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  Category: Articles » Arts & Entertainment » Music » Article

Johnny Cash: the great borrower of words

By Jon Perry

In 2003 Johnny Cash released the song “Hurt” his last great song before his death. It was an instant hit taking the world by storm. The Country Music Awards gave it “Single of the Year” and Cash’s “Hurt” music video was awarded best video of the year by the Grammy awards.

The song starts with a calm and powerful melody on an acoustic guitar which is accompanied with piano. The first phrase uttered by Cash’s tired and raspy voice is “I hurt myself today, to see if I steel feel.” The song is sung by a man who mutilates himself with a needle while reviewing his past. He hurts himself in a vain attempt to forget the emotional pain he suffers as a result of wasting his life in pursuit of empty worldly pleasure. While looking back, he sees that in his search for wealth and fame he has neglected and let down his loved ones. He explains that his riches and fame bring him no true joy by saying “And you could have it all, my empire of dirt, I will let you down, I will make you hurt.” He wishes he could start again but it’s too late, he knows his life is coming to an end.

The video shows Johnny Cash in an almost ghostly form of depression. It shows images of his past, of his trophies, of his empire. It shows how meaningless it all is to him now. It’s a powerful sermon. An old dying man pleads with his listeners, begging them not to forget their loved ones in search of selfish pleasure.

For those who know a little of the history of Johnny Cash’s life, this song fits him perfectly. For that reason it’s almost insane to think that it wasn’t actually him who wrote it. The real author is Trent Reznor, a metal singer, songwriter and creative talent for the band Nine Inch Nails.

Trent Reznor is a man who has been labeled as a drug addict, rebel, and an antichrist. Cash was a Country legend, and though he has always had a bit of an edge, he was always highly respected among Christians. When Reznor was asked to give permission to Cash to use his song, Reznor was concerned that it was just a silly publicity stunt but ended up agreeing. According to an interview with Alternative Press, this was Reznors reaction when hearing Cash’s version of his song and seeing the video:

I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore. … It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning—different, but every bit as pure.

Reznor still refers to “Hurt” as “a song that isn’t mine any more.”

Johnny Cash is often referred to as “The Great Borrower of Words”. He did write a large number of songs during his life but a vast majority of his greatest hits were written by others.

“A Boy Named Sue” is another good example of a song made famous by Cash but written by another. Shel Silverstein (who was a writer/cartoonist for playboy and who is most famous for his children’s books) was the real author of “A boy named sue”. In 1969 when the Song was published it took #1 on the country charts and #2 in the pop charts.

Ring of fire is yet another song that Cash made #1 on the country charts but did not actually write. It was really written by June Carter about Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash was an opened minded song critique. He loved music from every genre, every era, just as long as the lyrics were real to him. He covered songs from the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Depeche Mode, and many more. He always added something special to the songs, his version, even though the words were always the same, carried new meaning to the listener. He was a fine artist, a legend in deed.

About the Author
Jon Perry is a writer for Mixxer. For cell phone ringtones, cell phone screensavers, and country ringtones visit

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