For her first book as an author, Daphne Carr chose a topic that had made an impression in her life: Nine Inch Nails.
As a high school student in Boardman, she was part of the rock band’s legion.
Now a New York-based music writer-editor, she has penned “Pretty Hate Machine,” which looks at the conditions that created NIN and its electrifying frontman, Trent Reznor, as well as the fans who latched on to him.
The book takes its name from the title of NIN’s seminal 1989 debut album. It was published in March as part of the 331/3 Series of collectible rock ’n’ roll books. Carr is also the editor of the “Best Music Writing” series, an annual anthology.
As a teenager, Carr not only embraced Reznor’s music but she also witnessed his rise from a ground-zero perspective.
Reznor, of course, grew up in Mercer, Pa., and began his rock career in Cleveland.
The 331/3 Series selected Carr over hundreds of applicants to write about NIN. It’s a book she was born to write.
As a music student, she appreciated Reznor’s arrangements. But more importantly, she was part of the tight-knit camp for whom NIN’s music resonated.
Carr also came of age in Reznor’s neck of the woods, a time and place that shaped NIN’s industrial sound, and its post-industrial attitude.
“Pretty Hate Machine” is not lightweight fan reading. Carr is a student (and teacher) of pop music, and her book is a scholarly yet efficient essay.
It points out how the band’s emergence was intertwined with Hot Topic, the then-new store that mass-produced the goth style and packaged it into a suburban mall chain.
It also includes several fascinating and insightful chapters in which NIN fans from Youngstown, Poland, Hubbard and Mercer, Pa., share — in their own words — what “Pretty Hate Machine” meant to them.
Although she was uniquely qualified to write “Pretty Hate Machine,” Carr knew the story was best told from a fan’s perspective. She wanted to tell the story of the “lived experience” of the record and the social conditions determining it. “People love Nine Inch Nails all over the world, but fans in the Rust Belt have a very specific emotional connection to it,” she said in a phone interview.
“PHM” and the magnetic Reznor exposed raw emotion and united a subculture of disaffected teens. Adults were taken aback by their clothing and attitude, and their classmates might have viewed them as outcasts.
Carr recalled the pull NIN and Reznor had on her when she was in Boardman High School.
“I was a classical-music nerd and played cello,” she said. “It wasn’t until bands like Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins and Alice in Chains that I really found myself loving pop music. I really loved Nine Inch Nails because its music was so sophisticated. The composition and textures were like classical, but instead of a symphony, [Reznor] used electronics.”
She also was drawn to the band’s aggression and shock factor.
Clad in combat boots and vintage clothing-store get-ups (“an awkward attempt to look like a cool goth kid”), she felt a new sense of belonging — even though she was a girl in a decidedly masculine fan base. “In the mosh pit, I was treated as an equal, jostled but respected,” she said.
The excitement of the weeks leading up to NIN concerts are another fond memory.
“I was in honors English class, and I rounded up the similarly weird to drive to Cleveland or Pittsburgh to see Nine Inch Nails,” she said. “It was super fun planning for it, like, ‘What are you gonna wear?’”
Carr has a master’s degree in musical anthropology from Columbia University and is working on a doctorate in ethnomusicology. Her dissertation will be on Slovak and Czech music after the fall of communism.
For more information, go to 33third.blogspot.com or prettyhatemachines.com.