NIN Oeuvre Blog: Just Like You Imagined

Editor’s Note: This entry originally appeared on the blog Ten Thousand Lies on June 1, 2007, long before GHOSTS brought back the instrumentals in the big way that I’d been hoping for.

Having read about Trent Reznor’s background quite a bit over the years, I’ve always imagined that he was the kind of guy I would’ve wanted to hang out with in high school, but would’ve been too intimidated by to approach. He seems to have been, at least partially, the quintessential band geek. A piano player from an early age, and a member of the marching band in high school, he was the kind of talented kid I always dreamed of being, or of being around (figuring I could absorb some talent by osmosis to keep for myself). But it was that level of talent in someone that scared me away most of the time. “Why would he want to hang out with me?” I would think. “What do I have to offer?”

Anyway, all of this is my way of beginning to say that, if I had known Trent in high school, Nine Inch Nails is exactly what I would have expected him to do with his life. Maybe not something so dark, necessarily. But I would have expected him to go on to great things in his chosen field, because I have a tremendous amount of faith in the talented people I come into contact with. And hell, if he went to my high school, there’d certainly be a precedent for him going on to success. CHS alums have gone on to supervise background design for The Simpsons, to produce films based on novels by authors like Jonathan Lethem, and, of course, to write and release rock and roll records (there’s at least a couple of them: 1, 2). Nobody’s done anything quite so big as to write a song with the lyrics “I want to f*ck you like an animal” in it, and then to gain worldwide fame for that song, but I’m sure that’s only a matter of time.

The music I might’ve expected him to go on and write, given his piano background, his training in multiple instruments, and his interest in computer engineering (he did one year at Allegheny College, studying the subject) is best represented in the many instrumentals he’s produced. And among those, one of the most memorable is the song, “Just Like You Imagined.”

After initially hearing this song as part of the massive musical experience that was The Fragile, I have only recently come to love it as an individual song, thanks, in no small part, to its prominent use in the trailers for the recent film 300. It builds from a repetitive piano and guitar line into an honest-to-goodness wall of sound without ever losing it’s sense of purpose. I marvel at this because, as someone who’s tried to write a few songs of his own in the past, I’ve always struggled with the idea of building to a chaotic conclusion while remaining interesting, while keeping the sense of song intact.

And watch Trent explain how to play the song correctly in this rehearsal clip found on YouTube. I love watching him break down a song (I love the idea of anyone explaining so directly, yet so democratically, what each individual person’s part in a song is, probably because I felt so lost during my days playing in bands).

“Just Like You Imagined” is the kind of song that Trent isn’t yet writing again, now that he’s sober. It’s a song that only could have survived the birthing process back in the Fragileera, where his sense of aimlessness (I’m guessing that he felt aimless here, based on the descriptions of alcoholism and drug abuse we’ve heard him give since getting off the sauce) seemed to make him more open to creating seemingly tangential pieces, and figuring out where they fit later. Nowadays, I think a song like “Just Like You Imagined”, a perfectly wonderful instrumental, albeit a short one, would get incorporated into a song with lyrics, maybe a song that was just missing that one last thing.

Trent’s laser-like focus in recent years has brought us albums like Year Zero, his best since The Downward Spiral, and it’s the result of finally getting clean, so I won’t complain too much. But I do miss the instrumentals, and I hope they come back some day in a big way.