Ninety Feet, Nine Inches, Year Zero (THIS ARTICLE IS A PARODY)
By Jim DeRogatis for Chicago Sun-Times on April 13, 2007
Sun-Times music critic Jim Derogatis braves a wild April snowstorm and heads to Cleveland to learn more about Nine Inch Nails’ frontman Trent Reznor’s love for music and baseball
Trent Reznor takes a long drag from his cigarette before pausing to take a gulp of watery coffee on a cold afternoon in Cleveland. He’s well into the promotional tour for the new Nine Inch Nails album, titled “Year Zero”, which is currently passing through Jacobs Field, home of baseball’s Cleveland Indians. That might not seem like an conventional stop for Reznor, but then again, perhaps you don’t know as much about the man as you thought. The industrial music godfather hasn’t missed an Indians home opener in 22 years. Today, I’ve made the four hour drive from Chicago to Cleveland to watch the Indians play their home opener (Reznor’s 23rd straight!) against the Seattle Mariners. Along the way, I’m hoping to find out more about his new album, his mental state of mind, and his obsession with the national pastime. As we walk toward Jacob’s Field, it’s clear from the start that Reznor has a lot on his mind, and today that doesn’t include his psychedelic new single, “My Violent Heart”.
“I want to feel good about the Cleveland Indians’ chances this year”, he says, taking another sizeable sip of coffee, “but I just don’t know. They’ve underperformed relative to their third-order winning percentages each of the past three years.” I haven’t a clue what Reznor is talking about, but the words are spoken in the forlorn, despaired tone that we’ve come to expect from the moody industrial rocker over the course of his 18-year career. When Trent Reznor is feeling miserable, all is right with the world.
He continues, his blue eyes burning holes through my neck and toward the panoramic view of the baseball stadium that looms before us. “I’m starting to think that this team will never make it over the hump. I grew up watching the Indians fail year in and year out. It was depressing. That’s one of the reasons I moved to LA, just to get away and escape from it all.” Indeed, Reznor built his reputation on the twin pillars of doom and angst, helping to drag alternative music kicking and screaming into the mainstream in the early 1990’s. Classic NIN songs such as “Head Like A Hole” and “Closer” became sizeable hits, went into heavy rotation on MTV, and helped turn Reznor into a global superstar. But his recent fame belies his more humble beginnings, living most of his childhood in a modest two-bedroom home in Mercer, Pennsylvania. He was raised by his grandmother, an otherwise gentle woman with a fierce aversion to the goth, disco, and punk music that Reznor loved while growing up.
As we approach our Gate 7 entrance to the stadium, it dawns on me that Reznor hasn’t bothered to inform me that the game has been postponed. It is unseasonably cold in Cleveland, and several inches of snow still cover the playing field. But Reznor is undeterred. The security guards are all NIN fans, and after a few autographs and handshakes from the hands that tackled many an unsuspecting synthesizer, we find ourselves alone in the stadium, shoes crunching in the snow near the visitors’ dugout.
“I went through some tough times with my grandmother” recalls Reznor, “we were Indians fans and the team was a laughingstock. We were perennial AL East basement dwellers and played in the worst park in all of baseball, if not all of sports.” In later years, Reznor moved to Cleveland and worked a dead-end job in a small downtown studio. His local environment had a profound effect on his fledgling music career. “Grandma and I used to go to ten or twelve games a year”, states Reznor with a slightly devilish twinkle in his glistening eyes, “but the outcomes were almost never good. We saw them get pounded 14-2 by the Yankees on a frigid April afternoon. I hear people complaining in Cleveland this year, what with the foot of snow and all, but they don’t have a f***ing clue what pain is. Grandma and I froze our asses off in the old Municipal Stadium and it was just horrible. In fact, she never attended another game after that, she refused to go every time I invited her from then on. I went home that night and tried to capture the feeling in a song. You must know that feeling, the feeling of suffering in a punishing environment you can’t control? So I wrote ‘Down In It’ about that day, about that game. It poured out of the pit of my stomach in maybe fifteen minutes. I even went back there in the middle of the night with a portable sampler and recorded the sound of wind whipping around the outskirts of the stadium. You can hear those sounds in the intro to the song.”
