There’s certain landmarks that a father has with his children. Maybe that first game you take in at the ballpark together, or when your kid finds they love casting lines on the lake with their pops. Or, maybe the first time you show them how to change the oil in the car. The point is, if you’re lucky enough you find that “thing” that brings you and your child closer.
Me? I can’t stand sports, fishing, and am clueless when it comes to the mechanics of a motor vehicle. My thing, even from the age of five years old, has been music. Spinning my parents copies of Dressed To Kill and Destroyer on a red, white, and blue-striped Fisher Price record player on my bedroom floor; to epic Star Wars and GI Joe battles soundtracked to Twisted Sister and Van Halen, music has been my main source of artistic nourishment since I can remember. Movies and books are a close second, but music beats em both by a rock n roll mile.
So when my all of my kids turned out to NOT like sports, and instead gravitate towards the arts I was ecstatic to say the least. Now, had that t-ball game back in 2005 turned out to be a game changer for my oldest, well I guess I would’ve read up on all that. Thankfully, she was as bored and disinterested as I was.
At a certain age my son and I began the rock and roll journey together. I mean, we bonded over Marvel, DC, and horror movies first. But he always perked up when I played music in the house. First it was my soundtrack collection. At 9 or 10 years old he’d play Cliff Martinez’ ‘Drive’ S/T over and over whilst pitting Iron Man against whoever in the living room. Movie scores were really his first jump into music love, and I feel pretty great about that. Giallo, horror, superhero, noir, and even some documentary scores were ones he loved, even prompting him to make a “Soundtracks and Stuff” playlist on Amazon Music that was just literally the entirety of several soundtracks.
But around middle school I got him into bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails. Basically the bands I was listening to in high school and those first couple years out of school. He also got into Tame Impala, Boards of Canada, and also classic thrash bands.
Yes, pretty much everything I listen to.
He was my weekend horror movie pal, fellow graphic novel aficionado, and would be excited to help out when I started making actual cassette mix tapes once I acquired a nice and classic Technic dual cassette deck. We loved tacos, making popcorn at midnight for our horror film viewing, and even making ice cream runs when the mood hit.
As he got older and started playing drums he was discovering his own music loves and sharing them with me. Last year I even bought us tickets to see one of his favorite bands Gojira at a venue not more than 45 minutes away. It was a crazy, mosh pit, stage diving, crowd surfing kind of metal show and it was amazing. Of course, we didn’t do any of that but we did have a hell of a time.
Of all those bands he loved at an earlier age, Nine Inch Nails is one he and I still both love. We’ve got the one-two punch of those classic albums like The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, and With Teeth that seem to never age, plus we have the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross scores that we love equally.
NIN had announced they were doing a very special limited run of shows(I believe it was 3 to be exact) back in late 2021 or early 2022. One of those shows was near the band’s hometown of Cleveland, OH. The concert was taking place south of Cleveland in a place called Cuyahoga Falls at the Blossom Music Center. I was bound and determined to get us two tickets come hell or high water, and the day they went on sale to the public I, by the hair of my chinny chin chin, was able to get us two lawn tickets. It wasn’t what I wanted as I’d prefer seats, but this was going to be a take it or leave it situation as we’d be getting people from two or three states away coming to this one. So I stopped my pouting, sent my son a screenshot of the digital tickets, and was the coolest dad that day.
After months of waiting the big day came this past Saturday, September 24th. My wife procured us a hotel room about 20 minutes from Blossom Music Center and after a 4 1/2 hour drive we arrived around 2:30pm. Checked in, chilled in the room for a bit, then headed out to Tim’s Pizzaria in Cuyahoga Falls for some square cut pizza and wings. Place had good reviews, and pizza sounded good. When we went in it sort of felt like the Goodfellas S/T should be playing and DeNiro, Liotta, and Pesci should have been standing at the bar. Besides that, the food was good and the waitress was super nice.
We ate and got on the road for Blossom Music Center, which was only like 15 minutes away. We soon realized we were in a line of cars that were all heading the same direction. We all turned into the entrance and began a long trek which ended up in a vast open field with no amphitheater in site. We were in the back forty, for sure. So we started walking, and walking, and walking which felt like half a mile before we got to the gate. It was real. Things were in motion. Trent Reznor was somewhere on premises. Maybe.
Blossom Music Center is a pretty nice amphitheater. Feels completely out in the middle of nowhere. It feels secluded, which is what you want in an outdoor music venue. It reminded me of Pine Knob up near Detroit. My wife and I saw Lilith Fair there back in 1999. Great place, lots of trees, and you don’t feel the weight of Detroit anywhere. Blossom was similar.
We made our way into the field grounds and I was impressed with the theater itself. Seemed there were good spots everywhere. My son wanted to go down as close as we could, so we ended up at the barrier that separated the lawn from the pavilion. It was something to lean on at least. This would be our perch the rest of the night.
Nitzer Ebb opened the show at 7pm. I wasn’t really familiar with Nitzer Eb. I know they were a German electronic band from the 80s, and I always thought they were an industrial band. But the set they played felt more like club music, which was fine. We enjoyed their set; it was kind of militant, lots of energy, and a nice warm up to what came next.
I only listened to a bit of Ministry in high school, but what I’d heard was pretty intense and Al Jourgensen was legendary(I have grown to love their Depeche Mode-heavy “Everyday Is Halloween”). Ministry hit the stage in a cloud of smoke machine haze and had put up chain link fence around the stage as to add to the aesthetic. They were absolutely killer. It was probably 45 minutes of adrenaline, anger, and a big middle finger to the world at large. They played all their big songs, and closed the set with “Just One Fix”. They also covered Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” and dedicated it to Trent Reznor. My son was blown away. He told me so, but I couldn’t hear him because after their set my hearing was shot.
