The Art of Darkness
By Chris Heath
"I want to fuck you like an animal." That's what they shout
at Trent Reznor these days. Last year he released The Downward Spiral,
an album about one man's descent into suicidal depressions, about letting go of
everything. One of the songs, "Closer," was about sex. Those words that they
holler at him - out of imitation and, sometimes, invitation weren't really ones
of lust but of self-hatred. "It's supernegative and superhateful," he explains.
"It's 'I am a piece of shit and I am declaring that and if you think you want
me, here I am.'" And now it's a modern nasty-as-nice catchphrase. "I didn't
think it would become a frat-party anthem or a titty-dancer anthem," Trent
Reznor snorts, and it's hard to tell whether his principal emotion is pride or
embarrassment or despair. Oh well. "I think my next album is going to be called
Music for Titty Bars."
If the growing celebrity of Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails
is centered around "Closer," The Downward Spiral and the inspired
collage soundtrack for Natural Born Killers, Woodstock '94 clinched it.
Nine Inch Nails scared David Letterman and came to represent the event. It was
almost too perfect: a weekend fired by the soppy nostalgia of our parents were,
recaptured by the messy, self-obsessed reality of who we are. As with so many
things, Trent is concerned that people shouldn't think the band's mud-covered
appearance was a deliberate ploy. Backstage they were clowning about and
pushing each other and soon they realized they'd reached the point of no return
so they plastered the mud all over themselves. Onstage it wasn't so easy; the
mud was exacting its revenge. Grit and sweat got in his eyes and it became
harder and harder to play the guitar. Afterward Trent took a shower then went
into the tour bus and started crying. Not elation and not sadness. Just a
release of tension.
Michael Trent Reznor's parents both grew up in the same
small Pennsylvania town, Mercer, where he would spend his childhood. They got
married when they were still teenagers because they had to. His father was
named Michael, so they always called their son Trent.
Michael Sr. was a commercial artist; his wife was a
homemaker. But they were too young for all this. When Trent was five, after his
sister Tera was born, his father had a talk with him.
"When are you coming back?"
"I'm not coming back."
Trent just didn't understand what that meant. All he could
think about was their Sunday trips down to the drugstore where they'd sit at
the soda fountain. A cherry Coke for Trent, a chocolate Coke for Dad. What
Afterward, though his parents were nearby, he lived with his
grandparents. Several times he tells me how much he loves them: "I don't want
to give the impression it was a miserable childhood."
Trent Reznor tells me this sitting in his Cleveland hotel
suite. Cleveland was the city he moved to when he struck out on his own, but
now it's just another stop toward the end of a yearlong tour. Some mellow rap
music plays in the background and some incense is burning in the bedroom next
door. He is dressed all in black and is wearing no shoes. Computers and
keyboards are set up around him: He is working on a cover version of an obscure
old Gary Numan song called "Metal." As we talk he puts his feet on a
switched-off keyboard in front of him and moves his socks up and down playing
chunky, atonal chords neither of us can hear.
This is called the Self-Destruct tour. On the road, Trent
Reznor tells me, he goes through phases: "Self-destruct mode, repair mode and
then enjoy-life mode. Followed by self-destruct mode." Just before Christmas he
felt himself nudging toward self-destruct mode then something pulled him
headlong into it. He and his golden retriever Maise had been together for three
years. She was visiting him on tour. When he came offstage in Columbus
something was wrong. "Come right now," they said. "It's Maise."
Maise had been playing. She had jumped over a railing
expecting there to be the same ground on the landing side as the leaping side.
It was fifty feet down. Trent hurried to the vet's. Maise was struggling to get
up, but she couldn't. Her back was broken. There was nothing anybody could do
except the only thing we know how to do when we can't mend something.
That was a bad day. Mr. Self-Destruct came to stay for a
while after that. Over the last few years Trent has stripped his life down.
Everything that might have mattered apart from Nine Inch Nails he has either
rejected or made it reject him. When he went on tour he didn't even have a home
to go back to. Maise was his last link with a life you might call normal. And
now she was gone.
But the tequila was there. And the cocaine was there.
(Cocaine isn't the sort of drug Trent favors. His idea of a drug experience is
to take psilocybin mushrooms and cycle through Louisiana parklands sucking in
the experience. But cocaine can make you numb and sometimes numb is the easiest
way to feel.) And the wheel turned on down through the mad, dark days and out
again. He feels better now. A little tired, but better.
Monday in Cleveland: I loiter in the dressing room. Ice
Cube's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted is playing. Trent is waiting for a
cortisone shot from a doctor. (As a child he had bad allergies - cats and dust
and ragweed and grass and corn - and his ears were all messed up. His doctor
put tubes in Trent's ears to equalize the pressure and when Trent went swimming
at the Mercer public pool he had to wear a tan bathing cap. "That was the
source of much childhood trauma," he recalls.) Today, Trent has a deep red rash
running all the way up his right arm. It's on his legs too. He thinks it might
have been the hotel sheets in New York. A slightly dippy girl on the other side
of the dressing room says, "Maybe you're allergic to me." Trent doesn't look
Injection completed, Trent digs into a Gap bag for a new
black T-shirt. He must be onstage soon. "My butt hurts," he says.
After the show we drive down to a club in the Cleveland
Flats where there's a party. On the way in Trent signs a couple of autographs,
but this doesn't satisfy demand. "Trent!" shouts one girl. "You suck!" Later, a
man comes up brandishing a British Petroleum business card. "What the fuck do
you want?" Trent asks. Trent puts the card in his mouth, chomps off a little
and hands the ripped card back. The man looks pleased but wants more. Trent
takes it back and spits on it. The man is utterly delighted.
This is the last I see of Trent for two and a half days. The
rash is worse. It has covered his whole body. He will see a regular doctor and
a homeopath, who will tell him to immerse himself in a bath of lavender and
peppermint and chamomile and stuff and to cover himself with green clay. All
this he will do.
As he lies in bed this girl keeps phoning him. His calls are
being blocked so she must be staying somewhere in the hotel. She tells him
he'll know her when he sees her - she's the one who sings "Hurt" really loud at
"Don't do that," he tells her. "Nobody wants to hear
Most fans don't get that far. In hotels across Ohio and
Michigan callers who ask for Trent Reznor will be told that there is no such
guest registered. Those who as for Steve Austin will enjoy more success. Steve
Austin. You know. The Six Million Dollar Man.
Trent always loved science fiction. But above all he loved
the Six Million Dollar Man, "probably because I wasn't the biggest kid
in the class and I wasn't the athletic superstar football player. I always
thought he was cool. The day the Bionic Woman died on The Six Million Dollar
Man, that was a tearful day in our household." He considers this. "When I
think back, I had a degree of feeling mildly depressed; of melancholiness."
A she got older he made the mistake of discovering horror
films. "The Exorcist ruined my childhood," he says. "It was the ultimate
scare thing because it couldn't easily be disproved." Then there was The Omen.
After that he was convinced he was the Antichrist. He went looking around his
scalp for the three sixes which would confirm the truth. He was terrified of
the Devil. He would make imaginary deals to sell his soul. In bed at night he
knew he would lie a certain way because if he lay on the other side he knew he
would be in for bad things.
Trent Reznor took the piano up when he was five and he had
talent. He played the saxophone too and even the tuba for a while. Then he
discovered Kiss. Gene Simmons! He was so cool. If you could be like Gene
Simmons, then every day would be
the greatest day of the world!
People would love you. You would be famous. Girls would like you.
In high school he appeared in a couple of musicals: Jesus
Christ Superstar and The Music Man. He was Judas and the Music Man.
"My fate had long been spelled out," he sniggers.
vIn college he studied computer engineering and music.
