It was an out of body experience for Nine Inch Nails lead vocalist Trent Reznor when he was asked to tour with David Bowie in the 1990s, but he had little idea of how much their friendship would positively impact his life, a relationship which eventually helped him finally get sober.
Bowie was going through another period of experimentation when their paths initially crossed. He was inspired by the new wave of heavy artists dominating the airwaves, including Nine Inch Nails. The singer’s intrigue about trends and his willingness to collaborate with the younger generation made him an anti-veteran of sorts.
For his 1995 album Outside, Bowie leaned into the industrial rock boom, and for the tour which accompanied the record, it was only fitting that he invented the pioneers of the scene, Nine Inch Nails, to join him for the US leg.
Rather than accepting his status as a nostalgia act, Bowie discarded many of his most beloved songs for the tour. Instead, there was an impetus on his new music rather than relying on successes from yesteryear.
When Trent Reznor heard about the opportunity to play with Bowie, he couldn’t quite believe his luck. He later admitted to Rolling Stone, “It’s hard to express how validating and surreal the whole experience of the Outside tour was — to actually meet this man in the flesh and find out, to my delight, that he passed any expectation I had. The fact that he was this graceful, charming, happy, fearless character became a new point of inspiration for me.”
The run of shows was an experience that Reznor will never forget, and it also proved to be the start of a beautiful friendship. The two also later collaborated again in 1997 on Bowie’s track, ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’, a period Trent would later reflect on as “me at my worst — out of my mind and ashamed of who I was at that time”.
At this time, drugs were still controlling the Nine Inch Nails singer’s life, and he could see no way out from breaking the cycle. It wouldn’t be until 2001 when Reznor would finally get his life back on track after ending a rehab facility, and through perseverance, he’s successfully stayed that way ever since.
He was ashamed of the version of himself who Bowie got to know. The frontman said it “nagged away” at him and one of the catalysts behind why he decided to get clean. Reznor continued: “A few years later, Bowie came through LA I’d been sober for a fair amount of time. I wanted to thank him in the way that he helped me. And I reluctantly went backstage, feeling weird and ashamed, like, ‘Hey, I’m the guy that puked on the rug’.
“And again, I was met with warmth, and grace, and love. And I started to say, ‘Hey listen, I’ve been clean for …’ I don’t even think I finished the sentence; I got a big hug. And he said, ‘I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.’ I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it. It was another very important moment in my life.”
It was reassuring for him that he hadn’t disappointed his hero, and those words of encouragement that Bowie gave Reznor have stuck with him forever. Since his loss, he has referred to the late singer as a “father figure”, and the impact that ‘The Starman’ had on him professionally and personally is impossible to quantify.