In 2002, the Johnny Cash Hurt video was released. Cash had covered Hurt to commercial and critical acclaim; it was one of his final hits released before his death, and the related music video is considered one of the greatest of all time by publications such as NME. Reznor praised Cash’s interpretation of the song for its “sincerity and meaning”, going so far as to say “that song isn’t mine anymore.” The song includes references to self-harm and heroin addiction, and some listeners contend that the song acts as a suicide note written by the song’s protagonist, as a result of his depression.
When it came to making the music video, the production team was faced with Cash’s declining health. They had only days to turn something around, and began scouting potential filming locations, leading him to Cash’s home and museum, The House of Cash.
“It had been closed for a long time,” the director recalled. “The place was in such a state of dereliction. That’s when I got the idea that maybe we could be extremely candid about the state of Johnny’s health – as candid as Johnny has always been in his songs.”
That idea would blossom into a heart-wrenching music video, that spoke about the transience of life, the gracelessness of death, the Ozymandian crumbling of an oeuvre and the decline of a genre, an era and an attitude.
The ‘closed to public’ sign on the museum. The cracked platinum records. The caviar and lobster banquet with no diners. The clips from earlier in Johnny’s career. His wife June looking on. The closed piano lid.
Rick Rubin now sees the video as a historical document. “I cried the first time I saw it,” he said. “If you were moves to that kind of emotion in the course of a two-hour movie, it would be a great accomplishment. To do it in a four-minute music video is shocking.”