Johnny Cash: “Hurt”, The Story Behind The Video

Updated on November 7, 2018
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Paul promoted, played and sang in many music bands during his teenage years and twenties. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

Undoubtedly one of the most powerful music videos of all time, the Johnny Cash Hurt video serves as a moving and worthy epitaph to the late, great singer.

But as well as Cash’s outstanding performance, there were other creative forces that had to come together in order to make the award-winning video possible. Music industry professionals such as Trent Reznor, Rick Rubin, and Mark Romanek all played crucial roles in bringing about the song and video’s birth.

This is the story of how the Johnny Cash video “Hurt” came into being.

“Trent Reznor was born to write that song, but Johnny Cash was born to sing it, and Mark Romanek was born to film it.” Bono

Nine Inch Nails on stage in 2009.  It was the industrial band who first recorded the song in 1995 and later publicly performed it.  The song, written by Trent Reznor, references self-harm and heroin addiction.
Nine Inch Nails on stage in 2009. It was the industrial band who first recorded the song in 1995 and later publicly performed it. The song, written by Trent Reznor, references self-harm and heroin addiction. | Source

The Nine Inch Nails version

“Hurt” was written by Trent Reznor of the industrial rock band, Nine Inch Nails and was described by him as being, “a track I wrote in my bedroom at a black moment.” The song was made into a promotional single, but never released to the general public, until it appeared on the Nine Inch Nails 1994 album, “Downward Spiral”.

A video was made to go with the Nine Inch Nails version of the song, which showed the band performing live with a scrim in front of them, onto which various representations of grief, damage, and decay were projected. Later live renditions of the song by the band, however, were generally much more sparse and toned down, certainly until the final chorus arrived, when the rest of the band would join in (see video below to see a 2007 rendition).

Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin

Johnny Cash had been working with record producer, Rick Rubin since the first of his highly successful “American” series of albums. Although an unlikely combination on the surface, Cash and Rubin were a strong creative combination, with Rubin persuading Cash to step outside of his comfort area in regard to both song recording and the type of live concerts he would play (the memorable Glastonbury Festival 1994 being an example).

While working on their fourth album together, which would be released as, “The Man Comes Around”, Rubin continued to encourage Cash to step outside of his comfort area regarding song material and it was Rubin’s idea that Cash should record a version of Reznor’s song.

 Rick Rubin in 2006.  Rubin has worked with numerous artists, including: such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beastie Boys, The Black Crowes, Jay-Z, Danzig, Dixie Chicks, Black Sabbath, Slipknot,  Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, and Eminem.
Rick Rubin in 2006. Rubin has worked with numerous artists, including: such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beastie Boys, The Black Crowes, Jay-Z, Danzig, Dixie Chicks, Black Sabbath, Slipknot, Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, and Eminem. | Source

Trent Reznor was a friend of Rubin’s, but when Rubin rang him to ask if Cash could cover the song, Reznor said that he was very flattered, but sceptical of the artistic value of the idea. Nonetheless, Reznor agreed and Cash went ahead with his recording, making a minor change to the lyrics by substituting “crown of thorns” for the original “crown of shit” (Reznor had used this alternative himself in a radio friendly version of the song that he’d recorded.) As well as removing a profanity, the change also had the effect of adding a crucifixion image to the song, which would be exploited later in the video.

Reznor was still not convinced by Cash covering the song though and was unimpressed when he first heard the recording. “It didn’t sound bad, it just sounded something wrong, it sounded alien,” Reznor said, when describing his reaction later.

The Cash Video

Movie Director Mark Romanek was charged with making the video for the Cash version. He had previously produced videos for artists such as Madonna, Beck and Lenny Kravitz, and had been begging Rubin for a chance to work with Cash for some time.

He set out from the start to try to capture the essence of Cash, contrasting the cocky younger singer with the increasingly frail 71 year old man that Cash had become (Cash was already suffering a severe health decline by this time and would die seven months after the video was made). In an echo of the Nine Inch Nails original video, he also interspersed the film shots of Cash with images of decay, such as rotting fruit.

Much of the footage is taken at the “House of Cash” museum in Nashville. The building had served as Cash’s home for thirty years, but was now in a state of advanced dereliction. The setting inspired Romanek to use the house as a metaphor for Cash’s declining health and vitality. Cash agreed to this, demonstrating artistic and personal courage in the process.

