Nine Inch Nailed
Freak Like Me ??.96
By Jim Rose

JIM ROSE: Whilst in Edinburgh we received an unexpected call from my agent back home, Branigan. NINE INCH NAILS wants you to open for them,' Branigan crowed into the phone. I'd been hearing lots about the band - pictures of the disturbingly handsome headman Trent Reznor were slapped across the pages of all the rock magazines, which were packed with praise about his latest release, The Downward Spiral. The music was industrial - weird noises with a beat that's in the same genre as Ministry; but instead of looking like a biker, Trent looked like a masochistic ghost. Their words were dark, their music haunting and Trent was portrayed as moody.

Nine Inch Nails wanted us to tour the US with them. At first I was psyched, then troubled. We really liked their music, and of course we liked the idea of playing for the biggest crowds of our career. But Nine Inch Nails...they had a reputation for wreaking havoc on all they touched. For example us.

We were supposed to have brushed up against them six months earlier in Tuscon, as an opening act. When we got to Arizone, they were nowhere to be found. The night before, Trent had thrown a mike stand into the air and it landed on the drummer's face, knocking him unconscious and leaving a gash that required stitches. They'd cancelled the show we were supposed to play at. I'm used to people who are insane for a living, but not someone who's just insane. They seemed so unpredictable. If we booked a tour with them, and it was cancelled, our circus could go bankrupt.

Branigan assured me they rarely cancelled, and they loved to tour. And he said this was going to be one of the biggest productions of the year. 'You won't believe how their set is decorated,' he said, 'and the light show's rockin'. Trent took all the money he made from the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers and gave it back to his fans. This thing is an event!'

With great reservation I agreed to signing up with the Nine Inch Nails tour - knowing that they could make our circus extinct. we braced ourself for an ice age...

NINE INCH NAILED...

Muncie, Indiana. September 1994.
I was sitting on a packing crate backstage at Ball State University, writing a set amid broken down, folded up basketball hoops. From the shadows of nets a dark figure approached.

It was Trent Reznor. The master of Nine Inch Nails, the man who had bought the house where Sharon Tate was killed. The guy who invited us on this tour. The prince of destruction.

I looked up, expecting to see someone in need of an exorcist. Instead I saw a guy with a shy smile and honest eyes, delicate features and inky black hair, who seemed so composed, so elegant, and so striking that he might have stepped out of a Renaissance painting.

'Hey Jim,' he said, extending his pale hand. 'Happy you're here.' He was neither cocky nor demented, but soft-spoken and completely relaxed.

I, on the other hand, was freaking. Here we were an hour away from opneing for NIN, perhaps the most outrageous band of the late twentieth century. Trent was the main buzz of music magazines - and the celebrity ones too, all of which painted a picture of him as moody, brooding, sullen, tortured and slightly maniacal. Qualities I happen to like, and so apparantly did the listening public, but that might have had more to do with his mesmerizing music. His following was huge: I've lived in towns with fewer residents than the people out there in Ball State's arena.

My mouth flew open, and I heard my voice croak out, sounding even more hyper than usual. 'You know, Trent,' I said, gnawing on my thumbnail, 'I'm scared to death. At Lollapalooza we played the second stage. These crowds are going to be our biggest audiences ever. I mean, Trent, before this we were just Sanford and Son. Now we feel like The Jeffersons.

Just as I was saying '-sons', an amoeba-like crowd surrounded Trent, engulfed him and swept him away. That brief encounter was the closest I'd get to him for days.

We headed to our dressing room, which was brimming with catering trays, wine, cocktails and exotic beers. First-class all the way. This place even had a shower. And towels.

Suddenly there was a huge racket coming from next door, and we ran over to investigate. It was Marilyn Manson - in the midst of a pre-show trashing of their dressing room as they filed out to the stage.

They were a fetching site. First off, Marilyn Manson is a man - as beautiful as Monroe, as sinister as Charlie. Tall, lanky, with long dark hair, he wore a different-colored tigeresque contact in each eye, and lipstick smeared from the bottom of his nose to half-way down his chin. His every tooth was blackened, intentionally; this wasn't just one tooth blacked out like on Hee Haw. Paling his face was the whitest make-up you could find this side of a chalk factory. There was something instantly charismatic about this walking cadaver.

He was the front man, ushering the shock rock tradition of Alice Cooper, Kiss and Iggy Pop into the 90's. And when he took to the stage, Marilyn's Manson streak came out: he bared his teeth like a Rottweiler and broke into 'Cake And Sodomy' - taking breaks between lyrics to spit on the audience. His moves and gyrations entranced the cowering crowd, who stared wide-eyed as if they'd just found their leader, between ducks and grimaces.

After listening to one song we had to leave to check and recheck all our props. It's that nervous ritual that opens every tour, but it was executed all the more nervously tonight.

