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Today, I listened to Nine Inch Nail's The Downward Spiral (Spotify*) for the first time since 1996 or so.

The song I remember most clearly is "Closer". Probably because it's the worst song on the album. (I actually like most of the songs - just not that one.)  But I digress.

Trent Reznor must be one of the more self-unaware people around.  Here's a guy who, at least in the 1990's, pushed a message of nihilism and Nietschean man-for-himself philosophy.  Certainly he presented The Downward Spiral that way.  Yet, listening to that album after a 15-year hiatus, what strikes me is just how hopeless and hollow the narrator feels.  After expending himself on drugs, heartless and possibly abusive sex, and power games, he collapses in a heap of emptiness, exemplified by the title track and by "Hurt" (Spotify).  You wouldn't be blamed if you thought The Downward Spiral was actually a critique of nihilism, a statement that chasing after momentary pleasures (especially in a way that hurts others) leads you to a spiritual wasteland.

It seems that one person who had better insight into Trent Reznor's demons than Reznor himself, was Johnny Cash.  The song that is regarded as Cash's epitaph is his cover of "Hurt" (Spotify).  You just get the sense that Cash was looking back on his life and regarding the mistakes he had made, the broken-ness of his own life and acknowledging that he was far from perfect.  He turned the crackling ennui of "Hurt" into an expression of human sadness.  By doing so, Cash turned Reznor's nihilism on its head, leaving us with a message of hope.

Also: It's pretty cool that Johnny Cash evidently listened to Nine Inch Nails.


* These links will open the album or the track directly in Spotify, if you are a subscriber.  You might have to tell your browser to use Spotify to open the links.


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August 2012

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