REAL HORRORSHOW – The Downward Spiral and Trent Reznor’s House of Horrors

The relationship between creation of The Downward Spiral and the house at 10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles, is the stuff of musical legend, a dark and disturbing history that connects Nine Inch Nails, Charles Manson, The Beatles’ White Album – and pigs…

The infamous house, situated in the exclusive enclave of Benedict Canyon, nestled in the hills above L.A., is best known as the site of the murder of actor Sharon Tate, the then-pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski.

Her death was one of two attacks the “Tate-LaBianca murders” committed by followers of Charles “Charlie” Manson. [An extract from the Ground Zero chapter of my book – Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails and The Creation of The Downward Spiral]

The road leading towards 10050 Cielo Drive

READ more about the history of the house at 10050 Cielo Drive

Fresh from signing a new deal with Interscope in 1992, Reznor spent a day viewing 15 houses in L.A. looking to set-up a home studio, before deciding to rent the house at Cielo Drive, an old movie star place built in the ’40s.

The ‘Le Pig’ studio set-up

He has long claimed no past knowledge of the house and its gory history when he first saw it, only realising it was one of the Manson murder houses after he had signed the rental deal – given Reznor’s extra-curricular interests – it is surprising that he would not have known of Cielo Drive’s grisly place in 1960’s pop-cult history.

CONTENT WARNING – it gets a darker from here…

Read more about NIN and The Downward Spiral

My book “Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails and The Creation Of The Downward Spiral.

MANSON’S STORY

Charles Manson was an ex-convict released into San Francisco in 1967, just in time to oversee the death of the short-lived “Summer of Love” that would close the decade.

A charismatic presence who talked in circles (see the video below), Manson tried to establish himself as a singer-songwriter, leading to disputes with The Beach Boys over the recording of his song “Cease To Exist” which Manson sold to Dennis Wilson, becoming “Never Learn Not To Love” (CtoE an inspiration for Throbbing Gristle).

HEAR Manson’s voice in the intro to Death Grips’ track “Beware”

Manson soon established a cult “family” of disenfranchised young people who lived in a commune setting at the abandoned movie set of Spahn Ranch out in Death Valley.

Through a mixture of brainwashing, sexual manipulation and grooming, and psychedelic drugs Manson increased his hold over his followers and was able to convince and coerce them into doing his bidding.

Decades later the adult family members would would reflect that at that time many of them loved Manson and considered him as their “Jesus Christ”.

The murders and the following trial of Manson and his followers was one of the defining crimes of the 20th century, let alone the 1960s – the case was recorded in forensic detail by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (his name an echo of Hollywood vampire legend Bela Lugosi).

The killing of Tate and her friends sparked fear throughout Hollywood, particularly the well-off Hollywood artists living in the hills above L.A. The author Joan Didion verbalised the shared sense of “it could have been me”:

 “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true. The tension broke that day. The paranoia was fulfilled.”

Joan Didion, The White Album

The murders cast a long shadow across the emerging decade of the 1970s, when the world started to get serious as money, cocaine, and exploitation replaced communal spirit, psychedelic re-evaluation, and free love. The new climate of fear – a psychic schism between generations – would become ammunition in the growing clampdown of the counter-culture across the nation.

BLOOD GRAFFITI

The front door of 10050 Cielo Drive

In a nod to songs from The Beatles’ “White Album” that Manson believed contained hidden messages, the phrases “Piggies”, “Death To Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” [sic.] were written in the victims’ blood throughout both houses – the word ‘PIG’ was notably written in Tate’s blood on the front door of Cielo Drive.

This no doubt inspired Reznor’s naming of the studio as ‘Le Pig’, mocking the faux-exoticism of the Euro-sounding naming of luxury houses as in “Chez XXXX” etc.

Reznor would later regret his lack of awareness about the house and be openly contrite but for the forced irony of his bad taste in-joke undermined his condemnation of [Charles] Manson and his apology to Sharon Tate’s sister.

Fellow Manson “family” members would later claim the murders had been in part committed as a form of ritual protest, revisioning them as action against the ongoing slaughter of the war in Vietnam. In interview the “family” blamed the mixed-messages and hypocrisy of violent TV and pop culture, with the young generation now realising they were the product, or the inheritors, of wider societal violence.

A thorough overview of the case and timeline of events – HERE

A long but considered 1973 documentary “Manson” features many interviews with “Manson family” members

In the story of Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor the house has remained a fixture – he recorded part of Broken there, filmed a video for “Gave Up” there, as well as recording The Downward Spiral and Marilyn Manson’s debut record “Portrait of An American Family” (Manson being the namesake of Charlie) signed to Reznor’s newly minted Nothing record label.

GAVE UP: featuring lingering, silent exterior shots of the Cielo Drive house

Since 1969 the house remained a place of gory legend and twisted pilgrimage [if you want to witness the true horror of the murders, you can see graphic police photographs HERE]

There’s a weird candid video of sight-seeers who went to film the house before doorstepping the band and wandering around inside – the footage gives us glimpses of The Downward Spiral studio set-up and catches band members (Chris Vrenna?) just ducking in and out of shot. 

EPILOGUE [ABSENT PORTAL]

So what happened to the 10050 Cielo Drive house where Nine Inch Nails recorded The Downward Spiral? Long story short – the house changed hands a couple of times, but was later bulldozed until “not a blade of grass remains”.

The notorious front door, with Tate’s blood now concealed under layers of paint, would be removed and was installed at Trent’s new studio in New Orleans, a former funeral home, where The Fragile (1999) was recorded.

There were rumours that after Reznor left to live in L.A. (again) the house was destroyed in the flooding caused by hurricane Katrina – but the door has since resurfaced and been bought by a Nine Inch Nails fan. A bizarre ending to a tragic story.

Click below to find out more about the recording of The Downward Spiral in my book:

Read more about NIN and The Downward Spiral

My book “Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails and The Creation Of The Downward Spiral.

Read more about the ‘Le Pig’ house and Nine Inch Nails in my book – INTO THE NEVER

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