[RUINER] – REZNOR LEARNS TO LIVE THE LIE

So much of The Downward Spiral deals with things falling apart. Across the album we witness the narrator’s decline in slow-motion, powerless to stop the downward trend. As he loses control the songs become darker in tone but also more broken and diffracted in style and substance, this kaleidoscopic effect presenting the various aspects of the spiral’s descent. 

[This blog post is extracted from my book –  Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails And The Creation Of The Downward Spiral]

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Ruiner is perhaps one of the album’s most pessimistic songs, it presents an unwinnable war with the Ruiner character, or ‘voice’, but it also expresses the narrator’s will of resistance, caught in a seemingly struggle with himself. 

The song begins quietly with the narrator examining the Ruiner from an awe-struck distance. Admired as a Nietzschean ‘noble’ higher being, the Ruiner rules by a force of character that both inspires and intimidates others. The narrator appears to be held in its thrall, its destructive and domineering powers conjure up the Icarus-style position of flying too close to the sun as a sublime object of fascination, only to get burned and be destroyed in the attempt.

A Pet Shop Boys-style sequencer line burbles through but is quickly pushed aside by a propulsive drumbeat, the thudding kick drum banging on the door of the mind, then a fierce, thrashing breakbeat loop crashes in, wrestling to hold itself together as the narrator rants accusations behind a haze of distortion. 

“SERVING HIS SHIT TO HIS FLIES” 

Clarity returns when the music collapses and rises-up again in a chorus of massed voices, forming a wall of light standing behind the vocals. This is reminiscent of Albert Speer’s use of upturned searchlights as epic staging behind Adolf Hitler’s speeches, the song’s totalitarian aesthetic places the Ruiner as epic figurehead. Reznor’s use of sonic scale makes the relatively flat, almost drawled delivery of the chorus lyrics all the more resonant, left to hang in the air and drag at the ear.

Click to learn more about Nazi rallies and The Lion King – https://www.businessinsider.com/the-lion-king-be-prepared-nazi-film-2014

ECCE HOMO/HERE COMETH THE MAN

An article by Kevin Mooseles for The Escapist website [2014], offers a track-by-track explanation of how the Fight Club movie can be watched running alongside The Downward Spiral. He connects the Ruiner figure in the song with the character of Tyler Durden; the id-gone-wild personality, whose success comes from bettering and besting others. Reznor sings of phallic imagery, a reminder of the album’s shifting and peeling skins using open vowel stresses ‘big/strong/hard/long’, that reflects the Ruiner/Durden’s sexual prowess that inspires penis envy among males [and the abused ‘femme-fatale’ character of Marla Singer], sharpening the sexual inadequacy of the film’s protagonist.

[READ MORE]

GODHEAD

Reznor invokes the religious language of covetousness, one of the ten commandments: the Ruiner wants what the other has as his own, perhaps for its own sake and to deny others. But in the narrator’s jilted admiration of the Ruiner, and his own growing megalomania, he in turn becomes the coveter. The Ruiner is referred to as a collector – as if a harvester of souls, these followers are the flies drawn to his shit – as much as a spectator, or voyeur of the loss of innocence. Reznor returned to this idea on The Collector from the With Teeth album [2005], singing of swallowing, and being swallowed, swarms clogging and choking orifices, as when the narrator’s voice is smothered.

[ See the lyrics for The Collector from 2005’s With Teeth as a revisitation of Ruiner and its core themes – https://genius.com/Nine-inch-nails-the-collector-lyrics ]

The Ruiner’s ability to be destructive, yet still admired, marks him as a form of charismatic dictator, driving the narrator’s desire to please or even to become the Ruiner and adopt his hyper-masculine power. Reznor identifies this attraction as a source of bondage, no matter where the narrator goes [in his mind] its influence will poison anything positive in his life, and still the narrator pursues it.

[READ MORE NIN BLOG POSTS]

Ruiner might offer a moment in which Reznor steps back and sees his own Ruiner persona overcoming him, forced to confront this imagined self-image and taking responsibility for his own agency as both masochistic victim and self-destructive force. But this realisation is too mentally disruptive and becomes untenable, and the division shatters, leaving Reznor, as with the narrator, a splintered, constantly refracting and shifting sense of self, becoming one with the Ruiner.