Much of the footage showing the younger Cash was found by Romanek in the archive room at the “House of Cash”. Sadly, the building has disappeared completely now, destroyed by fire in 2007.

When Reznor received a copy of the video, he completely changed his opinion about Cash’s version of his song, describing it as an “unbelievably powerful piece of work.”

“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.”

Cash's grave and the Cash/Carter memorial in Hendersonville Memory Gardens, Tennessee.
Cash's grave and the Cash/Carter memorial in Hendersonville Memory Gardens, Tennessee. | Source

Death of Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash died on on September 12, 2003, aged 71. His passing followed the unexpected bereavement of his beloved wife, June, less than four months earlier.

He was buried beside his wife in Hendersonville Memory Gardens, not far from his Tennessee home.

Some people have speculated that Cash's death was hastened, due to a broken heart over June's untimely passing. June had urged Cash to continue working if she died, however, and this is what he did in his final months.

The song, "Hurt" has since become the unofficial epitaph of Johnny Cash for many people.

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Paul Goodman

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Brenda Du Faur 

        6 months ago

        what in the world is K talking about. Johnny Cash never knew deep emotional pain? How arrogant and uninformed. johnny cash was a heroin addict. Cash knew deep emotional pain. that's why he is so great. Listen to his immortal Junkie's prayer. (Listen to Sunday Morning Sidewalk while you're at it.)

      • profile image

        Jimmy 

        14 months ago

        In hurt song, what type of guitar used and what is name on it?

      • profile image

        Jared 

        21 months ago

        The House of Cash museum and Johnny's home of 30 years were different buildings. It was his home that was destroyed by fire, not the museum.

      • profile image

        Writer 

        4 years ago

        From someone who has an ongoing battle of clinical depression, it is easier to feel in essence of the power of persuasion of peoples darkness. Weather or not this song was because of his wife passing, I can say. However, I can say it creates the same impact for everyone. I find it very fascinating that everyone uses the darkness for their own way.

      • bensen32 profile image

        Thomas Bensen 

        4 years ago from Round Lake Park

        I was never much of a Johnny Cash fan, it's just not my type of music however Nine Inch Nails is more my type of music. Of course I had to hear this song remade by Johnny and OH MY GOD. This is one remake that totally improve the song. I have to disagree with K above and say this is the better version.

        Thanks for the article it was very interesting to read.

      • profile image

        5 years ago

        It's upsetting to me that the Cash rendition gets as much credit as it does. Romanek is the creative voice behind that video... Most of his ideas were what made it what it was... And the sad part is that the aforementioned video is what makes so many people worship Cash's version.

        Cash was a fantastic singer and amazingly talentled, but when it comes to this song...he can't touch it. "Hurt" expresses a level of emotional pain Cash never knew, one that he simply cannot emulate. Reznor wrote it in such a dark time that it will always be his.

        It's impossible to pour that much of yourself in to something and have another person represent it in a better way. Every cover of the song falls short, every attempt at performance is shamed by the original, for no rendition will know the exact place the song came from, the exact place that allows the necessary emotion and power in performance.

        As a final note, I would like to address the fact that I am, by no means, a NIN fan-boy. This is one of their only songs that I regularly listen to, and I've heard a large amount of Cash's work. In the end, when you ignore the video that CASH DID NOT CREATE and pay attention only to their voice and performance, the original will always win, as nothing can match the pain that created it.

      • profile image

        CharlesWhitman 

        5 years ago

        The best most emotional cover

      • Paula Andrea, MA profile image

        Paula Andrea, MA 

        7 years ago from www.mode of cosmic therapy.com

        I can not emphasize enough how much the behind the scenes information clips and written material you presented meant to me. Superbly written. I found you on RedGage. I will be following you, too. Bravo!

      • marcoujor profile image

        Maria Jordan 

        7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

        This song brings back memories of my Southern Mom/ it will be a year in May...to me, the very best song Johnny ever did. Thank you so much.

      • PaulGoodman67 profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Goodman 

        7 years ago from Florida USA

        I've watched the video many times and it always blows me away, so writing this hub was a labor of love for me! :-)

      • Coolmon2009 profile image

        Coolmon2009 

        7 years ago from Texas, USA

        I enjoyed reading your article. Hurt is a powerful song.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://spinditty.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)