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.