Roman Polanski’s Repulsion [1965]

The song breaks mid-way and descends into a languid and furiously fuzzed-up guitar solo that is perhaps as standard rock as the album gets. The guitar’s restrained feedback continues to wail then fall away into metal joints shrieking and grinding in the background, bending and lurching forwards and back at the listener. Talking about the solo to Musician magazine Reznor said it was “ultra-quantized”, bent into hard right angles, a Pink Floyd-esque effect he stumbled onto through a Zoom pedal preset:  “I think I accidentally called up the wrong patch. I’m not a soloist. I was just laughing when I was playing with this ridiculous sound […] I later realized that I basically tried to play a Comfortably Numb-type solo. I played the song for Chris, our drummer, and I was thinking, ‘He’s going to start laughing. It’s silly.’ But he goes, ‘Man, that guitar section was fucking great.’”

SO WRONG IT’S RIGHT

Reznor has said Ruiner was “the hardest song to write” in a 1994 interview. “I still don’t know if I got it right. I have such a bad vibe from that song now – from it sucking in so many different ways. It was actually two different songs stuck together.” You can hear this in the break between the verse and chorus, Ruiner is itself a track born out of, and about, fragmentation, inner division and the attempt to make the self whole again, but it becomes a reconciliation with one’s ‘greater’ nature of selfishness and the lust for power, shown to be the greatest weakness. 

Reznor’s comment points to the risk of overworking material, struggling to critically distance himself enough to let go of the work, where the process of repair or trying too hard to make something work can overwhelm the benefit of its results. But Ruiner is a powerful musical and lyrical example of how power, ambition and ego can corrupt, it may be that the song is actually a fantastic failure, but is all the better for it.

“This entire confession has meant nothing…” – Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho [2000]

The imagery of Ruiner is driven by compulsion and infection, there is a sense of overreaching to the point of obsession as the narrator’s hunger and ambition to become a ‘better’ version of himself overcomes his selfhood. The Ruiner has dragged him to a darker place within himself, and in effect consumed and destroyed him, though the narrator might feel his resolve has been strengthened in this, he comes to the realisation that the only self-knowledge he has gained is in confronting the most negative and ruinous aspects of his personality and behaviours; it is a hollow victory, that quickly sours to become defeat. In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias [1818] a traveller wandering through an “antique land” discovers a great statue of a once powerful and proud ruler, now ruined and half-buried in the sand, the inscription on it reads: 

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

[RUINER (Version) available from the Further Down The Spiral UK import]

[This blog post is extracted from my book –  Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails And The Creation Of The Downward Spiral]

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Nin-spirational Music Books

A list of some of my favourite writing about music, books that inspire and make you think differently about music which provided both inspiration and research for my book Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails And The Creation Of The Downward Spiral.

If you’d like to see more of the research material used in the book, there is a Bookshop.org reading list and the full Into The Never bibliography – HERE.

Into The Never

When music writing really works it helps to underscore and deepen your appreciation of a record. Aside from detailing facts and information about music theory, different musical scenes, and the cultural or social history of bands or specific albums – these books encouraged a deeper appreciation of the songs themselves.

Scroll down to learn more about each individual book.

1. HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN: A biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross

A formative reading experience for me. I was about 15 years old and I was just getting into Nirvana, through “Nevermind” but quickly discovering and preferring “In Utero”.

Being a child of the 90s the shadow of the band and Cobain’s suicide hung across the decade, both in musical terms and as cultural iconography. The more I listened to the music the more I became intrigued by the man.

Cross gives a very readable and in-depth account of Cobain as a person; he is not afraid to paint in him a negative light mentioning his inner flaws and his weaknesses, but for me this only serves to highlight the singer’s awareness of his own humanity.

The book is excellent in exploring how childhood trauma, such as the divorce of his parents and difficulty in fitting-in at high school, would make Cobain a troubled loner, and how his natural interest in self-expression through art would come to reflect the experiences of his generation – a new wave of bands to follow in his wake.

You can see some of the same struggles present in the music of Nine Inch Nails, particularly with The Downward Spiral where Reznor’s sense of self-loathing and alienation would chime with so many of Nirvana’s songs.

