Trent Reznor is the frontman of the band Nine Inch Nails. The 1994 album The Downward Spiral was notable for a song called Hurt, featured on the album. The song was so well received that it was nominated for a Grammy in 1996. Fast forward a few years to the end of Johnny Cash’s life and career.
Johnny Cash recorded six albums (a few were released posthumously) in a series of American recordings that in part featured covers of other songs like U2’s “One,” Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” or Beck’s “Rowboat.” Among these covers was Hurt, on the fourth American recordings album, American IV: The Man Comes Around, released in 2002. Cash’s cover of the song won a Grammy, albeit for best music video.
When Reznor was asked if Cash could cover his song, he was flattered but worried that it was too gimmicky. Once he saw the music video, however, his mind changed. He famously said the following in response: “I pop the video in, and wow... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore... It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form.
I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure."