Since it’s the clips that got them there, most VMA-nominated artists would be hesitant to admit any ill will toward the music video. Then again, Johnny Cash never really was one to cater to popular opinion.
“I don’t especially like making videos,” Cash told MTV News’ Kurt Loder. “It’s just work. Sometimes it’s really fun and I enjoy it very much, but the getting there and all that usually just isn’t.”
The 71-year-old living legend makes an exception when it comes to his latest clip, “Hurt,” which received six nominations at the 2003 Video Music Awards, including one for Video of the Year (see “Missy, Justin, Johnny Cash, 50 And Eminem Top VMA Nominees List” ).
“I enjoyed doing the ‘Hurt’ video because I felt we were doing something worthwhile, that it was something kind of special. … I was there right in the middle of the thing. So after it was put together, I watched with a critical eye to see what I could find wrong with it. And I didn’t find much wrong with it.”
The emotionally poignant clip, directed by Mark Romanek, recontextualizes the lyrics of the Nine Inch Nails angst anthem to reflect on Cash’s life and career, which spans nearly 50 years. Images of the strapping Man in Black flicker with dusty portraits of a white-haired senior weakened by age and adventures, as moments from Cash’s memory drift by like pages from a calendar (see “Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ Delves Into Life of Former Hell-Raiser: VMA Lens Recap” ).
“It’s all fleeting,” Cash said. “As fame is fleeing, so are all the trappings of fame fleeting. The money, the clothes, the furniture.”
If covering a NIN song seems strange for someone who loaded up a third of his quintessential box set, Love, God, Murder, with hymns, you haven’t heard Cash personalize oddities like Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat,” Beck’s “Rowboat,” Danzig’s “Thirteen” and Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage,” all of which appear on the four-volume Rick Rubin-produced American series.
“I didn’t get any direct criticism about ‘Hurt,’ ” he explained. “I didn’t get any preachers calling me or anything like that. People who I expected to not like it let me know that they turned a deaf ear to it. It would be all right as long as I didn’t play that video for them. Ninety-eight percent of them were complimentary; I didn’t get very much flack at all. My children, my grandchildren, they all love it.”
There was almost nothing to love, however. At first Rubin didn’t want to present the tune to Cash because of song’s sole cuss word, which appears in the line, “I wear my crown of sh–.” He wound up substituting the word “thorns,” instead.
When he first played the song for Cash, it was the tune itself that made Cash taciturn.
“When I heard the record, I said, ‘I can’t do that song,’” Cash recalled. “‘It’s not my style.’ [Rick] said, ‘Well, let’s try it another way.’ He put down a track and I listened to it. … From there we started working on it until we got the record made.”
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