NIN Oeuvre Blog: That’s What I Get

Editor’s Note: This entry originally appeared on the blog Ten Thousand Lies on June 6, 2007.

The lyrics of “That’s What I Get,” from Pretty Hate Machine, are a melodramatic, masochistic man-boy’s dream come true. How many times did I blast this track in my dorm room at Bradford, after some unrequited crush had turned me down? How many times did I croon along with Mister Reznor as he sang the bridge?

Why’s it come as a surprise
to think that I was so naive?
Maybe didn’t mean that much.
But it meant everything to me.

How many times? Quite a few, my friends. Quite a few.

To say that “That’s What I Get” became my anthem during the first two and a half years of my college experience would be an understatement. Still, to this day, I feel as a certain pull to that very simple, very direct one-line chorus.

That’s what I get!

Since high school, since a friend dragged me to auditions for a school play that weren’t really auditions at all (everyone who tried out got a part) and thereby got me hooked on the idea of performance, I have never really listened to songs in the way that I think you’re supposed to. A lot of my fellow oeuvreblogging comrades get into lyrical and musical analysis in their posts, and you can tell that they’ve really listened to the songs they’re writing about. Me, because I like to sing along to nearly everything I hear, I’m always more concerned with, “How does this lyric apply to my own life, to my own experience?” And, “How can I craft a convincing performance out of this, even if it’s for an audience of one (myself)?”

When I became obsessed with “That’s What I Get” in college, the tune summed up the recent years of my life very well. I sang with images of my first “serious” relationship in my mind:

Just when everything was making sense,
you took away all my self-confidence.
Now all that I’ve been hearing must be true.
I guess I’m not the only boy for you.

How perfectly did that sum up my first romantic experience? Well, I felt as if I had penned those lyrics myself, to be honest with you. And that’s why the song meant so much to me.

The second verse was even better. It was like a page torn straight out of the paper journal I was keeping at the time.

How could you turn me into this?
After you just taught me how to kiss…you.
I told you I’d never say goodbye.
Now I’m slipping on the tears you made me cry.

She had not only taught me how to kiss her; she had taught me how to kiss, period. She was my first kiss, and I probably did tell her that I’d never say goodbye (that’s what melodramatic high school kids do, right?). And then, within a week or two of saying that, “Yes,” she would be my girlfriend, and that “Yes,” she would go to the prom with me, she was off with some other guy.

I am a pop bubblegum whore, like most of the music listening public. I like songs that I can identify with, and that I can sing along with in my car, whether I have the voice to sing them or not. And “That’s What I Get” fits the bill about as perfectly as any song ever has.