I almost cry every time I hear Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.” Sometimes I do cry.
Yes, the speaker’s voice contains so much pain. But it’s not just that. It’s not just the fact that his pain spilleth over nor is it just the history of his pain nor merely the enormity of his pain. Nor even the reference, a tragic one, to the needle that does nothing really now to mollify. It is the feeling that the pain, so faithfully felt, is without the promise of redemption.
It remains, and there’s no out. No home. No peace. And Ecclesiastes was right: everyone, including me, he says because he sees, goes away in the end. But first them, then me.
There’s just this. Just this and more of this until there’s no more this, no more of this.
The speaker makes no bones about the hurt. He is facing it by living it, by singing it. In this, he is unlike others who neither face nor live it but who turn away and away and away from it.
You get that he’s going to die. You get that he gets this. If you’re really listening, then you feel it. Any feeling person must.
But then, I mean in the end, you’re left with nothing to hold onto, only the seemingly interminable hurt that pitches over into the void that is death.
And it’s, therefore, just so sad, nay more: sorrowful. Everything in the song quivers with the most poignant and urgent of questions: Can we possibly live courageously without the promise of redemption? But also, yes, this too: Must we?