Jahr 1990


Melody Maker


17. November 1990


Nine Inch Nails - Day Of The Dead



  Words: Simon Price





Nine months ago, Trent Reznor, lead singer with America‘s foremost electro-band, NINE INCH NAILS, was murdered. His death was investigated by the FBI. So how come he‘s now talking to THE STUD BROTHERS about his new single, “Down In It“? And how good does a corpse look on MTV? Read on. Autopsy pics: DR TOM SHEEHAN

Some six months ago, Inspector Hal Ardell of the Chicago Police Department (Homicide) was assigned to investigate the murder of a young man who‘d apparently been thrown from the roof of o building at 1542 North Milwaukee Avenue. The victim could not be identified since there was no body, indeed, the only evidence to suggest a murder had been committed at all was a scrap of 8mm film, the sort favoured by pornographers and other “amateur“ cinematographers. The film, shakily capturing the youth‘s 50-foot plunge to his death and dwelling lengthily on his partially-clothed corpse, had been found in a camera 125 miles away in a Michigan cornfield.

Ardell, by nature a sceptic, sent both camera and film to the FBI‘s Special Photographic Unit who produced single frame photos of the body, confirmed as by pathologists at the Cook County Medical Examiner‘s office. Ardell and his immediate superior, Chief lnspector John Townsend, realised they might just‘ve stumbled upon the first real evidence of a snuff movie. They were so convinced of this, they leaked the story and stills to the press in the hope that someone might be able to identify the dead boy. The story duly appeared the following morning in the Chicago Post. Within weeks, Ardell and Townsend knew enough about the victim to write his biography.

The victim, Trent Reznor, was born in 1965 in Mercer, a small town near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania (“a hellish cornfield area where you get one of two jobs — you‘re a gas station attendant or you take shit at the Nautilus Health Club“). At the age of 18 he left his hometown to study computer software development at nearby Meadville College (“Meadville has a higher ratio of incest per family than anywhere else in the country“).

After just one year he dropped out and moved to Cleveland where he took a job as a programmer in a small recording studio. The money was lousy but Reznor stuck with it for almost four years. In the spring of 1988 he disappeared without even collecting his lost wage packet. Between then and spring this year there were at least 12 confirmed sightings of him. All of them on MTV.

Trent Reznor is alive and kicking and if the two woodentops leading the farcical “snuff“ investigation had bothered to turn on the telly they‘d have discovered he is singer with America‘ s foremost electro-band, Nine Inch Nails. While the FBI‘s Special Photographic Unit toiled over snippets of weathered film to produce single-frame photos of the “dead“ Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails video for “Down In It“, featuring that exact same footage, could easily be acquired for the modest sum of seven dollars at any American record store. While Ardell and Townsend were appealing for witnesses via the Chicago Post, Reznor was selling 150,000 copies of Nine Inch Nails‘ debutalbum “Pretty Hate Machine“. Frankly it‘s difficult to be more alive than that. One hopes Ardell and Townsend are now handing out parking tickets on North Milwaukee Avenue.

Maybe that‘s unfair. After all, even the Cook County Medical Examiners agreed that Reznor‘s fake death was a very professional job. Then again, it had to be. Reznor, as he‘s quite happy to admit, is someone propelled by a self obsession so profound and paranoid it often borders on self-loathing. Nine Inch Nails, he believes, should not simply articulate this, but produce a disturbingly real facsimile of it, albeit to thwacking drum-machines and movie-score melodies.

So sure is Reznor of his mission (to reveal himself grotesque, bare and consequently fascinating), he is Nine Inch Nails. Sure there‘s a couple of other guys with him onstage and in the videos to preserve the illusion that the band are a band but it‘s Reznor who writes the songs, programmes the sequencers, chooses the samples, plays the guitars, designs the sleeves and conceives the videos. It‘s this overweening belief in his own righteousness that he has in common with his closest vocal comparison — the Matt Johnson of “Soul Mining“. Reznor, again like Johnson or any other madman convinced they‘re the only “real“ person in the world, confesses to being impossibly dictatorial in the studio and outside.

“This is not a democracy band,“ he explains “it‘s my ideas. I‘ve always been straight up with the guys I tour with. Their role is to play the tour, they get paid for it and they get to meet girls. If they want to stay in it they have to provide me with something I need for the next tour. It‘s not that I‘m a prick about it, I‘d rather be straight up than say ‘Welcome to the band‘ because they‘re not contributing anything other than helping me turn something I wrote into something entertaining live. But the guys I‘ve got at the moment are into the project, they‘ re loyal, I chose them because they have the mind-set I want to get across.“

Trent’s  “mind-set“ is an explosive combination of gridlocked computer noise and rock‘n‘roll dynamics complete with thrashing guitars and thundering bass. Nine Inch Nails were the biggest surprise at this year‘ s New Music Seminar. Where we might‘ve expected to see four dour-faced young men standing behind banks of computers producing blips and bleeps, we were treated to the weirdest hi-tech rock‘n‘roll show we‘ve ever been witness to — Reznor swinging from the lighting-rig, 15 security guards failing to control o mosh-pitt hat turned Info a riot and, weirdest of all, Reznor‘s every utterance greeted with the sort of pubescent hysteria McCartney must once have been used to.

“That is weird,“ agrees Trent. “Last night I thought these girls were getting their pelvises crushed against the stage because they were crying so much. When we were in Houston Al Jourgensen was down and we were playing through shit-loads of feedback. Al said, ‘You‘re f***ing Elvis, man, because if the Cocks had done that we‘d‘ve been bottled offstage. With you they were screaming like you were the t***ing Beatles‘. I don‘t know why they do it, I really don‘t know what‘s wrong with them.“

On the surface, Trent Reznor would appear to be an extremely unlikely popstar. Lyrically Nine Inch Nails invariably intimate his belief in his own remoteness from his audience — “I‘ve lost my ignorance, purity und pride/I‘m all alone in a world you must despise“ (“Terrible Lie“), and “I‘d rather die than give you control“ (“Head Like A Hole“). Nevertheless a popstar he appears to be.

Perhaps it has something to do with his gargantuan ego and quite a lot to do with his very American way of presenting electro-dance. Americans, even maudlin Americans like Reznor, love a show and a real show by its very nature (real shows have to be upfront, emphatic, easily understood) resists eclecticism. Though we try, it‘s impossible to imagine Front 242 or Nitzer Ebb on “Top Of The Pops“. It‘seasy to see Nine Inch Nails there. Like we say, Trent Reznor is very much alive and kicking.

Get nailed.

“Down In It” out this week on Island Records.