The Downward Spiral At Twenty-Five.

The Downward Spiral cover
The album cover that graced countless adolescent CD collections in 1994. 

Happy 25th birthday to an album that defined my adolescence and gave voice to my tween angst. I bought this record the day it came out in 1994. My father had died very suddenly just under two months prior, and it was the coldest and snowiest winter Pennsylvania had seen in something like 50 years. The snow kept falling, making a mess of the roads in the rural town where my mother and I lived; cancelling school for days at a time. We lived in a small housing development at the edge of town, and I didn’t have a lot of friends.  I found myself alone in the house a lot with my mother spiraling into an abyss of grief from which she would never really crawl out of.  I would hang out in my room for countless hours, listening to this album.

I was a lonely and weird kid with not a lot of social skills (this hasn’t necessarily changed) and cheesy and cliché as it sounds, while I had not yet lived enough to fully understand some of the themes and concepts Trent Reznor was exploring in this record, this album did keep me company during a pivotal period when so much of my young life was defined by chaos and isolation. I will always be grateful for that company. I know I’m not alone in this gratitude, considering just how many copies this record has sold.  As an adult, I would argue that this speaks more to the loneliness and isolation that we collectively feel as a culture, but at 13 years old I didn’t really quite grasp such concepts.  I just knew that I was hurting and lonely a lot, and this record gave voice to that hurt.

I played this album heavily for a few years, all the while immersing myself more fully into the punk and goth subcultures, searching out more obscure bands and ways of being. This record served as a starting point for that immersion though. Everyone talks about the band or record that introduced them to the underground, that made them want to dive in and see what else was down there.  For a lot of people my age, it was Nirvana.  For me, it was Nine Inch Nails.  There was just something so much more honest and real about this band for me, much less silly.  Where Kurt Cobain used clumsy metaphors and thinly veiled references to express alienation and pain, Trent Reznor just bluntly put it out there for the world to take or leave.  A year later, I would come to associate this mode of expression with punk and hardcore when hearing Black Flag for the first time hit me like a ton of bricks.  I see now how The Downward Spiral primed me for the world of punk rock.

Despite moving on, I remained a quiet fan. I listened to the new records with a polite detachment; more connected to nostalgia than anything else, connecting with a song here and there, but nothing quite recaptured the significance of this record.  It remains a time and place piece for me.  Had I not come across this album when I did, and where I did, I think my entire life would be very different.  I’m not always sure if this a good thing or bad thing.

Revisiting this record as a maladjusted adult, I still wince at the rawness and vulnerability of this album – documenting your own descent into self-hating annihilation with but the faintest glimmer of hope for crawling back out at the end of the record. There is a subversive power to all that vulnerability and transparency.  I see the influence in my own life and art (ha!) of just sitting with naked pain and transforming it into something so ugly and beautiful all at once.

 

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The Downward Spiral At Twenty-Five.

Signals Fill The Void Mix Volume One: Apocalypse Dread In A Dead City/Gravity Pulling In Reverse

It has been one of those days.

It’s one of those days where the gray sky has been dripping cold rain on my face for days and days without relent.  In my anxious state, it’s just all too easy to worry the winter sun may never come back when it sinks beneath the slate gray sheet of sky at four PM.  As the long night falls, the ever-pervasive clouds snuff out starlight and moonlight alike, giving an eerie abyssal feeling to the sky.  The darkness is pervasive as it is consuming.  So much so that I get the feeling walking home sometimes that the blackness towering above me wants to reach down and pull me into its maw, swallowing me whole.

Like I was never here.  Like I was never supposed to be here. Like gravity pulling in reverse.  That’s how I described my feelings of alienation and displacement in conversation once.  Like the world as it spins now, does not hold a place for any of us.  It’s like that episode from The Twilight Zone, where the three astronauts return from a mission, crash landing their space shuttle.  One by one each of them gets the feeling “they aren’t supposed to be here” and fade away.  That’s what lonely nights in this city feel like.

Like gravity pulling in reverse.

On quiet nights like this one, were it not for the internet and panic paced twenty-four hour news cycle, I think it one could almost forget the world exists outside this city and its dim streetlights.  As if the world just falls away into nothingness once you hit the city limits. So I go it alone one more night, hunkering down to write to my favorite songs in my small bedroom, shut away from the world I’m so desperately afraid of fading away from, but don’t know how to rejoin at the same time. Tonight it feels like all the clocks died at two minutes to midnight.  Fuck, the whole last year feels like that.  The kind of apocalypse dread and desperation that reminds you what attracted you to punk in the first place.

