This story begins like a lot of great stories do, with lights spiralling in the sky over a rural farm somewhere in the middle of America. However, the notion of extra-terrestrials is quickly dismissed and somehow it only gets stranger from then on. This is the tale of how the FBI ended up investigating the tragic murder of living Nine Inch Nails frontman, Trent Reznor, and not just briefly either, but for over two years!
The flicker in the sky over Robert Reed’s farm in Burr Oak, Michigan suddenly came crashing earthwards. When Reed raced over to the wreckage, he discovered several weather balloons tied to a Super 8 camera. The fast-thinking farmer thought he had cracked the case in an instant—recently a few fellow folks of the field had run into trouble with the law for allowing wild marijuana plants to encroach onto their farmland (apparently unbeknownst to them). Thus, Reed presumed that this floating Super 8 must have been some sort of grounded surveillance strategy and he informed the police right away.
When the police arrived on the scene, they informed Reed that he was sorely mistaken and that there was no way that any authority would use something so rudimentary to monitor marijuana in the current day and age. Nevertheless, the question remained: what the hell was a Super 8 doing tied to giant weather balloons. They whisked the footage away and set about seeing what secrets the camera contained.
What they discovered proved so horrifying it promptly called for FBI involvement. They pressed play on the footage and were greeted by the sight of two leather-clad criminals standing over a grossly disfigured cadaver sprawled out on the concrete floor. Strewn across the face of the victim was some unknown substance and the two men leering over the body appeared to have a distinctive badge on their leather biker jackets. The conclusion Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood came to was a simple one: “If it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”
The year was 1989, and the FBI soon poured over the footage with their best experts. They concluded that the unknown substance on the body was evidence that it had begun decaying. However, as the footage ran on, the weather balloons propelled above the body and appeared to show a large urban concrete structure, although this was obscured by the fact that the Super 8 had clearly been gusted to and fro as it rose above the body. So, how, exactly, did a decaying body come to be lying on the floor of the pavement in some unknown city?
For years, this mystery was pulled apart by the FBI. What was the insignia on the biker jackets, what was the purpose of filming it, and why send the footage skywards with several weather balloons? None of these questions even came close to being answered over the course of the two-year investigation.
Meanwhile, Trent Reznor, alive and well, had started a new industrial rock revolution as Nine Inch Nails made their seismic mark on the American music scene, influencing the likes of David Bowie and changing the landscape of music. Not bad for a man who died two years ago. This reality soon came to the fore as the FBI case made its first and final breakthrough.
Truly defeated by the mysterious footage, the FBI were forced to play the last card they wanted to. They had to risk perturbing the local public by releasing stills of the scarring footage and ask whether anyone recognised anything at all. The first flyer drop was at a local art college and almost instantly the case was solved.
A young art student contacted the police and informed them that the victim was, in fact, Trent Reznor, who to his knowledge was not dead at all, and that the footage closely resembled the final sequence of the music video for their debut single ‘Down In It’. Remarkably this MTV smash hit had evaded the attention of the FBI throughout the entire investigation and a simple flyer closed the folder on the death of living legend Trent Reznor.
As it happens, Nine Inch Nails were a little cash strapped when it came to their start in the music industry. Thus, they had to cut a few corners when it came to making their first video with the videography company H-Gun. The mystery substance on Trent Reznor’s face was a corn-starch imitation of blood, a crude mixture in the absence of a makeup department. And as for the weather balloons, well, they couldn’t afford a crane so the only way to get an elevated shot was to float the camera above the body. Sadly, the tether snapped, and the balloons floated off into the night sky. Resulting in a mystery some 200 miles away.
The final shot to their video was supposed to show leather-clad band members chasing Reznor down until he tumbled to his death off of the top of a concrete carpark and the closing shot would be the camera rising above his battered body. However, that shot floated off towards an investigation room and the band simply had to move on.
When Reznor became aware of the debacle he remarked: “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.” Presumably, footage of him headlining festivals wasn’t deemed strong enough for a time. In the end, Reznor humorously concluded: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” and boy would we dearly love to see what Lynch could do with this twisted tale of rock ‘n’ roll once more proving how wildly out of touch black suits can be.