Johnny Cash – Hurt

My friend Dave was nice enough to publish this post on his site A Sound Day a couple of months ago for Turntable Talk.  

Trent Reznor: “That song isn’t mine anymore”

A good cover song needs to be somewhat faithful, so you know what it is… to the original but not an exact replica as in Todd Rundgren’s Good Vibrations. Very few times do I see covers that are as good as the original, but it does happen. Jimi Hendrix did the trick with Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watch Tower and Dylan does it in Jimi’s style even today. Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt adds a different layer to the song…and it works.

Hurt written by Trent Reznor seemed unlikely to be covered by Johnny Cash. The producer Rick Rubin convinced Cash to give it a shot and it worked. Johnny was a different kind of artist. There are only a few that can cross genres so easily. I think Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash belong in that category.

The song was born in a house that at one moment in time… was a real house of horrors. Trent Reznor, the singer of Nine Inch Nails, moved into a rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. Nine Inch Nails recorded the EP Broken and The Downward Spiral album in that house. Hurt was on the later album.

The house was no other than Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s old home where Manson’s followers murdered Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Steve Parent in 1969. After Reznor met Sharon Tate’s sister…he realized he didn’t want to be looked at like he was endorsing serial killers so he moved out. “When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, ‘What if it was my sister?’ I thought, ‘F— Charlie Manson.’ I don’t want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bull—-.” Reznor moved out soon later but he did take the front door. It was demolished soon after.

The song deals with addiction struggles and isolation but in the hands of Cash it changes but remains true. This is the one song where I say…watch the video also. I don’t say that often but it adds to Cash’s story. The video was shot in February of 2003. June Cash would die in May and Johnny would die in September.

Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers play on the track.

Trent Reznor: “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. Somehow that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

Trent Reznor:  “I wasn’t prepared for what I saw, what I had written in my diary was now superimposed on the life of this icon and sung so beautifully and emotionally. It was a reminder of what an important medium music is. Goosebumps up the spine. It really made sense. I thought: ‘What a powerful piece of art.’ I never got to meet Johnny, but I’m happy I contributed in the way I did. It wasn’t my song anymore.”

Hurt

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I’m still right here

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

20 thoughts on “Johnny Cash – Hurt”

  1. I remember the first time hearing this song and being totally blown away by it. Seeing how close he and June were to death, and having the video set in their museum was, in a way, a perfect concluding song to an illustrious and inimitable musical career and a sort of farewell with perhaps a tinge of regret at the hurt he may have caused June over the years in a way that could reach her heart. When I read where Trent was and how the song came to him, the “higher power” works in mysterious ways. It’s like it was meant for Johnny to sing but was transmitted to Trent first. Good write up on an iconic tune as sung by an iconic individual.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thanks for the link, and for writing this for my site a few months back! Indeed, it’s a great cover version that was just tailor-made for Johnny. Like Christian said, it really showed the greatness in Rick Rubin not only in keeping the production sparse but being able to persuade Cash that doing this song would be worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is one song that the cover…. over takes the original…I like the original though…it’s just who did it and the reasons around why.

      Like

  3. What a story! I had no idea about this remake swap! Trent Reznor is mentioned a lot in that Film Score doc I saw! He’s more versatile than people give him credit for, and his creativity blossomed after he got sober. David Bowie was one of his “clean” influences. I’ll check out the vid!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sad song is a repetition of King Solomons Chapter 12 in Ecclesiastes we all will experience
    In life.

    Even more sad reality for the continuing increase number of addicts in our contemporay times.

    Regards and goodwill blogging

    Like

  5. One of my favourite songs from Johnny which I recently reviewed as well, and we chatted extensively of course. I really admire the songwriter’s reflections on Johnny Cash’s version. I like your thoughts about the country artists who cross-pollinated and did great – Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. I agree this song changes meaning with Cash at the helm. It’s not so much about drug addiction as it is about finding self-redemption and meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not a huge fan of videos but this one…is meant to be watched. They did such a wonderful job. I totally agree about the change of meaning.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes indeed, this video one of the most remarkable musical montages I have seen in the last 2 decades. This is one of the few released videos where the song is much the better for it.

        Like

  6. A career best moment and hauntingly sad and tragic. I have the same reaction to Glen Campbells final alzheimers-inspired album Ghost On A Canvas and especially his final single I’m Not Gonna Miss You a poignantly sad farewell to everyone he loves and his fans..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “That song isn’t mine anymore” what a beautiful tribute to Cash’s cover. And it’s so true ! I know the cover version far better than the original. It’s an intimate song, but Cash made it universal. That’s the great power of the Man in Black.

    Liked by 1 person

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