So tonight I lose myself for the millionth time, slipping into the spirit of sound.  Ensconced in the wail of guitars and D-Beats drumming out a battle march with all the rest of the lost souls and bitter children.  Screaming at the madness and sheer fucking senselessness of it all.  Because I don’t know about you, but I haven’t gotten a good night of sleep in what feels like weeks.  Ever since that intercontinental ballistic missile false alarm last week, mushroom clouds have haunted my dreams almost nightly.  All across the city, everyone I love just wonders when the hammer might fucking drop, and that then that’s it; lights out for all of us and the roaches have their go.

Punks have been freaking out about the end of the world for forty years now, my entire adult life.  I inherited these deep fears as much as the next oversensitive ex-spiky kid.  I mean, shit.  Discharge made a few flawless records (Let’s just pretend for tonight that Grave New World just never fucking happened, okay?) and a career off these fears. Beyond that they inspired legions of leather clad, paranoid emulators.

I don’t really know how to end this, except to say that I’m scared sometimes.  I’m sad sometimes.  I’m strong most of the time.  If you’re reading this and we know one another, I love you so much, and I’m glad you’re alive.  I want you to keep living.  If you’re reading this and I don’t know you: I probably like you.  I love your lives and your stories because you have them and they count for something.  Here’s some tunes that I love that have been on heavy rotation the past few weeks.  I hope you find something you like.

This mix represents my first attempt at what I hope will become a more regular feature of incorporating my love of music and my love of sharing music into my writing practice.  As always, thank you for reading.  If you’ve got feedback, or just wanna tell me what songs you loved or hated, I wanna hear it.

Track List:

  1. Chaos UK – No Security
  2. Icons Of Filth – Fucked Up State
  3. Skinny Puppy – Nature’s Revenge
  4. Confuse – Hate (Is It War?)
  5. Black Flag – My War
  6. Ash Borer – Waves With No Shore
  7. Body Of Light – Burn As One
  8. Larm – Chemical Suicide
  9. Cemetery – 4:30 Blood City
  10. Gauze – Unknown Title, unreleased song. Live, May, 2011.  First show back after the Fukushima Disaster
  11. Lydia Lunch – Suicide Ocean
  12. After The Bombs – To The Void And Back
  13. Youth Code – The Dust Of A Fallen Rome
  14. Nausea – Here Today
  15. Killing Joke – This World Hell
  16. Broken Bones – Death Is Imminent
  17. The Comes – Ningen Gari
  18. Part 1 – Pictures Of Pain
  19. Pharmakon – Sleepwalking Form
  20. Lebenden Toten – Near Dark
  21. Drift – Mirage
  22. Bellicose Minds – Orwell’s Troops
  23. Scumraid – Tsar Bomba
  24. Crude – Stand And Fight Again
  25. Life – The World Lies Across Them
Signals Fill The Void Mix Volume One: Apocalypse Dread In A Dead City/Gravity Pulling In Reverse

Late night panic blues.

The things you think of, late at night when the hours have stretched long past the point of no return.  You are just trying to calm your mind down You just want to let it all go and surrender to the mercy of sleep.

First and foremost:  You are absolutely certain that there have been roughly seven thousand, seven hundred and sixty nights that you have spent just like you are spending this one.  That’s twenty-one years.  Twenty-one years of sleeplessness and dread coming for you at night.  Twenty-one years of late night hours passing in crawling flesh.

If your feel like being honest, or melodramatic (you can’t always tell the difference.) you could call it an even ten thousand.  Ten thousand, nine hundred and fifty-seven point twenty-seven.  That’s roughly thirty years.  You did the math.  You remember being six years old watching the crack of light from the hallway in your childhood room, waiting for the radio to lull you to sleep.

“This is Power 96!  Greater Miami’s party station giving you greater South Florida’s dance hits all night long.”

The red lights on the clock radio change almost imperceptibly.  2:27, 2:28.  It’s a school night, even.  You wonder how you will pay attention to you lessons tomorrow.  You wonder how all the other people up this late at night are occupying their time.  You wonder what the streets of quiet neighborhood are like this late at night.  You get a sinking feeling that the clock might as well read 2:28 AM for the rest of your goddamn life.

