For those looking at the title and expecting to hear about some crazy-freaky, back stage romp session, stop reading now because I’ll disappoint you. For those of you who follow music, you’ll know that it’s the 20th Anniversary of the release of NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine, and while 99% of the time I just shrug and roll my eyes at celebrating the anniversary of a record, for Trent’s seminal work, I’ll make an exception.
Pretty Hate Machine was like nothing I had ever heard. Full of indignant rage and venom, Reznor managed to capture the same white male fury over societal class inequities and social isolation often relegated to the metal subgenre, but instead, his message was filtered through the new wave derivative called “industrial”. Taking most of his influence from glam alternative such as David Bowie, new wavers Kraftwerk and Gary Numan, and mixing it with industrial legends like Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails’ brought industrial to a wider audience.
And it came at the perfect time. Having barely emerged from the greed and corruption of the Eighties decade in one soulful piece (remember Gordon Gecko’s edict, ‘greed is good’?), there were a slew of working-class anthems eschewing political and corporate corruption peppering the airwaves, like Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’ and later on Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ capturing our collective attention. Trent rallied against all of it, with a fury and intensity not yet experienced by Generation Xers.
I’ve gotta admit, at the time seeing the pampered and privileged at the University of Miami singing with the likes of Vedder and Cobain was out-and-out laughable…what the hell do they have to be angry about? They’ve got the world by the balls and they know it. But even with the earnest intention of the message, I knew they were singing along for(gulp) fashion and nothing more.
Sooner versus later, I cast off the yoke of my former sorority self (it never seemed to fit anyway) and became a DJ at WVUM. That’s where all the smart kids on scholarships hung out, and another world opened up to me. And they all listened to NIN and spoke fluent Reznor. He screamed of a world they knew all too well, one where even white male priviledge wasn’t a guarantee to the keys to the kingdom. I admit, I was a tourist, but I knew enough to not pretend to be something I wasn’t…I was an upper-middle class, suburban gal who only worked jobs for extra spending money. I didn’t know half of the socioeconomic shit they struggled with. But I came from a messed-up family background all the same, filled with long-standing abuse…in other words, I was damaged somehow and they were sharp enough to recognize that. I was accepted as one of their own in a way I had hoped would have occurred through Greek-inspired sorority sisterhood (but fell tragically short). It didn’t matter what kind of car I drove or if I was wearing the latest ridiculous pair of EG socks, but it did mattered what I thought and if I had the wit and wisdom to back it up. And I couldn’t fake it – any of it – because that bullshit would be sensed a mile away and not tolerated.
And somehow, through songs like “Head Like a Hole,” “Terrible Lie,” “Down in It,” among others, I found my voice – to express my rage at a family throwing me emotionally under the bus, to free myself from the suffocating dictates of my socio-religious culture, and from the heartbreak and tyranny of being taken for granted by the supposed love of my life at the time. I think Pretty Hate Machine did that for a lot of us.
It got worse before it got better, and listening to too much NIN will probably have you raging and wallowing in it longer than you should, but regardless, it was a great release at the time. So there’s that…