Nine Inch Nails Hurt single cover artwork

Ladies and gentlemen, your seats please. The fight is on. We’re about to enter a world of Hurt. But which version of the legendary song is best? Time for Nine Inch Nails Vs Johnny Cash.

Have you ever had a really terrible day, the kind of day where you feel so completely alone? Your friends have taken the face of enemies. Everything you believed in seems to have disappeared. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could ever relate to your misery. No one else has ever been this sad, been this lonely.

Then, your playlist lands on Hurt and you’re no longer alone.

Hurt is a perfect storm of musical talents combined to make a song so strong it will either break your heart, or fix a broken one. A song of that power and magnitude is rare.

The writing credits to Hurt belong to Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails; the song was first introduced to the world in 1994 on the album The Downward Spiral. NIN’s version is heavy, and takes you to drug induced haze. It is a man desperate, lost in the world of drugs – stuck reliving his hurts with an addiction. This version has so much intensity, and so much emotion in Reznor’s voice.

In 2002, Cash covered Hurt and Reznor was in awe and announced in Rolling Stone magazine that Hurt belonged to Cash. Country singer Johnny Cash covering a Nine Inch Nails song is so odd that it’s perfect. In 2011 NME named the music video for Cash’s Hurt the best video of all time. The video captures the essence of the song perfectly; Cash’s life is explored with flashbacks of the past, and images of his present self in 2002. The video depicts a great long life, filled with pain, love and regret.


I have outmost respect for Reznor for writing such a timeless song that has transcended genres and generations to allow for reinterpretation and multiple meanings for different musicians and listeners. That is the mark of a great songwriter. The Nine Inch Nails version has an entirely different connotation that speaks to a different audience. NIN’s version speaks primarily of self-loathing, self-harm, and drug addiction while Cash focuses on the universal feeling of pain and deep sadness that makes you hurt. Cash has a tone of redemption; he is a man that is at the end of his life that is sending out a message to make life beautiful, and not to have regrets.

It’s amazing how artists can interpret songs so differently and bring a whole new meaning to the same lyrics. The only changes to the lyrics Cash made were the removal of profanity, to reflect more on Cash’s devout Christianity. It’s shocking, how the absence of just a few words made for an entirely different song. That’s the art and beauty of music; just as no one sees a painting the same way, we all feel music differently.

Cash’s rendition of Hurt is haunting. It was recorded shortly before Cash’s untimely death, which makes it even more evocative and striking. The power of the song lies within its intoxicating tone, as soon as you hear the first bar, the song has you. You are taken into a world of extreme sadness, into a world meeting its end. You meet a man looking for redemption, to change his life—but it is too late. He would give everything up to go back and do it all over, simply to live his life, to have more time. The chance to correct wrong doings in the past, but he’s trapped in his “empire of dirt”. It’s his own hell created by his own hand.

He indulged in drugs, suffered the repercussions and the “hurt” his choices inflicted to those around him. Every action, every decision led to pain, whether it be to himself or those he loved. He is lost so deep in sadness that “pain is the only thing that’s real.”

Although it was tragedy that inspired him, it was tragedy that robbed him of his happiness and faith in himself. There is no interpretation needed to decipher the fact that Cash is an obvious creative artist and intensely deep-thinker. He reflects not only on the sadness of his life, but of sadness itself. The sadness of a lifetime of memories that will vanish. Cash implies that life is fleeting; everything that we endure or experience is temporal. The world will still continue on, with or without us. This thought is so intense and heavy, the lyrics haunt you and make you wonder: “what have I become?”


Some may say this song reads like a suicide note, with notes on depression. If you look deeper, you will find this song is a message of wanted hope, someone finding a reason to live. A man so lost in his sadness he feels the world is moving by as he stands still.

We can all relate to loneliness, to feeling left behind, “you are someone else, I am still right here,” this haunting verse makes you think deeper into your life, and the root of your own sadness. Actions done by others that you deem as unforgivable may need to be forgiven in order for you to find your own peace, to rid your heart of pain. Feeling “Hurt” is not always by actions from your own hand; sometimes it’s the choices of those around you that trap you into their downward spiral, where you are brought into their “empire of dirt”.

Cash’s rendition makes you re-think your judgment of yourself and others. Everyone gets lost, but it doesn’t mean there is not still time for a second chance, an opportunity to “start again” and “find a way”. In such sadness and despair, hope can be found. No one is ever truly a lost cause; hope should never be written off and disregarded. We have one life; Hurt reinforces the notion to make that life everything we want it to be.

A lyrical life lesson, in a four-minute song that will always stay with you, and remind you to push past your sadness and your “hurt” to meet your destiny, whatever that may be.

Which version of the song do you prefer? Or like Lisa do you feel that both artists have managed to make this one song their own? Leave us a comment and let us know.

All words by Lisa Lunney. You can read more from Lisa on LTW here.

