Talk about one of the most powerful songs (and music videos) you’ve ever seen.
20 years ago, in November 2002, Johnny Cash rocked our worlds with the release of his latest studio album, American IV: The man returns.
This was Cash’s fourth album American series of albums, and the last released during his lifetime. Produced by Rick Rubin, who was primarily known for his work in rap and metal, the debut album featured some of Cash’s old nude recordings of songs along with new ones written by top artists, and a few covers, but overall, the 6-part project had a ton of covers.
Perhaps nothing more iconic than his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”
Written by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, it’s a brutally honest reflection on self-harm and how the empty life can be in deep, dark depression, and many even suspect the song is meant to be. written as a suicide note.
The song was released less than a year before Cash died at the age of 71, just months before the death of his wife, June Carter.
That being said, “Hurt” has one of the most moving, yet saddest music videos you’ve ever seen.
The video, directed by frequent Nine Inch Nails director Mark Romanek, shows the man himself dressed in black at home, and also features a number of flashback videos of the man in his prime, as well as stills. inside the empty House of Cash museum. .
According to Romanek in an interview with rolling stonethe decrepit nature of the video was meant to reflect the poor state Johnny was in:
“It had been closed for a long time; the place was in such a derelict state. That’s when I got the idea that maybe we could be extremely candid about Johnny’s condition, as candid as Johnny has always been in his songs.
You can literally see the “hurt” in Cash’s eyes, as he reflects on his past, and begins to break down and cry at the end…it’s beautiful and brutal.
When Reznor finally saw it, he must have taken five:
“We were in the studio getting ready to work and I did. At the end, I was really close to tears. I work with Zach de la Rocha, and I told him to take a look.
In the end, there was only dead silence. There was, like, this wet clearing of our throats and then, ‘Uh, okay, let’s go get some coffee.'”
And speaking of Reznor, he was initially skeptical of Johnny’s recording and actually didn’t really like it the first time he heard it.
According to an interview with NME, he said it was overwhelming…too personal to share:
“I said I would be very flattered, but I was given no indication that it would actually be recorded. Two weeks passed. Then I received a CD in the mail.
I listened to it and it was very strange. It was that other person who inhabited my most personal song. Hearing that was like someone kissing your girlfriend. It was invasive.
But when he saw the video, everything changed:
“I insert the video, and wow…tears flow, silence…wow. I felt like I lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore.
It really got me thinking about the power of music as a medium and an art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom to keep myself sane, about a dark and hopeless place I was in, totally isolated and alone.
It ends up being reinterpreted by a music legend from a drastically different era/genre and still retains the sincerity and meaning… different, but just as pure.
And to date, you could say it’s the greatest cover of all time.
This is for sure one of the best music videos of all time.
Go behind the scenes with director Mark Romanek, plus commentary from Rick Rubin, Trent Reznor, Bono and more.