“Reminds You Of The Power Of Music” – Trent Reznor Says The Music Video Changed His Mind On Johnny Cash’s Cover Of “Hurt”

Trent Reznor and Johnny Cash
GQ/Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt,” originally performed by Nine Inch Nails, is considered one of the greatest cover songs of all time.

There’s no doubt about it. Look up any list of “best covers ever” and Cash’s version of the 1994 song will be right up near the top, if not at the peak of the cover song mountain. NIN’s original version is a deeply emotional and intimate song, which does beg the question why it worked so well for someone who didn’t write it themselves?

Trent Reznor, the frontman of NIN, sat down with GQ alongside fellow band member and famous producer Atticus Ross to talk about how that song came to life originally, and how it took on a life of its own once Johnny Cash recorded it. Reznor first described his intentions for the song, saying:

 “That song I remember coming to life pretty quickly. I never questioned it. I wanted to kind of make it so you couldn’t really hear me sing.

I put noise through the whole thing so there’s no chance it could have any commercial life.”

He went on to say that when he put pen to paper, he wasn’t even sure if they were supposed to be song lyrics. Reznor was just pouring out his emotions and how he was feeling at the time, and was eventually able to work it into the song that it is today.

And the song that it is today is also helped by the cover version that the “Man in Black” had to be convinced to record. Producer Rick Rubin convinced Cash to try out the song, and once he was on board, it quickly became evident that it was special.

But Reznor wasn’t so sure about it initially, as he described to GQ:

“Years later of course with Johnny Cash, Rick Rubin called and said, ‘Would you mind if we tried this song?’ I said, ‘Of course not.’ It seemed weird. I assumed they were probably doing 100 songs. Then I got the recording of it a little bit later and that felt weird because that’s my song. That big voice in there… it felt weird.”

However, the NIN frontman came around on the cover when he saw the poignant, moving music video that accompanied it. Directed by Mark Romanek, the now famous music video took viewers through the life and regrets of Johnny Cash, and the man himself was the tour guide as his gravely, weathered voice sang through it.

Reznor said it was that moment that he knew his song “Hurt” had transcended:

“The thought of ‘here’s a thing I wrote from a very intimate place’ and it’s connected with someone else with a larger-than-life personality.

And then oddly it becomes a kind of epitaph for his life and it happened to be filmed by one of the greatest directors ever and presented in such a beautiful way… it reminds you of the power of music and how important it is.”

To sympathize with Reznor and NIN, it must be weird to see someone else take a song of your own and make it more popular than yours ever was. However, when that person is the legendary Johnny Cash, you’re probably a little more open to the idea.

Of course, Reznor famously said that “‘Hurt’ wasn’t his song anymore” after the Cash video came out.

It really is a masterful music video that matched the depth and emotion of the cover song, and it’s made that much more significant considering that Cash released his version of “Hurt” just months before he passed away in 2003 at the age of 71.

You can fire it up at the link below:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock