Patrick C. Keaveny

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On Nine Inch Nails, Growing Up, and Muchness

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I remember when I first saw NIN in concert. I was 15, just discovering the world, just discovering myself, but mostly just discovering music. Music was my whole world back then. I suppose it has to be when you’re 15, unsure about who you are or what you’ll do in life. When you have the rest of your life and infinity in front of you, it becomes much easier to be sure that you really don’t like that one song, and that this song is actually much better.

When I was 15, I thought I was going to do so many great things. I thought I was going to be the next hugely influential musician, not because I was a particular expert at anything, but because I just wanted to do his own thing. Which I guess is still true now, since I’m much more keen to follow my own footsteps than the tracks laid out by someone else. But being at the Nails concert this evening, it made me realize just how much has changed between 13 years ago and now.

For one, I didn’t become that musician, I became some weird combo of writer and programmer. And I might never be a hugely influential person in any aspect, which I guess I’ve come to peace with. For another thing, I’m not nearly the same sad and angry kid I was 13 years ago. The kid who connected more with a song about hate and rage than he did with any of his peers. The kid who spent years “heartbroken” over a girl he met at camp. The kid who just felt like he couldn’t get it right.

And for another thing, I’m not nearly the same person anymore. I’m near family, have a good career ahead of me, quite a bit in savings, and am starting to pick options for my new house, a thing that I’ve been hearing is the surest sign of adulthood, of being a grown-up. And yet, lately I’ve been encumbered with a near-crippling fear of death. I’ve spent a lot of time being afraid to die and being afraid of not existing. Of being that thing that we become when our bodies are finally done. Of seeing infinity. And the only reason I can think for why that seems to haunt me day and night is because I am not the sad and angry kid that I was.

But after the Nails concert, looking back on how not unhappy I am compared to how I was when I first saw them all those years ago in another city and another life. And I guess things are bound to change. Suddenly one day you wake up and realize that that friends you used to have you don’t talk to anymore. You aren’t as close with your siblings or those you once considered dear to you. Your body has become another thing to maintain, as is your car, your house, and your job. Suddenly the life you thought would be full of so much things has become a life of so many things. Things you need to do, things you’re planning to do, and things you probably should do.

And when I think about all those good things I have in my life, instead of feeling enamored with all the things, I start to feel really fed up with all the things. I’m fed up with my phone, my job, and my kitchen. I’m fed up with having a gym membership and watering my plants. I’m fed up with seeing car dealerships and the car I drive. I’m fed up with spending my weeks aching for the weekend, and I’m fed up with having the only thing to look forward to in my life being the though of how pretty granite would look as a countertop.

I’m fed up with the things I maintain, because all the many things I have are devoid of muchness. The muchness that accompanies feeling sad or angry and listening to your favorite song about someone else who is just as sad and as angry as you are.

I’m fed up with my own happiness. Fed up with how okay I feel. Fed up with feeling taken care of and experiencing none of those unique, intense, and often painful emotions that seemed so important when I was 15 and listening to music that made me feel okay for not being able to get it right. I feel somehow numb to myself because I can’t relate to that music anymore. Can’t relate to the anger and sadness that I so desperately want to.

And yet, one thing I can say for sure: I am very suddenly not afraid to die.