Dear 13-Year-Old Self,
Hey, dude. Sorry to bug. I know we corresponded just recently. Well, recently for me. It would’ve been a year ago for you. Time is weird in the future. Anyway, I know you’re probably preoccupied trying to procure your neighbor’s illegal cable box to watch the WWF’s Survivor Series pay-per-view tonight, but I’ve got to tell you something important. Put down that Super Mario Brothers mug full of Ovaltine and pay attention for a moment.
By now, I know your Nine Inch Nails obsession is raging out of control. You’ve collected all the Halos. You wear that shirt with the weird millipede thing from the cover of the Closer single on it to school every day. You tried to convince mom and dad to buy you tickets to see the band play the Great Western Forum in L.A. with some British drag queen named David Bowie, but by the time you convinced them, the show had sold out. That sucks. Especially since Trent isn’t going to put out another album until 19-friggin’-99, and by that point, you’ll kind of be over it.
But despair not. Because last night—as in, my last night—you saw Nine Inch Nails live. And it was pretty awesome.
As you know from my previous letter, this isn’t the first time you’ll see them in concert. You’ll also see them at the Sasquatch music festival in 2009, just before Trent “retired” the band, won an Oscar, started a new band with his wife, then decided to bring NIN back. This is different, though. It’s at the Moda Center, a big-ass arena in your new hometown of Portland, Ore., the place you’ll move to at age 26, mostly to justify all the sweaters and jackets hanging in your closet. (Seriously, it never gets below 65 degrees in Southern California. Consider investing in a lighter wardrobe.) Seeing anyone at a festival is a completely different experience than seeing them on their own, and that’s especially true with Nine Inch Nails. They’ll play for over two hours. The band—which still includes Trent’s longtime guitarist Robin Finck and replacement Who bassist Pino Palladino…oh yeah, John Entwistle dies in 2002. Bummer—is explosive. And man, the light show. This dude brought the fucking Aurora Borealis with him! Not even joking!
Now, I should probably tell you: A Nine Inch Nails show in 2013 isn’t exactly what you might envision it being in your 13-year-old head. The days of that unhinged, mud-covered Woodstock ’94 performance are far behind them. Trent no longer smashes keyboards with mic stands, even though, at this point, he could afford to destroy the entire stage setup every night of the tour and replace it the next day (and he’s buff enough now to do it all with his bare hands). He’s nearing 50, after all. So the intensity is more controlled. But it’s still plenty intense. “Terrible Lie” will sound beefed up enough to drown out it’s kind-of-silly lyrics. “March of the Pigs” will rage, then “Piggy” will calm everyone down, just like it does on the album. You’ll be in the bathroom when they play the Downward Spiral deep cut “A Warm Place,” but it will sound as uneasily tranquil as it does on record. The crowd won’t start kicking each other in the face during “Wish” like you imagine would happen whenever that song is played live—remember, we’re all old now—but you will get to hear an entire stadium full of people yell “Fist fuck!” in unison. Twenty years on, you still won’t know what “Head Like a Hole” is supposed to mean, but the song will remain devastating. And when they close with “Hurt,” they’ll use the same projections from the original live video. He’ll never reclaim it from Johnny Cash, but I’ll let you be surprised once you figure out what that means.
Those are the all songs you’ll recognize, by the way. Shit, out of the 20-something songs he played, they’re pretty much the only ones I recognize. As I told you, by the time NIN starts releasing albums again at the turn of the 21st century, you’ll lose track of them. You’ll fully enjoy this show, and Trent’s new album, Hesitation Marks, which produces some of the groovier moments, musically and visually, of the night. But it’s still hard to imagine going back to casually listening to Nine Inch Nails. It’s a bit like your love of pro-wrestling, which will actually linger on a lot longer than your NIN fixation: It’ll always be part of you, and you’ll never be embarrassed by it, but some things are just better off left to your childhood, no matter how awesome.
P.S.: Put all your money on Bret Hart tonight.
P.P.S.: As if it wasn’t mind-blowing enough corresponding with your 2013 self, check this shit out: photos from the future! Trent kind of looks like an action-figure version of himself now, doesn’t he?
(All photos by Chris Ryan)