“Everyone I know goes away in the end”
Taken from the album American IV: The Man Comes Around
Everybody knows the story behind ‘Hurt’, the fact that it’s a Nine Inch Nails original recorded for one of Johnny’s American albums, the fact that the video is among the most celebrated of all time, the fact that it was his final hit single before his death in 2003. What makes ‘Hurt’ so well known and praised? What made a cover of a rock song by a fading country legend among the songs most people pointed to as representative of the best of the last decade?
It’s because ‘Hurt’ is a farewell to a legend, and a farewell from a legend. By singing it for us he gave us his final goodbyes, and we remember him by listening to it and appreciating it. The song connects Johnny with his fans forever, as a message to them and a gesture to finally make peace with everything in his life. “You could have it all, my empire of dirt”. His empire of dirt represents to me the pure reality Johnny Cash represents, the gritty, raw, down-home part of life, the real world troubles that he sang about for so many years.
The video is a bit of an ordeal to watch. I can’t watch it very often. Johnny Cash & June Carter are my favourite couple in the history of music, and the reason why has become apparent to me over the years: they remind me of my grandparents. I was at my Nana’s house tonight, looking through old photos, and she looked just like June when she was younger. My grandfather looked like Johnny, and in certain ways they were an example of the everyday people that would show up so often in the music of Johnny & June. My grandfather died on September 9, 2003. Johnny Cash died three days later. When I hear ‘Hurt’ I feel the struggle and the pain, but I also feel inspired, by a person very close to me and a musician who feels close to me although of course we never met. I think Johnny had that effect on a lot of people, and I hope that helps explain a little bit why ‘Hurt’ means so much to so many.