It’s March 9th, 1994: my 14th birthday. I am sitting in my bedroom and it’s dark outside. My room is indicative of a girl in transition… exploring. A large stuffed lion adorns a bed with black satin sheets. Glow in the dark stars litter the ceiling. Posters decorate the walls: Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, River Phoenix. Spencer’s Gifts provided the lava lamp and black light; the local grocery store, the votive candles. And in the focal point of my room is a giant Pioneer stereo system. My parents may not know how to speak to me, but they know how to buy me speakers.
I am a year into living in small town rural Texas, a bud of a flower uprooted from the big city of Houston and withering in a vase full of stagnant water. I’m curled up on the cheap carpet leaning against my bed. A pane of glass comes between me and the stereo components, their flimsy black plastic contents a futuristic cool. The CD changer rotates and makes a whirring sound. How I remembered what CD was in what slot will remain a mystery to me.
I’d like to be able to follow this up by saying that, within the depths of that CD changer, I got to spend my 14th birthday evening with Superunknown and The Downward Spiral, which had just been released the day before… but I would be lying. I was probably trying to listen to whatever the radio played me of them, though. But my town didn’t even have a movie theater, and certainly did not have a record store. My first experiences with these albums would be through cassette tapes listened to while sneaking rides in older, cooler, dangerous teenagers’ cars, before I got my own hands on them. Then they would spin endlessly on that system, ears pressed against the speakers, hearing my future, wondering…
Do you remember what it was like being 14? On the cusp of childhood and adulthood, my brain was suddenly invaded with alien thoughts. These two albums were prominent in my 14 year old existence. These albums had as much impact as courses at school; these two were like a foreign exchange program I could participate in from my own bedroom. At some point that year or the next, I would have my first hallucinogenic experience, and the videos to “Black Hole Sun” and “Closer” would be like beacons in peeling back the facade of what reality is.
Sometimes things coexist but are never thought of as being related. I had been so busy lately that it wasn’t until I found myself face-to-face with the Hollywood Bowl sign that I thought exactly how odd it was that these two separate but equal bands would be playing together. Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden… wow!
You can read about all of the crazy times I have had being a NIN fan as well as a Soundgarden fan on this site- I’ve head near death experiences at shows for both of ’em- so it was entertaining to spend the time leading up to the show drinking a bottle of champagne and eating a gourmet grilled cheese. I then stumbled to my seat- which was waaaay better than I thought it was going to be- and was unimpressed with Cold Cave.
I said hi to the legions of NIN fans I have come to know over the years during the extremely long break between bands. Then I ate some peanut M&Ms. And then I watched Tony Kunal, Scott Ian, and Brian Posehn take seats nearby as Soundgarden walked out onstage.
The sun was setting and it was their first time to play the Bowl. The energy was great and they sounded so good. Cornell talked a lot and Ben Shepherd was his usual animated self. I spotted a sign language guy near me and became highly entertained by this. I was pretty happy with the setlist- a blend of hits and deeper cuts- but right as I was getting into it- when they belted out one of my favorites “Beyond the Wheel”- which was probably my highlight of the night overall because Cornell’s vocals on this were amazing rolling over the sea of people and up into the hills- the damn show was over!
The stage quickly became ultra-minimalist and it wasn’t long before Trent Reznor marched out onstage and began “Copy of A” all on his own. He was joined by the other members one by one. After the huge production of last year’s shows- back up singers,etc.- it was odd to see such a stripped down one in the biggest venue I may have ever seen them at. Immediately I felt like something was missing. While I thoroughly enjoyed this new version of “Sanctified”, “March of the Pigs”, “Terrible Lie”, learning how to say “I wanna fuck you like an animal” in sign language, “The Great Destroyer”, and “Eraser”… this was my first experience walking away from a NIN show feeling really unimpressed.
You guys, HELL HAS FROZEN OVER.
Yes, I was unimpressed, kinda let down even. I felt like I had seen them at a festival; there wasn’t anything special about this “hometown” show in this legendary venue, and considering this tour was so soon after the last one, it didn’t feel anything but… smaller. It would have been a solid show for your average concert-goer, but as a fan…
I am a spoiled NIN fan, with three hour sets and state of the art visuals and special guests and unusual situations in my tour history. And while I will always be a NIN fan (this was my 26th show and I named my book after one of their songs). I will always go to the shows, listen to the music; but unlike that 14 year old with only the future in front of her, I now have a lot of past. And I’m ok with that.