Trent Reznor: An Ass On the Internet Who Wants It All

trent Trent Reznor: An Ass On the Internet Who Wants It AllTrent Reznor is a self-described “smartass” on the Internet.

On Twitter, “I think I was consciously taking the veil up from Nine Inch Nails and letting people know I’m a smartass–often,” said Mr. Reznor, singer, songwriter and producer of Nine Inch Nails, who had sidled up to the Observer last night, June 8, outside Cipriani’s on Wall Street just before the Webby Awards gala began. He was looking less goth and more posh in a sharp black suit and a skinny black tie; his jet black hair was close-cropped on the sides and slicked into a stylish swirl. The Observer wasn’t used to him looking so polished and buff–sans Pretty Hate Machine-era dreads. “It’s less precious of an experiment, it was more letting people see my real personality,” Mr. Reznor added about his Twitter feed.

Indeed! A recent “less precious” Trent tweet: “BLOW ME! – I’m going to go play a show!” The feed reads like a sociology experiment as the hot-tempered, attention-mongering music artist yo-yos between embracing the power of the online medium one minute and then blasting its fight-picking, anonymous users the next, in real time.

“A couple of my comments became real headlines–like talking shit about Chris Cornell, which I wouldn’t have done if I had realized what would’ve happened,” Mr. Reznor admitted, referring to his slam of Mr. Cornell, former lead singer of Soundgarden, when he described on Twitter listening to Mr. Cornell’s new record Scream as “that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable.” That made the music blog rounds, of course.

Mr. Reznor, known as one of the music industry’s most digitally savvy musicians, was honored with a Webby Artist of the Year Award last night. His recent album The Slip was available to download for free on his Web site when it was released in May 2008. (Mr. Reznor’s five-word acceptance speech last night? “Wait, we didn’t charge anything?”). This is also the guy who, in 2007, attacked Universal Music Group’s distribution of his own album and told fans at an Australia concert to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin’.” He was talking about his own music.

Mr. Reznor told the Observer: “I said, ok people are listening.” Yes, more than 630,000 of his Twitter subscribers are, along with the rest of the digital world.

So he decided to do more than bloviate about his feuds and studio sessions on the Web. Mr. Reznor recently used Twitter, the NIN Web site and fan forums to help raise funds for Eric De La Cruz, a 27 year old from Arizona who is in need of a life-saving heart transplant.

“When Eric De La Cruz’s story got on my radar, I don’t know him, I don’t know his sister,” said Mr. Reznor, holding a steady stare on the Observer. “My fiance [Mariqueen Maandig, of the band West Indian Girl] tweeted about the story…It was pretty horrifying watching someone die because they don’t have insurance. I grew up with no money and terrible insurance, my mom has bad insurance, that could’ve been us, you know? I thought, I wonder if I can do something other than vanity. What can I do that might help this kid? I retweeted something, maybe made a couple of hundred bucks or something.”

But he took it a step further, allowing fans to pay for backstage access and dinner with NIN during their current tour with Jane’s Addiction. (Mr. Reznor claims this will be NIN’s last jaunt on the road). He raised more than $850,000 for Mr. De La Cruz. “I was amazed that I could do that,” Mr. Reznor said. “We want to turn it more into about change in the healthcare system, and these stories, these small stories about people can help do that.” Sure thing, Mr. Reznor. You could have it all.