You think of all the time passed since your childhood room.  You think of all the nights, in all the rooms that led to this one.  Childhood, childhood’s end, and adolescence and onto the rigors and ruins of adulthood.  Each year, you swear is gonna be different.  Each year you find yourself right here; in another empty feeling room, late at night holding court with your own ruined nerves.

You think about them.  Oh, how you hate thinking about them.  Really, you just hate thinking about love.  You loathe thinking about anyone you’ve ever thought you loved, or said you loved, convinced yourself you loved.  You convince yourself that love is just some bullshit word lesser humans say.  Something we say to justify our appetites, or fill our cavernous voids. The thought of being vulnerable right now makes you shudder.

The hours crawl, and you convince yourself you’re so above it all.  You find a certain sickness in being soft.  You hate yourself only a little bit for letting them in.  You marvel at how we reach into each other and sink our teeth into the most tender parts.  We get a taste of forever.  We sate those hungers.  We come and go.

The minutes pass like pouring rain flooding gutters outside the window.  You are absolutely sure now, that you have never been loved, and have maybe never loved anyone in return.  You know you have been everyone’s favorite maladjusted mutant since the day you rode your skateboard to the cemetery in eighth grade.  Rumbling wheels rolling past crumbling civil war graves, she’s standing there beneath the graveyard trees.  You make out in the summer breeze.  Her mouth tastes like cigarettes and lip smackers.  You finish kissing.  She makes a joke about your dick, and you skate home.

“My friends will never know.”

“Oh, I know.”

You laugh to yourself as you skate home, because it’s all so fucking hysterical.  It’s all so fucking cheap.

You wonder what that girl grew up to be.  While you’re at it, you wonder about the boy who called you a faggot every day, but then asked you to suck his dick in the locker room when no one was around.  You wonder if they grew up bruised and without hope just like you.  You could look them up on facebook if you wanted and make fun of their ugly kids and shitty tattoos.  It’s not that late.  You remind yourself that you don’t actually care, and when was the last time you went to Pennsylvania anyway?  You certainly fucking write about it enough though.  Six years in a place that felt like it was too small raised by people who wouldn’t let you stand tall, and motherfuckers wonder how you got so hostile.

Like you could ever stop.  You know some things they’ll never know.

The hours crawl behind four walls.  You’re spiraling now, remembering it all.  You remember every last step and misstep, stumble and fall, all the time hard spent with so little to show at all.  You are absolutely sure that the world you knew is gone, and everyone else has moved on.  You are absolutely sure that you are still staring out through alien eyes and the world never actually had a place for you at all.  The hour is late now, and no one is going to call.

You have now convinced yourself you can’t breathe, even though you can.  You worry you might just die in your sleep.  This is a familiar and funny dance you’ve danced before.  You think of it as a well-known, and much loved song.  Coughing black mold out of your lungs and clutching at a lover’s sheets for a bummer of a summer.  There’s no lover-comfort offered tonight.  You wouldn’t want it anyway.  You are alone and you ask for no quarter.

You smile.  Finding glory in the rasping pain of being alive.  A moment’s certainty creeps in.  Maybe death is still stalking you, but you are pretty sure it’s neither heaven or oblivion waiting for you in the sky above.  You thank your blessed and still breathing body for pushing through the night.  You give thanks for all the nights before this one that could never hope to swallow you whole.

You think about your reckless and not so reckless youth rusted and left long behind.  In the morning the light will creep ever so slightly through the blinds.  You think about your excuses.  You think about your failure to thrive.  You think about your failure.  You still worry there might be no future, even though you’re living in it.  You still think dying young is stupid.  You still feel too obstinate to do anything other than die of old age.  So you push through, like always. Most of all; you soften and think about love, and how you are luck to have loved and been loved so much.

Or if we truly are in the end times, you could at least go home and die with your friends when the hammer fucking drops and it’s lights out on the world one last time.  That doesn’t sound like the worst option either.  You always had a feeling you and your one friend were going to die in a hail of bullets together anyway.

You think about the hidden and holy world you inhabit.  The world of fucked up noise filling crowded rooms made by mutants bruised and never quite broken, just like you.  You decide there’s time for one more song.  One more song to calm your nerves before the mercy of sleep, better make it a good one.  You flip the record over.  In the silenced that fills the air, you wonder if you’ve ever been home at all.  The needle drops and a hiss, and the spirit of sound rushing to fill the void.

Of course.  You don’t know where else you ever would have gone.

Late night panic blues.