Tuesday, September 27, 2005


i'm sitting in my ancient philosophy class, having just finished a quiz on book three of plato's republic. unfortunately i have only read through book two. not knowing what to do, i looked to my wrist and saw my wwss bracelet. what would socrates say? i knew exactly what i needed to do.

i think i failed miserably.


  1. My initial thought was that wwss stood for "what would satan say" because of your last post mentioned wwjd. I guess I was wrong.

  2. I haven't read your previous post, but I thought the same thing.

  3. Despair. Desperation. Dysfunction. Not buying it? OK, then—how about a full menu of angst, brooding malevolence or just low-level disdain with a chaser of “Why me? Oh, God why me?” bitterness and industrial-strength spite? Funnel this bitterness, angst and misery through a grown man of 40 prone to wearing fishnet stockings, leather knickers and thick splatters of mud on his face and you’ve got Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails.
    It’s a tired adage that misery loves company. In today’s pop music world, misery loves record sales, and with Reznor’s new album With Teeth scaling sales charts, it’s safe to say that the record label executives behind Reznor’s complete recorded catalog love misery far more than the dour artist of perpetually furrowed brows himself.
    Is Reznor not dark? Oh yes, so very dark. One respected British newspaper dubbed him, “rock’s dark knight.” Reznor, his song lyrics littered with the all-conquering “I,” seems to have fed this hilarious mythology to the point of bursting, speaking of himself almost as some long-suffering Joan of Arc: “As I descend from Grace/In Arms of Undertow/I will take my Place/In the Great Below.”
    Please. In a world well full of natural disaster, aimless politics and an even more aimless war, it speaks volumes about our consumer society that young people—and even more than a few adults—have free time enough to fill their heads with the solipsistic yearnings, meanderings and howlings of this sort of rock star. Then again, plenty of pop musicians before Reznor sold solipsistic pap to the masses equally well—James Taylor and occasionally even Bob Dylan among them.
    Admittedly, I arrived very late to Reznor’s show, having never bought any of the man’s records myself. Still, the story’s well known by loads of people who speak his name in reverent tones usually reserved for oh, let us say, Vincent Van Gogh or John Lennon.
    Reznor’s life isn’t a story of hard knocks so much as the story of a person who’s never quite figured out who he is or what he wants to do. And, boy, does he let you know it. Piecing together his portrait from Internet fan sites and biographical accounts, we learn that he grew up in rural Pennsylvania, saw his folks divorce when he was young, worked a few restaurant jobs, contemplated a career in computer engineering, then booked it to Cleveland where he hooked up his computer to a couple of keyboards to form NIN. The rest, as they say, is history. “I began to realize that rock & roll could take me places that classical music never could,” he told Salon.com in 2002.
    Thousands of teenagers who’d never heard Beethoven’s late string quartets or piano sonatas amply agreed. The buzz of their enthusiasm is palpable on NIN’s live album, All That Could Have Been, a title of mock despair that reads like some leftover from a manic depressive’s Tony Robbins seminar on non-self-fulfillment. The entire concert comes across as a big “F—k you!” to anyone and everyone who had the audacity to thwart Reznor’s desires or extinguish his hopes. On the rare occasion when Reznor isn’t venting spleen on the petty bourgeois (“March of the Pigs”) and vapid celebrities (“Star F—kers, Inc.”), or bumming out hardcore, he’s expressing his voracious sexual appetite in a song whose title he almost certainly copped from Joy Division: “Closer.”
    T.S. Eliot once famously described the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley as “an affair of adolescence.” All too often, Reznor’s songwriting barely reaches higher than the sandcastles of infantile rhyming couplets. And “infantile” is just about the only adjective proper for a song titled “I Do Not Want This,” which showcases such anemic lyrical gems as “I’m losing ground/you know how this world can beat you down/I’m made of clay/I fear I’m the only person who thinks this way.”
    True NIN fans probably take this sort of songwriting for bare-knuckled courage in the face of adversity. But there’s absolutely nothing brave or even remotely defiant in what Reznor has to say. You listen in vain to song after song, waiting for the plot to change—something, anything, to hint that Reznor might be ready to grow up and laugh a little. No such luck. Like his songs, even his media interviews are dead-end affairs full of eternal navel-gazing. He uses words like “headspace.” He discusses favorite video games. He natters on about—yawn—the difficulties of celebrity life and kicking various addictions. “I have learned that I’m not right all the time, and I don’t know everything,” he said during an interview this year with Metal Edge magazine. “These are all new concepts to me.” New concepts. Hmmm.
    There’s nothing wrong with the unnecessarily lachrymose getting hold of an electric guitar or microphone. Despite puerile lyrics, Reznor sometimes brings NIN’s pot to an amazing boil. Problem is, others have committed their souls to far more bracing and worthy songs. We’re talking not just the white alienation and terrifying pathos of Joy Division, Diamanda Galas, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nick Cave, Swans and Einst├╝rzende Neubauten, but also blues and soul musicians the likes of Robert Johnson and Otis Redding. Reznor is one pretty face with a whole bunch of angst—and one simple, if mercilessly pounding, song. It’s the same song over and over, screaming to the world, “Me, me, me! Trent, Trent, Trent!”

  4. i don't know who you are or what's your story, but i do think you need some help.

  5. i'm pretty sure that long anonymous comment is copied word-for-word from city weekly.

  6. No, that would be Trent, and his followers.


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