NIN Oeuvre Blog: Leaving Hope

A 2005 Q&A with Rolling Stone establishes that Trent Reznor got off of drugs and alcohol in late 2001, just as the live album And All That Could Have Been and its companion disc, Still, were about to be released. AATCHB and Still are therefore our best windows into the world of Mr. Reznor as he transitions out of the chaotic milieu of the 1990s and into the creatively ripe era of the new millennium. And it’s my contention that the final song on Still, “Leaving Hope,” is a perfectly positioned bridge from one era to the next.

It was in the hopeful yet haunting soundscapes of “Leaving Hope” that I took refuge from the world of musical shit that the rest of humanity was wading through in the years between Nine Inch Nails releases. From January 2002, when Still first entered my consciousness, to April 2005, when With Teeth arrived, songs like “Leaving Hope” were what gave me, well, hope.

I think I always knew that the return of Nine Inch Nails would be more headbang-worthy than daydream-appropriate, but even the arrival of With Teeth and Year Zero, with their relative dearth of instrumentals, didn’t diminish my hope for another group of songs that, like Still, would encourage stillness in the maelstrom of my turbulent brain. “Leaving Hope” was like a final exam written for a course that had begun with assignments like “A Warm Place,” and it proved, to me at least, that the man behind this music was never going to abandon a musical form that he had worked so hard to get good at.

“Leaving Hope,” in my opinion, predicted the arrival of Ghosts I-IV, half a decade before its arrival. It is a remarkably narrative song, for an instrumental. Perhaps it is because I will always tie the music of Still to the videos that were released to the Internet to accompany it, but I can’t help but listen to “Leaving Hope” and see Trent sitting at a piano in New Orleans, candles flickering, curtains quivering in the breeze. When I listen to “Leaving Hope,” I hear the gentle sound of rain falling just outside the window, even though it isn’t there, and I hear a thunderclap at the end, like punctuation, telling me to move on. I feel suddenly at one with a man who seems to be making a decision, who seems to be finally making up his mind to stop hoping for better days and to start actively seeking them out.

That’s what “Leaving Hope” means to me. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but feel compelled to get off of my ass, once the stillness is over, and to try and step out from underneath the rain cloud I’ve been palling around with for so long.