Thursday, 27 May 2010

Icon #54 Hurt by Johnny Cash

The most iconic cover version ever.
Hurt is a one of those rare examples of cover version being better than the original.  And I loved the Nine Inch Nails song.  I can remember being told that Johnny Cash had covered it and thinking, that's gonna be rubbish.  But it wasn't, it was beautiful.

I can't  recall who told me I had to see the video, but I can remember watching it and feeling tears well in my eyes.  Cash's breaking singing voice, his frailty all too evident in the images mixed with those of his youth.  His wife watching over him as he sings.

But your right, this wasn't about the video, it's about the song.

Trent Reznor's words in Hurt are the best thing he's ever written.  The original is dark and weird, with the guitar having a kooky sound and a near constant buzzing in the background, Reznor's voice nearly a whisper until it breaks into its pounding finish.

At 71 Cash's voice is deep and mournful and the guitar arrangement loses it's kookiness for a more traditional arrangement.  The song becomes something completely different, it's a man looking back on his life instead of a man wading through his angst.  For Cash, who had such a colourful life, it's the perfect fit.  An apology for all the wasted years and 'hurt' that he's caused.  At 71 his voice was still so distinctive, but it's Cash minus the bravado of youth, yet still so overwhelmingly passionate as the song reaches its crescendo.

Hurt is not really Reznor's any more.  That's the mark of a great cover version for me, when the original, whilst not forgotten, is pushed back by the another's interpretation of it.  Cash gives Hurt new meaning, whilst not straying too far away from the original in terms of delivery.

Five months after recording the video Cash passed away which only added to how special the song is.  Cash knew he was dying when he recorded it, knew that it was going to become part of his legacy.  What an incredible way for a great artist to sign off.  
'I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.  I focused on the pain, the only thing that's real.'  
Tonight's post is dedicated to (from twitter) @shinytuppence, @Sean_Boon, @moviegrrl, @SoulIsTheGoal, @whitespider, @comedyfish, @RickHarwood and (from facebook) theboycheese, Paul (@formulaic666), John W, Toby and Flash.