I hurt myself today

(about words and music)

Several weeks ago I played a compilation of songs from Johnny Cash’s last album (American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002) for a friend who didn’t know it — a compilation I put together for another friend who’s a great fan of Cash’s. Cash’s songs are covers, and I matched his versions (full of loss and regret, sung plain and clear) to earlier models. Item 1: “Hurt”, from Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, with Trent Reznor’s poetic text maintained exactly (except for a shift of Reznor’s crown of shit in verse 2 to the explicitly Christian crown of thorns). Now a visit to the compilation.

The program:

1 – Hurt – Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
2 – Hurt – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
3 – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
4 – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
5 – In My Life – The Beatles – Beatles 1962-1966
6 – In My Life – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
7 – Danny Boy – Brobdingnagian Bards – Songs of Ireland
8 – Danny Boy – Barry O’Dowd & The Shamrock Singers – Irish Souvenirs
9 – Danny Boy – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
10 – Desperado – Eagles – The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits
11 – Desperado – Linda Ronstadt – Linda Ronstadt: Greatest Hits
12 – Desperado – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
13 – Streets of Laredo – Willie Nelson – Texas in My Soul
14 – Streets of Laredo (The Cowboy’s Lament) – Riders in the Sky – Best of the West Rides Again
15 – Streets of Laredo – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
16 – We’ll Meet Again – Vera Lynn – We’ll Meet Again
17 – We’ll Meet Again – The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man
18 – We’ll Meet Again – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around

On “Hurt”, from Wikipedia:

“Hurt” is a song written by Trent Reznor, first released on Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 album The Downward Spiral. It received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996 but lost to Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”. In 2002, “Hurt” was covered by Johnny Cash to critical acclaim; it was one of Cash’s final hit releases before his death.

The NIN version is mostly whisper-sung (and hard to make out), with occasional passionate eruptions. Cash’s version is even and plain: a YouTube video. Cash’s text:

VERSE 1: I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

[CHORUS]
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

VERSE 2: I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

[CHORUS]

VERSE 3: If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

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