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  1. A cover cannot be better than the original. It can be more interesting. It can be different. A performer/band cannot take someone’s previous efforts and ideas and say that they are better. Van Halen’s version of “You Really Got Me’ is explosive, but it cannot take the mantle away from the Kinks. Stiff Little Fingers versions of “Johnny Was” and “Doesn’t Make It Alright” are great, but we cannot minimize Bob Marley and the Specials creations. (BTW, Stiff Little Fingers may be my favorite band ever).

    • I know this is 2 years old but I’d like to say I think covers can be better, for instance I like FFDP’s cover of Bad Conpany better than the original.

      • I have listened to this song so many times NiN is great but Johnny cash brings this song to life with emotion every time I listen to it I think of my misdeeds throughout my life and the best friend I lost to my actions. I didnt feel this way when i listened to the NiN version. Of course its subjective but to me Johnny cash is the best it’ll ever get

    • I also think covers may soemtimes be “better” than the original. Whatever “better” may imply here.
      Thinking of “All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan (orig) vs. Jimi Hendrix (cover)… Personally, I like Hendrix’s version much more…

    • Tell that to Jimmy Hendrix and his career defining all along the watchtower.

      A cover can certainly be better than the original and in my eyes Cash’s is better than NiN’s version.

      Just the fact youre trying to pigeon-hole and make a definitive statement such as “a cover can’t be as good” is ridiculous. Art is subjective. Period.

      The Beatles aren’t my favorite band but I recognize them as the greatest band of all time. Hence subjectivity and why the author asked which version we prefer.

      So give me cash and give me hendrix.

    • Not true, let’s look at the Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as an example.
      Mick Jagger and the Stones made this song a staple of classic rock, it’s one that the fans demand to see performed whenever they play.
      It was in short a complete hit both on and off the air.
      Yet Jager never actually ever sounds like he can’t get no satisfaction, in fact he sounds like he gets quite a bit of satisfaction of all kinds and types.
      There was a remake it this by Devo, an Ohio for lack of better term New Wave band in the 80’s.
      In Devo’s cover Mark Mothersbaugh definitely sounds like he not only can’t get no satisfaction, he sounds like he has no idea of what being satisfied feels like in the first place. The band back this feeling up with an ultra stripped back almost mechanically played version of the tune with painfully frenetic solo that definitely gives point to the lyrics.
      The Stones have stated they much prefer Devo’s cover to their version.
      In short Devo took a great song and indeed not only made it better but like Johnny Cash and Hurt took it right to where it should have been in the first place.
      It’s rare, but it does happen. And when it does there is no mistaking it for what it is.

      • I agree with your comments completely – Devo is a great example of another. I also like Jose Feliciano versions of songs that other came out with 1st (much to my husbands chagrin – lol).

    • This is old comment but although I agree with you for most covers vs. originals there are a few exceptions. All Along the Watchtower is discussed above already. I would also put Joe Cocker’s cover of The Beatle’s “A Little Help From My Friends”, Elvis’ cover of Carl Perkin’s “Blue Suede Shoes”, and Ike & Tina’s version of CCR’s “Proud Mary” on the list of covers that are better than the original. Personally, although I really like NIN’s Hurt, Johnny Cash took that song to a completely different level. Even Trent Reazner said that song is Johnny’s now.

      • To each his/her own, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one persons junk is another persons treasure, just to qoute a few, it not a question of which version is better, its about how you the listener perceives that version which appeals to you, touchs you, makes you feel emotion.
        We all have favorites, and versions which we like better and sometimes we can like both versions equally or one version one time more and another version the next time more, whose to say which version is better or best?
        Only you can decide that for you!

        For me I always felt that Chris Cornell’s version of the Prince song “Nothing compares to you” is better than Sinead O’Connor’s version, but thats just my take, and if you feel differently thats ok because where still both right!

    • That is ludicrous! What is better is completely subjective to the listener, as such, certainly a cover can be better. I agree you that you can’t take away the creativity and acknowledgement of the original as a cover would never be created if it wasnt for the original, however, as many of the comments demonstrate there are lots of examples in which a cover is the preferred or “Better” version (for those individuals). My personal favorite of where I think a cover is better is “Blinded by the Light”. The Boss, a legend in his own right, and who’s creativity is without question, released this as the first track on his first album. It never gained much traction and was basically a b-side track. However, when Manfred Manns Earth Band covered it 3 years later it rocketed it into Rock and Roll immortality and became an iconic song of the 70’s. So in that example yes the preferred or “Better” version is the cover. I can spout out numerous facts that support that such as the fact the Bruce’s version never charted, yet MMEB reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100. As of the time of this writing, Spotify puts the Boss’s version with 11,402,411 play count while MMEB’s total play count (album and single edit combined) is 76,113,337. As such I would argue that the general consesus is the MMEB’s is “Better”.

  2. By default, any song sounds better than when it is performed by NIN, surely. Cash is a musical colossus.

    • For me people who think cover is better than original are biggots and they should live on comunism. When comunism was in Czech and Slovakia one Czecho-Slovak singer Mária Rotrová Made cover on Black Sabbath song she’s gone. In our country we couldn’t listen to west music. We didn’t even know that IT was somebody else’s song. I just want to say that every comunist country is doing this and nothing is better thant original. And yes i heard Johnny Cash version and NIN is much better. This old senile cock-robin doesn’t even know song so… Nazis and elitists fan of Johnny Cash have this opinion.