Before the first year was up he knew he wanted to play music. At nineteen he
auditioned for a band called the Innocent. "Foreigner crap
bullshit rock." He was accepted and though he didn't play on their album -
Livin' on the Streets, if you will - his photograph did appear. The
mention of this record and photograph causes the most touchy and embarrassed
reaction Trent will exhibit in my presence. "Stupid. Dumb. A ridiculous 1983
sissy. You got me. I'm an idiot. I tried to hide it. It was the one thing I was
waiting for someone to throw at me."
He left after three months. He was in endless other local
bands, playing keyboards, biding his time. He worked in a keyboard store and
then he worked in a local recording studio. His first, strange brush with fame
came when the disastrous Michael J. Fox-Joen Jett film Light of Day was
shot in Cleveland. He was asked to be in a rinky-dink synth trio who are
derided midway through the film: "They used to be called the Sins, but now
they're called the Problems," mocks one character, which seemed obliquely
He had always told himself that when the time came he would
be able to write songs, but this was a theory he had carefully avoided testing.
Finally he started; he was really into the Clash at the time and he tried to
write these political lyrics and they just didn't work. It seemed fake. Then he
turned to his private jottings. It was scary to sing about these feelings and
they weren't the sort of inner thoughts he was particularly keep to share with
anyone, but somehow they made sense. The first song, "Down in It," was -
appropriately - a suicide fantasy. A slow sinking. I used to be so big and
strong. I used to know my right from wrong. I used to have something inside.
Now just this hole that's open wide. And what I used to think was me is just a
He called his 1989 debut Pretty Hate Machine. He got
some people - including drummer Chris Vrenna whom he'd been living with - to
tour with him as Nine Inch Nails. This was new for Trent. A time of discovery.
"It was the first time we'd ever acknowledged to another male that you actually
masturbate. We all felt liberated and then it finally got to the point
we'd always room with two guys in a room and the deal was you
wouldn't fuck with that person. It was 'Look, I'm jacking off. It could be
fifteen minutes, it could be an hour. Take messages.'"
Nine Inch Nails were invited on the first Lollapalooze and
were suddenly being hailed as the world's primary industrial band. Along the
way they sold half a million records. Things happened. Trent fell out with the
boss of TVT, his first record company. (He still hates no one else more in the
world.) A video camera used during the "Down in It" video which was tied to a
helium balloon that had broken away as it filmed Trent pretending to be dead
was found by a farmer who turned it into the police. They watched it and a
murder investigation began.
A bus ride from Cleveland to Kalamazoo. Trent boards the
coach carrying a plastic shopping bag. He has bought seven Twilight Zone
videos. In the copious video library on board are all the Planet of the
Apes films except for the fourth, Conquest of the Planet of the
Apes. They've been looking for it everywhere. The bus rolls on. Band
members shout, "It's all good." That's the latest Nine Inch Nails
In Kalamazoo we go to eat in the hotel basement. On TV O.J.
Simpson's lawyers object to evidence that Simpson backhanded his wife in a
limousine. "Imagine being in a relationship, guy or girl, where that happened,"
says bassist Danny Lohner.
"You don't know what you're missing out on," says Trent. I
think he only says this for the cheap laugh and because he knows it is expected
of him. Then he adds, slightly more seriously, "An integral part of any
relationship is knowing that you could be killed in your sleep at any
Later, at the venue, Trent makes up one of his herbal
pick-me-ups, carefully dripping a cocktail of brown potions into water:
Echinacea, American ginseng and something else. His acupuncturist in L.A.
recommended it to him. I'm ill too so he offers me a cup.
Tonight I get to watch his preshow preparations. He dances a
little, sometimes watching himself in the mirror. Then he sits down and puts on
some black eyeshadow and applies the desired tone lipstick he sometimes wears
when he goes out. One by one the band head into the bathroom where the white
powder sits on the basin. It is cornstarch. They cover themselves from head to
toe. Trent spares his hair. Any brand will do. But not flour. "We tried it
once, but under the stage lights it turned into batter."
