Albums revisited: Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Pretty Hate Machine is almost 21 years old. It’s older than some people I work with. It’s the same age as my daughter. My, how time flies when you’re Trent Reznor.
The maturity of life does not go hand in hand with musical maturity. Everything else changes. You grow up. You get a real job. You get married, have a kid. Suddenly your life is about keeping the house clean and paying bills and changing diapers. You’ve grown up. Every year, every day brings changes to who and what you are. You’re a spouse, a parent, a cog in the big machine called work. The only thing that keeps us tied to everything we were in our youth, and all the stuff that came with it – the emotions and yearnings that are still inside us but held down by this innate need to mature – is music.
1989. I got a real career type job. I got married. I got pregnant. It was like, yesterday I was working in a record store, going to dingy night clubs to listen to some local punk rock band sing about the unfairness of it all, and today I’m rethinking my choice of dropping my career to be a housewife, my days spent watching some women on a daytime talk show talk about the unfairness of life. What happened?
Enter Trent Reznor and Pretty Hate Machine. This is the album that tied me to those days I left behind. It’s the album that made me yearn for those complex emotions of figuring out love and life. I’d listen to it and almost wish I was back in those night clubs, back in a time when making out in the back seat of a car was ok, back when I wrote poetry about love and loss, back when there was an inherent passion in everything, even heartbreak. Pretty Hate Machine was dark and sexy, bitter and furious. And it was a reminder of how quickly I went from embodying all that to embodying the very model of suburban housewife. I wanted it all. I wanted to feel like Trent Reznor, but live like Martha Stewart. Something I could never have, indeed.
Listening to this album made me feel guilty, like I wasn’t supposed to pine for my youth and miss all that passion that came with it. It made me feel like I had no transition period between then and now. I stopped listening to it so much.
When that marriage ended and a period of darkness and furious bitterness set it in, I listened to it again, in the way that I wanted to listen to it the first time but my illusion of happiness and conformity wouldn’t let me. Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be.
I was grown up. I was mature, right? I had kids. I had a job. I wasn’t supposed to be feeling like this. But at the same time Something I Can Never Have made me feel sad and wistful, the rest of the album made me feel alive. It helped me let my anger go, and it made me want to find the passion that was missing from my life. Maybe this wasn’t an album that a 34 year old should be listening to and feeling, but music is like that. It ties you to your past and makes you feel all those things you thought you forgot about it. And that’s a good thing.
And there’s something still so dirty and delicious about singing the devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car.