Battling Their Demons

Originally published in Hit Parader on March 1, 1998

Clearly, Trent Reznor is one very misunderstood soul. To some on the rock and roll periphery- thos that only know Reznor through his thought-provoking albums like The Downward Spiral or his often unsettling MTV videos for songs like Closer- he understandably remains a figure of considerable mystery and intrigue. To many of his longtime supporters, Nine Inch Nails' charismatic leader stands as a man terminally shrouded in a cloak of despair and darkness. From those that know him intimately, however, a far different character profile emerges. For the few, fortunate souls who live under the direct influence of his all-knowing, all-seeing artistic umbrella, Reznor is apparently far from the self-possessed, intensely brooding figure his music often makes him out to be.

Yes, as one might expect this is one bonafide rock and roll chameleon. In fact, it seems that when he's separated from the restrictive confines of the recording studio or kept away from the oppressive yolk of touring pressure, Mr. Trent Reznor can apparently be a rather accessible, down-to-earth and even surprisingly humorous fellow. Don't believe us? Well then, ask his leading "pupil" in rock and roll perversity, Marilyn Manson, for whom Reznor serves the multi-faceted role of spiritual advisor, album producer and record label honcho. Or bring up Trent's name to good friend David Bowie, for whom Reznor recently remixed the single, I'm Afraid Of Americans. They all seem to agree; not only is Reznor one of the most gifted rock and roll performers around, he's also a creative visionary...and on top of everything else, a heck of a nice guy as well.

"I've grown to know Trent quite well over the last few years," Bowie stated. "We had the wonderful opportunity to tour together, and that was an experience I'll never forget. I think we may have started out as a mutual admiration society; Trent may have been influenced by some of my work, and I certainly his. But we quickly moved beyond that and became friends. I'm proud to think of him in those terms."

Perhaps it's only fitting that Reznor seems to derive great satisfation from the radically divergent reactions his larger-than-life aura elicits. After all, here's a multi-faceted artist who appears to thrive in a world filled with tension, controversy and even occassional acrimony. Such emotions serve to supply his music with a healthy dose of its cutting-edge charm and provide his lyrics with their ability to dissect and then disseminate unique insights into the human condition. But apparently underneath it all lurks the heart of a true performer- someone who innately understands the impact his decidedly off-center musical stance will have on those around him...and who revels in that reaction. Today, with Reznor's latest masterwork, Dissonance, adding new luster- as well as new mysteries- to NIN's ever growing mystique, Reznor seems to be more satisfied than ever with his ever-changing role within the rock framework.

"When you become content, you run the risk of becoming complacent," Reznor stated. "I don't know if I ever really want to become too content with the music I make. I want it to keep changing, and keep challenging those who make it as well as those who hear it."

Certainly few efforts in recent memory can rival Dissonance when it comes to challenging the listener on virtually every level, as well as in virtually every conceivable aspect of its presentation. There are many long-time NIN supporters who have already expressed outright shock (though very little dismay) over the myriad musical twists and turns presented throughout Reznor's radical new two-disc set. Certainly Nine Inch Nails' latest release already ranks among the most ambitious and adventurous creations in the entire history of the rock and rool form. And while Reznor may scoff at such a notion, viewing it as somewhat presumptuous and misleading, the undeniable fact is that thanks to Reznor's creative brilliance, NIN now stands head and shoulders above their rock and roll contemporaries in virtually every aspect of the Modern Music experience.

Rather than contenting themselves with merely playing music, Nine Inch Nails seem intent on becoming their music, utilizing a dizzying array of state-of-the-art electronics to create a sound explosion totally different from anything else currently inhabiting the rock and roll landscape. While it is true that much of the material contained on Dissonance is also radically divergent from anything presented on The Downward Spiral, at the same time there is clear evidence of the evolutionary process that Reznor's music has recently undergone in order to get from "here" to "there." In both style and function, the disc is indeed "radical", a sharp departure from the expected and the norm. But, then again, would Trent Reznor have it any other way?

"One of Trent's greatest attributes is that not only does he have an intense desire to keep pushing the boundries of music, he's got the talent to pull it off," said a well-placed source. "A lot of performers would like to be on the cutting edge, but too often either their talent or their focus lets them down. I've never seen anyone work harder than Trent in the studio. You almost have to drag him out of there. I don't know how long he's stayed in there non-stop, but I'd bet it's been at least three days. That takes incredible will-power...and even more won't power. It's so hard to write, record and produce virtually single-handed. Yet Trent manages to pull it all off with relative ease."

For all his greatness, and all his industry-wide respect, however, the life of Trent Reznor is not without its occasional problems. After all, would you want your former girlfriend, Courtney Love, sarcastically referring to you as the "three inch nail" in a variety of media interviews? And would you enjoy the experience of being sued (as he recently was in a California court) by someone who insists that Reznor lifted no less than six of his songs for inclusion on The Downward Spiral? But Reznor seems to not only have survived these ordeals, but actually benefitted from them- at least in a creative sense. According to those on-the-scene, he has managed to internalize these potentially embarrassing moments and allow them to serve as additional fuel for his creative passions. Quite simply, Trent Reznor has once again proven himself to be a truly remarkable human being.

"It's hard to ruffle his feathers," our source said. "Trent isn't one to really let you in on how he's feeling. He keeps a lot of that on the inside. But he brings it out through his music, and it gives that music the little extra edge that will always make him so special."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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