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June 1, 2005

Filed under: music»artists»nin


On the infrequently updated "current" section of, Trent has posted the following:

Apparently it's a very good year for political speech in popular music. Who would have thought that George Bush could be so divisive? Obviously, I don't have any real problem with this on the surface of it--after all, I bought American Idiot in large part because of the political sentiments contained within, and I think it's probably the best music I heard in 2004. So it's perfectly fine with me if Reznor decides to use his soapbox--and it's not like he'd hidden his viewpoints before. His website has a link to MoveOn and Noam Chomsky, and I seem to remember an interview where he said that political apathy was unforgiveable.

No, what takes me by surprise is the idea that The Hand that Feeds has a political subtext. I've never been under the impression that Reznor writes well toward a story or a concrete idea--I like to talk about how each album has a theme, and you can sense larger narratives emerging from the songs as a group, but it's a rare NIN song that can be said to be about anything in particular. The only ones that come to my mind, honestly, are Starfuckers, Inc. and Big Man with a Gun.

So what are the lyrics for The Hand that Feeds? Does Trent Reznor Hate Freedom?

You're keeping in step
In the line
Got your chin held high and you feel just fine
Because you do
What you're told
But inside your heart it is black and it's hollow and it's cold

Right: so, Bush is a bad man, and possibly a puppet. But really, couldn't this be just about anyone? I think this describes a couple of co-workers, actually.

Just how deep do you believe?
Will you bite the hand that feeds?
Will you chew until it bleeds?
Can you get up off your knees?
Are you brave enough to see?
Do you want to change it?

You know, when I first heard this single on the radio, I wasn't terribly impressed with it because of this chorus. Resnor has a habit of abusing the rhyming dictionary when writing his lyrics. As I've said before, if you're listening to Nine Inch Nails for the wordsmithing, you're probably in the wrong place. He's gotten better, and it grows on you eventually, but this is still a little over-the-top.

Where was I? Oh, right. I have no idea how this is supposed to have a political meaning. It just barely has semantic meaning. Trent, buddy, for someone who used to hang out with Tori Amos, you really haven't picked up much about non-traditional lyrics over the years.

What if this whole crusade's
A charade
And behind it all there's a price to be paid
For the blood
On which we dine
Justified in the name of the holy and the divine

So naive
I keep holding on to what I want to believe
I can see
But I keep holding on and on and on and on

Well, that's a little bit more direct. A crusade, justified in the holy and the divine, and a heavy price to be paid. Sound familiar? I probably would have figured that out for myself if this weren't coming from an artist with a history of blasphemy and ambiguity. As it is, you'll have to excuse my failure to leap to the obvious conclusion, especially considering the vague nature of the rest of the song.

So decide for yourself. Personally, I would have never really made the connection on my own. Congratulations to Trent, who will probably get a lot of mileage and publicity out of his principles. Always a nice combination.

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