Trent Reznor Influential Person

Originally published in Time Magazine on April 1, 1997


It's a big year for influence. Half the news out of Washington is about who has been trying to buy it, how much they paid, and whether they got their money's worth. There are many lessons to be drawn from that situation. One of the less obvious is that influence is not so easy to come by. Even in Washington, it's not always something you can go out and buy. Just ask the Chinese.

Which brings us to TIME's 25 most influential people, 1997 edition. These are people who have accomplished something subtle and difficult. They have got other people to follow their lead. They don't necessarily have the maximum in raw power; instead, they are people whose styles are imitated, whose ideas are adopted and whose examples are followed. Powerful people twist your arm. Influentials just sway your thinking.

Among this year's 25 are good influences and dubious ones, public personalities and players so private you may not have known they were pulled up to the game board, much less that one of the pieces was you. They include the writer Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose thinking is influential; the chatterbox Rosie O'Donnell, whose cheer is influential; and the rock musician Trent Reznor; whose gloom is influential. (Funny world.) One way or another; these 25 are people to look out for.

Trent Reznor - Industrial Rocker

Trent Reznor is the anti-Bon 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, vampire-like 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."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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