In one of the Soundgarden frontman’s last recordings before his tragic death, Chris Cornell set one of Johnny Cash’s unpublished poems to music. The song, titled “You Never Knew My Mind,” was released Monday, on what would have been Cash’s 86th birthday.
“You Never Knew My Mind” is featured in the forthcoming album Johnny Cash: Forever Words, due out April 6 via Legacy Recordings. Co-produced by Cash’s son John Carter Cash, the album is comprised of the late musician’s unknown poetry, lyrics and letters, set to music by a monumental roster of artists, including Cornell.
“I met the man once or twice in my life, and he was so gracious and he was such an influence on me as a musician,” said Cornell after he recorded the song. “And he also covered a song that I wrote. Since that time, I’ve felt like he’s maybe one of the bigger presences in my life, in terms of artists that I’m a fan of.” Cornell honored Cash with this recording, 20 years after the country-music legend covered Soundgarden’s single, “Rusty Cage.”
Cash left behind what his son describes as,a “monstrous amassment” of handwritten letters, poems and lyrics penned across the entirety of the musician’s life. Poem’s like “You Never Knew My Mind” (found below) are also featured on the best-selling book Forever Words: The Unknown Poems (Blue Rider Press, 2016), edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, and curated by Carter Cash and Steve Berkowitz.
The musical companion to the book, Johnny Cash: Forever Words, was recorded at Cash’s own Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tenn. Speaking in regards to Cornell’s collaboration on the album, Cash’s son said in a statement:
I met Chris backstage in the early 1990s when my father performed a show in Seattle, Chris told me then that he had been a fan of my father even when most of his friends listened to hard rock. When I was conceiving this album years later, I reached out to him and he was excited and honored to be involved. Chris connected deeply with my father’s words, and his finished version of ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ tied his own life experience to my father’s on an honest level.
Cornell takes some creative liberties on the song, as he explains in a video following the song’s studio recording. The musician explains the dilemma he faced debating whether to omit or expand Cash’s original writing.
“The very first challenge was crossing the threshold of changing one word. And I think I had to cross that right away,” said Cornell. “I just had to believe that this is something Johnny would like, or I wouldn’t be sitting in here doing it.”
Listen to Cornell’s interpretation of Cash’s unpublished poem “You Never Knew My Mind,” followed by a short video about recording the song, below. Then, revisit Paste’s list of Cornell’s best songs here, and our 10 best Cash covers here.