“This song is no longer mine”: Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor (58) is said to have reacted initially frustrated and later filled with pride to Johnny Cash’s (1932-2003) cover of his song “Hurt” from 2002. Reznor’s lyrics summed up Cash’s approaching farewell too well. The accompanying music video was too touching, reflecting on the country legend’s life – and still brings tears to your eyes today, exactly 20 years after Johnny Cash’s death.

It’s high time to take a look at the career of the “Man in Black”, blessed with an unmistakable bass-baritone voice, who liked to portray himself as an outlaw wearing black clothes and celebrated his musical resurrection shortly before his death.

Like many musicians, Cash often incorporated things he experienced firsthand into his songs. One of his first hits, “Five Feet High And Rising”, is about the floods on his local farm that he experienced as a small boy. The general tone of many of his works – from spirituality to deep sadness – was born out of tragedy: when Cash was twelve, his brother Jack, two years older, died in a terrible circular saw accident. Even more than 50 years later, Cash, who otherwise seemed so stoic, could only talk about this incident in a TV interview with a trembling voice.

Fortunately, Cash never shot a “man in Reno just to watch him die.” Cash always played the cold-blooded gangster, the outlaw, in songs like “Folsom Prison Blues” just for show purposes. He did have his troubles with the law at the right time – mainly because of drug offenses. He went to prison at the end of the 1960s as a free man – in his legendary prison concerts.

The year 1968 was a groundbreaking one for Johnny Cash in several respects. He gave two of the most memorable concerts of his long career within a few months: In January, he and his band played at Folsom State Prison under great security concerns and performed to frenetic cheers of the inmates his hits. A short time later he performed at the San Quentin prison and created a dubious feeling of solidarity among the prisoners there, where murderers were among those imprisoned: This Johnny Cash, he is one of us in his heart!

Between the two prison concerts, Cash managed to walk another tightrope. The love of his life, June Carter (1929-2003), finally said yes to his wedding proposal during a live concert. Previously, despite strong feelings for the musician, she had rejected him time and time again – Cash’s ongoing drug escapades, about which she had written the global hit “Ring of Fire” years before, were too big a thorn in her side. Nevertheless, the wedding bells rang on March 1, 1968 and only death could separate them.

While the 1970s were extremely successful, Cash – like the entire country scene – found himself trapped in a creative limbo in the 1980s. Synth and country didn’t really fit together, but nothing seemed to work without it in the charts in this era.

His long-standing record label Columbia Records eventually parted ways with him and Cash was in danger of being forgotten as a relic of the Wild West cult. In fact, it took until 1994 before a collaboration took place that continued to bear creative fruit well after Cash’s death.

Rick Rubin (60) is the name of the producer who used the defibrillator on Cash’s seemingly dead career. The joint album “American Recordings” would later be expanded into an entire series. In addition to a few new songs by the country star, these records primarily contain cover versions that Cash reinterpreted in his inimitable way. For example, “Bird On A Wire” by Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), later also Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage”, “One” by U2 or “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond (82).

Or the aforementioned “Hurt” by the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. The song appeared on the last of the American Recordings albums released during Cash’s lifetime. There were also successful covers such as “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode or “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon

A first farewell, first of all to his beloved June, who died shortly after shooting the “Hurt” video together at the age of 73 as a result of heart valve surgery. And shortly afterwards by the world itself, when Johnny Cash followed her less than four months later at the age of 71.

Thanks to music producer Rubin, millions of people only discovered Cash when it seemed too late – but the country great had taken precautions. In 2003, Cash, now confined to a wheelchair and severely visually impaired, described the phase shortly after his wife’s death as perhaps the most productive of his career. And so he gave his fans two more editions of “American Recordings” from beyond the grave: “A Hundred Highways” was released in 2006 and the record with the appropriate name “Ain’t No Grave” was released in 2010 – because even the Grab Cash couldn’t from storming the charts again.