Song of the Day: Nine Inch Nails, "Wish"
I met my wife in the summer of 2006. She was not my wife then, but instead a girl I thought looked cute on an online dating profile. I knew pretty early that I wanted to spend all of my time with her (we still joke about how early I introduced her to my parents), and after moving in together at the end of the year, we took our first vacation together: to celebrate her birthday, we spent a week in February 2007 in Paris.
It was a great trip. I had been once before but this was her first time, so we bounced around the museums, explored the catacombs, ate some delicious food and drank more than we should have. I have a lot of vivid, intense memories from that trip, but the final night stands out because we saw an incredible show.
I was working for Spin at the time, and just before we left on our trip, I took a look through some calendars to figure out if there were any bands worth seeing while we'd be in Paris. Nine Inch Nails were in the midst of a tour that saw them play a handful of European clubs and leave sample tracks stored in flash drives from the forthcoming Year Zero album in bathrooms and on bars—a sort of real world viral marketing. I shot off a last-minute e-mail to Trent Reznor's publicist asking if I could get on the list for the band's show at a club called the Olympia, and I got confirmation literally as we were boarding the plane to jet out of JFK.
The show was intense, essentially functioning as a palette-cleansing greatest hits run in between album releases (at the time, Reznor was bemoaning the fact that tours always seem to be tethered to the support of new albums). It was a killer setlist, opening with "Somewhat Damaged" (the same way they opened many of the shows during the tour for Fragile), with somewhat rare cuts like "Burn," "Eraser," and "Suck" dotting the evening.
But about halfway through, Reznor plowed into the Broken single "Wish." I should note that the show was a little odd, in that we were in a seated section that mostly stayed seated but would give Reznor a standing ovation at the end of each song. So I was in my seat for "Wish," finding myself overcome with the song's savagery, both in its charging speed-metal crunch and in its lyrics. "Put my faith in God and my trust in you/ There's nothing more fucked up I could do," Trent shouted, and I was brought back to my teenage bedroom, feeding my interior churn with repeated listenings of The Downward Spiral and Broken. I was always a fan of Reznor's more obtuse lyrics, but viscerally I responded best to his frank directness. One of those moments cropped up in the song's second verse, when some of the music drops out to allow Reznor to announce, "You know me, I hate everyone!" My young adulthood was dotted with that kind of misanthropy, manifesting itself in rage issues and an inability to commit to friends and lovers.
When Reznor hit that line, I shouted along, briefly losing myself in the line's remarkable nihilism. In that instant, I lost total control, and I choked back tears and bile that threatened to escape along with the spirit of catharsis. I looked to my right and saw my future wife, also shouting along to Reznor's bellowing and banging her head. I realized in that moment of unbridled emotional lashing out that I could safely emerge from the cocoon of anger I had built for myself because there was finally somebody on the outside who understood who I was, and the safety blanket provided by Reznor's wailing was no longer a necessary part of my life. I still listen to "Wish," but now I do it because I like it and not because I need it.