March 10th, 2003


Johnny Cash, I Salute You!

I've been on a deadline from Hell recently (which I'm currently flaunting by posting this), so I've resumed my bad habit of writing until mollpeartree gets up and watching the morning's trawl of music videos with her before I go to bed. Normally, this is a simple experience of fin-de-siecle American Spectacle, all circus and no bread -- and that's fine, because it's late at morning, and Pink is hardly the worst thing to have lodged in your retinas as you drift off to sleep.

But lately, MTV2 has been running Mark Romanek's stark video of Johnny Cash's cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt."

The first time we saw it, mollpeartree and I just sat there in stunned silence for a few minutes while TiVo paused the last frame. It came out of nowhere; it was like seeing a Percheron warhorse in the toy dog division of the Westminster Kennel Club. It was like seeing a cenotaph in Times Square.

It was like, well, seeing something of emotional depth and value on MTV.

Cash treats the song (which I'm only vaguely familiar with in its NINcarnation as a moaning anti-drug plaint about waste) as a kind of dirgelike meditation on the last, dying embers of life; the video shows archival footage of the Man In Black contrasted with the Dying King of today, surrounded by the wrack of the flood-ravaged (although the video brilliantly implies tragic, Ozymandian neglect) Cash Museum in Nashville.

I think if that last piano line lasted any longer, my spinal fluid would freeze solid.

It's rare to run across something coming out of my Gen-X cultural matrix* that turns out to be really, truly grown up, even -- especially? -- in wartime. Don't miss this.

* (Yes, Johnny Cash predates Gen-X -- but it's a music video, of an NIN song from a JC album of Gen-X-friendly retro covers and standards.)
  • Current Music
    Johnny Cash, "Hurt" (in head)
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