Despite the hundreds of shows we'd done by then, we were antsy. There were seventeen thousand people out there. And every single one of them wanted to see Nine Inch Nails. Knowing our name was the Jim Rose Circus, we'd decided to do a faster, meaner and rawer show to bridge the gap between us and the Nails as quickly as possible.

We darted onto the stage and zipped through at a mind-numbing speed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Trent watching us from the wings - and that made me talk even faster. A forty-five minute set felt like we'd jogged on, lapped around the stage and run off. It must have been slightly more entertaining than that, because the crowd proved their appreciation by giving us all the oohhs and aahhs at the right times.

As we walked off, applause singing in our ears, we were ecstatic. Electricity zapped through the air. I'd thought it was because we'd done well, but soon realized the real reason: everyone backstage was looking at Trent, walking down the hall. Wherever he walked, people seemed to ionize and knock into another orbit.

Our set over, we now lurked in the wings - to watch this man with the supposedly bad attitude, who had been so nice, to see what all the hoopla was about. At the time I was feeling pretty haded about music. Rock 'n' Roll was actually starting to bore me, and I was considering a change to country-western. This show, I figured would be the one to put me over the edge, and I mentally reviewed how to do do-si-dos.

The curtains onstage were closed, and bathed in a white light, when eerie Gothic music pierced the air with a drumbeat that sounded like the rhythmic clanging inside a steel mill. It went on for minutes - building the drama. Then the smoke machine transformed the entire stage into one big puff; green lights hit the clouds, creating a lime fog. It felt like a street corner in a Batman movie. The music went hyper as the curtains began to part. The second it opened, Trent ran right for the mike, leaving the band to be gradually unveiled with each pulling of the curtain rope.

With total abandon he transformed himself right before my eyes into a cat in need of a spay, a ravenous dog, a wanton beast of some kind ripping his heart out, his guts, his soul, and then stomping on them. He fell to his knees and wrapped his arms around the mike, as if reunited with an old flame.

This man was a spectacle, a runaway train, and he was turning the crowd into a herd of stampeding bulls, knocking each other over. Trent was their leader in the china shop, kicking keyboards and toppling drum sets, while an army of stagehands followed in his wake, trying to reassemble what this amplified tornado had undone. It was a tantrum one could only dream of having. He seemed to have the attitude that he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted - and did.

His act was the epitome of dysfunctional: he pounded us with the hardest melodies, he lulled us into the depths of melancholy, and then pummelled us all over again. And he was doing everyting so fast. His show was a ship in a storm, as unpredictable as nature or a woman with really bad PMS.

When he was sad, he was crying; when he was hard, he kicked mike stands and instruments, breaking them into pieces. During the second song he grabbed the guitar player, picked him up, carried him to the edge of the stage and tossed him instrument and all into the moshing masses.

It felt like a war-torn battle zone; I took a step back. And decided to postpone the country-western phase.

This guy wasn't just a media hypester lacking substance or form. He was for real: bringing together looks, brilliant music, incredible lyrics, a stage energy that shook all who watched, and winding up everyone with a musical lasso that never slacked or relaxed. Even when he was just standing at the mike, you knew his toes were kneading the stage. Trent had more talent and charisma in his earlobe than any whole human I'd ever seen.

At this point, weighing the image of the person I'd met backstage with the fury onstage, I realized Trent was a human dichotomy: you never knew what he would do next, but whatever it was, it would be honest and from the gut. With the integrity he displayed onstage he immediately made me trust him, and made it plain to me why everyone stared when he walked by. Branigan was right: this tour was an event.

I was truly in awe and relaized he possessed a combination of qualities that few humans are aware they have: true talent with hot-blooded conviction. This was a man with a vision and a mission. He made a believer out of me. I made a note to do the next night's show twice as fast.

After the set, as did everyone else there, I felt like a sieve, all energy drained through me. It struck me as impossible that Trent could even do the show the next night.

Then it hit me like a flying mike stand: the reason he's so relaxed and soft-spoken pre-performance is he's saving up every ounce of his energy so he can explode in his two-hour show.

When the band got off, they were whisked away to shower up before that night's festivities started. After thr band had scrubbed behind their ears, the OK was given to let the party roll. I was elated at the thought that we were going to hang with Trent, and we could talk about performance, passion and drive - and I could tell him exactly how much he moved me, a topic that had never seemed necessary before.

All the people with the VIP passes - namely Marilyn Manson and the circus - paraded into the Nine Inch Nails dressing room. Their dressing room was catered three times higher and wider than our dressing room, and the selection of beers was three times as exotic, though everybody seemed to be drinking Bud and Rolling Rock. When we slunk in, the band was still in the shower room putting on their clothes; this being a nightly routine of merriment, they weren't rushing. As soon as Trent walked out and into the party, that amoeba crowd engulfed him again and he was swarmed. As soon as two walked out of the pack surrouding him, three others replaced them.

Getting to Trent would take a two-by-four, or at least a chainsaw. The man whom we were touring with, who so inspired me each time he took the stage, was a stranger.

For weeks our only contact was exchanging pleasantries as we walked offstage and he walked on. I didn't want more than that; it seemed like there were always dozens of people chewing on his ear. He was approachable, but he seemed so burdened, we just left him alone.

Then one night trent and a friend strode out of the NIN dressing room, a stun gun in hand. 'Hey, Jim,' Trent said, 'Jerry here says he can take the shock. Can anybody in your circus do that?' Overhearing this, modest Mr lifto yelled, 'Hell, you can stun-gun my dick.'

It was the Titanic moment, the one that broke the ice. That night Trent and I sat off in one of the side rooms and swapped war stories about life on the road. I told him about the French Fiasco, the Montreal Bloodfest, the Wikings. He told me about his days as a janitor at a recording studio in Cleveland, trading his hours pushing a broom for time to record his music.

It was a drunken, bonding moment, especially when I told him about having had crossed eyes, and he swore he couldn't see my bald spot.

He told me that he too had once been a freak: as a kid he was plagued with auditory problems and was forced to wear tubes sticking out of his ears. For years he was tormented and treated as an alien.

Hours and many tales later I left Trent as I always do:happy and confused. Over the following weeks I found that the only thing I liked more than telling a good story was listening to one of his. He always knew how to make laugh. And he actually knew how to make me shut up.

We were on the road for five months, and night after night it was one big party, interrupted for those forty five minutes when we had to perform; there were only four more interruptions to go until we had a two week-Christmas break. Two of those interruptions were at Madison Square Garden, which bills itself correctly as the most famous arena in the world. Both NIN shows sold out within an hour.

The first show was cancelled, when the band's bus crashed and the guitarist sprained his finger. The second show was a mobhouse, press, celebs, limos everywhere. Larry 'Bud' Melman put ina n appearance, even shuffling out on the stage to say, 'Boy, that Jim Rose Circus sure gave me a watery pig's eye. And now for the other side of the anatomy, Nine Inch Nails will punch your balls off.' Larry certainly knew how to read off cue cards.

After their close brush with death the night before, the NIN set was perfectly destructive that night, turning the stage into splinters and shreds of metal.

As we walked offstage towards the bus for our final show, I felt electricity zapping the air again and looked up to see JFK Junior - waiting to meet Trent.

This leg of the tour was capped off in Philadelphia, where we all said Merry Christmas until four inthe morning. A camaraderie had built up between us, and I almost felt teary-eyed realizing I'd be seperated for over a week from the guys who by now felt like kin.

No sooner had the troupe headed back on the road than the tour somehow become wilder than ever. Playing in Long Island, Trent brought out one of my heroes, Adam Ant, to play the encore - and Adam dedicated it to the circus. Minutes later Howard Stern loped into our dressing room to shake hands - though in fact, give the height difference between us, it would have been easier for me to shake his knee. Even though he was talking down to me, it never felt like he was, and I've never taken a quicker liking to a media personality. The next day the king of shock radio was talking about us over the air, saying stuff so sweet even the Engima was blushing, making his blue skin turn sort of purple.

One night the troupe was sitting backstage with the roadies and some of the crew. NIN wasn't around, and it wasn't the night for Murder She Wrote, so we were all pretty bored, as we downed more beer and chomped on sandwiches, gazing at the door that had one of those green EXIT signs hanging over it.

Suddenly out of nowhere, an apple slammed the green exit sign. It was the end of a six-month tour; such innocent rowdiness was to be expected. Besides, the sign didn't break. A minute later the apple was followed by an orange, and a beer can. Still it didn't break. This was a challenge; for the next five minutes eeryone pelted it, with sandwiches, plates, bottles - the air was filled with flying debris. And still the light wouldn't break. Finally, someone threw a metal casserole dish and the plastic cover of the light broke off. However, the bulk of the sign remained firmly entrenched in it's spot. The mission then became to knock it out of the ceiling. Someone threw one of those standing metal ashtrays. Didn't faze it. People started throwing chairs, tables, mike stands, even the couch that we'd been sitting on until then. It was still hanging. The damn thing wouldn't fall. We'd run out of stuff to throw at it.

About then Trent strode in, holding a coffee cup, to see what all the noise was about. He looked up at the exit sign, by then hanging by a string, and surveyed the crap under it that by now was pilled just about as high as the sign. With a shrug he nonchalanlty tossed the coffe cup at the exit sign. It came crashing down. The prince of destruction still reigns.