• 03.12.14

This Posthumous Johnny Cash Video Is As Bleakly Stunning As They Come

Director John Hillcoat created a dark love poem to America for Johnny Cash’s posthumous music video, “She Used to Love Me a Lot.”

In 1968, legendary badass Johnny Cash reportedly visited Nickajack Cave in his native Tennessee, with the intention of killing himself. Instead, he had something of a spiritual experience in that cave, and emerged ready to quit using drugs (which he did, temporarily). This macabre personal narrative is visually represented in a new music video for the once and always Man In Black, one which begins by taking viewers right into the maw of that cave, and ends with our exit.


The video is for “She Used to Love Me a Lot,” a song from Cash’s latest posthumous release. Out Among the Stars is different from the other albums that have surfaced since the singer’s death in 2003, the most prominent of which were entries in the singer’s American series of covers. The new album was originally recorded in the early ‘80s, but shelved by Cash’s label, Columbia, for apparently sounding too much like a Johnny Cash album. With the lost recording finally seeing the light of day on March 25th, lead single “She Used to Love Me a Lot” now has a video befitting the dark themes that got it shelved in the first place.

Created by director John Hillcoat (The Road) for production house Rokkit, “She Used to Love Me a Lot” is a beautifully shot tribute to some not so beautiful aspects of America. Once the viewer is, essentially, “inside” Nickajack cave, the focus turns to the nation’s roads, the people who travel them, and the people who can’t travel them because they are in prison. Shot in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, New York, and Nashville, among other locations, the video’s sprawl is as wide as the country it depicts, unmasked.

“She Used to Love Me a Lot” is mostly presented in stark black and white, but there are occasional bursts of color–a bit of fire here, the gaudy lights of Las Vegas there. For further contrast, images of Wall Street are juxtaposed with those of some more downtrodden folks with tears in their scar-lined faces. The American flag looms large over all, even if the video seems to be celebrating its hidden secrets more than its public pride. By the time we emerge from the cave at the end, enough crows have flown by to suggest that we might not have survived.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.