Nine Inch Nails
The Fragile (Nothing/Interscope)
Ever since I was first introduced to Nine Inch Nails by a friend in grade 8 (when I was 13), I was totally hooked. Classic story of a kid who grew up in a broken home and was searching for something, anything, to make them feel like they belonged. Yup, that was me.
My parents split when I was far too young to remember, but what I do remember were the years that followed. My dad, who was diagnosed as bi-polar, would go through these episodes of extreme highs and extreme lows. Naturally, my brother and I were at the mercy of his explosive and unpredictable emotions. Although my mom was overall much more stable, she sadly ended up in a verbally and physically abusive relationship for several years, during perhaps the most impressionable time in my life. Living between two homes with different kinds of chaos and dysfunction definitely took it’s toll.
I went from being a pretty “normal” and happy kid to turning into a troubled, angry, despondent and rather rebellious teen. I hated following rules. I enjoyed rocking the boat. I trusted no one whole-heartedly, so I lived by my own rules and regulations. By the age of 14 I was sneaking out of the house, stealing my dad’s liquor (or meeting up with older boys who would buy it for me), ditching most of my classes, and smoking weed from morning until night. I wasn’t a mean or bad person, but I felt so much anger and disdain towards people in general – especially my parents – which fueled so much of my exploration into things like substance abuse, sex, and of course, the one thing that was always there to help me escape reality: music.
I started going to punk rock/metal shows when I was 14 and would happily get tossed around in the mosh pit. At that point in my life I didn’t care if I got knocked to the ground or hurt, I was just so immersed in the music (and probably so high or drunk) that I didn’t care, I wanted it all. The numbness, the pain, the chaos, the noise… I lived for it. Anything to get me out of the darkness inside my head.
The first song I ever heard by NIN was “Into the Void”, and the one line that Trent repeats throughout it is, “Tried to save myself but myself keeps slipping away”. I was sucked in, as if I could feel my own void wrapping itself around me, cradling the broken pieces of my childhood. I felt warm and cozy and fucked up all at once. It was maybe the first time in my life that I listened to a piece of music that reflected so perfectly how I felt in real life. I felt like someone understood me, like I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. I pretty quickly became addicted to everything and anything Trent Reznor touched, but the two-part album that I binged, The Fragile, will forever remain my all-time favourite of his.
Why did his music resonate so deeply within me? Probably because I could feel my own anguish through his music. Not only in his words, but also in the sounds he chose and the way they were so hauntingly intertwined to create something unlike anything I had ever heard before. A mix of industrial sounds, ambient noises, electronic influence, orchestral instruments, and those oh-so familiar bass guitar riffs…It wasn’t anything you could classify into one genre. It was a work of art. An out-of-this-world masterpiece. “The Great Below” and “The Big Come Down” are perfect examples of this. I was so drawn
to the grunge, the grit, and the darkness this album held as a hole. I think my demons were dancing in it without me even knowing. All I knew was that it spoke to my soul in ways nothing ever had before.
The Fragile, which originally came out in 1999, was not just any body of music. It was a two-disc, 23-song compilation of a revolutionary mash of textures and timbres. It was a total experience that could send you spiralling through different dimensions of sound. “The Frail” would have you laying down, eyes closed, contemplating your entire life. Asking yourself whyyou’ve done what you’ve done and wondering where exactly you’re going next. Then you’d get to, “We’re in This Together” and your senses would be woken up by the aggressively distorted electric guitar and Trent’s hauntingly eerie vocals. My teenage self, who was desperately in search of any kind of sign or purpose in life, particularly resonated with the lines, “We’re in this together now… None of them can stop us now… We will make it through somehow”. Even through his agony there was a sense of hope, and I really needed that. It was through albums like this that I found some of my closest friends who, at the time, just happened to be a bunch of kids who shared the same kind of story as me. Misunderstood. Misfits. Troubled. Living in not-the-best situations at home. Trying to escape reality, through music.
I’ve said this many times in my life and I’ll say it again. Music has been there for me when nothing and no one else is. I think it’s safe to say a lot of people probably feel the same way, which is why music is so commonly known as “the universal language”. Through the best and worst times of our lives, it helps us get through it all. Trent Reznor and his album The Fragile certainly helped me get through some of the toughest years of my life, and to this day he remains to be one of my all-time greatest influences and inspirations. For me, it’s never just been about his music. It’s about the way he creates it. He has no limits, rules, or boundaries when it comes to his art. All you have to do is dive head-first into an album and brace yourself for an overdose on your senses, followed by a whirlwind of emotions. I could only hope to leave but a fraction of the legacy Trent Reznor will leave behind in this world. He is a true visionary of sound. A barrier-breaking, trendsetting innovator who has proven you can blend a multitude of genres by means of expressing oneself, and I thank whatever greater power exists that I was alive to experience it.