Nine Nails and One Small Town


February 28, 2017 by Ray Yanek

When I was younger, I related very well to Trent Reznor and the music he wrote for  Nine Inch Nails.  I’m not entirely sure what that says about my state-of-mind back then… but regardless, I felt Reznor and I had much in common.

Back then, Reznor expressed emotions that I felt, but didn’t quite understand.  He exposed emotions that I felt but didn’t understand, emotions that, frankly, I was afraid or scared or too embarrassed to acknowledge.  Reznor roamed in the dark places, in places where we hide the things we want no one to see. I had holes that were all my own, but similar  to his.  You know what they say about suffering.I understood Reznor’s anger, his hurt, his depression, his anxiety, his doubts, his unfounded guilt and shame because I carried around all those things also.  

I haven’t thought much about Trent Reznor in the last decade, but yesterday I was struck by another one of those serendipitous events that seem so common lately.  I wrote a story once, a novel actually, about a person named Trent Van Acker.  Maybe it was him I was thinking about when I went to type in the web address for The Guardian because I ended up typing Trent instead.  When I realized what I was doing, I stopped, jarred by the oddity of it, but figured I would go with it.  I clicked on something just to see what he has been up too.

I ran across this quote from a Rolling Stone interview:


By Rob Sheridan (Nine Inch Nails flickr photo stream)

“I don’t know why I want to do these things, other than my desire to escape from Small Town, U.S.A., to dismiss the boundaries, to explore. It isn’t a bad place where I grew up, but there was nothing going on but the cornfields. My life experience came from watching movies, watching TV and reading books and looking at magazines. And when your culture comes from watching TV every day, you’re bombarded with images of things that seem cool, places that seem interesting, people who have jobs and careers and opportunities. None of that happened where I was. You’re almost taught to realize it’s not for you.[18]

I stopped the search, sat back, and felt that old connection to this dark, haunted, strange man come flooding back.

I too, was from Small Town, U.S.A.  Like Reznor, many of my early life experiences came from watching movies, watching TV, reading books and looking at magazines.  I knew there were wonderful things out there beyond the fields, things far more exciting and wonderful and I yearned to see them.  I burned with that desire.

When I got older, I traveled for awhile– went to Europe twice, to a few places in Canada, to many places here in the States, but I always ended up back in this small town, staring out the windows opened again by books and movies.

Sometimes, I think I was afraid to venture for too long from what I knew.  Other times, I think I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere else.  

I’ve doubted my future as a writer many times,  because of my inability to leave this small town for extended stretches of time.  I doubted that I had the worldly-experience necessary to write compelling and interesting fiction.

I still want to travel widely.  I still hope to one day ‘live’ in places rather than just visit, but this quote and discussion is helping me see this small town differently.

And I needed this clarity as I prepare to push my writing into the future.

I see now that stories haunt this small town.  Stories lurk in the abandoned factories; they hide in dilapidated barns.  Tales wait in the taverns and behind screen doors.  They linger down by the river and out in those fields.  They possess the people.

Bones of novels and short stories wait under the clods of dirt in the fields .  They wait for someone to turn that dirt over, to work the soil into a fine black powder through which their souls can escape and rise to the sun.

They’ve always been there, hibernating perhaps, sleeping, waiting for me to mature enough and to find the courage to seek them out.

And maybe, in an odd turn of events, it’s these stories that will lead me to the places and experiences I’ve sought.


3 thoughts on “Nine Nails and One Small Town

  1. I’ve doubted myself as a writer at times, wondering if I have enough perspective or experiences in the world or if I’ve “lived enough” — my life tends to be comfortably monotonous (when there aren’t tornadoes sending the newsroom into hyperdrive). But then again, I’ve never had much desire to wander too far for too long. When I stray too far from this plot of Illinois for extended periods, I get restless. My heart has roots running deep in the soil here.

    I hope you’re spot on when you say writing “will lead [you] to the places and experiences [you’ve] sought.”Hopefully through stories, we can take ourselves and readers to the places planes, cars, and trains can carry us … and further. I’m proud to share a small town with you!

  2. […] What’s even more inspiring is that they were taken here in our home town, that Small Town U.S.A  I wrote about last Tuesday. […]

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