The show is far more intense tonight. During one song he
stops singing and says, "Can someone do me a favor and beat the shit out of the
asshole with the red light before I kill the asshole?" Someone has been tracing
a red laser beam over his body. Scary. "I'm just waiting to have my arm blown
off," he'll explain later. "It's that feeling when it's zipping across your
face and you're wondering when the JFK moment is going to come."
Afterward Trent mixes us up some more herbs. I thank him.
"You'll be injecting it soon," he says.
On the bus Trent opens a Federal Express package. It is a
hefty self-published book of poetry and prose. The letter, from Brett,
twenty-three, is heartbreaking. He published the book because no one else would
and has given up trying to sell it. "I am giving the remainder of the books to
people I suspect and who I believe will appreciate what I have written
understand true art."
There is no doubt that a certain type of outsider is drawn
to Nine Inch Nails. The tattoo and body-piercing brigades have adopted them
enthusiastically. Trent has no tattoos. His ears are pierced, but that's it. He
had his septum pierced for a year, but it was a nightmare when he had a cold.
As a rule he doesn't even like to wear jewelry: "I don't like shit on me." It
strikes me that the real message of all this is less an unwillingness to
embrace modern masochistic rituals than a more primary impulse: Don't Pin Me
Down. Don't Tell Me Who I Am. There is something else close to this, but even
more fundamental. It is something Trent says when he's explaining the elegant,
mortifying song "Piggy": "I'm saying 'If I don't care, you can't affect
Danny calls the bus to attention. He wants to perform. He
takes a lighter, lifts his legs, and tries to light a fart. There is a rather
feeble conflagration. "Don't write that," he says to me, mortified - meaning
not the stunt itself but his failure to deliver. The band reminisces about the
night in Atlanta when, after a ribald evening in a surreal titty bar, Jon
Stewart impressed them with his own fart fireballs. "Sometimes," says Trent,
"it's fun just to be retarded."
The second Nine Inch Nails record, the Broken mini-album,
was a nasty mixed-up splurge of unfocused hate and despair. Trent wanted his
next record to be something more. He had discovered that the more he wrote
about his depressions the more it fed and encouraged them. "And," he tells me,
"I'm wondering if all this negative energy is leading to a dead end. What is
the ultimate solution to this? It's kill myself, I guess. Right?"
Maybe. But instead of doing it, he decided to chronicle the
descent. It was to be a concept album called The Downward Spiral. If
there was a template in his head it was the album which touched him most when
he was younger: "Pink Floyd's The Wall. "The Downward Spiral," he says,
"is about somebody discarding parts of themselves" - religion, love, caring
about the opinion of others - "ultimately for self-realization." The bleakness
builds to a crescendo with the title track. He simply set to music a suicide
description which he wrote down when he was "really fucking utterly
superdepressed" and then forgot about. He couldn't believe how easy it was.
He put the gun into his face. Bang! So much blood for such a tiny little hole.
Problems have solutions. A lifetime of fucking things up fixed in one
"I'm not saying this from a covering-my-ass point of view,"
he insists, "but I'd thought it several times and saying it almost demystifies
it." He was not without secondhand experience. A friend had watched his
girlfriend shoot herself. And then drummer Jeff Ward - who had taken over for
the Lollapalooze era when Trent fell out with Chris - carbon-monoxides himself
in a car because he couldn't quit heroin.
When Trent completed the record he was convinced it was
destructively uncommercial. But he either ignored, or refused to acknowledge,
the mentality of the American Pop Fan '94: Nothing is more commercial than
uncommercial. And anyway, in a far more specific way he had managed to capture
one of the dark ironies of our era. Kurt Cobain is the one who sings "I don't
have a gun" and then blows his brains out. Trent Reznor sings "a lifetime of
fucking things up fixed in one determined flash," but he is, I think, not the
sort to kill himself. That makes things difficult. Kurt Cobain will stand now
as the big, dumb, contemporary example by which the sincerity of anyone's
suffering is measured and by that idiotic standard Trent Reznor must always
fall short. We talk about this and after a while I get paranoid about the
conversation's direction. I'm trying to stir a discussion, but more and more it
feels as though I'm throwing up a challenge. I'm not suggesting you should kill
yourself to validate your record, I tell him.