2. LIPSTICK TRACES: A Secret History of The 20th Century – Greil Marcus

A distinguished music author, Greil Marcus has written many excellent books on a range of music, but his Situationist dissection of the punk movement as a pure expression of cultural upheaval is the most influential and groundbreaking.

In the antagonism of The Sex Pistols Marcus sees a revolt against the ordinary, against the conformity it brings, and against censorship of this rebellion – and all for its own self-destructive drive.

The accidental project would encourage new ways of making music and change the definition of what a band could be – from a group of musicians to a revolutionary media performance.

Marcus is writing is inspiring because he blends academic text and theory, cut-up with images of advertising, classic photographs of the punk era, and media shots from concentration camps to create a mad inter-textual collage from which new meanings are revealed.

Seeing music in the ‘bigger picture’ of his methodology inspired me to look beyond the confines of Nine Inch Nails and a literal reading of the songs on The Downward Spiral to explore ideas of the crowd as pigs as consumers, of artistic censorship used to combat gun control, and the ways in which horror films can inspire songs that are themselves horrific.

3. RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

The post-punk period might seem to cover only a handful of years but covers a huge range of fertile ground in the history of modern music. Simon Reynolds’ book leaps from the car crash inferno that was the brief but brilliant punk explosion/implosion and skims over many of the highly individual bands that made their mark in its wake.

The concise sections give you a real insight into major and minor post-punk outfits, mixing anecdote and his impressions of the records produced in that era before it was co-opted into the poppified blandness of new wave.

Not only is this book highly readable it points towards the rise of the alternative music scene that would come to dominate the early 1990s, a conscious reaction to the hegemony of chart-driven synth-pop smothered the second half of the 1980s.

With Pretty Hate Machine released in 1989 it carried the influences of the edgy end of synth music with Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, and Depeche Mode, alongside the more out there DADA-ist provocation of groups like Devo, Psychedelic Furs, and Throbbing Gristle.

This combination of influences and the will to experiment would be carried on through The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, and on to Nine Inch Nails’ current trilogy of EPs.

4. BOWIE IN BERLIN: A New Career In A New Town by Thomas Seabrook

This book is as much biographical as about the music – it is the best account of Bowie’s years in Berlin that I’ve found.

Well researched and thorough, Seabrook gives a lot detail and insight for the less casual reader who wants to know what Bowie got up into while living in Berlin and restarting his life after the big cocaine comedown of L.A.

The book was very useful in providing further detail about the recording of individual tracks for “Low” the album which along with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” provided the major sonic and experimental influences for The Downward Spiral.

A great overview of what is arguably Bowie’s most interesting and musically adventurous period.

5. REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD: The Beatles’ Records And The Sixties by Ian MacDonald

It’s hard to express my admiration for this book without noting the skill and foresight of its late author. A very influential approach to writing about music, MacDonald covers the musical theory, biographical ups-and-downs and cultural context relating to every Beatles track, from their relatively humble beginnings to their very messy and acrimonious ending.

With a couple of pages given to more expansive and…revolutionary tracks such as I Am The Walrus, the infamously un-famous b-side, Rain (it should have been a single), and A Day In The Life, MacDonald covers big ideas on spiritualism, political dissent and the turning tide of the counter-culture that The Beatles spearheaded and would become synonymous with.

I tried to take on some of this approach in my own writing about Nine Inch Nails, going lighter on the technical aspects that make up the songs of The Downward Spiral, while digging deeper into how Reznor’s personal experiences at the time of the recording might run through the album like traces of his DNA. Several tracks from the White Album would weirdly run through The Downward Spiral, from Piggies, to Helter Skelter via Charles Manson (see my blog post on this).

This book showed me how with some of the most challenging and interesting records have a wider influence on culture outside of music that becomes inseparable from the songs, making it an artefact of its times.

6. TRIPTYCH: Three Studies of Manic Street Preachers by Larissa Wodtke, Rhian E. Jones, Daniel Lukes

A really interesting and I think unique take on writing a music book about one of the UK’s most enduring bands, Manic Street Preachers started out in 1990, from a small mining town in Wales their music is suffused with pop-cult influences, high-level literacy, and punk-rock energy. Their third album, The Holy Bible, is one of my favourite records and each of Triptych’s co-authors takes on a different aspect of the album.

