LOS ANGELES — On a sun-streaked Friday evening, on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Ogden Street, underneath a mural featuring a bleary-eyed Uncle Sam and a giant pig with the Washington monument and a revolver strapped to its back, roughly 60 black-clad people milled about on the sidewalk. It was a bizarre assembly of people who don't assemble for much — made even more bizarre by the fact that no one was really sure why they'd gathered there in the first place.
Here's what everyone did know: Last week, followers of the ever-expanding Alternate Reality Game surrounding Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero album received an e-mail from OpenSourceResistance.net, one of many Web sites established by Trent Reznor and company to help spread the story behind Zero (see "Weird Web Trail: Conspiracy Theory — Or Marketing For Nine Inch Nails LP?").
In the message, the organizer of OSR (a man named Neil Czerno, who claims to be a clandestine revolutionary battling the oppressive government that dominates the album's story line) advised members of a meeting taking place in Los Angeles on Friday. In typical YZ fashion, little else was divulged.
"If you're interested, show up near Melrose and Ogden at or a little after 7 p.m. on Friday evening. Wear something that shows you're one of us," the e-mail read. "Stand under the big pig and follow the revolver across the street to the marked van. Knock twice. When you've got the stuff, get out of there fast. Don't attract attention. Don't be followed."
And so on Friday evening, they showed up, wearing black NIN T-shirts and homemade resistance arm bands. There were even some families, moms and dads with kids in strollers ... all a little bit anxious, all waiting beneath the same mural, all waiting to see what would happen when the online ARG took the leap into the real world.
"Me and my friends were making jokes that we might get abducted and taken to some undisclosed location in the desert, or something like that. And we would have been OK with that," joked fan David Norstad, decked out in a black leather jacket with NIN stencils on the sleeves. "We just got an e-mail to show up by the mural and wait for the van, and I love this Tom Clancy kind of crap. I've never seen a more brilliant back story to an album. It goes to show that you can get your word out about the art without being too commercial about it, flashing too many billboards."
A few minutes after 7, a gun-metal gray van pulled up to the Smart & Final warehouse store across the street, threw it into park and waited. The throngs of fans dashed through the late-evening traffic on Melrose and queued up behind the vehicle. Soon, the back door of the van swung open, and out popped several muscle-y dudes, who quickly surveyed the situation and started handing out black metal cases, each stenciled with OSR's flag logo.
Inside the cases — or "resistance kits," as they were being dubbed — were 10 OSR fliers, 10 buttons, four stickers and one stencil, plus a host of materials (hat, bandanna and patch) emblazoned with the resistance logo, a sort of guerilla street team in a box.
But that wasn't all. One of the event organizers, who wouldn't reveal his name, told MTV News that three of the cases also contained cell phones, which the folks behind OSR would be calling "at an undisclosed time" with instructions for a future gathering.
Nine Inch Nails' label, Interscope Records, had no comment on the gathering, or what was next for the Year Zero ARG. And though it's not known if the OSR gathering will be replicated in other cities, attendees in Los Angeles hope that the movement — and the message — behind the album reaches their resistance brethren across the world.
"If there's some art-resistance movement happening in L.A., I'm down for it. I think it's about taking art and making a political statement with it. Because there's not a lot of that going on these days," NIN fan Natalie Potell said. "So maybe it's making people open their eyes a bit. It's an album, but it's more than an album. It's got its own little movement behind it."
Year Zero hits stores Tuesday (see "Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero Preview: Beginning To Solve The Mystery").