20 years ago tonight, at midnight, between March 7th and 8th, I can tell you exactly where I was. I was at the Zia Record Exchange (Speedway location) in Tucson, AZ, picking up copies of both Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral and Soundgarden's Superunknown.
This was before I did work for Invisible Records as a Field Rep, before I started writing for IndustrialNation, before I moved to Chicago and immersed myself in the industrial scene there, and was during the point where I had just started collecting CD's (to replace my cassettes and to supplement my record collection). The MP3 format was in development and approval stages, and Nine Inch Nails was about to fully capitalize on their ability to stand out from the crowd.
(Full disclosure: at this point in time, I had begun my descent into full on Nine Inch Nails madness, but had not yet seen them live, and was still mildly obsessed with the Broken/Fixed twins, I also may or may not have had a Soundgarden Jesus Christ Pose poster on my ceiling).
In the intervening twenty years, I have gone through several copies of The Downward Spiral (including Cassette, Vinyl and multiple copies of various versions of the CD), and I still have the copy of Superunknown which I purchased that night. This may tell you something of my listening habits over the last twenty years, or at least provide a hint toward the level of my fanaticism.
I assume that everyone has at least one album which they have spent several cumulative days listening to, which turned into some sort of formative experience. The Downward Spiral was one of those for me. From determining what the origin of the sounds and samples are, and memorizing everyone who was associated with the albums liner notes, I lived with this album.
Superunknown was sort of a last gasp of the musical tastes I focused on primarily before that. I had been going to a goth / industrial club for a while before this, but I knew the whole history of the early 90s Seattle scene leading up to this release, from Mudhoney, Green River and Mother Love Bone to the Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. But I had fallen hard for Broken. And I already had cut my industrial teeth on Skinny Puppy, the entire Ministry clan, and thanks to some friends, a love for Einsturzende Neubauten which has never let go.
A few months after TDS was released, Nine Inch Nails embarked on a warmup pretour and one of the dates was in Tucson. In an old movie theater where I had seen Ghostbusters when it first came out. I bought tickets and showed up 7 hours before the doors opened. No one else arrived for 4 hours other than staff. The show was amazing. It changed what I would expect from concerts. And set a high water mark that would take years to be met again. I saw NIN twice again on the other US legs of the Spiral tours. But seeing them front and center, in a small venue was an experience which was unrivaled. Until I did it again. Last year, in Las Vegas.
Hesitation Marks (NIN's most recent release, and a surprise release which brought them back from a break of years) is the spiritual successor to TDS, in emotion and approach and the artwork (Russell Mills) connects directly to TDS. And for myriad reasons, has become my favorite NIN release to date. And would make my desert island 5 without question.
In the intervening years I have seen NIN several times live, and have bought, literally every release that has come out since then. I haven't given up on Soundgarden, and I still love Chris, Kim, Ben and Matt (to the point where 20 years later I still know the words, and still remember who was in the band), but that night kind of defined a personal turning point for me and my musical tastes and the journey that it took me on. And it all started... 20 years ago. Tonight.