- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Something strange could happen tonight at the MTV Video Music Awards show in New York City. OK, admittedly, something strange almost always happens at the MTV awards. This is, after all the show that has given us Michael (yeesh!) jamming his tongue down Lisa Marie’s throat, Milton Berle and RuPaul trading makeup tips and Prince’s fashion nonstarter, the butt-baring jeans.

Still, the prospect of Johnny Cash winning best video of the year over names such as Eminem, 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake would be as shocking, in its own way, as any of the famous and self-serving publicity stunts of the irreverent awards show.

Here’s the thing: The country music legend might just do it.

Mr. Cash’s stunning video for “Hurt,” a dark meditation on death, decay and regret, is nominated in six categories, including best video.

Directed by Hollywood filmmaker Mark Romanek — he did the creepy “One Hour Photo” with Robin Williams last year — the video for “Hurt” juxtaposes stark images of a frail 71-year-old Mr. Cash with archival footage of a younger, train-hopping, guitar-slinging Mr. Cash from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

The images, combined with the haunting, dirge-like quality of the song, serve as a moving elegy on the Man in Black’s extraordinary career in American music.

The minimovie became even more poignant in the wake of the death earlier this year of June Carter Cash, Mr. Cash’s longtime wife.

Mr. Romanek, who also has done videos for Michael Jackson and Madonna, said “Hurt” affects people like nothing he has ever done.

Rosanne Cash told the Associated Press she put off watching the video after her sister warned her it was a wrenching portrait of her father. When he finally asked her to watch it with him, she said, “I was weeping and weeping through the whole thing.”

Even the song’s hard-edged author, goth-rocker Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, told Rolling Stone that Mr. Cash’s rendition nearly brought him to tears.

The video can be seen on the Internet at www.markromanek.com or at www.nme.com/ features/104451.htm

Mr. Cash’s interpretation of “Hurt” is part of the ongoing collaboration between the country singer and Rick Rubin, a studio genius who first made his mark as a producer for rap’s Beastie Boys and Run DMC.

The unlikely musical partnership, which has produced four stripped-down, acoustic-flavored albums in the past 10 years, revived Mr. Cash’s career after he was dumped by Nashville in the early 1990s.

The albums have been critically acclaimed and embraced by younger fans intrigued by the country artist’s no-frills take on songs by artists such as Beck, Mr. Reznor and Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore.

Still, some of the most powerful songs on the albums are those penned by Mr. Cash himself, including the title track on the latest, “American IV: The Man Comes Around,” which was released late last year.

The song is a Cash classic, introduced by the whisky-voiced singer reciting verses from the New Testament, full of apocalyptic images from the Book of Revelation.

He delivers the lyrics in his distinctive bell-clear baritone, singing about kingdom come and justice done and the end of times with an assurance that would make a brimstone-preaching Baptist proud.

Rosanne Cash said earlier this week that her father, whose health is failing, plans to attend the awards ceremony tonight in New York (broadcast time is 8 o’clock)

Executives at MTV say they are excited about the possibility. The Man in Black will be a sentimental favorite for many of the hipsters in the crowd.

Almost 50 years after he and Sun records cohorts Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis ruled the world, Mr. Cash is hot again.

The man, it seems, comes around.



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