"No," he says. "It doesn't mean enough to me to prove myself
to you to do that."
Later he tells me that when he was making The Downward
Spiral he never finished recording the most disturbing song of all. It had
just two lines: Just do it. Nobody cares at all.
Trent Reznor's first kiss was when he was ten. He talks
about uncontrolled, aimless early desire: discovering you couldn't go up to the
blackboard during math "because calculus has given you a hard-on." Trent lost
his virginity when he was fifteen. He pulled out to discover the condom ring at
the base of his penis and nothing else. It had broken. He didn't tell her. He
just prayed she wasn't pregnant. After that he ended up going out with a
devout, religious girl.
ME: Tell me five words you associate with sex.
TRENT: (very long pause) The first things that pop
into my head would be "taste," "sweat," "lick," "come," "bite."
ME: In your songs sex always seems very carnal and violent.
And watching your videos one might guess that you have a personal interest in
TRENT: I do, to a degree. I'm not a hard-core
ME: So do you like pain during sex?
TRENT: Sometimes. Just the psychology behind it. I'm
somewhat uncomfortable talking about this too much
ME: Have you ever kissed a man?
TRENT: Yes, I've kissed a man.
ME: In the fullest sense?
TRENT: Almost. A veil of drunkenness. It was kind of a
mutual thing. It was weird. I was half joking around. It was bristly. And later
- in the old Nine Inch Nails - if we wanted to get rid of people, the guitar
player and I would start making out. It was a trick. I mean, I really love
women. I don't dislike men and there's many time I've thought about it. You get
into certain scenes and I realize I should experiment down that path and I just
haven't done it yet. I've been in situations where there's men involved, but
not directly interacting.
ME: So are there a lot of orgies around the Reznor
TRENT: No, no, it's not a common situation. When I'm in a
relationship that overpowers the desire to
these usually arise from casual
situations, usually intoxicated situations. You wake up and think, "Okay, we
just stepped through another portal
" (pause) I think about giving
head though. I don't know why I'm saying this, but I think about that. I'd be
good at giving head, because I know what
I mean, no
one knows how to jack yourself off better than yourself, you know?
ME: Which kiss will you remember forever?
TRENT: (extremely long pause) I don't know.
ME: Are no kisses coming to mind, or various kisses?
TRENT: A variety of ones that are pretty high up there. It's
the combination of the right environment and the right set of lips.
ME: So it's a ranking problem rather than a memory
TRENT: Yeah. (a lengthy pause) From my dog, Maise,
licking me in the mouth after I had passed out drinking. I was sleeping with my
mouth open and Maise never does that normally. (he nearly always speaks of
her in the present tense)
ME: Did you kiss back?
TRENT: A little kiss back. I prefer to kiss her on the side
of the mouth rather than getting right in. It's kind of incestuous, you
understand, because she's part of the family.
ME: What should a woman never do on a date with you?
TRENT: It's all good. (pause) But usually fart
lighting is not one of my favorites.
The next day, Trent offers a postmortem: "I woke up in a
cold sweat this morning fearing I've revealed too much. I started getting that
uneasy feeling." I am not sure what he means, and he doesn't elaborate. About
half an hour later he sighs, under his breath, "The big headline: I COULD SUCK
A MAN'S COCK
Some facts: He was born May 17, 1965. He was brought up
Protestant and went to Sunday school. His favorite candy is Reese's peanut
butter cups: "It's the perfect balance of shitty peanut material and
chocolate." I ask him what the last book he read was and he says he got a book
of pathological crime stories somewhere, but he's not really reading right now.
