It was Halloween and I was nineteen and Trent Reznor was singing this song behind a scrim showing images of rotting animal corpses and flowers dying and it was before the video came out and I’d never seen anything like this before in my life and I thought, “This man. This man is the only one who knows why it hurts to be me.”
I am not proud of this, really. The period of years when I wrote sad poems, lit hundreds of candles, read up on becoming a Wiccan, carried gris gris in my pocket and carved a Red Hot Chili Peppers symbol on my ankle with a safety pin is not a healthy, glowing time in my development. I’m actually pretty grateful for Nine Inch Nails, because if I had to get through that hormone-drenched sadness without songs filled with anger and pain – meaning, if I had to do it while listening to New Kids on the Block – I’m not sure I would have made it.
Not that long ago I would have laughed off that part of my life, rolled my eyes and got embarrassed at myself. But these days I’m working on admitting that those parts of me are in here still, and they deserve attention or they come out in unpredictable ways. Lord knows these music sections sometimes sound like one of my Sylvia Plath-wannabe poems from when I was seventeen. The blog is here to indulge my inner teenager who still wants to be famous for writing an underground newspaper that totally exposes the hypocrisy of high school life.
No, you guys, I was so mad about the school dress code. I wish I had the essay in front of me to transcribe here, but I remember blasting Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction and writing this essay about why our clothes can’t damage the school, and we shouldn’t conform to their wishes, because then we don’t become ourselves, we become them.I was stealing coupons for the rodeo, hiding propaganda in the pockets of fur coats, becoming a vegetarian, wearing Greenpeace t-shirts, making my own t-shirts with Sharpies and misguided slogans [Confession: one of my homemade shirts was a quote from Real Genius. I am a dork.].
I really, really, really wanted to make a difference. However I was broke, weird, underage and nobody in a small town. I wanted my words to be seen past the four walls of my bedroom, so I wrote a lot of notes. I wrote a continuing essay that got passed around the school. I worked on the Yearbook. I entered essay contests. I tried to be heard. And then I got into theatre, and once I heard the sound of my voice bouncing off the back of the auditorium, I didn’t need Nine Inch Nails as much. It turned into background music, good for homework or making out.Well, except for this song. No matter when I hear it, everything stops. I can’t believe Johnny Cash found a way to make it even sadder. But this song, in all its blatant lyrical pain, reminds me of someone I used to be. More than that, it reminds me of the person I was trying not to be anymore.