In This Week’s Esquire Weekly: The Final Stand Of Johnny Cash

In this week’s Esquire Weekly (iPad edition), legendary music writer Robert Hilburn tells the story of “Hurt”, the final masterpiece of Johnny Cash

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The exclusive long-form extract from Hilburn’s brilliant new biography finds the country superstar in failing health and desperately trying to complete his fourth – and final – album with producer Rick Rubin for American Recordings. The crowning glory of the LP will be his heart-stopping version of the Nine Inch Nails track “Hurt”, a recording that would secure the Man in Black’s legacy for a whole new generation of fans.

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With contributions to the story from Trent Reznor, the man who wrote “Hurt”, Rick Rubin, Mark Romanek, director of the stunning video for the track, and Cash’s children, this is a story not to be missed.

Hilburn was music critic for the Los Angeles Times for more than 30 years. Not only the sole journalist to witness Cash’s Fulsome Prison concert in 1968, he was also a personal friend of the late country superstar. As such, his book draws upon his own extensive recollections and those of Cash’s family and inner circle.

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Rick Rubin describes Johnny Cash: The Life (Weidenfel & Nicolson) as “definitive”, while Bono, who wrote the song for Cash that inspired the seminal “The Man Comes Around”, says only “Only one man could get inside Cash’s head – and that is Hilburn”. Keith Richards’ verdict is more succinct still: “Hilburn has written a brilliant story of an even more brilliant song writer, warts and all.”

But don’t just take our word for it — or theirs for that matter. Download this week’s Esquire Weekly (for iPad) via the Esquire App on iTunes, read the extract and then buy or download this brilliant book.

In the meantime, Robert Hilburn has produced us a discography of “Five Hidden Johnny Cash Gems”, drawn from the latter part of his career. Enjoy.

 

“JOHNNY 99” (COLUMBIA, 1983)

“Cash loved songs from Bruce Springsteen’s stark Nebraska album, which spoke of how hardships, economic and social, can drive people to desperate means. Cash’s version was more gripping than Springsteen’s, but the track was far too dark for country radio and it went unnoticed.”

    

“THE NIGHT HANK WILLIAMS CAME TO TOWN” (MERCURY, 1987)

“Humiliated after being dropped by Columbia Records, Cash signed with Mercury, but he didn’t have any gameplan and his work there was mostly forgettable. The exception was this rousing salute to the power of music to lift one’s spirits. The song was written by Bobby Braddock (the co-writer of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”) and Charlie Williams.”

 

“THE WANDERER” (INTERSCOPE, 1993)

“Bono wrote this epic Biblical-based song partially with Cash in mind, and Cash delivered each line with a conviction and empathy that rivaled his moving performance on “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”. The song inspired him to write one of his crowning achievements, the equally gospel-minded “The Man Comes Around.”

 

LIKE A SOLDIER” (AMERICAN, 1994)

“In this remarkable song, Cash reflected on his personal shortcomings and regrets in ways both moving and fearless. He wrote the song while under contract to Mercury but he had so little faith in the company promoting the record that he held onto “Like a Soldier” until he felt he was in safe hands—and that time came when he hooked up with producer Rick Rubin.”

 

“HELP ME” (AMERICAN, 2003)

“Cash loved this Larry Gatlin song about pleading for spiritual help for years and he turned to it when he realized his wife, June Carter, was dying. His vocal was astonishingly tender. Rick Rubin said, “It was less a ‘song’ than someone spilling his guts. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this.’ It was one of the most chilling moments I ever had listening to music.”