Lukes gives an anecdotal breakdown of the album’s core cultural reference points, Jones offers her own experiences as young Manics fan growing up in Wales, and Wodtke explores the idea of historicity and archive in the Manics’ continued reference to the album. The Manics’ guitarist and lyricist, Richey Edwards, would subsequently go missing in 1995 after telling the band he wanted their follow-up album to be “Pantera meets Nine Inch Nails meets Screamadelica”.

A really important stepping stone for me, The Holy Bible bears many parallels to The Downward Spiral, with a stripped-back post-punk sound its coarse and aggressive energy reminds of NIN’s heaviest and most extreme moments of bleakness. Their shared expressions of nihilism have each become iconic touchstones for challenging and uncompromising music that seeks to shake humanity out from the chains of its existential complacency.

7. 33&1/3 Pretty Hate Machine by Daphne Carr

Daphne Carr’s 33&1/3-series book applis a somewhat controversial approach, divided between the history of early NIN, Pretty Hate Machine, and alternative music retailing in the 1990s.

Part-oral history and academic treatise – the fan accounts of what NIN means to them and how Pretty Hate Machine in particular helped them reflect upon challenging and negative experiences are both moving and insightful, Carr really drills down to explore the core relationship between Trent Reznor’s music and Nine Inch Nails fans.

Rob Sheridan’s revised cover art for Pretty Hate Machine

The book gets quite lost talking about US retail chains and how they marketed to the emergent youth market; feeling like a cobbled-on bit of PhD research. Elsewhere Carr produces an excellent chapter on the Columbine school shootings, examining NIN’s relationship to the shooters and the media uproar that followed, raising bigger questions about gun control and artistic censorship.

A bold approach to the big questions to a band with one of the most iconic and influential debut albums.

8. ASHES TO ASHES: The Songs of David Bowie 1976-2016 by Chris O’Leary

Alongside O’Leary’s previous Bowie book, Rebel Rebel, which covers all of his music up until StationToStation, this is perhaps the definitive book on Bowie.

Drawn from his excellent blog Pushing Ahead Of The Dame O’Leary takes the MacDonald’s approach to The Beatles and applies it to a lifetime of songs. A doorstopper of a book that is never a drag, O’Leary poetic prose sings and takes you on a journey into the music itself, not just recounting the “making-of” details.

What I like so much about this book is O’Leary’s meticulous research, drawing on a wealth of Bowie interviews he sticks to the story of the music and less about cod-psychology or applying aesthetic theories to Bowie’s ouvre.

O’Leary’s references to Bowie’s relationship to NIN, and his friendship with Trent Reznor is explored in-depth around the era of 1995’s “1.Outside” album, there is so much great stuff to draw on from this book.

9. WRECKERS OF CIVILIZATION: The Story of COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle by Simon Ford

Simon Ford’s relentlessly searching account explores the madness and the passion of a performance art collective that would go on to form a musical group that’s sole purpose was to reinvent music as they destroyed it.

Aside from actual industrial-genre bands that had a direct genetic influence for NIN, the legacy of TG on Trent’s Reznor music is felt more by attitude, in the pursuit of new sounds and experimentalism with non-musical noise that carries emotional resonance and atmospheric impact.

It’s great to read about a band who worked at the extreme edges of art that somehow set a precedent for many other groups, like NIN, to follow in their wake.

10. ASSIMILATE by S. Alexander Reed

A BONUS title, this book is a comprehensive and far-reaching book about many, many aspects of industrial music, from race and techno-fear, to the limits and new horizons of the genre.

A refreshing read as it looks far beyond Nine Inch Nails – which has become the popular image of industrial music – as illuminating as its range is broad!

INTO THE NEVER: Nine Inch Nails And The Creation Of The Downward Spiral

Into The Never

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this blog post please check out my other articles or read more about my Nine Inch Nails book, Into The Never.

If you’d like to see more of the research material used in the book, there is a Bookshop.org reading list and the full Into The Never bibliography – HERE.

