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November 13th, 2013 MATTHEW SINGER | Music Stories
 

Letter To My 12-Year-Old Self

RE: Nine Inch Nails

music_matt_400212 YEAR OLD MATT - IMAGE: Phyllis Singer
Dear 12-year-old Matt, 

Hey, man. What’re you up to? Let me guess: gearing up for some Monday Night Raw by listening to those tapes you bought with your birthday money. What’s the pre-wrestling soundtrack tonight? Maybe the Offspring’s Smash? Siamese Dream, perhaps? Knowing you as I do, though, I bet you’re listening to Nine Inch Nails.

It’s probably too early for you to realize, but this is your first favorite band. You’ve had favorite albums before. Pearl Jam’s Vs. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Freaky Styley, which Mom got you as a gift because you were too nervous to tell her the album of theirs you really wanted had “sex” in the title. Whatever Weird Al album had the Nirvana parody.

This is different, though. You’re going to become a completist. Right now, all you’ve got is The Downward Spiral, but soon, you’ll have the two records that came before it, Pretty Hate Machine and Broken. Eventually, you’ll track down all the singles. Your wardrobe will include multiple NIN shirts. You’ll know weird things, like the name of the 1987 Michael J. Fox movie featuring a cameo from a young Trent Reznor (Light of Day) and the performance artist in the banned “Happiness in Slavery” video (Bob Flanagan). You’ll get oddly stoked whenever you see a Reznor-brand heater (his family started the company back in 1888).

You’re probably asking, “Why Nine Inch Nails?” I was hoping you could tell me. Nineteen years later, it’s hard to figure why a generally happy California beach kid not yet in his broody teen years would fall in love with a band that made a concept album about descending into suicidal depression. What is it? Is the music alluring precisely because it’s so dark, allowing you to live a vicariously tortured existence through it? Is it the strange noises you’ve never heard another band create before? Is it all the swearing? What does “fist fuck” mean, anyway?

Beats me. All I know is, you’ll never feel this way about a band again. Shit, you’re not even going to feel this way about Nine Inch Nails again. In a few years, you’ll be wearing powder-blue suits to high school and listening to Reel Big Fish, and figure you’re too “mature” for Trent Reznor’s industrial-rock angst, which is going to seem really ironic once you find out what Reel Big Fish actually sounds like.

Music is going to remain a big part of your life—you’re even going to get paid to write about it one day—and you’ll have several other favorite bands, but none will meet the same levels of slavish, obsessive devotion. I guess it’s sort of like what Richard Dreyfuss says at the end of Stand by Me, which I’m sure you’ve watched twice this week alone: You never have friends like the ones you have when you’re 12, and you never love bands the way you do when you’re that age, either. It can’t be explained.

You’re not going to abandon Nine Inch Nails completely, though. In 2013, after a few years away winning Oscars for movie scores and launching his wife’s electro-goth band, Reznor will put out the ninth NIN album, Hesitation Marks, which will sound like the Pet Shop Boys playing an S&M club, and you’ll dig it. And, in 2009, you’ll finally see them live, at a festival in Washington called Sasquatch. To honor your 12-year-old self, you will stake out a spot at the front of the stage. As soon as Reznor walks onstage—looking like he just finished a Men’s Health cover shoot—the crowd will swell, crushing your brittle 27-year-old bones. You’ll move to the back of the pit. You’ll think the band sounds OK. You’ll realize you’re not a kid anymore. And you’ll be at peace with that.

Sincerely,

31-year-old Matthew


SEE IT: Nine Inch Nails play Moda Center, 1401 N Wheeler Ave., on Monday, Nov. 18. 7:30 pm. $29.50-$75.50. All ages.

 
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