Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nine Inch Nails on the way to church

I was several miles from home when I realized I didn’t have any CD’s in my car and the playlists on all the local stations were bland. Fumbling about in my glove compartment for some music, I pulled out a defective tire gauge, a moldy map of Tennessee roads, a wad of drive-thru napkins, and a flashlight of which I had little confidence in its illuminability.  Finally I found a few cassette tapes from years gone by.

It was a solar soaked early April Sunday, and I had decided to drive around to west Nashville’s expansive Percy Warner Park for some natural perspective before church. I was pleased that the first tape case I lifted out of the trough was a collection of Brahms classics by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.  As I was about to slip it into my rarely used dashboard cassette player, I realized it wasn’t the symphony I had expected, but rather a Memorex tape that had accidentally been placed in the Brahms case.  The handwritten title was so faded I couldn’t read it.  Curious, I decided to pop it in anyway to see what surprise would greet my ears.

I am the voice inside your head
And I control you
I am the lover in your bed
And I control you
I am the sex that you provide
And I control you
I am the hate you try to hide
And I control you

This was hardly the soothing string swells of Germanic romance era melodiousness that I thought would augment my peaceful devotion before communal worship.  Within about half a minute I realized it was a dub of The Downward Spiral, the epic 1994 exploration into depravity that comes from unfettered depression (or is it the other way around?) by Nine Inch Nails.

I take you where you want to go
I give you all you need to know
I drag you down I use you up
Mr. Self-destruct

(“Mr. Self Destruct” from The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

In many ways, it is one of the saddest exposes on mankind’s proclivity toward the dark side ever recorded.  It seemed incongruous with the sun-streamed spring foliage and dewy meadows I was passing between.

Help me, I broke apart my insides,
Help me, I’ve got no soul to sell
Help me, the only thing that works for me,
Help me get away from myself

(“Closer” from The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

The stark, brutally honest lyrics were matched with distorted, oft-chaotic music arrangements beneath the tortured wailing confessions of bandleader, Trent Reznor.

I'm stuck in this dream it's changing me
I am becoming the me that you know
He had some second thoughts
He's covered with scabs and he is broken and sore
The me that you know doesn't come around much
That part of me isn't here anymore 
It won't give up, it wants me dead
Goddamn this noise inside my head

(“The Becoming” from The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

After a few minutes, I ejected the tape, thinking it was not the proper accompaniment for my Sunday morning pastoral.  I drove in silence for a bit, but what I had heard reminded me of how often I don’t want to deal with the debauchery that lurks within, and would rather mask it with sunny platitudes and distractions.

Oh my beautiful liar
Oh my precious whore
My disease, my infection
I am so impure

(“Reptile” from The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

As I passed by a dead collie on the curb lying stiff in a pool of hardened blood, I was slapped back into reality from my happy Sabbath bliss.  I decided to slide the tape back in and turn it up even louder.

I'm losing ground
You know how this world can beat you down
I'm made of clay
I fear I'm the only one who thinks this way
I'm always falling down the same hill

I was weaving through the winding passes of that large, hilly park and was reminded of how I so often try to navigate in and around the darkness within me.  Twisting to evade contact with the brokenness is one of my favorite exercises. It has almost become routine from muscle memory and repetition.

You extend your hand to those who suffer
To those who know what it really feels like
To those who've had a taste
Like that means something
And oh so sick I am
And maybe I don't have a choice
And maybe that is all I have
And maybe this is a cry for help
I do not want this
I do not want this
I do not want this
I do not want this

(“I Do Not Want This” from The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

As I pulled into the parking lot of my church listening to the words of the closing song, “Hurt,” it dawned on me that this was the perfect soundtrack to prepare myself for this Easter Sunday:

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of shit
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

(“Hurt” from The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

In more ways than one, those nine inch nails were meant for me.  Instead continually driving them in to myself, Someone else took the brunt of their sharp pain in my stead.

“Jesus did not refuse the society of the guilty.  He came to save the lost; and no person ever came to him so sure of finding a friend as those who came conscious that they were deeply depraved and mourning on account of their crimes.”  --Albert Barnes

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”  --Corrie TenBoom

“The most powerful sermon in the world consists of two words: Me too.” --Anne Lamott

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