While scouting locations for his video of Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt,” director Mark Romanek visited the House of Cash museum in Nashville. “It had been closed for a long time,” says Romanek. “The place was in such a state of dereliction. That’s when I got the idea that maybe we could be extremely candid about the state of Johnny’s health — as candid as Johnny has always been in his songs.”
The result is one of the most intense and affecting videos in memory. Romanek, known for his work with Madonna and on Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” combined archival shots of the Man in Black riding trains and entertaining prisoners with new footage of the seventy-year-old Cash at home, with no effort made to hide his age or frailty.
Cash’s producer, Rick Rubin, sent a copy of the video to NIN’s Trent Reznor. “We were in the studio, getting ready to work — and I popped it in,” Reznor says. “By the end I was really on the verge of tears. I’m working with Zach de la Rocha, and I told him to take a look. At the end of it, there was just dead silence. There was, like, this moist clearing of our throats and then, ‘Uh, OK, let’s get some coffee.'”
The “Hurt” video is getting airplay on VH1 and MTV2, and the song has been added to the playlist of the influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ. “I don’t think any of us expected anything to come of this video on any commercial level,” says Romanek, a longtime Cash fan who begged Rubin to let him direct “Hurt,” even offering to shoot it for free. “If you know you’re about to see a video, your expectations are pretty low. So I think that’s what grabs people: Mortality is a very unusual topic for this medium. But I ascribe most of the power to the Johnny Cash-ness of it all.”