Johnny Cash: Hurt Meaning
Song Released: 2003
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
What have I become
anonymous Aug 11th, 2008 8:31am report
Seeing as the song was recorded well before his wife died, I don't think that is the inspiration. The NIN version is much more directly about drugs (heroin to be specific). For Cash, the inflection is put more on the idea of mortality, getting old and, slowly, watching your friends die. The key line is 'everyone I know...goes away...in the end'. The video has him on a throne, yes, but more importantly it 'takes place' in the Johnny Cash Museum, symbolizing a type of 'storehouse of memory'. If you look closely much of the setting contains old pictures of him performing with Elvis, etc. So what is clear in the song, and moreso in the video is the idea of a retrospective on your life, memory in the shadow of inevitable death. The acceptance of your life, and a bit of foreboding for the inevitable.
anonymous Sep 1st, 2013 9:11am report
I think "my sweetest friend" is neither drugs, nor the loved ones, nor Jesus; it's himself (or maybe his physical body).
I could have a better life with "My empire of dirt", but instead I'm injecting myself on this liar's chair. I might have promised and will promise to myself ("my sweetest friend") to turn my life around, but I haven't changed and I won't. (And that's why it's the LIAR's chair.)
This desperation is implied in the last two lines of this verse: "I will let you down / I will make you hurt" meaning:
I know I will let myself down and I will make myself hurt (back to the beginning of the circle).
"You are someone else" meaning he has grown up/matured/changed, but "I am still right here" meaning the core/instincts/habits are still right there. In his case "the drug addiction is still right there".
I like this interpretation a lot, because I'm sure many people (maybe every adult) had these feelings at some point in their lives: you want to make changes in your life, but you can't, you are desperate. You are who your are and you are stuck with it.
In any case: GREAT LYRICS! And thanks to everybody who wrote their own interpretations. I was at a loss understanding the lyrics, before I visited this page. Now, I have an idea I like. :)
johnny_cash Jan 18th, 2009 1:27am report
I hurt myself today (he has injected today)
to see if I still feel (he can't feel anything without drugs)
i focus on the pain
the only thing that's real
the needle tears a hole (he focuses on the pain of the entering needle -probably heroin- the pain is the only thing that feels real in his life now)
the old familiar sting
try to kill it all away
but I remember everything (he feels the familiar sting of the needle as he injects and tries to kill all the bad memories and regrets in his life -probably including his addictions and the pain it caused him, his family and friends- but he can't forget and instead he remembers everything clearly)
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
(he regrets what he has become -his sweetest friend could be his wife or even be heroin??- everyone he loved has deserted him and he is left with fame and fortune that is worth dirt. He regrets hurting the ones he loved)
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
(the crown of fame and fortune is like a crown of thorns, hurtful not glamourous -interestingly, johnny cash initials are same as jesus christ- his throne was not real as he was an ordinary man not some kind of god. The stains of time are bad moments in the past that have changed his loved ones and driven them away from him, while he has always remained the same -although trapped in his addiction and career- lonely and alone)
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way
(if he could have his life again, he would stay a million miles away from drugs and greed -regretting his choices in life)
VERY SAD SONG JOHNNY, BUT YOU DID NOT DIE IN VAIN, YOUR MUSIC GAVE JOY TO SO MANY. YOU WERE ALONE BUT YOU WERE AND ALWAYS WILL BE LOVED. R.I.P.
anonymous Aug 7th, 8:22pm report
This was his spin on the song originally authored by 9 inch nails. It deals directly with his remorse over his addiction to heroin. His wife is his sweetest friend.
anonymous Jun 21st, 6:11pm report
And you could have it all,
My empire of dirt,
I will let you down,
I will make you hurt,
I find this part particularly poignant and here is 'my' interpretation:
At this point in the video Cash starts pouring the wine out as if handing over his "empire of dirt" [all he has] to Christ.
It then goes on to show Christ taking a hit with a hammer between different points of Cash's care-free life as if Christ takes the pain for each of Cash's missteps.
Cash goes on to say if he could do it all again, a million miles from where he walked, he would find a way to be better.
anonymous Apr 5th, 2016 4:48am report
This cover and Carl Sagan's "Pale blue dot" are, in my opinion, two of the greatest recordings ever produced by mankind,I feel that we don't have the right words or definitions gravitas can't even begin to describe the emotional power behind this cover. The only word that keeps coming to mind is "fuck."
anonymous Jun 16th, 2015 6:14pm report
Johnny Cash was person who probably suffered from childhood trauma/abuse.
he therefore had a very low self esteem, he tried to escape the pain through drugs, and he developed a false self who was charismatic, and very much full of positive feelings for himself.
But deep down inside he felt he was nothing, despite his huge success and all his fame and fortune.
His reality of his true self image was one of a low down nobody. With no real self.
He created a new self with fame and fortune and his narcissistic self took over , he was king and everyone loved him.
But he could not love himself for real. He was without a true identity which he felt was worthy of love.
