When I was about seven years old, my step-sister moved in with my parents, my brother and I. The downer was that, after a few months of having the sweet freedom of my own bedroom, I was made to share my room with her for a little over a year. The upside to this was that, since my step-sister is about 7 years older than me, she was at that point a teenager, and my close living with her exposed me to music that I would have otherwise not known about for years.
Technically, I was probably not in the slightest bit old enough or mature enough for the themes in the videos I was exposed to at that age, but I’m glad that I was exposed to them so young—my unformed mind wasn’t judging things based on a lifetime of ideology. Instead, I was enjoying a completely different sonic aesthetic than I had been accustomed to, and engaging some interesting counter-culture. For example:
Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box is still one of my very favorite songs in the world. When I first saw the video, I didn’t find it particularly disturbing—no more so than other videos I was seeing at the time. The darkness of the lyrics, what I could understand of them, was what shook me. The Christ-imagery didn’t bother me, and in fact, the image that stays with me now is the blurred-out Kurt Cobain and the waiting-room ambiance of the final verse and chorus, with Cobain throwing himself around in the chair. Of course, being an adult now (or so they tell me), I’m more drawn into the lyrics than ever; while I wasn’t able to fully appreciate Kurt Cobain’s song-craft when I was seven, I can certainly stand in awe of his ability to build verses now.
Another video from around that time, Nine Inch Nails’ Closer. I was definitely not old enough to be exposed to a song with the lyric, “I wanna fuck you like an animal.” and the imagery did disturb me quite a bit. I was uncomfortable singing along with the song, even though it was stuck in my head quite often. The elements of the video that disturbed me as a child were, in retrospect kind of odd; I had just learned to develop an extreme aversion to roaches, so their inclusion in the video made me squirm on the inside, for example. The man behind the screen creeped me out, and the monkey tied to the cross made me uncomfortable not because of the Christian imagery, but because I worried for the poor monkey. But the thing that was most disquieting to me was the dark, brooding sexuality of Trent Reznor himself; at seven or eight years old, I had already learned something about where babies came from, and had even had my first childhood crushes. The concept of lust was not completely foreign to me, with my parents’ not-always-discreet lovemaking and other awkward and unpleasant experiences; but the image of Trent Reznor, talking about sex so explicitly, and his partial nudity in the video, gave me odd feelings I didn’t have the language to express. I was fascinated, curious, and oddly repelled. And Closer is still one of my favorite videos of all time.
Last, but certainly not least, Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun. I shouldn’t have to tell you why this wasn’t exactly age-appropriate for an 8-year-old girl. Or, for that matter, why it was so disturbing to me. Oddly, again, the most disturbing part was the spit-roasting of the Barbie doll—more disturbing to me than a lot of the other elements of the video. Granted, the distorted, edited rictus-smiles were pretty damned scary. The watery-sounding guitar line, of course, is the most disturbing auditory element, but with that kind of guitar, you almost expect crazy-looking smiles. I certainly did not expect the melting Barbie doll.
It probably says a lot for how I turned out that these videos were shown to me with no concern on my parents’ side when I was just a youngin’. Though, honestly, considering how much I love these songs, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.