The Frail and The Wretched

Oh man! That’s a super cool sounding title! Too bad it’s just for the smelly iPod Challenge post.

Hi. How are you? Well, I hope. Good.

Today’s post is a two-fer because like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

Oh, Al.
Oh, Al.

I’m please as punch to present two songs from my favorite band. The band I speak of was my all-time, absolute, 100% top of the pops, best thing favorite band for many, many years. I remember exactly the circumstance to which I first heard this band, or I should say, heard them and really paid attention to them.

I was 16. One of my bestest friends and I were doing what any teenager growing up in our small rural Nebraska town did on the weekends: we “cruised Main,” a.k.a. we drove up and down and up and down and up and down the road that housed all the downtown businesses in our hometown for hours on end. Thinking back, that was really very silly and a colossal waste of gasoline, but it was 1997, so gas was like, two cents a gallon. The point is, we were young and free and had youth and time on our side so we spent it driving at 20 miles per hour up a brick-paved road. Youth really is wasted on the young.

Despite the dumbness of our primary activity, the secondary activity was the most important. Corey and I would listen to music. Now, again, keep in mind this was 1997 and I was going through my awkward “I love pop music!!” phase. Or at least that’s my excuse for having really shitty taste in music at that age.

But we put aside our Sugar Ray and Savage Garden and Hanson for a night because Corey had something different for us. He had a band called Nine Inch Nails to listen to. I remember looking at the booklet in the plastic cd case and being a little taken aback by what I saw. The title of the album was “Pretty Hate Machine.” And the titles to the songs! My goodness! Head Like A Hole. Down In It. Terrible Lie. Something I Can Never Have. 

Corey handed me the cd to which I put into the Sony Discman that was attached to the tape deck player because that’s right, he didn’t have a cd player in his car because this was 1997, goddamn it. I think Corey was driving a Pontiac Grand Am then. Or a Grand Prix. Or a Grandma. Hard to say. It was nearly 20 years ago.

The first song started and the first thing I remember thinking was, “is that the same bass guitar line from Seinfeld?” Those familiar with Pretty Hate Machine know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. It must have been the “it thing” to do with industrial music at the time–to have Seinfeld bass lines because Ministry also has some funky bass in it. Anyway, Head Like A Hole started spinning.

Head like a hole, black as your soul, I’d rather die than give you control! Bow down before the one you serve, you’re goin’ to get what you deserve.

Whoa. Whoa. Wow. This was no Mmm Bop, friends. This was much different music, indeed. Another thought I had was, “oh my gosh, I’m going to burn in hell for listening to this music! I’m going to burn in eternal hellfire for sure!” Oh, Erin. So precocious, so stupid. This is just NIN’s first album! You haven’t even begun to hear the blasphemy Reznor sings on Downward Spiral!

We can be dark, too. "Mmm Bop" is about how Taylor got a girl pregnant.
We can be dark, too. “Mmm Bop” is about how Taylor got a girl pregnant.

As much as I didn’t want to admit to myself and as naughty as I thought I was being, I really liked what I was hearing. I wanted to hear more. So I did. I was hooked. My pop music taste was starting to get bitter. I had been bitten by the dark side of music. I started watching MTV2, for chrissake. Matt Pinfield and 120 Minutes, man. Oh yeah.

So, that was ’97. Pretty Hate Machine came out in 1989, then the unknown to me at the time Broken and Fixed EPs, then the Downward Spiral, some more remix-y, concept-y albums (side note: for whatever reason, and I’m still not sure why to this day, but Reznor labels all of his albums as “halo.” For example, Pretty Hate Machine is Halo One, Downward Spiral is Halo Eight, etc, etc. Update: Wikipedia says Reznor names his albums “halo” because Depeche Mode names their albums, as well. I mean, duh, yeah, they name their albums, but I mean in the halo sense. Interesting. I love Depeche Mode. End tangent.), but in terms of major releases, The Downward Spiral was released in 1994. Normally, musicians are on a two year contract. By the time we had discovered NIN, they were in year three of no new album. Say whaaaaat? That’s crazy! Quit fucking around with your remixes and make a new goddamn album, Reznor! Shit. 

But nothing until 1999’s The Fragile, and the album where my two songs come from.

This album was hugely anticipated. Five freaking years between releases. I remember watching the MTV Music Awards that year because Trent was playing a song from the new album. I was glued to the freaking screen on our television. Glued. It was him on stage with some massive fluorescent light rig behind him and this crazy thing was spinning around him and I was enraptured by what was happening. The song he sang was mind-blowing and beautiful and I could not wait to buy this album. I couldn’t wait.

I did not hate having to look at hundreds of pictures of Trent Reznor.
I did not hate having to look at hundreds of pictures of Trent Reznor.

Finally, the day came and oh hot damn! It was a two disc album! Oh my gosh!

I put the first disc in my Discman. The first song, Somewhat Damaged is a face-melter. Quick story–it’s good, I promise. So, later in the year ’99, I had discovered the “joy” of instant messaging online with ICQ and I had found my first “boyfriend” on this stupid chatroom and I was smitten with him because his online handle was “Somewhat Damaged.” Oh Jesus effing Christ. I was mentally retarded at age 18. Okay, back to the post. So, track one was hard and heavy and great; track two was the first single, “The Day The World Went Away,” so yeah! And then…and then the third track came on.

It’s called “The Frail,” and it’s just a piano. I don’t know piano lingo, so I can’t tell you what’s going on technically with the music, but it’s soft and gorgeous and just a few deliberate notes played slowly and it’s haunting. It made me stop and go, “what? what was that?” The last few seconds, something changes. There’s something building in the background, like a buzzing sound, almost, but not quite. It just keeps getting louder and the piano stops and then you are taken into the fourth track, “The Wretched.” That same buzzing becomes a pounding and then Reznor starts singing and holy cow. Then there’s the chorus, which is just a punch in the head of guitars and him yelling, “now you know this is what it feels like!”

The second verse is my favorite. It still is one of my favorite lyrics, as it has a deeper meaning to me today.

the clouds will part and the sky cracks open
and god himself will reach his fucking arm through
just to push you down
just to hold you down
stuck in this hole with the shit and the piss
and it’s hard to believe it could come down to this, back at the beginning, sinking, spinning

I mean, right?! Goddamn. The atheist in me just delights at this verse.

And the thing is, you can’t listen to each song separately. You can, but you’d be a fool for doing so. You must listen to “The Frail” first, then follow with “The Wretched.” This is how the universe works in this occasion. I’m also delighted to see someone on the internet also completely understands this and the video I found to post includes both songs in one.

Please, enjoy The Frail and The Wretched while I try to come up with a short story with the same title.

Many thanks, as usual. Until next time,

E

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