Song of the Day: Nine Inch Nails, "Closer"
I have not been sleeping well. Or rather, let me rephrase that: I fall asleep and stay asleep and wake up (relatively) well-rested, But lately while I am asleep, I have been accosted by nightmares. They range in emotional spectrum from mildly eerie to alarmingly terrifying, but they all have an intensity that is undeniable and far more vivid than anything I have experienced in the past. Maybe it's my diet, or maybe this is all part of the aging process.
If there's any upside to this, it's that I now really understand the interior logic of the video for Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." Released as the second single from The Downward Spiral in 1994, "Closer" remains as unlikely a hit as there ever has been. "Closer" wasn't just a rock radio hit (it landed at number 11 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart) but also a bizarre pop crossover (it somehow climbed to number 41 on the Hot 100 and remains Trent Reznor's third highest-charting pop tune). That's a particularly impressive turn for a song whose chorus is "I want to fuck you like an animal."
Part of what made "Closer" a larger cultural moment was the music video, which was directed by Mark Romanek and was immediately placed into heavy rotation on MTV when it arrived in May of '94. The clip pulls from a handful of inspirations, particularly the decay-infused art of Joel-Peter Witkin and the creepy short films of the Brothers Quay. There's no real narrative—Reznor just sort of poses, sings, and hangs around a dusty storage facility for sideshow performers. Thanks to a healthy amount of nudity and one particular instance of implied animal torture, a lot of the "Closer" clip had to be edited down in order to meet MTV's strict broadcast requirements, and while a handful of images are simply blurred out, there are a handful of moments in the video wherein the footage is simply replaced by a placard that says "Scene Missing." It has a Nine Inch Nails logo on it, so it felt like a legitimate part of the video and not an artificial drop-in. Strangely, that legitimacy made the clip feel even eerier than it already was. My thought process was, "Considering how messed up some of the other images were in the video, what could possibly be disturbing enough to eject entirely?"
I showed up somewhat late to the "Closer" party, as I didn't see the clip until the end of 1994 as part of MTV's year-end countdown. It was relatively late at night and I was by myself, and the stillness of the evening and the darkness of the room made "Closer" feel like a broadcast from a parallel dimension—a dimension full of steampunk organs and roaches caked in sawdust. It unfolded like a nightmare—odd, upsetting, and yet still curiously intriguing. The "Scene Missing" placards were certainly part of it, and by the time I finally got around to seeing the unedited version of "Closer" (which is the only one you can find anymore) when I was in college, the whole thing seemed a little anti-climatic, and the stuff that was taken out seemed tame in comparison with the blankness my imagination had to fill. I should have known that kind of darkness can only come from within.