  3. I was not aware of this song before listening to it just consequently I’ve only heard the two versions a couple of times . The Johnny Cash version has , for me, more vulnerability . I’m not saying it’s better and i’m not 100% sure i prefer it but on first listen it moved me most .
    Personally I don’t agree that a cover cannot be better than an original but I’m not willing to argue it out . Just to say i think Elvis Costello’s “What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding ” is better than Nick Lowe’s original but I realise that is purely a personal opinion

  4. I honestly feel like Cash is the most overrated guy if he was still alive he wouldn’t have so many people on his bandwagon he never did anything that had not already been done he style was like Hank Williams Sr in his younger days then as he got older he almost seemed like he didn’t even care anymore

    • You couldn’t be more misguided. If he were alive he’d be near 100. If you know anything about his life at all he grew as a performer after meeting June Carter and the Carter Family. In the early days say mid fifties to sixties you were lucky if he showed up to his shows. He did not really break out until cleaning up his life and getting off pills and booze. I saw him more than a few times. This man was not coasting. After June died he did kind of lose interest in many things. He nailed this song. It could almost be his farewell song. Did not like NIN. No soul or passion. No personal connection

    • Man, I feel sorry for you having to go through life, spending it each day being under these sort of misconceptions. You are either completely not understanding Mr. Cash, or you have never spent time with his music. If you haven’t, you should have chosen to remain silent. Now you have proven yourself a fool in this topic.

  5. I do prefer Johnny Cash version. His arragement of it is more clearly from the technical point of view, also his aging voice it gives it that special touch. It sound “wisely”. I do not like NIN music in general, so I may be bias. NIN arragement is less polished, and his voice is not great. His voice does not have the same emotion. I have heard a couple of NIN versions (video, from the album, in concert), every one sounds quite different. Having said that, the song is NIN song. Johnny Cash just made a great sond greater!

    • You cant honestly think that? Trent Reznor’s voice is haunting giving touch to the feeling of being alone as stated in the article I feel like you didn’t even take the time to read it and blandly came to the comments section to try to state something without good merit… But don’t get me wrong I love Johnny Cash’s version too but Reznor’s voice went from a haunting whisper of a ghost to a violent roar of anger and sadness at his own mistakes giving it a lot of emotion so yes you are being very biased and you have not truly analyzed both songs to their full potential.

      • Agreed Sir, I loved Cash version first, listened to NIN version was not impressed, however after a couple of listens it means more to me than the wonderful Cash version.

  6. Johnny Cash. I am not a country fan, or on some Johnny Cash bandwagon. You can hate on him if you want, but he man had talent. Honestly, after hearing the same song by NIN, sung by Johnny Cash, It turned mediocre into breathtaking. Going back to NIN for the song after that was like trying to eat a turd after having awesome Cake! Sure.. they are made of the same stuff.. but I’m not putting the already eaten, digested, and pooped out cake, I’ll take the freshly baked cake thank you. I hear the comment that a song cannot be sung better than the original artist and that is just not true. It will not be exactly the same, but that does not mean it isn’t better. 9/10 times it is not as good, this is that other time though when it is way better by someone else. Johnny put feeling and soul into it. NIN just put words into it. Cash all the way. I can’t even listen to the NIN version anymore, I feel like I’m cheating myself out of something way better.

    • I feel like nobody here understands the song at all. The album Hurt features on is called The Downward Spiral, a concept album about someone falling into mental illness, drug abuse and eventually kills themselves in the penultimate track. Hurt isn’t meant to be sad. It isn’t meant to be melancholic or nostalgiac. It’s meant to be uncomfortable, musically the dissonant and discordant notes make it difficult to listen to. It’s meant to be unfeeling and numb, the opening line is “I hurt myself today, to see if I could feel”. It’s about someone who feels nothing and sees no more point in living.
      I also hate Cash’s religious imagery by changing the lyrics to “crown of thorns”. It makes no sense.

      • These are all opinions. You folks are behaving like there’s some sort of essential truth as to which version is “better.” It’s a ridiculous conversation.

      • I see this comment a lot and I’ve never seen/heard evidence of him ever saying this?

        I’ve heard that Reznor says he’s “come around” to the song, that he’s “happy he’s contributed,” and that Cash’s version is “a powerful piece of art,” but not that “it’s his song now” or it’s better somehow.

        • Alternative Press No. 194. September 2004.
          “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…”

          Reznor himself quoted as saying the song isn’t his anymore, which is also why the song is sung by NIN differently in live shows since 2007.

