Johnny Cash ~ Hurt (NIN Cover) [2⊘⊘2]

The “Man In Black” had his doubts when confronted by his most recent producer Rick Rubin to do a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ song ‘Hurt‘. When he heard the record, Johnny said: “I can’t do that song. It’s not my style.” When Reznor was asked if Johnny could cover this deeply-personal track he said he was “flattered” but worried that “the idea sounded a bit gimmicky.”

“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”

Originally penned and released by Reznor on his 1994 breakthrough album, “The Downward Spiral”, the song he once called a “valentine to the sufferer” had some dark origins. In the early 90s, Reznor rented a house in LA’s Benedict Canyon once owned by actress Sharon Tate that was to be the scene of her gruesome murder in 1969 by the Manson family. The faint outline of the word ‘pig’ was still visible where it had been scrawled on the door the night of the killing. Reznor named his studio Le Pig. It’s where Hurt was conceived, the song widely believed to be in reference to drug addiction and/or self-harm. [loudersound]

When Reznor later moved out, he said “there was too much history in that house for me to handle”, and after meeting Tate’s sister he “didn’t want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bullshit.”

Fast forward to 2002, when Rubin and Cash, recording in the producer’s living room, had settled on a bare-bones arrangement for their “Hurt” cover – an arpeggiated acoustic guitar, flecked with tasteful touches of organ and piano. The open space in the backing track revealed all the creaks and crags in Cash’s voice. Rubin later said there were times that Johnny “sounded broken,” but they tried to turn that into a positive. 

“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”

The music video was directed by former Nine Inch Nails collaborator Mark Romanek, who sought to capture the essence of Cash, both in his youth and in his older years. In a montage of shots from Cash’s early years, twisted imagery of fruit and flowers in various states of decay seem to capture both his legendary past and the stark and seemingly cruel reality of the present. Much of the video is in a style deliberately reminiscent of vanitas paintings, thus emphasizing the lyrics’ mood of the futility and passing nature of human achievements. [wikipedia]

A few weeks later, a CD shows up with the track. It sounded… weird to me. That song in particular was straight from my soul, and it felt very strange hearing the highly identifiable voice of Johnny Cash singing it. It was a good version, and I certainly wasn’t cringing or anything, but it felt like I was watching my girlfriend fuck somebody else. Anyway, a few weeks later, a videotape shows up with Romanek’s video on it. I pop the video in, and… wow. Tears welling, silence, goosebumps… Wow. I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine any more. Then it all made sense to me. 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. Some-fucking-how 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.

Geoff Rickly interviews Trent Reznor, Alternative Press

When the video was filmed in February 2003, Cash was 71 years old and had serious health problems. His frailty is clearly evident in the video. He died seven months later, on September 12th; his wife, June Carter Cash, who is shown gazing at her husband in two sequences of the video, had died on May 15th of the same year. In July 2011, the music video was named one of “The 30 All-TIME Best Music Videos” by Time and was ranked the greatest music video of all time by NME.

The house where the video was shot, Cash’s home for nearly 30 years, was destroyed by fire in April 2007.

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


Johnny Cash’s

Cover art courtesy of thabudgie81 on

2 thoughts on “Johnny Cash ~ Hurt (NIN Cover) [2⊘⊘2]

  1. This cover is amazing, definitely one of the best covers ever ― right up there with Fiona Apple’s version of “Across the Universe” and (some people may fight me on this) Juliana Hatfield’s version of “Every Breath You Take”.

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