What does Hurt mean?

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Johnny Cash: Hurt Meaning

Song Released: 2003



Hurt Lyrics

I hurt myself today
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

[Chorus:]
What have I become
My sweetest...

  1. 1TOP RATED

    #1 top rated interpretation:
    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Dec 14th report

    Johnny Cash was a drug addict. This song is about his regrets in life. In the 1960s, Johnny was hardly around for his wife and daughters and soon got a divorce due to his non-attendance. He was found nearly dead due to a drug overdose and had lost the most important thing: himself.

    Cash's cover of "hurt" is about his fame, his family, and his drug abuse. At this point in his life, he realizes he has nothing. His life has been wasted and there isn't anything he can do. He spent all his time chasing fame to make him happy, but it never happened. The only thing he feels is "the old familiar sting" of his memories and empty shell of himself.

    "Everyone I know
    goes away in the end". He has lost everyone due to his life choices, although he has remarried, his ex-wife, his children, and even his current wife are all different people and grew to be better people in their lifetime, while Johnny has nothing but an empty shell of himself.

    "And you could have it all
    my empire of dirt" All of Johnny cash's fame meant nothing. He still is facing the same thing everyone else faces (old age, death, and depression). You could have all of what he had. His talent, his wealth, his popularity, but in the end, it isn't going to mean anything. He still feels empty.

    "If I could start again
    A million miles away
    I will keep myself
    I would find a way" Johnny cash wants desperately to live a different life. Away from the drugs. Away from the importance. He wants to live a life where he remembers where his values should lie. Where he's there for his loved ones and himself.

    He wants the listeners to know the mistakes he had made and wants us to learn from them.

  2. 2TOP RATED

    #2 top rated interpretation:
    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Aug 11th 2008 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.

  3. 3TOP RATED

    #3 top rated interpretation:
    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Sep 1st 2013 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. :)

  4. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Feb 13th report

    I think this version is initially about regret, guilt and self-loathing, but in the final verse the same lyrics are used in a different light - it becomes a song of acceptance, self-forgiveness, and a reminder to those who have made mistakes in their lives to not let them be the end of you.

  5. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Dec 13th report

    We are one consciousness experiencing itself. Our whole life is but an illusion, an experiment of thought.

    I believe Johnny Cash realised this in his later years which is why he chose to sing this particular song.

    All of the people that he experienced throughout his life ‘go away, in the end’. These people interacted with him to comfort his ego but were all just an illusion of his own making. Over time they all disappear and all he is left with is himself. Every experience that he’d ever had was just his empire of dirt that he’d created. He’d made all of this, purely to distract himself from the crippling loneliness of his own consciousness. He is his own ‘sweetest friend’. While everything may be fake, he knows he is real.

    “I think therefore I am”

    He is you and this song was a thought you had in another life.

  6. anonymous
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    Oct 6th 2020 report

    Hurt is about self relevation, he believes that he isthe ruler of nothing because of his struggles in life he feels he has no worth of himself

  7. anonymous
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    Sep 20th 2020 report

    I think this song is the musings of an old man who regrets the life he lived...

    As his friends pass away and death approaches him he is realizing how much he lied to himself over the years. He realizes that he built an "empire of dirt" and valued all the wrong things. Now he feels he has nothing but pain. "I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real". He still tries to numb his pain with drugs but it is futile ("the needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting. Try to kill it all away but I remember everything").

    The drugs can be a metaphor for any kind of unhealthy escapism... fame, food, workaholism, pornography, fake friends, game addiction for the young generation, etc. If you aren't careful you will waste your life like he did and have an empire of dirt left behind.

    This song makes me think of Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development. Our development can be broken into different stages, starting when we are born and ending when we die. https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html. When Johnny Cash sang this he was at the final stage of his development - ego integrity vs. despair - and he felt despair.

    "Everyone I know goes away in the end", "You are someone else, I am still right here" means all the people who he once used as comfort for his ego have grown past admiring him, but he has not grown with them. He was likely referring to his fans and the people who orbited him when he was popular. But now they've stopped fussing over him and he sees how little he has without their adulation.

    "I wear this crown of thorns upon my Liar's chair. Full of broken thoughts I cannot repair." During his life he became a liar, to others but first to himself. He deluded himself that he was proud of who he was and living his best life, when really he was just escaping from the life he wanted. The thing about a crown of thorns is that it slowly tears away at your head until it gets into your skull and destroys your ability to think straight again. After years of deluding himself he realizes his thoughts, his entire way of seeing the world is "broken", and his brain has lost the ability to fix it. The crown of thorns could also be his dementia.

    "If I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way." The moral of the story is that Johnny didn't hold on hard to himself. Likely, he was so caught up in receiving external validation and escaping from his pain ("I focus on the pain") that he couldn't get in touch with his inner self and build a life he valued. He built an empire based on shallow validation of his stage self, instead of solid connections based on an appreciation of his true self. He lost himself to dirt and if he could have his time again, he would do his life differently and be honest with himself (instead of kidding himself on the Liar's Chair and doing drugs). From that he would be able to build a real empire instead of a dirt castle.