Even though Reznor became an unlikely star in the wake of the multimillion-selling “The Downward Spiral”, the money and fame did little to cheer him up. Between his controversial second album and the gargantuan, long-awaited follow-up “The Fragile”, he had well-publicized bouts of drug addiction and extreme depression. Even the sudden emergence of the Indians as one of the AL’s premier teams did little to alleviate his famously caustic disposition. In fact, rather than alleviate his problems, the Indians exasperated them even further.
“We had it all wrapped up in 1997?, says Reznor, shuddering. Rubbing my face to try to restore the blood to my cheeks, I strain to concentrate on his emotional words. I long ago recommended that we continue the interview somewhere other than a cold, empty stadium, but Reznor consistently shrugs off my suggestions to leave. His eyes briefly become moist before his entire face clenches up in anger. “But f***ing Mesa blew the f***ing save. Fernandez let the g*d*mn ball go through his legs in the 11th. My grandma never recovered, literally. She died one month later and I fell deeper into a depression that consumed my entire being. I became lazy, I became irritable, I was a giant f***ing asshole to everyone who had been close to me. I made s***ty decisions, I befriended Marilyn Manson, I was a mess. It was the worst time of my life.”
Is he implying that success is good for nothing other than further hardship? Becoming rich only made him more unhappy. A winning Indians ballclub got him down more than all the losing ones did. Which does he prefer?
“Don’t get me wrong — I would much rather have Sizemore patrolling center instead of Brett Butler” states Reznor firmly. “And I don’t want to revisit the old days again. Those feelings have been buried deep and I don’t want to dig them up ever again. People ask me why I don’t write songs like ‘Something I Can Never Have’ and ‘Hurt’ anymore. It’s simple. I don’t want to write those kinds of songs anymore. I don’t want to feel those feelings ever again. They were moments of personal torment that are best left in their time. ‘Something I Can Never Have’ was written after the Indians 100-loss season in 1987, it’s about wishing for a pennant, just one f***ing pennant to make the pain in my heart go away. But I’ve moved on now.”
Today’s weather aside, most people associate baseball with sunny afternoons and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, so you wouldn’t figure that NIN’s style of psychedelic electronic mayhem would sit well among those in the sport. Surprisingly, Reznor counts many players and executives amongst his fans, such as Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, reigning AL MVP and Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, and Cleveland Indians musical director Lenny Weiss. It was Weiss who approached Reznor with the idea of commissioning a new piece of pre-at-bat music for Grady Sizemore. The Indians star outfielder is a longtime NIN fan and was thrilled at the idea. Although apprehensive at first, Reznor was promised complete creative control and found it to be an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Despite his notoriously glacially slow workrate, he confidently claims that he will deliver the piece to the team before the All-Star Break. “It’s a way for me to give something back to the team after all these years”, says Reznor. “I called the new record ‘Year Zero’ because the AL Central hasn’t been this wide-open in a long time. This is it for Cleveland, it’s their year zero, it’s their time to step up. I want to contribute a small part of myself to the team. If it helps them find success, then maybe my soul can find some rest.”
By now it is late afternoon and the groundskeeping crew has given up for the day. They’re hoping to get the game in tomorrow, but nothing is certain. After quietly mumbling — to nobody in particular, it seems — about what Joe Charbonneau would do in our situation, Reznor heads down the right field line with a shovel and begins digging. I contemplate whether to follow him out there, but in the end I decide to leave him alone with his thoughts. At least for now, Trent Reznor appears to have found some rest for his soul right here on this empty baseball field.
Transcribed by Lt. Randazzo