Trent Reznor’s Reaction to Johnny Cash’s Cover of “Hurt”

In the world of covers, few musicians are bigger than the legendary Johnny Cash. A claim ‘The Man In Black’ solidified near the end of his life, when Cash recorded the “American Series” together with producer Rick Rubin. The albums are mainly filled with covers recorded in Cash’s iconic style. The most celebrated cover from the “American Series” is Cash’s haunting rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. A cover so evocative, it moved the man behind the original track, Trent Reznor

“I’d been friends with Rick Rubin for several years. He called me to ask how I’d feel if Johnny Cash covered ‘Hurt’,” Trent Reznor recalled to The Sun about the conversation that set Cash’s cover in motion. “I said I’d be very flattered but was given no indication it would actually be recorded.”

Two weeks later, Trent Reznor received a CD in the post. Little did he know that the disc would alter the perception of one of his own creations forever. And initially, not for the better. “It was this other person inhabiting my most personal song,” Trent Reznor confessed. “I’d known where I was when I wrote it. I know what I was thinking about. I know how I felt. Hearing it was like someone kissing your girlfriend. It felt invasive.”

Reznor’s account showcases the deeply personal nature of songwriting. “Hurt” was originally written as a deeply personal confession from a suffering young Reznor. Hearing the song from the perspective and voice of an old man at the end of his life was a surreal experience.

It wasn’t until Reznor saw the moving music video for Cash’s cover that he changed his mind. The video, directed by Mark Romanek, pictured a fragile Cash reflecting on his life journey.

“It really, really made sense, and I thought, what a powerful piece of art,” Reznor admitted. “I never got to meet Johnny, but I’m happy I contributed the way I did. It felt like a warm hug. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. I have goosebumps right now thinking about it.”

In 2004, Mark Romanek won a Grammy for the music video of “Hurt”. The video was also declared ‘The Greatest Music Video of All Time’ by NME.

Cash’s version quickly turned into the ‘definite’ version of “Hurt”. It wouldn’t take long before the song dominated ‘The Greatest Covers of All Time’ lists. Or as Trent Reznor said it: “I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore.”

Just 7 months after filming the music video for “Hurt”, on 12 September 2003, Johnny Cash passed away. His final feat, the beautiful “Hurt”, was one of his greatest.

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