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Trent Reznor, Industrial rocker
Trent Reznor is the antiBon Jovi. He is the lord of Industrial, an electronic-music form that, with its tape loops and crushing drum machines, harks back to the dissonance of John Cage and sounds like capitalism collapsing. But Reznor, with his vulnerable vocals and accessible lyrics, led an Industrial revolution: he gave the gloomy genre a human heart. It's been said that he wrote the first Industrial love songs.
It is a love that the Marquis de Sade would have found delectable. Reznor's 1994 album The Downward Spiral, for example, was recorded in the house in which Charles Manson's followers murdered Sharon Tate in 1969. But it also features moments of fragility on the hit song Hurt, Reznor sings, "I hurt myself today/ To see if I still feel/ I focus on the pain/ The only thing that's real." The Downward Spiral sold more than 2 million copies; earlier this year Spin magazine named Reznor "the most vital artist in music."
Reznor, 31, records as Nine Inch Nails, a one-man studio act, and has a thriving touring career as leader of Nine Inch Nails, a quartet that interprets his computerized compositions before wild fans. He is now nurturing other shock rockers, such as the hard-core horror band Marilyn Manson. Reznor's work is the stuff of nightmares for virtuecrats like William Bennett, but Oliver Stone drafted Reznor to write music for Natural Born Killers, as did David Lynch for his post-noir Lost Highway. Reznor also provides the background music for Goths, a mostly Generation Y subculture of kids who tend to dress in black, vampirelike garb and obsess over death and decay.
Reznor's music is filthy, brutish stuff, oozing with aberrant sex, suicidal melancholy and violent misanthropy. But to the depressed, his music, veering away from the heartless core of Industrial, proffers pop's perpetual message of hope or therapeutic Schadenfreude: there is worse pain in the world than yours. It is a lesson as old as Robert Johnson's blues. Reznor wields the muscular power of Industrial rock not with frat-boy swagger but with a brooding, self-deprecating intelligence. "I had no expectations of commercial success," he says. "But people 'got it.' That I didn't expect."