Read more about NIN and The Downward Spiral

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

WATCH – Nine Inch Nails – Mini HBO Documentary

In this short film a range of musicians pay tribute to Nine Inch Nails as part of their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

Introduced by Iggy Pop the film explores the legacy of NIN and key defining moments in their history of music recording and performance.

READ – The story of how Nine Inch Nails entered Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2020

Find out more about my book INTO THE NEVER: NINE INCH NAILS AND THE CREATION OF THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Into The Never

Nine Inch Nails Inducted Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2020

Nine Inch Nails have taken their place alongside fellow musical legends and industry peers – here’s how the band got there

Having produced the classic debut album Pretty Hate Machine in 1989, NIN would help to define the alternative music scene throughout the 1990s, and with The Downward Spiral and The Fragile become a multi-million-selling, globally adored band at the burning edge of music-making in the 21st century.

Nine Inch Nails have continued to produce arresting albums that interrogate the limits of our humanity within an increasingly technocratic society, creating music marked by bold sense of sonic experimentation that harbours constantly explores the darker side of our nature through the transgressive themes of S&M, alienation, and nihilism.

The R&R Hall noted Nine Inch Nails contribution to music: “NIN juxtaposes the brutal and delicate, chaos and order, nihilistic despair and spiritual rapture. After three decades, Reznor and Nine Inch Nails continue to express creative freedom and innovation, never resting on their success.” – WATCH the band’s introductory video

ENJOY THIS BLOG POST?
Read more about Nine Inch Nails in my book INTO THE NEVER

Into The Never

HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN

Reznor himself will be inducted alongside several of his bandmates who have featured as part of Nine Inch Nails at various stages in the band’s career: Atticus Ross, Robin Finck, Chris Vrenna, Danny Lohner, Ilan Rubin and Alessandro Cortini

Former touring guitarist, Richard Patrick is notable by his absence from the induction line-up, as is early sound engineer Sean Beavan, although it is fair to say that both artists are busy with their own projects. Patrick would leave NIN around the time of The Downward Spiral and have great success with his own group, Filter, while Beavan would go on to produce many of the most influential rock and metal albums of the 90s, including Marilyn Manson’s “Mechanical Animals”.

[In his acceptance speech Reznor would thank many of his other collaborators from across the band’s 30-year career – Charlie Clouser, James Woolley, Rich Patrick, Josh Freese, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Jerome Dillon, Aaron North, Jeff Ward, and Jeordie White.]

LISTENpodcast – Cleveland.com on Pretty Hate Machine, Woodstock 1994, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Nine Inch Nails is inducted in 2020 alongside Depeche Mode -while Kraftwerk remain only nominated- groups that were around long before Nine Inch Nails but remain influential both for industrial music and in the sound of NIN, particularly in their use of taking electronic music to stadium-sized audiences, in this Reznor would later come to stand alongside them as a musical peer. Throughout the 1990s NIN and DM would trade increasingly dark material with Depeche Mode releasing Violator in 1991 and the much heavier and abrasive Ultra in 1997, as if in response to the NIN sound.

TWICE NOMINATED

Trent Reznor –as Nine Inch Nails– has been shortlisted for inclusion in the hall both in 2015 (Lou Reed, Greenday, and Ringo Starr) and 2016 (Chicago, Deep Purple, N.W.A.), although the band was absent from later years’ nominations. Feeling he had perhaps been unfairly passed over, twice, Reznor commented: “I honestly couldn’t give less of a shit.”

After inducting The Cure into the hall in 2019 Reznor noted the value of the band being recognised and acknowledged for their contribution to music by their fellow musicians and industry peers.

Feeling he had previously spoken out of turn, he soon changed his mind and said as much in his induction speech:  “I remember distinctly saying to myself, among other things, how can I even take this awards ceremony seriously if they’ll open their doors to X, Y and Z and not acknowledge the Cure? Not so long ago I get a phone call I wasn’t expecting, and, well, here we are. Let’s just say I’ve never been as happy to eat my words as I was tonight.

Reznor said of The Cure: “The first album I heard was Head on the Door, and I hadn’t heard anything like it before. And a lot of darkness I felt in my head was coming back at me through the speakers and it blew my mind. It was like this music was written just for me.” 

