Day 13 : A band or artist that has gotten you through some tough days. (write a letter.)
Preface: In the liner notes of “Pretty Hate Machine“, the first studio album by Nine Inch Nails, there is a statement that says, “Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.” Indeed, it is. This is why I address this letter as such, though I would like to include every person that ever had a hand in his projects. They were also important in making his music happen.
Dear Trent Reznor,
Yes, I am indeed very young to be following your career. I ask you to dismiss any immediate notions of some kid fan looking to “find a voice” or “find an image to latch on to”. Fifteen years ago, that may have appeared to be the case. However, I advised any who made the accusation that it wasn’t a phase, and in my age group, it certainly wasn’t a fad. The music spoke to me, and I took a lot of shit to pride myself as a fan in my peer group. It wasn’t about a popular song, attraction, lifestyle, or any of that bullshit nonsense. It was the lyrics and the music, not the man or the movement.
I sincerely doubt that you will ever personally read this letter. It’s not a matter of dismissal, or anything of the like. I realize the intense focus, schedule, and deadlines that must accompany such incredible success. However, I’d like to assure you this isn’t one of those stalker letters, but only a fan tribute. And, of course, an exercise of prompt response to a blog project. If it wasn’t for this prompt, I may have never written this at all. That is, despite the fact that there is much in my personal life that I can attribute to the music.
Today, I am a part-time music teacher at a local inner city youth program here in Pittsburgh, PA. I am aware that you are local to the area, which is another reason the music is personal to me. You grew up in the area, therefore you were aware of the lifestyle and culture of the region and how it affects a person. But, that wasn’t the only personal connection. In the seventh grade, though music had been a lifelong passion, I became symptomatic with a mood disorder. A deep depression was ravaging through my life, taking each passion away from me. It took one man, my band instructor Warren Sullivan, to convince me otherwise.
One day, he took the class to the Piano Graveyard, a hallway behind the auditorium where old, detuned and broken pianos went to die. He wanted us to experiment with sound, though most of us had never touched a piano in our lives. I sat at a piano bench, disinterested in just about everything, including that exercise. Others plucked at sour keys, and some just pounded the pianos in the effort to make as much noise as possible. Mr. Sullivan sat down beside me, clearly as downtrodden as I was. I looked up at him and noticed this awful look of defeat and resignation.
We didn’t speak for a few moments, just poked at keys together. And this was the first time a teacher had addressed me personally, as an equal. He said, “Have you ever had anything really bad happen to you?” I nodded. He asked, “So bad that it changed your entire life?” Again, I nodded. He told me a story, a secret as to why he would be unlikely to return the following year. I liked the guy, and it was difficult to swallow.
And he said to me, “Did you know that I knew Trent?”
It took me aback. “Really?”
“Yeah, we were in a college band together,” he replied.
“So, what happened?” I eagerly inquired.
Mr. Sullivan look uncomfortable for a moment, but continued timidly, “We had creative differences.”
I noted, “I could see that.”
We were quiet again for a moment, and he admitted, “Do you know what the last thing I ever said to Trent was?”
“Trent Reznor, you will never amount to anything!” He paused, then continued, “I guess I was mistaken. And that’s something I live with every time I hit a bad spot in my career.”
“Wow,” I breathed. It was really powerful. But, it taught me a valuable lesson. Go with what feels right and where my heart takes me. Never try to take anyone else down to get a leg up. And, it kept me in band, even with the terror of a director that took over. I withstood her for five years and five more instruments, just so I could get as much music under my belt as possible. I was inspired to move to tenor sax, which opened up the door to all woodwinds. Today, I have an alto on my wall, only because I can’t find a reasonably priced tenor sax. Imagine me, all of 4’11” with a tenor sax strapped to my neck. The thing went down to my knees! It was worth it.
Anyhow, returning to the music itself. I started off with the album “The Downward Spiral”, which could not have been more appropriate for the life changes I was going through. To this day, I have owned four physical copies, because I would wear them out so badly, and one digital copy, all legal. It was at that point in my life that I became symptomatic with Bipolar Disorder. “The Downward Spiral” was my mainstay. I knew in my bones that I was different somehow, and that the deep depressions were abnormal for a young adolescent. But, the album in it’s entirety showed that what I was going through, particularly the self-loathing, suicidal ideation, self-injury, questions of faith and religion, disdain and disillusionment with the world, and dysfunctional relationships were not uncommon events. I had figured that if these things were inspiration for an adult, why couldn’t they be my inspiration, with the music being my solace.
As I grew into adulthood, the music came with me. “Pretty Hate Machine” and “Broken” lent me music that resonated with me. In a way, these albums aided me in support of developing my identity apart from parental and societal expectations. I realized that I wasn’t like the others, and I could never be. Instead of fretting about it, and making futile attempts to conform, I fought for the freedom of expression.
The music and lyrics tapped at something deep inside myself. It found the part of me that conflicted and the dissonance touched. It found the fundamental contradictions that created so much confusion and made it flow. I identify with the complex and unique chord structures. They are beautiful, yet eerie, and have so much tension in them. My ear can identify them in music I wasn’t aware that you had a hand in, not because of the musical familiarity, but because of the way it touches me.
I could go on identifying each album, with various songs that have colored my life. But, I find it unnecessary. The message is this. Each album contained a number of songs that had personal meaning. Most were very fitting for the time period of my life, whether it was touching upon symptoms of my progressing disorder, dysfunctional and abusive relationships, general discord with life, or absolute disgust with society and the people that run it. And in those songs, I found the music and lyrics to tell me the most important thing I needed to know in my life. I am not alone.
So, today, I share my passion for music with kids, and help them find their sound. I do that as part of my passion, and as my day job. As a person who suffers from mood disorder, you could probably appreciate the following. I spend most of my time putting the same message out there through creative mediums. If you are suffering, you are not doing it alone. I know how you feel. I was granted the gift of music and writing to share my story and give a certain gift of companionship to those in need. And, I feel as if you had a hand in aiding that.
I am still a fan and a listener. I am greatly enjoying the long rumored, “How to Destroy Angels” project. I appreciate how the music was able to evolve with me. Or, it’s possible that I was just able to put it into a different context. Either way, I am grateful to have had such an inspiration and support in my life. Many thanks for following your passion, and not letting Warren take you down.
All the Best,