THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Nine Inch Nails At The Forum

You get me closer to God


I saw them bust a bootlegger.


One of the problems with feeling safe is that you’re not. Unless, maybe, you never leave your house.


After swerving around a black Nissan with steam pouring from under its hood, I ascended the freeway ramp leading to Randy’s Donuts, Manchester Boulevard and ultimately the Forum, previously known as the Great Western Forum, and before that the Fabulous Forum.


Actually, it’s not so fabulous anymore. Kind of run down. Forty years old and soon to be hit by the wrecking ball, when the value of the land finally appreciates.


But back on the freeway off-ramp, I’m engulfed by bootleg t-shirt vendors. They start pounding on my car. I’ve locked it, but the sunroof is open. It’s not like I can go anywhere. If they want me, I’m theirs, I’m toast, I’m gridlocked in place, and I don’t think they take credit cards.


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

After the first wave passed, obviously not afraid of the decelerating cars, their economic futures not bright, I pondered the concept of merch. The new bands, the Disney Channel wonders, boast of their dollar per head figures. But a decade from now nobody will be wearing their Miley Cyrus t-shirt. It’s got months of usability, at best. Whereas a classic act’s t-shirt’s wearability all comes down to DURABILITY! Actually, the older the better. It shows you were there way back when, before the hoi polloi got the memo.


But I don’t think the hoi polloi ever did get the memo. Except for the viewers of the band’s bizarre videos during the nineties on MTV. Nine Inch Nails has existed outside the mainstream. I’d say that’s the act’s appeal, but Trent doesn’t work it. But he does refuse to pick up on the opportunities, that all those people boasting of stratospheric per head merch numbers say you MUST take!


Nine Inch Nails’ breakthrough moment came in ‘94. At the imitation Woodstock. Where Trent entranced the audience and pulled the largest audience of the festival. David Letterman wanted Nine Inch Nails on his show. He said so every night. Even BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN finally did Letterman. Dave was hip. He, himself, was one step removed from the establishment. He had attitude. But Trent wouldn’t only not appear, he wouldn’t respond. Because Nine Inch Nails is not fodder for the machine, it’s an artistic outlet for Trent and is only for those who truly care.


Which didn’t include this bootlegger on Manchester Boulevard, three blocks from the Forum. A black and white came racing around the crawling cars, two officers jumped out, threw his cache of t-shirts on the ground, spun the man around, handcuffed him and threw him in the back of the police car. You’d think he’d committed a crime against the state. And I’m against bootlegging. It’s bullshit. But I do wonder what all these purveyors do for work during the daytime. And is this the best deployment of police assets? Furthermore, the audience attending a Nine Inch Nails show KNOWS these are bootleg t-shirts. It’s not either/or. Actually, it’s cheap and evanescent along with $35 authorized. I saw people exiting the building with both.


The audience.


It wasn’t clean-scrubbed, but it wasn’t scary.


This wasn’t an audience there solely so it could tell its coworkers on Monday morning. You know how I know? NO ONE LEFT! The show was two hours and ten minutes, and EVERYBODY stayed until the encore was done. If you’ve ever been to ANY event in Los Angeles, you know this is a HUMONGOUS achievement. I can’t tell you how many people I know who left Dodger Stadium BEFORE Kirk Gibson hit his legendary home run, to beat the traffic.


They were mostly twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. Basically 25-35. If they weren’t so dedicated, you would be fearful Trent’s audience is aging out. But these people NEEDED to be there. Whether it be the two guys hanging by the soundboard in NIN jumpsuits. Or the girls in full goth regalia. Or the lumpy-bodied outsiders. These were not America’s insiders. Not its conventional winners. This wasn’t the TMZ/PerezHilton crowd. It wasn’t about flash, but what’s on the inside. This is the generation stealing your business, taking all your money with their computer excellence while you while away your hours getting plastic surgery and going to lunch.


The biggest celebrity I saw was Tony Hawk. Who stood and shimmied and mouthed EVERY WORD! Well, up until the very last number, when he disappeared, probably fearful of being mobbed.


And it was surprising how tall Tony was. And how entrancing Trent’s music is.


Can’t say that I’m a huge fan. It’s not something I put on when I get home. But after bullshitting with Rick Mueller, after standing in the back of the auditorium, taking it all in, I found myself moving forward. And as someone who’s been squished and has a healthy respect for GA crowds, you know this is not a course of action I take lightly.


It’s like you’ve been injected with a serum. That is testing your joints. Your head rolls from side to side. Your limbs pop and lock. You need to get ever closer.


And that’s what truly hooked me, about twenty minutes into the set, "Closer".


The drum drop-kicks. The bass pounds. The synth starts to pop. The wall of lights as large as the Grateful Dead’s sound system starts to gyrate and Trent leans into the mic and sings…


HELP ME
I broke apart my insides
HELP ME
I’ve got no soul to sell
HELP ME
The only thing that works for me
Help me get away from myself


That’s what we’re looking for. HELP! To make sense of this confusing world within which we live. The media says one thing, but we feel another. We want understanding and release. Trent delivers both.


I want to fuck you like an animal
I want to feel you from the insidev
I want to fuck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to God


You’d think something as inside, as powerful and almost violent as Nine Inch Nails, would be a guy thing. But the ratio was at least 50/50. You should have seen the women WRITHING! As if possessed by a spirit. Each and every one was in a trance. Popping and locking, swiveling almost involuntarily.


I kept needing to get closer. There were no video screens. No giant images of the band so those in the upper deck could get a glimpse of the singer’s face.


But, suddenly, they did lower a hi-def screen. And the band installed itself in front of it. And as it played, stripped down, flame-like bubbles encased them on the screen. You almost weren’t sure whether they were BEHIND the screen. The images MERGED!


I needed to get closer.


Then they were behind the screen. And there was this amazing rain effect. Then, after that, with Trent playing almost solo, there was this weird computer-generated effect, like you were on a foreign planet where the topography had power and you might never make it back.


Actually, this was the only point at which Trent’s visage was blown up. But it was almost indecipherable.


This wasn’t throwing money at the stage. This wasn’t superstar production. This was performance art. This wasn’t some tech guy saying what was available, what he could sell the band, but a creation, an INSPIRATION, straight from the artist.


It’s twelve hours later, and I’m still not right. My life’s been changed. By a guy who refuses to play by everybody else’s rules. Who’s pushing the envelope instead of trying to close it. This is not something you see only once. This is an act you’re devoted to, you have to go to each and every show, to see what Trent comes up with next.


He didn’t speak until just before the encore. The show was the thing. The only political commentary was an image of Bush morphing into McCain. Same as it ever was.


And that’s why the music business is so fucked up. Because, just like in that famous Talking Heads song, it’s the same as it ever was. But if you think you’ve seen it all, if you think no one is testing limits, that everybody’s a sold out whore, check out Nine Inch Nails live. Or maybe you shouldn’t. It’s not for the faint of heart, the casual user. You’ve got to be in touch with your needs, your desires, you’ve got to be open to letting go, you’ve got to keep your mind open and go with the flow. To a place heretofore unknown that will open an unmapped sector of your brain.

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