Revolution No. Nine
The human at the heart of the nine inch nails machine never wanted to be worshipped. Mark Blackwell gets you closer to god.
Utter silence has suddenly descended upon this rather loud winter's night. Jim is stretched out prone and motionless on the floor of the small, dimly-lit room. Standing above him, Karen appears to be somewhat nervous. Jim waves the go-ahead. Karen gingerly places her right foot on the back of Jim's head. Jim's face is gradually pressed into the kaleidoscopic pile of shattered beer bottles. Karen collects her balance and slowly but surely stands up on Jim's head. Jim begins to twitch a little. Face in glass. The hi-8 camera is rolling. Trent sits contentedly on the arm of a couch above the peculiar event. He's probably seen this a hundred times. He smiles broadly. "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jim Rose!" Karen dismounts. Jim leaps up unscathed. The bevy of backstage females cheers. It's the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning and we suddenly realize that we all have very much to be thankful for.
"Neck muscles," Karen slyly whispers as she sits back down on the floor. "That's this guy's trick."
Mr. Rose sweeps up the green and brown shards, carefully depositing them back into his bag.
"His face was in a pile of *broken glass*," I point out quietly, as someone near the jam box cranks Public Enemy's _Muse Sick N' Our Mess Age_ back up to its former volume. "You stood on the back of his *head*."
"That's true," she admits. "That's true."
Every traveling circus must have its behind-the-scenes sideshow, and tonight this backstage room would be that. The three ring extravaganza known as the "self destruct tour" has just worked its dark magic on the youth of Winston-Salem, North Carolina and now it's time for the performers to relax and enjoy the spoils of rockdom. And circusdom. Floating in and out of the space designated for the post-show fiesta are various members of Florida's glam/shock leather-cock rock band Marilyn Manson, Seattle's razorblade n' lightbulb eatin' Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, and, of course, the ubiquitous show-stopping scream machine known as nine inch nails.
In lopes Mr. Lifto, who's chiseled quite a healthy career out of lifting sundry weighty objects with various pierced sections of his anatomy. Sunken gloomily into the couch, lipstick thickly plastered in an ear to ear oval, we have Mr. Manson, calculatedly cutting the lanky figure of some waif bastard offspring of Alice Cooper. And then there's Trent Reznor, a well groomed, black-clad chap whose twisted demeanor pales, at least on the surface, in comparison to the people with which he's surrounded himself here. His strangeness is much more subtle and sublime. It's to the point that it's actually something other than strange. He doesn't put on a front. Things are happening around him and he's soaking 'em up. But while Jim Rose may be the unofficial master of ceremonies for the array of uncouth backstage proceedings, this thing as a whole is Reznor's baby. He is in control. He created this king-sized bed o' nails and now he has to lie in it.
"This band is so *big* now," Reznor says earlier that day before the show. He's not gloating by any means. And he's not necessarily complaining either. He seems to be just pondering the fact, as he must every day of his life now. The magnitude of his nine inch nails seems to *confuse* Reznor more than anything else. "This tour has gotten bigger than anyone expected it to be and it's not.... I'm not so comfortable. I had a lot more fun with the band playing clubs than I do with a 40 person crew, where I don't know the names of half the guys on it."
Feeling distanced from the people who roam the world around him is not a novel concept for this veteran of small town life in Pennsylvania and Ohio. His story comes off as one of those classic "away from the numbers" sagas.
"I've always felt a little bit like a misfit," Reznor confesses matter of factly. "I just don't belong. I don't know why. My life, I think, from the start has been a bit abnormal. I didn't have a family structure really. And...looking back it's always like there was *the club*. And I was like always *almost* in there. Never had much close friends or anything like that. Now I'm the *president* of the club. But I don't know any of the people *in* the club. And they think they know me."
"And you've sort of volunteered to give yourself to them," I surmise.
"Yeah, and I don't get anything back so...."
"Except money or fame or...."
"Or being treated like a *freak*, you know. Which is not what I want most of the time." The 29 year old Reznor has generally rolled with the bunches, accepting the fact that no matter how left-wing, lachrymose, and lobotomizing his words and wisdoms may be, they've generally blasted their way into mainstream culture. The last nine inch nails album, _the downward spiral_ -- a head-splitting, no-holds-barred journey through the bloody, twisted bowels of sex, power, sleaze, addiction, suicide, and other such sordid stuff that makes the world go 'round -- debuted at number two on the charts and has since sold around a million copies. The band stole the show at this summer's Woodstock II. Oliver Stone asked Reznor to put together the soundtrack for his recent _Natural Born Killers_. Reznor has recently established his own record label called "nothing" *(see sidebar on page 39)*. The forecast is warm and sunny in the hellish musical underworld that Reznor has meticulously mapped out on his machines. Since he debuted with 1989's _pretty hate machine_, which basically amounted to a rough-hewn, homemade solo project, the cult of nine inch nails has gradually mutated into something that extends far beyond the bitter fringes in which the sound is rooted.