Something about the crowd, it was huge.
I’ve been to music festivals and big, major concert events before but this was a whole other level. By the time NIN was getting ready to hit the stage there wasn’t an inch of grass that wasn’t covered with butts and feet. It looked like Woodstock, but instead of hippies it was Goths. There were young Goths, old Goths, Goths that looked more like Juggalos, large Goths, small Goths, and there were even Goths in wheelchairs and on oxygen. I was pretty astounded at the age range there. Going in I told my son I imagined it to be a lot guys that looked like me(middle-aged, pudgy, and with little hair), as well as grey-haired Gen-Xers living out their 90s angst-y fantasies. Turns out I was right, as we passed quite a few pudgy middle-aged dudes tailgating outside the pavilion with boom boxes blasting “Head Like A Hole” and reminiscing about Lollapalooza ’92, or dropping acid before going to see The Crow.
But more so, it was just people wanting to forget the outside world for a few hours. Listen to some amazing music, maybe get a little buzzed, and let the music take them for a ride. It was also the weekday professionals, 9 to 5ers, and cool moms and dads that wanted to share the magic of Trent Reznor with their own growing kids.
Kind of like me.
9:15 hit and the lights went down. Smoke machines engaged(though telling the difference between the smoke machines and the weed clouds was pointless), NIN hit the stage and proceeded to blow all of our minds. They launched right into “Somewhat Damaged”, and followed it up with “March Of The Pigs”. It was a one-two punch of aggression, angst, and chaos that set the tone for the night. There were no new tunes. It was a total industrial nostalgia trip and my son and I were down for it.
A little over an hour into the set the current live line-up were joined on stage by the ghosts of NIN past in the form of Chris Vrenna, Danny Lohner, Charlie Clouser, and Richard Patrick(of Filter fame.) They charged right into Pretty Hate Machine tracks “Eraser”, “Gave Up”, “Wish”, and even played “Hey Man Nice Shot”. It was epic, and my son and I stood slack jawed and guffawed at the glorious spectacle that stood before us. They closed the show out with “Head Like A Hole”. Our legs were rubber, our ears were ringing, but our heads and hearts were full(even if our souls are indeed black.)
It took over an hour just to get out of the pavilion grounds(we were lucky to find the car as quickly as we did, though.) By the time we were on the freeway back to the hotel it was close to 1:30am. Despite exhaustion setting in, the boy and I talked all the way home about the songs that were played, the crazies we encountered, and of course that guest line-up at the end. It was a pretty amazing evening. No, it WAS amazing. In my top five of favorite concerts, easily. Right up there with Wilco in a tiny club in Columbus a week before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot dropped. Or Spoon shimmying like total cool cats on the Vic Theater stage in 2008. Maybe even as good as Sesame Street Live back in 1983. Maybe.
As we drove home the next day I finally came down from the night before. A cloud of quiet reflection descended on my head as the miles passed and my son sat next to me texting his girlfriend almost the entire 4 hour drive home. It occurred to me, listening to NINs masterpiece The Fragile on the Accord’s sound system that these moments are fleeting. I was never as close to my dad when I was my son’s age as what my son and I are. I loved my dad, and I got along great with him, but we never did stuff like go to concerts together. We never binged horror movies on the weekends and popped popcorn at midnight while everyone else was asleep. We didn’t have weekly trips to the comic book shop to grab trades of Marvel, DC, and Image. It just wasn’t like that for us back then.
I see these moments are fading for my son and I. He’s busy with school, band, friends, and now a girlfriend. Funnily enough these were all the things I worried he’d never get around to five or six years ago when he’d never have any friends over, or go to any friends houses for sleepovers. You know, like I did when I was 12 years old. He seemed content to just hang out with his old man and watch Darkman and spin horror movie soundtracks on the turntable. And go get ice cream at 9:30 pm. I was happy about that, but I was also sad that he was missing out on all that friend fun. Well, he’s finally come around. Full-on dude; drummer in both our basement and the drumline, a list of friends he sees often, and then there’s the newest development: the girlfriend. He’s got everything I hoped he’d find, and yet now I’m sad.
Not for him, but for me. Those quiet evenings home are dwindling and I’m left trying to figure out how to fill the void. And will we ever have that kind of relationship again? Our dog is pretty old, so I can’t count on years more of companionship there. Do I get a monkey? I don’t know…
Don’t worry, reader, I’m not going nuts. This is yet another adjustment period in the whole parenting cycle. I am happy the boy is finding himself and finding he’s needed and wanted elsewhere. And he does keep bringing up different movies we need to watch. And with October just around the corner there’s horror movies waiting to be watched. Maybe not at midnight. But a Sunday afternoon. Thanksgiving break will be for lounging and chilling out. At least maybe a 3 or 4 hour block of it, anyways.
Who knows, maybe when he’s older and out of the house with a family of his own he’ll come over to get away and we can watch old movies then. My dad and I have our Saturday morning coffee ritual. Every Saturday he comes over and we have coffee and talk about whatever. I guess we’re making up for not doing much when I was younger. I like it. We just had to find that spot in our timelines when it all lined up. Apparently we just had to wait for him to retire.
Hopefully the boy and I will have that. Maybe we’ll share a cup of coffee and reminisce about horror movie nights, comic books, horror soundtracks, and that one time we saw that once in a lifetime NIN show.