10,000 Lies: 1,000,000

PHOTO: Nine Inch Nails Live @ Alcatraz - Milan, Italy, 4.1.07 on Flickr by Nine Inch Nails Official CC BY-NC-SA

“1,000,000” is a song that’s all about the callback, as far as I’m concerned. It begins with a nod to the pig imagery that featured so heavily on The Downward Spiral:

kind of hard

hard to see

when you crawl

on your hands and your knees

with your face

in the trough

wait your turn

while they finish you off

It continues with a potentially unconscious reference to the Aerosmith classic “Dream On” (consider “got these lines / on my face” vs. “all these lines on my face getting clearer”). It even seems to call back to the imagery of the “Down In It” video (“I jump from every rooftop”).

And I haven’t even gotten to all of the vaguer references to thematic elements of The Fragile yet—“That’s enough for you / but I still need more, more more” and “I don’t feel anything at all” being the most obvious to my ear.

But the line that is the most striking to me is the line in the chorus from which the song takes its name. “I feel a million miles away,” the narrator of “1,000,000” tells us. And me, even the first time I heard it, I couldn’t help but think, “Where have I heard that before?”

Here’s where:

If I could start again

a million miles away

I would keep myself

I would find a way

With it’s reference to the final verse of “Hurt,” the song “1,000,000” becomes yet another testament to wish fulfillment gone awry (a theme this week on Geek Force Five). The narrator of “1,000,000” has been given the chance that the narrator of “Hurt” was begging for. He has been given the chance to start again, “a million miles away.” He has been given the chance to “keep himself.” But he is quickly discovering the double-edged sword of wish fulfillment. Yes, he has been given a fresh start, and yes, he can keep himself. But, in order to do so, he has been forced to detach himself from everyone else. And that isn’t working out so well. He jumps from every rooftop, and though it is “so high, so far to fall” he ends up proclaiming that, thanks to his new start, he doesn’t “feel anything at all.”

The narrator of “Hurt” didn’t want to hurt anymore. But I don’t think he wanted to abandon feeling altogether. And it’s killing him that it’s an either/or choice. Yet again, he is dissatisfied with where he has ended up (“After all this time / and I still haven’t found my place”) and one can only hope that, eventually, he will find someone and/or someplace that makes him happy.