The great hoo-ha of X. We were vexed at the ridiculous 80's...AIDS...jobs...Reagan...hippies turned yuppies...loser anxiety for the future. Our god was supposed to be Kurt. He spoke for the existential angst we all felt. Somehow his view didn't quite work for me. My internalization was based on a blend of Morrissey despair and Depeche Mode spirituality. I also had an utopian world view that border on religion. We had to be better than what we saw around us. The world felt so stupid to my logical brain. Whining about it was fun for a minute, then it was time to do something.
Nine Inch Nails delivered the answer to all that ailed. The songs on The Downward Spiral cut to the core of our situation. We had to acknowledge the shit surrounding us...no more denial. Then, we had to absolutely break it apart. If we didn't, we would be destroyed and ruined by the circumstances of our lives.
The initial machine gun announcement that we are controlled by "Mr. Self Destruct" slides into classic whining despair...woe is me "Piggy"! However if things are this bad, why not fuck it all and fight. Nothing can stop me now.
Let's ATTACK. HERESY.
He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line. He made a virus that would kill off all the swine.
His perfect kingdom of killing, suffering and pain. Demands devotion, atrocities done in his name.
MARCH...I want to break it up, smash it up, fuck it up. I want to watch it come down. Now, doesn't that make you feel better?
The album seems to go back and forth between loathing and focused anger. "Closer" won't let the evils of this world own us. "Ruiner" might as well be Reagan/Bush as far as I am concerned. It ends with "you are the reason I stay alive", which to me is another call to arms. We cannot let that crowd of conservatives influence our world. We must be the thorn in their side at every turn.
Lyrics are not the only important contribution. "The Becoming" is an amazing piece of post industrial horror punk. The theme of the whole album is captured in the sound. Back to the message though, "I Do Not Want This" fully explains the path we must choose. The angst will destroy us, if we don't fight it and it's causes. We had to make a choice. I want to know everything, I want to be everywhere, I want to fuck everyone in the world, I want to do something that matters!
"Big Man With A Gun" had to be on this album just to mess with the Tipper Gore fanatics. It serves no other purpose. This idiot wrote a book called "Slouching Toward Gomorrah" and used NIN as an example.
"A Warm Place" repeats the circling down theme beautifully and readies the listener for the bombast of "Eraser". "Reptile" introduces the second guessing nature of the nihilistic dream. Should we really tear everything down to make things better, or is that just our rage tricking us? By this point of the album, I made my choice. I wanted to make things better. Trent seemed less sure as he wastes away in the "Downward Spiral" and "Hurt". Perhaps one day at life's end, I will have similar regrets. Somehow, I doubt it.
I am now 44, part of the white male dominated society, and jaded by success. But, I believe the values instilled in me by works of art such as "The Downward Spiral" stay with me to this day. I am "the guy" that wants to break down illogical walls and fight against every institution that holds the human race back. One may see it in my occasional rants about the Pope, but the real passion lies in under-cutting anything conservative. We are not meant to stay put. Even conservatives change with the times. They are just slower about it than necessary.
While a surface listen to The Downward Spiral might send a listener down a hole, I find it uplifting and empowering. It captures an aggressive view of how to make the world a better place (cue Coca-Cola commercial now!) We must fight the powers in control of our lives and create a world where things evolve; or, we might as well shoot up (take that as you may).
In the words of Frederic Nietzsche, "I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism's] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!"