Q: The song “Hurt” was one of Johnny Cash’s last songs. What is the story behind this song? Was this song a memory to his past?
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A: “Hurt” was actually written by Trent Reznor of the alternative industrial rock band, Nine Inch Nails. It was included on the “Downward Spiral” album released in 1994. Reznor has been quoted as saying he wrote the song in his bedroom “as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone.” Cash recorded it in 2002 for his album, “American IV: The Man Comes Around.” At the time, Cash was 71 and his health was rapidly declining and he knew that he was looking at the end of his long musical career. Although he could not have predicted at the time that his wife and greatest love, June, would precede him in death shortly after recording “Hurt,” the song’s obvious references to depression, self-harm and drug addiction clearly resonated with Cash. Cash’s version of the song was named “Song of the Year” in 2003 by the Country Music Association.
Q: I was given a copy of “Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes” as a Christmas present and am really enjoying it. I see that it was produced by T-Bone Burnett. I’ve always wanted to know how he got his nickname.
A: Joseph Henry “T-Bone” Burnett was born in 1948 in St. Louis, Missouri, but grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas. Although it is not entirely clear how, he was given the nickname “T-Bone” at the age of five, possibly because of the similarities between “bone” and “Burnett.” Using this nickname professionally, however, caused some awkwardness because it was already being used by another great Texas blues guitarist, Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker, who was some 38 years Burnett’s senior. Nevertheless, Burnett moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and began a recording career that eventually put him in contact with some of Bob Dylan’s associates. This, in turn, led to Burnett to join Dylan on his “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour in 1975-76. Afterward the tour, he and some of Dylan’s bandmates formed The Alpha Band and released a couple of albums. He then embarked on a solo career. In recent years, Burnett has found great success as a producer, having produced records by Roy Orbison, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, and Counting Crows, among many others. He won Grammy Awards for producing the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and the Alison Krause/Robert Plant duet, “Please Read the Letter.” He also produced the soundtrack to the movie, “The Hunger Games.” It should be noted that Dylan’s record company, Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings, recently reissued what is being called the definitive version of the original basement tapes that Dylan recorded in 1967 in the house dubbed “Big Pink” with bandmates Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and, later, Levon Helm. Entitled “The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11,” the six-CD set includes “every salvageable recording from the tapes.”
What’s the name of that song? Where are they now? What does that lyric mean? Send your questions about songs, albums, and the musicians who make them to MusicOnTheRecord@gmail.com. Bradford Brady and John Maron are freelance music writers based in Raleigh, N.C.