San Francisco, California

Ghosts V–VI

Not much to report today: San Francisco is intermittently speckled with rain and the tree outside my bedroom window sways from side to side whilst I pretend to do useful things with my keyboard. All is quiet here in the quarantine. But wait! Where on earth are my manners…I do have something to report: a compliment, a recommendation, an old love!

I’m rambling of course about Nine Inch Nails and the newly released Ghosts V–VI. I’ve been listening to it all endlessly on repeat and it’s a joyous thing; in equal measure dark and crooked, whilst gentle. Hopeful, even. But also the opposite of that—dark flashes of hatred are present, too.

(Writing about music is difficult, but reading about music is impossible, so I humbly apologize.)

When NiN published Ghosts I-IV for free in 2008, I found it to be the only music I could listen to whilst working and, after many nights listening to it exclusively, I suddenly worried that it would then be the only instrumental album they would ever make. But together, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross started work on film soundtracks at a rapid pace; The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl. Each of these movies were exponentially improved by their score and made each one captivating, thrilling, and haunting, too.

(I think my favorite movie-going experience of all time is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when I walked through the rain and the blistering cold of Reading in the UK. It was midnight, and it was a long hike alone from my dorm to the theatre. After the film, I walked back through the city in the dark and took an even longer way home with the soundtrack blaring in my headphones. Ahead of me, in the orange-glow of ambient streetlight, I remember two deaf women holding hands and skipping back to campus along cobbled streets; they were signing to each other all the way and their laughter was exponential and explosive. It was beautiful.)

Since then, Trent and Atticus scored Before the Flood (perfection), Patriots Day (very good), Bird Box (also very good), and three volumes of music for the Watchmen television show (dear lord it is wondrous). But it was their score for The Vietnam War (~yikes~) that broke me in half and made me cry along to every single dang episode.

Besides the music itself, the thing I love about Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (gosh, I’m still typing huh) is that they appear to treat music as work—they crank out score after score at such a blistering pace that it’s bewildering. And this is why I’m obsessed with NiN beyond measure I think; it’s their work ethic. They treat music as a gig, not as art.

And all this reminds me of this old post I wrote ages ago when I tried to remind myself that I shouldn’t treat books as art, but as work instead:

There’s this troubling belief when just starting out as a writer that your favorite texts aren’t just bits of paper strung together but are instead works of art; ethereal and everlasting. This is constantly reinforced in popular culture, at university and even by many of the authors themselves. There are Fine Ages of Literature. There are the Classics. There is the English Canon. There is the Great American Novel. There are times and places that are more important than other times and places.

But the more I learn about writing, both from friends that have published books and from distant yet-to-be colleagues in the writing game, is that it simply isn’t healthy to see books as works of art — made by a single artistic genius in complete isolation. This is because elevating them to the status of mythos makes the work of book writing even harder than it really is. It makes us less capable of picking up a pen, of making notes, of having the patience and confidence to start typing, clicking, designing and building our own books.

We can’t afford to see books as art if we want to make a contribution, whatever size that might be, to the world of bookmaking. Rather, we must see books as work instead.