I’m trying something today that I haven’t done before, and will be interested to see what response it generates. I was prompted to do it by this post from Paula Light, of the Light Motifs II blog. She referenced in her post that Song Lyric Sunday (SLS) is led by Jim Adams and, having looked at his blog, it was a no brainer to follow him and join in. If you follow that link to Jim’s blog you will see that his theme for us today is to feature songs which deal with primary emotions, like guilt, shame, regret etc. I could think of several possibilities for this, but decided that for my first SLS post I’d go with something searingly honest in its emotions. This one:
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
I don’t know of many songs which begin with a more arresting first verse than that. You are instantly brought into to the singer’s world of torment, and the video really brings that home. Just in case you didn’t get the message, the song goes on to say:
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
The song was written by Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails, and was the closing track on their second album The Downward Spiral, released in March 1994, which got to #2 in the US and #9 here in the UK. The band didn’t release this as a single and, to be honest, I never paid that much attention to them until Johnny Cash released his version of this song, with that video which now has more than 158m views. Johnny’s version was on his album American IV: The Man Comes Around, released in November 2002, a mere ten months before his death. I think you can see the signs of what was to come in his appearance here. The album peaked at #22 in the US and #40 in the UK, and was part of a series of six he made in his later years in which he (mostly) visited other people’s songs. They are a fine body of work with which to end his career – the last two were issued posthumously. This song was released as a single in February 2003, making #56 in the US Country listings and #39 on the main UK chart.
When Trent was asked if Johnny could cover his song he was quoted as saying he was flattered but thought it might be a bit ‘gimmicky,’ though he still gave his permission. When he saw this video it brought it home to him: “that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form.”
I could say more about this song but I don’t really think I could do it any better than Trent did. The song’s emotions, its expressions of guilt and shame for the damage the singer has done to himself and to those who love him, is so raw, and Johnny’s video lays it all bare.
I hope Jim and Paula feel that my first foray into SLS has been both appropriate and worthwhile, and that you do, too. This video stops me in my tracks every time I watch it and, believe me, I’ve seen it a few times.