Revolution No. Nine

By Mark Blackwell for Huh Magazine on February 1, 1995

Utter silence has suddely descended upon this rather loud winter's nite 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 contently on the arm of a couch above the peculiar event. He's probably seen this a hundred times. He smiles broadly. "Ladies and gentleman, 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. "Tht'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 leath-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 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 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 clubd 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. 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 basicly 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 consituting 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 us 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.

After making a late entrance, Reznor slips in and out of the mix rather quietly and discreetly. Nobody's really bothered him too much, as the girls have been instructed not to ask for any 'graphs of the photo or auto kind. One lone guy fan wanders about the room asking anyone that will listen questions about the assorted keyboard that Reznor destroyed during tonight's performance. He's wearing a stupid looking hat with little blinking lights on it. He and I marvel together over the fact that there's actually a person traveling with the tour whose job is to actually repair the the instruments upon which Reznor so avidly inflicts punishment on stage. The hat-light guy begins to drill one of the security guards about the make and model of one particular synth that Reznor rendered all but keyless tonight. I can't figure out what the hell he's talking about, so I go chat with Karen, the girl who was picked to perch on Jim Rose's noggin.

"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 the 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 I got all my stupid questions to Reznor out of the way ealier in the day.

Was it difficult making the transition from little loner in the basement with a synthesizer to big touring band guy that sells millions of records?

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 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. Bulls**t. I felt really bad about it at first. I wish people would quit liking us an we could go back to play the cool club and, you know, stay in the cool magazines and worry about the cool people. Then I thought f**k 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 you 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 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 f**k is buying some of the s**t 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 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 "f**k" 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 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.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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