When you're growing up, you tend to listen to the music your folks listen to. They're the ones driving you to school, to the store, to the occasional doctor's appointment. They're the ones calling the shots on the stereo at home, the ones who actually have money to buy albums, the arbiters of what does and does not get played in your household. Then, a day comes when you hear music that isn't your folks' music for the very first time, and suddenly your entire world tilts on its axis. It's a defining moment, one that speaks to freedom and the ability (the need) to rebel and the reality that the world is so much bigger than you ever thought it was when you were sitting in the back seat, listening to whatever your mom listened to.
For me, that moment came upon hearing Nirvana's "In Bloom" for the first time. I had no idea such a thing existed. I was blindsided by it. The distortion, Cobain's raw vocals, the complete lack of synthesizers (as an '80s kid, I was exposed to some truly alarming pop music). I heard "In Bloom" erupting from a neighborhood friend's tiny little boombox, and instantly I felt as though I'd been struck by lightning. This was a formative moment.
It was not the formative musical moment for me, though. That moment came a year or two later, when a different friend showed up at my house with a CD single by a band called Nine Inch Nails. The jewel case told me this band had a song called "March of The Pigs", and my friend was excited to share it with me. "Dude," he said. "You gotta hear this." He pressed play, and it's no exaggeration to say that the course of my life changed.
I went out and bought NIN's The Downward Spiral as soon as possible, having scraped together the $15 I needed by mowing the lawn and washing my dad's car. My parents didn't know anything about Nine Inch Nails (their judgment would not come for a few months, when the family Pay-Per-View'd Woodstock '94 and my folks turned off the TV halfway through NIN's set, horrified to see a mud-slathered man calling a hundred thousand people "fucking pigs"), but they were happy to see me broadening my horizons and ignored the Parental Advisory sticker. I retreated to my room and played that album for months, each new spin working those tracks deeper and deeper under my skin.
If there's an overall theme to the music of Nine Inch Nails, it's that of a person rebelling against the idea of control while also being entirely unable to control his own demons. This is certainly a prominent theme on The Downward Spiral, but it extends throughout the band's entire catalogue. To say that this theme speaks to me would be a massive understatement: I've spent most of my adult life bristling at the mere suggestion of being told what to do or how to behave, all while waving away the troubling notion that I've also repeatedly welcomed my own uncontrollable demons through the front door (those demons are much quieter these days, to be sure, but the truth is that they never really go away). The music of Nine Inch Nails speaks to me on a primal, fundamental level, and I have The Downward Spiral to thank for setting that lifelong love affair in motion.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of The Downward Spiral's release. The mental and emotional real estate it's taken up in my life is incalculable, and I've been delighted to see so many other folks taking to social media today to explain how much the album means to them, how it impacted their lives and how it continues to hold sway over them all these years later. I don't have any profound insight into the album - after two and a half decades, there's been plenty of time for people much, much smarter than I am to dissect The Downward Spiral from every conceivable angle - but I wanted to mark this occasion with a post, and to give Birth.Movies.Death. readers a place to share their own thoughts on what may be Reznor's masterpiece.
So, happy anniversary to The Downward Spiral, my favorite album of all time. You've meant more to me than I'd ever be able to put into words.