“Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.” — Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s life was a wild one. The singer embodied the spirit of rock and roll before the genre ever truly existed and riled against the establishment as he lived a life of frenetic freedom. It made his final moments on this earth all the more beautiful as he once again took to the spotlight for one final song and a heartbreaking interview.
The song was a poignantly beautiful cover of Nine Inch Nails stalwart ‘Hurt’ and it propelled Cash back into the limelight for one final tread of the showbiz boards. The singer duly obliged with one of the most timeless covers ever recorded. The Man In Black was to take one last bow.
‘Hurt’ has been covered by some notable artists but after Johnny Cash took on the song in 2003 nobody else dares touch it. Cash not only paid homage to the original but turned the song on its head and truly expressed himself through it. His gravel-tone feeling as treacherous as ever, Cash was saying goodbye with some of his most honest and authentic work.
The release was backed with a touching video that saw the ageing rock star contemplating the complexities of mortality all while sharing his one true legacy—his music. The video was nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards in 2003 and that nod saw the legendary cash sit down with MTV’s Kurt Loder on August 20th, just a few short weeks before his sad death.
The video for ‘Hurt’ was thought to be something Cash would disapprove of, having complained of the medium in interviews prior. But, as Open Culture reports, on this video he says, “I felt we were doing something worthwhile.” The singer revealed possibly why he felt the video so important as he shares that it was a source of pride for him and his late wife June Carter, who managed to see the video shortly before her own passing.
In the revealing footage Cash is an open book as he describes working with Rick Rubin on American Recordings as some of his finest work, as well as the music he always wanted to make. It’s one of the most authentically charming and bruisingly beautiful interviews we’ve ever seen and is a remarkable epitaph to leave behind as an artist.
In one particularly touching moment, Cash reveals the beating power of his fierce independence, “You can’t let people delegate to you what you should do,” Cash says, motioning to his chest, “when it’s coming from way in here, you know?… I wouldn’t let anybody influence me into thinking I was doing the wrong thing by singing about death, hell, and drugs.”
It was this defiance in the face of authority of all forms that would see millions of fans flock to his every move. The Man in Black was every one of us.
Johnny Cash was an outlaw, a dangerous vagrant, a whisky-soaked good time with a gun. But what made him truly special was his ability to connect on his songs unlike any other, bearing his soul and his bleeding heart for all to see and hear. Cash wasn’t just a persona donned for a special occasion, he was a human. And a damn fine one at that.
Watch Johnny Cash’s heartbreaking final interview just weeks before his death.