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Cash gains the respect of MTV

August 25, 2003|Geoff Boucher

The MTV Video Music Awards are as mature as a whoopee cushion and tend to respect elders only in the years when Aerosmith happens to have a hit song. So it may be especially jolting if on Thursday night a true music legend, Johnny Cash, strides on stage sometime between Britney Spears and the puppets from "Crank Yankers" to accept an award for a song about regret and mortality.

Cash's version of "Hurt," a Nine Inch Nails song, became an unlikely hit in large part because of an emotionally powerful video that intercuts new, gothically stylized shots of the country singer with footage from throughout his long career. The result, with the evocative lyrics by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, is a video that many hail as a document of an artist looking into the twilight -- hardly something that fits into the MTV world of beach houses and bling-bling.

"We never expected anyone to play this video, we really didn't," said Mark Romanek, the video's director. "And now it has six nominations."

Those nominations include one for video of the year, even though the haunting Cash mini-movie has rarely been shown on MTV. Viewers were more likely to have caught it on such outlets as the Internet or on a bonus DVD bundled with the recent Cash album, "American IV: The Man Comes Around."

Cash's appearance has not been confirmed by MTV and, according to Romanek, hinges on the health of the singer, who has curtailed travel and performances in recent years, especially since the June 12 death of his longtime wife and music partner, June Carter Cash.

Cash's daughter, Rosanne, told Associated Press that her first viewing of the video left her in tears. "I watched it with him and June, and I was weeping and weeping through the whole thing," she said. "My dad was completely clear-eyed and focused on the merits of the video, which is so much like him. He's able to focus on the most awful truths with an artist's eye."

-- Geoff Boucher

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