The Downward Spiral

There are a couple of sacred cows in my music collection. If my home was on fire, I would run back in to get these albums. The list is short but each album holds a sentimentality either for the music on the disc or from whom I got the gift from. The Downward Spiral ticks off both of those boxes.

I’ll start with the guy that introduced me to Nine Inch Nails. It’s time to talk about how I came to know Dan…a name synonymous with shenanigans. I look back on our time with a great fondness and he is the type of person that you could not have a conversation in years and then you can drop back into each other’s lives as if the last time you spoke was the day before.

I first met Dan in college. It was just after I bombed my first semester of freshman year and was threatened within an inch of my life I didn’t get my shit together. We had just come back from the holiday break and the dorm was buzzing with “How’s your GPA?”. Dan’s room was on the second of three floors and was a central location for a small group of us to hang out. One day, he let loose that he scored a 3.7 in his first semester. I thought that the best way for me to get my GPA up was to ask Dan how he did it and emulate him…that would be my meal ticket out of the shit house.

One day I asked Dan how he got a high GPA and how he kept it. His response was, “I don’t know, I just did it. Nothing more than that.” And that was all that we said in our time at college about the subject of GPAs. We continued to hang out, but this wasn’t a montage of late nights in the library. It was a montage of late nights at 24-hr grocery stores and stealing golf carts (another story for another time).

Dan had a similar fetish with the Columbia Record Club as I did. It was still freshman year and he came up to me and said, “When’s your birthday? Here, I already have it. Consider it a birthday gift.” Dan hands me a copy of Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral on CD. I gave him the appropriate gratitude and wondered why he gave me Nine Inch Nails when my collection was already full of REM and George Michael. Sure, I liked some Offspring but my ears leaned toward the pop music of the day. I had seen people wearing shirts that had NIne Inch Nails on them, but that’s all I knew about the band.

At first I thought Dan had given it to me as a throwaway, something that would be more of a pain in the ass to return than to suck it up and pay the bucks for the disc that was sent. Maybe it was the “I’m in college and should open my mind to new things” I was bouncing around my head or it could have been the fact that my Japanese exchange roomie would stay up all night making ramen noodles in the middle of our 100 sq. ft. room. My discman was a staple of my night time routine, starting out an album and then falling asleep by the end. At the time, the only thing I really knew about the album that it had a song with the following:

I want to fuck you like an animal
I want to feel you from the inside
I want to fuck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to God

The Downward Spiral starts out pretty hard with “Mr. Self Destruct”. Not the best track to fall asleep to. Then the album gets into “Piggy”, “March Of The Pigs”, “Heretic”, etc. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this wasn’t going to be a sleepy-time album. Honestly, I don’t know if I kept listening because I wanted to really hear the music, understand Dan a little better, or explore some things inside myself.

Fortunately, The Downward Spiral allowed me to do all of those things. I listened to the album constantly. It was better than finding that copy of Juggs magazine in the forest. For the first time, I felt the power of music. Not because it was loud or fast or anything like that. It was because I felt something; I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I felt something deeper than I had before.

I couldn’t tell you what my favorite tracks on the album are, because they all are and for different reasons. I love instrumentals and “A Warm Place” is a great piece that builds, and more than that, where it is placed on the album is perfect. Same with “Hurt”, great track which builds and falls away into nothing again.

Thinking back to that time in my life, there were growing pains certainly, but listening to The Downward Spiral and connecting with Dan made things manageable. I could go on and on telling about all of the wet dreams I have had listening to the album, but I will save that for some of Trent Reznor’s other works.

Mr. Self Destruct4:30
March Of The Pigs2:58
The Becoming5:32
I Do Not Want This5:41
Big Man With A Gun1:36
A Warm Place3:22
The Downward Spiral3:57