Onstage, Trent Reznor is a demon possessed by his own sound and fury.
Offstage he's a self-effacing guy who's still in love wtih his dearly departed
dog. Chris Heath encounters the sharp point of Nine Inch Nails.
"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 depression, 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 Sprial", 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 who 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, and 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 woud 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 of this. When Trent was five, after his sister Tera was born,
his father had a talk with him. "I'm leaving." "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 Saturday trips down to the drugstore, where they'd sit at
the soda fountain. A cherry Coke for Trent, a chocolate Coke for Dad. What about
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 favours. His idea of a drug experiecne 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 form 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 impressed.
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 of this he will
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 every concert.
"Don't do that," he tells her. "Nobody wants to hear you."
Most of the fans don't get that far. In hotels across Ohio and Michigan,
callers who ask for Trent Reznor will be told there is no such guest registered.
Those who ask 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
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 felling mildly depressed, of melancholiness."
As he got older, he made the mistake of discovering horror films. "'The
Exorcist' ruined my childhood," he says. "It was the ultimate scary 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 would lie a
certain way because if he lay on the other side he knew he would be in for bad
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.
In 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...dinosaur AOR 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've
tried to hide it. It was the one thing I was waiting for someone to throw at
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-Joan 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 the Problems," mocks one
character, which seemed obliquely appropriate. 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 keen 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 fading memory.'
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 if finally got to the point where...we'd always room with
two guys in a room, and there'd be the Masturbation Moment. You'd get the
bathroom, and the deal was you wouldn't fuck with that person. It was 'Look, I'm
jacking off. It could be fifteen minutes, could be an hour. Take messages.'"
Nine Inch Nails were invited on the first Lollapalooza 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 in to the police. They watched it, and a murder
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 catchphrase. 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 intergral part of any relationship is knowing
that you could be killed in your sleep at any time."
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 Desire 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 favour 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 aprreciate what I have written...You understand
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 is 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 jewellery: "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 me.'"
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 feelbe
conflagration. "Don't write that," he says to me, mortified-meaning not the
stunt itself but his failure to deliver. The band reminisce 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 youger: 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 determined flash."
"I'm not saying this from a covering-my-ass point of view," he insists, "but
I'd thought about it several times, and saying it almost demystifites 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 the Lollapalooza
era, when Trent fell out with Chris-carbon-monoxided himself in a car because he
couldn't quit heroin.
When Trent completed the record, he was convinced it was destructively
uncommerical. But he either ignored, or refuses 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
Later he tells me that when he was making TDS, 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
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",
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 practitioner.
Me: So do you like pain during sex?
Trent: Sometimes. Just the
psychology behind it. I'm some- what uncomfortable talking about this too
Me: Have you ever kissed a man?
Trent: Yes, I've kissed a man.
Me: In the fullest sense?
Trent: Almost. A veil of drunkeness. It was
kind of a mutual thing. It was weird. It was half-joking around. It was bristly.
And later-in the old Nine Inch Nails-if we wanted to get rid of people, the
guitarist 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 times 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
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...(laughs)...I mean, no one knows how to jack
yourself off better than yourself, you know?
Me: Which kiss will you
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 sleep- ing with my mouth open
and Maise never does that normally. (he nearly always speaks of her in the
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 incest- uous, you understand, because she's part of the family.
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 favourites.
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 favourite 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's 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 into 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."
Rumours that have circulated about him: that he is dead ("I always here
that"), that he is mysogynistic ("It makes me mad"), that there was a paternity
suit against him ("I heard that, but it's not true"), that he knew Jeffrey
Dahmer ("No affliliation whatsoever"), that he dated Kennedy ("She's just a
friend"- they met at the Whiskey 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 NIN and he liked Hole's last album, so he agreed. Six shows.
"I thought, 'What's the worst that could 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 that
One night she said a few impudent things about NIN 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 synth band that's easily dismissed. Even though my crowd dosen'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
behaviour. But she was obsessed with media and how she's perceived. What I
didn't realize was that 95% of it was her directly calling editors. She's got a
full media network going on."
He syas 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
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 has a siver
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 glamourous death. It isn't to take models to movie
premieres in." You disappoint me, I say. "I disappoint myself," he replies.
(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'd been saying about me,
and I'd been bottling up all my feelings 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 '90s culture is not so much
the Prince of Despondency or the Lord of Negativity. It is far worse than that.
He is the Man You Send Bad Poetry To.
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 varities. "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 had their hands full even during
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 a 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 theatreical, 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 from 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 my butt."
It is time to tell the legendary tale of Charles Manson, Tori Amos, 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 TDS was
recorded. The house where Manson followers killed Sharon Tate. On one visit,
Tori told a depressed Trent that whe 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 ghosts ate it."
The party tonight is at a club called, with cruel inaccuracy, Asylum. Any
hope that the guests of honour night 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 plyas Mother Tongue
and PJ Harvey. Danny puts on Prong. We eat pizza. It's better here.
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 people."
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 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 with something to project onto."
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".