He dyes his dark brown hair jet black every six weeks. He shaved his head a
couple of years ago, "and I thought, 'Christ, I'm ugly - what kind of hats are
out now?'" When I ask what the last thing he does at night is, he says, "I try
to have time to write a little bit in my journal. And I have a vigorous
masturbation routine." The first time Trent smoked pot was with his father when
he was fourteen. He's never liked it. His grandmother cried when she read his
interview in USA Today, because it mentioned that Trent has taken drugs.
She was upset for him. Trent went home for Christmas. That was the last time he
cried: Grandma was ill, he was staying in a Howard Johnson and one day nothing
made more sense than sitting down for a couple of hours of unfocused weeping.
The only record he could find at the local Kmart that seemed remotely
interesting to play in the rental car was Sting's greatest hits. "I appreciate
the fact that when it kicks in the chorus it's a good song," he explains. "I
don't like what he's saying, I don't like how he's saying it, but the pure
craft of writing songs
" He sighs. "I realize I'm destroying my entire
reputation by saying this."
Rumors that have circulated about him: that he is dead ("I
always hear that"), that he is misogynistic ("It makes me mad"), that there was
a paternity suit against him ("I hear that, but it's not true"), that he knew
Jeffrey Dahmer ("No affiliation whatsoever"), that he dated Kennedy ("She's
just a friend" - they met at the Whisky in L.A. after Kennedy humiliated him by
singing "Head Like a Hole" loudly to his face to win a twenty-dollar bet with a
Then there is the legendary, impertinent small-penis
aspersion. "That's an irritant," he says. A journalist first taunted him with
this notion a while back It annoyed him. "If I have to prove myself, I'll do
that," he says. "I've got references, goddamn it."
This slur now has a new proponent. Courtney Love has taken
to talking ill of Trent Reznor. Saying things like: Nine Inch Nails, huh -
more like Three Inch Nails. It's a long story and it is one to which, with
some reluctance, Trent gives his side. He had never met Love before this
autumn, but he heard she wanted to open for Nine Inch Nails and he liked Hole's
latest album so he agreed. Six shows. "I thought, 'What's the worst that can
happen?' Famous last words
The first three shows he didn't talk to her. "In Cleveland
she was completely intoxicated, a fucking mess." He says that at one after-show
party she was passed out on a pool table with her dress hiked up and people
were taking photographs as though it were all quite normal. "I thought that was
shitty. I'd be upset if people I thought cared about me allowed me to be in
One night she said a few impudent things about Nine Inch
Nails onstage. "What I didn't know then was her fierce competitiveness when
she's opening for somebody - she's carrying the weight of alternative
credibility on her back and we're a New Wave faggot band that's easily
dismissed. Even though my crowd doesn't give a shit about that." In Detroit
they bumped into each other backstage and Courtney said her voice was messed
up. Trent offered to mix her up some herbs and they talked. "I thought she was
really smart, which you couldn't tell from her behavior. But she was obsessed
with media and how she's perceived. What I didn't realize was that 95 percent
of it was her directly called editors. She's got a full media network going
He says that contrary to the impression Love has given they
didn't have a sexual relationship. "I think if there was an attraction on her
part toward me it was maybe because I showed compassion. The bottom line was I
thought I was around someone who was a victim and somebody who could use a
friend and what I was around was a very good manipulator and a careerist,
someone not to be underestimated."
Soon it began to get nasty. The first story to spread was
that Courtney was pregnant with his child. "It would be the second Immaculate
Conception," snaps Trent. She said the things she knew would hurt him. She
suggested he didn't want to be seen with her because it was bad for his
rock-star image. And she pointedly announced to the world, as though to shame
him, that he had a silver Porsche.
That last fact, as it happens, is true. He refers to it once
as "a $100,000 car." He says, "I had the money and I wanted a nice car to drive
because it was fun, driving at five hundred miles per hour wondering if it's
going to flip over and kill me and I'll die a glamorous death. It isn't to take
models to movie premieres in." You disappoint me, I say. "I disappoint myself,"
(Trent calls me a couple of weeks after I leave the tour.
