen Nine Inch Nails at least seven times now – counting the tiny show at the Morongo Casino in 2006. But, unlike other bands, I don’t expect Nine Inch Nails to re-form. The mere thought of being as inconsistent as Billy Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins is probably enough to keep Trent Reznor from bringing it back.
My husband was teasing me last night as I put on my eye makeup to go out. “Look at your mommy,” he said to Ben. “She’s primping for her date with your Uncle Ray. Only we all know she’s really primping for Trent.” Really, my husband finds a few old 90s SPIN and Rolling Stone magazines with Trent Reznor on the covers in a storage box in my teenage bedroom, and I will never hear the end of it. I turned around, eyeliner in hand, and informed him (with some indignation) that he should be happy that, at a very impressionable age, I found pale, slender, goth males attractive. If it hadn’t been for that, Paul might well be still be all alone, eating leftovers from Lucky Boy in his bachelor pad in Pasadena, instead of having home cooked meals with his wife and son in his Los Angeles apartment. My husband should be glad that I was so transfixed by the 1997 version of Trent Reznor in the Perfect Drug video, with the romantic long coat and the goatee and the long hair and the absinthe and general Victoriana. Because aside from my teenage crush on Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails brought me into the goth subculture, and there is no question that my marriage is directly related to my love of all things dark. NIN are what I call “gateway goth” – one of the more mainstream bands that can lead to goth culture, and that’s exactly how (combined with the Sandman comics, Depeche Mode, and a love of dress up) I got started.
Now, I know that Trent Reznor now disavows anything to do with the Perfect Drug video, which was far more Romantigoth than anything he would have done on his own. And Trent, much like Andrew Elritch of Sisters of Mercy, doesn’t associate himself with goth culture. But I was still reminded of NIN’s goth roots this week at the two shows I saw. First of all, as Paul puts it, “Gary Numan is just a one-hit New Wave wonder to most of the world – but to goths, he’s a god.” And Numan is credited by Trent Reznor as a major influence. Second, “Dead Souls is the gothiest track ever recorded. Seriously, it’s Nine Inch Nails covering JOY DIVISION and it was on the soundtrack to The Crow. And finally, the shows had more goths than I’ve ever seen before at a NIN show. Most of the previous shows have had a handful, but it’s really been more rock types (especially on the 2005 tour dates with Queens of the Stone Age) This one, it was the old-school fans – people my age and older, married couples, many of them wearing outfits influenced by dark subculture.
So yes, it is time to wave goodbye. And after these shows, I think I can let go of Nine Inch Nails. But no other musical artist – not even Depeche Mode – has meant as much to me. I have never felt again the shock of recognition, tinged with musical admiration, that I have when I listened to the first three NIN albums for the first time. Beyond the emotional meaning, I think The Downward Spiral is simply a brilliant musical work in sheer creativity and craftsmanship. And hearing it performed start to finish last week was amazing. Seeing the three hour set and singing along as the energy levels rose and rose at the Fonda was amazing. I’m immensely grateful that there was a Nine Inch Nails to adore for twenty years. It’s time to wave goodbye.