Early inspiration for Reznor

This is interesting to note, as I mention in my book about Nine Inch Nails, Into The Never, music’s great power comes from reflecting our feelings back to us, helping us to feel less alone, perhaps even more human. What NIN has given to fans, both hardcore and casual listeners, is the reassurance that no matter how weird or troubling we might think our most challenging emotional experiences, the dark alienation and depression of The Downward Spiral harboured in secret, there will be others out there who can relate – and this connection between music and listener has resonated with millions and spanned generations.

WATCHReznor’s full speech for the induction of The Cure in 2019

BEYOND ROCK AND ROLL

In his speech Reznor was acknowledging that he was stood on the shoulders of giants, but as his career as Nine Inch Nails has continued – the more he has grown as an artist.

Alongside collaborator and NIN band member, Atticus Ross, Reznor has become as well known for his albums as the soundtracks they have created for a range of films, documentaries, and TV series, that has seen Reznor been awarded an Oscar for the soundtrack to 2011’s Social Network.

And I think in some respects, the band’s induction into the hall of fame is also a recognition for the range and depth of Reznor’s musical achievements outside of the confines of “rock and roll”, for which he could no longer be ignored.

LOOKING BACK (TO THE FUTURE)

For the (online) ceremony artists such as St. Vincent and Jenny Beth cover classic NIN songs, “Piggy” and “Closer” respectively. It is interesting to note that two tracks from The Downward Spiral are chosen and not “Hurt” – which became mistakenly known as a Johnny Cash song previously covered by Reznor.

Speaking about her NIN cover version, St. Vincent said: “It remains one of my favourite Nails songs to this day.… I am obsessed with the slinky tambourine that is just a little lazy in feel. And when I took this song apart to cover it, it took me a long time to really understand the immensity of the groove. It’s a dark, industrial reggae. Muscular, but never as distorted as you imagined it when you think of it in your head…. They made a complicated thing seem easy and made big, bold sonic choices.”

It is arguable that while Nine Inch Nails remains an enduringly popular recording artist and a huge live draw, The Downward Spiral remains Trent Reznor’s definitive artistic statement, and so much of his legacy rests on that album still. So many fans mention that they prefer the double-album of The Fragile, but it is TDS that sticks in the mind of the average listener.

And it is in this era of Nine Inch Nails that the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame leans – its display installation of the infamously mud-slurried Trent Reznor performing at the band’s seminal Woodstock 1994 appearance – casting shadows of what has become his well-worn past.

Following the emerging success of The Downward Spiral selling hundreds and thousands of copies a few months after its March release, the Woodstock performance in August is now considered the show that helped the band break big across America – and later the world.

Nine Inch Nails bought, what was by now, the band’s trademark performative rage and on-stage violence to the highly visual medium of live pay-per-view screening presented to sofas in small towns and big cities.

Reznor’s lyrics expressed the burgeoning connection between American youth (Generation X?) and transgressive themes of S&M, heresy, and alienation building an alternative consciousness within the popular mainstream.

In his introduction speech for NIN, Iggy Pop gave. nod to NIN’s ability to play with funk (see the Prince-inspired grooves of Heresy and Closer) and transcend the “industrial label: “It’s the soundtrack to the dark and lonely party that was beginning to play out in America at that period. So I would call it, not industrial, but the sound of industrial and digital ambition.

READ WE ARE ALL PIGS – blog post on the Woodstock 1994 performance

WATCH – Trent Reznor’s acceptance acceptance speech

At the end of his speech, Reznor said: “This journey’s far from over if I have any say in it, so let’s stop fucking around, patting ourselves on the back, and get to it. Hope to see you all in the flesh soon.”

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Read more about Nine Inch Nails in my book INTO THE NEVER

Ushering in a new era of confessional music that spoke openly about experiences of trauma, depression, and self-loathing, Nine Inch Nails’ seminal album, The Downward Spiral, changed popular music forever – bringing transgressive themes of heresy, S&M, and body horror to the masses and taking music technology to its limits. Released in 1994, the album resonated across a generation, combining elements of metal, industrial, synth-pop, and ambient electronica, and going on to sell over four million copies.

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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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