  7. I fell that this was not properly analysed and is purely of personal opinion you and dose not give insite into which is overall better and just proves your point. I would respect your idea more if you elaborated more on the NIN version of the song and presented a properly weighed argument and conclusion instead of saying simply that one was better without proper analyses into the NIN version making the title misleading. Therefore this article should have been why i think that Johny chases version of hurt is better than NIN.
    I personally find them each to have there own merits

    • Precisely. Nail on head, I thought the exact same thing when reading it. I thought it was going to be a totally balanced article and what followed would be a few paragraphs that went on to say how great NINs version is for alternate reasons.
      Trent Reznor wrote the song, therefore he enabled Johnny Cash to even sing it in the first place. How can anyone be critical of NINs performance of this? You may not like it stylistically, but the whole ‘which version is better’ elaborated by an article which barely references the artist – who wrote the actual words and also performed it – is offensive and bothers me on so many levels.
      Trent Reznor is the only reason the song exists! I personally love both versions, but they are too different to compare. Respectfully – most of the credit should go to the artist who created and wrote the words, and nobody can mean those words more than him, anyone else is merely interpreting and relating to them.

      • Exactly, I have been a huge fan of both Johnny Cash and Trent Reznor most of my life. Both versions are great, and put my emotions in two similar, yet different, pathways. NINs version puts me in a state where I feel the need to forgive myself for my mistakes and just want to be alone, but JCs version makes me want to reach out to others I’ve caused problems for and seek their forgiveness. When it comes down to it, I love both versions, but you must give credit where it is due, the person who wrote it. The only thing that bugged me about JCs remake is the fact that he got the credit for the song due to his name being more familiar with the overall public. A lot of people thought that he wrote it, and that just isn’t right, regardless of which one, you think, sounds better.

        • RE:- The only thing that bugged me about JCs remake is the fact that he got the credit for the song due to his name being more familiar

          That is NOT JC’s fault – that is morons not realising he was doing a cover.

  8. NIN version is much better. Cash is ok, but it kind of just sounds like all his other songs, it gets lost. NIN is a lot more versatile and this stands out from a lot of their other songs making it truly unique.

    • Frank, I respect your point of view and agree with it. I was raised with all kinds of music in our house. But my dad was older and we connected with Johnny Cash music so I feel that may be part of why I like johnny’s better.
      When a band does something out of their usual style it is awesome and seems to further their writing skills in their music.

    • I fully agree with you. I started to listen to the Cash version and literally couldn’t listen to 15 seconds of it, it was nauseating. He completely changed what the song was meant to convey and all what the original stands for. Trent’s song is way stronger and more captivating in my opinion. NIN’s version is one of my favorite songs of all time, while Cash, as stated, I can’t even listen to. Sounds very cheesy and Church-like, compared to the industrial metal touch and true emotional tone of Trent.

  9. I connect more with Johnny Cash version, however the words are brilliant. I look at this song as being a legend’s good bye song. Ironically one of the best song writers in the history of music is not one one who wrote but his pain and life seem to fit perfectly. It is also one of the songs that summed up how I was feeling after my loss of my only child. So thank you for writing this song NIN. It also has expanded my music I listen to now. A gift I cannot repay!

  10. The original is so much better. It feels a lot more raw and powerful when Trent Reznor is singing it. It falls a bit flat and dull in Johnny Cash’s version. It doesn’t have the same raw intensity that the original does. The original song speaks to a feeling of self-loathing and incredible frustration and anger with oneself, something that is a very relatable feeling for many people. However, it is not an easy feeling to capture well, and I think that is where the cover falls very short. Trent Reznor’s version is raw, and connects with the kind of desperate feelings that many people are so accustomed to, whereas the cover lacks that urgency. This song saved me when I felt most alone in the world, and that’s a powerful thing. A powerful thing that I don’t feel Cash’s version adequately achieves. It seems as if a raw, visceral song was turned into something muted. This cover is soft turns where the original was all jagged edges. The original will always be far far better in my opinion.

  11. Look, I’ll open with “the cash version is better”.

    But not on an emotional level, period. Unless you can relate to every single line of the song (not just the general, like, vibe, you know) you don’t really get it in on a personal level. I dug the song as a moody teenager, and level headed adult… but never really fully appreciated it until I was a manic depressive junkie completely destroying everything around me.

    It just hits harder.

  12. I’ve love the NIN for many years. But Johnny cash is more stronger shows more apathy it’s like the song was written about his life and how it passed by so fast. Where NIns talks about suicide and depression and horrific sadness when you listen to Johnny cash a versions it’s like he turned a cubic zirconia into a diamond

  13. NIN has more of an emotional tug to it. You sense frustration, despair and anger in the lyrics.

    Cash’s version doesn’t have any of that.

    • You really have no idea what emotion is. Johnny Cash’s is far more impactful from a feels standpoint. You clearly have no clue what you are talking about. One is a legend whose career spanned decades. Nine Inch Nails are back to irrelevance where their terrible “music” belongs.

      • By calling NIN terrible you are calling Cash’s version terrible. NIN created the song remember that and Cash only changed a few lyrics… so by comparison you have no idea what you are talking about, each song is different but saying NIN is terrible and basing it only on your own feelings and hate because you liked Cash better just shows how you are biased and without good merit… Next time try to analyze both songs and give fair statements about both.

  14. The lyrics are everything… but J.Cash poured his entire life into it, and that made all the difference. Reznor had no chance… not yet.

