Rusty Cage – Johnny Cash

I know the popular option is to choose Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails near the top of lists like this. Doing Hurt and missing his wife and making people cry with that retrospective slow mo’ big heart sincerity. I’m not knocking it, it’s a killer blow. You can see why it got used in all the TV shows and movies it did to convey a sad bleak ending to a heroic (or anti heroic) life.

Trent Reznor is a musical genius and all but I’ve always been more of a Soundgarden and Chris Cornell fan than I was a NIN one. Johnny Cash singing one of the tracks that blew my hair back in the days when I was finding my scene with my team and stepping out into the big wide world leaves quite the footprint.

So Rick Rubin’s reinvention of The Man In Black at the end of his days is the stuff of legend now. He took Johnny back to a guitar and a voice and he chose with him a mix of material that both bore his influence and fed his interests.

Johnny (The Voice) Cash was one of my Dad’s go to artists. Be it Boy Named Sue on the Hour of Country Cassette that lived in the car or I Walk The Line and Ring Of Fire at home on the turn table. Indeed, around the millennium a remastered and re-released full version of Live In San Quentin album got us both in a flat spin.

I got the CD Dad got the DVD (neither of us had ever actually seen the footage until that deluxe package hit) and we revelled at the clarity of the sound, the tracks we’d never heard before and the revelation that the songs came in a different order to the vinyl copy I’d grown up listening to him play.

“Hi, I’m Johnny Cash, alright!” – Both my Dad and I interject that as a 3 second warning before we begin to sing songs. My family have learned it’s a good time to leave the room.

Johnny found his way to me in other forms after leaving home. I loved his cameo appearance at the end of U2’s Zoo TV scene report record (the under rated and highly experimental) Zooropa. Johnny signing The Wanderer over electronica and humming machines had as ‘full circle’ a feel to it as Hurt in a way. I loved him teaming up with Rubin for the American Recordings and I loved hearing some of the lyrics to Rusty Cage clearly for the first time.

“You wired me awake and hit me with a hand of broken nails, you tied my lead and pulled my chain to watch my blood begin to boil, but I’m gonna break, I’m gonna break my… I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run”

It sounds even more metal when he does it. I understand Cash heard Cornell’s voice and was impressed, complimentary and deferential to his superior range. Well, Johnny adds something new (and yet older) to those intense lyrics. He makes a metal anthem sound like a folk song with generations of pain and heft behind it.

“Too cold to start a fire I’m burning diesel burning dinosaur bones” 

I know this is a lyric about fossil fuel in the Badmotorfinger frame of reference. Yet when Johnny sings it I can see him piling Jurassic era skeletons up in the Grand Canyon as he does a ‘Searchers’ across the USA and through time looking for his June-Bug.

It’s the stuff of those Ghost Riders in The Sky and of Black Hole Sun’s. A new folk lore that reaches through the millennia.

“When the forest burns along the road like God’s eyes in my headlights, when the dogs are looking for their bones and it’s raining ice-picks on your steel shore”

That’s when they say you’ll see him. Through your windshield on a dark desert highway. Teaching the weeping willows how to cry. Heading further up the road. Searching with his good eye closed. Awash with black rain like a sea of heartbreak.

It’s a matter of days until this Old Account is Settled. Let The Man In Black Wave Goodbye.




5 thoughts on “Rusty Cage – Johnny Cash

  1. Reading you sometimes is like playing my own memories back.

    Johnny enjoyed a resurgence in my childhood home after he and June got religion again and appeared with Billy Graham on a few televised revival campaigns. My dad let me order “Live from San Quinton” from Columbia House.

    Fast forward 30 years and watching the YouTube video of Johnny and June singing Jackson and watching his feet always makes me think of Rick James saying, “Cocaine, it’s a hell of a drug.”

    Or speed, in Johnny’s case.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my favorite covers of all time. So different from the original, but also does well to honor it. So the story goes, Chris was approached about helping arrange a Johnny Cash version of the song, and he declined thinking it just wasn’t possible to make it a Cash tune. He later had a lot of praise for it, and seemed to have been inspired by what was possible in turning a song into something new. It’s one of my favorites for the same reason. I love how a you can turn a song into something totally different, and yet keep the soul of it intact.

    Liked by 1 person

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