He's on the bus, heading for Sioux Falls. This morning he was wakened by the
telephone. "Hello, Trent. It's Courtney." Her mission was one of peace. "She
seemed somewhat genuinely to want to make up. And I don't want a war between
us. I said, 'If you want it to be stopped, stop it.'" But it reminded him of
our conversations: "I'd been hearing from all these people all these things
she's been saying about me and I'd been bottling up all my feeling about it and
you asked me so I told you." He said what he was thinking, but now he wishes to
calm the waters. "There's a nice side to her," he says, "and that's what I saw
today." He laughs. "She's certainly a fucking character.")
At the Toledo Sports Arena there is another Federal Express
package for him. (This, it seems, is the new upscale way to make sure your
unsolicited offering reaches the modern pop star of your choice.) I read the
contents and the awful truth finally dawns on me. Trent Reznor's role in the
'90s culture is not so much the Prince of Despondency or the Lord of
Negativity. It is far, far worse than that. He is the Man You Send Bad Poetry
The letter, as before, is a corker. "I went through a
somewhat rocky emotional journey this past year
Somehow, somewhere, our
minds have met before." The poems are the usual bleak cries for help. A few
titles: Crumbling Away, Alone, Escape, The Need. Let me quote one. "I am
full of nothing. Of darkness, emptiness, a void." It ends "And would there be a
hole in the world where I'd been? I don't think so."
Trent studies it only briefly. He tells me he wants to show
me some cartoons he was sent and leads me over to a luggage drawer where he
keeps mementos. There are cards and letters. There is a copy of Thus Spake
Zarathustra. He takes out a small pamphlet: Pocket Porn Special 46,
which is full of explicit copulation photographs of most imaginable varieties.
"Last book read," he says.
He finishes his makeup. "Trent Reznor, starring in The
Crow," he mutters sarcastically. Word comes from out front that the Toledo
crowd is almost out of control. Women are sitting on people's shoulders and
showing the crowd their breasts and the backstage medical crews have their
hands full even during the support acts, Pop Will Eat Itself and the Jim Rose
Circus. "It's nice to be back with aggressive crowds," Trent says. "I miss when
we played clubs and it was destruction and death." They have to wait to go on
because - they are told - there is a body in the pit. That's more like it. "You
expect that from Toledo," Trent laughs, then adds, "Where is Toledo?"
Tonight's concert is the finest I see. I watch from the side
of the stage and the way they are possessed is terrifying. When guitarist Robin
Finck rolls offstage at the end of "Happiness in Slavery," he just lies there
glassy-eyed with exhaustion and is given oxygen. Trent is even more manic. His
is the anguished rampage of someone trying to reach something that always feels
just beyond his fingertips. He bashes the keyboards with his guitar and his
microphone and his body. He throws his guitar into the stage set; he tosses his
microphone stand into the drums. (Accidents do happen. The other day when Trent
was onstage he landed on a keyboard and something went in his mouth, that
metallic taste almost like blood, and it gave him a flashback to when he was a
kid in his grandfather's dusty old garage licking his grandfather's work tools
because he wondered what they tasted like.)
I try to figure out Trent's compelling, desperate frenzy. On
his face is the thrilling, insatiable abandon of someone trying to prove to
himself that what he does is for real. It is its very futility - you can never
give yourself over completely if you're still aware that you care about doing
it - that makes it so exciting. It is the fury that results when you try to
disprove the equation that self-awareness is the enemy of sincerity. It's hard
for him onstage. "Every day I'm saying the most personal thing I could ever
say. And I don't know if I want people in my head that much, but I've chosen to
give that out because I realized that's what made the strongest statement, that
was the most honest art I could make. But one of the prices is that there's an
open raw nerve that I'm letting everybody look at. There's a hole in the back
of my pants with my bare asshole showing and you can see right in there. And
sometimes I wish I hadn't."