  8. sleepjunkie_
    click a star to vote
    Aug 15th 2020 report

    I think that when he's talking about being hurt its regret. He hade fame, he had money he had everything anyone could ever want. But he still wasn't happy because in the end its still materials. And everything that he held dear to his heart left, taken away by time.

    As someone else said earlier he's shown on a "throne". All his past glory is shown in the pictures. And specially when he says "You could have it all... My empire of dirt" its clear that all this that he has means nothing in the longer run. Its just really sad that he couldn't find happiness despite doing everything he could.

    Hope you're safe and happy wherever you are Johhny.

  9. anonymous
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    Jul 4th 2020 report

    My interpretation--it's the Liar's Chair--We are all sinners/and liars--it's beautiful how true it is to admit to be a liar--before GOD-before you die--which is true when you meet your maker

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  10. anonymous
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    Jun 11th 2020 report

    The outro says it all. If I could start over, I would keep myself.it was written as a song about losing yourself to addiction. Jonny's version was more relatable. It was about losing yourself to your base self.

    The verse is always the voice of the protagonist. The chorus is always the voice of the "other". Hurt violates this slightly. "What have I become"? Is the voice of the protagonist. Had it been the same voice throughout it would have been, "what have I become, my sweetest friend"? But, "my sweetest friend" was the beginning of the answer to the protagonist's question.

    Protagonist, verse 1:
    I try to escape my pain.

    What have I done?

    Base self, chorus:
    I will steal your best self, just as I do to most people.

    Protagonist, verse 2:
    Crown and thrown, trappings of misspent life or transient pleasures.

    You are not me, I am me.

    Protagonist, outro:
    If I could start over, I wouldn't lose myself.

  11. anonymous
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    May 20th 2020 report

    I have known this song for a long time but up untill now i just understood it the pure pain of it goes right through me yes i am hurt

  12. anonymous
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    Apr 2nd 2020 report

    Hurt was released by Johnny Cash on American IV in November, 2002. Six month later, his beloved wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash passed in May 2003. Johnny passed in September 2003.
    Hurt was released by Johnny Cash on American IV in November, 2002. Six month later, his beloved wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash passed in May 2003. Johnny passed in September 2003.

    “Hurt” is an elegy recorded by a man facing his own mortality. Every line reveals the depth of Cash’s reflections and his private reckoning.

    Diabetes consuming his body. Time running out on his remaining earthly days, his strength dissipated and spent. And his regret for the things he did, and failed to do consuming all his thoughts.

    The final stanza reveals forlorn hope that granted one more turn he would be better and make things better for both of them: “If I could start again; A million miles away; I would keep myself; I would find a way.”

  13. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Apr 2nd 2020 report

    Hurt was released by Johnny Cash on American IV in November, 2002. Six month later, his beloved wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash passed in May 2003. Johnny passed in September 2003.

    “Hurt” is an elegy recoded by a man facing his own mortality.

    Every line reveals the depth of Cash’s reflections and his private reckoning.

    Diabeties consuming his body. Time running out on his remaining earthly days, his strength disipated and spent.

    And his regret for the things he did, and failed to do consuming all his thoughts.

    The final stanza reveals the forlone hope that granted one more turn he would be better and make things better for both of them: “If I could start again; A million miles away; I would keep myself; I would find a way.”

  14. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Jul 22nd 2019 report

    I sing this song to my baby daughter at least once a week. I totally feel I can relate to it and it makes sense that it may have been written for the writers off spring. Impact of a parent who’s damaged goods! Great lyrics with a Raw vibe!

  15. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Feb 4th 2019 report

    im 13 years old and for the first time I listened I understood it.i cried.

    I understood everything, his pain and I'm every time thinking at this song.

    Maybe trying to don't make the same mistake >?

  16. anonymous
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    Jun 15th 2018 report

    It’s not Johnny’s song. It was written by Trent Reznor for the NiN album ‘The downward spiral’ This song is about realising consequence and regret. It sends a powerful message that we should all proceed through life wisely, because there is nothing worse than being stuck with a label, a pain, a sickness, or a death, that we know beforehand will leave us only wishing things had been different and that we could change the choices we made. Explaining the self-loathing nature of the songs on. Trent’s song not Johnny’s song. However, JC does a lovely cover, even Trent was taken aback.

  17. anonymous
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    Jan 24th 2018 report

    By the looks of these comments no one has the slightest idea that johnny cash was a drug addict/IV drug user. All the other ideas of what the song meant was great, but if you actually know a thing or two about the artist you'll know it's not about the majority of what you're typing paragraphs about. To keep it simple. The song is about the following;
    1. Drugs/drug addiction
    2. Self worth
    3. Depression
    4. How drugs took a toll on himself and those around him.
    5. Being a "worthless junkie", and the feelings that come with it.

  18. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Jan 24th 2018 report

    By the looks of these comments no one has the slightest idea that johnny cash was a drug addict/IV drug user. All the other ideas of what the song meant was great, but if you actually know a thing or two about the artist you'll know it's not about the majority of what you're typing paragraphs about. To keep it simple. The song is about the following;
    1. Drugs/drug addiction
    2. Self worth
    3. Depression
    4. How drugs took a toll on himself and those around him.
    5. Being a "worthless junkie", and the feelings that come with it.

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