Dear Trent Reznor,
Within seconds of seeing you in person, I thought I was going to die. You see, I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to see Nine Inch Nails for the very first time during the With Teeth Club Tour at Hammerstein Ballroom, and you decided to open with “Pinion” and “Wish” from the Broken EP.
The frenetic echoes of the intro were like the ghost of heartbeats. I was propelled into movement, despite my rapidly fraying nerves and claustrophobia. A wayward elbow connected with my core, and down I sank. Drowning in sweat and rage.
My hand darted out to grab my friend, A, who had been ripped from me by the force of flailing bodies, and I used him to pull myself up. A breath, and then, a wail.
In that moment, I was reborn.
My friend and I were separated again right after that, but I didn’t feel alone. How could I when an entire crowd raises their fists in unison and screams “FIST FUCK” along with you, this perfect moment of synchronicity incorporated into their dance? Your music, with its mechanical animal snarls and howls playing just under your very human growls and sighs, made its way into the very core of my being that night. I had always loved dancing and screaming during shows, singing along and losing myself, but there was something different about this night. All of the pain from the past twenty-four years of my life erupted into this white-hot mass of matter, all potential energy suddenly kinetic. In your music, my agony had found its voice.
I had been a fan of Nine Inch Nails since I was thirteen, when The Downward Spiral came out and “Closer” was in heavy rotation on 92.3 K-Rock in New York. It came along just as I was really starting to question the connection between sex, desire and sin. Some of my friends and I became kind of obsessed with the videos for “Closer”and “The Perfect Drug,” marveling at the imagery and, obviously, your dark good looks. We listened to the singles and talked about how awesome it would be to see a show someday.
But this. This was an awakening. Being surrounded so completely by the music, I finally felt like all of the shit that had been torturing me for years wasn’t this big, ugly secret I had to store inside my bones. Your music was a permission of sorts. I had been afraid to say so many things since I was a kid, so to be in the presence of such fearlessness was the ultimate empowerment. I had experienced the worst of humankind at a very early age, the trauma of which corroded me slowly until the collective pains of my adult life poured straight through me without a filter, and I didn’t know how to categorize or eliminate the confusion and hurt, to mop up the spill of my dead father’s blood and the spiteful oily manipulations of people from my past. “Terrible Lie” gave me the right to vent my anger at the systematic oppression I had been forced to endure for years. “Something I Can Never Have” helped me to face the crushing rejection of a tumultuous relationship that will forever haunt me but no longer controls me. “Burn” let me fucking wail and writhe and give a huge fuck-you to people who had held me down for so long.
“Hurt” was the prayer in which an exhausted, humbled audience shed tears and raised weary, raspy voices up to heaven, only to be reawakened yet again in the scathing trio of “Getting Smaller,” “Starfuckers, Inc.” and “Head Like A Hole.” It was a rallying cry to go forth and feel. Maybe I’m biased because it was my first show, but I feel like one lucky fuck to have witnessed such a fucking perfect set.
A and I found each other after the show. He had lost his phone, and I was a bruised mess. We were elated. This is how kinships are formed.
Your music continues to challenge and inspire me. That show made me realize that all this shit inside of me had a purpose. Just as you channeled your struggles so brilliantly into art, I put my pain to good use now. Your work with Saul Williams, my favorite poet, showed me just how seemingly different styles of art can come together beautifully and create something wholly unique and powerful. In my mind, there is a distinct difference between consciousness before and after that Nine Inch Nails show.
I’m writing to you this week because the theme for this amazing artist collective is “Wild,” and nothing made me feel more wild yet more centered, more animal yet more human, than that show. The music of Nine Inch Nails has helped me to acknowledge and honor all sides of myself, to embrace myself in full, to create beauty out of the sharpest, ugliest fragments of my life.
I have been to other Nine Inch Nails concerts since then, and each one is a revelation. I had the honor of seeing Nine Inch Nails perform “Eraser”, “Right Where it Belongs” and “Beside You In Time” back-to-fucking-back at Madison Square Garden.
I danced under the stars to your set at the Virgin Mobile Festival in Baltimore, bathed in red light as if my very blood had been spilled and electrified.
I am a fan of How To Destroy Angels and your soundtrack work with Atticus Ross and eagerly await any new music you have to offer in any forms, but the news of new NIN music was so exciting; it feels like home. I think Nine Inch Nails will always be a force in this world, whether or not new music emerges…but man, I am fucking pumped to see what you up with next. Your art is vital to this world.
On that night in 2005, Trent, you helped me to become. Thank you.
[sic] (aka jessa marie mendez)
(Here is the full set list from Hammerstein Ballroom, minus the most excellent “Home”, which I could not add to my Spotify playlist. It’s the bonus track to the UK edition of With Teeth and one of my favorite NIN songs. NIN @ Hammerstein 51505)