Oscar winner Reznor makes his Mercer hometown proud

By William Loeffler for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on March 1, 2011

As the seething and nihilistic singer for Nine Inch Nails, Mercer native Trent Reznor ruled alternative rock radio from his own dark perch.

Sunday, Reznor added an Academy Award to his achievements, winning the Oscar for Best Original Score. He and collaborator Atticus Ross shared the award for composing the soundtrack to "The Social Network." Reznor and Ross previously had won a Golden Globe for their score.

To say folks in Mercer were pleased is like saying Nine Inch Nails played kinda loud.

Monday, the picturesque town 70 miles north of Pittsburgh buzzed with the news, even as residents and business owners dealt with flooding from heavy rains and melting snow.

Few were prouder than the man who taught Reznor music in high school.

Dr. Hendley Hoge said he was elated when he tuned in to the Oscar telecast and saw his former student walk onstage to accept the golden statuette.

"I was very exited for Trent, but I was saddened that his grandfather couldn't be there to see him," said Hoge, who is principal of Mercer High School, from which Reznor graduated in 1983.

Reznor's maternal grandfather, William Clark, died in August. He helped raise Reznor, Hoge said. Reznor's mother, Nancy, died in January.

Hoge, who taught Reznor music in grades 7 through 12, remembers a talented youth who could coax a tune from almost any musical instrument. He played tenor sax in the high-school marching band and jazz ensemble.

"He was very creative," Hoge said. "He had a very creative mind. He always wanted to challenged musically."

Reznor, now 45, had lead roles in the high-school productions of "Godspell" and "Once Upon a Mattress," Hoge said. As an underclassman, he won a student jazz competition at Westminster College, New Wilmington, beating many junior and senior composers.

After graduating from high school, Reznor attended Allegheny College in Meadville, but left after one year to pursue a musical career in Cleveland.

He was songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for Nine Inch Nails, whose distorted wall of sound and hydraulic guitar riffs helped popularize a sub-genre of rock known as industrial. His songs, which chronicle alienation and torment, have been covered by Johnny Cash and Tori Amos.

Essentially a one-man band, Nine Inch Nails shared chart success in the '90s with acts like Nirvana. Reznor returned to Mercer in 2006 to be inducted into the Mercer High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame, and he made financial contributions to the Distinguished Alumni Scholarship Fund.

Deborah Plant, executive director of the Mercer Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Reznor name dates at least as far back as the 19th century, when George Reznor invented the Reznor Reflector Heater. Reznor heaters still are sold today.

"It does us proud, because he's a hometown boy," Plant said. "He presents himself well. It was nice to see somebody local who has gone out and done great."

Coming up next for Reznor: He and Ross were hired to compose the soundtrack for the Hollywood remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," due out in December.

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