Thursday, December 20, 2012

Song of the Day: Nine Inch Nails, "Big Man With a Gun"

Robert Bork, who passed away this week, once cited Nine Inch Nails' "Big Man With a Gun" as part of "Modern Liberalism and American Decline" in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

"The obscenity of thought and word is staggering, but also notable is the deliberate rejection of any attempt to artistic distinction or even mediocrity," wrote Bork, adding, "It is difficult to convey just how debased rap is."

I'd never thought of Nine Inch Nails as "rap" before, but Bork may have actually found what Trent Reznor was getting out. His spat-out rhymes and electronic beats are delivered in a rap-like performance, and Reznor even told Spin magazine that "Big Man With a Gun" was written as a skewer of violence and misogyny in hip-hop. What is that satire is doing on The Downward Spiral, a labyrinthian concept album from metal's Stanley Kubrick, is puzzling. Orchestrated loops, off-meter melodies, self-hating lyrics, Nietzsche quotes and one minute-and-a-half long swipe at self-aggrandizing gangbangers?

Reznor allegedly regrets putting "Big Man With a Gun" on The Downward Spiral, and it still sounds a little out of place, hundreds of listens later. But I'm glad that it's there, throwing a left-field rant into Spiral's density and meticulousness. As a boy reading the liner notes along with every lyric (and still unable to grasp what some of them meant,) "Big Man With a Gun" left a stronger first impression on me than any of the other tracks on The Downward Spiral. It is still the first piece of art that I think of when I whenever I hear anybody associating guns with their freedom or manhood. "Big Man With a Gun" may not be representative of the album, or of NIN over all, but it defines Ted Nugent more thoroughly than "Cat Scratch Fever."


jpbenney said...

I actually assume Robert Bork, being very illiterate with the music of the radical Bush Senior Era, simply did not know anything about industrial music and saw that what Reznor was saying is similar to many violent rap songs.

Ben Apatoff said...

I think that's right.

jpbenney said...

Ben, it’s probably fair to say that industrial music fans and musicians (especially the musicians) tend further to the left than any other genre.

I see some potential relationship in this (though I have not tested it and the notion is doubted by a study titled ‘The Do Re Mi’s of Everyday Life: The Structure and Personality Correlates of Music Preferences’) and at times one doubts why Bork could not see equally objectionable material in ‘Shoot to Thrill’ (Back in Black by AC/DC) or ‘Get in the Ring’ (Use Your Illusion II) or ‘No Remorse’ (Kill ‘Em All, originally titled Metal Up Your (expletive)).