Listen to this track by venerable country-folk patriarch and one-time Man In Black Johnny Cash. It’s “Hurt”, a song as taken from his 2002 album American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash’s 87th (!) studio album, and last to be released in his lifetime. As may be ascertained, that album was one in a series starting from the 1990s that had Johnny Cash working with producer Rick Rubin, showcasing material that on the surface seemed to be unlikely candidates for songs for Johnny Cash to cover.
This is certainly one of those songs, written by Trent Reznor the creative fulcum behind industrial rock outfit Nine Inch Nails. Upon hearing that Cash would cover his song, Reznor was flattered. But even he thought it might be an awkward fit for the guy who once had a hit with “A Boy Named Sue”. And yet, even Reznor would discover that through this new version of the track from an unlikely, and some might say mismatched, connection between artist and material, that there were hidden layers of meaning that could be brought out in his own song. Cash’s take on the song was a hit, as was the album off of which it had come; his best selling, non-compilation album in decades. But by the time this song was recorded, Johnny Cash was not a well man, suffering from neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome. It shows on this performance. It certainly was demonstrably true as evidenced by the gut-wrenching video that accompanied it.
This goes well beyond the realm of commercial success of course. This remains to be one of those songs that goes beyond its writer, and in many ways also beyond Johnny Cash. And maybe that’s why it had such impact. Read more
Jungian Radio (my inner playlist) has delivered another gem; ‘Not Dark Yet’, one of the jewels in the crown of Bob Dylan’s brilliant 1997 album Time Out of Mind.
I was thinking of including this one in an upcoming article called 10 Songs About Aging, but the song has been pretty insistent in my head today, so it gets its own article. I may write about it again anyway, given that it is one of my favourite songs by Bob Dylan.
This is a tune about finding oneself at the latter half of one’s life, expecting the wisdom which is meant to come with advancing years, and finding it absent. In the past, Dylan’s lyrics have often been a series of red herrings, pointing a listener in one direction, and then throwing in lines which make one doubt the veracity of an initial interpretation. But this song is pointed, acknowledging that time has passed with very little to show for it except for past hurts; scars that the sun didn’t heal. There is no hiding behind imagery here. This is confession from the basement, the voice at rock bottom.
In this song we see the portrait of the well-traveled man, weighted down by years rather than nurtured or informed by them. It is a snapshot of a person who has seen a lot, but gives no indication that there remains any insight to make his life better. The exact nature of this existential quandary is not specified, but it doesn’t seem to matter very much. This is a man who is trapped, perhaps by his own expectations.
I love this song, this beautifully sad treatise on what it feels like to age, and to be disappointed with how life has turned out when you expected so much more. Who knows whether or not Dylan is revealing himself in this song. This doesn’t matter either. The point is that there is a universal sentiment described here; the fear of age and the fear of death. This is not just about the worry that life will end, but it’s about the downward journey toward that end, and the fear that the search for beauty is also about the embrace of something which is ultimately about pain. This is a sobering set of thoughts, yet beautiful in their honesty.
Check out the clip to hear this superlative song by Bob Dylan, and tell me what you think.