  15. How about neither is better than the other? They both speak to me on different levels. I can empathize more with Cash, knowing what I know of his life, and also with the twists and turns that my own life threw at me. The NiN version is more raw, more “real”, but it comes from a different place than the Man In Black. Both are great, and each has it’s place in my life.

  16. I think Johnny Cash’s version of the song “hurt”, is more understandable than the original one by the band, nine inch nails. However, I think Trent Reznor,(NIN) put more emotional feeling into the song.

  17. I’d been living under a rock so it had seemed as I’d never heard the song until earlier this year (2016). My drummer gave me some chords and a page of lyrics, hummed the tune and said he’d like to hear my interpretation of his all time favourite song. I played around with it, got into it so much I could have believed the song was written about me. I recorded it over a couple of days, playing 4 x Guitar tracks, 1 x Bass track, 1 x drum track and two vocal tracks ( with some help from my vocal harmonizer for the harmonies). I gave it to him and he was gob smacked. We then sat down to listen to the various versions out there being the first time I’d heard another recording of the song. My favourite is Trent Reznor solo on piano followed closely by Eddie Vedder on Acoustic. Anyway, if you’re at all interested in my cover, here’s a link to the demo I gave my drummer recorded on my Tascam 2488 port studio.
    I was in the process of applying for a license to release this song as a cover after getting it recorded professionally (not in my living room lol), but after hearing it as the theme for the 2017 Wolverine movie…… I thought I’d hold of for a few years as I didn’t want my cover to be just another version.

  18. Johnny Cash’s rendition of Hurt is much more profound than NIN. My soul is haunted every time I hear Johnny sing it. To be honest; I and not a fan of NIN original version. It doesn’t evoke any real emotion whatsoever.

  19. I think most people find the Cash version more relatable and reflective. The original makes a lot more sense when listened to in its proper place at the end of The Downward Spiral. Some argue that it’s a suicide note or description of rock bottom after the protagonist commits suicide in the previous title track. It’s personal preference, but both versions are just different and serve different purposes.

  20. If you ask me “What do you think of Country Music?” I will reply with “I’m not a huge fan, but I find Johnny Cash’s Hurt one of the best ones around.”

  21. I feel that they are both completely different songs. Nine inch nails did a fantastic job in writing the song and I enjoyed the emotion put into it extensively. Johnny Cash on the other hand re-purposed the song in a meaningful way, yet didn’t weaken it in any sense. Sure, the words might be the same, but the meanings couldn’t have been more different. Reznor was describing the sensations and struggles of drug abuse, while cash was reflecting on his entire life. For either artist it is a beautiful song that tears at some of the deepest fibers of my being. In the end, neither could’ve been better than the other because they both had separate meanings.

    • I echo the above. Art is interpretation. No two people see a painting or a statue the same way. Music speaks differently to people based on their personal and emotional experiences. If someone likes the color blue and another green, it doesn’t mean one is ‘better’ than the other. They are both good in the eye of the beholder. The version you enjoy the most is the best. Loving art in any form shouldn’t be a competition.

  22. I am a nine inch nail fan, as well as a johnny cash fan. I do like johnny’s version better by far. It moves me, the nine inch nail version is a song I skip when it shuffles onto my phone.

  23. I really connected to the original song when I was going through a very dark time in my life. The emotions that it evoked in me were raw and very real. Years later when I was just pulling myself out of that life and starting over I heard Johnny Cash singing those same words. I heard that voice, that regret, years of struggle and hopelessness. To me it was the same story from an older soul. Someone who never got out of that hole, someone just hanging on, someone older and sadder. Someone that could have been me. Looking back now I think the NIN version helped me see the truth of the life I was living and helped me to want out. Johnny Cash’s version came during that transition and helped me to want to stay out.
    I just now decided to look up Cash’s video for this song and I didn’t like it. I guess having connected to it so personally for all of these years I had my own version. I had made my own video full of my memories and seeing the video about Cash’s life didn’t work for me. Also I decided to look up Trent Reznor’s thoughts and I was surprised to see he wasn’t involved. I had just alway’s thought it was a new way he was telling his story from an older perspective. It’s amazing the way music can touch us the way it does sometimes. The way another person’s thoughts and emotions can become a part of our own story. I have never watched the NIN video and I won’t watch the Johnny Cash video again either. For me the video of my memories reminds me of where I was and makes me thankful that am where I am now.

  24. Johnny Cash ruined it, this was a great song and then he completed changed the style of it and now it sounded awful

    • Finally someone not a sheep who can see this for what it is. A truly remarkable song turned into a dull, boring, cheesy version that most people with bad taste pretend to find superior, probably just because Johnny Cash is a well-known singer. Had this version been covered by an unknown (not Johnny Cash) in the way Johnny Cash covered it, it would have been bashed and ignored.

  25. A great little essay on a fantastic song.
    They are, of course, both incredibly moving interpretations. I remember, years ago, being moved to tears at first view of the video for Johnny’s version. I highly recommend the album it’s on too; American IV: The Man Comes Around.

  26. Love how you spoke so much to the meaning of Cash’s version of Reznors pain. The original is far more haunting, poignant and I’d say everyday relevant. Cash’s version is musically spot on and a great highlight real of his on self professed demise, however not anything close to the pain Trent had to feel to write and importantly, release what he did.

  27. I love original song more than Cash version because original has more meanings than one. Personal : It’s a song not about the drug abuse. It just has a metaphor of it. It’s a self-isolation song. Because of my opinions/actions/thoughts i lost almost all of my friends, people who i can trust. I living a routine, always the same. I lost faith in this world. I just living in the four walla i build myself. NIN version shows that desperate anger towards myself and the others. But. Original song has also another meaning : Please, be kind to each other. Only then we can have true freedom and escape violence, hypocrisy and more of the evil hunan nature. For me, Cash made the song easier to relate to and more “radio-friendly”, personally. I just can’t connect with the world, but this song is my cure.

  28. UPD : But i have my best friend, who understands my feelings towards this world, drowned in hypocrisy. I get the message that the original NIN song has : Be kind to each other, and only then we can have true freedom and peace. On the global meaning of the song i will cite words from the album interpretation to let you know about the true meaning of “Hurt” :
    “So begins the final song of the album, “hurt,” the most solitary manifestation of the human voice. In theory this is a triumph, a victory for humanity, but in reality it was too costly. Even though the human side of the character is what somehow survives beyond death, it is still scarred, unfamiliar with anything other than pain.

    “the needle tears a hole,
    the old familiar sting,
    try to kill it all away,
    but i remember everything.”

    The drug reference is used as a metaphor for any form of self-destructive behavior that one pursues in hope of escape while somewhere knowing the consequences, and even welcoming them. There is no peace because he knows that it was all his fault — he knows what he has done.

    “what have i become?
    my sweetest friend
    everyone i know
    goes away in the end
    you could have it all
    my empire of dirt
    i will let you down
    i will make you hurt”

    Addressing some friend that never existed within his life, he finally surrenders his control completely. He no longer has the strength to do otherwise. His inability to deal with anything but extremes is once again noted. When he lets go, he lets go completely (“you could have it all”).

    This notion of his obsession with extremes is one of the most important themes of the album — from “closer,” where he says “you can have my everything,” to his desires as outlined in “i do not want this,” where he declares that he wants to know everything, be everywhere, and fuck everyone. His desire for control eventually leads to his loss of it.

    The purity and unity that he sought in life still hasn’t been found.

    “i wear my crown of shit
    on my liar’s chair
    full of broken thoughts
    i cannot repair
    beneath the stain of time
    the feeling disappears
    you are someone else
    i am still right here”

    Here he makes an allusion to the throne of God, which he tried to claim as his own — and remembers with regret his violence, which he can never forget. And finally we come to the last lines of the album, which express the man’s desire to keep himself, a desire that only can be fulfilled and affirmed if he allows others to do the same.

    “if i could start again
    a million miles away
    i would keep myself
    i would find a way”

    This final “verse” is proof of the character’s growth. Tragically, it is after his death that he reaches this point. He boldly affirms his desire to keep his humanity as a value and a meaning that human beings can realize.

    These final words are swept away in an electric chord that shatters the quiet and fades into a mechanical drone that in turn fades away, signifying an end — or perhaps a new beginning.

    In the dark heat of the arena, before thousands of people, the climax of “eraser” — the desperate plea for death — comes to a close. The projection screen, which had shown a setting desert sun, goes black. A muffled but steady wind from another rusty and barren landscape is heard faintly.

    Trent Reznor, backlit so that he is visible through the screen, begins to sing, as the first few notes of the song arise from an acoustic guitar: “i hurt myself today.”

    As the essay opened, we discussed the prospect of shifting the focus back onto the downward spiral in order to find some insight into our times. To some, the connection may already be all too clear; they see similar trends in both themselves and the world. However, to most the connection may still seem too vague to make sense of; the world of indifference and nihilism described by Reznor is still too far away. That is why we are going to end this with an examination of the live version of “hurt

    In the context of the album, “hurt” is the purest statement of the man’s feelings, the most personal song Reznor claims to have written. Now, open before thousands of others, he begins to sing it.

    But whereas the song was personal on the album, it now reaches beyond that level and addresses all of humanity. The screen shows us black-and-white images — images of decay, of nuclear holocaust, and horrifying images of a war-torn land where woman and children stand in front of their devastated homes; the corpses of young soldiers lie out in the open, uncared for; and concentration camp victims are heaped into piles devoid of any humanity. A child trapped in the bloody kingdom of man stares out at the audience accusingly as if asking “why?” “what have i become?” now seems to be “what have we become?”

    The lyrics to “hurt” now become an indictment of all of modern society and its “empire of dirt.” “we hurt ourselves, to see if we still feel…try to kill the memory of it all away, but we remember everything.”
    “Just cast a glance at the history of mankind; well, what do you see? Is it majestic?” 6

    Self-destructive control doesn’t just belong to the character of the album; it is a whole society’s desire. The goal of the modern world has been to replace the kingdom of God with the kingdom of man. The so-called “Age of Reason,” which promised humanity control over the world through science and technology, has given rise to the same terror and destruction of previous ages, and more of it. We gain the power to do more and more at the price of becoming estranged from life.

    Our absolute ideologies have betrayed us. Our desires have betrayed us. In short, we have betrayed us. So now what? Are we condemned to continue our desperate cycle until the end. Have we, like the character, gone to far. No. Even in the bleakest situations there is some hope. It is time to bring the modern age to an end; it is time to accept responsibility for what we’ve done. As human beings, we must learn to live as human beings and to do without the absolutes we can never obtain. It is time to forget about the absolute freedom that can only be obtained at the expense of others (whether in the guise of Marxist utopia or Libertarian Capitalism). In order to experience freedom, real human freedom, we must let others be free, allow them to have what we want for ourselves. Only then can our lives as humans affirm any real value, only then will relationships, whether personal or societal, stop being tyrannical and be based on free and mutual giving as well as receiving. We must find ourselves; learn once again how to care for others as well as ourselves, and then, only then, can we escape nihilism and violence.”
    Cash version fails to deliver so many meanings of the original song.

  29. Related links : – live version of NIN’s “Hurt”. It”s more powerful than in the studio
    httpss:// – TDS interpretation. If you know all of the song meanings on the album you will know true meaning of “Hurt”
    These links will help you understand this song more clearly.

  30. When Trent Reznor’s voice drops almost to a whisper as he sings “You are someone else, I am still right here”, the pain, loss and regret there is so profound it’s palpable.
    When Cash sings it, it sounds just like the rest of the song.

    • I agree. The original nin version is much more emotional, and Reznor’s despair & hopelessness are clearly palpable.
      However, in the Johnny Cash version I could absorb and appreciate the lyrics, and although the interpretation in Cash’s version was different than the original version it actually gave me an understanding of where Reznor’s head was when he wrote it. I believe both versions compliment one another, and should not be compared. I love Johnny Cash, and even though I”ll listen to his interpretation more often I will never forget that without Trent Reznor’s ‘original’ their would be no Johnny Cash recording of ‘Hurt’.

  31. The arrangement in this version is different than the original. The original sounds detached from reality in a sense. The cover is bathed in reality with very subtle hints of dissonance and it crescendos gradually. I like both version but Cash’s version usually has me on the verge of tears. I suppose I can sort of relate to wanting to do things different in my life. Things I’d change. Opportunities I’d take. The list goes on. Both are about the human condition though. I’m glad Reznor had the class enough to give this song to Cash. It’s sad and beautiful that gives a glimmer of hope in the form of a lesson; don’t let life pass you by. Live to the fullest if you can.

    I know this article is old but hey, the song is timeless.

  32. With out doubt Johnny Cash made it one of the most expressive songs of all time tuneing into the Human soul inside, Much as Joe Cocker did with the Beatles with a little help from my friends.
    It is rare to hear better than the original. The voice helps.

  33. I’m guessing that all of those criticizing Johnny Cash’s cover don’t know that Trent Reznor likes Cash’s interpretation and even said that the song isn’t his any more in an interview in Alternative Press in 2004.

    • yeah, i’m pretty sure what he meant by that is Cash’s version is so fubar that it’s no longer the same song. not ever a cover. that song is trents baby and ever since johnny made that shit cover, trents been closing every single concert with the original version, even pushing aside newer more modern track such as right where it belongs and the great below. He probably regrets ever saying yes to allowing anyone to attempt to take ownership of that song. Not to worry, his true fans know what’s going on and they will set the record straight whenever possible. and by the record i mean share their opinion like i’ve just done.

  34. I loved NiN’s version when it came out and I still love it for what it is, it has a place in my life that will always be there.
    I got what Trent was saying, I was moved by it and the theme of the album, I thought and still think that what he was trying to say and the way he was saying were perfect for what he was getting across.
    But it never brought me to tears. It occasionally made me melancholy and introspective but never much more.
    When Johnny Cash redid it I was sceptical on first listen, but being a fan of Johnny’s as well as Reznor I was sure Trent wouldn’t have allowed this to happen if it didn’t grab him in some way so I listened and paid attention to what Johnny was trying to get across.
    It tore my soul out and dragged it around the floor for 4 minutes before dropping it at my feet. Knowing Johnny’s background his doing this song not only fits, it hurts. Looking at his face doing the video, seeing June on the stairs looking at him, the knowledge of his imminent death writ large on her face, I’m tearing up up right now as I write this thinking about it.
    He took a great song and stripped it back to just what was needed for us to see his scarred and worn soul bared in all it’s pain, knowing he had no more time left. For another artist with decades to go this would be a hard enough feat to pull off but Johnny doesn’t have decades and he knows it and when he ends with the stanza about doing it all again differently, you can see in his face and hear in his voice that he really means that.
    Powerful stuff.
    NiN’s version was great, Johnny’s version was real.
    You can take that however you want to.

  35. Like Trent said in an interview after hearing Cash’s version for the first time “That’s not my song anymore”. And while i’m not able to say exactly what he meant by that, i suspect he’s implying Cash done fucked it up so far beyond recognition that they aren’t even the same song anymore. If that’s what he meant then I totally agree and the original version reins as the king of concert closers.