In addition to his traveling work associates, various members of Reznor's swelling "club" populate the post-show party. A number have been "randomly selected" from the audience earlier and provided with after-show laminates, the majority of these constituting an array of very attractive females. It's an extremely surreal occasion to say the least. Up until Jim Rose pulled his little stunt from the bag, the room was overflowing with anticipation, yet nobody seemed to be sure exactly what the anticipation was for. Now that the glass has been broken, the party is for all practical purposes in progress, yet there's still some weird tension of unrewarded patience lingering in the air. Whatever. The beer and the cheese are free.
"What are we doing back here with all these *hookers*?" she whispers.
"I wouldn't necessarily call them *hookers*."
"*I* would. Look at 'em."
This thought prompts me to ask Reznor's bodyguard, Jerry Meltzer, about the girl/guy backstage ratio.
"Guys are more likely to go up and ask Trent a lot of stupid questions and never leave him alone," explains Meltzer. "Girls don't tend to go right up and annoy him as much for some reason. The ratio of guys to girls is always sort of like this at the aftershow party. It just works out a lot better that way."
The guy with the funny hat resurfaces at my side.
"I had a dream about this hat," he tells me excitedly, "and then I found it at K-Mart the next day. I made this special visor for it. It lights up. See?"
Perhaps Meltzer has a point. I'm suddenly glad I left my funny hat at home. And I'm glad that I got all my stupid questions to Reznor out of the way earlier in the day.
It was uncomfortable. The price you pay is that the media that was aware of you and the fan base that was there from the start, they turn their backs on you because suddenly you "sold out." Even though its the *same* record they bought six months ago. And then it's not *cool* to like these guys if you're really *cool* because other people that aren't *cool* like 'em now. Bullshit. I felt really bad about it at first. I wished people would quit liking us and we could go back to playing the *cool* clubs and, you know, stay in the *cool* magazines and worry about the *cool* people. Then I thought *fuck* the *cool* people. Do what you do. The cool people that are worth a shit are still gonna like you if they liked you for the right reasons in the first place. The ones that are trend hoppers, fuck them. It's not about the music for them anyway, it's more about the statement of "look how aware I am. I found a band that *nobody's* gonna wanna hear, and that makes me *cool*.
There's nothing wrong with getting your stuff across to more people
I didn't get into music to make a lot of money or to be this big. But now that it's kind of happened, I think well, okay, how can I take advantage of this position? I'm thinking of the fuckin' kid in Nebraska in the cornfield that just heard about nine inch nails and then bought the record. And it doesn't sound like the Pearl Jam record.... It might open his eyes up and maybe he'll think, "This is really cool. I'll go buy a Ministry album. I'll go buy a Skinny Puppy record." It's not that I'm on a great mission to do that even. But I grew up in the middle of nowhere and a lot of my input when I was a kid -- when I was forming my self opinion of who I am and what the world is about -- music played a big part in that.
What about the company you keep these days on the charts?
I get irritated.... I mean, who the *fuck* is buying some of the shit that's on there? And a lot of it under the guise of being something that has some degree of conviction to it. That disgusts me. I just choose to work outside that. I do what I do. If it becomes popular, alright. It's my terms I did it on.
Is it hard to stay "outside" without just becoming a parody of yourself, like, trying to shock people just for the sake of shock value?
Yeah, I mean, I've been accused of that. I think the idea of shocking somebody is a device that can be tastefully used. Even in a song like "Closer." Kick into the chorus and it says "fuck" right the first thing. The first time you hear that you're not expecting that to pop in like that. And that in itself is a degree of shock. I'm not saying you're gonna jump out a window, but it's still a device to make you listen. And at the same time it kind of cripples the song's ability to ever do anything really in terms of success, though I guess I've beaten that somehow. But let's take the "Happiness In Slavery" video for example. The incentive behind that was not, "Let's make a video that's really gross so it'll shock people." It was that I finally had the freedom to do what I wanted to do. If it pisses somebody off or someone's offended by it, then at least there's some degree of response.
There just has to be some intelligence behind the whole thing.
To justify what's in there. Anyone can make something that's gonna shock you. I could film myself taking a shit and say, "Here's my video," you know. But I try to have something with some degree of thought into it, try to make something that isn't afraid of crossing the line into what you're not supposed to do.
Do you mind having to edit stuff for MTV?
If you can edit it to where it calls attention to their censorship, I think that in itself is a statement. We were gonna do a video for...I think for "Sin," where we just blacked out boxes over *everything* and beeped out words through the whole thing so much that it would be just stupid to even watch it. We never did it for some reason. It was one of those many great ideas.... Stone Temple Pilots'll probably do it....
Is going against the mainstream grain something that just comes naturally to you or do you have to work at it?
The thing is that I'm not rebelling against it just to do it. I just don't really like what's popular right now. I don't like the conservative nature of music. Rock and roll is just so watered down and force fed into everybody's homes via MTV, and there's nothing rebellious about it. MTV claims they're new music first. No it's not. There not taking any chances playing nine inch nails today. Five years ago they wouldn't play it because it wasn't established then. They're breaking current "cutting edge" bands like Offspring. I find nothing at all interesting about any of those kinds of bands that are claiming to have some sort of integrity as a *punk* band. Bullshit.
Like Green Day?
Fucking Buzzcocks. Slap some fuckin' manic panic hairdye on somebody and you know... It's just...retro. And therefore it's safe. Today look at what's being labeled as alternative. Bands from Spin Doctors to fucking Pearl Jam to Skinny Puppy all fall under that title. People don't realize the wool that gets pulled over their eyes by shrewd marketing. That's why I have my own label. Most record labels are just trying to push product that they don't give a shit about.
You seem to work hard at making your live show look different from the norm as well.
I think the trend at the moment is to just get on stage in your work clothes. Or put on some jeans with holes in them and a flannel shirt. That's replaced the spandex outfits of eight years ago. That's the new "rock uniform." With that comes a pseudo mentality of "we're alternative."
The stupid "punk ethic" thing."
Yeah. I think with the few bands that started that there probably was a degree of legitimacy. Or honesty. But now with other bands...that's the new thing.... It's not even worth talking about. We've never claimed to be about that. Were not a punk band. We've never made any allusion or anything to that. We're just what we are.
Your performance is rather theatrical.
The bands I've always liked just put on some sort of *show*. We didn't sit down and calculate out how we were gonna make this a *theatrical* performance. I think usually when people say "theatrical" it has a kind of a negative overtone. I know what you mean though and I don't mind it. We've worked out a set that has a flow to it. It's almost like we're doing a play every night. It starts in a certain spot and goes up and goes way down and then builds back up to something else. And because we've taken that approach the show does lend itself towards being somewhat theatrical. But I don't read that, and here's where the negative comes in, as being any less...
Yeah, because there's a lot of spontaneity in there. Every time we do that show it sucks the life out of me.
Fittingly, Reznor seems to becomes a virtual slave to this machine, which he constantly attempts to destroy before his audience. Reznor hurls his guitar into the drum set in the middle of the show. Then he hurls his *guitarist* into the crowd in the middle of the show. He stomps the keyboards, throws the keyboards, rips the keys off the keyboards, and even furiously *plays* the keyboards now and again. And the crowd loves it.
All in all it's quite a feat for a band that's not even a band in the first place. Avoiding the lone human presence vs. the tape machine trap that's plagues the average pre-recorded live show, Reznor chose to assemble a crack band to crank out his one-man-band computer generated creations on the road. The pre-programmed furor is still there in the mix, but it merely serves as the basic foundation for the band's brand of live-instrument jihad.
Yeah, it's getting towards that. It'll be a lot more of a collaborative record 'cause I finally surrounded myself with some people that I know are good players with good personalities. But realistically I haven't sat down with them.... We haven't written songs together. The chemistry may be on, it may be off. I'm more than willing to try some things and see what happens. What little happened on the last record with, like, Adrian Belew and Stephen Perkins, was really pleasant. I'm more confident in the studio now. I'm not as terrified to be around people who I respect.
Do you feel like you're still just learning how to work in the studio?
Yeah it's definitely a learning process. I don't know exactly what I'm doing. I think anything in the studio has to have the right attitude going on and the right flow between people. Its kind of like...letting someone see your asshole. You know, here I am, here's my butthole. You gotta be pretty confidant with that person. When you get someone who's a cunt.... I was around Steve Albini for a few hours when we did Pigface. He was the definition of a cunt in the studio.
What do you mean by cunt?
Just the most abrasive obnoxious, uncreative, un.... Making the worst vibe you could ever imagine of intimidation: do this and shut the fuck up and you don't know what you're talking about. I don't know if he needed some Midol that day or what the deal was, but that was the definition of what I will never have in the studio. It's quite the opposite with someone like Adrian Belew who just comes in and is just an amazing guitar player. "What do you wanna do? You wanna try this?" It was inspiring all around.
Are you generally a good judge of character?
I know if I like someone or not. I don't like everybody and not everybody likes me and sometimes.... If I'm in that situation in the studio, I'm with that person because I chose them for some reason and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But there comes a point where I'll make that judgment that you are a cunt, you know? That's not very often.... It just instantly happens. Either, A: I do not like you for some reason, B: We'll work...whatever...but there's no real feeling. And the rarest of those is that there's someone I'd really like to be a friend with, you know. And I don't know why that is. But I've been wrong about people a lot.
