Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 08/05/07

Johnny Cash - "Hurt"

Watch first, please, then read on...

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I'm no great lover of country music. In fact, for the most part I cordially detest it. I've only got to hear one whiny note from a pedal steel guitar and I want to nuke Nashville.

Sometimes though, exceptions have to be made for exceptional cases. This is one such.

That Johnny Cash should even contemplate covering a song by Nine Inch Nails is, at first sight, peculiar. One can imagine few points of contact between The Man In Black and one of the enfants terribles of recent rock music. That Cash should cover what is perhaps one of Trent Reznor's most introverted and personal songs seems stranger still.

Yet it must be remembered that Johnny Cash was the eternal renegade, way back to the 50s and 60s, the years of his hell-raising, his famous prison concerts, the drugs, the spiritual crises. So perhaps such a laying bare of the soul is not out of keeping. And this is what we hear with Rick Rubin's sparse production - little more than guitar, piano and That Voice.

Moving enough in itself, but Mark Romanek's video takes it to a whole new level of intensity. Here we see an old man, physically frail but with an intense force of spirit, giving what appears to be a last defiant shout against the dying of the light, in which all that had gone before, all the accolades, all the messy stuff of human existence is seen as worthless.

In fact, there was no 'appears' about it. The candid footage of the flood-ravaged House Of Cash museum, the juxtaposing of the ailing Cash in 2002 with footage of the wild years, the shots of his family; all this was to end, and soon. His beloved wife June died in May 2003, and Johnny followed her less than four months later. Their home burned down a month ago.

I first saw the video completely by chance late one Friday night on BBC2, when it featured in a documentary about Cash. The beautifully stark honesty of it made me weep then. It still does now.

Now you've read this, scroll back up and watch it again.