Pretty Hate Machine
By Daphne Carr
Published by Continuum Books
Review by David Chiu
At a time when hair metal and the pop music of George Michael, Fine Young Cannibals and others were the rage, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, which was first released in 1989, filled a musical and personal void, especially for young white men growing up in the Midwest. That album’s honesty and unrelenting brutality mirrored the sometimes difficult lives of those young men who were either growing up in areas that were economically-depressed and/or living in rough personal situations. For them, Pretty Hate Machine was their voice of their frustrations, and in turn it provided them solace.
That is the tact that New York-based music writer Daphne Carr took in writing about Nine Inch Nails’ mastermind Trent Reznor’s early work for Continuum Books’ 33 1/3 series, which examines popular and acclaimed albums in pocket-sized paperback form. Her book is not so much an examination of the album per se in terms of aesthetics, the making of the album, or the individual songs themselves. In fact, it doesn’t even a feature an interview with Reznor, although it does offer a history of Reznor’s early years leading up to the record.
Rather, the book features the oral histories of several men from Mercer, Penn. and Cleveland (where Reznor was born and developed his craft respective) as well as Youngstown, Ohio, where Carr hails from. These are Nine Inch Nails fans that Carr met on the band’s message boards and through flyers and other people. Their stories are very compelling and poignant—some speak of their difficult family situations and relationships and a sense of feeling out of place. They also explain about how Pretty Hate Machine and certain songs from the record connect with them on a personal level as well as their fandom for Nine Inch Nails and Reznor.
Carr also augments the interviews with meticulously researched background about the towns mentioned in the book—the common thread being that these working-class areas have been greatly impacted and devastated by the economy, especially with the closing of the mills. It may not be the type of information one would expect in a book about an industrial rock album, but it offers important context. The sad thing is that while those conditions happened over thirty years ago, they haven’t changed much throughout parts of America in 2011.
And that’s probably why Carr’s work is so interesting and fascinating. Sure it talks about Reznor’s musicianship and those pre- and early- Nine Inch Nails years, but the book isn’t bogged down by interviews with Reznor or associates—one can find that information in other books or on online. It’s not often that one gets to hear honest and stark personal stories often Midwesterners and learn about where they’re from, one can understand how a work like that of Pretty Hate Machine of perhaps why these young people became fans of Nine Inch Nails and this record. And in turns, it makes one really appreciates Reznor’s debut.
Carr’s Web page about the book: http://www.funboring.com/phm/
The Local: http://fort-greene.thelocal.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/greenlight-readling-a-talk-about-books-about-music/
One thought on “Book Review: Pretty Hate Machine by Daphne Carr”
An album as important as Pretty Hate Machine deserves far more than the typical music review. I applaud Ms. Carr’s creativity and insight in examining this historic work from a socio-economic perspective.