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I wouldn’t admit that to myself but when I wrote it I felt like I was sitting in a pile of rubble and there was a hint of regret and remorse.
Even when you come to the end of a destructive phase of writing all those songs like that , it sticks with you.But after a while you get too far down in the quicksand. Your friend just died and there’s no more way forward You get your shit together or your die. I’d seen people and said ‘I’ll never be that fucking bad.I’m too smart to be an addict.’ Yet I became something I never thought I could be.That seems to be a bit of a theme with your work with Nine Inch Nails… I was using the metaphor of drugs at the forefront of what was going on. Later I became one, but I didn’t know there was an addict in me that just hadn’t bloomed out of the dirt yet.Well a lot of what I’ve done as Nine Inch Nails has been governed by fear. The ’empire of dirt’ was presumably the whole junkie lifestyle… So that whole album became a self-fulfilling prophecy? Oddly enough, that album began my own personal plummet into the depths of addiction and finding out my way doesn’t work and that I needed people and help every once in a while and I am human after all.The song came out of a really ugly corner of my mind and turned into something with a frail beauty.
And then several years later an icon from a completely different world takes the song and juxtaposes himself into it in a way that seems more powerful to me than my own version.
It’s not like I could say ‘I’m done writing, I’m now going to go out there and be normal.’ In my life I was always floating around the edge of the dark side and saying what if take it a little bit too far and who says you have to stop there and what’s behind the next door.
Maybe you gain a wisdom from examining those things. In 2001 when we finished touring, I realised ‘you’re going to die unless you stop’.
The one song on that record that doesn’t fit that description was Hurt, How did you write Hurt, which Johnny Cash famously covered… When I saw it the power and beauty of music struck me in a really profound way.
I was at a point in my life when I was really unsure if I was any good or if I had anything to say.
What I was concerned about when I wrote the Downward Spiral record was being a self-centred destructive force.