"A Final Interview" (2003)

"A Final Interview" (2003)

On July 25, shortly after he had been nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards for his rendition of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, Johnny Cash talked with TIME's Lev Grossman:


You’ve been a star forever, and you’re still as big of a star as you’ve ever been.  You got these six music video award nominations.  How do you feel about that?


Kinda overwhelmed.  I’m very grateful for all the nominations and all the votes.


Why did you choose to cover that song, Hurt?


It was [producer] Rick Rubin's idea. We were looking for a song that we felt had an impact. He found this one, and he asked me what I thought of it. I said, "I think it's probably the best anti-drug song I ever heard, but I don't think it's for me." And he said, "Why?" I said, "Because it's not my style, it's not the way I do it." And he said, "What if it were?" And I said, "Well, I could give it a try." So I went out and recorded it. When I listened to it, I felt it came out all right.


How do you go about turning an industrial-metal song like Hurt into a Johnny Cash song?


I would just get down and do it until I felt like I was doing it with feeling. I probably sang the song 100 times before I went in and recorded it, because I had to make it mine.


Did it feel as if you had written it by the end?


It's a song I wish I had written. Back in the '60s, I think I could have written something like this.

Do you think of rock and country as two different things?


No. No, I could never let myself think of that. I can't put myself in a box or a basket when I'm working. I'm really trying to prove that there aren't categories you have to stay in, that you can branch out. You can touch others out there that have not been listening to you if you keep trying.


Do you think of yourself as a Christian artist?


I'm an artist who is a Christian. I'm not a Christian artist.


The Man in Black--is that really who you are?


I was wearing black clothes almost from the beginning. I feel comfortable in black. I felt like black looked good onstage, that it was attractive, so I started wearing it all the time. And then in 1969 I wrote a song called Man in Black, in which I pointed out that there are a lot of things wrong in my country, a lot of hypocrisies, the Vietnam War, all that, you know, that all these things could be corrected if we turned it over to the people, and one of those people is me. And I point my finger at myself: when you see me, I'll be the man in black, one of those responsible. And that kind of became my flag bearer, that song. And I've worn that mantle ever since.


Do you feel that same way about this country?


Yeah. Uh-huh. Do you watch the news? Yeah, quite a bit.


Do you feel pessimistic about the way things are going?


I just wish we would...I wish we would...mmm. Not going to get into that, Lev.


What are you working on now?

When my wife died, I booked myself into the studio just to work, to occupy myself. So I started recording all these things that I found, songs that people had sent me. I got a potful of them. That's what I'm gonna be doing for a while.

Lewry Interview (JohnnyCashFanzine)
Johnny Cash on Larry King Live (2002)


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