Tag Archives: music

A million miles away

It seems to be a new feature, borne of these viral times, that I find a song to listen to—and I listen to it and I listen to it and I listen to it and I listen to it and I listen to it.

For the most part, this behavior is benign. It's just a song that I remember from the 90s. It's just a song that I remember from the radio that was released before I was. I mean—it's just a song, and there's no slippery slope into the abyss.

It's not always the case, though, right? All music is sound. Some of that sound digs into some emotion. Some of those emotions are connected to a root nerve that convulses when it's touched. It can't be helped.


I don't remember how this got started, but I've been listening to Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt"—and watching it, too. If you listen to it, you'll hurt enough. If you watch it, you'll hurt all the way.

For me, "Hurt" was a minor song on The Downward Spiral. The disturbance in the right channel was a distraction, the last two or so minutes of noise was an indulgence. Besides, the album has "Closer" and "March of the Pigs", and, frankly, you could hit the square stop button before it got to "Hurt" with nothing lost. When you're younger, at least, before the scars feel more like persistent aches than proud markers of having lived a life.

I don't know what heroin addiction is like. I don't know what Trent Reznor's problems were like. There are enough interviews out there, if you search for them, that answer enough of the questions that you might have, if you have them. I don't have any. I don't want to know. Let him have his problems. Let me have mine. I don't think of those problems specifically when I hear these songs, but the weight is there, and the muscles in my body tense as though even they know it's time to jump for something higher, to reach for something else—for Something Else.

Are there any other original/cover duos that manage to exist together with such effect as the Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash versions of "Hurt"? Maybe—there's probably some Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen masterwork out there that I'm forgetting. But, damn—the regret that drips off of these two versions of "Hurt"... There's Trent Reznor's apologetic offering on one side, Johnny Cash's broken nostalgia on the other.


I'm trying to think of another song that gets me as close to tears as Johnny Cash's "Hurt". I had one earlier but it's escaping me now. I keep listening to Cash's version, knowing that he's only got a few months left in the world after the video, and it throws a bucket of cold water over every other thought. I don't think a man could write a final chapter of his life like that if he wanted to—it just has to happen, and be like that.

What have I become / My sweetest friend? / Everyone I know / Goes away in the end / You can have it all / My empire of dirt / I will let you down / I will make you hurt

You know... some dust in my eye... just a second...

I don't know what heroin addiction is like. And I'm not interested, really. I don't need any encouragement to stay away, but Trent Reznor's "Hurt" is enough of a straightarm to stay away—the song drips regret for having fallen into that hole, for having gone that direction, for having been that person. That song really does hurt. And, listening to it 25 years later, the persistent scratchy noise in the background seems less like a kitschy feature and more like an honest reporting of what it's like to live with that flavor of regret—and when that distorted guitar rips in after...

If I could start again / A million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way

...you can hold both the regret and the possibility of redemption in your hands—even if the mass of the regret hand far outweighs the redemption hand.

But when Johnny Cash sings it, and the video zooms in when he closes the fallboard at the end... that's it.

2020... If we're going to have to live in isolation while the virus does what it does, I don't know if I can keep listening to songs like this. It's a weight to lug around. But these songs keep rising out of the background to find me. And once they find me they follow me around until another song finds me, then they compete among themselves for the privilege of following me around. The upshot of this is that I get to become more familiar and acquainted with a few songs while we walk together about the house—upstairs and downstairs and sitting and standing and so on. But why, in this neverending day, can't it be something light and sparkling. Let us all deal with our addictions and darkness later when there are more options to deal with them—who can we even offer our empire of dirt to at this point?

Finite Element on WEFT Sessions, 1 Dec 2003

In 2003, my band during grad school, Finite Element, played live on 90.1 FM WEFT, Champaign, IL. It was a three-piece band consisting of Sunil Chopra, Kevin Welch, and I. I'll use the phrase "my band" loosely here -- Sunil wrote all of the music, Kevin had some musical talent, and I was... the guy who would talk on the microphone in between songs, and that was only because I wouldn't shut up.

I had some kind of grandiose plan to post all of the songs from that concert one-by-one, describing each of the stories behind the songs. You can see the detritus from that if you follow the tag WEFT Sessions 1 December. Don't follow it; I'm not sure what I was thinking. I didn't write the songs -- Sunil did -- so I'm not qualified to explain much. Dumb idea. So, I've uploaded the remainder of the songs, and I'll let this post serve as the gateway for the whole concert, which is what I should have done from the beginning.

So, if you -- yes, you! -- would like to download our music, here's the whole album. It's not a torrent or anything useful like that; I've just posted them to my wiki and you'll have to save them to your computer. I'd feel bad for you, but I'm posting them mainly for archival purposes and your enjoyment is secondary. If you really, really want to know more about any of the songs, please post a comment and I'll track down Sunil or Kevin to talk about it. They're more interesting than me anyway.

Finite Element: Live at WEFT, December 1, 2003

Download the mp3's from this event:

  1. Turning Into Energy
  2. The Patterns of Her Eyes
  3. Under the Steps
  4. Don't Believe It
  5. Pull the Knife
  6. Behind Your Eyes
  7. You Could Be Mine
  8. Stay Awake
  9. Feedback
  10. I Know Everything
  11. The Beauty of Lies
  12. I Don't Want to Know
  13. Forget About the Sun

You may ask yourself: "What is on the cover of that album?"

It's Quaoar, kids, a trans-Neptunian object. Nerdy, yes, but cut me some slack. I'm an aerospace engineer -- and cut Kevin and Sunil some slack: this wasn't an album we released, and the image is something of my own doing, they didn't have any say in the matter. Then again, our band was named Finite Element, an eye-rolling experience for those that knew what it meant, an "is that the movie with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich?" experience for those that didn't know.