Well… this feels weird.
It was 3:30am on a drizzly Tuesday morning in San Antonio, TX, and I was standing at the checkout counter in front of an umbrella, a poncho, and a box of wine. The cashier looked at me and said, “Ma’am, you can’t buy that after 2am.”
It takes me a second to realize that he’s referring to the wine; which you can’t buy between the hours of 2 and 7 or something. And that’s when it first hit me: I’m too old for this shit.
We weren’t continuing a party from a night before, we were just starting what would be a long day. I’d taken a 2 hour nap in preparation for this; my first Nine Inch Nails show in 4 years (1 month, and 24 days). “My” band was back, and I was going to be front and center, no matter what!
Being a NIN fan is as big of a bullet point in my bio as the fact that I have a cat and that I’m from Texas. It’s how most people who read this site found me, it’s how I know a lot of my friends. Within the NIN community, I tend to be known as “airport girl”, or that girl who writes drivel about her fandom, which has all been documented here.
It’s hard for me to read all of that stuff. The main reason for this is because NIN has always been a mirror for my dark side… but I never really experienced the dark side until shortly after the band went on hiatus in 2009. All of that “woe is me” stuff that plagued me in my first 29 years feel like childish ramblings to me now. There were so many times throughout 2010 that I wished for a NIN show to be on my calendar, when I really needed it.
When it was announced that the band was coming out of hiatus, something weighed down the excitement. Could I be that fan that I was before, become immersed in the experience again? Something told me that I couldn’t.
In the back of my head, I had it that I would be there the first time they played again… but that happened to be Japan, and while the old me would have made it happen, the new me could not. But I did go to a speaking engagement and a How To Destroy Angels show in the meantime… and I woke up at 5am to watch a live stream of the show in Japan.
People kept wondering why I wasn’t at Lollapalooza, or Outside Lands… or a multitude of other opportunities to see them, but I was set on my first show being in the place I saw them for the second time, near home. Something felt right about it. And I knew that I would, for one final time, do the crazy wait-in-line thing, and be front and center. This would be the only way.
At 4:30am we were settling into our fate in front of the AT&T Center. As I laid on the concrete while the hours ticked by, I thought about how I had just finished reading Pretty Hate Machine, by Daphne Carr. While I can’t exactly say I enjoyed the book, it mentally prepared me for all of this. I both love and hate being a NIN fan; there are things both extraordinarily cool and embarrassingly wretched about the community. I just try to keep to myself and always keep it about the music; I never want to know much about the band or anything that would take away from my respect for the music.
As far as waiting for NIN shows goes- and I’ve done my fair share- this was by far the easiest. Around noon we were put in numbered wristbands and set free. “How many times have you seen Nine?” they asked. Yes, they said ‘Nine’. As everyone said their numbers, I realized I’m the one with the highest number: 20. How did that happen? Not that long ago I was the new kid on the block.
A few hours later, fed and properly dressed, we returned to hear soundcheck out of an open door. My ears perked and “All The Love In The World”, one that I have never heard live before.
No one understands why we do this but us, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a thing that is ours, the kids that felt alienated and have come together because of the music that made them feel understood.
My elbows went over the barricade front and center as planned, and the reality set in that this was really happening. Through the wait for the house lights to dim, through the Explosions in the Sky set, through waiting for the lights to dim again, anticipation curled up in my stomach and was ready to spring. And then it hit me, along with the weight of the giant crowd behind me: so we meet again.
I am just a copy of a… copy of a… copy… Each member of the band was underneath a light shower. It was deja vu. We’re inherently the same people, but much has changed in four years: an Oscar, kids, harem pants…a dead parent, a new city, blonde hair.
Heaven’s just a rumor she’ll dispel… I had most been looking forward to hearing the re-imagining of “Sanctified”, one of my favorites. I was also taking in the addition of the backup singers and world class bassist Pino Palladino. This would be a mature version of NIN. This would be a mature version of me.
From the familiar crowd crush during “March of the Pigs”, to the shock of the fact that many people around me only knew the newer songs, to guitarist Robin Finck’s signature walks across the stage, to my first experience not being familiar with a song that was being played (I cut the new album off at “Everything”), to everyone who knows jamming their fists in the air while screaming “FIST FUCK!”, to hearing “All The Love In The World” be played live for the first time, to becoming completely physically immersed in songs again that mean so much to me…it was both good and weird to be back.
When the show was over and I pried myself from the rail, I truly felt all of the time and things that had passed between that last Wave Goodbye show and today. The space/time continuum weighed heavily on me.
Three days later and back in California, I walked into Staples center shortly before the opener began. Between skipping out on NIN’s Jimmy Kimmel taping the day before, and not lining up early in my own hometown, I answered the question “Where are you?” many times. But I wanted to do something I had never done before for this show- stand far enough away to actually see the amazing visuals.
Once the band hit the stage, I had to get over the feeling of being a million miles away, but I popped out my earplugs and took in the best sound and visuals I’ve ever experienced at a NIN show. The highlight for me was the giant cube spinning around; being up front I would have never been able to understand what was going on.
It was also- I have to say- pretty epic people watching. I could see former versions of myself, future versions I’d like to avoid…and the best one: Twiggy! Watching by the bassist that was playing when I first saw the band was a fantastic full circle moment for me.
In fact, I’ve been having a lot of full circle moments lately. I just finished writing a memoir about the last 3 years of my life, entitled Head Like A Hole. In the last few months, I’ve happened to see most of the artists perform that are featured in my book. I didn’t think I’d see NIN again during the course of this journey; so I left these two shows feeling like a black bow had been tied around this box full of memories. And now I’m ready to burn that box, like a cancer in the system.
But wait! There’s still Vegas…
[TO BE CONTINUED]