There's a lot of talk about your relationship with Courtney Love going around these days. Do you wanna speak about that at all?
It's basically.... Since she's opened her big fuckin' mouth to...
...a complete fucking lie.
Is it harder for you be close friends with people these days?
You just don't have any time. It's real hard to maintain a friendship with somebody. It's hard to find people that understand. I may not call in six months -- that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about you, but when I find I have time it might be five o' clock in the morning.
Do you feel like your life is at all stable?
Mmm-mmm. No. I felt pretty good when the record got done because I got to do something new besides sitting in a studio for two years. Then I got to sit in a tour bus and drink beer every day, you know, for a year. And move around. The price I've paid for all that is I've got no.... I don't even have a home right now. It's just moving around all the time. Friends are at a low stage right now, plus we're reaching the point of touring where I've about had enough.
Is it worth it?
Even if tomorrow everybody hated nine inch nails and it's done...alright I did do *something*. I'm proud of that. I think also it's the realization that part of being a human being is...doing human things too. You know....
You'd just like to have a normal lifestyle eventually.
Yeah. Maybe someday be able to establish a family, something like that. Some degree of domestic stability perhaps. Just a fuckin' apartment for that matter. A place with the same bed you wake up in for a week. Time to do things other than worry about the deadline for the next something that you're doing.
Having no roots is sort of enviable in a certain weird way.
In a certain way, yeah. In another way, when the time comes I just wanna go home. Today my home is Adam's Shit Stain Hotel or whatever the fuck place we're in. It's a choice I made.
Do you worry about sort of going off the deep end? Too much to deal with?
I don't worry that much about that. My level of stability and sanity just varies a bit. Right now it's on the low side. A few months ago I felt... It was a different person that wrote _the downward spiral_. Like a weight has been lifted. I know that guy. It's not me right now. What was I thinking? The thing is, my perspective changes. The time of _downward spiral_ was the blackest, bleakest.... This is never gonna get done. I hate what I do. I don't like doing it anymore Why am I even doing this anymore?
What do you do in that situation?
Do you just shut down sometimes?
Sometimes. The problem in my head when I was doing that record was...being in LA all my little devices to repair myself, I didn't know how to do there. Things like, go outside and ride your bike around. Get away from people. Hang out in nature, go out and have a pleasant dinner, drink yourself stupid. All of those things are difficult to do in LA because a million fuckin' people are trying to do 'em at the same time. So it got weird for a while, but then I kicked out of it. When the record was done I felt a lot better. And this tour is going pretty easy for the most part. Within the last few months it's kind of bogged down.
I'm really sorry to hear about your dog dying last week.
Yeah that sucked. (long pause)
Um...do external occurrences like that cause you the most problems, or is it sometimes just internal stuff?
It depends. This one has been more external, then it triggered the internal somehow. So now they're one and the same. But usually.... I don't know.... I never really thought about that.
Sometimes when people flip out, they look back and can't figure out what on earth caused it in the first place.
Right.... there's a degree of that.... *(He smiles.)* The world of chemical imbalances....
Is it easy to get that stuff out of your head and into the songs?
I never did get it out until I started writing _pretty hate machine_. I thought, well I'm either gonna pretend I'm a musician and fuck around in local bands and be a loser or find some way to knock out a few birds with one stone. I know what I wanna do. I wanna play music and I wanna try to work out something that's going on in my head. The two things came together and it became an avenue for me to do that.
The act of writing the music and getting it out is good, but the act of being worshipped because of it that means nothing to me. I hate it. No one used to recognize me anywhere. And then the last six months, just now it's getting bad. Bad enough for me.
I look out at the crowd now and I don't know *who* the fuck's out there. I'm not worried about it. I'll just do what I do and if they stay along for the ride.... We'll see what happens. Who knows? I don't know. It's a lot harder to be a bigger band. There's a lot more people waiting for you to fuck up. But when you have a bigger audience.... I don't really mind that. I don't mind thinking, "let's see how far out I can go." I get people's *moms* coming up to me now. Fuckin middle age mothers, like, "I love that song 'Closer'" It's like *what the fuck are you talking about?* You know? It's just bizarre to me.
(dash thirty dash)
Copyright 1994 by Ray Gun Publishing, Inc.
This is an exact transcription. All tenses, syntax, punctuation, split compound verbs, unlinked compound adjectives, incorrect use of closing ellipses, inconsistent capitalization, improperly sexed quotation marks, erroneous _Tommy_ references, etc. are typed as printed and are not my own. I'm tired and I don't love you any more -- KT