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Nine Inch Nails: Back from the Dead

For a decade, he’s been “that guy in there,” behind the cement walls and black-tinted windows of this sprawling property on busy Magazine Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Outside, mutts and garrulous families play on peeling front porches. Tourists browse the mini-malls set in 200-year-old storefronts. Today, much of the city is enjoying the Bacchus Parade during Mardi Gras, tailgating as cotton-candy vendors and colorful floats of angels, devils, snakes, and sirens roll by.

The French Quarter is always full of this kind of life. But inside this building, a former funeral parlor turned live-in recording studio, there has been all kinds of death. The lone occupant, looking out at you through those one-way windows or on the security monitors-you might know him. Maybe you’d recognize his voice if you heard him sing. Intimate phrasing. Screams. Back in the ’90s, if you were lonely and upset, he might have been your perfect imaginary friend. The one who articulated your pain, saved your life even. But to his neighbors, and to most others in this new century, he’s been Boo Radley, Charles Montgomery Burns, Bad Ronald, the Wizardof Oz behind his curtain. A twisted recluse walking around naked, maybe. Or much worse.

“Let me give you the tour,” Trent Reznor offers after opening the large wrought-iron gate and waving me into the foyer. I feel a bit like Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker at the beginning of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The man behind Nine Inch Nails has a large-ish head like Gary Oldman’s Count, pale skin with very little pink in it. He’s dressed in black: T-shirt, cargo pants, and sneakers with orange piping. His hair is dyed to blue-black goth perfection. Someone has lit a few candles. Gargoyles and skulls haunt the foot of a wide staircase leading to a…tricked-out coffin? A torture chamber? “Actually, there are a bunch of old, broken video games up there,” he says with a shy laugh.

Trent Reznor doesn’t really suck blood or ball gags. He drinks protein shakes. And a lot of black coffee. He’s not trying to spook me with the candles. It’s aromatherapy. I’ve been summoned here not to close some shady real estate deal or dally with undead babes, but rather to talk. And to listen. I don’t want to mess with his anonymity, but in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings they call this “sharing.” Opening up and humbly interacting with your neighbor. Trent Reznor may or may not have been to a few of these.

“I have weird social anxiety,” he explains as we sit on the black leather couch in the studio’s control room. I’ve already been shown much of the interior, its hidden spaces, many of them cold and empty. I’ve even looked in Reznor’s fridge (Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries for breakfast). But this socializing still feels weird. Like getting the quietest kid in class as your study hall partner. “I’d rather not feel this way,” Reznor says. “It’s like being at a party and feeling like I forgot to wear pants, feeling like I’m on fire.”

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