The Man Comes Around

Checking out my digital library today, I happened upon the album American IV: The Man Comes Around by country music legend Johnny Cash (1932-2003). It’s a favourite.

The album was the fourth in Cash’s American series and the last to be released while he was still living. It’s an absolutely superb collection, mostly made of covers: Cash interprets a wide variety of eras, styles and artists, including Nine Inch Nails, Sting, Paul Simon, Ewan MacColl’s (1915-1989) “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Depeche Mode, the Beatles, Tex Ritter (1905-1974), Eagles, as well as the World War II classic, “We’ll Meet Again” and an old folk composition, “Danny Boy.” (The last one is a song which always reminds me of emergency management training I took in Ottawa, Canada in 2001, just after the terror attacks of 9/11. One evening after a few rounds in the bar, a tall, massive firefighter from the East Coast started belting out the song in a most beautiful, gentle voice, and he left the somewhat tipsy crowd speechless with emotion.)

Cash recruited some stellar talent to help him with the album’s recording: Nick Cave and Fiona Apple (vocals), John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s (1950-2017) backing band the Heartbreakers, and Randy Scruggs (1953-2018) on guitars, and Don Henley of Eagles on drums, vocals, and keyboards, plus many other musicians.

I believe I first heard music from American IV: The Man Comes Around during a gathering at my oldest brother’s home, and then I bought the CD about ten years ago.

The title track from the album is also the opening song. It’s a lively piece Cash wrote and, listening to the track, it’s hard to imagine it was performed by a man who would die about a year later. The guitar and piano play off each other brilliantly, creating a powerful melody that I guarantee will have you tapping your toes!

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder: one of the four beasts saying: “Come and see.” And I saw. And behold, a white horse...

There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names.
And he decides who to free and who to blame.
Everybody won’t be treated all the same.
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down.
When the man comes around.

The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup.
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the man comes around?

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.
One hundred million angels singin’.
Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum.
Voices callin’, voices cryin’.
Some are born and some are dyin’.
It’s Alpha and Omega’s Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
The virgins are all trimming their wicks.
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

‘Til Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom.
Then the father hen will call his chickens home.
The wise men will bow down before the throne.
And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crowns
When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still.
Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still.
Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still.
Listen to the words long written down,
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.
One hundred million angels singin’.
Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettle drum.
Voices callin’, voices cryin’.
Some are born and some are dyin’.
It’s Alpha and Omega’s Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
The virgins are all trimming their wicks.
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

In measured hundredweight and penny pound
When the man comes around.

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, and I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.

(“The Man Comes Around,” by Johnny Cash.
Unofficial lyrics courtesy of AZLyrics.com.)

I previously posted Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video for the song from the official Johnny Cash YouTube channel:

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