His fans were his redemption, but in the end he still feels worthless, and understands his whole life was based on a gale ideal of who he wanted to believe he could be ie famous, loving and successful.
His life was a confabulation , because , in the end he still had to deal with his feeling of low self worth and his true nature was not loving and good and honourable.
He hurt all those who loved him, he was dirt, his empire turned to dirt.
In the end he had to face the terrible life of destruction he created for himself and those he loved, or tried to love.
"What have I become" he says, "everyone goes away" ,"goes away."
anonymous Jan 11th, 2015 1:31am report
Thank you for helping me understand the song. He lived a tragic life, but he also was beloved by everyone. I'm 13 and he's my favorite singer and I mainly listen to his music
anonymous Jul 26th, 2014 7:15am report
The song HURT was recorded in 1995 by the group 9" nails. The lyrics as well Mr. Cash's rendition make the song fee like a retrospective on his life. We all know Johnny Cash was a great performer. He recorded over eighty albums to wit.
anonymous May 4th, 2014 5:08am report
"And you could have it all.
My Empire of Dirt".
Means: all the material possessions of the world are meaningless unless you have people to share your life with. Also all material possessions are worthless when offering them to God- it really touched me
anonymous Jan 26th, 2013 1:18am report
I don't know why everybody keep trying to find a meaning for this song, when the only person who could do it is the author,Trent Reznor. Of course, anyone can have your own interpretation, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be the same as the author's song.
Only the author can explain the real meaning of the song, 'cause he's the only one who knows what he was feeling or trying to express when he wrote the song, all the rest is pure especulation.
anonymous Jan 5th, 2013 1:26pm report
I love that song but I feel bad for Johnny cash I know him when my dad worked with Johnny
anonymous May 18th, 2012 5:13am report
There seems to be a note of regret through
the whole song. We have to deal with painful memories and not repress them with
drugs. We must find a way to deal with the
pain. When we are young we tend to disregard the consequences of emotional pain we tend to be busy projecting our issues onto the outside world. But when we become old it seems too much to deal with anyway. I like the end when he sings "I will keep myself"... I take it as self-acceptance. I wish I had the ability to start all over again... I will still keep myself as I am... but I will also be able to heal the pain... and
healing is all about aelf-acceptance anyway all abou love.
anonymous Apr 25th, 2012 4:23pm report
To me its about his addiction, the pain he caused two wives, and children. All the bad things he did tore apart his friends and family. His regrets on the choices he made in life. Nearing his death he wishes he could of done it better with his life choices. Love this song, and Cash. I think the lyrics are pretty straight forward.
anonymous Nov 8th, 2011 11:27am report
This song is a meaningful, sad, beautiful song that describes his life in only a few minutes.
Johnny tells the story of his life, getting to the point that hes upset over the fact that he feels alone in the world. he looks back in his past and he thinks how he could've changed everything. Drugs, Relationhips, Career.
"A million miles away" Meaning that if he had the chance to start again he would be away from the distractions of his life that he has at the time of his career.
anonymous Jun 14th, 2011 6:25am report
This is probably the most eerie song that I think Johnny Cash has written, but undoubtably one of his best besides his classics. This song was not originally written by Mr. Cash, so whatever way people want to interpret it you can, it is all how it is sung. The Nine Inch Nails version definitely is about drugs, Johnny Cash's is different. The original and first verzion was written by Trent Reznor. Trent never could make it big time like Johnny, but regardless Johnny loved the lyrics because like any artist, he connected with it.
The way Johnny Cash sings is eerie because while making the music video, he passed away shortly before he could finish it completely. Hurt is a way that he strikes and connects with his audience, his addictions and his mistakes as a person. He destroyed his life by all that he had done. He felt as if he literally lost everything because of his stardom, and through the stardom he lost himself especially.
In otherwords if Johnny Cash had to start all over again, he would have never become who he was. His passion and love was music, and he is always going to be known as one of the cornerstones of blues and country music, but it is almost a catch 22. He died a legend and with one of the biggest legacies. The Man in Black will always reign through music, but he traded in a simple life for stardom, and similar to a drug addiction, he couldn't kick the habit. RIP Johnny.
anonymous Jun 7th, 2011 6:00pm report
The way i understood it is quit weird, his words were the typical words of borderline personality disorder patient, drugs self mutilation people leaving pushing loved one away being aggressive to them. And then realizing the problem and just wanted a fresh page away from the past and from the memories!
anonymous Apr 15th, 2011 4:49pm report
It is with mixed emotions. No interpretation needed. Mr Cash, an obvious creative artist, intensively deep-thinker. Who reflects not on the sadness of his life only, but of the sadness itself.
The sadness of a lifetime of memories, that will vanish. It is the intensity and thought, of these thoughts, itself which make it heavy.
It is deeper than deep. I get these very emotions watching classic black and white movies, feeling their very thoughts and existence, once.
Not death, the pain of pain or the pain of sadness, the greatest pain. To have been a part of of the Universe from a private perspective, then taken away.
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