There are many well-deserved legends surrounding Trent Reznor. From his early iconoclastic days to his modern incarnation as an esteemed film composer and elder statesman of extreme music, the Nine Inch Nails mastermind has seen and done it all
Perhaps the strangest experience of Reznor’s long and storied career was the time that he became embroiled in an unusual FBI murder case: his own.
In 1989, a Michigan farmer spotted an odd cluster of objects floating over his property. Upon further inspection, he realized that it was a group of weather balloons with a Super 8 camera fastened to them. It was known among local farmers that the cops were monitoring them for growing marijuana, so he handed the footage to the authorities.
As it didn’t come from them, the baffled cops developed the camera’s contents and found something so shocking that they immediately called the FBI. The film featured what appeared to be a dead male body on a street, with two men in fetish gear looming over the figure. As the camera rises up into the sky, a third figure is revealed to be running away from the scene.
In a 1991 feature on tabloid show Hard Copy, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood said that the people in the footage were wearing a “distinct type of uniform.” Wood elaborated, “As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots.
The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes.” Given the outfits, Wood was led to conclude: “So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”
As there was a strange substance on the body, a theory developed that the corpse was well into the process of decay. Authorities were thoroughly confused by the easily identifiable nature of the gang member’s uniform and why they would be filming and releasing the footage in the first place. None of the pieces fit together. In a fit of desperation, the FBI shared stills of the video with the public.
Although a risky move, the gambit was a success. An art student informed the FBI that the image he saw on their flier was that of Trent Reznor, the provocative architect behind Nine Inch Nails. It was further revealed that the footage most likely came from the video for their single Down In It, which the art student had recently seen on MTV. The man in the video was not only alive, he was a certified rock star. The information fit together easily from that point on.
After contacting Nine Inch Nails’ management, the FBI found out the substance on Reznor’s body was fake blood made of corn-starch. Working on a tight budget, the band used weather balloons instead of a crane to get elevated shots. Unfortunately for everyone (except maybe the producers of Hard Copy), the ropes that were holding the balloons snapped and the camera with the footage flew off.
When asked about the incident in an interview, Reznor said: “My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it. There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.
“Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something”.
He lamented the Hard Copy segment: “Total junk gossip exploitative journalism. That was the icing on the cake: getting on the worst TV show in America”.