Magazine article The Spectator

Cash Rich

Magazine article The Spectator

Cash Rich

Article excerpt

The best pop video ever made was the one Mark Romanek directed in 2003 for Johnny Cash's swansong - 'Hurt'. It's also definitely the bleakest. The Man in Black was on his last legs when he made it, a doddery, rheumy-eyed 72, and here you see him very consciously bidding farewell to his adoring wife June (who appears alongside him, choked with emotion, and who predeceased him, of cancer), his life and the trappings of wordly success.

My favourite bit - actually, I've lots, like the perfect moment at the end where his huge hands slowly, pointedly, close the piano lid for the last time - is where you see him enthroned in his Nashville home, looking like some ravaged former god rendered cruelly mortal. With a shaky hand, he raises a goblet of wine and spills it contemptuously towards the viewer, singing, 'And you could have it all - my empire of dirt.' What makes it more poignant still is that it's intercut throughout with footage of Cash in his virile youth - striding on to the stage with his guitar at San Quentin prison; driving an old steam train; playing with his kids - together with shots of his House Of Cash museum filmed looking bedraggled and forgotten just after it had been half-destroyed by a flood.

The song is great, too. As originally performed it was a slightly dirgey, nihilistic account of heroin addiction by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, but - just as he did with Nick Cave's 'Mercy Scat' and U2's One' - Cash transforms it with his resonant, world-weary, tender voice from the merely good into the utterly transcendent. You'll probably be wondering, if you're not familiar with it, why I'm banging on about it so much. But I think once you've watched the video, which you absolutely must, you'll understand what makes it one of the truly great pieces of art, in any medium, of the past 50 years.

Unfortunately, I don't watch many pop videos any more. To get the full benefit, I feel you need to be catatonically stoned or, better still, tripping your face off on acid, and I no longer have the time or constitution. But watching Channel 4's round-up of The 100 Greatest Pop Videos on Sunday night, I rather wished I still did. At their best, they're like the most brilliant movie you ever saw condensed to three minutes, and with a much better soundtrack. 'Music videos are the only form of commercial art that still allows a director a lot of freedom to create ideas, use new technology or just experiment,' said Howard Greenhalgh, who has directed 11 pop videos for the Pet Shop Boys. …

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