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."