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13 Things You Didn't Know About Nine Inch Nails' 'The Downward Spiral'

On the 20th anniversary of NIN's breakthrough, Fuse looks at 13 lesser-known facts about Trent Reznor’s second studio album

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David Bowie’s 'Low' Was a Major Influence

Trent Reznor raved about David Bowie's experimental 1977 release, saying it “was probably the single greatest influence on The Downward Spiral for me. I got into Bowie in the Scary Monsters era, then I picked up Low and instantly fell for it. I related to it on a song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level.” 

Reznor joined Bowie on tour in 1995, where they performed album closer “Hurt” as a bombastic duet.

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It Was Recorded at the Site of a Notoriously Grisly Murder

Trent Reznor's L.A. address was 10050 Cielo Drive, site of the Manson family murders of the pregnant Sharon Tate and four others in 1969. In a move that some would call dark humor and others would call poor taste, Reznor named his new home studio “Le Pig” in reference to the word PIG scrawled in blood on the front door by Tate’s killers. 

Reznor also recorded a video for Broken track “Gave Up” at Le Pig in 1992 with Marilyn Manson:

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Reznor Actually Met Sharon Tate's Sister While Making the Album

The two met by chance while Reznor was living at 10050 Cielo Drive, and Tate’s sister asked him if he was exploiting her sister's death. Suddenly struck by the full impact of the crime, Reznor said he “realized for the first time, 'What if it was my sister?' I thought, 'F-ck Charlie Manson.' I went home and cried that night.” 

Reznor was the last resident to live in the original house before its demolition, and he took the infamous front door with him to install at his studio in New Orleans. 

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The Album's Opening Sounds are Sampled from George Lucas’ First Film

The Downward Spiral’s dark tone is set in the very first 30 seconds, with the sounds of muffled violence sped up until Reznor launches into “Mr. Self Destruct.” It’s the sound of a man beaten by a prison guard in George Lucas’ 1971 sci-fi film THX 1138, and you can watch the (again, very violent) clip below.

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"Big Man With a Gun" Enraged Conservatives

In 1995, activist C. Delores Tucker and former Republican White House staffer William Bennett allegedly tried to force Time Warner execs to read "Big Man With a Gun" lyrics out to support their attempted ban on demeaning lyrics. Reznor said in response, They singled me out because I said f-ck in a song, and said, 'I got a big gun and a big d-ck.'"

Conservative pundit Robert Bork also slammed the song in his 1996 book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, lumping it in with other songs he viewed as equally damaging to our nation’s moral fabric, such as Snoop Dogg and B-rezell’s “Horny”. 

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Reznor Wishes He'd Left "Big Man With a Gun" Off the Album

Although Reznor maintained that the song's lyrics were intended as satirical posturing, he wondered if the controversy wasn't fueled by weak writing on his part: “From an artistic point of view, if I'd had a couple more months to look back on everything, I probably would not have put that song on the record. Just 'cause I don't think it's that good a song, not because I got spanked for it."

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Tommy Lee Contributed to the Album...Sort Of

Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee is credited on "Big Man With a Gun" as contributing "Other [Steakhouse]". What is "Steakhouse"? It's the garbled moan at the beginning of the song, sampled from the sound of an unidentified woman having an orgasm. 

Tommy ultimately explained the sample's origin in his autobiography Tommyland: It's messy and grapes are involved. You can find it on Google books, but you can't unread it. 

1996 File Photo of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee at the Planet Boom in North Hollywood, California (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/Wi
Jeffrey Mayer
8 / 13

“Closer” Samples an Iggy Pop Song

The song that launched Nine Inch Nails into the mainstream is driven by its unforgettable drum loop, which features an edited sample of the bass drum from Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing.” David Bowie’s influence surfaces again here: He co-wrote the track.

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“Reptile” Contains a Sample from ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’

Compare the original source from the 1974 horror classic—a clip of a girl yelling as she runs down a hill—to the "Reptile" sample in the video below.

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It Featured Some Notable '90s Alt-Rock Guests

To quote Pretty Hate Machine's liner notes, "Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails." Even so, a cavalcade of musicians have helped Reznor make music over the years, and The Downward Spiral had some notable guests: Adrian Belew of King Crimson, Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, and Flood, the British producer behind 30 Seconds to Mars' Love Lust Faith + Dreams

A baby-faced Trent discusses being a one-man band in the 1994 interview below:

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"The Becoming" Samples Screams from an Obscure Sci-Fi Film

Reznor drew his distorted scream-samples from this 1989 film about a dystopian future full of giant battle bots (this sounds suspiciously like Pacific Rim minus the aliens). 

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"Hurt" is Used in a Gangsta Rap Song

Westside Connection—a southern California rap group made up of Ice Cube, Mack 10, and WC—sampled "Hurt" to pretty great effect in 1996 on "The Gangsta, The Killa and The Dope Dealer". Take a listen below.

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The "Closer" Video Took Inspiration from the Animated Short 'Street of Crocodiles'

Okay, we may have pointed this out before—but any excuse to share this awesome stop-motion gem. 

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Apr 2: Basket-Bros

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