Trent hates the idea that some people have: that just
because the presentation is mildly theatrical his intent is somehow cushioned
or shallow. He claims, furious at the memory, that he was recently quoted as
saying "I'm much closer to Alice Cooper than Eddie Vedder." He remembers how
betrayed he felt as a teenager when Alice Cooper said that his character
onstage wasn't real ("He said, 'I'm Vincent Fuckface and he's just a character
I create' and I thought, 'Fuck you!'"). And another thing: "I don't look at
Eddie Vedder as any person I'd ever call reference to and I don't look at him
as a pinnacle of being sincere at all."
In front of an audience Trent Reznor would do anything to
make them realize this matters. Nearly. He doesn't stage-dive anymore. He will
show me scars running form his armpits to his shoulders. "Why do I not jump in
the crowd? Because my shirt gets ripped off and someone sticks their finger in
It is time to tell the legendary tale of Charles Manson,
Tori Amox and a curiously uncooked chicken. Trent and Tori had become friends
(he sang on her last album) and she would visit him at the Los Angeles house
where The Downward Spiral was recorded. The house where Manson followers
killed Sharon Tate. On one visit, Tori told a depressed Trent that she would
whip him up a hearty home-cooked meal. The cursed chicken. After six hours in
the Tate house oven it was still bloody and raw. Tori's preferred excuse: "The
spirits of the house wouldn't let it." Eventually Trent left for another studio
where he ordered in.
And the chicken?
He shrugs. "I didn't ask. The ghost ate it."
The party tonight is at a club called, with cruel
inaccuracy, Asylum. Any hope that the guests of honor might be in for a quiet,
discreet night of fun are ruined by the subtle sign outside: FRIDAY - NIN
PARTY. There is a cordoned-off area, but from all sides crowds mill and stare.
Even I feel horribly claustrophobic and they are not looking at me. Trent lasts
five minutes. "If I want that," he fumes, "I'll go to the zoo." We sit on the
bus waiting for the rest of his entourage to come to the same conclusion. Trent
plays Mother Tongue and PJ Harvey. Danny puts on Prong. We eat pizza. It's
Trent talks about the future. After the tour he will move to
New Orleans where he has bought a house. Earlier he had talked about taking
some time to repair his life. "I still don't know who the fuck I am. I know
what I don't believe in. I know what I've rejected. But I don't know what I do
believe in." He sighs. "I don't trust people very much. I don't like that many
This afternoon, when all the questions had been asked, he
had fetched some photos. He handed me a few snapshots of his new house. It has
lovely Southern balconies. He said it will be nice to do things he has never
had the chance to like "picking out kitchen sink units." He sifted through his
other snapshots, fanning them closely in front of his face like a careful card
player. He showed me maybe one in ten, mostly of Maise and him, lying together
on beds. One is just Maise alone staring into the camera. "Her last photo," he
said. He told me he'd maybe like to act and when I asked what he'd think about
if he needed to cry on cue he said: "Whatever's on top of the sad pile.
Probably Maise dying."
There is one statement which Trent Reznor had made to me, in
different ways, over and over again: "I think the underlying basic thing is
this: I've been really superlonely." (He likes his "super"s as much as he likes
his "fucking"s.) Pretty much all I hear from him is loneliness and numbness, so
it was surprising when he let slip, this afternoon, that he is seeing somebody.
"The level or degree is yet to be determined. It provides me something to
Does it make you happier?
"Yeah," he said, though he sounded unsure. "Yeah." Then a
third time. "Yeah.
Well, that's good.
He put on a pitiful, craven voice. "Somebody loves me." He
paused. "And those people last night! They liked me! Remember?"
Fans wait by the bus. Trent obliges. "I passed out before
the show," says one, triumphantly. "I only saw the last five minutes." The
second has a package which she hands over with the utmost solemnity. Her
special gift, from her to him. Because he will understand. By now you should
know what lies inside. Her poems are neatly typed, and the first four titles I
spot are Raven, Damned, World of Shadows and Death Wish.