Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Spooktober Edition” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

NINE INCH NAILS – PIGGY

(The Downward Spiral, 1994)

Nine Inch Nails’ magnum opus, The Downward spiral, is a bleak, visceral and harrowing concept album that explores some of the darkest points of human experience. Holding no punches, it is an industrial, nail-biting, jaw dropping, nut-crunching exploration into humankind’s eternal conflicts. The psychological duality of helplessness and defiance; vulnerability and bitterness; misery and rage. In all senses it is a cathartic explosion that rallies against the American mainstream, the superficiality of modern consumerism and the crippling isolation of the culturally disenfranchised.

Despite appearing on The Downward Spiral, an album chronicling the destruction of man, Piggy isn’t necessarily evil in and of itself. It’s the context in which the song was created that makes it truly unsettling.

In 1992, Trent Reznor scrapped his original plan to record the follow-up to Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine in New Orleans, decamping instead to 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles’ Benedict Canyon. It was here in 1969 that actress Sharon Tate (the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski) and four others were brutally murdered by the Charles Manson ‘family’. Although Trent suggests he only discovered the address’ grisly history after he’d decided to record there – claiming it was chosen for the suitability of the space – he subsequently read up on the incident, suggesting ‘The Tate House’ “didn’t feel terrifying as much as sad.” Despite the sense of melancholy, Trent would use it to record 1992’s Broken EP, The Downward Spiral and Marilyn Manson’s debut album, Portrait Of An American Family, which Trent produced.

The song’s title has been the subject of speculation. Former live guitarist Richard Patrick, who would later form the band Filter, has suggested he was once given the nickname ‘Piggy’, while The Beatles’ song Piggies was said to have had considerable influence on Charles Manson. Despite Trent redubbing the address ‘Le Pig’, a reference to the word that was written in blood on the front door by the murderers – and The Downward Spiral also featuring a song called March Of The Pigs – Trent denies either was directly related to what had taken place at the site of their makeshift studio.

In a sobering postscript, Trent ended up meeting Sharon Tate’s sister. She asked him about whether he thought he was exploiting her sister’s death – an encounter Trent admits caused him to breakdown, having suddenly seen things from her perspective.

Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “The 90’s Edition,” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Released on March 8, 1994, Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral” was the band’s mainstream breakthrough despite being a seedy and twisted concept album about the destruction of man. Borrowing influences from David Bowie’s “Low” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” it brought us into the deep, dark depths of Trent Reznor’s artistic mind. 

“The Downward Spiral” saw Nine Inch Nails shed the electronic impetus of their debut release, “Pretty Hate Machine,” to include denser sound elements rooted in industrial rock, techno and heavy metal. 

At the time of its release, NIN’s album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and went on to be certified quadruple-platinum. “The Downward Spiral” established Nine Inch Nails as a force within the 90’s alt-rock scene and beyond, and remains widely regarded as the band’s best work. 

The album was written and recorded at the “Tate House,” the site of the murder of famed actress Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family in 1969. Located at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, Reznor spent 18 months living in the house. He dubbed the studio where he worked “Le Pig” in reference to a message that was scrawled on the front door of Sharon Tate’s house.

Trent Reznor originally intended to record “The Downward Spiral” in New Orleans. He moved there after the album came out, and remained for a decade. Ironically, this was when he began his own downward spiral into alcohol and drug addiction.

The process of setting up a studio inside the Tate House took the band so long it delayed the release of the album.

“The Downward Spiral” was primarily recorded in a Mac computer.

In 1993, while still working on the album, Reznor came into contact with Patti Tate, Sharon’s sister. Patti accused Reznor of exploiting her sister’s death by living in the Tate home. The encounter deeply affected Reznor. Upon his moving out, the house was demolished.

Two songs, “Just Do It” and “The Beauty of the Drug,” were written for but subsequently cut from the final version of “The Downward Spiral.” The latter was eventually leaked on the “Disturbed” bootleg.

British artist Russell Mills created the cover artwork for “The Downward Spiral,” which featured his painting “Wound.” Other artwork and sketches from the album, including “Closer” and “March of the Pigs,” have been displayed at the Glasgow School of Art.

Influences And Recollections if a Musical Mind

The Downward Spiral, Trent Reznor’s harrowing account of a man’s descent into madness and attempted suicide from 1994, is an album that will likely be on my playlist forever. Nine Inch Nails recorded in the house where the first night of the infamous Manson murders took place. Whether or not any psychic energy pervading that house influenced the material and sound remains to be seen, but Reznor definitely tapped into something that resonated with music fans in the ’90’s. I won’t even attempt to break it down into favorite songs. This album exists as a whole, like a thrilling book or movie, and should be experienced from beginning to end at least once. Some music evokes the time it was recorded in and sounds dated eventually. To my ears, The Downward Spiral remains timeless, a testament to Trent Reznor’s vision and remarkable ability to channel emotion through machines.

Written By Braddon S. Williams

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