Just dropped yesterday, Chris Cornell’s interpretation of an old Johnny Cash poem is equal parts moody, contemplative and melancholic. Fair warning to those who haven’t heard “You Never Knew My Mind”: Listening to the late Soundgarden frontman pouring his soul into the words of another lost musical icon will bring those damn onion ninjas out.
The acoustic ballad is the first posthumous track to star Cornell’s throaty vocals, and it’s the debut ‘single’ off Forever Words, an upcoming Johnny Cash tribute record. But rather than covering the Man in Black’s greatest hits, artists set music to poems, letters and lyrics dug up from his archives, lifting words off the page and giving them emotional heft. Jewel, Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson, among others, join Cornell on the album.
“[Cash] wrote ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ in 1967,” said John Carter Cash, the senior Cash’s son and co-producer of Forever Words, in a radio interview. “I’m fairly certain it was written for his first wife, Vivian. That was the year that their divorce was legal. It was also the year where his love for my mother [June Carter Cash] flourished. So ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ was not something that he would have released at that time because my mother was standing beside him.”
Even working on the album hasn’t dulled John Carter’s appreciation of Cornell’s performance. “I can’t listen to it without it laying me down,” he said. “I mean it still, and it did that before Chris passed.”
Listen to Cornell’s version of the poem here: