Endless Loop: A Warm Place

ninHave you ever had one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for days…weeks…years? Sure you have. These are the songs that always make the cut. The songs on repeat. We all have them. I have a ton. Welcome back to Endless Loop.

“A Warm Place” by Nine Inch Nails

We’re almost two weeks removed from the school shootings in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and many more injured.  And while the wound is still new, still fresh, and still deep, something feels different this time around.

There’s a seachange coming.

Originally when I decided that I was going to write about “A Warm Place” from Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 album The Downward Spiral for this column, I thought my focus would be on teenage depression and suicidal thoughts, that veritable stew of adolescent emotion and hormones once bringing me to the edge of the cliff myself when I was 15.  I thought I would write about that instrumental, cold and haunting to me in my bedroom anguish, alone in the dark with my thoughts and sounds.  And then I thought maybe I would write about how important music was to me at the time, Trent Reznor’s body of work in particular, and how maybe it, along with an amazing group of people I will be eternally grateful to have as my friends, saved my life, and that whole song and dance.

But then I started watching these kids, these survivors and heroes on television, and I began reading their thoughts and tweets, witnessing their bravery, and my whole inner outline just started to feel a little too self-absorbed, a little too vain or conceited.  It all felt too mopey and dire, and that’s not where I want my heart to be.  It needs to be stronger these days.

Like those kids.

When I was in high school, we weren’t concerned with the possibility that we could all be murdered in our classrooms.  Columbine was still a couple of years away and we had (some) good gun laws on the books.  And so we were all just stuck up our own assholes the way teenagers are supposed to be.  Self-centered narcissists.  Me, me, me.  There was hardly ever a bigger picture.

Things began to change.  Things began to fall apart.  There was indeed a bigger picture, and it was terrifying and real.  And then over the last two decades as we saw more and more people being gunned down in schools, universities, churches, movie theaters, nightclubs, and concerts, the bodies of children stacking up like so many statistics, our government officials tepid and inactive again and again, condescending and greedy, the same infuriating script playing out over and over again like the worst drama ever penned, a certain degree of fatalism kicked in.  It felt like defeat.

I used to say that the gun debate ended in 2012 after Sandy Hook.  That was when our elected representatives looked at the bodies of 20 slaughtered 6-year-olds and said okay.  That was when I gave up.

But now I see these Florida kids demanding action and refusing to yield.  They’re amassing followers looking for the same kinds of change.  They’re dragging senators and congressmen on live TV.  They’re calling out hypocrites.  They’re not in shock anymore, they’re angry.  And we should be too.  No more fatalism.  No more defeatism.  No more shock.  We all need to be fucking pissed off.  We all need to be like these awesome kids in Florida.  They give me hope for my boys in a time when hope is invaluable.

They are my heroes.

So now, I’m listening to “A Warm Place” in a new context.  I’m trying to hear it through hopeful ears instead of despair, and it’s not the dark and somber song I remember.  It’s warmer now (no pun intended), still melancholy and reflective, but no longer steeped in desperation.  It’s a sliver of lights penetrating through the darkness.  At 15, it felt like the bottom of the abyss, and now at 38 it feels like climbing back out on the other side.  No more fatalism.  That’s the way I’m going to hear it from here on out (or maybe sometimes as the unintentional rip-off of David Bowie’s “Crystal Japan”*).

Stay angry.  Stay focused.  You will not be defeated.


*It’s okay.  Bowie was cool about it.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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