Johnny Cash, Hurt, and a particular falsehood

(Note – this piece will make more sense if you’ve seen the video for ‘Hurt’, by Johnny Cash. It’s linked here.)

I wanted to share this video, ‘Hurt’, and what I felt about it.

There is the simplicity of Cash’s gestures, the honesty; think of how he runs his hand over the piano at the end, as if he wasn’t being filmed.  That looks almost natural, as if the camera has caught a genuine, honest human gesture: the instinct to touch, without thought.

There is the honesty with which Cash sings, attempting to express the anger and vulnerability of the song:

‘I wear this crown of thorns,                                                                                                     upon my liars chair,                                                                                                                   Full of broken thoughts,                                                                                                             I cannot repair.’        (1:48)

There are the images, fragments of film from throughout Cash’s life; concerts, his old home, time spent with his children, and nights spent in prison. There is the life that these images create. For this was a man who suffered, and who made mistakes: through the poverty of his early years, the death of his brother, the break-up of his first marriage, his recurrent battles with drug abuse and finally, the death of his beloved June Carter, months before his own death. This video  succeeds in depicting such a memorable, painful life as Cash’s; it suggests a profound humanity, through the combination of archive footage and the honest, ‘unrehearsed’ performance of the singer. To repeat my earlier point, Cash doesn’t seem to be wearing the mask of a performer here. This all looks real. And perhaps, when you’ve suffered as he had, and you have only a few years left to live, why  waste time performing? Even if such honesty means admitting that you haven’t ‘succeeded’ in life.

Such honesty counters a particular lie; that old age means peace, contentment, and ‘homecoming’, after  life of struggle and success. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there is little or no success. Sometimes there is regret, doubt, frustration, and grief, and a desire to have it back, all that time, and try and make it right.

‘If I could start again,                                                                                                                A million miles away,
I would keep myself,
I would find away.’             (3:12)

I think that, if I could find it, I would like more art, more performances like this. More honesty.


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