  36. Everyone has their opinion, of which is better, and that’s perfectly fine. To me Cash’s version makes me feel the pain and sadness I once felt, and hits me hard sometimes depending on how I’m feeling when I hear the song.

    But covers of songs Can be better then the original. And Also there are times when both versions of the song can be respected and appreciated for the way, style, or performance that they were recorded in.

    I personally love Blue Oyster Cults “Astronomy” But in all honestly Metallica’s cover of this same song is phenomenal. To me it seems like the song was meant to be performed by Metallica. The style and heavyness they bring gives more feeling to the lyrics. Yet “The Brain Surgeons” cover of “Astronomy” just shouldn’t have been recorded at all.

  37. Many songs are better when they are sung as a cover as is told by all those previous comments I could add a few more but I won’t. And anybody who listens to music knows the best songs that make us feel pain or joy or any emotion are usually written from life experience. And many songs sung are not always the writer. In fact a lot of songwriter wrote songs for other people before they sang anything at all, but when they did start singing their own songs they became great because they were singing from the heart. And that’s where Johnny Cash he was one of the great ones

  38. I’m a little late on this but id like to say that NIN version is so much bettwr than cash. The feelimg of unshakeable sadness and having a feelimg of no purpose is better than an old man regretting the choices hes made. I respect Johnny cash and I like his songs and what hes performed, however, since he has taken this song and used it to expressed his regret in life feels like its pulling from thw meaning. As stated in comments previously, the article and writer has taken heropinions and places them into a misleading title. Very little was explored on the meaning and power the original version has. Ive seen friends come back from the very depths lf drug addiction and self loathing and this song fits so well in thier lives that they swear by it. The swearing in the song puts so much more emphasis on how much hurt there really is. Cash “hurts” because he knows his time is up and there’s nothing he can do. Reznor hurts because he sees theres no way out but forther down the hole. I am not Christian myself and this is no way an attack on Christianity or those who practice/believe in it, but when people get older they seem to cling onto thier faith hoping that it will allow them to be buried a better person. The fact that Cash has brought his religion into the song takes away from the meaning. I would like to say rest in peace to Johnny Cash.

  39. What we must understand is that comparing things of the heart can not be judged better than or worse than. They can only be the experience of the individual. What we have here is 2 guys viewing life from different experiences and using music to express there feelings. Both are incredible versions from incredible people. There is no comparison. As much as they are the same song, they are different.

  40. Both versions are amazing for different and similar reasons. Both the men involved lived difficult, painful lives, and can sing a song such as this with authenticity and depth. I grow tired of everything in America being about ranking, rating, and comparing to determine best, winners, worst, and losers. It is this culture that leads to the despair, loneliness, emotional pain spoken to in this song. Ironic, and sad that so many who say they feel a connection with one version or the other, seem to miss the core cultural sickness that led to the creation of this song.

  41. of course a cover can be better then the original I think it’s pretty plain to see Johnnys version was very real.

  42. For me, I like Cash’s version better. Not the video, but the song itself.

    Reznor writes about drug addiction, self loathing, losing friends, the feeling of loneliness and experiencing severe depression. This is something that Cash can relate to as he pretty much went through a similar experience. As he became more of a “star” the more accessible things became and everyone turned a blind eye to it. The alcohol, the drugs, the women etc. He was completely out of control and he has said he felt complete despair and loneliness with no light at the end of the tunnel. Then he met his wife June and she helped him turn his life around and got him out of the hole he was in. He found his god. He found hope again. At the end of his life he is looking back at all of the wasted years. There is a lot of hurt and regret.

    Reznor wrote the song about how he was feeling at that time. I wonder if he’ll be singing Cash’s version at the end of his life.

  43. I think if you are depressed and longing for death you think NIN version is the best one. But if you just want to hear a pretty song and feel someone else’s pain you probably like the cash’s version better. But for me Trent’s version is way superior then the other.

  44. I am a huge metal fan. I’ve listened to heavy metal my whole life. I also find country music to be insufferable. Given that I really don’t understand why I prefer the Johnny Cash version to the NIN’s version. I think it comes down to who I believe is feeling it the most. Trent gives a better vocal performance, but Johnny feels it more I can’t explain it and I never thought I’d ever say this but Johnny Cash sings this one song with more feeling than Trent Reznor can possibly muster.

  45. It’s a great song, both Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash should be happy with the result.
    Both versions are awesome – Just leave it there.

  46. The first time I heard this song, it was performed by Johnny Cash. I sounded like it came personally from his life experience so, it is my preferred version. I do really like the NIN version too though.

  47. Hurt ends one of the greatest concept albums of all time and is the perfect finish to it. I know not everyone can get into the type of music Trent Reznor made on The Downward Spiral but it is phenomenal work. I don’t even know the words to describe the feelings and thoughts that Trent conveyed through the sounds and lyrics on that album. If you can make it to the end and reach Hurt, it will be worth it. I can see the Johnny Cash versions as the better stand alone song but the Trent version is just part of something so much grander.


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